Trip To Finland
December last year was an ideal Finland vacation tour for me and my family. As professional Photographers, my lovely wife and I have always been fascinated of Christmas postcard images, the northern lights and other picturesque sights of Finland. We decided to bring along my son who dabbles into photography too. He recently graduated with honors from high school, so we decided to reward his scholastic achievements with a 15 day family trip to Finland. Armed with our Canon 400D and 18-55mm lens, tripod and our adventurous spirit, we headed off to Finland.
After an 8 hour non-stop flight from JFK Airport to Helsinki; we were greeted at the airport by the cold weather and the warm handshake of our Finnish tour guide. Joining seven other nationalities on our Helsinki City Tour, our walking tour started off at Senate Square, a huge square surrounded by buildings of neoclassical architecture. We were in awe of the massive steps leading to The Helsinki Cathedral, the church looks so plain inside by the way, and it is not as overwhelming as it looks on the outside. Other points of great interest are The National Library of Finland, Government Palace and Helsinki University. We took amazing shots beside the big statue of Emperor Alexander II. It’s a great photo op having the big white church in the background. We took a nice stroll along The Esplanade, a park tucked in between two busy streets. We were lucky to witness the famous band stand “Esplanadin Lava” perform good old brass music. When we got hungry we dined at Kappeli Restaurant. Kappeli, is a classic Finnish bar, with a terrace, greenhouse café and a classy restaurant. One can’t simply miss it because it’s next to the harbor, near the Esplanade. Food was great and service was excellent!
The following day, we took a one and a flight to the northern part of Finland, Rovaniemi, Lapland. We felt like little kids again as we visited Santa Claus Village at Joulukka. We drove through the town and on a winding forest road to get there. We’ve seen herd of reindeers. Two Elves welcomed our group to bring us to a hut in the woods called The Elf School. Professor Elf gave a 30 minute lesson to become an elf. We attended the lecture and now we are certified elves. :D We then headed back to the forest into a wide clearing. We roasted marshmallows by the fire, made a snowman and downed a cup of hot chocolates on that snowy land. After that, we headed to Santa’s Command Centre to meet the man in red. He was very soft spoken and related personally to everyone. Kids were lined up to tell their wishes, and he gave gifts in return. It was a thrilling experience for our family. While there, we checked out The Santa Park, an indoor park full of Christmas delights and rides. It has a Giant Snow Globe, Mrs. Clause for Gingerbread Decorating, Santa’s Post Office, Calligraphy writing, The Christmas Train Ride and Angry Birds Play Area. We were delighted to visit this place.
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The next day, we took a tour bus to the city of Ruka to spend our snowboarding holiday. Being an advanced level skier, I was really looking forward to this. We spent 5 days at the Rukahovi Apartments, a very comfortable log cabin, Exploring Ruka. We enjoyed the 20 km husky sled ride, pulled by 80 muscular dogs and puppies you can pet. A group of well trained Ruka Safaris guided us through our 50 km snowmobile safari and snowmobile reindeer trip. I highly recommend everyone to try out the best skiing resort in Finland, the Ruka resort. It’s not a huge one but the slopes are well maintained and groomed. Sledging downhill was the best experience ever! The slopes were even floodlit for night time skiing fun. Some ski huts offer a quick hot chocolate. Ruka peak offers wonderful meal on this winter wonderland. Every night we used to stroll down to a lake near the town and just watch the stars. The locals we met were very charming; always hospitable and providing tourists with information to enjoy Ruka. A quaint souvenir shop sells snow suits, snow mobiles, jackets and ski souvenirs.
We took an 8-hour night train for our 3 day visit to Tampere, a city located at the southern part of Finland. We went up The Pyynikki Park and the Observation Tower, and had a marvelous view of the city and the three different lakes around Tampere. The real crowd drawer was the donuts and coffee. We took lots of pictures of the frescoes, stained glass interiors and the unique art works preserved at The Tampere Cathedral. This surely is an interesting church to meditate and admire its Nordic Architecture. 2nd day, we enjoyed all sorts of rides at The Sarkan Niemi Adventure Park. The Dolphin show was worth watching. The Angry Birds Land is designed mostly for kids. My son and I were left breathless at The Tornado Roller Coaster Ride. The Children’s Baby Zoo was well maintained. We enjoyed a leisurely coffee and cake at The Nassineula Observation Tower, the highest observation deck in Finland. On our 3rd day, we made a quick tour to the Spy Museum that showcases spy gadgets and gizmos. This was indeed a very engaging educational tour about spy techniques.
To fully enjoy the eastern part of Finland, we flew and spent 2 days to The Lakelands, Rantasalmi. We started at The Linnansaari National Park, a Finnish lake that is untouched from human interference. We rented a rowboat to get to the lake sides. We were lucky to see Lake Saimaa at its very best. My camera captured a “norppa”, a seal while it was resting on the shore. There were hiking tours for 1 to 7 km across the island. Free tents are given for families who like to camp at the Sammakko Niemi Camping Area. Even small log cabins can be rented. There are Elks to see, but no wolves or bears. Prepare to be surprised on what animal will suddenly pop out of the woods. Our tour guide told us that the animals here are not camera shy. For the rest of the tour, our family chose to go kayaking along the lake sides and quietly enjoy the sights of nature.
We then moved to another interesting attraction, The Olavinlinna Castle in Savonlinna; an austere medieval castle sitting on a lake and easily reachable by a narrow walkway. Enjoyed the music of the Opera called Apocalyptica, the acoustics were amazing. The guided tour gave us access to the towers, wonderful view from the top. The tour was in English and we learned more interesting facts about Finland’s history. The castle’s courtyard is off limits to tourists. There was hardly any furniture inside. The King’s Hall only had vinyl chairs.
On our last day, we headed out for another outdoor activity in Flow Park, Skanssinkatu, Turku. We tried all the obstacle courses; “The Barrel Block” was the hardest. The Slide Marathon was fair enough. Once you start the route there is no going back. Routes are built on top of trees, so the fear of heights is not allowed. Safety equipment and gears are provided by professional outdoor sports specialists and no machines or fancy gadgets all allowed. And once you get the hang of it, it’s easy to go with the flow. After this, we dropped by Skanssi Shopping Mall to dine and shop for gifts to bring back home.
Peace and being in close proximity with nature was what we truly cherished on this trip. Though we had no luck capturing the famous northern lights (it shows more during less colder months). Looking back, all I can say is, it was an exceptionally rewarding experience to visit a country with pure, idyllic sights and meet warm hearted beautiful people. We all just loved being in Finland!!