retrospective: stories from kamisak and inari

i didn’t finish telling you about kamisak husky farm. the night after we returned from husky sledding, we stayed at the farm. Mika (owns the farm) took me around the farm while he fed the dogs, and I did the annoying tourist thing of trailing behind, having trouble with the gates. All ears but no skills. Mika kindly put up with me, telling me stories of the dogs as we went past. They live in kennels, usually 2-4 in a kennel, except for Faura, who likes to live by himself. Some stories stuck with me. Two brothers, Fox and (maybe) Tibbu, always have to run together, if they are split up they won’t run. Two other brothers – one of them ran very well, and picked up everything quickly. The other one needed more time and more support. He would get all panicky if he was among the noise and bustle of a large expedition. So he tended to take quiet trips with small groups. I could tell from the way Mika told me these stories that all 96 (!) dogs were seen as individuals, and their training took place with the same philosophy that Finnish schools apparently operate under.

The guest house at the farm was outrageous in its luxury, especially after 2 nights in cosy log cabins. It was the top floor of one of the houses on the farm, with two bedrooms, a lounge room, a kitchen and a cat. There was food and drink available from a mini bar, and breakfast was included. We also bought dinner, just to add to the extravagance (also because it was unclear when we booked what other options there would be). We had the place to ourselves, and about sevenish the cook brought up a pot of chicken soup, with lots of grilled (some sort of fancy) cheese toast. He also brought up our breakfast for the morning, which was even more over the top. Different types of breads, cheeses, meat, eggs, cucumbers, tomato, cornflakes, yoghurt, juice, tea, coffee. Major excitement for scungy students like us.

Apparently, we slept right through a herd of reindeer walking through the farm during the night, and the constantly chorusing of the huskies. Bummer.

In the morning Mika came up to see if everything was all right (very much so), and to tell us that we had the run of the farm. From this conversation, it sounded like that included being able to go in the puppy kennel and play with the puppies (we even checked!) but in retrospect this probably wasn’t the case. Because of course that was the first thing we did. And of course, the pups immediately ran out of their pen. Fortunately there were only two of them, and they thought it was a hilarious game, and were quite happy to be returned to their pen. We didn’t open any more gates after that.

That afternoon was the beginning of our adventures of confusion with the Arctic Circle bus system. Everyone (Except me, it must be said. I was no help in this situation.) had an idea of when the bus left, and everyone’s idea was different. But we found a bus eventually, one that was even heading in the right direction. Bonus. At the end of the line we were in Inari, about 300 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle, where it was rapidly approaching blackness. It was about 3pm. The town seemed small and like it had shrunk for the winter (which indeed it had). It took us a little while to find the backpackers, which was effectively next door. But we found it, with a little art shop attached, and our little attic room, with its pride of lions toilet. We did very little for our two days in Inari, took photos, went to art shops, walked next to a frozen lake, found a nice restaurant. SIIDA, the museum and Sami cultural centre, was very impressive. The two permanent indoors exhibits (Lapland and Sami history and culture, and the different seasons in a year in this part of the world) are packed with information – almost to a fault. Take food supplies if you want to get the most out of it. They do provide a nice lunch as well. The Northern Lights show is just a whole lot of pictures of the Northern Lights. Pretty, but not necessary to see, and I wanted more information about why they exist. SIIDA also has an outdoor exhibition in summer, which I expect would be amazing.

I met two more huskies in Inari, as well as some couldn’t-care-less ponies. One of the huskies was part-wolf, and very gentle. The other one wasn’t at all interested in me – I think because I wasn’t a sofa.

Heading off to Helsinki was the last episode of our adventure of confusion with buses. They all seemed to be heading somewhere that was not a place I was aware of. And then I had a moment of confusion about ticket prices and was probably not very nice to the bus driver. (Fortunately, I’m told that Finns just assume you’re having a bad day when you are unnecessarily rude. I greatly appreciate this character trait.) But then when we got to the bus stop where we had to change, again at a time which seemed to be unsure of itself, the nice driver wrote down when the next bus was apparently coming, and then cheerfully drove off with our bags. Now we assumed that he was just going to put them in the next bus for us, and wasn’t paying me back for being rude. This is of course what happened, but it was an hour’s wait tinged with a little anxiety.

And you already know what happened when we got to Helsinki.

