Our first days in Lapland were a great adventure. Driving close to the Arctic circle on frozen roads, hiking and snowshoeing in forests out of a winter fairy tale… (you can see photos from these previous days here, here and here) But as the end of the trip was coming near, we drove further north to Inari, Finland’s largest municipality, the least populated and also the capital of Sami culture in Finland. I feel we left the best part of the trip for the last days!

The main reason to drive that far north (300km above the Arctic Circle) was to know a little more about the Sami people. Who are they? The Sami are the only indigenous inhabitants in Europe. They have lived in the arctic regions of Europe (north of Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Russian Kola Peninsula) for more than 5000 years. Traditionally, reindeer has been the centre of Sami existence. At the beginning, they used to hunt wild reindeer, until the 16th century, when they began to domesticate entire herds and migrate with them. Even today, Sami people consume the reindeer’s meat and milk, use the skin for clothing and the bones to make all kinds of hunting and domestic utensils.

We didn’t meet any Sami in person (such a disappointment, I’d have loved to see them dressed in their colorful traditional clothes). But during our days in Inari we learnt a lot about them. We visited the Siida museum in Inari, where we discovered the history and culture of the Sami people and how little their way of life has changed over the centuries. As we learnt about the importance of reindeer in the region, we also visited a farm near Lousto, where we could finally meet these beautiful animals during a snow storm (we had been seeing their footprints in the snow in previous days). We also hiked to the Pielpajärvi church, a little wooden church from the 17th century (and one of the oldest buildings in Lapland), located in the depth of an arctic forest near a lake, where there used to be a winter Sami settlement.

And we hunted auroras! The first night we went to a lake near Saariselkä National Park. The forecast was very promising and the sky cleared just in time for the spectacle. But even with all favorable conditions, the northern lights were very weak and we didn’t see anything, except for a formidable sky full of stars (I’ve never seen so many stars in my life!!). Luckily, my camera captured a faint and small aurora in that starry sky.

The last night, we checked again all the apps and websites, hoping to see the northern lights. This time, the forecast wasn’t as good, but all the apps said that there was a small chance to see the aurora borealis. Once the sky was dark enough, we jumped on our car and drove to a frozen lake 20km north Ivalo. We couldn’t see anything with our own eyes except for a clearer part in the sky. I pointed in that direction and… surprise!!! There it was, a green line crossing the dark sky!!! After years dreaming with northern lights, I could finally see them! Well, ok, my camera did see them… It wasn’t the great spectacle of purple, pink and green lights that other photographers have seen when there are huge solar storms… But, hey, the sky was green and I could capture it! And being a weak aurora, that also means that there are more stars in my photos, including some meteors… So I’m happy with the result: I saw the northern lights and I got some nice photos of it!!!

Here are some of the photos I took during these last days in Lapland… I hope you like them! 🙂

Friendly Friday Photo Challenge

32 Comments

  1. Magnificent photos, Mercedes. The clarity of the reindeer photographs is excellent and the subjects delightful. I am amazed at how many stars there are. Even though there were no dancing lights, you can say you have seen the aurora. The Aurora I saw in Iceland was similar to yours. No dancing, just green light. I wasn’t even sure I had really seen it. Enjoyed looknig at the raw beauty of the old wooden church and imagining how cold it must have been in wintertime inside. Thanks for showcasing this.

    • mercedescatalan

      Thanks a million, Amanda!! Photographing the reindeer was fun! I have now a new telephoto lens, that it’s bigger and way sharper than my old/small one, and it’s a delight to use it with wildlife! I can’t post very high resolution photos here on the blog, but when I am editing the photos, I love to zoom in and see all the details in these photos (the hair, the eyes, even the small details in the antlers!). And the reindeer were really sweet and friendly, we had such a great time with them! 🙂
      Ah, the northern lights… I can say now that I’ve seen them! This one was the third time I traveled to a place where you can see them… But when I went to Iceland and Scotland it was summer, so no dark skies and no northern ligths… But now I want more!! Hehehe maybe a trip in autumn? The north of Europe looks so incredibly beautiful in autumn… (this is the moment when I start daydreaming with future trips….)
      I loved the little church. It was literally in the middle of nowhere… and it’s so nice to see how well conserved the church is!! It’s now used only once a year. The rest of the year, it just seats there, almost abandoned… closed only with a rock in front of the door, so you can go inside anytime and open all windows to see the inside. I’m sure if it were in Spain, it would have been vandalized and probably burnt down years ago!

      • Don’t you just love that the door is closed with a rock? That is trust. And indicative of a safe community. There was lots to be said for life as it was years ago. Yes, do go back for more trips to Northern Europe. It is my favorite destination. Have uou travelled much to Norway?

