Posts Tagged With: Finland

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.

Elf School Diploma IMG_7401 IMG_7368 IMG_7372 IMG_7366

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.

Categories: Family, Finland Life, Nature, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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

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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 of the solar event that took place on the 15th of March:

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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Bike Trip to the Beach

Sunday arrived and it was beautiful, 22C. We decided to go on our first family bike ride. I was fine with this if we could get there using paths and not roads so thanks to our iPhones we headed out.

Natalie is a cautious rider still getting comfortable with hills. Ella is our dare devil training wheel rider. Christian rides to work quite a bit and then there is me. I have not been on my bike since hmmm… not even sure the last time I was on my bike.

We packed our picnic and set our apps and off we went. We took our time and got comfortable on the trails. We were enjoying our outing together. Everyone was doing well. Ella needed some pushes here and there and Natalie sometimes just felt safer if she walked her bike, especially on steep hills.

When we reached the coast we found a bench and sat and had our lunch. It was in a beautiful part of Espoo and I believe one of, if not the wealthiest areas in Finland. The homes were beautiful! I think if I lived in one of them I might not want to leave.

After lunch the girls jumped down to the water and decided to stick their hands in. Surprisingly since it was frozen just a few weeks ago the water felt nice.

We have a joke in our family because every outing we go one Christian runs into someone he knows. We can even say we saw someone on the trail. Christian seems to know so many people. This has only happened twice to me and I’ve lost count with him.

We kept on riding along the coast and came to Cafe Bella’s and a great little beach. People were sunbathing and kids were in the water in bikinis not wetsuits. The girls had ice cream and Christian and I shared a coffee. Ella had her first licorice ice cream. Verdict was that it was yummy.

After our break we walked to the beach. The girls rolled up their pants and jumped right in. There was absolutely no hesitation or shrieks. They were having a blast. It was one of those beaches where you can walk out a great distance and it stays shallow. It was difficult to get the girls out. They were soaked! This mom was prepared with an extra outfit. We changed their clothes in a nice clean restroom on the beach and got back on our bikes.

We decided to head back home. This time we didn’t stop so much. We arrived back home and our app said we did 13km. Not too shabby! We look forward to doing it again!












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Where is Espoo, Finland?

Espoo is in Southern Finland just outside of Helsinki – kind of like Alpharetta to Atlanta or Hockessin to Wilmington or Steiner Ranch to Austin.  Those of you needing a brush up on your World Geography, Finland borders Sweden, Norway and Russia.The population of Finland is 5.2 million mostly concentrated in the South. Nearly a million live in metro-Helsinki area which includes the cities of Helsinki, Espoo and Vantaa.  Some of the other big towns you might have heard of are Tampere, Turku, Oulu, Lahti, Kuopio, Jyväskylä, Pori, Lapeenranta, Vaasa, Kotka and Joensuu.  43% of households live in apartments and 40% in detached housing.  There are 1 million residential buildings and an estimated 2 million saunas.  Finnish is the language spoken here, but also Swedish and most speak beautiful English.

I guess we are still considered Southerners! 🙂

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WinterWonderland Walk to Tapiola

One of Espoo/Helsinki’s best attributes is the wonderful people only walking/biking trails.  They are all over the place.  Most the paths even have lights.  Don’t think the snow stops the bike riders; they are out and they even have the awesome  studded tires like all the cars and buses so there is no sliding around.  You will also see skiers, mega-wheeled strollers and sleds.  These pictures were taken in our homestretch on the way from Tapiola to our house.  This is my favorite section of the walk.  The tree lined path and the snow on the branches make it absolutely picture perfect.  Tapiola Center is a short walk (1.6 km/1 mile) The center offers Stockmann, H&M, Subway, Picnic, Tapiolan Otso Apteekki, bookstore and more.

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