As I alluded to in my post on Helsinki, our brief day in the capital in December was only a taster before returning for a slightly longer trip to Finland.
Braving the icy temperatures once more, we touched down in Helsinki last week in a flurry of snow, and spent a night near the airport before boarding a place to fly north to Ivalo, situated within Finnish Lapland. Spread across four countries, Norway, Sweden, Russia and Finland, Lapland sits high within the Arctic Circle and is sparsely populated by both the indigenous local peoples and other residents of its respective countries.
Despite being primarily known as the centre of Santa's operations (with an abundance of 'meet Father Christmas' holidays to match), once December has been and gone Lapland reverts back to a glittering snowy wilderness for the rest of winter. Soft, powdery snow, vast frozen lakes and plenty of cold weather activities make it the perfect location to escape the damp, cold and grey UK during February.
For the icing on the cake, there's one final draw. The long nights, low temperatures and location very near the North Pole also results in a high level of Aurora Borealis activity in Lapland. After our incredible experience of seeing the lights during our travels through Iceland last year, I was hooked, and couldn't wait until winter rolled round again to try our luck once more. Fully aware that a combination of high activity and clear skies were required - both factors completely out of our hands - we nevertheless had our fingers firmly crossed and were determined to increase our chances as much as possible.
From our previous experience, we knew that it was no good sitting around and hoping that the lights would come to us. After evenings of waiting for the rain to cease in Iceland, pouring over weather maps and Aurora prediction websites, we realised that we would have to do the chasing. Six hours of driving later, and we'd stumbled across the only clear patch of sky in the country, and were rewarded with an amazing display. The overall theory was still sound, but a change in country brought with it complications. Although cloud cover in Lapland, whilst extensive, rarely covers the whole region at once, the roads are thick with snow and ice, and Reindeer are a real danger to motorists. We also couldn't help feeling that luck, more than anything we did, had brought us success last year.
Onto the internet and through magazines I trawled, before stumbling across a company who seemed too good to be true. For three nights in a row, a renowned photographer and Aurora addict would collect us from our hotel, and take us Northern Light hunting. After spending much of each day pouring over maps, weather reports and Aurora activity websites, Andy (our guide) would choose the best spot and take us there. If the sky was overcast, we'd move on once more, spending up to six hours seeking them out in an environment he knew well. He had a great track record - every group he'd accompanied over the past season had seen the lights at least once during the three days, with some racking up two sightings. On top of this, some photographic advice was also included in the cost.
However, even an expert Aurora hunter wouldn't be able to change the weather if thick clouds rolled in, or increase the solar activity. We'd done the best we could, and made sure to organise enough daytime adventures to lessen the blow if we were unlucky.
It was all in the sun's hands now...