The school and the community had a holiday break around New Years, so I was able to enjoy the time after Winter Camp with friends and family.

I spent New Years visiting the JDC Fellow in Tallinn, where we went to a concert by top Estonian artist NOEP and then left at midnight to find the fireworks in the medieval town square, where we also found ourselves in the middle of a giant Russian concert.

Then it was back to Finland early the next morning to pick up my family as they arrived from the airport! Everyone was jetlagged for the next day or so…

We took a day trip to Tallinn (yes, I went back to Finland and then back again) and my family enjoyed touring the Old Town.

The next day we toured Helsinki and it was a snowy, wet, Finnish winter day.

Finally we started our journey up to Kittilä in Lapland. It’s inside the Arctic Circle, and temperatures seemed to say as much–we landed to a toasty -27 degrees Celsius, and yes we had to walk off the plane. Temperatures only dropped from there. Apparently this was the coldest weekend of the year–the lowest we experienced was -40 degrees: the temperature when Celsius and Fahrenheit are the same. I always knew there was such a point, but I never thought it would apply to me. What does this temperature feel like? The minute you step outside, the insides of your nostrils begin to crystallise and if you don’t blink hard enough, your eyelids stick shut. Because it’s so dry, you don’t notice the bitter cold until your nose, fingers, toes or any other exposed skin becomes numb. There were a couple of times when I took my fingers out of the glove to take a picture and once they were back inside, I couldn’t warm them up. This. This is what frostbite feels like, I thought to myself. And it was mildly terrifying.

When we stepped off the plane, we were greeted by a beautiful sight: the polar night. By about five days, we had passed the point where the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon–but still my phone said there was about a half an hour between official sunrise and sunset. Although the sun was never in the sky, the vast expanse of flat snow and trees was bathed in a beautiful but eerie pink light.

It was too cold for many outdoor activities and many tours were even cancelled. But that night we had an unexpected surprise to make up for any disappointment–I stepped out onto our hotel balcony at around 8pm, and there it was: the Aurora Borealis.

Our hotel was located at the top of the mountain of the Levi ski resort, so all we had to do was suit up and make our way to the ski slopes. Apparently, it’s rare for the aurora to shine this bright. The waves moved and changed shape by the minute, and it was more white and less green in person. We stayed on the slope for an hour or two, sometimes attempting to take pictures while trying not to take our hands out of our gloves, and other times sitting and watching the dancing lights. The aurora grew fainter after that time, and we grew colder, so we went inside for dinner and peeked outside again afterwards, but it was gone.

We spent the next morning dog sledding, pulled through the tundra by a group of eager Iditarod veteran huskies and one half wolf:

And the next morning snowmobiling over frozen lakes, with a short visit to an ice hotel, still under construction:

Our Lapland adventure was really a once in a lifetime opportunity to explore the Arctic landscape and indigenous culture of the northern Nordics.

When we returned to Helsinki, we spent our final day at the Arabia design center, where we immersed ourselves in the world of minimalist and utilitarian Finnish design, from household names like Iittala and Alvar Aalto to new up and coming artists.

A relaxing end to a very cold but exhilarating winter break.

The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily represent the positions, strategies, or opinions of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.  



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