~ precis of

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on the general whereabouts of hot chocolate

my first story from Helsinki involves a small cafe near the train station. we arrived around 8.30 in the morning, as it was starting to get light. feeling it important that i practised my finnish-speaking skills, I went and ordered a hot chocolate.
– Missä on kaakao, kiitos?
– *something involving the word ‘kerma’*
– Sorry?
– Would you like cream?
– Oh, no thanks.
So, ok, I didn’t get it all in Finnish, but I was still pleased with myself. This lasted for a good six hours, until I was recounting my success for Q, who informed me that in fact I hadn’t asked if I could have a hot chocolate, but had in fact asked about the whereabouts of hot chocolate in general (“missä on” = “where is”). Fortunately, from my talks with other Finns, it would seem that this wasn’t particularly rude, because I hadn’t asked where my hot chocolate was.

In Finnish, the endings of the words are important, there are a lot of suffixes and postpositions, where English has prepositions. That and the seventeen cases, make it a difficult language for me to pick up, but I’m struggling on. Apparently, (as long as I stick to one-word sentences) my pronunciation is very good. *glows*.

I have been in Helsinki about a month now. I am at the stage where I know my routes to and from school, but I don’t yet know where the metro or the number 9 tram goes. It has been fluctuating between -5 and 2 degrees Celsius. Minus five is lovely, the air is all dry and sometimes it snows. Often the sky is clear. Around 0 – 1 is far less pleasant because the snow starts to melt (so there is lots of water in the air, which actually makes it colder) and then it freezes and so the footpaths are all slippery. Less fun. But I am happily putting up with this for the enchantment of all the snow.

~ precis of

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spoilt brat adventures

So far this has been less a holiday of scungy student living, and more your spoilt brat living the high life holiday.

We caught a taxi through the streets of Stockholm at 6.15 in the morning – pretty, pitch black, ridiculous cyclists riding in the snow.

we caught the ferry to turku. ‘Ferry’ perhaps gives the wrong impression – this was a 12 deck cruise ship, with buses inside. (Seriously, i saw greyhound-type buses coming out of it’s belly.)

The first half of the ferry-ride was fun, watching it travel through the ice. It’s very entertaining to watch a big ship travel through ice. We even went outside, to see how cold it was (cold) and take some photos. (We could only stay outside for about five minutes, max. Kept having to swap photo-taking, so the other person could put gloves back on.) After about five hours the novelty began to wear off. The ferry itself is pretty trashy. Our cabin was below sea level – below the cars even, and the whole deck smelled of alcohol and cigarettes. You can smoke inside on the ferry, which makes sense I guess, cos it’s pretty cold out, but I found it unpleasant. We spent most of our time on the top deck where there was a little bit where you could sit and chill. It sold ice creams.

there are villages right on the ice. I wonder how active they are now as opposed to summer.

From Turku we caught a train to Rovaineimi (pretty much on the Arctic circle) and then a bus to Saariselka (250 kms north). All this was about 36 hours of traveling (ferry, train, bus) and by the end of it we were pretty tired and grouchy. But we’d be with husky dogs in the morning. Didn’t do much in S, except to spend lots and lots of money on warm things. So worth it.

and then huskies!

We went on a 3-day ‘husky safari’, where we travelled about 80kms around (and on!) lakes and forest between Saariselka and Ivalo (further north).

We went with four others – two from Holland and two from Switzerland, and our guide who was wonderfully taciturn, and so deadpan that we didn’t realise he was actually hilarious until we’d well and truly finished the tour.

On a husky safari you drive a team of huskies, standing on a sleigh. The huskies pull you along, at about 8 kms an hour. Downhill and around corners you have to brake, to stop the sleigh running into the dogs, and keep it on the track. Up steep hills you have to run behind the sleigh, otherwise the dogs give you this look of “well, are you going to help or not?”. On the flat and on lakes, you can just stand up and drink the scenery in. The scenery is all snow and trees and silence.

I had a team of five dogs. Ymaa and Tielku led, Fart was in the middle, and Jiri and Bea brought up the rear. (not sure about my spelling there.)

Bea was in heat and didn’t seem to be enjoying herself much. She was smaller than the other dogs, and tended not to eat her food unless it was tipped out of the bowl for her. She liked to climb into your lap for cuddles.

