Sunday, February 10, 2013

FINLAND..........Pt I.


This article contains GRAPHIC IMAGES of a
Winter Wonderland from Norway and Finland that could be 
hazardous to your travel plans.

Viewer discretion is advised.


Norway, leaving the best for last. 

Of course it did, wouldn't you know it.
I got some of the best and most spectacular shots of the Norwegian landscape as I was leaving Norway, go figure. Something to do with the light, or rather lack thereof up north in Norway at this time of year, but heading down south toward the Finland border the sun became visible for the first time in nearly two months for me. Goodness gracious, a great ball of fire. 
It didn't do anything in terms of warming me up. It was still -15 out and the windchill brought that down even lower, but it sure was nice to see. Everything had a warm glow to it like liquid honey. I was told that there's nothing much down here, and there isn't. Unless you're a nature lover like me and also happen to be a photographer as well. Then, in all honesty, you're in a photographers paradise is how I would best describe it. Provided you like winter of course.

Snowfield, Norway. *

I've only ever seen photographs or postcards of these snow covered, gently curving tree branches and bushes in snowfields like this in southern Norway and northern Finland, otherwise know as Lappland. I was limited to my imagination and to other photographers images of these snow covered deserts, a landscape that looked to me to be out of this world. Crisp, white, snow crystals shimmering in the sunlight. The magical landscape of Lappland, conjuring up images of Santa Claus and reindeers, a land full of wonder and enchantment. 
A Winter Wonderland.
And now, here I was, right in the middle of it. 
Nature. There are times when it takes my breath away and leaves me speechless. Pinch me.

I have always loved and been romantically enchanted by snow and snow covered landscapes. Growing up in Dublin Ireland in the 60's and 70's we had a white Christmas every three or four years, and I vividly remember it was the highlight of my life back then. It completely transformed the inner child in me and made living in dull, overcast and dismal Ireland feel like a really wonderful place to be. For a few weeks anyway. One year we even got so much snow I made my first snowman. 
Snow and it's magical qualities was one of my escapes back then, so when I left Ireland for my first big backpacking adventure in December of 1977 at 16 yrs old, where did I go?. Zermatt, Switzerland of course, another one of my favorite winter places on this planet.

And here I am now, in Lappland, and not surprisingly feeling right at home.

By the time I stopped, and started again, went no more than 2 or 3 km, and then stopped again for more photos, and started again, and then stopped again for about the 20th time and got to the border of Finland it was already 1pm. It only took me 5 hours to travel 155 km (95 miles) and I still had another 300 km (180 + miles) to go. It would be dark by 2:30 and really cold by 4 pm. Not that it wasn't cold already, but I guess physiologically I feel it colder riding in the dark then in daylight, even thought the actual temperature might be the same. I know it does get colder when the sun goes down, but here in northern Finland it's -15 during the day and -20 at night. Not much of a difference once it goes below -10 really, cold is cold.
When I lived in Florida nighttime was my favorite time to ride, the sun went down and so did the temperature..... a bit. 
It was only 83°F at night instead of 92..........bone chilling.

Finland Border Patrol Station. *

Finland-Norway Border. Dec 2012.

I passed this exact border crossing on Dec 13th last year as I was heading north to Alta and Nordkapp, it was a little bit colder and if I remember snowing a little more too. As soon as I crossed into Norway visibility was pretty bad, it was like riding in a glass of milk at times, skim milk, all washy and swirly.
This time though on the way down from Nordkapp and Alta, it was a completely  story. 
Remarkably different.

About 75 km south of Alta, Norway the snow started to ease up and everything became a bit more visible. Once I got down to Kautokeino, Norway things were looking really good. The landscape was changing from hilly and treeless to flatter and tree filled, there are generally fewer species of trees in Norway due to ice age migration routes.

If you visit Norway from another country and make any purchases there, you are allowed some duty free or tax free items. Make sure you get a tax free claim voucher in Norway for when you cross back over the border. If you ride or drive and take the E8 south to Finland the first place you will be able to cash in your tax free voucher is Arctic Knife in Kätkäsuvanto. And inside Arctic Knife you will find (on which exact days I don't know) Niina. And Niina and Arctic Knife will cash your tax free voucher for you right there. Easy. You can also take advantage of the cheapest coffee and doughnut you will probably find in Europe. For 50 euro cents you get a coffee and a doughnut, and possibly another cup of coffee too, or maybe that was just Niina being nice to me. If so, thank you for the second cup of coffee and the hospitality Niina. 
For me, it was also a nice place to take a break, warm up and chit chat with Niina. It was a 260 km (161 mile) ride from Alta to Kätkäsuvanto, and another 260 km from Kätkäsuvanto to Rovaniemi, so I was half way there.
It was about 2 pm when I arrived at Arctic Knife and about 2:45 when I left, so sunset had already begun which meant a cold and dark ride to Rovaniemi for me.
But, as I started my ride south, it also meant that I was able to get the last of what the day had to offer as the sun dipped below the horizon. I was getting cold at this point and a bit of urgency crept in to my ride, I was eager to reach a warm clubhouse in Rovaniemi.
So as each Nikon moment came into view I had to consciously and out loud remind myself that I am an explorer, a documentarian, and if I do not stop at these moments in time to photograph and document them, then they will be gone forever, and in the end, at journeys end, I will have nothing but regret that I did not stop. And regret is something I can't and will not live with.

By the time I got to Rovaniemi it was a little before 8 pm in the evening and more than a little on the chilly side.
I left Alta at 6:30 that morning so all things considered 12 hours to travel 
500 km (310 miles) in winter wasn't all that bad. At least, even though I was cold and a little tired, I knew that night I had a warm bed to sleep in, much better than setting up a tent in -22.

Next on

Rovaniemi is a really nice town, and did you know it's the 
Official home of Santa Claus?.


* Denotes clickable links that are actual GPS coordinates from the photo metadata, click it and it will take you to the exact spot the photograph was taken. Opens in Google maps.


teekay989 said...

I worked in Helsinki from 1981 to 1984 and wife and I spent Christmas 1983 in Rovaniemi. Wonderful experience, never to forget! Beautiful photos, brought back loads of good memories.


Charlie6 said...

Lovely pictures Murph! Now I've got "the chills".....


Anonymous said...

If you get hungry Murph up there in the Santa land stay whit an hot dog station and order

Kaxi makkari senapi kitos

then you get two hot dogs whit mustard - and they are very good my friend and they warm you up

Take care


IRISH Murph said...

Tony, thanks for writing. Nice to hear your comment and glad my photos brought back those memories.
Stay tuned, I'll be here for a while and will have 2 or 3 articles about the place.

Best regards,


IRISH Murph said...

Good one Dom.

IRISH Murph said...

Hi Lars, I'll give it a try,


Emelie Lundgren said...

Where can I buy your pictures to enlarge and hang up on the walls of my apartment? They are amazing in this post, more than usual.

IRISH Murph said...

Emelie, I have a Smugmug photo account that I have to get in order and get the pricing on. Or you can just let me know which ones you want and I can get them for you,