Nature

Finally Made It to Lapland!

One frustrating part of OUR experience here is Finland is trying to get information from the Finns on traveling within Finland.  So different from the USA.  When you ask about a destination it is usually quite easy to get info about traveling to places within the US and outside the US.  Some of our  experiences here in Finland have been completely blind – Lapland was definitely  the case here.  Lapland was a last minute decision with less than a week before we would leave.  We found an excellent deal at least what we felt was an excellent deal with the train from Helsinki to Rovaniemi.  It would be an overnight train experience.  Everyone was  very excited!  Rovaniemi is located at 66°30′N 025°44′E which is just south of the Arctic Circle.

As a family we put Lapland on our bucket list.  With that bucket list we wanted  to see reindeer, see Santa’s home, dogsled ride, ice fishing, snowmobiling and the Northern Lights.

This trip was going to be quick as we would be one night on the train to Rovaniemi , one night in Rovaniemi and then one night on the train back to Helsinki.  I spent a lot of time investigating what to  and how to make the most of it in such a short amount of time.  I had basically no help from anyone on trying to figure out what to do.  We found a get deal for our hotel in Rovaniemi on TripAdvisor which included breakfast.  The hotel was called Rantasipi Pohjanhovi.    If you click on the link it will take you to our  HotelRoomTours site and you can view the room we stayed in.   A short distance from the hotel was a great outdoor AngryBird Park.

I knew I wanted to find the best possible tour with what was on our bucket list and not spend too much.  Lapland is quite expensive, almost comparable to Disney in my opinion if not more.  I found Lapland Safaris online.  They seemed to have the best tour packages in my mind and good feedback.  Basically, they could cover everything on our list if we wanted to spend a lot of euros.  We narrowed it down to one specific tour – Santa Claus Safari which takes approximately 6 hours total.  The weekend we went (first weekend in Decemeber) was the opening season for Rovaniemi.  Our safari would include nature, culture and the spirit of Christmas.  This would be perfect for our family.  When I booked the trip I was experiencing some difficulties and their customer service was quite helpful.  The cost for the Santa Safari was 197,00 euros per adult and  98,50 euros per child.  This also included lunch.

When the train arrived into Rovaniemi we found our way to where we should catch a taxi.  This ended up being the most difficult part of the trip.  We stood for quite some time in the cold snowy weather with two young children waiting for an available taxi.  We made several phone calls and the hotel was trying to assist us the best they could.  Rovaniemi is a small town so it was a pretty quick trip to the hotel.  We arrived into Rovaniemi around 8:00am and we had our safari scheduled for 10:00am.  Lapland Safari start point was located right next door to the hotel we were staying in.  This was quite convenient.   We had time to check in and use the restroom with plenty of time.  We headed over to Lapland Safaris to check in.  The first part of the trip would be a snowmobile safari to a reindeer farm.  We were taken to the clothing area where we were all fitted with proper Lapland attire.  I might add it is quite cold up in the Arctic Circle.  From head to toe we were completely covered.  We then took a bus ride to the snowmobiles.  The children rode in sleighs pulled by snowmobiles and any adults that did not want to drive a snowmobile.  They sat in cozy sleighs with a nice warm blanket.  We got a short explanation on the use of the snowmobile and hand signals we would be using and then we all loaded up.  I believe we had about 25 ppl in our group.  The snowmobiling was on a frozen river.  We did see a small herd of reindeer in the distance on the river running.  That was pretty cool!  Christian did the first round and I drove the second half.  Here is a short video clip of the snowmobiling.

Our destination on the snowmobiles was to a reindeer farm.  Here we would learn more about the reindeer and the Lappish culture.  We went inside a structure where there was a warm fire and a guide dressed in his Saami attire.  After this we headed back outside and had a reindeer sleigh ride.  This was a lot of fun!  We were able to fit our family of four on one sleigh pulled by one reindeer.  This was a special experience for our family. Here is a short video clip of our sleigh ride.

After the sleigh ride  they girls played in the snow and we were waiting to have a visit with Santa Claus.  We were the first ones to go and have our own private visit with Santa.  After everyone had their visit with Santa we got back on the snowmobiles to head back to catch the bus to take us to Santa’s Village.  Santa’s Village was pretty much a tourist area.  The best part was getting some postcards and stamps.  The postcards would be stamped from Santa’s Post Office!  I don’t think I’ve ever written so many postcards in such a short amount of time.

The next day we decided we would take the girls to Santa’s Park.  This was pricey, but fun.  The girls were the perfect age.  The park is completely underground which was pretty cool!  The girls would go to Elf School,  calligraphy class, decorated gingerbread cookies in Mrs. Claus’ kitchen and another visit with Santa.  Lots of fun at Santa’s Park.

