Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Winter break week has arrived in Finland

Where has all the time gone?  It seems like it was just Christmas and now suddenly the ski week also known as the "winter break" has arrived.  Every school in Finland has one week off in February and that week changes depending on what part of the country you live in.  The goal is that that everyone doesn't take the week off at the same time.  Seems like a reasonable plan and then one would expect that every ski resort or vacation spot is not surrounded with millions of screaming children.  :)

What does the typical Finnish family do for a winter break?  That really depends on the family's budget and its interests.  It seems that there are two distinct types of vacations that people take during the Finnish winter holiday.  There are the sun seekers who just need a break from the long Finnish winter and there are the snow lovers, who enjoy skiing, sledding, ice skating and other outdoor winter sports.  There might even be a lucky few families who manage to do a little of both during the week long break.  The sun seekers from Finland have a few favorite destination spots.  The most popular by far seems to be the Canary Islands.  The folks from the United States might have no clue about this small cluster of Islands off the coast of Northern Africa owned by Spain.  I haven't been there myself, but it seems the Canary Islands have taken over as the Hawaiian Islands alternative for Europeans.  There are a few other sunny options in February, but none quite as popular as the Canary Islands.  Other prominent destinations for sun seeking Finns include Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and Egypt in Northern Africa.  For those more adventurous with additional time on their hands, some might even venture all the way to Thailand.   There are direct flights from Helsinki to Thailand and those are growing more popular with Finns. The southern European countries of Spain, Greece and Italy are beautiful and pleasant in the winter, but also might be a bit cool this time a year so they are not as popular.

Then there is the snow sports seeking crowd. There are a multitude of options for these folks.  Many loyal to their country decide to fly or drive up to Lapland for a pseudo downhill ski vacation.  I say pseudo because if you aren't really that familiar with Finland, it is a very flat country.  The northern part of the country (Lapland, etc.) gets a bit steeper, but I think the largest mountain is Halti at only 1,324 meters.  I am from the San Francisco Bay Area and we have a 1,024 meter mountain alongside my little home town.  Suffice to say there are many 1 kilometer mountains in California and we even see mountains in the 2 and 3+ kilometer range.  Others may choose to go exploring the Alps and other wonderful ski places throughout Europe.   There are many choices scattered throughout Italy, France, Switzerland, Austria and other countries.   The budget minded stay home and hit the local cross country trails, sledding hills and some small downhill resorts.  For example, within 5 to 10 minutes from my home there are hundreds of kilometers of cross country ski trails, sledding hills and natural ice rinks.  Our kids should have plenty of activities to choose from if we stay local.  I prefer to cross country ski when I have the time because it is such a great overall exercise and it is a great way to get out to the nature at the same time.  My kids enjoy skating, sledding and building snowmen.

Winter is cold, winter is long, winter is horrible.... Yea, you have already heard it all from many Finnish blogs, and I have been guilty myself of repeating similar thoughts.  In spite of everything, winter is also a joyous time of the year and the snow scenery can be captivating and magical.  Make the most of it and then take the pleasure to know that once old man winter decides to crawl back into his cave there will be bright days ahead for many months.

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