From Lapland in the far north of Finland to Helsinki in the far south we learned about the Sámi people and culture, reindeer farming, and an amazing city library.
We disembarked from the Kong Harald in Kirkenes, Norway, just 15 minutes from the Russian border. Before heading south to Finland we stopped for a short tour of a World War II bomb shelter. Because of its strategic importance as a far northern port town, Kirkenes was subjected to over 300 air raids during the war.
Our journey south took us to the Aurora Village cabins in Ivalo, Lapland (a province of Finland), where we would stay for the next two nights. The cabins are built with transparent roof panels designed for watching the northern lights, Aurora Borealis. However, in early July with 24-hour sunlight there are no northern lights, and the drapes only partially blocked the midnight sun.
The next day we learned a lot about the indigenous Sámi people and their culture, first at the SIIDA Sámi Museum in Inari, and later at a nearby working reindeer farm. The museum originally opened as an outdoor museum in the 1960s and has many examples of Sámi structures, boats, sleds and animal traps from several different eras. It also has extensive indoor exhibits in its recently upgraded building.
At the reindeer farm our host Jani informed us that the main difference between reindeer and North America’s caribou is that reindeer are all privately owned, and caribou are wild animals. The reindeer roam freely throughout 41 defined herding districts in Lapland. Each district serves as a joint company for the reindeer owners. The main product is meat, but additional income comes from skins, bones and horns, as well as tourism. That evening we were entertained by a delightful local couple for a home-hosted dinner of moose meatloaf and home-grown vegetables.
A short flight early next morning took us to Finland’s capital city of Helsinki. Our bus tour of the city took us first to picturesque Senate Square, bordered on three sides by the University of Helsinki, the Helsinki Cathedral, and the government building housing the Prime Minister’s office. The highlight of the tour was a stop at the futuristic Helsinki Central Library Oodi, unlike anything we’ve seen anywhere else. In addition to the usual books, music and videos the library has a variety of equipment and facilities available for public use free of charge. These include fully equipped recording studios, professional sewing equipment, 3D printers, screen-printing machines, and video gaming rooms.
The next morning, the last day of our trip, we took a ferry to nearby Suomenlinnan Island, home of the Sveaborg Fortress dating from 1748 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1991. On our return we enjoyed a delicious lunch of local seafood at the dockside open-air market place, before returning to our hotel to pack for our early morning flight home.
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