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After Santa Park we found a great outside Angry Bird Park right in Rovaniemi just two blocks from our hotel.  The girls played for a bit and then we had some Subway in the lobby of our hotel before heading to the train.

Overall, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.  The girls had fun and we were officially in the Christmas spirit.  This was perfect for our family.  We felt like we had enough time and were not rushing to get things accomplished.  Another time would be ice hotel or glass igloos and trying to find the Northern Lights.

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Merry Christmas 2013 Video Greeting Card

Merry Christmas or Iloista joulua

We decided to do a little something different this year so we created a Video Christmas Greeting. When you click on the link it might take a few seconds to load. We hope everyone has a Merry Christmas and a Happy 2014!!!
EricksonFamily Christmas Greeting

http://www.biz4kids.com/EricksonChristmas2013.html

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Finland’s National Bird, The Whooper Swan

The Whooper Swan is Finland’s National Bird. You can also see the swan on the Finnish 1 euro coin. The Whooper Swans pair for life.

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Recently I had a friend visit me that I had not seen in 20 years and I took her to Iittala. Iittala is a Finnish glassworks company. I have collected several pieces, but one of my favorites are the Birds by Toikka. We also visited Stockmann and currently during the tourist season they have a theme going on the 5th floor called <Feels like Finland. This display is going on from May 31 – August 24, 2013. The really cool part was that they have Heikki Väisänen, an Iittala glassblower blowing glass objects right there in the store on certain dates in June. See Stockmann’s website for more information. We were able to watch him make different objects. My friend, Jennifer and I both picked up Swans that Heikki had blown and signed. Together we will remember being reunited in Helsinki when we look at these birds on our shelves – a pair for life.. Also for Jennifer this was her first solo adventure in Europe. I am so happy she took on this challenge to rekindle a friendship!

20130605-124450.jpgJennifer and I - Reunited after 20 years in Helsinki Jennifer and I – Reunited after 20 years in Helsinki

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Lily of the Valley – Finland’s National Flower

One of the most beautiful parts of Finland is when Spring finally arrives. Finland truly comes alive with so much lush green beauty and then dabs of color with all the beautiful flowers. One such flower is Lily of the Valley. Most people might be familiar with its sweet fragrance. It is a wonderful smell to come upon as you walk through the Finnish forest and there is a light breeze. I will have a different picture in my mind the next time a soak in a tub with Lily of the Valley bubble bath.

Lily of the Valley grows in the cool temperate Northern Hemisphere like Asia, Europe and the Southern Appalachian Mountains in the USA. The flowers look like little tiny white bells. They are very popular with weddings and can be quite expensive. The thing I did not realize was how toxic Lily of the Valley is. The entire plant and the red berries are very poisonous. Lily of the Valley has about 38 different cardiac glycosides. (Drugs used with treatment for congestive heart failure and cardiac arrhythmia)

We happened across the plant when riding our bikes on a trail. We saw an older couple and the Finnish woman was picking something. We kept going and stopped to take a break and the couple caught up and I noticed she had a small bouquet of white flowers in her hand. I was guessing on what I could see that they were Lily of the Valley. My grandmother (Granny) would be so proud of me knowing my flowers. The next day I confirmed what the couple was picking because I noticed the same plant across the street from our house in the small forest. I was so excited! I started picking the flowers so that I could try and have that sweet fragrance fill our home. It was all of this that caused me to do a quick research – thank you Wikipedia for all your information- on Lily of the Valley. The girls were not pleased to hear how toxic the flowers are. I think they were a little upset that I let them pick them.

The other really cool thing we learned was that Lily of the Valley is Finland’s National Flower. Fun to see in the wild in our “front yard” and to be able to pick them and have them in our home.

Below are some pictures of us finding Lily of Valley in our forest.

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Finnish April Shower

Spring has sprung? Is just over 0C really spring? Maybe it is more that we are now at 14 hours of sunlight and yes that makes a HUGE difference. Last week we broke out the lighter winter wear. We thought our heavy down parkas might be done for winter #2. Saturday was beautiful +4 – yes Finnish spring weather!

Lots of playing and the girls even fell asleep at 7pm on a Saturday night. Could this be true? Christian and I watched about the French Revolution on YouTube to prepare for our trip to Paris in a week.

Sunday came and we broke out the bikes to prep. Let me remind you there is still plenty of snow and ice on the ground. However, we are seeing pavement and the street sweepers even started to pick up the gravel and the excess of dust from this and the chemical they spray to make the streets and paths accessible all winter is quite abundant. This phenomena causes a lot of excitement for the Finns! You start to see more bikes even the elderly are started to hop on the bikes. I prefer to wait for the gravel to disappear so little tumbles off the bikes or scooters don’t turn into huge drama. I have the band aids ready. That is one nice thing about snow and sledding, you really don’t need bandaids. The girls started a little rusty on the bikes, but got the hang of it pretty quick.