Jiri was a good dog, who just liked to hang around with Bea. Sometimes a little too much, and then Bea would jump up and put one paw in the back of his head and bark loudly right into his ear until she thought he’d understood her point. He would just stand there looking sheepish and then shake himself off and go and sit quietly elsewhere.

At least one of my dogs was stinky, and it may or may not have been Fart, but he was definitely the best runner, and the most keen. (‘Fart’ is apparently Swedish for ‘speed’.) In the morning he would whine and pace and bark until I harnessed him up to the sleigh, and then he would howl and bark and pull until we took off (‘took off’ being the correct phrase). He would only pause in these to jump on Ymaa and pin him when Ymaa was being too annoying.

Tielku was excellent. Good tracker and a good runner. She would sit patiently and wait while you put her harness on or got her dinner ready. She was also into the pats. When I first met her she had her head pressed right up against one of the handlers, receiving lots of cuddles. Whenever i had finished patting her, she would put her head against me, requesting more.

Ymaa was a boofhead. The biggest of my team, he was capable of running and tracking but was more interested in the girl dogs, peeing on trees as we went, and fighting with Jiri. He eventually had to be swapped out of my team and into Q’s, where the biggest dog of the farm seemed to keep him in line. Ymaa was also very strong – there was a marked decrease in speed when the dogs were swapped.

Ymaa was swapped for Helmi, the littlest and easily most pathetic on the safari. She was pretty young and it may have been her first overnight tour, because she seemed to think there’d been some mistake, she was actually a dog designed for cuddling inside. She was alright once she’d had lots and lots of pats and the other dogs weren’t allowed to pick on her, and she was fine running.

We stayed in cabins and had breakfast, lunch and dinner prepared for us – always a hot meal, and generally at least two courses. There was a dry sauna by each cabin, where it is customary to sit and get all hot and sweaty and then to go and roll naked in the snow. (No, there are no photos.)

No northern lights as while we were there it was cloudy the whole time. It was actually quite warm, about -20 to -5. This was too hot for the dogs, who prefer -25 while running. They would roll in the snow at all available opportunities. They have very thick and tough fur, and their hair is hollow, to aid in insulation.

~ precis of

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snow, a pub and the library

This morning we woke up and it was snowing. There was a little black bird hanging out on the windowsill, not looking particularly bothered by the cold. We are staying in a hotel, slightly more posh than we expected. The place we were planning to stay in wouldn’t let us in – they have a somewhat questionable policy of not answering their doorbell or their phone. This made for a reasonably tense hour while it was getting darker and we didn’t have a place to stay. We went to the pub in the corner – The Shakespeare Inn – which makes a rather odd vegetarian pasta but also has extremely helpful wait staff who directed us to another hotel and let us use their internet.

Our first destination was the Kungl biblioteket (National Library of Sweden). It has lots of teeny-tiny spiral staircases, and rooms that surprise you with their existence. It was the first place I visited where I really noticed that English was not immediately available to help the tourists. None of the signs were in English, and we had to guess what was expected. It wasn’t really a big deal, but I liked it. one of the fortunate things about speaking English is that you can spend time in a place where most things are in a different language, and get along okay, because everyone speaks your language. it took about an hour to get to the library (a ten minute journey max) because we kept on getting side tracked by the snowflakes, the exciting photo opportunities, and the cars driving on the right.

After the library we spent about another two or three hours wandering the city. We saw ice-skating and tobogganing (pulkkamäki, for you Finns out there), dogs of all kinds frolickingin the snow, and lots and lots of birds in the water near the bridge to the old town. in a shoe shop, we met a dog named Stella (STEL-LA) another addition to the dogs I know withl woeful eyes and little emotional robustness.

The snow makes it difficult to tell where the footpath ends and the road starts. This, coupled with the driving on the other side of the road, and the lack of peripheral vision while in a jacket means that we spend a lot of time telling each other to be careful. generally the cars travel pretty slowly in the snow. So far most people have been very friendly. They all speak in English as soon as they realise that we don’t speak Swedish. although we did manage to have one conversation without using any English – didn’t require much Swedish either, admittedly. People indulge us in our ‘hej’s and ‘tack’s, but can’t understand our order of ‘varm choclad’. ah, well.

Today, at – 5 degrees, it is warm. now it is either time for night exploring, or bed, not sure which. Tomorrow we are in a ferry to Turku, our first stop in Finland.

~ precis-of

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