Sweating and Skinny-dipping | An evening at a Finnish Sauna

Sweating and Skinny-dipping | An evening at a Finnish Sauna

“This is the ice hole. When the heat in the sauna becomes uncomfortable, just come out here and cool off in the water,” the owner of the sauna nonchalantly instructed us. Ha. It was legitimately freezing out, and we were expected to just jump—naked—into arctic waters? Apparently yes, we were. Because when you’re at a traditional Finnish sauna in Lapland, that’s just what you do. The Finnish Sauna   The sauna is a fundamental component of Finnish culture. It’s estimated that there is one sauna for every household in Finland—and more saunas in the country than cars. Many private houses and holiday cabins have their own saunas; when we first arrived at our cabin in Yllas, it wasn’t the kitchen or the view or even the bedroom that was proudly shown to us, but the deluxe sauna facilities. Even the Parliament House and the Pyhasalmi Mine boast their own private saunas! We’ve always thought of the sauna as a luxury commodity. But in Finland, it is an absolute necessity. The facilities are used as places to relax, to detoxify, and to conduct business meetings. Until not so long ago, saunas were even used as sanitary places to give birth.   Finnish Sauna Customs Experiencing a sauna in Finland is a bit different from other places around the world. We had a private session, which took away some of the pressure, but we still learned a lot on sauna etiquette—and what faux pas to absolutely avoid. Go Naked: Don’t be shy. It’s expected that you don’t wear any clothing, including a swimsuit, in the sauna. Public saunas are separated by...
The Culture of Sami Reindeer Herding in Finnish Lapland

The Culture of Sami Reindeer Herding in Finnish Lapland

We used to think that transportation via reindeer sleigh was the creative invention of Santa Claus; however, that was before we took our very own one-reindeer-open-sleigh ride through Finnish Lapland. While unfortunately we remained quite firmly planted on the ground rather than souring above rooftops, the experience—and more specifically the opportunity to learn about Sami reindeer herders—taught us that there is much more to the culture of reindeer than we ever knew before.     We’ve been mentioning ‘Lapland’ a lot in our recent posts, but we have yet to actually define where the region is. (And as evident from the blank expressions we get after telling people that’s where our travels have taken us, this information might be useful.) Lapland is the northernmost cultural region of Europe, largely within the Arctic Circle, traditionally inhabited by the Sami people. The Sami, previously known as the Lapps, are a minority indigenous goup of the region. Today Lapland stretches across parts of northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and even Russia.     The Sami culture in Lapland is intimately connected to the reindeer, similar to that of the Native Americans and the buffalo. This could perhaps be because there are more reindeer than people in Lapland; the animals have long served to meet many needs of the Sami, from food to clothing to, of course, transportation. Even today, every single reindeer in Lapland belongs to someone, and is tagged accordingly. In many ways, life for the modern-day Sami reindeer herder has not changed all that much. We did meet a reindeer herder in Sweden who stays connected on his iPhone and enjoys going...
15 Ways Yllas, Finland Surprised and Enchanted Us

15 Ways Yllas, Finland Surprised and Enchanted Us

It was only supposed to be a four-hour drive to arrive at Yllas, Finland from Kiruna, Sweden. But in typical ‘A Cruising Couple’ style, we got hopelessly lost along the way, largely due to driving without any sort of GPS system. Heck, we didn’t even have an old-school roadmap. So four hours turned to eight, partly because we drove to the wrong town, partly because we were driving on roads coated in thick sheets of ice. And if there’s anything growing up in North Carolina taught us, it’s that we don’t know how to drive in winter weather conditions. So we were obviously very ready to be in Yllas when we finally arrived there. But what we were ready for we really didn’t know. Yllas is one of Finland’s oldest ski resorts, located deep in the arctic of Western Finland. Tourists have been coming to the area since the 1930s, back when reindeer carriages were still the primary mode of transportation and a hotel meant the spare bedroom in a local’s home. Today the region is comprised of two small villages, Yllasjarvi and Akaslompolo, together boasting a whopping population of around 750 people. Despite its long history with tourism, Yllas remains a bit of a hidden gem, largely unheard of outside of Finland. Our stay was short at only three days. But nonetheless, Yllas—and specifically the village of Akaslompolo—proved to be surprisingly enchanting. Here are just a few reasons why:   15 Ways Yllas, Finland Surprised and Enchanted Us    1) The Cross-Country Skiing Network   With 330 kilometers of tracks, Yllas has one of the most extensive cross-country skiing...
Becoming a Musher: A Day of Husky Dog Sledding