        • mercedescatalan

          Yes, I love that feeling of safety! It’s such a weird one!! I mean… I’m not saying that Spain or any other country in Europe is unsafe… but there are some special places where you can feel almost completely safe! I think I only know three of them: Switzerland, Iceland and the north of Finland… People are so respectful with the laws, their heritage, nature, everything in general!!! Well, it’s also true that they experiment also a lot of natural hazards but… just imagine, visiting a very popular place and knowing that nobody is going to steal your wallet… hehehe or like in this place, knowing that there’s a wonderful little church in the middle of nowhere and that it doesn’t get vandalized everyday or used by undesirable people…
          The bad side of this wonderful feeling: then you go to not so safe places and you forgot about all the “dangers” or, the opposite, you become extremely paranoid about them, hahahaha

          I lived in Sweden for two years! But I did’t travel that much then… something that I deeply regret!! I’d love to visit Norway one day… the fiords, the northern islands like Lofoten… And Denmark too!! I’d love to visit the country and the Faroe islands!!! Oh, so many travels to do yet…. hehehe! But definetely, Scandinavian countries are my favorite!

          • No wonder you and I share a love of snow! I haven’t been to that many places where you have to watch your back or wallet. You would, I think, like Japan very much, Mercedes. It has a very respectful culture. Also beautiful nature and snowy climes worth seeing.

          • mercedescatalan

            Well, it’s not like you have to grab your thinks as if everybody is going to steal from you… but you have to be careful, specially in very crowded places… In Madrid, Stockholm or Dublin, where I lived before, you have to be a bit careful, that’s all…. but not in Switzerland. Even if you don’t see a lot of police or cameras, there’s a general atmosphere of safety everywhere. And that’s awesome!!
            Oh, Japan…. I dream with this country too!!!! Maybe not to visit during spring, I’ve seen so many many many photos of the cherry blossoms in Japan, hahaha…. I think I’d love to visit it during autumn. It’s one of my dreams!! 🙂

          • I have been fortunate to visit Japan a few times, summer, winter and just last November, in Autumn, Crimson leaves season. It would be wonderful to see the cherry blossoms, but they only last one week and you have to be bang on there at the right time, or else you miss it. Each year the time changes slightly, so you never know if you will see them or not. The crimson leaves, on the other hand, last for a month and are staggered in different times throughout the country. Tokyo is last, and the mountains around Fuji going red first. I can thoroughly recommend it. I will write some more about my trip there soon, but here is one post about my visit to the Tokyo National Garden on my first day there: https://tinyurl.com/y2s7cfrm

          • mercedescatalan

            Your reply didn’t disappear!! I just had to approve your comment, hehehe (I had it this way to avoid spam in the comments)
            Oh, my, your photos… those colors!!!! So now, one of my dream trips is Japan in autumn, definitely!!! Because the cherry blossoms are beautiful, but so unpredictable and so many tourist during that season, hehehe
            Actually, I wanted to see the cherry season in the Swiss countryside this year… white trees and green hills….. but when the blossoms were reaching its peak, a snowstorm came to Switzerland and ruined all them in a weekend… guess I’ll have to wait another year… hehehe

          • I thought so Mercedes, but wasn’t sure as I have a poor internet connection which drops out often! I am going to post some more about this trip to Japan. The colours in the mountains were the very best. FYI it is peak holiday time in mid November so things get very busy then. You can still see a lot if you travel as I did, early November. Include a day trip to the mountain post towns around Nagoya in your itinerary. You won’t be sorry.

          • mercedescatalan

            Great tips, Amanda! Thanks a mil!!! I don’t know when I will visit Japan, but when I do, I’ll ask you for more info and recommendations for sure!!! 🙂 In the short term, Switzerland and Spain are going to be my next destinations!! I hope I can start taking photos again soon (it seems that winter doesn’t want to leave us this year, and we can’t go to the mountains yet… And I’m so eager to put on my hiking boots again!! Hehehe the wait is killing me!!!)

          • The wait must seem interminable. Hopefully not too much longer. Where is Switzerland are you heading?

          • mercedescatalan

            Actually, I live in Zurich!! So we try to go hiking every week or at least do a little trip around the country… but lately the weather has been horrible (it’s snowing today, even in the lowest parts of the country!!) so there hasn’t been so much hiking during the last weeks… I’m so eager to start exploring again these wonderful mountains!!!

          • And mountains you have. I visited Zurich a few years ago. I loved the countryside that I saw on the trains more. I can see why you would be anxious to hike. Do you hike with friends or a walking group?

