Hands up if you’ve ever dreamed in sleeping in a snow hotel. Just me?
If there is one place I imagined visiting in winter, it would no doubt have to be Finland. For me, Finland in winter is the most photogenic fairytale land. A world completely turned white, it is quiet, still and peaceful, three of my favorite things. Finland in winter rocks!
Last March I was lucky enough to spend a week exploring Finnish Lapland, and let me tell you, it’s the best time of year to go. Even though it’s most definitely still winter, the harsher months are long past so you have normal hours of daylight, not too extreme cold and lots of fresh springy snow.
I’ve shared with you guys before some of my favorite shots from Lapland, but this time I thought I’d go ahead and spill one of my favorite days in the arctic. I spent most of my time in arctic Finland around Luosto and Rovaniemi, but was excited to head down to Kemi on the sea for a few days. While Lapland seems vast and wild, there is so much to explore I could spend a year there.
And trust me, with the Finnish penchant for being total introverts combined with the most glorious tradition of cozy cabins in the wilderness, I could definitely see myself hiding away up there for extended periods of time doing nothing but thinking and writing.
Sigh, one day I will be rich enough I can do just that!
Basically lived in my Parajumpers parka in Lapland
But until that day, I still have a huge desire to explore as much as possible, and I was excited to head to the frozen Bothnia Sea. Why you might ask? Because I have not, in fact, ever seen a frozen sea before.
Sure a couple of ponds back home in Virginia, the lakes on my college campus in Massachusetts, but a genuine frozen huge body of water? Never! I was stoked.
Lucky for me the weather was on my side when I arrived in Kemi with what can only be described as pea-soup fog.
Can’t win them all.
I headed straight over to the wharf to catch my afternoon trip on the famous Sampo Icebreaker. Ok, ok, it’s only famous in Finland.
Before climbing aboard I didn’t have many expectations except being ridiculously excited to see frozen sea ice. But what ended up happening really surprised me – Sampo ended up being one of my favorite experiences of the whole trip.
If I had to put a finger on it, I think it would have to be because it’s so unique. Sure you can take day cruises pretty much anywhere there’s water. But to do so on an old icebreaker vessel as it crunches through fresh sea ice is pretty damn special.
Kemi is pretty one-of-a-kind!
As we took off from the harbor, I spent most of my time outside on deck watching the ice swirl by as we made our way through an already cut shipping lane.
Sampo was build in 1960 in Helsinki and used for almost thirty years cutting channels through the ice in northern Finland for shipping vessels before it was retired and turned into a tourist cruise. To be honest, that is not something I would normally be super interested in but I found myself really enjoying learning something new, and even pestering the crew to let me see how things work, the engine room, can I toot the horn? No you may not.
Can’t win everything but I reckon they appreciated my enthusiasm. Probably.
Before long the ship was crunching fresh tracks through the ice and the crew was asking everyone who wanted to go for a swim. Literally parking the ship in the ice, it’s so thick and stable they can pull a gangway down and you can walk off the ship onto the ice.
Raising my eyebrows I thought to myself, oh hell no. Who knows what sea monsters are lurking under that ice and those dry suits do not look flattering. Then I remembered I didn’t know anyone on that ship and thought, oh fuck it, how many chances do you get to swim in the frozen sea in the Arctic?
Those red suits are completely waterproof you just pull them over your clothes and jump in! But they are so buoyant you couldn’t sink if you wanted to. I couldn’t even put my feet underwater, and I tried.
Apart from the fact that it was such a unique experience, I ended up loving the moody weather because it completely set the scene. It truly felt like we were at the end of the world, sailing off into the mists. At some points we couldn’t see the horizon and it just looked like we were in another world.
And if being home to a badass ship isn’t cool enough, Kemi is also home to the biggest snowfort in the world – the SnowCastle. OBVIOUSLY I had to stay there.
I’ve never been in an ice anything before, so I was frothing pretty hard at this opportunity.
Getting my Elsa on from Frozen. What a surprise.
The main check in area and bathrooms are in a beautiful heated cabin, and I headed straight there. You also keep your stuff in lockers in there so they don’t freeze. The average temperature inside the snow hotel is a balmy -5 so bundle up! It was actually colder inside than outside when I was there, especially as it was snowing heavily.
After checking in, I wandered around and explored for a bit, totally blown away by all the amazing snow sculptures. While most similar places you’ve might have seen were made of ice, this hotel is actually made from snow. Carved from huge snow blocks from the nearby sea, each year has a different theme that an artist uses in designing the building and rooms.
And I lucked out with fairytales. Do they know me or what?
Magical guys, magical! Do you want to build a snowman?
After a yummy dinner in the frozen dining room, I was ready for bed. What an epic day.
After getting briefed, I prepped myself for a chilly night. The sleeping bags and liners are so warm you can actually just wear your normal pajamas inside of them. I never sleep well inside sleeping bags and have trouble sleeping with face covered, so I did have a cold nose for most of the night but in general it was pretty cozy. I thought I’d wake up super early but instead I overslept big time, which isn’t like me at all. Something about being that cozy that makes you sleep in I reckon!
Somehow Kemi won me over being such a quirky and unique place to explore in Finland. It was definitely by far the highlight of my trip and I know I’ll be back for round 2 one day!
What do you think? Does this winter travel sound appealing? Would you cruise on an icebreaker or sleep in a snow hotel?
Many thanks to Visit Finland for hosting me in Lapland – like always I am keeping it real – all opinions are my own, like you could expect less from me!