We had seen the the weather forecast predicting snow for Sunday afternoon and the hourly stated 2pm it would start, but that came and went and no snow. 4pm came and we started to see flurries. No big deal, but by 5pm it was snowing and Facebook of my Finnish friends were all posting the snow. I think everyone has had it for the winter white stuff and since we had a lousy wet summer, we are hoping for an excellent 2013 summer and it is deserved! I do have a much better appreciation why July shuts down in this part of the world.

As we went to bed I would say we got 3-4cm. Last winter we got the last snow that seemed to take the rest of the snow away. You could feel this last year. I’m not determined this time, but I’m hopeful this is it.

I will say I love the pure white snow and how it is in the trees. The backdrop of the bluest sky just like the cross on the Finnish flag is so beautiful and then there is the sun that was up at 6:30am making all the fresh white snow sparkle light diamonds. Makes for a peaceful and refreshing walk with oneself. Some like Yoga, but I’ll take this!

April 8th Snowfall

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And then you finish off your beautiful walk with one of these – gotta love Finland!

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Northern Lights

When is the best time for witnessing the Northern Lights? They say it is from September to late April. Cold winter nights tend to provide the highest chances of seeing them. The best time to see them is around 23:00 pm (11pm) – 2:00 am. Most seekers are bundled up and out in cold weather between 22:00 pm (10pm) – 4:00 am. A lot of hotels up in Lapland will call your room and alert you if they are spotted in the night sky. I was starting to think my chances of seeing this phenomena were going to be slim to none. I have talked to many Finns that have lived here all their lives and have never witnessed them. They say you have a much better chance of seeing a shooting star.

Well this American Expat is determined to see them before exiting this country! I want to see color and lights in the dark, cold winter that seems to never end here in Finland!

There are 3 natural phenomenas and last night I got to witness one of them! The three phenomenas are the Midnight Sun, the Polar Nights and the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis). I finally got to experience the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis)! The best part was that I did not have to spend many euros to go to Lapland to see them. I was able to see them inside my home in Espoo, Finland. It is quite rare to see these and actually they say it is more luck when visiting up around the Arctic Circle and to be able to say we saw them in the Helsinki area is even more rare.

We found out about a site early on in our adventures here, that will alert you when there is Northern Light activity. March 17, 2013, it became apparent that we might have an opportunity to see them in Southern Finland. We had a high forecast of a level 5. Basically a level 5 means weather permitting, highly active auroral displays will be visible overhead from Tromsø, Norway to as far south as Sundsvall, Sweden and Arkhangelsk, Russia, visible low on the horizon from Edinburgh and Valga, Estonia. On March 15, 2013, we had a solar event. Due to this event it has put us on active alert for the next day or two. This solar event interacted with the giant magnetic bubble surrounding Earth, the magnetosphere, causing a G1-class geomagnetic storm.

Here is a video model from NASA.gov of the solar event that took place on the 15th of March:

http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/videogallery/index.html?media_id=161088231

In order to see the auroral display here in Southern Finland the Kp index has to be at least 4 for Northern Lights visibility on the northern horizon, or 6 for the Northern Lights to take place directly overhead. Here is an image of the kp and what it looked like on the 17th.

March 17, 2013 - Aurora Forecast Level 5 for Europe

March 17, 2013 – Aurora Forecast Level 5 for Europe

The first warning came in around 19:00 (7pm). The second about an hour later. This is the one that started a little buzz in the social media in Finland that the Northern Lights were being spotted in the Helsinki Area. We started looking after this and even sent a instant message to a friend out in the National Forest to see if he had spotted them and the chances of seeing them again. He did see them when that second warning was sent out. Patience was his recommendation and they tend to be earlier when spotted this far south. I was determined and pretty much planted myself at the window trying to figure out which direction was north. Pretty easy once I recalled the setting sun. Around 21:00 (9pm) another warning was issued. I started looking at this point a little more. Jumping from front and back windows of my house.

Finally, very close 22:00 (10pm) I noticed something in the sky. It seemed like a band or wave just below a star I could see in the sky. I was not sure if this was it. I was calling out to Christian to come look, but he was in the bathroom brushing his teeth and did not hear me. By the time he did hear me I could not really see the band anymore. I received this warning on my phone NUR_XYDERIV= 72(2013-03-17-20UT). So we knew we might get a chance. He continued to look out the window with me and then we started to notice it again. Christian has seen the Northern Lights before with his brother, Stephen in Lapland, Sweden. Christian confirmed what I was seeing and then we started to notice more color of faint green waves. We quickly ran outside in our pajamas in the freezing weather at least -12C. It was a little more noticeable once stepping outside and as we looked around you could see it stretching across the sky and dipping down. We even saw it at one point have what looked like wavy fingers. The entire time is kept a green tint. My thought was if we didn’t have the light pollution from street lights and Helsinki how much more vivid would they have been? I didn’t care! I was witnessing something that not many ever get to see and almost very rare to see this far south of the Arctic Circle. We both had our iPhones out not really realizing they were not going to capture what we were seeing, but they did capture my excitement with seeing them and to me was totally priceless!
Here is a clip of video darkness, but my excitement caught on video!