          • mercedescatalan

            I know I’m super lucky for living here in Switzerland. With all the pretty and super well conserved cities and villages and such an idyllic landscape…
            We used to be just occasional hikers before moving in here. Now, it’s becoming more an habit! And it’s the perfect activity to continuing with my photography! 🙂 I normally go hiking with my husband… best company ever! And sometimes friends join us for the less complicated routes. But I like to go with my husband, because we try to make it a challenge every time. It’s always fun!! Sometimes exhausting, but always fun!! 🙂

          • And I imagine it is a lovely way for the both of you to keep fit?

          • mercedescatalan

            I can’t imagine a better one!! Well, yes, pilates, hahaha 😛

          • Lol. Yes!

          • ooh did my reply disappear into cyberspace? I was trying to share a link of my post from my recent Autumnal visit to Japan. https://tinyurl.com/y2s7cfrm

  2. Wow! Such a magical scene! It’s like an entire galaxy. Your effort has finally paid off 🙂

    • mercedescatalan

      Thanks a million!! Well, the Aurora was very weak and that meant that I could take longer photos and include the stars… I’m happy with the result! And for me, watching the aurora and capturing it is a dream come true!! 🙂

  3. Lovely images. So glad you got a shot or two of the northern lights. So beautiful!

    • mercedescatalan

      Thanks a million, Anne!! Yes, i saw them!! Well…. my camera did see them, hehehe. But all the experience of going out in the cold and dark to chase them, was great!! It felt like a little adventure! The funny thing is that, after I left Lapland, my husband stayed there for three more days… and he did see the northern lights, even without camera!!! He even sent me photos he took with his mobile…
      So now I want to go back to the north to catch a big one, hehehe…. Iceland, Norway, Finland again…. I don’t really care about the location, I want to see green skies dancing!! 🙂

  4. These night sky photos are AMAZING!

    • mercedescatalan

      Thanks a million, Vero!! I love to take photos at night, even if I don’t really edit them well… but it’s always a nice challenge, something different! It’s a pity that I can’t do it very often…
      But I had to try during this trip in Lapland. Northern lights have been a little obsession of mine since I visited Iceland in summer a few years ago… I didn’t see them then, but I started to investigate about them and see more and more photos… It was definitely one of my goals in Lapland, seeing the green sky! And I did it! It was a small and weak aurora, but I could capture it for the first time, so it’s kind of a dream come true for me! 🙂

  5. Oh my gosh, those nighttime photos!!!!!!!

    • mercedescatalan

      Thanks a mil, Snow!! 🙂 Oh, we have beautiful mountains in Switzerland… but the skies of Finland are truly magical!!! And I know that you don’t see the northern lights in Helsinki very often… but at least there’s not so much light pollution in Finland! I’ve never seen so many stars in my whole life!

      • Wasn’t it cold taking the photos?

        • mercedescatalan

          The first night in Saariselkä wasn’t very cold… I think it was around -5º and we didn’t stay at the lake too long…
          The second night we tried, near Ivalo, the temperature dropped… near -15º!! And I tried to go to the lake and I ended up with snow up to my shoulders…. and even if I had a lot of warm layers, I got some snow on my socks and gloves… We stayed there until my hands started to hurt too much (I was using hand-warmers inside my two layer gloves, and that wasn’t even enough to keep my hands warm after touching the snow). Fortunately, my husband was waiting for me in the car, very near, so after 1 hour something, I got into the car and I could warm a bit, hehehe.
          When I was living in Stockholm I saw even lower temperatures (-25º is the lowest I’ve seen) and I had not very appropriate winter clothes by then… In this trip, I was wearing proper winter clothes, so I managed the cold better 🙂 But -15º is cold, whatever you’re wearing, right?? But I was so excited about the northern lights that I didn’t really care, hehehe

  6. It might have been fainted but you did capture that elusive Aurora Borealis and it is as awe jaw dropping beautiful! And that sky full of stars!!! like wow. such a pity you didn’t get to meet the Sami but at least you got to photograph the reindeer, they are so cute and majestic at the same time.

    • mercedescatalan

      Thanks a lot, B! You know how I wanted to live this moment, finally seeing the northern lights… well, it wasn’t with my own eyes but through the camera, but it was the same excitement and happiness!!
      And yes, I’d have loved to meet Sami in their colorful costumes… but I’m not that confident when photographing people, so the reindeer were a good alternative, perfect for me! We had such a nice time with them, feeding and peting them! They’re definitely one of the cutest and sweetest animals I’ve ever seen!! No wonder why they are part of the legend of Santa Claus 🙂

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