Sivu 54

f you look at a map of Finland, you'll notice that the country is shaped like a girl who is wearing mittens and waving at you ­ a wise thing, too, the mittens, for it gets pretty cold so far above the Arctic Circle. Well, I own mittens and have even brought them along, but I must admit that I'm feeling a bit nervous as I step on the plane heading from Helsinki towards Kilpisjärvi, one of the remotest areas of Finnish Lapland. Here I am, a girly girl with no experience conquering anything, let alone mountains, heading to the arctic wilderness known for separating the men from the boys. On the plane, everywhere I look there are seriouslooking hikers wearing impressive combatstyle outfits. I have a sneaking suspicion that their backpacks are filled with innovative multifunctional tent-life-raft-drawbridge devices that fit neatly inside a matchbox and weigh less than a gram. Nothing I have with me is remotely hightech. Even fewer items are multifunctional ­ excluding my Chanel eyebrow shaper enhancer kit that comes with a built-in mirror. Luckily, I'm not heading into the wilds to conquer them, but to surrender, utterly and blissfully. I figure that there are a few things 600-millionyear-old mountains can teach me, as long as I am willing to listen. SPRING SNOW, SWANS AND REINDEER It's spring, the very last days of April. As I look out the airplane window, I see how the baby-green scenery of Helsinki has been gradually replaced by the white, glistening world of the Arctic. I'm excited to be here, in the most perfect winter, with tons of soft, downy snow and enough sunshine to satisfy a Californian. Once off the plane, our minibus makes its way from Kittilä towards Kilpisjärvi, where the scenery is even more majestic, as the mountains become taller. The mountains in the arm of Finland are part of the same Caledonian Mountain belt as those in Norway and Scotland, a different kettle of fish altogether from the rounder, rolling ones that you can admire elsewhere in Finnish Lapland. As I look out the window, I can barely contain my joy: there's a flock of newly arrived 54 BLUE WINGS MARCH 2009 I Whooper Swans swimming in a creek to the left, and reindeer gracing the landscape to the right. Everywhere I look, the bright sun is drawing sharp outlines against the liquorice-black branches of the wiry Arctic birches against a snowy canvas. Nature is showing off, but I don't mind ­ if you've got it, flaunt it. ARCTIC ACTIVITIES So far north, much depends on the weather. But as it turns out, during my weeklong stay the weather is perfect ­ quite warm, and so sunny that my nose gets a bit burned even with the industrial-strength sunscreen I keep slathering on it ever so often. The Arctic spring days are very accommodating towards active travellers as it seems that the The Northern Lights are so spectacular that they take your breath away each and every time you see them. sun does not go to bed until tourists have done absolutely everything they can fit into a day's schedule: ice-fishing, reindeer feeding, paragliding, snowboarding, or extreme skiing down pristine powder-snow covered mountains, swimming in the icy sea off the nearby Norwegian coast, or just sitting in some perfect spot on reindeer skins drinking hot rum and admiring the scenery. My first day makes it clear to me that whatever I may need daylight for, I've got it. For as the sun finally sets, painting the sky in pastel blues, pinks, and lilac colours at around midnight, I'm ready for sleep. Still, for those with more energy, there are night-time activities as well ­ dancing, listening to live music, watching the stars or admiring the Northern Lights. The Aurora Borealis is a common sight, and so spectacular that it will take your breath away each time you see it. NORDIC SKIING, ANYONE? At the break of dawn, all around me tourists are heading off into the mountains. PREVIOUS PAGE: Cross-country skiing on Lake Kilpisjärvi. TOP RIGHT: The beauty of Lake Kilpisjärvi. BOTTOM RIGHT: Feeding reindeer form a pattern.

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