Oh, if this wasn’t a trip I had been looking forward to a long time! A Christmas in Finland with all the traditions that make Christmas so special to me! And now hopefully for Waffle too; this would be his very first Finnish Christmas.
Well, we did not make our way directly to Finland. We flew with AirBaltic, and they land in Riga, Latvia before continuing to Finland. For us this presented an opportunity to get a short sniff of a new country. We arrived at noon and our flight to Finland was scheduled for late evening. So to spend the time we rented a car and headed off to the Latvian coast.
Latvia is pretty. There are pine forests lining the coast and a few beaches here and there. Close to Jurmala we found a large swamp area, which we are sure is an important resting place for moving birds when that season comes. The countryside has also a heavy print of Soviet history in its buildings and farmlands.
The pinesof Jurmala
Some marks of the Soviet era are still here.
The whole city of Riga is full of Christmas lighting!
We dared to enter also the city of Riga. Neither of us is a huge fan of visiting cities and especially Waffle was skeptical towards this small capital by the Baltic Sea. Turns out Riga is actually a very pleasant place to visit. The Christmas market was as Christmassy as they come with hot pots full of sizzling foods and a tolerable crowd. The whole city was lit with beautiful lighting to celebrate this dark season, even a rainfall couldn’t bring the atmosphere down. We spent a few hours walking around the city until it was time to find a plane again.
Soon my blocked nose told me that we were landing, causing an excruciating headache. As soon as we got out of the airport we took the direction for Espoo and a birthday party of my dear friend Miia. We arrived at two in the night and the celebration was having a rather drunken tone to it. Nevertheless it was nice to see my Finnish friends again and squeeze all of them a little too tight.
The next day was, as usual, booked full. Visiting family members, eating and seeing some more friends. Waffle had met a nice piece of hangover and was less than happy to be dragged out of bed so early, but after a coffee or two he was waking up. In the evening some of the friends gathered around as we visited the Christmas market in Helsinki.
I am lucky to have a family full of amazing bakers!
Christmas market and friends!
After indulging with the sweet and savory scents and tastes of the market with my dear people, it was time to find us a car and head on. We wanted to get to the central Finland to my parents as fast as possible.
The Winter Wonderland
As we got higher up north the snow started falling and soon we were surrounded by snow covered forest, driving on an icy road. Waffle’s knuckles were getting whiter and whiter as he squeezed the steering wheel. I was excited to be back home, couldn’t be there fast enough.
It was well past midnight when we finally arrived at my childhood home. Everything was under snow, and the darkness was pushed away by candles and lanterns all over the yard. Just like always. The sauna was still gently warm, and we got to crawl between the sheets squeaky clean after a good bathing.
Somehow I see all this beauty with a different set of eyes, now that I live abroad.
Home, there in the sea of white.
A few days of profusion followed. We were hardly able to lift our backsides away from the table, when we were called to eat again. As it should be, if you spend Christmas in Finnish style. We managed to squeeze in a couple of walks here and there. Finland is so beautiful when it is all covered in snow, I see it now with a complete different set of eyes, as I do not live in the middle of it anymore.
Before enjoying the actual feast of Christmas we went to Lapland, in order to hunt down some auroras and revisit Karhunkierros, the trail that led us to the point where we are now. Our hotel was between the cities of Kemijärvi and Sodankylä, way up north from the arctic circle. We took a route in the eastern Finland to get there. Those are small roads, covered in ice in winter, which added some excitement to the road tripping business. I am not used to driving on ice anymore, and Waffle haven’t been given the chance to learn it in the first place.
The traveling was slow, not only because of the icy conditions but also because after every corner the breathtaking and icy scenery forced us to stop and stare at the wonder. We stopped at Ruka, the ending village of Karhunkierros, to have some nostalgia and food. The ski season was in full swing and that sleepy little town was not so sleepy anymore. We had our lunch in the last light of the setting sun. At 2 pm everything was swallowed by blue darkness.
Signpost for Santa?
Whiteness forever. The light in the north is something very special!
Skating or driving?
Start of Karhunkierros.
Arctic circle in the darkness of early afternoon.
In that afternoon darkness we drove on to our cabin, bathed in a cold sauna and went to bed. The sky was covered in thick layer of clouds and the forecasted heavy storm of northern lights was nowhere to be seen. All those kilometers we had driven for nothing.
Karhunkierros – Nostalgia
We left early in the morning and headed south. We were so high up, that the sun did not rise. Even though the sun does not climb above the horizon, it is not as dark as you might imagine. There the whole southern horizon has a bright yellow glow and the landscape seems to glow with it. It is a very special world of soft colors and indirect light as the snow reflects every little bit of the hiding sunshine.
It was around noon when we arrived at the starting point of the Small Karhunkierros. Some people had been walking it, and there was a trail visible. Icy and slippery, but a trail nevertheless. Since the days were short and I was still rather ill, we did not go round the whole walk, just picked the rapids which lay relatively close by.
First we headed for Myllykoski. A small waterfall with an old mill on the side. That one I had come down with a raft in the summer two years ago. The rapid and the nature around it looked a little bit different this time. It is a beautiful sight to see the water rolling from underneath the ice and falling in a rapid, shaking the hut underneath your feet.
Kemijärvi at 9 am
Jyrävä, frosted but still roaring.
Siilastupa. Place of beginnings.
We headed on, towards the Jyrävä rapid, taking in the beauty of nature in the moments of disappearing daylight. We reached Siilastupa, the hut looking at the Jyrävä rapid, there we had said a goodbye on the midsummer 2014. The place holds some memories for us and it was beautiful to just sit there and listen to the ice crusted rapid, now when the shortest day of the year was just behind us.
Christmas is here!
For Christmas we returned home, on the quiet and icy roads. We almost hit a reindeer that happened to stand in the middle of the road and did not consider a fast approaching car a major threat to its existence. All of us continued our lives happily from that incident. But a little further, right in front of us someone drove into a moose. The result of that was less happy.
At my parents we had some duties to attend to, like finding the perfect spruce to bring in the true spirit of Christmas and of course decorating a gingerbread house etc. But mainly our Christmas is about calming down and eating as much as you can, while going to sauna every day.
We managed to get a very nice tree inside and the gingerbread house was not completely ugly, nor so pretty that you wouldn’t dare to eat it. Success I would say! Waffle enjoyed the dining so well, he hardly left the table, and is now swearing to come back every Christmas.
Risto the cat. He finally started to accept Waffle as a part of his family!
Here I am almost killing the both of us with an unsteerable kicksled.
Carrot and a candle for my late horse.
Before the Christmas was over we had one more chance of seeing the auroras. The sky was clear and Waffles phone said the probability of seeing the magical light was somewhat high! So out we went into the cold of the night. A bit further from my home there was a perfect place with minimal light pollution and an open view to the sky. There we saw something we thought was a cloud. Until it started shifting and glowing in eerie green light. We were indeed looking at northern lights. That was a cherry on top for this holiday!
The Christmas day came as did our time to say goodbyes and head back to Belgium. We packed one extra piece of luggage, thanks to all the gifts and Finnish goodies we were dragging home with us.
Belgium greeted us with grey skies and heavy rainfall. Quite a contrast to the pure white of snowy Finland, there is a bit of home sickness on my mind after this trip, thank god there are all the goodies in the cupboards at home to kill the worst edge of that!