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Finland: Icebreaker Sampo – Swimming in Subzero Temperatures

Monday, January 22, 2018
Finland: Icebreaker Sampo – Swimming in Subzero TemperaturesLike3

Breaking the Ice on an Icebreaker Sampo
in Kemi, Finland

Sleeping Under The Stars

Everything you need to know!

SLEEPING UNDER THE STARS, IN THE MIDDLE OF A FROZEN SEA

ON BOARD AN ICEBREAKER TO SWIM IN DEEP ICE WATER!

WHY KEMI

It’s really a whole new feeling when you realize you’re in charge of your life, your thoughts, and your actions—or inaction. Being in an isolated area with nothing but endless horizon of ice and nothing else in sight has had a huge impact on me. It felt almost like everything away from here had no significant value to me anymore and, at the same time had all the value in the world.

I could go on and on about how this trip has helped me grow, but instead, I felt that this journey has helped me realize that nothing is quite impossible… at least for me.

It was not as scary as I imagined, to put two steps forward, go to the places I always dreamed of going to. It was a little nerve wrecking out of excitement, but physically, not impossible.

I always believed that overthinking about something allows us to give ourselves ‘valid’ reasons why we should not ‘just go’.  

The success of this journey, is the result of what would happen if we would give ourselves permission to do something we have never done before.

I decided to explore a new little town called Kemi, situated by the Bothnian Bay, at the mouth of river Kemijoki, and it is part of Lapland region. The town has a population of around 21,000. The main export in Kemi is the two large paper and woodpile mills which is also visible from almost anywhere in town. Kemi, is also home of the world’s largest snow castle (reconstructed every year to a different design) and is located right near the sea side villas.

Finland is the only country in the world where all ports would freeze and that means trouble for towns when there are no more imports and food would be scarce. The 75 meter vessel was built to operate in extreme arctic conditions up to 16 knots. In the northern part of the Gulf of Bothnia it kept lanes free for shipping for nearly 30 years.

The main reason I decided to fly to Kemi was really for the Icebreaker Sampo, which was built in 1960 An incredible and mind blowing experience that has been on my list of things to do ever since it became open to tourists in 1988. I booked online on Visit Kemi’s website and was able to move forward.

Picture this: sleeping in a Seaside glass villa in the middle of the frozen sea, surrounded by nothing but icy water and at night gusty winds. The occasional foxes, deers and rabbits footprints can be seen on the snow near your room but it’s too dark you don’t dare go out! During my stay, I did not sleep for 3 nights, looking up at the stars, admiring the serenity and inner peace I was in. The Northern Lights can be seen right from your room on a clear sky, but I was not there for the lights nor did I see them as it was too cloudy those nights.

I was there for the experience on the Icebreaker and the swim in almost -25 degrees celsius!

WERE TO STAY

The Seaside Glass Villa was one of the most exciting locations I have stayed in. The title says it all. A glass villa from all sides, on the frozen Bothnian Bay, which made it an extremely exciting location!

It’s a modern room as compared to the wilderness found in the North. As it celebrates its’ one year anniversary, the Seaside Glass Villa is an experience for those looking to be in Finland but not into the wilderness. But, the idea of being on a frozen bay is adventurous enough! The room is 21m2 one bedroom villas with a small kitchen and bathroom and is well heated. You are also warned on the 13 minute challenge of hot water for those who love long warm baths because after that, it drops to zero degrees! 

I stayed in room 23 which faces the bay at large and a couple of footsteps near the forest. Breakfast was served at 7am and despite the sun coming out at 10am, I found it not a problem at all to wake up (or not sleep) at 5am to get ready for a full day of adventure. I also booked the Icebreaker Sampo Cruise through their website and they sent me back an email with all the information I needed to prepare myself for the trip.

If you are traveling with kids, an extra bed could be placed in the room. You also have an option of booking the newly opened two story bedroom villa. During the winter season, the Snowcastle would be built and the children would absolutely love it there!

I spent 3 nights in Kemi. My days were full of adventure, despite the days being very short. Sun would rise at 9:45-10am and sunset would be at 2:30pm. The temperature was around -10 and -5 on good days. Taking the Icebreaker cruise was the main focus of my trip to Kemi and I highly recommend it. One evening, I went for a snowmobile ride at 8pm with Lapland Safaris and Pauli was my guide until my thumb froze. Literally froze! It was scary at first and I tasted the frostnip as a result of my gloves being apart from my hand for the sake of my camera! 

There isn’t too much to explore around town but the activities would fill your day. If you are stopping by Kemi, I would suggest you combine it with another destination, maybe drive to Rovaniemi or Sweden! During my stay, the snow castle was being built and had one week left for the opening. This would have probably been a great experience if I had stayed longer… But then again, there is always a next time!

