We spent the past couple of weeks in northern Europe and mostly in Lapland, a semi-autonomous region above the Arctic Circle in Norway, Finland and Russia. Majorca or Tenerif would have been warmer options in Europe, but we went for some place colder and snowier than Minnesota – and had a great time!

As typical for trips to Europe, our first stop was Amsterdam. Schiphol Airport is serious about customer service.

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Next stop was a few days in Helsinki Finland. This bikeway was the inspiration for our Midtown Greenway in the Twin Cities.

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A great coffee place in Helsinki.
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Despite the cold there were gobs of people out and about including many sitting at sidewalk tables enjoying a morning coffee.
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Next stop, the Arctic Circle – Ivolo Finland.B1200Arctic 105

Kakslauttanen resort has these fun glass igloos. Ours was a Kelo which is attached to a small cabin. This would have been a great way to enjoy the Northern Lights if it had not been cloudy and snowing until our last day. Still a fun place to sit or sleep.B1200Arctic 106

I got to go exploring in the cab of a snow tank. A couple of hours after telling me that he never gets stuck… We got stuck. But with some effort he got us free and back on our way again.B1200Arctic 107

I liked the texture of this tile and the lighting in our Kelo cabin. In the background is the Sauna. Someone told me that Finn’s build a sauna and then when they’ve saved up some more money they’ll add a house to it 🙂B1200Arctic 108

A selection of Herrings and some seasoned salmon. One of many things I love about Scandinavia. B1200Arctic 109

After Kakslauttanen we moved on to Jávri. A place (or home really) that left a warm spot in our hearts and somewhere that we’ll definitely return. The people are wonderful and the food was, for me anyway, the best of our trip. All ingredients are sourced from within about 20km except some of the fish that came from the Barents Sea, about 70km north. Every bite was terrific and on par with any Relais & Châteaux* meal we’ve had. Juha, the owner, is gracious, filled with laughter and as welcoming and patient as any host can be. Eglé, Pia, Matteo and the rest of staff quickly became local friends whom we looked forward to seeing each day.

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Shooting the Northern Lights was one of our key reasons for traveling here. Tomi, one of Jávri’s guides, took us to this lake on a clear and extremely bright moonlit night. These were taken about 10p, several hours after sunset. It was a truly spectacular show. We see them about once every five years in Minnesota but they are usually very faint. These were quite bright, even with the bright moonlight, and danced around the sky for a few hours. There were also some faint bits of red/orange a couple of times but I sadly didn’t capture it. (And we continued to watch them over drinks after arriving back at Jávri.)B1200Arctic 110

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This is one of the two saunas at Jávri.  Something interesting I learned while in Finland is that ideally the upper bench should be about 50cm (20”) above the top of the rocks (and the ceiling about 110cm (3’6”) above the bench which seems like head bumping territory). Or put another way perhaps, the floor for the upper bench should be equal to or a couple of inches above the top of the rocks. There are several reasons for this I was told. 1) It lessens temperature stratification. The lower the bench is relative to the rocks that emanate heat the greater the temp difference between your head and feet. You want the temp to be as equal as possible and raising you up higher helps to achieve this as the heat above the rocks is fairly consistent while below the top of the rocks it becomes increasing cooler. 2) Allows for higher temps. 3) Uses less energy. 4) Places the window (every sauna we used or saw except smoke saunas had a window!) up higher for a better view. B1200Arctic 114

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The second sauna at Jávri.B1200Arctic 116

Lapland is at once both a beautiful and barren landscape.B1200Arctic 117

One day Jávri arranged a dogsled morning for us with champion musher Rainé. It was an amazing experience to slide so fast and silently through trees. It also proved a bit more of a workout than I expected as I had slower dogs and so occasionally had to jump off the runners and run myself going up hill to help them out. We enjoyed it so much we tried to squeeze in a second one but sadly were unable.  Below, someone enjoyed the dogs themselves as much as the sledding.
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And of course being Lapland there were reindeer and we enjoyed a relaxing (bordering on boring but I do recommend it) sleigh ride. The talk at the end about the Sámi people and their history was interesting and enjoyable.B1200Arctic 119

For me the highlight (besides the people and food at Jávri) was the skiing. There is a small connector trail right by Jávri that led to the local cross country ski highway. B1200Arctic 120

Finns learn to ski early and often. This was a common and smile producing sight.B1200Arctic2 101

Which way should we go?

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The source of the great food we enjoyed at Jávri – Yann and his kitchen. One fun bit is that there are actually three chefs with Sarah from Germany and Olalla from Spain teaming up to produce some of our wonderful meals (and I think Sarah was behind our wonderful desserts).B1200Arctic 121


* A note about Relais & Châteaux. R&C is, for me, a step beyond Michelin. R&C restaurants tend towards more local sustainable ingredients. The preparation is often simpler but just as enjoyable and often more so. R&C chefs tend to prepare meals that are much healthier than typical Michelin stared restaurants and the quantities of food and wine are not as overwhelming. 

More to come…