My Trip to Northern Lapin Lääni (1)


From Thursday 27 July to Wednesday 2 August I had the Finnish adventure of a lifetime: taking the train, postal bus then bicycle all the way from Helsinki to Polmak in northeastern Norway.

My trip started at Helsinki’s main train station, the Rautatieasema. Although there is a train station literally a thirty-second jog from my apartment (Pasila station), I chose to ride the three kilometres south to the main terminal in order to ensure a good seat for the twelve-hour trip up north to Rovaniemi.

I checked my bike on the train and got a desired window seat. Rovaniemi is the capital of Lapin Lääni (Lapland) and is located slightly south of the Arctic Circle (for now). Since celestial bodies are constantly affecting each other, the actual line of the Arctic Circle moves several metres daily.

I had a six-hour wait until the once-a-day postal bus (postilinja-auto) arrived to take me to Utsjoki, 458 km north. During my time in Rovaniemi I checked out their Alvar Aalto-designed central library, main shopping centre, plus the local Suomalainen Kirjakauppa (Finnish book store). I was not tired from the train ride as I managed to sleep on board, although I did need a coffee once I got off the train. I still had a few hours before the bus came, so I decided to bike along Kuusamontie, the road along the northern bank of the Kemi River.

The “official” Arctic Circle is eight kilometres north of the city centre, however I decided to forgo a bike trip in that direction seeing I was going to be within a few kilometres of the Arctic Ocean in a few hours. Thus why bother with an imaginary line which I have pictures of already (from my late June trip to Kemijärvi). I kinda like that–me having pictures of an imaginary line. My special camera also has the ability to take pics of Cheshire cats too 😉

At 17.05 the bus left on the dot from the Rovaniemi train station. I had wanted to get a window seat on the right side since a sign lover such as myself wanted to see all the anticipated destinations ahead. The bus’s final destination was Vadsø, Norway, which was a further 138 km northeast of Utsjoki.

Before I visited Finland last year, I had bought a map of Finland large enough to cover my entire kitchen floor. I noticed then that the northernmost towns were listed in two (sometimes three) different languages. Aside from Finnish, the second language listed was not the other official national language, Swedish. The majority language in the Finnish far north is Sami, and the map listed town names in Tunturi Sami (as well as Inari Sami, if applicable). What I did not pay attention to until I unfolded this map on the bus (not an easy thing to do!) was where the southernmost Finnish/Sami town-naming began. I realized after we passed Sodankylä that the next stop, 91 km away, was the town of Vuotso. On the map it was listed also as Vuohčču, in Sami. I wondered if the road signs would also list these towns bilingually and sure enough as we approached Vuotsu town limits, the familiar blue road signs doubled in size as Vuotsu was listed in big white capitals with Vuohčču right below it.

The Sami alphabet features six additional letters, only two of which I can reproduce on this keyboard. One is the edh: ð. Another letter is the eng [ŋ], which I have seen on road signs in two incarnations. As we approached the road heading west to Angeli, signs gave the Sami name as Áŋŋel. The more jarring of the two ŋ variations was seeing enormous lowercase n’s with hooked tails as ÁȠȠEL. The other eng was a modified capital N with a hook on the lower right side: Ŋ.

As the bus pulled into each little town, the driver would drop off parcels and bags as well as pick up the daily post. Once you pass Ivalo (Avvil in Sami) there are not that many stops however.

My destination was Utsjoki, the largest town in Utsjoki Municipality. Utsjoki Municipality is the only municipality in the nation where the Sami population is in the majority. Of the municipality’s two thousand citizens, some seven hundred live in the town of Utsjoki and around 250 live in the town of Nuorgam, forty-three kilometres east. The Sami name for Utsjoki is Ohcejohka.

The bus arrived at eight minutes after midnight. Here, this far north at just under the 70th parallel, the sun does not set until 00.31 yet barely closes its eyes as it rises again at 01.39. Hence midnight was as bright as day and I have the pictures to prove it.

More to come in the second Lapin Lääni instalment.

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