Finland! The Arctic Circle! Northern Lights! Huskies! Snow! Hiking in the snow!
I’d planned this trip a few months beforehand, piggy-backing on a few days in Copenhagen visiting friends. In the weeks leading up to departure I’d been dreaming about Finland in a frenzy of nervous anticipation. Copenhagen was safe and sanitised, and I’d be staying with friends. But Finland, and not just Finland, the far North of Finland, the European equivalent of the middle of nowhere and the end of the earth and all alone to boot – now that was exciting!
After my short, easy, happy stay in Copenhagen, I arrived in Helsinki airport and was sent straight through to the gate for my flight to Ivalo. I didn’t even so much as get to go into the arrivals area. Which also meant, of course, that I didn’t have a chance to buy a SIM card. And we’ll see the consequences of that in just a bit.
Ivalo is as tiny an airport as any I’ve ever seen, and I have seen a few. You walk to the terminal. Forget aerobridges, they don’t even need a coach from the parking bay to the terminal. Yeah, it’s like that. So you walk into the terminal and there’s the baggage carousel. Yes, they have one. But just one. You pick up your bag and walk out the other door. It’s too close for a stone’s throw, but spitting distance should be about right. Oh, wait, there was a counter selling food. I asked them for a SIM card, but of course, no such luck.
Outdoors, there was a bus, which was good because it was 3 degrees and there was piles of snow everywhere. However. The bus was going to Saariselka and I wanted to go to Inari. I must have been the only one. All the other tourists got into the bus. A couple of groups had dedicated vans waiting. Three and a half locals got into cars. And that left me, just me.
No bus to Inari, I asked hopelessly. Nope. But the web says… Oh wait, that timetable was till the end of March and now it’s April. Hmmm, so that wasn’t an oversight or sheer tardiness. I should have known. Alright, so I need a taxi. There’s a number I can call. Great. Oh wait. Remember that SIM card that I didn’t get? Hmmm.
I went back into the airport terminal, but the women behind the food counter had already downed the shutter. No tardiness there. There was an information booth. It wasn’t exactly information I required, but how much can a local phone call cost?
There was no one in the information booth, but when I’d stood around looking helpless for about three seconds, a woman asked if she could help me. I explained and she dialled up a taxi in a jiffy. Problem solved.
I went back outdoors to wait for it. I didn’t want to miss it, after all.
The taxi arrived after ten long minutes of waiting in the cold. It was supposed to be number 17. I didn’t see a number anywhere, but it was the only taxi on the scene and I was the only passenger, so I got in anyway.
What a drive it was! Beautiful, but so absurdly remote! Someone, when I told them my vacation plans, said, oh, how brave. Was this what they’d meant? It did seem to stretch sensibility a bit, going off to nowhere all alone. Everything was pristine white and there was not a single vehicle apart from mine. What does one even do in a place like this? And how does one get back? Coming from a crowded country like India, even though I don’t mind traveling alone and I actually seek out remote places, the vastness, the silence, the complete absence of human life forms did seem a tiny bit overwhelming here.
The hotel put things back in balance. There was a woman at reception. Ah, some human life forms after all, just not too many. I suppose, with a population density of 2 people in every 4 km x 5 km area (0.45 heads per square km; work it out and let me know if I’ve got it wrong), it’s not surprising.
When I travel, I often stay in youth hostels, where there’s a particular vibe. The people at reception are usually travellers, not just people doing a job. They’re a chatty type. Of course, my experiences so far have been in countries further south and with higher population densities, so maybe that has something to do with it. In any case, with the woman at reception, interaction was brief enough that I expect the job will be given to a bot of some kind any day now.
My room was adorable. Tiny, cosy, minimal and functional. It would have been a tight fit for two people and I wouldn’t suggest trying to swing the proverbial cat (or any other cat for that matter) in there, but for me it was just perfect. No fridge, no microwave, large window, brilliant view, no human life forms visible. In fact, come to think of it, no life forms of any kind. Just lots of snow and trees. Perfect.
Off I went to see what there was to be seen.