Snow Castles, Santa, Reindeer, Huskies, & The Northern Lights

If you think you have completed your bucket list, think again. I think there is one thing that should be on everyone’s bucket lists. There is one thing that everyone should experience before they die. Everyone should want to watch God paint the northern sky with beautiful colors and waves. They should see them disappear and reappear and get stronger and until they dance.

I have to admit, one of the biggest reasons I chose to come to Finland was the Northern Lights. I’ve wanted to see them for as long as I can remember. You can’t pass up even the slightest opportunity to see them. That is the reason I wanted to go on the Lapland trip in early March.  Not only were we going to visit the Santa Claus Village, pet reindeer, and go on husky safaris, we would have the opportunity and the chance to see the Northern Lights. They told us our chances were about 80%. I liked these  odds.

Two buses full of exchange students set off from Jyväskylä at 1 in the morning towards Lapland.

Excited for the long bus trip to Lapland!

Excited for the long bus trip to Lapland!

Our journey

Our journey

Our first stop was the Kemi snow castle. We were given an hour to explore. Zach and I took off to see as much as possible (we thought it would be a lot larger than what it was).

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They even had snow angry birds! Only in Finland

They even had snow angry birds! Only in Finland

We ran through the tunnels and rooms and marveled at all of the intricate work that had gone into the making of the snow castle. The castle was also a hotel though, and once we had seen its entirety and realized we still had time left…it was time to go back to bed.

on the beds in the snow castleThe beds were super comfy and located in the cozy rooms of the ice hotel. We wanted to take a nap (we didn’t sleep much on the bus), but really, we ended up singing the First Semester of Spanish Love Song (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, go look it up on YouTube).

Our next stop was in the wonderland that every young child dreams about: Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi, Finland. And yes, I met Santa. He’s real.

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I also sent a post card to my family from Santa Claus main post office. You could send one the next day, or you could place it in the box that would sent post cards in time for Christmas 2013.

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This city is also on the Arctic Circle line. The best part of this stop was that I was able to get my Passport stamped with the Arctic Circle stamp. Thank you Tea for running up to me and freaking out because your passport was on the bus. Without you I wouldn’t have known that it was possible to get my passport stamped there!
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We also met Santa’s reindeer. This one wasn’t Rudolph, but he was snow white and beautiful. Many more reindeer to come in this post…

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Rovaniemi should definitely be on your cities to visit list for the future! But this is just the beginning of this Arctic adventure. Hours later, we finally arrived in Inari, Lapland where we were staying at Vasatokka resort. We arrived just in time for dinner, hanging out, and sauna. The next morning many of us wanted to go snow shoeing through the surrounding forests. Sadly all the snow shoes were being used for the survival course, so we went in our own normal shoes and hiked up hills, through forests, and tried to track down reindeer.

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Later in the afternoon we went to the local Saami museum. The Saami people are the first native people of Lapland. In the museum we learned quite a bit about how they have lived about Lapland in general.

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Most of us had a guided tour of the museum. I don’t remember ever taking a tour through a museum by a guide before, but this one was actually pretty nice. I thought it was interesting.

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Even though some of us didn’t think so…Melanie almost fell asleep on a fake tree stump.

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These shoes were made out of reindeer hide. They are the traditional Saami shoe. They were really cozy looking and I wish I had some.

After the museum we all decided to have some good ol’ sledding fun. We sledded for hours trying all kinds of different ways, frontwards, backwards, trains of people holding onto each other for dear life…it was a blast!

sledding and my face

 Our evenings at the resort were pretty free and we spent them hanging out with others, soaking in the sauna, and watching for the Northern Lights. This first night we actually saw a small glimpse of them, but it was really hard to tell because of how cloudy it was. Each night they seemed to become stronger and stronger. By the last couple nights, it was the strongest. The first time I saw the Northern lights in their full form, I cried. I’ve never seen something so beautiful in my entire life.

me and the northern lights

We went to a reindeer farm on Thursday and that was definitely a great experience!

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We were able to pet the reindeer and feed them, although they were definitely more interested in being fed. When they eat out of your hand, it is one of the funniest feelings. It just made you want to squeal.

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I guess I never realized how adorable a reindeer could be until feeling its lips suck moss out of my hand and having it reach it’s cute snout up to my face asking for more.

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We learned quite a bit about reindeer from the farmers and we were able to learn how to throw a lasso and take a reindeer safari as well.

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After the safari we were given a snack and some tea while listening to some live traditional Saami music.

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Maybe someday I’ll have a pet reindeer.

On Friday we piled back into the bus to head even further north to Bugøynes, Norway, a small fishing village by the Arctic Ocean. This day was one of my absolute favorites of the trip. Not only did we get to visit Norway, but we saw the breathtaking Arctic Ocean and the cutest little Norwegian village ever.

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Now what would be the first thing you would do if you were in this little village in Norway in the middle of winter when it was about 15 degrees F out? Duh! run and change into your swimsuit so you could jump and swim in the Arctic Ocean! (sauna first of course!)

Swimming IN NORWAY

Yes, I ran into that ocean, jumped up and down (up to my chest in freezing water) then ran back out. It was funny how warm the air felt after suffocating in 0 degree F water. It actually felt pretty great and we would have chilled on the beach in our swimsuits for longer had we been able to feel our feet. This made it very difficult to walk/run back up the hill and back into the sauna. So worth it.

swinging in NORWAY

It’s funny what fun exploring a small Norwegian town is and being able to tell everyone that you were in Norway. Because, that just sounds cool. Because we didn’t just swim in the Arctic ocean, we swam in the Arctic Ocean IN NORWAY. We didn’t just find a random playground and swung on the swings, we were swinging IN NORWAY. This was the basis of all of our conversations…IN NORWAY.

the group IN NORWAY

That evening when we got back from Norway was our last evening in Vasatokka resort. The next morning we were packed up and off to go to a husky farm and then to the Saariselka skiing resort and the longest sledding hill in Europe.

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Remember when you were a kid and you watched Balto and you thought it’d be the coolest thing ever to drive a dog sled? Well, maybe that was just me, but I always thought it would be so awesome. I got to live my childhood dream out on this trip.

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Zach and I were partners on our sled (team Kocoum!). First he drove and then I did. I wanted to go much faster than we did, but it was still fun. Someday I would like to go again and not be held back. Our dogs would have liked to go faster too. They definitely did not like when I had to put on the brakes.

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Afterwards we got to meet and love on our dogs who worked so hard. The middle one of our group was an absolute sweetheart.

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After the husky safari we arrived at Saariselka Skiing resort and went down the longest sledding hill in Europe. The worst part was climbing to the top. That was a workout.

sledding with bianka

Most of us sled down with a partner and so Bianka and I tackled the hill together. Even though we couldn’t see because of all the snow flying in our eyes, and I’m pretty sure we almost ran into a tree…more than once…it was completely awesome and worth it!

I was sad to leave Lapland. It was the most beautiful experience of my life. God really showed me His beauty through this trip and His creation. It’s funny how we can take the beauty of nature around us for granted. This trip was a great reminder of how great God is and how beautiful His creation is. This is a trip I will never forget and I encourage anyone to take if the opportunity comes.