in February I was fortunate enough to visit Finland. Keenly aware of how cold it was likely to be, my husband and I stuffed our suitcases with thermal underwear, woolly socks and ski trousers so thick they took up half the case and headed for Lapland.
Officially, we were staying in Rovaniemi, although we were actually about forty minutes’ drive from the town itself – a slightly terrifying drive the first time around, on pitch-black roads thick with snow. And we’d been warned about wandering reindeer. None of these things make for a relaxing drive when you’re used to the relative tameness of London roads.
It was worth it, though:
Our cabin seemed in the middle of nowhere – a tiny little holiday site located on the edge of a frozen lake and surrounded by what felt like acres of wilderness. Towns are sparse out there, and tend towards ‘small cluster of houses’ rather than what a Londoner might recognise as a town. But truthfully, the isolation was perfect. Of a nighttime, with snow falling and the occasional glow of car headlights from the other side of the lake, you’d hear absolutely nothing. I’ve never experience silence like it. The sense that the world had stopped, and you were the only living thing in it.
During the day, everything was idyllic – the kind of blue skies you only get when compared to the pure white of the snow beneath; bright sunshine, or thick cloud shedding flurries of snow. Cold, but not as cold as I’d expected – despite regularly hitting -15c I found the comparatively dry, windless cold much easier to bear than the wet, windy chill back home.
The days were short – the sun began to set at around 3.30pm. Evening set in quickly. We weren’t fortunate enough to see the Northern Lights (although one night, at around 1am, we stood outside our cabin in the silent dark and watched a strange yellowish light form on the horizon – a bright, still glow.) We did, however, see a multitude of stars, more than I’d ever seen before, and it was worth it to stand out in the cold staring up into the black sky. I felt at once very small and somehow completely at peace with that.
One night, all the power went out in our cabin. The owners had gone home, and as far as we knew we were alone – surrounded by trees, a frozen lake to the front of us, and completely alone in a small, darkened cabin. In the dark you become hyperaware. Small sounds are heightened. My husband went outside with a torch to check the power lines. I watched the beam dance in the dark and wondered what else might be out there. Nobody would know until morning, and morning was a long way off. The power came back on thirty minutes later, and I’ve never been so grateful for electricity.
On the fourth day, something spectacular happened:
As the sun was setting, a mist began to rise up off the frozen lake, creeping in to shore. It reminded me of a scene in my favourite book, ‘Moominland Midwinter’ by Tove Jansson (appropriately Finnish!) in which the Lady of the Cold rides in across the ice on her snow-horse.
We spent the last three days in Helsinki, much further south and much closer to the model of civilisation us weedy city-dwellers are used to. Helsinki is a fantastic city – compact and cosmopolitan, with a brilliantly efficient transport system and food to die for. Refreshing sea air and beautiful architecture. It was a departure from the icy splendour of Rovaniemi and around, but worth the detour, especially as we were staying with friends.
Still. There’s something to be said for getting away from the entire world, if only for a short while.