By Noura Khan
Special to The Times Kuwait
Lapland… As a child whenever the name Lapland cropped up in stories and movies about Santa Claus and Christmas, I thought it was a fantasy world destination. Growing up as a precocious child, I used to seek logic in everything I heard or read, and often sought to question the stories I was told. So it was impossible for me to believe in the existence of a village in a faraway land named Lapland, where Santa Claus and his elves lived preparing Christmas presents for all the children around the world.
When I grew up and realized that this place was not a creation of childhood fantasy fiction and that it actually existed on the map, I felt a strong desire to visit it someday. I also discovered very early on that I had a deep passion for traveling, and that I could forgo the luxury watches or haute couture handbags from the likes of Hermes or Chanel, in order to save up for a trip that satisfied my inner passion.
Over the years, my passion for travel led me to visit more than 57 countries around the world, but sadly my ‘dream destination’ of Lapland was not on that list. And, it was not from the want of planning such a trip. Every year I would plan and promise myself that before the end of the year I would see the famed Northern Lights from my polar destination. But invariably something else would always crop up, my plans would change, and I would end up visiting some other place.
The repeated failure to make it to my dreamland frustrated and disappointed me to no end. My last such failed attempt was in 2019, when I even booked tickets to Finland and reserved hotel rooms there, well in advance of my planned trip in February 2020. But then came the COVID-19 global pandemic that brought an abrupt halt to everyone’s travel plans, and once again disrupted my travel plans and dashed my hopes of seeing the dazzling Northern Lights.
After spending more an year cocooned at home due to travel restrictions, when countries began opening up for travel, Finland was the first place that I thought of to visit. And, although a partial ban was still imposed on the country in 2022, I managed to get the necessary tickets and hotel reservations in Helsinki, the capital of Finland. Living in temperatures that could occasionally dip to more than minus 27 degrees C was something I had not experienced before, and my mom was understandably very worried about the type of clothes I would wear to withstand a cold that she had never experienced in her lifetime.
I reassured her that I had equipped myself well and had all the necessary warm clothes I needed for such weather. During the pandemic period, I used to spend my time shopping online and buying various winter-proof clothes and shoes that were not available in the local shopping centers in Kuwait, so I was well prepared to meet the freezing weather in Lapland.
And this was how my dream finally came true. I arrived in Helsinki, and from there I booked a plane to Rovaniemi, which is the main regional center of Lapland, the largest and northernmost region of Finland. I had made sure in my trip plans that this would be a totally different experience from what I have had on my usual trips abroad. To begin with, I insisted that my stay be inside a glass igloo, despite the high price of the experience, especially since I chose it in a very luxurious hotel. The price per night in the glass igloo amounts to about 1200 euros or around KD400 per night, and I stayed four nights in this glass igloo. But it was worth that price as on my second night of stay, the alarm bell rang at two o’clock in the morning, and I woke up feeling panic and fear. I thought there was a fire, but actually the alarm bell was to alert hotel guests to the appearance of the Northern Lights over the roofs of the igloo.
It was a very great feeling watching theNorthern Lights, or aurora borealis as it is scientifically referred to. I felt like I was in a beautiful dream. Seeing this green color dancing in the sky was something indescribable. It lasted for several minutes and then disappeared. That night I was unable to take pictures. I did not carry a professional camera with me, but only a mobile camera. It was too fleeting an experience, and I wanted more of it.
The Arctic Circle crosses Lapland, so unique polar phenomena such as the midnight sun and polar night can be viewed in Lapland. Despite the aurora borealis being visible from Lapland, no one can guarantee you this viewing during your visit, because it is an unpredictable natural phenomenon. I was lucky that I got to witness this phenomena, even if momentarily, on my second night there.
After a desperate search and questioning of staff and visitors staying in the hotel, I heard about a team called the ‘Northern Lights Hunters’ who specialize in making long-distance trips across Lapland to track any sign of the appearance of the Northern Lights. I decided to go through the experience with a number of hotel guests of different nationalities. We booked a trip with one of the fishermen and set out late at night with the temperature well below zero centigrade. After setting out in the darkness over the snowbound landscape for over four hours, we finally reached a spot where we then waited in the freezing cold. We were warned not to try to light the place, not even by using our mobile phones, because this could affect the viewing opportunities.
And then, my dream once again came true… The nice thing about the second viewing was that I was able to document my experience of watching the aurora, as the team leader had professional cameras, through which he photographed us with the aurora. Yes, I know that I am lucky because I got to see the Northern Lights twice in one visit, and others may travel several times without having this opportunity even once.
Even though the trip to Lapland was not devoid of other special experiences, such as riding a sleigh pulled by reindeers, or riding a sleigh pulled by the famous husky dogs, I focused on the experience of watching the Northern Lights because it was the most important part of my visit to the country.
I also cannot forget my personal meeting with Santa Claus, even though he was wearing a nose muzzle and a glass barrier separated me from him. The separation was because, being an elderly person, and a global icon at that, there was a high chance of him being exposed to the disease from all the visitors. Anyway, I was very happy when the Finnish Santa Claus said that he knows my country, Kuwait, very well.
For once, I did not have to tell him that Kuwait is a country located near the United Arab Emirates, which is what usually happens when I visit far off places. He said that he knows about Kuwait, and had heard about the invasion, and he also knew about the Kuwait Towers. Santa Claus also promised me that he would visit Kuwait during the next year, after the end of the Coronavirus, to distribute Christmas gifts to children in Kuwait.
Here are some of the most important activities that you should not miss when you are in Lapland:
- Snowy Trails, a 10km Husky Safari from Rovaniemi, which will cost around 150 to 200 euros per person
- Visit the Korouoma Canyon Frozen Waterfalls
- Snowmobile and Ice Fishing Experience (160 euros per person)
- Visit to the Reindeer and Husky Farm (120 euros per person)
- Hunting Northern Lights with Lappish Barbecue from Rovaniemi (100 euros per person)
- Lapland Reindeer Safari from Rovaniemi (110 euros per person)
- Santa Claus Village visit (70 euros per person)
- Visit Ranua Zoo (80 euros per person)
- Visit Arctic Snow Hotel: (120 euros per person)
- Try the Finnish Sauna and Snow Swimming (150 euros per person)
Preparing for a visit to Lapland in winter also involves special clothing that includes:
- Insulated boots with a good grip
- Insulated jacket (preferably waterproof too)
- Waterproof or snow proof trousers
- Thermal underwear and base layers
- Warm woolen or fleece jumper
- Warm gloves, scarf and hat
- Thin thermal gloves (ideal as a base layer under snowmobile gloves).
- Warm woolen socks.
Noura Khan, a Kuwaiti national, holds a degree in law from Kuwait University and has worked as a journalist prior to taking up a position in the government. In 2018 she started blogging on travel and has visited more than 57 countries since. She has more than 54K followers and her blog post @nourajtraveller is well appreciated for content and travel information. Noura writes exclusively for The Times Kuwait on her travel visits.