Category Archives: Finland

David Forrester’s Review of Follow the Lights

 

David Forrester and his wife Ethel have just returned home from their 15-day Follow the Lights escorted small group tour after winning the prize with Bentours at last years Scandinavian Film Festival. We recently had the pleasure of catching up with these lovely customers in our Melbourne office where they told us about their amazing journey through Norway and Finland. Hear what they had to say below.


A Tour of Norway and Finland with Bentours, By David Forrester

 

What an amazing adventure. Touring Norway and Finland is akin to travelling into a wonderland. We have just completed the “Follow the Lights” with Bentours of South Melbourne, and what an experience.

From the moment we arrived in Oslo to the end of the trip in Helsinki we saw and did things we had never dreamt of.

“Norway in a Nutshell” was a well worthwhile extra. The hotel in Oslo, part of the Central Railway station and right in the heart of the city, was a great launching place to visit many sites. Our room overlooked the Opera House and the harbour. A stroll around the water’s edge to Pipervick is well worthwhile if you are looking for a beautiful seafood meal. It also leads on to the sculpture park and the Modern Art Museum.

The following day catching a local train to Myrdal and then boarding the “Flam Railway” and travelling through the mountainous scenery covered with frozen waterfalls. Twisting and turning across precipitous cliff faces and through tunnels in a heritage train was exciting. We arrived at Flam and stayed at a beautiful hotel. Part of this excursion included a “Viking Plank”, a five course meal accompanied with five different beers. Sumptuous.

The next day we boarded a ferry and sailed through the fjords, surrounded by towering snow covered mountains. We passed small settlements snuggled into protected areas. Then a bus and train to Bergen. It was a good idea to have our luggage sent independently which was in our hotel when we arrived.

Once again, a wonderful city to explore with its quaint buildings and fantastic eating places. Here we met our tour leader who was a wealth of knowledge. The most caring man who went out of his way to be of assistance.

The journey on the M.S. Nordkapp, a Hurtigruten ship, took us up the coast of Norway, stopping at various ports to pick up passengers, vehicles and goods and to deliver necessities. We were able to get off the ship at various places and explore the villages, often covered in a blanket of snow. Each town was like a Christmas postcard.

The scenery here is unbelievable. Snow and ice covered mountains rising out of the water. We were amazed at the isolation of some of the hamlets.

We were fortunate to see the northern lights as we were about to cross the Arctic Circle although not very spectacular. A little earlier in the year and I am sure they would have been better.

The M.S. Nordkapp is a very comfortable ship. The cabins are well appointed and serviced daily. The meals were absolutely mouth-watering. Much seafood (salmon, prawns, mussels), a variety of meats and vegetables and cheeses. A variety to suit all tastes. The wait to service was of an exceptionally high standard.

On disembarking the ship in Kirkenes, we began our journey through Finland. Visits to the Sami Museum, a unique night in a glass igloo, an exciting dog sled ride and a visit to Santa for a chat and a photo. We took the opportunity of paying extra for a snowmobile ride and a visit to a reindeer farm. There is nothing like travelling across a frozen lake at 40 kph.

Then a train ride to Helsinki, travelling at 165 kph through the frozen lakes of Finland. More exploring of a beautiful city. Then a ferry trip to Tallinn in Estonia and a wander through the Old Town with its souvenir shops and cafes.

I would recommend this trip. It was well organised and our group leader made certain that everything went smoothly. I guess other times of the year would be completely different. This was at the beginning of Spring. Not too cold but we needed to be well rugged up. Bentours advises on the clothing to take for the various seasons.

Once again, I would like to thank Bentours for a well organised and smoothly run tour.

By David Forrester.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Arctic Legends behind the Northern Lights

The Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, have baffled people for centuries, sending bright waves of red and green streaks of colour across the sky. From warring gods to shoals of fish the aurorae were seen as being both good and bad omens. Interestingly, mythology surrounding the phenomenon often aligned between people who were thousands of kilometres apart.

We have collected a few of our favourite explanations to share with you. However, it’s not until you’ve actually seen this natural light show that you can truly understand why so much mysticism arises around it! We offer a particularly special Northern Lights Astronomy Voyage for those who have dreamed of seeing this sight for themselves.

