Lapland is going on the list as the strangest place we have ever visited (so far). And the most expensive.
The combination of the almost full days of darkness, constant snow plus copious flood lighting and eerie silence give this place an unearthly vibe.
We arrived on a Sunday afternoon following a flight from hell. I was nearing death whilst suffering with the common cold which when united with a trip at 30,000ft left me almost deaf and feeling claustrophobic. I’m usually a good flyer but all the congestion mixed with the pressurised atmosphere made for a very unpleasant flight.
We’d also been awake for over 24 hours seeing as we had to leave for the airport at 2am and whilst it would have been nice to sleep through the 3 hour flight, we were constantly disturbed by a plane load of fired-up kids excited about meeting Santa.
As you can imagine we weren’t overly excited about the trip at this point, but as we came into land the breath-taking scenery below immediately pulled us out of our funk. Think beautiful tall trees covered in snow with frozen lakes and thick, heavy clouds. We’d never seen anything like it and it was absolutely stunning.
Quite a bit of snow about here.
We flew into Kuusamo which is a tiny airport – so small that the queue to get through passport control went all the way out the door and onto the snowy airfield, and that was just our flight! It’s very sweet and makes for an unusual welcome. I checked the arrival board and noted that despite our midday arrival, ours was the last arrival flight of the day with only 1 departure flight to Helsinki leaving later.
We took a bus to get to our apartment in Ruka Suites which is about 25 minutes away from the airport. It’s a really cool ski resort and Ruka Village has everything you need all within walking distance. We stayed in a two bedroom apartment which also had a private sauna attached. It’s very spacious with everything you need for a comfortable stay. The kitchen is pretty limited but has enough facilities for cooking simple meals and you will need to cook if you’re not loaded.
We expected Lapland to be expensive but it surpassed our expectations. We headed straight to the market to stock up on groceries and panicked at the pricing. I could see Glen mentally calculating how few calories he could live on for the 8 days we were going to be here. He hates spending money at the best of times but since we became self-employed he’s taken the obsession to a whole new level and actively abstains from life’s basic needs to save a pound or two. I had to quickly start putting things into our painfully empty basket before he decided we could starve for the week.
In the end we bought a loaf of bread, some butter, milk, coffee, a pack of biscuits, eggs and a bottle of Pepsi for EUR 27. Big ticket items that we didn’t buy were alcohol (EUR 4 for one can) and meat (EUR 8 for 20% meat mince). I have no idea what the other 80% was made up of but for EUR 8 it would have to be gold.
If you decide to visit be aware that little things cost a lot. Lapland is huge and everything is massively spread out which means importing food is expensive. The only thing that they have a lot of is reindeer (apparently 2 for every 1 human) but even that was expensive. We managed our budget by cooking as much as possible and eating only 1 meal out per day.
I would say the average restaurant visit was around EUR 40 but that is without alcohol and with only one course.
Make sure you try reindeer steak and one of the local ring doughnuts which are huge and have a very individual taste…
Glen’s highlight was when we stumbled upon a cheap alcohol shop which made his week. The booze really was cheap (less than what we paid in London) and so we were T-total in restaurants and got merry back at the apartment instead. The sale of alcohol is highly regulated here with lots of strange rules around the strength of the alcohol and your age versus how much of it you can buy and so don’t be surprised if some of your items are confiscated when you get to the till.
There are so many activities to do in Lapland and seeing as it’s not every day we’re surrounded by snow we wanted to do as much as possible.
It’s no secret that skiing costs a lot of money. It’s not just the equipment hire to think about, you also need to pay for a lift pass and lessons if, like us, you have never skied before or even if you want to work on your technique. The instructors at Ruka are supposed to be amazing and I’d read loads of good reviews about them but when we discovered that a 50 minute lesson with lift pass and equipment hire for the two of us would be almost 300 euros we decided to look at other activities. Despite Glen’s aversion to spending we wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to experience something over money worries but seeing as we were never going to get very far in 50 minutes , or even 100 minutes, it didn’t seem worth the expense.
Throwing a snowball at Glen. He probably deserved it.