Swimming in the Bothnian Sea

THINGS TO DO

Snowmobile – Hunt for the northern lights    

It was 8pm and temperatures dropped to -10. Lapland Safaris HQ happen to be by the Seaside Glass villas so it was only a 1 minute walk for me to get started. Snow gear was provided for me from head to toe (including shoes). I was briefed on using the snowmobile and we cruised on to the frozen sea and into a neighboring island! I was brought to of one the cabins where we had snacks by the firewood and warm berry juice which is my favorite after my first trip to Finland last year! Pauli helped me set up my tripod and waiting to catch some lights in the sky. 

Ice Karting on the frozen sea

Karts are almost the same as used indoor karting, but with studded tires and more powerful engines. Race track is located on the icy sea nearby the Kemi Snowcastle.

Icebreaker Sampo

One of the most incredible experiences of my life. Still unsure whether it was the cold, the icebreaking notion of being in the middle of the sea with nothing but ice surrounding you from every side of the boat or the exhilarating winds that would swing you from side to side as you hold on to the icy rails of the boat trying to to slip. I couldn’t help but picture myself on The Titanic (minus the glam) only, in the arctic and realized how my dream has turned into reality. The Icebreaker cruised for 2 hours until it stopped in the middle of nowhere and we were able to get off the ship, walk on thick ice (20cm of snow above sea water)! I heard the crew from far had called me in to brief me on swimming in -25 degrees celsius water as she dressed me up in a wet suit. My heart was pounding but things were moving too fast to realize what was going on and before I knew it, I was stepping down, holding on to the rails and onto an opening of icy cold dark water. The excitement froze my brains and I wasn’t even thinking of anything but to get in. I finally did and it felt as if I was a pro…until I lost balance and the water pressure turned me over onto my back. I was laughing, amazed and my heart was beating out of my chest and never had I thought about what was under that dark, icy water until after 20 minutes of swimming! It was an experience I will never forget!

Olokolo Ride in the Frozen Sea

The Olokolo, pulled by a snowmobile. Experience the Arctic Sea and the beautiful islands around that offer a great possibility to see the local wild life. Good chance to get a glimpse of the Sea Eagles, Elks or other wild animals. Within the warm comforts of the Olokolo nest you can observe the ever varying sky above and the beauty of the nature around. Make sure that once you get inside the Olokolo, you remove your jacket as it can get really warm inside thanks to the heaters!

Arctic Adventure Island

In summer, you can go kayaking and island hopping on to the neighboring islands! In the winter you can take a snowmobile and have an ice fishing experience where you learn how they break the ice to fish! You can even enjoy the Aurora lights by spending the night in the cozy Olokolo nest. Cosy and warm Olokolo nests are a convenient way to stay overnight in Arctic conditions! It is one of the most unique adventures you can ever have right on the frozen sea!!

HOW TO GET THERE?

From the UAE

 

I flew with Finnair on a 6 hour direct flight to Helsinki and then took a 1.5 hour flight to Kemi. It was an incredible experience to land on snow and walk from the plane to the terminal in icy weather conditions. Flights from Dubai to Finland on the aircraft have no entertainment system so make sure you are aware. Also, the best seats on the plane are row 10 or 24 which are exit seats and is worth the extra 200 dhs per way! 

Important Information 

* The best time to get on the cruise is during winter when the ice is thick enough for the icebreaker to cruise the sea

* The Icebreaker Sampo used to be in the service of the State of Finland until the year 1987. You will hear plenty of interesting details of the Icebreaker, about ice and breaking the ice etc.

*  Regular cruise duration is four hours. The Snowmobile-Sampo Safari Cruise program includes three hours’ time on board; whole safari programme takes about 7 hours.

*  The Icebreaker Sampo is docked at the Ajos Harbour. If you arrive with a car, set your navigator to address: Sampotie 137, 94900 Kemi and follow the Icebreaker Sampo signs. Free parking place in the port, please follow the instructions.

*  To prepare for the arctic winter time and activities, it is highly recommend to dress in warm layered underwear and thick outdoor clothing. 

*  The City center is 1km away from the seaside villas

*  Luggage carrying service is provided with extra cost

*  Additional cleaning during the stay with extra cost.

Once in a while, we all need to make these ‘once in a life’ kind of trips and make sure that it is not once in your life. A lot of people have come up to me saying that this is my once in a lifetime trip… I am trying to show you that these trips don’t have to be. Every once in a while, someone will catch your eye. In my case, it was always somewhere. Somewhere you can’t seem to get out of your head—a once-in-a-lifetime kind of place and sometimes it takes you off guard so much that you might even have to pinch yourself. This trip was a personal trip for my soul and I would always go back to it in a heartbeat!

Visit Kemi for more information on your stay and activities.

Travel Junkie Diary

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