We were unable to get pictures, but I have found a few videos on YouTube that people were able to capture from the 17th. Here are few of my favorites.

For future information on how to capture The Northern Lights here are photography tips that I found:

BASIC EQUIPMENT: A tripod first of all, preferably used with a remote trigger so you don’t have to touch the camera. The camera should be a 35mm SLR camera with manual focus (set to “infinity”), which works well for Northern Lights photography. Digital cameras will need to have manually adjustable ISO and zoom settings.

RECOMMENDED PHOTO GEAR: Beyond the basic photography equipment, you should bring the following gear for great results: A wide-angle zoom lens, f2.8 (or lower numbers), will give great results photographing the Northern Lights. A wireless trigger is also very nice, so you don’t nudge the camera at all. If you have a prime lens (with fixed focal length) for your camera, bring it.

TAKING A PICTURE: You will not be able to take good pictures of the Northern Lights with short exposure times. Good exposure times for this are 20-40 seconds per picture (the tripod will help you eliminate shaking of the camera – you can’t hold the camera by hand.) A sample exposure time for ISO 800 film with f/2.8 would be 30 seconds.

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Light Fluffy Snow

Today we have been having light snow all day. The temperature has been between -0 – 1 C (30 – 33 F). This tends to be warm so the snow can sometimes be a mix or is wet and heavy. I prefer the colder temps and the lighter snow. It is so much easier to shovel! I also enjoy seeing the details with snowflakes. I was surprised to see the light fluffy snow with the warmer temps.

When you look at the snow closely you can see massive amounts of flakes all hugging together. It looked like fluffy cotton or a fluffy cloud caught on a branch. Here is a picture I took with my iPhone.

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Below is some information I found on light fluffy snow from ABC’s 13 wham out of Rochester, USA.
Snowfall accumulation can be increased when significantly colder air is present. One of the basic principles of the atmosphere states that, “The atmosphere’s ability to hold moisture is directly related to the air temperature at any given time.” A warm atmosphere can hold tremendous amounts of water vapor while a cold atmosphere has a very limited ability to hold moisture.

Here’s an example: If the air temperature is 30 degrees and the area receives 0.50” of liquid precipitation. This would equate to roughly 5” of snow. That same amount of liquid at 10 degrees would equate to 15” of snow. The fluffy snow at 10 degrees is also much easier to shovel and plow compared to the “slushier” snow around 30 degrees.

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Are Any Two Snowflakes Alike?

Have you ever heard or asked this question yourself? I remember hearing this as a kid. I remember hearing that no two snowflakes are the same. Sometimes when it is bitter cold and the conditions are just right, you can see the beauty and characteristics of each flake.

A week or two ago it was negative teens or twenties (degrees) Celsius and snowing. Beautiful snowflakes were gracefully floating down to earth and because it was so cold they did not melt. You were able to observe the detail of every snowflake as it landed on your jacket. They were absolutely beautiful. I felt like that little girl again wondering if any two snowflakes were just alike?

I decided to see if this was true. Were my parents and teachers accurate with what they told me as a little girl? As I researched it became a complex answer – like that depends on what a snowflake is? Also it led into physics – which was never my strong suit, sorry Mr. Lacsny (High school physics teacher). I started to think how would we really ever know this answer even if you were the smartest scientist in the world? You would have to look at the statistical probability that any two flakes are exactly alike by examining all of the different possible number of water atoms in a snowflake, describing all the different possible angles and configurations of the atoms to every possible quantum state, and then you could calculate the probability that two would be exactly alike. If you were able to calculate that, you would have a number of possible flakes that would be more than all the atoms in the entire universe. In other words, there is a probability that two flakes could be exactly the same to the quantum level, but the probability is vanishingly small such that you’d have to wait for trillions of years on trillions of earths waiting for it to happen, and it still might never happen. But if you define “alike” more loosely, you can go out today and find two snowflakes that look pretty similar to each other–you’d find a good match in a day with a computer to help you with the image processing and data mining. But if you started to look deeper you would ultimately discover that some of the atoms were arranged differently. http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20090316100429AADVfYZ

So my research concluded, that my parents and teachers were correct and no two snowflakes are exactly alike.

For more scientific info on snowflakes here is a link.
http://www.its.caltech.edu/~atomic/snowcrystals/alike/alike.htm

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