"Have you visited Finland before?" Everyone asks me, lately.
The answer is no. Nope, I'm going blind. I've never been to Finland before, and yet I've accepted a work contract there for five weeks... mad? Perhaps. Excited? Definitely. Since I haven't been, I sat down about a week before with my trusty Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget (the best travel guide I've ever bought) and read a bit about this country I'll be calling home for the next few weeks.
I once watched an episode of Dr. Who, the newer ones when Christoper Ecclestone was the Dr, where he said "Lots of places have a north". No country does this describe as well as it does Finland. The country known for it's gorgeous natural landscapes, and in winter it has it's own frozen magic.
The best way to shake the winter chill is to get active in the Great Outdoors that Finland is so lucky to have. It's got tons of national parks, and a vibrant air. Forests hide not just gorgeous blue lakes, but stunning wildlife including bears in the Eastern Forests. The country offers great skiing until May, and you can go husky sledding, or herding reindeer, too. If that's not enough for you why not go on a snowmobile trek across the snowy expanses?
It's not just about the Great Outdoors though, Finland's capital Helsinki, is a vibrant city. Known for its cutting edge urban spaces, and world famous design. The city is a mixture of new architecture and older art nouveau buildings. Visiting Helsinki is not simply about sightseeing, though I will be attempting to get to Temppeliaukin Kirkko and checking out the harbour, but people go there because they enjoy it. Relaxing in the Kotiharjun Sauna, sweating the cold out of my bones after a month Up North.
As you probably already know, whilst I plan on visiting Helsinki, I will in fact be living in Lapland. Extending hundreds of kilometre's north of the Arctic Circle, this is the Finland people picture in their minds. A mysterious Arctic land where, in the summer you can see the Midnight Sun and in the winter long, freezing polar nights where- I hope- to view the Aurora Borealis. As well as the Santa-related goodness (I am so looking forward to having the most Christmassy Christmas ever), there's all the sporty side of things I've mentioned above. As well as learning about the indigenous Sami people who live across the North of Scandinavia.
Have you been to Finland, or Finnish Lapland? What do you recommend seeing whilst I'm there?