The Far North

Image via Tom Häkkinen
Viewed from the bus travelling North through Finland. The
sun is clearing away the early morning fog.
Who doesn’t fantasise about the far North? I mean the real far North, the inhospitable, wild North. Obviously my Finnish roots might have had some role to play in my own fascination with the North, but I’m sure I’m not the only one. A few years ago my dad accomplished a life-long ambition by travelling to Nordkapp in Norway, the Northern-most tip of Europe, where, in summer-time you can look-out at the vast expanse of the Arctic Ocean and watch as the sun circles ceaselessly around the sky without ever dropping below the horizon. Of course, I wander along the nearby cliff-walk occasionally and get to stare in awe at the vast Pacific Ocean, but it’s not the same, it’s not the alien, otherworldly ocean that sits at the top of the world.

Image via Tom Häkkinen
The Wild North.
Last year, I didn’t go near so far North as Nordkapp, in fact, I didn’t even go so far as Utsjoki, the northernmost part of Finland, but I did reach a certain milestone in Latitude, and I went further North than my brother from Norway had ever been, and further North than any of my friends from Canada. I crossed the Arctic Circle.

Image via Tom Häkkinen
Reindeer or Poroa eating Birch leaves in Ranua.
This is quite far North, to give my readers some perspective, imagine travelling to Montréal and from there driving straight North and not stopping until you reach the sea. If you were to do so, you still wouldn’t reach the Arctic Circle. That’s right, the entire province of Québec lies south of the Arctic Circle; in fact the only Canadian Provinces or Territories that touch the Arctic Circle are Nunavat, the Northwest Territories and Yukon.

Image via Tom Häkkinen
A bus shelter near Rovaniemi.
But maybe that’s an unfair comparison. Thanks to the moderating effects of the Gulf Stream, the Arctic Circle in Europe and the Arctic Circle in North America are two completely different places. You might be surprised to learn that trees grow in Finland at the Arctic Circle. What’s more there are farms, the roads have the cutest little bus shelters you’re ever likely to see and in the town of Rovaniemi there are two Universities and a factory that makes expensive knives. In fact the town of Rovaniemi is a real gem, with all of the workshops and industry up there it’s like a veritable Santa’s workshop. Which is kind of fitting, as traditionally Rovaniemi has always been considered the home of Santa Claus.

Except in America.

Image via Tom Häkkinen
Esther patting Siberian Huskies in Santa's Village,
Rovaniemi. In winter you can go for rides on a sled pulled
by a team of Siberian Huskies.
Which is a shame, because the Santa’s Village up there could really do with some American “jazzing up”. Finns don’t really do tourism particularly well. Maybe they don’t consider it real work, or maybe it’s just their laconic nature which isn’t particularly suited to selling things generally, but if you’d been to Finland you’d know tourism and the service industry aren’t really the Finnish people’s strongest suit. In fact, even at Linnanmäki, the theme park in Helsinki, you might notice a bizarre phenomenon. Finns don’t scream. Which means from below you can watch roller-coasters going round and round their circuits in a strange surreal sort of silence. Occasionally, one person will start and the rest will generally get the idea, but not always. There’s a reason why Kimi Räikkönen was nicknamed the Iceman.

Image via Tom Häkkinen
Wolves (Sutta)  in Ranua.
Just to the South of Rovaniemi, in the town of Ranua, lies the world’s northernmost zoo. It’s definitely worth a visit, as, if you’re a city person like Esther and I are, then it’s most likely you’ll travel through the North with only the most fleeting glimpses of the strange Northern creatures that inhabit the Arctic region. I found that visiting a zoo compensated for my lack of outdoors ability and allowed me to take some photos to show everyone back home that I really had been to the furthest extremes of the Earth.

Image via Tom Häkkinen
A Lynx or Ilves feeding in Ranua.
Well, nearly.
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Chibi Janine said...

Love the husky and wolves pictures. My dogs a husky cross so I have a soft spot for Wolfy looking dogs.

JJ said...

Akseli: Fantastic post! The photos are fabulous, and I learned something about the Artic Circle. I have been to the Yukon and Northwest Territories, but I always assumed it was the same as the area above Scandinavia. Also, I raised two wolf pups in New Hampshire years ago, as part of a save-the-wolf campaign. They are wonderful, loving animals that have been misunderstood for centuries. Great post!

Akseli Koskela said...

Hey Chiby J, I agree, wolves and huskies just look great. I wouldn't want to come across those wolves in the wild though. I don't think the photo properly conveys how fearful looking they could be. The whole pack seemed to suddenly materialise out of their forest enclosure at feeding time.

JJ, I'm glad you liked the post. I'd also like to visit the vast wildernesses of Canada's far North. I'm heartened to hear about your efforts to save the wolves - they are wonderful animals.


Awesome awesome pics. I swear one day I will travel there once I get some money together.

Akseli Koskela said...

Thanks Israel, yeah, money's always the thing isn't it?

PAMO said...

The Finns sound like a wonderful people. I could do with a little less screaming.
I had no clue that Rovaniemi is the traditional home of Santa Claus- and from now on, that is how I'll imagine it. Perhaps because I live in a society so driven by material things, this post is especially welcome.
The reindeer are beautiful! Your photos really brought your gorgeous words to life.

Natasha said...

Wow, this was a brilliant virtual tour. I have never been to any of these places but I do dream of visiting Santa's village one day.

Great post-thank you!

Best wishes,

Raimo said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Judie said...

What an interesting post! I always learn something fascinating when I visit here. It was so strange to me when we went to Alberta every summer that it was daylight at 10:30 at night!!

Francis Hunt said...

Many years ago I traveled north by train in Norway, finally arriving in Bodø. From there I took a post-boat out to the Lofoten islands. i have wonderful memories of that trip, including a party with four people I hadn't known before I got on the train, the high point of which was drinking some kind of vodka at four in the morning on the train when we crossed the Arctic circle ...

Arriving in Bodø around seven in the morning, we all bid each other farewell and went our separate ways.

Not that it was ever dark ... it was the end of July and the sun only went down for a few minutes every night.

Mild and misty, my memories of the Lofotens include some of the wildest and most beautiful scenery in the world.

Akseli Koskela said...

Unfortunately I recently had to delete a comment. As keen as I always am to get new people coming around here and commenting - this comment was in no-ways relevant to the post that it was attached to. Furthermore, I couldn't help but feel that the content, a bizarre tirade against Swedes, was inappropriate to this blog. If not racist, it was at least an attempt to demonise a particular nationality.

Akseli Koskela said...

Thanks for your comments everyone! I can see that I'm not the only one who has been witness to the mysterious and silent beauties of the far Northern latitudes.

Arto Häkkinen said...

I didn't realise I had changed my country of origin! ;-)

Akseli Koskela said...

Haha! That's right Arto. You marry a Norwegian and live in Norway for the better part of a decade and you become my "brother from Norway".