Saturday, January 07, 2006

Winter wonderland

Do sane people drive altogether 1800 km just to be able to ski about 50 km? Yes they do. We did. And the trip was worth every single bum numbing moment sitting in the car.

It took us about 13 hours to drive up North. Dad insisted on driving the whole way himself, so I spent my day watching the sceneries and drowsing off every once and a while. Quite relaxing, actually.

It's nice to travel to Lapland (I'll just use that name, even though I know most people don't consider Kuusamo as being in Lapland - it's too far South, funnily enough) with mom and dad. They've been up there many times and are beginning to be quite familiar with the route already. They know which gas stations have nice restrooms (something you do appreciate when you travel through Finland via route 8) and which roadside restaurants are worth stopping by for lunch or what have you. Very convenient.

The further up North we got, the more beautiful the sceneries became - at least when judging by the amount of snow on the ground. The final 300 km or so was truly amazing. It was sometimes hard to tell the sky apart from the ground in the dusk. The sky was constantly grey (we didn't see a glimpse of the sun during our trip - which should come as no surprise to those who know what the Finnish winter is like in Lapland) and when the darkness began to creep in, the snow would look darker too. In the middle of these two, there were the trees. With tons of snow on them. And I'm not kidding either. There was plenty of "tykkylumi" in the trees, or in other words heavy snow, which has settled down on the trees with no intention of falling down (not before the temperature rises above zero, that is). The snow can literally weigh tons and it bends down the trees, some all the way to the ground. So in fact the whole world seemed to be made out of different shades of white and grey, with only tiny specs of black in between.

The surroundings were very nearly eerie, when it really got dark and the headlights of the car were lighting the woods by the road. I wish I could've captured it on film somehow. (My camera was in the trunk of the car in my bag, so I couldn't even try to use it.)

When we finally arrived in Ruka, I was quite surprised to see that the place was quite like any central European skiing resort I could imagine. I've been to a couple of Finnish skiing resorts before, but Ruka was the first one that is clearly more centered around downhill skiing, right down to the general feeling of the place. Lots of young people, lots of Russian tourists and not too many people on the cross country ski tracks. I suppose Ruka is still one of the "coolest" resorts in Lapland, where one should be snowboarding to actually be "in".

Oh well, we weren't there to impress anyone, just to relax and ski. Our cabin was very nice. Four bedrooms (for 8 people altogether), two livingrooms, a tiny kitchen and a sauna. The cabin belongs to two families my parents know and we got it for a very reasonable price for the few days. It was just perfect, as it was also quite close to everything, but in the same time in a very peaceful area. Or maybe the peacefulness of the place was due to the fact that this past week isn't exactly high season.

During the three days time we managed to ski about 50 km. Not too bad, I'd say. It'd been a couple of years since I last had been cross country skiing, but it's a skill exactly like biking. Once you learn it, you can't forget it. I'm not saying my technique is worth mentioning (because it most certainly is not), but I don't fall down, I can cover fairly long distances in an easy pace and I don't have to walk down any downhill tracks. Which is already enough to make the whole experience very enjoyable.

And besides, how could you not love those long ski trips, when the surrounding nature looks something like this? (I'll post my own pics later when I get them, but until then these links will have to do.) Just wonderful. Although the heavy snow on the trees isn't just breathtakingly beautiful, it was also causing all sorts of problems. There were power failures all over Northern parts of Finland, as trees and branches were falling on powerlines. For us the problems weren't that acute, since the Ruka maintenance people did clear out the few trees that had fallen on ski tracks and we weren't living in an area that was really suffering from power failures. Sure the lights blinked a bit, but we didn't end up sitting in candlelight, huddling in our sleeping bags in front of the fireplace during nighttime. Lucky for us, I suppose.

Yesterday morning we got up around 7 a.m., packed our bags, cleaned the cabin and left for home. Exactly 11 hours and 54 minutes later dad drove the car up our driveway in Nousiainen. During the day I felt a bit like Tolkien's Treebeard the Ent, since he said he always enjoyed going South, because it felt like going downhill. That's how it felt, if for no other reason, then because we made the trip South in less than 12 hours and it took us a bit over 13 hrs to drive up. (The difference can easily be explained by one more stop on the way and one longer stop for shopping some groceries for the cabin. But that's the boring version, heh.)

If you're ever in need of a month's vacation in just two weeks' time, I recommend this sort of thing. One week of holidays with family and friends and then an ex tempore -trip for a few days. Made the week seem very long and on Monday, when I go back to work, I'll feel doubly refreshed. A good deal, this was.

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