The Sami people of Lapland

North of the Arctic Circle the presence of the Sami is particularly felt. Their lives as nomadic reindeer herders is not so much evident, but the reindeer are – and where they are, there are reindeer farmers, such as this man at the reindeer farm we visited.

This image is from the Karasjok Sami Museum.

Once we were on Mageroya Island, reached by a series of tunnels, reindeer were often seen grazing on the low-growing alpine vegetation. There were many with calves at foot. I didn’t manage a photo, as the little brown ones were well camouflaged, and I was too busy looking at them all.

On our way to North Cape, we stopped at the Sami Museum in Karasjok. This town is the Sami centre, the place of their parliament, even though they spread across borders from Russia, through Finland, Sweden and Norway.

Our guide was a Sami woman.

Today in Alta, we visited the UNESCO World Heritage rock carvings site. Although it is not proven that it was early Sami who did these carvings, the reindeer herding images are a visual link for us as visitors. The reindeer fences, which we have seen, are an example of this link.

Teepees are scattered about the landscape throughout Northern Finland and Norway, often modern representations.

This later one is the headquarters of the people who make the famous ice hotel each year.

Again, here the Sami reindeer lifestyle is represented, if in an around-the-campfire way. Sami were more likely to be keeping warm around the fire inside the teepee.


We set off in fine drizzle on a calm sea in Ola’s sturdy boat. Cod was drying on racks on the wharf.

I was well-prepared with layers of merino, Macpac parka and waterproof shoes. While others remained in the cabin (it was freezing) nothing was budging me from the prow; I was getting the most out of the experience!

My camera phone proved unequal to the task: hard to use with cold hands and wet gloves, and suddenly out of charge. I did get this though:

How cool is that?! The puffins are smaller than I expected, but I was delighted to hear that there are half a million breeding pairs on these off-shore islands and the numbers have remained steady in recent years. The green cliff face where they have their burrows looks like the Hilton for puffins.

I also learnt about the razorbills and saw cormorants, guillemots, gannets, herring gulls, magnificent white-tailed eagles (one caught a puffin), kittiwakes and grey seals.

Not having the camera as a distraction was great; I could really look.

We went out to North Cape later that night where I found this useful information:

And here I am standing on the northern tip of Europe and feeling on top of the world!

Wildlife and forests

There are signs along the highway warning of moose crossing. We saw moose in a sanctuary but not in the wild. Today, however, we had to stop twice for reindeer crossing the road.

We visited a reindeer farm for a closer look.

The reindeer all belong to someone and are ear marked, but wander freely through the forest – no fences, no trespass orders – and keeping track of your reindeer is even achieved with GPS these days. I’m not sure how land ownership works here, but anyone is entitled to pick berries anywhere in the forest and everyone has access to beaches and riversides. There is forest everywhere you look, except in the towns, although they are built alongside lakes and rivers which are lined with trees. This is Kuopio from the tower.

Many wild life are endangered, and we saw these rescued animals in Ranua Wildlife Sanctuary.

This impressive moose is in the wonderful Arktikum Museum in Rovaniemi.

Toys, trolls and dolls

There are the odd gems amongst the souvenir tat. Once you brace yourself for the cliches, stereotypes and anthropomorphism you can get some simple enjoyment from some of the merchandise.

These were some of the crown prince of Denmark’s toys in an exhibition for his 50th birthday.

These made me smile:

High cute factor applied to violent history – and rolling pins?!! Really?

Children’s literature gets lots of attention:

There are Moomins (recently a personal favourite) everywhere. There are even Mumin cafes. (Altered spelling for copyright reasons, perhaps?)

At the Vasa Galleon Museum, a cut-away model showed life on board in miniature.

And the anthropomorphic lynx – on the end of our beds at the hotel in Helsinki. (Gave some of us a bit of a start at first glance.)

The Hotel Santa Claus was full of it – even elves popping out of the bar ceiling.

Or on hallway walls, such as this elf on a watering can.

Sometimes it’s a little overwhelming.

Sometimes it’s charming and magical.

Charming Kuopio

Our first view was from the tower, looking down over the ski jump to the city spread out around a huge lake.

These posters inside the tower gave clues about the city’s past.

A walk around the town – the evenings never seem to end – gave a closer perspective.

Looking at books

Bookstores are a magnet for me, even when the language is incomprehensible. I browse the displays and try to “read” the covers.

The Finns are clearly fond of dogs.

Some titles or authors’ names are recognisable.

Some children’s books are very familiar.

Guess the English titles of these ones:

And some are in English. These popular cartoon books, about a typical Finn called Matti, give English speakers amusing (and familiar) insights into the Finnish psyche.

In Norway too I found myself drifting into bookshops to just soak up the bookish vibes and feel calm.

These books were taken on board Amundsen’s Fram voyage. He was meticulous about ensuring the wellbeing of his crew.

These books were part of a floor-to-ceiling display in the Thon Opera Hotel in Oslo:

Some more familiar titles:

And while I’m featuring these grim subjects, these even more sobering plaques are set into the pavement of an Oslo Street outside shops owned by Jews deported to Auschwitz during the war.

Just when I thought I’d covered the subject, I discovered the wonderful bookshops of Lisbon. First, an antiquarian one, Sa da Costa, founded in 1913:

Then Bertrand’s, which I’d researched at home. It claims to be the oldest bookshop in the world.

It has a cafe – feed the soul and feed the body.

Heroic Helsinki

The heroic character of the Finnish capital city is apparent as, from all directions, ferries sail into the port. A UNESCO World Heritage sea fort hunkers down at the harbour entrance, while a marina offers a brave face to the elements.

Sibelius’ Finlandia provides an evocative reminder of brave resistance to invasion.

The rock has been painstakingly hewn to create a peaceful artefact.

Quirky style has an intensity coming from the long months of dark and cold, one suspects.

A fleet of icebreakers is ready for the return of winter.