An Auroral Adventure

The trip: go to Finland to see the aurora. Why Finland? Factors considered included cost, weather, and northliness. Finland won.

I’ve actually seen the aurora before, but only once, and in the middle of the night when woken up from a sweet slumber, and outside on a small deck of a portable shelter in the ridiculously very sub-freezing colder-than-cold cold. I don’t remember how cold it was, but this was at 2 or 3 am at Toolik Lake, Alaska, on the northern slope. And it was lovely. I stood there watching the yellow-green light long enough to ask, How long do I need to stand here to say that I’ve seen it? Which is to say, I didn’t really enjoy the phenomenon. So technically, yes, I’ve already seen the northern lights, but not…really.

Mostly, I agreed to this trip for the adventure.

There are three of us. On Day One, we flew in the evening from Denver to Heathrow. I had cross-ocean flight excitement. Do I eat? Sleep? Read? Write? Watch all the movies I otherwise wouldn’t? So many options! I ate, drank three glasses of wine–I asked for a white and he gave me another bottle for dinner but I asked if I could have red with dinner instead and he left the second white, so there you go. What could I do? I drank wine and watched the new (2016) Ghostbusters and laughed to myself, and then watched Bridget Jones’ Baby, and laughed to myself. The wine helped. I was in a marvelous mood. And then I went to sleep. London came before I knew it. So easy in these modern times, this thing of getting from Denver–the middle of the US, nonetheless, not even the east coast–to London. I could do it all the time.

The next leg was not so kind. Same airline, but felt cramped, and they charged for everything, even tea. (Charging for tea on a British airline! I’d say it’s like charging for water, but they did that too.) I did, however, have a window seat. And gazed out over the flat blue North Sea and then the Baltic, and the flat shorelines of the likes of England, Denmark (man, sea level…yep, seeing it from the air just emphasizes the fact that that’s not going to go well), and Sweden en route to Helsinki. There was some snow as we flew east, and also the striations of glaciers past. I imagined from the air the upward movement of the Nordic lands, the shoreline creeping slowly but constantly outward. During glaciation, the land under a glacier moves down while the land around it bulges up, and vice versa when the glacier melts. I need to look up where the land is now moving down, having bulged around the ice during the last glaciation. Shorelines are not only about water levels, but about land movement as well.

Glaciated landscapes are cool. I enjoy following the flow paths of glaciers, through the grooves in the landscapes and elongated ponds and lakes, drumlins, valleys, sometimes gorges. Fjords are on my list. I need to spend some time in either Norway or New Zealand (yes, spent time in the latter, but never, oddly enough, in Fjordland) (must go back!).

Our tight connection in Heathrow meant no time there, but we had the better part of four hours in Helsinki to eat a lovely meal of expensive yet delicious burgers (don’t judge) and had our first taste of reindeer (in one of the burgers). Then, a short flight up to Kittilä, in Lapland, where we stepped out onto a snowy, frigid tarmac. It felt a little like we’d arrived.

Arrival! Photo/Marijke Unger

No hopes of seeing the aurora that night, but that was okay. We picked up our rental car, checked into our small hotel suite (complete with sauna) in the nearby town of Sirkka, and headed for the closest pub. We topped off the day with a lovely bartender offering us a sampling of the local liquors, sipping on local beer and some Finnish gin drink (brilliant to have a gin drink on tap), eating an assortment of fried food including a small local fish.

There you go. End of Day One, and we’d made it through the flying portion of our trip. And, by the way, brrrrrrrrrrrr.


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