Legends have not only come about because of Aurora Borealis, but also the less viewed Southern Lights (Aurora Australis) that can be seen (sometimes) in southern Australia and New Zealand. Look out for an up-coming article World Mythology about Aurorae to learn more.

The Northern Lights in the Arctic

Greenland

In Greenland, children born during the Northern Lights are thought to be more intelligent. The Inuit of Greenland believed that the lights were spirits trying to communicate with the living, while another legend told of dead spirits playing a game across the sky with a walrus skull.

Alaska 

Flipping that last legend on its head, the Cup’it Eskimo of Nunivak Island believed that the game was played by walruses with a human skull. Other Alaskan tribes were very afraid of the lights and would throw dog faeces and urine in to the air to make them go away.

Canada 

Hudson Bay communities believed that the lights were a celestial farewell, being torches of dead spirits as they made their way up into the heavens.

Russia  

The Chukchi see the Lights as an area of Heaven rarely seen, the home of those who died a violent death. Russian texts as recent as the 15th century discuss the Northern Lights as heavenly armies fighting.

Iceland

The Lights are said to relieve the pain of childbirth as long as the mother does not look at them while giving birth. If she does, her child will be born cross-eyed.

Finland

Perhaps one of our favourite myths, the Lights were believed to be created by a celestial firefox, that runs so fast across the snow that his tail showers sparks into the night sky. The word for the Lights in Finnish is revontulet which means firefox. The Sami of Finnish Lapland believed the lights were spumes of water from whales.

Sweden 

The Lights were seen as heralding good news, indicating a good harvest or being the reflection of a large shoal of herring that would now fill the ocean. They were also said to be benevolent gods providing warmth and light through a distant volcano.

Norse Mythology

There are disputed claims as to whether the Vikings had any stories behind the Northern Lights, particularly because there is evidence to indicate there was very low solar activity at that time and so the Lights would have been weaker, rarer and mostly red. One of the most popular myths is that the lights were reflections off the armour of Valkyries, peering down at earth to decide who would leave a battle and who would die. This has been disputed for the lack of evidence within Viking texts, as it only comes into existence in more modern writings on the Vikings.

The more accepted myth is that the Lights were believed to be the Bivfrost Bridge, a glowing pulsating arch that led fallen soldiers to Valhalla (although some believe this was describing a rainbow and not the Lights).


Contact Bentours today to book in your Northern Lights adventure! We have many great itineraries to offer or perhaps better yet, relax and admire the view on a Hurtigruten Coastal Voyage with our Northern Lights Promise.

The Midnight Sun

Scandinavia is famous for its polar night, the winter months of the year where the sun hardly makes an appearance and the Northern Lights flash across the sky. The less spoken of but no less exciting time of year is the opposite – the Midnight Sun over the summer months. Locals make the most of the extended daylight hours to spend more time outside and basking in the sun.

What is the Midnight Sun?

The Midnight Sun is the phenomenon that occurs in and around the Arctic Circle and the Antarctic Circle where the sun is still visible at midnight because of the tilt of the earth. This phenomenon can be experienced in Canada, Russia, Norway, Iceland, Finland, Greenland, Sweden and the USA (Alaska). The closer to the poles, the more sunlight there is – this means a quarter of Finland has 60 days of sun without setting, while Svalbard in Norway has no sunset from the 19th of April to 23rd of August.

Although the Midnight Sun only shines above and around the Arctic Circle, in truth the nights are ‘white’ throughout much of Scandinavia. During the summer solstice, the sun is visible for a full 24 hours but it is the days leading up to and following on from this mid June date, the white nights, where the sky is most fascinating, with sunset colours dominating as the sun briefly dips below the horizon then comes back up again. The line between night and day blurs and Scandinavians sleep less, spending their long days outside exploring.

It is at this time of year that much of the native flora and fauna of the Arctic begins to flourish. Having been dormant for the many winter months, wildflowers begin to bloom in the Arctic tundra and wildlife such as polar bears, elk, arctic foxes and migratory birds can be readily seen.

The cultural importance of the Midnight Sun

The Midnight Sun is culturally significant in old Norse legends, although how exactly it was understood is unclear. The Icelandic Snorri Sturluson attempted to compile Norse legends about the 12th century and although his compilation has been shown to be far from reliable, the legends about the sun and moon seem to be reasonably accurate of what the Norse people believed, coupled with many early artworks and artifacts.