Becoming a Musher: A Day of Husky Dog Sledding

It might have been Lapland’s Northern Lights that initially caught our attention, but it was the chance to go dog sledding that proved to be one of the biggest determining factors for making the trip up north.   We absolutely love huskies. How could anyone not? They’re beautiful and playful and intelligent and really just all-around adorable. Even if you claim not to be a dog person, it’s hard to deny a face like this:     Needless to say, we were eagerly anticipating our day of canine fun when we returned to the Aurora Guesthouse after our wilderness adventure. The day began with a short drive to Husky Holidays. A small family business, Husky Holidays is run by Birgit and Bruno—and the fifty husky dogs they call family. Birgit and Bruno not only know every dog by name, but they also know their personality, their strengths, and how the dogs interact with each other. Their special relationship with the dogs was evident from the moment we arrived, and we were thankful to have chosen an outfitter we could trust and respect. After donning the appropriate bibs and boots, it was time for our first ‘mushing’ lesson.   Musher: the driver of a dogsled. Birgit first demonstrated on a sledge the basic steps to driving, including how to break, slow down, and use our body weight to control the sledge. Though accidents rarely happen, they are possible, and it was important to clearly understand how to remain in charge at all times. If the musher is not paying attention, the sledge could run over the dogs, leave the trail,...
That Time We Slept In a Hotel Made of Snow – Our Experience at the Snow Village, Finland

That Time We Slept In a Hotel Made of Snow – Our Experience at the Snow Village, Finland

  We pulled up to a discreet looking entrance: a door surrounded by mounds of snow, tucked deep into the forests of Lainio, Finland. This is the Snow Village?     We might have driven right past it if it hadn’t been for the well-placed signage. But when we walked through the door we were immediately transported to a magical winter wonderland—and a hotel unlike any we had visited before.     Every year in late November, an international set of skilled artists and sculptors arrive to the Arctic Circle to bring new form to crystallized water. It takes 1,000 truckloads of snow and 300,000 kilos of ice blocks (carved from the local river) to create the Snow Village; the resulting ice and snow complex consists of a restaurant, a bar, lobbies, hotel rooms, a church, children’s play area and an abundance of awe-inspiring ice sculptures. The design changes each year, promising visitors a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience.     Building the Snow Village The Snow Village is built entirely out of snow and ice. To construct the dome shapes, a giant round balloon is first inflated. Snow is then packed on top. Once the snow has compacted and set a strong, insulating and protective layer, the balloon is popped, and the basic structure is formed. This is just the foundation for the village—ice furniture, massive snow murals, and intricate ice sculptures still need to be designed. LED lights then accent the artwork, contributing to the truly magical ambience inside the village. Because the artists must wait until the weather conditions are cold enough to begin, typically around -10 ºC,...
The Northern Lights — Everything You Need to Know About Seeing the Aurora Borealis

The Northern Lights — Everything You Need to Know About Seeing the Aurora Borealis

When we first booked our plane tickets to Stockholm, we had no intention of making the journey up north to Lapland. To be completely honest, I don’t think we even knew where Lapland was. But when we learned that the Northern Lights were visible there through the start of April, there was no question about it—we were going to the Arctic. We soon discovered that there was a lot more to Lapland than just Aurora hunting, and we became captivated by the endless ski, snowmobile, dog sled, and snowshoe opportunities waiting for us. Traveling to this region would be a completely new adventure for us in every sense of the word. We were still secretly hoping that the impetus behind the trip—to see the lights—would be possible, but we also had to remind ourselves to be practical. There was a large chance that we wouldn’t see any Northern Lights during our two-week stay. February had been so cloudy that no one saw any lights for the entire month. There was just no way to know for sure.   In the end, we were extremely fortunate. Some nights were better than others, the lights colorfully dancing throughout the sky. Other nights we could only distinguish the lights from the clouds when we looked at the playback on the camera. But there was no question about it—we saw the Northern Lights.   Seeing the Aurora was in many ways a dream come true for us. But throughout the experience we learned a lot about what it’s really like to witness them. And spoiler alert: it’s not like the photos you’ve seen...