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Sunday Night Read: 'Chasing Aurora Borealis and Dreams in Lapland'

This short story series submission is from Anna Paul of Burnaby.
The Northern Lights seen from Lapland, Finland.

Ever since childhood, the swirling curtains of emerald green and vibrant violet dancing across the night sky — the Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights — had held a mystical allure for me.

In the winter of early 2020, I decided to trade the predictable for the extraordinary and embarked on a bucket-list-chasing adventure to Lapland, Finland, the undisputed crown jewel of Aurora Borealis displays.

Imagine stepping into a living postcard — snow-dusted landscapes stretching endlessly, frosted pines swaying gently in the crisp air, and charming wooden cabins nestled amidst the white wilderness. That's exactly what greeted me as I landed in Finnish Lapland. The sub-zero temperatures were invigorating, a welcome change from the usual monotony of city life. The air crackled with clean, electric energy, promising adventures unlike any other.  

Meeting Santa in his village (supposedly his original home)

No visit to Lapland would be complete without a pilgrimage to the heart of Christmas cheer — Santa Claus Village. Nestled amidst the snowy landscape, this charming village pulsated with a festive energy that was both heartwarming and infectious. And hence, I started with this very place as my introduction to this heaven-like destination. Walking down the snow-dusted streets lined with colourful log cabins adorned with twinkling lights, I felt like I had stepped into a childhood dream come true.

The highlight, of course, was meeting the main man himself — Santa Claus! His jolly demeanour, booming laughter, and genuine warmth instantly put me at ease. Even as an adult, there's something undeniably magical about meeting Santa. Sharing my Christmas wish list and receiving a friendly pat on the head instantly transported me back to the wide-eyed excitement of those exciting Christmas mornings. 

The village itself was a wonderland of festive activities. It falls exactly on the Arctic Circle and thus, is a major highlight. From reindeer rides to elf workshops, there was something for everyone to enjoy. I even had the opportunity to learn the traditional Finnish Christmas carols, their lilting melodies adding to the enchanting atmosphere. As I left Santa Claus Village, my heart brimmed with a renewed appreciation for the simple joys of the holiday season. 

Reindeer rhapsody and husky hugs

My Lapland adventure began with a quintessential experience — a reindeer safari. Clad in thermal gear that felt more like an astronaut suit than winter wear, I hopped onto a traditional sleigh pulled by a team of majestic reindeer. Their gentle snorts and rhythmic gait created a sense of serenity amidst the snowy expanse. The Sami reindeer herders, with their rich cultural heritage and deep respect for these gentle creatures, shared fascinating stories about their way of life. They explained how the reindeer, perfectly adapted to the harsh Arctic climate, were not just their livelihood but also companions.  Learning about the traditional herding techniques, and the deep bond between the Sami and their reindeer, added a whole new layer of appreciation for this unique experience.

But the real show stealers were the huskies. These weren't your average pampered pooches; these were balls of boundless energy with sparkling eyes and a ferocious love for running.  After a safety briefing and a chance to meet these furry athletes, I was matched with a team of six huskies, each with its distinct personality — the playful leader, the goofy goofball, and the stoic veteran.

Mushing a dog sled, feeling the wind whip through my hair as the huskies pulled with fierce determination, was an adrenaline rush unlike any other.  It wasn't just a ride; it was a dance, a collaboration between humans and huskies, navigating through the snowy trails with a sense of exhilaration. The Huskies seemed to relish the freedom of the run, their joyful yelps echoing through the silent landscape. By the end of the exhilarating ride, my cheeks were flushed with exertion and my heart brimming with a newfound respect for these incredible animals.  

Anna Paul explores the town of Lapland, Finland, by snowmobile. By Anna Paul

A night under the dancing lights

The main event, of course, was the Aurora Borealis.  After days of exploring the magical landscape, the night of the Aurora forecast arrived. Excitement crackled in the air as our guide, a seasoned Aurora hunter with an infectious enthusiasm, bundled us up in layers that would make a Michelin Man jealous and drove us away from the light pollution of the town. We ventured deeper into the heart of the Lappish forest, anticipation thrumming through the group like a live wire.

We finally arrived at a clearing, a designated Aurora hotspot, and stepped out into the inky blackness. The silence was profound, broken only by the occasional crackle of the bonfire and the soft murmur of our hushed conversations. We huddled in a cozy hut, sipping hot berry juice that sent a comforting warmth through our bodies and sharing stories, the anticipation palpable.

And then, it happened. A faint emerald glow shimmered on the horizon, like a shy smile peeking through the night sky. A collective gasp filled the air as we all craned our necks, eyes glued to the mesmerizing spectacle unfolding above. Gradually, the glow intensified, morphing into vibrant ribbons of green that danced and swirled across the canvas of the night. The sky was alive with movement, the Aurora Borealis putting on a light show that was both awe-inspiring and humbling.

As I stood there, mesmerized, the celestial ballet felt like a personal connection with nature's raw power and beauty. The camera shutters clicked incessantly, but no photograph could truly capture the ephemeral nature and ethereal beauty of the Aurora Borealis. It was a fleeting masterpiece, a luminous display that etched itself permanently onto my memory.  

Floating on frozen dreams

Another unforgettable experience was my adventure onboard the legendary Icebreaker Sampo. This mammoth vessel, a testament to Finnish engineering prowess, was designed to conquer the frozen expanse of the Gulf of Bothnia. The thrill of setting sail on a ship built to navigate icy waters was exhilarating. As we ventured deeper into the frozen Gulf, the vastness of the white landscape stretched out before us, a breathtaking spectacle of nature's raw beauty.

But the real adventure began when we reached a designated spot on the frozen sea. Donning a special thermal floating suit, I took a deep breath and plunged into the icy waters of the Gulf. The initial shock of the cold was quickly replaced by a sense of exhilaration. Floating amidst the vastness of the frozen sea, surrounded by nothing but ice and spectacular arctic sky, was an experience unlike any other. It felt like stepping into another world, a serene escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Returning to the warmth of the icebreaker, I felt invigorated and alive. This once-in-a-lifetime experience pushed the boundaries of my comfort zone and rewarded me with a newfound appreciation for the power and resilience of nature. 

Leaving a piece of my heart in the Arctic

A pang of bittersweetness settled in as my Lapland adventure drew to a close. I had fallen in love with this magical land — the enchanting snow-dusted landscapes, the exhilarating activities, the warm hospitality of the locals, and of course the awe-inspiring Aurora Borealis.

Leaving Lapland felt like leaving a piece of my heart amidst the frozen beauty. But as I boarded the plane back home, I carried with me a treasure trove of memories, a renewed appreciation for the wonders of the natural world, and a spirit emboldened by adventure.

Lapland wasn't just a destination; it was a transformation. It was a reminder that magic exists, that dreams dance in the night sky, and that the world is filled with incredible experiences waiting to be discovered. So, if you're looking for an adventure that will leave you breathless, a place where the lines between reality and fairytale blur, then look no further than Lapland. This winter wonderland awaits, with open arms and a mesmerizing light show, ready to steal your heart.

P.S. = Don't forget to pack your thermals, your sense of adventure, and a camera to capture the magic of Lapland. This is just a taste of what awaits you in this extraordinary land. 

- Anna Paul, Burnaby

You can find Anna Paul on Instagram, as well as her Soul on the Sole blog.

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