6 weeks in Finland

August 16 2020, 11 AM: Car is packed, trailer is loaded, dogs are walked, and I leave from Zaventem to Travemunde.

The expected drive time was 7 hours but in all it took me more then 10, because of the heat. I stopped every 2 hours to take the dogs for a stroll and more important: water break. At one point it was 36 degrees on the highway… Luckily no major traffic jams (in Germany always a big risk). Once at the harbour, a quick check-in and then a long walk with the dogs.

FINNLINES FINNSTAR was awaiting us!

Once onboard I installed the dogs on the deck and I transfered the cats to the cabin. Oh, I didn’t mention the cats? Well, Spooky and Ines travel twice a year to Finland with me. They have a big “cat-travel-case” in the trunk, ventilated, heated if necessary and food and litter foreseen. On the boat they join me in the cabin.

Every 4 hours I meet up with a deckhand who gives me access to he dogs. I then have 30-45 min to feed, walk and let them do their business. I take them to the dog deck so they can play a bit with other dogs, lie in the sun and stretch their legs.

Between those “dog times” there’s plenty of stuff to do onboard: food (3 buffet style meals), shopping, there’s a small gym and even a sauna/hottub. And 2 bars with sundecks.

After a 32 hour boat trip, I arrived in Vuosaari, near Helsinki. Smooth sailing! We arrived well rested.

From there it was 2 hours driving to Kaarina, near Turku. I saw Nina and Aamu for the first time again in 2 weeks (Nina flew earlier with Aamu).

We shortly met up with our dear friends Sophia and Roland. They were passing close by, almost at the end of their stay in Finland. We kept it Corona proof by keeping socially distant.

After a few sunny warm days in Kaarina we left for Kallo. End of August is normally a popular period to take a last short break for outdoors activities before the cold and rain start, and the days shorten rapidly. And roadworks. Looks like there’s a catch-up going on.

We stopped on our way to Lapland at an AirBnB 1 hour south of Oulu. wonderful place, fully equipped, and no neighbours. After a quick bath for Aamu, we fired up the sauna and enjoyed a beer and some food.

Next morning we left after a good dog walk. A quick stop to say hello in Oulu to Ward and Yulia to deliver some Belgian necessities, and we were on our way. Lunch in Kemi at a big service station, where it seems that everybody stops… Soo busy… And not a mask in sight…

We arrived at the cabin around 8PM. Everything was ok and the peace and quiet immediately brought rest. Just missing one thing: the water meter. Our caretaker had taken it with him to avoid that it froze. Luckily we had some extra water just in case…

With Aamu we had to find a new rhythm here. But she adapted like a champ. Still sleeping full nights, and she seems to enjoy being outdoors as much as we. There were stil quite a lot of mosquitoes (hyttynen), black flies (mäkäräiset), horseflies (hevoskärpäset) and biting midges (polttiainen). So luckily we brought a device called Thermacell, a handheld, gas-powered repellent. Works wonders! Thanks Kari! And mosquito nets!

We met up after a few days with Mirva and Mikael, her son. They live in Kallo village, moved there last year, and her partner Kari is a truck driver. We met Kari last year when Mikael was just born. Together with Emppu they are our go-to guys for practical mökki-life questions, since they know often “a guy” to get something done.

One very big highlight, and definitely planning on returning: Aurora Estate Boutique Hotel and Restaurant. On the quiet shores of Ylläsjärvi, 2 local young women who decided to carry out their dreams, run this high-end hotel and restaurant. Sirly Ylläsjärvi and Heidi Seikkula (also a malamute compagnon, malamutes rock!) bring the best of local and international cuisine to your table, in a very welcoming and relaxing atmosphere. When the pandemic started, I bought a gift voucher and we used this to discover their culinary wonders. Topped of with an excellent wine! Already planning my next visit!

The dogs enjoy their time here too. We run them free a couple of times per day, except Nanuuq… He discovered that there are plenty of places and people near the village… so after a 2 hour escape he’s getting long-leashed walks instead.

After a week, the reindeer count is at 31… Started slowly but picked up during a roadtrip to Vuontisjärvi, to meet up with Luxembourgish friends who bought a wonderful place, Villa Ainola.

Up until then most reindeer were higher up on the fells, and in the forests, where there are less mosquitos, but temperatures started dropping to 0 during the nights. That meant bye-bye mosquitos, so the reindeer pop up more often in the lower parts. And while you are very careful, they literally pop up from the side of the road and run over. Or just stand in the middle of the road, challenging you to a stand-off…

We met the contractor for our building project, we just have to wait for the permits… But since everybody knows everybody here, this might happen sooner or later. This also means we have to scramble clearing out the cabin soon! And trips to the Kittilä recycling center... at 40 km… Better load up as much as possible!

I managed to get some drone flights in, with some rough footage though. But the views are just magnificent, we’ve had a couple of sunsets that are just impossible to describe. And from above you get a much better view of the lay-out of the property and surroundings.

One of the first flights, just showing the layout and surrounding lands.

On the downside: one of the neighbouring forest plots has been harvested. For 3 days a big feller has been taking out trees, stripping them and stacking them up transport. I understand the need for materials but it is still a sad view to see 50-year-old trees being taken down. While reading up on the subject, I learned that Finland is one of the biggest tree-planting nations. Every year 150 million saplings are planted!

I also ran the dogs every second or third day, using a fat-bike. Not very proper sleddog training but the goal was to let them really stretch their legs. Especially the “tokka”s of reindeer passing made for some exciting rides…

Over the next weeks we were doing more hiking, biking and visiting people around here. Sauna is heated almost daily and it feels great!

Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights are a natural phenomenon common between August and May. Caused by the solar wind hitting the Earth’s atmosphere, it lights up the nightly skies. Different colors basically mean different depths of radiation penetration. One night, just before going to bed, I wandered of on the driveway and it started like a very faint green vail… and within minutes… all over the place.

For the hiking part, we managed to climb a few “tunturi” and tour some “järvi”:

  • Ylläs-tunturi: we basically hiked up the main ski-slope, it’s “only” 2,5 km… With a 7 kg baby strapped to your chest, it proved to be quite the challenge. But we made it, and magnificent views, albeit windy of course.
  • Kätkä-tunturi: (Rykimäpolku) Just outside of Sirkka-city (Levi ski center), a narrow hiking trail with some steep inclines. Weather was a bit rainy and wind (of course) at the top. The lavu at the top was almost full, and halfway through cooking the makkara and drinking our hot tea, Aamu decided she had enough of the smoke… We descended the same way we came up, and both Nina and I struggled with some rocky descents (Nina had Aamu in the carrier, I had 3 sleddogs attached to my belt, ready to go!)
  • Kumppu-tunturi: This is one of Lapland’s iconic tunturis. It is not part of a range, so 360 degree views, at has one side gently sloped, one more steep side (geological origins from the ice-age) and it’s top is wel above the tree-line. The dogs managed well, even the big rocky parts. Once at the top the huts were not supposed to be used due to Covid-19 restrictions. Since we were alone we did rest inside and fed Aamu.
  • Pallas-tunturi: on our way back from visiting a friend in Muonio we stopped at Lapland Hotel Pallas and made a short hike up Pallas-tunturri. In the middle of the large national park Pallas-Ylläs, this is a pretty unique location for a hotel. Activities and relaxing all together! A resident group of reindeer in front of the hotel looked anxiously at the dogs, but apart from a few hikers and bikers, there was nobody.
  • Kesänkijärvi-kierros: Close to Äkäslompolo, this fairly easy hike around the lake was not very impressive in height meters. But it had some nice views and small gems. It was pretty warm that day so we had to apply some mosquito repellant…

We also did a regular (almost daily) walk around Syväjärvi in Kallo, and one day we extended our walk to (Kesä-)Porttijärvi. A wonderful 7 km hike across the forest and wetlands next to Kallo, where the local community built and maintains a cabin, lavu and a watchtower. I managed to shoot some drone footage as well. On the way to the cottage we encountered a large (40+) tokka of reindeer, crossing the path. The dogs went crazy!

Nina participated in a yoga marathon weekend, and while she was busy, I went on a hike with Aamu, Mirva and Mikael, and the dogs, to Rähkäjärvi. Less reindeer seen, but also very close to Kallo. A short break with food for the babies and adults in the lavu, and we walked back.

We also went for a visit to our neighbours, Rami and Sari from Rami’s huskies, a family operated sled dog tour operator. We discovered them through the instagram account of their handler, Aino. We met the doggies, were given a very thorough and informative tour of the new sauna building, and of course had coffee. Rami is as local as they come, so he does not only know everybody, he also builds a lot! Nina got some very good pointers on good resources for the building process.

From one of the cabins, we recovered a lot of big and small items that we want to keep for the new “mökki”: sauna stove, water heater, heating stove, cooker, and about half of the outer siding wooden planks. These will be used for building a kennel and dog houses.

I had ordered materials to build a large dog run, but the initially promised 5-6 day delivery turned into 3 weeks… At least we managed to repair the Kota door (so at least it will be snow-proof this winter). We also put in the winter poles on the driveway… 50… holes…in rocky soil…

One major task to be done before we left was to re-position the main electric board to a temporary cupboard. But one that can withstand the someties 5-6 Bf. wind here, a lot of snow, and – logically important – one that is high enough so the box doesn’t hang in the melting water…

Slowly but surely our departure came closer, so we spent as much time possible outside, taking it all in since a visit this winter will be very unlikely. Hopefully our new Kuusamo cabin will be delivered/built in spring, as soon as the snow is gone. (Hopefully end of April-Mid-May)

Our drive south went very smooth, passing again the Arctic Circle in Pello. Lunch stop in Tornio, overnight stay near Oulu, and the next day back in Kaarina.

The weekend went by quickly: a walk with the dogs near Rusko, where our dogs met Villa and Sipi again. It was almost summer again! The dogs were exhausted as if they had just run a marathon. Thanks for the wonderful lunch, Anni and Pekka!

Soon I found myself packing the car, but this turned out to be rather light, since Nina and Aamu were staying in Kaarina. Sadly the Covid numbers in Belgium were far from ok, and with me working in Brussels there was a big risk of catching the virus. Compared to the relative low numbers in Finland the very close proximity of nature trails, this seems the best solution for us.

On the way to to Helsinki I picked up the dogs from their temporary kennel hotel in Turku: Suvi Marjan. Super place!

I arrived 2 hours early in Helsinki, and found a huge dog park at less then 5 minutes from the port of Vuosaari. 2 big fenced areas, one for the large dogs, 1 for the smaller dogs. They enjoyed that running free again and got to play with other dogs too.

Checking into Finnlines, this time we were going to sail on FINNLINES FINNMAID. Unfortunately we were given a spot below deck, which made for an exciting dog walking every time… There was an small error in communication but Finnlines has contacted us already with an apology and compensation.

Well-rested and fed we arrived in Travemunde, at 10PM we drove of the boat. The German Autobahn was deserted…

After a 10-hour drive we arrived in Zaventem, where the dogs immediately began to re-explore the garden. Mowing is going to be fun… 7 weeks high grass.

Sorting through the photos and videos immediately brings back the memories to again a super trip, one of many to follow and hopefully our home in the future…

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