The story goes that Sol (old Norse for Sun) and Mani (old Norse for Moon) were two beautiful siblings, a sister and a brother. The gods were so outraged that their parents had called them such powerful names that they condemned them to drive one chariot each across the skies, one pulling the moon and one pulling the sun, one after the other. These chariots were pursued by wolves and every once in a while the wolves would catch up with the brother or sister and devour them – thus there would be no sun (polar night) or no moon (midnight sun) until Sol or Mani were reborn.

Another classic Norse legend is that young women looking for love should collect seven flowers on Midsummer’s Eve and place them under their pillow that night. Then, in her dreams of the next few months, her future fiance will appear.

In more contemporary history, the famous Norwegian painter Edvard Munch depicted the golden lit Midnight Sun in his famous (and influential) work, ‘The Sun’ (1909). This wall mural occupied the University of Oslo’s Assembly Hall and was a symbol of the creativity and productivity of the Norwegian people under their golden Midnight Sun.

The best ways to experience the Midnight Sun

Norway

Known as the land of the midnight sun, there are some wonderful ways to experience the extended daylight hours of the summer in Norway. Consider a coastal cruise or some outdoor adventures to make the most of your long days.

  • Commonly mistaken as the most Northern point on the European Mainland, the North Cape is technically situated on an island. It is however a wonderful place to feel rejuvenated by the Midnight Sun with only the sea and Svalbard between you and the North Pole.
  • Take a cable car ride up 656metres in Narvik where you can behold stunning views of the fjord, the town, the islands and surrounding mountains including the famous Sleeping Queen. You can even hire a mountain bike to go back down into town!
  • Alternatively, take a cable car ride in the northern town of Tromso – although only 421 metres above sea level, the attraction affords amazing views of the peaks of Ringvassoya Island where the Midnight Sun hovers. Open well after midnight in the summer, this is the perfect way to make the most of the eternal summer days.
  • Visit Trollstigen National Tourist Route and admire the UNESCO listed Geirangerfjord from the  Flydalsjuvet rest stop.
  • Longyearben, Svalbard opens up in the summer time and is a wonderful place to visit. The most Northern Norwegian settlement, Svalbard enjoys the longest period of the Midnight Sun from 22nd April to 20 August.

Sweden

Visit Kiruna, in the Swedish Lapland to experience the Midnight Sun at it’s best along with famous Swedish hospitality. The Midnight Sun phenomenon lasts in Sweden from late May to mid July but the further North you go, the longer the season.

  • Play well passed midnight at the famous Bjorkliden Arctic Golf Course. 250km north of the Arctic Circle, this is one of the most scenic golf courses in the world and is open 24hours a day.
  • Indulge your inner artists in an Ice-Sculpting course at the ICEHOTEL, or ski into Midsummer’s Eve high up in the mountains.

Finland

A quarter of Finland is within the Arctic Circle and so the Finnish Lapland experiences about 70 consecutive days of constant sunlight.

  • The Midnight Sun film festival occurs every year in Sodankylä, located approximately two hours northeast from Lapland’s capital, Rovaniemi. The five day festival was founded in 1986 and has gone from strength to strength in each year since, with an international mix of filmmakers and film-lovers. Screenings run 24hours a day from 15 to 19 June and the highlight is the silent film concerts, always packed out.
  • Jutajaiset Folklore Festival in Rovaniemi is a celebration of the coming together of Lappish, Sami and Finnish culture in music, dance and performance. The program is both fun and educational, with the opportunity for anyone to participate in the National Course for Accordionists and an art camp designed specifically for children.

Iceland

Although outside the Arctic Circle, Iceland experiences the ‘Bright Nights’ due to refraction of the sunlight.

  • Explore the Land of Ice and Fire from inside a magma chamber at Thrihnjukagigur volcano. This amazing place is only open for May to September and is an unforgettable experience!
  • Make the most of the bright night and enjoy a late night dip in one of Iceland’s many hot springs.
  • Tackle a guided glacier hike in stunning surrounds during the afternoon and there is no need to hurry back for sunset as the days draw out.

Greenland

Experience the Midnight Sun in Greenland’s Northernmost towns – Qaanaaq, Upernavik and Uummannaq.