Instead we booked ourselves on a group lesson in cross country skiing which is supposed to be easier. Apparently it’s not very popular because when we arrived we discovered that we were the only people booked on the course and so it became a private lesson. Accidental win! It was supposed to last for 50 minutes but we made friends with our instructor and he stayed with us for almost 2 hours. By the end of it we were exhausted (man, we really need to work out more) but now feel comfortable going out on our own. Mission accomplished! For the record we had a blast and I’d definitely recommend trying this activity.
We also spent a great night driving a snow mobile. We drove 15km into the forest before turning round and returning to the village and the entire ride lasted around 90 minutes. The highlight was seeing the beautiful snowy forest at the dead of night. The bad bit was getting shaken to death going up and down hills (pretty sure our internal organs have moved around) and the scary bit was when we stopped in the middle of nowhere for a break in the pitch black forest, only for the guide to panic that he’d seen bear footprints (they are supposed to be hibernating!!!) and quickly moved us on.
Getting ready for our snowmobile ride.
We went on loads of snowy hikes and were just in complete awe at the scenery. We took so many pictures but none of them do this snowy winter wonderland justice. You’ll have to visit yourself to experience the same wonder that we did. One particularly hilarious/utterly terrifying moment was when we got stopped by a Finnish skier who seemed angry with us. We were already feeling pretty sheepish as we suspected we might be on a ski trail that was closed to walkers, but honestly? We really couldn’t be sure as none of the signs are in English so we just took a risk. Anyhow, it turns out this guy just wants a chat and luckily (or not) he speaks English. 15 minutes later we know this guy, Maury, inside out. Not only do we know his life story but he has been gradually extracting information from us and now he wants our room number. Our phone number. He wants us to meet him for dinner later. He has moved closer and closer to us and we’re now practically in a three way.
Okay he may just be a lonely, friendly, peculiar man, but we’re feeling a bit creeped out! We manage to break away politely (thanks English manners, you really know when to fuck things up) and now we are meeting Maury at 5pm tonight in the reception of the hotel next to our apartment (this is where he thinks we are staying). He wants to show us a calendar…
Now if this guy was just a chatty type, we’re arseholes, but if he was an axe murderer then our next move is justified. Yes, we bailed! We hid in our room working and just hoped he’d never find us. I’m not going to lie, it was a little harder to sleep that night! Maybe we need to learn to trust strangers…
And we got up close and personal with some huskies! We’d planned to visit a husky farm to really get involved but in the end we bumped into the husky farmer in the village with loads of lovely huskies and he graciously let us play with them till our hearts were content whilst sharing loads of info about them.
- We completely lost track of time in Lapland. Since we quit our jobs we hate to wake up to an alarm and instead usually wake up with the sun which is much nicer. However in Lapland we kept oversleeping massively because it doesn’t get light! After day 2 of being in bed past 10 we decided to start setting a morning alarm.
- Likewise we found that we were really tired in the afternoon but by the time night rolled around we were wide awake and regularly stayed up until the early hours. This was pretty handy as it gave us loads of time to look for the Northern lights which are best seen after midnight. In the end we didn’t see them due to the huge snow clouds. Annoyingly they had last been seen the night before we arrived and they were forecast to return the night we left. Typical.
- Any person who grew up in England will tell you that the excitement of looking out of the window and seeing snow never goes away – even as adults when instead of a day off school you have a full day of trekking to work to deal with. In Lapland I felt excited every time I looked out of the window and walking out into the snow every day is just magical. It’s such a cool experience.
- It’s always deadly quiet. I don’t know if it’s the snow absorbing sound or whether people are just too exhausted from skiing to actually make any noise, but it’s eerily silent all the time.
- No we didn’t visit Santa. He was a bus ride away from where we were staying and two adults going to Santa Land on their own is just tragic.
We didn’t keep a formal budget for this trip as it’s our last blow-out stop before the backpacking and budgeting kicks in on the 1st of January (2015) when we leave for Thailand, however roughly we spent:
Flights and accommodation: £1,192
Total: £1,772 / $2,775
Daily spend: A whopping £221 / $346. You won’t often see numbers that high from us. Goodbye Europe, hello Asia!