Yesterday, I wrote a long introduction trying to make this sound like an early retirement post. Today, I've scrapped that and started over because this isn't an early retirement post. It's simply a post about a fantastic short break that I took with my family. If I had to make a connection to early retirement, this is what I'd say...the short version:
I'm retired, my blog is not my job, I have no boss to tell me what to do, so if I want to write about something "off-topic", I can. I like being retired!
This trip was a treat, not a cheap weekend away, particularly as we took our adult "kids". To afford these treats, it helped that I worked some "one more years", and maybe it's best that they weren't on purpose. Back then, I didn't know that I had enough to retire and I was enjoying my work anyway. We're all different: if you're enjoying your job, one more year to top up the pot can be worth it; if you're job isn't fun, then one more year might not be the way to go.
Our trip was to Finland, with the hope to see the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights. Neither Sally nor I have a long list of bucket list items, but this is on Sally's list and I thought it would make a good Christmas present. It was actually for Christmas 2020, but due to Covid restrictions, we only made the trip in January 2022. We made the trip extra special by having our grown up kids come along too.
First, we had to decide where to go. The options included Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Canada and Alaska. North America seemed too far for a short trip, and we settled on Finland for reasons that I can't exactly remember. It turned out to be a good choice though.
We booked four nights accommodation, which gave us three full days in Finland, with a travel day either side.
We stayed at the Wilderness Hotel Muotka in a standard room, they call it a Wilderness room. I was tempted to upgrade the rooms but as we were paying for four people it pushed the price up too much. In reality, the standard room was plenty good enough, and we didn't spend much time in them anyway. We took their full board option, all served buffet style, and we were impressed, they even provided some plant based options. None of us left any meal feeling hungry!
We also paid in advance for an activity package, we chose their Highlights of Lapland package. It kept us busy and entertained, and also meant that we could relax knowing that the costs were already taken care of. We were very pleased with the activities, and the guides who took us on them were excellent.
Our booking was made eleven months ago, and we figured Covid would be past history by now. If only! To enter Finland, we each needed a negative Covid test. This was nerve wracking, and somehow felt worse because we were commencing our journey from three different countries. Thankfully, four negative tests later, we were on our way.
We took warm clothes, but it's not necessary to have all the gear as the hotel kits you out. The downside is that if you're tall, they assume you're also wide, and the all-in-one suits are built accordingly. Safe to say that they're not the most flattering of outfits, as can be seen from some of the photos!
Travel to Finland - Day 1
A flight to Helsinki, and then another to Ivalo. Our first time North or the Arctic Circle, which I found quite exciting.
Cross country skiing - Day 2, morning
Our first time on cross country skis. We went on a mixture of prepared tracks and also ventured off the tracks through the forest. A nice introduction to the landscape. Sally and I didn't fall over. I shall stay silent about the kids🤔
No photo, but a couple got engaged during the cross country skiing. How cute and memorable is that!
Gentle snowshoeing - Day 2, afternoon
The landscape is stark but beautiful. North of the Arctic Circle in January often looked like a black and white photo, the white of the snow and the grey/black appearance of the snow covered trees. Our guide had a background in forestry, and made us laugh when he dived into the snow to dig down to the base of a small pine tree that had it's tip just poking out of the snow. How old did we think it was? I was quite confident with my guess of 8 months, but it turned out I was far off, closer to 20 years was the answer.
Our "gentle" snowshoeing went out of the window when our guide challenged us to a race. The sensible ones declined, but a few of us took the bait. Running in snowshoes in waist high snow was never going to be pretty, and we soon saw why our guide was so confident. Despite the headstart that he gave us, we were trounced, but I don't think I've had as much fun being so thoroughly defeated before. Maybe this could be a new Winter Olympic sport?
Husky safari - Day 3, morning
We assumed that a husky safari would involve a group of tourists in a sledge, being pulled by a team of huskies driven by someone who knew what they were doing. Imagine our surprise to find that we were doing the driving! I took the first go as passenger in the sled while Sally did the driving. What could possibly go wrong? Fortunately, our team of six huskies seemed to know what they were doing and where they were going, so Sally's only job was to give a helping push on uphill sections, apply the brake if we went too fast and, lastly, ensure the sled didn't tip over. Well, two out of three ain't bad, and we did only tip over once! At half way, we changed drivers and, while I'm not one to blow my own trumpet, I don't recall any tipping over after that😉
The non-husky pictures are from the afternoon when we went for a walk. I love how the snow brings out the little kid in us.
Aurora Snowmobiling - Day 3, evening
A first for all of us, snowmobiling. Spoiler alert, we saw the Aurora lights on our very first night, within an hour of arriving, so if we saw it again it would be a bonus, and we did. I won't do a good job of describing it, but seeing the lights for the first time is a combination of magical, mystical, wonder and awe. There was no guarantee that we'd see them, I hoped we would, particularly for Sally's sake, so I had a feeling of relief when they appeared. There's no doubt that seeing the Aurora Borealis surpassed my expectations. By the way, with modern camera's, even without editing, the Aurora lights can look more vivid than they do to the naked eye, but the colours and brightness shown in these pictures are very close to what we actually saw.
Snowmobiling is a lot of fun. The trick seems to be to not try to precisely control the machine, but rather point it in roughly the right direction and go with the flow. I don't know if that's what an expert would say, but it seemed to work for me. Another recommendation is sitting around a campfire enjoying a hot spiced berry drink.
Reindeer day with snowmobile - Day 4, afternoon
This was a long excursion, five hours, consisting of almost an hour on a snowmobile to get to our lunch destination, another short hop to get to the reindeer location, time with the reindeer, including a reindeer sleigh ride, a talk about the reindeer and the indigineous Sámi people, and a forty-five minute snowmobile trip back to the hotel.
Standing behind a reindeer, you can't help notice that they have a heart shape on their butt. All this time, I've been trying to perfect my latté art heart shapes, and now I realise I've had a pretty good immitation of a reindeer's butt on the top of my coffee. From now on, I'm going to pretend that's what I'm aiming for🤣
Aurora camp - Day 4, evening
It was snowing, so the cloud cover meant there was little chance of seeing the Aurora lights for a third time. That was okay, we already felt lucky to have seen them twice, and we enjoyed sitting around a fire, listening to stories from our guides and drinking some more hot spiced berry drink.
Travel home - Day 5
Time to leave the Arctic Circle and return to France. We'd had an amazing time. We'd spent family time together, seen the Northern Lights, tried cross country skiing, lost a snowshoe race, been snowmobiling, driven a husky team and seen reindeer. We'd dressed up like the Michelin Man, but fortunately it was very mild, only dropping to -18°C (about 0°F), quite a relief given our guide's story of what it was like at -48°C (about -54°F)! The hotel was just what we needed it to be, without being unnecessarily flash, and the food was delicious and plentiful. It was a fantastic trip, filled with awesome experiences, we couldn't have asked for more.