  • Take a boat ride among the ice flows and admire the awe-inspiring Ilulissat Glacier, above the Arctic Circle.
  • Even further south in Greenland, locals enjoy Bright Nights with nearly 20 hours between sunset and sunrise. In Qaqortoq and Nanoralik, nightlife and daytime activities merge and there is something for everyone to enjoy.

Discover the Midnight Sun on our small group tour Follow the Midnight Sun or contact an agent for more ideas to make the most of this amazing phenomenon.

Christmas Wonderland

The North Pole may not be as easy to get to as some Hollywood films portray but you can get to the next best thing this Christmas – Rovaniemi, Finland. Known as the home of Santa Claus, Rovaniemi is high in the Arctic Circle, and although beautiful at any time of year, it really comes into its own at Christmas time.

We offer a unique Christmas experience for those dreaming of a winter wonderland this festive season – but hurry the last rooms are filling fast.

Christmas in Lapland

Over five days, experience the holiday of a lifetime with the perfect family Christmas experience. Whether you are someone who counts down the minutes until Christmas or someone for whom it usually passes you by, you cannot help but be swept up in the romance of a winter wonderland in Rovaniemi, Finland at Santa’s Village. Tailored to suit the young, old and everyone in between, this unforgettable journey will take you up beyond the Arctic Circle in under the magical aurora borealis or northern lights.

December 23rd guests will be welcomed with open arms by your Christmas hosts to beautiful Rovaniemi, surrounded by snow laden forest and beautiful alpine villas. Perhaps enjoy a moolight snowmobile safari for your first night in this incredible part of the world, or stay tucked up and cosy inside, watching the snow drift to the ground outside. Christmas Eve sees a day full of thrilling snow activities in the Snowfun park from a forest tour by four-wheeled scooter, kicksledding or skiing. For the more adventurous among us, there is ice-hockey, ice-fishing and ice golf, while for those who prefer a more relaxing experience, the open fire beckons in a traditional Sami style tent. After a day laden with activities, guests will be served a delicious Christmas feast – and don’t be surprised if Santa pops in to say hello!

Christmas Day and Boxing Day more exploration awaits, peppered with relaxation in cosy surrounds. Travel deeper into the majestic Finnish forest; decorate a tree with Santa’s Helpers; gain your International Reindeer’s Licence; and explore the Arkitikum, an internationally renowned museum and science centre. December 27th marks the end of you amazing experience among the forest in Santa’s Homeland.

The last rooms are quickly running out for 2017 – book in your Christmas adventure with Bentours now!

 

Origins of Dog Sledding

 

You’ve booked in your dog sled excursion and you turn up expecting to see a black and white husky with blue eyes and a pink tongue lolling out the side of its mouth, right? Hollywood has definitely trained us novices to think of these dogs, and these dogs only, as huskies.

In reality, the name ‘Alaskan husky’ refers to a mixed breed dog developed in the early 1900s as the ultimate sled dog. The idea that huskies solely have blue eyes and black and white fur is quite a myth – in fact, there is no predominate markings or colourings in the breed. While 20% of huskies eyes are blue, 60% have brown eyes while the last 20% have one blue and one brown.

History of Sled Dogs

Despite the presence of people in the Arctic region for centuries, competitive dog sledding is a relatively new concept. The Sami people and Inuits of the Arctic had a number of dogs that they bred for different purposes and while these Lapphunds were sometimes used for sledding, they were generally more bred to be stocky guard dogs and reindeer herders.

Siberian Huskies today are not only extremely active, energetic and resilient dogs, but they are loving and friendly.

siberianhusky-1_600pxThe Siberian Husky is one of the oldest breeds in the world, part of a family of dogs directly descended from wolves. Used for hunting and reindeer herding, the Chukchi tribe selectively bred these dogs to be agile and strong, and they were attached to a sled side by side in pairs. These dogs were loved and respected by the Chukchi people, sleeping in shelters with families and being fed even in times of famine. They would accompany adults on hunting trips; obey voice commands; or even stay at home to look after young children.

The Alaskan Husky is a cross breed that finds its roots in the Canadian Eskimo Dog, the Alaskan Interior Village Dog, the Siberian Husky and many European hound breeds. In the early 1900s during the Alaskan goldrush, the demand for sled dogs was enormous to carry mail, freight and for recreational racing. Pioneering Europeans had noticed the Mahlemut Eskimos’ large, kind and almost inexhaustible dogs, now known as Alaskan Malamutes. However when Europeans tried to purchase these dogs they invariably failed because of their beloved position in Mahlemut communities.

greenlandhusky-1_600pxThe Greenland husky is a dog bred by Inuits for transportation and hunting in Greenland in the wintertime. During the wintertime, Inuits would rope up 10 to 14 dogs in a fan formation with a clear leader in front of a sledge. As the dogs were often left on isolated islands in summer months to fend for themselves, survival of the fittest ruled and they are now quite difficult to train and aggressive, particularly to other dogs.

Instead, Europeans began to breed their own variation of sled dogs to their purpose. It was this selective breeding that produced the Alaskan Husky, a wiry, less stocky animal that is nevertheless quite strong and resilient to running long distances.

Husky heroes

The Seppala Siberian Sled dogs were developed and then trained by Leonhard Seppala, a Norwegian-American trainer, for the first Roald Amundsen polar expedition and this strain of the breed is still around today. He was also one of the mushers in the famous 1925 serum run to Nome, also known as the Great Race of Mercy, transporting diptheria antitoxin 1085km in 5.5 days – a journey that usually took 25 days. 20 mushers and 150 sled dogs raced through blizzards, suffering from frostbite in the icy winds. This incredible feat is commemorated each year with the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, along the same route of the serum run.

Dogs have also been a huge part of many famous explorations and pioneering expeditions in the Arctic (they have been banned in Antarctica since 1993), acting as the only reliable means of transportation.

Sled Dogs Today

With all of this variation in breeding, the type of dog that will be pulling your sled depends on what country you are in. These are working dogs who are trained from four month old puppies to pull sledges and not a pet or lap dog. Having said that, some of the dogs will love petting and a cuddle – but always remember to check first!

“I highly recommend this to everyone, especially to dog lovers as you get to visit doggy heaven before you go riding!”

The huskies used on Svalbard are friendly and love cuddles, as they are a mix breed of the hardy Greenland dog with the more social Siberian husky. However, the huskies used in Greenland, although often mixed breed, are more independent and less friendly and do not want to be petted by strangers. In Alaska and Russia, Alaskan Malamutes are commonly used in sled dog formations and are kind-natured dogs.

Responsible Mushing

Mush with P.R.I.D.E. (Providing Responsible Information on a Dog’s Environment) is an organisation offering the only internationally recognised industry standard to ensure that Mushing Kennels keep their dogs in a safe and happy environment. Specifically bred to run, these huskies love regular exercise and stick to a strict training schedule and diet. The voluntary standards also include inspection of dog’s living spaces, diet and access to water; their demeanour in the pack and around humans indicating their general well-being and happiness; and responsible breeding programs. Most owners absolutely love and respect their dogs, working everyday to make sure their dogs are well cared for and integrating pups into the pack with light sledges and wheeled carts in the summer months.

Where you can dog sled

Dog sled safaris can range from two hours to five days and are available through Bentours in Finland, Northern Norway, Svalbard and Sweden. An exhilarating experience, a dog sled safari is also a magical way to enjoy the Northern Lights. A dog sled safari excursion can easily be integrated into a Hurtigruten voyage and many of our package holidays feature such safaris. With the assistance of our on ground team we are also able to tailor-make a dog sled safari just for you!

Match Made in HEL(sinki)

Once again, Match Made in HEL took the impossible and made it possible. In May this year, seven of the most fascinating designers from Europe and Asia came together at Helsinki Airport to put on an extraordinary event – a fashion show on a real airport runway.  A world first, Match Made in HEL was a grand success exhibiting designers from China, Denmark, Finland, Japan, Korea, Sweden and the UK, and fashion-influencers from the world over.

“Helsinki Airport is a key hub for Asia-Europe travel, and every day thousands of people transfer through the airport on their journey between these destinations. The airport, located along the shortest route between Asia and Europe, is a constant inspiration for us, and on May 24th fashion designers from both the West and East will meet here for this special runway show “, said Katja Siberg, Vice President, Marketing and Business Development at Finavia, the Finnish airport operator.

A unique collaborative project, HEL originated in 2014 when Helsinki Airport converted into a giant skate park and this year, HEL took on the fashion world. This campaign celebrated the unique location of Helsinki as the physical and creative midpoint between Europe and Asia.

Visit the wonderful Helsinki to be witness to a truly once off experience like this.