Finland bucket list trip

PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- I’ll admit, this was some crazy travel! But I only had a short time to play with and was traveling solo. I also didn’t mind layovers as it was less expensive, and I can always use the lounge to get editing and work done! So, here you go.

Getting there (and back)

Legs 1 and 2: Phoenix LAX London Heathrow

Sadly, American Airlines suspended its direct Phoenix-London flight when COVID-19 hit. It just started back up this week. Anyway, I got a one-way to LAX and went across the pond from there. Because I had some time, I headed to the lounge to watch the Super Bowl. The One World Lounge at LAX is very nice! My favorite lounge there, Qantas (which I can also use as a One World Emerald member), hadn’t re-opened yet and the American lounges at LAX are usually packed. I found a cheap round-trip on American from LAX to London Heathrow for $645. I chose this route to use my systemwide upgrades to get into business class both ways. (I do love a lie-flat seat and refuse to spend the money on one. So, I always use systemwides or miles).

Legs 3 and 4: London Helsinki Kiitilä, Finland

I used AA miles (only 22,000) to get from London to Kiitilä, Finland, via Helsinki. I had to spend the night in Helsinki (I arrived 45 minutes before they got rid of the negative COVID test requirement, which I brought with me anyway.) I stayed at the airport Hilton (great breakfast!) and took the morning flight to Kiitilä on Finnair. I booked it all on American because Finnair is a partner.

Heading home

I set it up to spend the night in Helsinki after Kittila and then fly back to London via Finnair using my American points. I spent a few days in London -- of course, heading to the Ted Lasso pub -- and then home.

There is a direct flight from Los Angeles to Helsinki on Finnair, which is a One World airline. That would have been a much easier way to go, but I wanted to use my miles/systemwides to upgrade to business class. I couldn’t do that on the Finnair flight because it’s operated by Finnair and not American. I chose to upgrade and just have a layover in London. That’s the one thing I am spoiled with. I’ve only paid for business class once in all my years of traveling. But I upgrade to business internationally all the time using miles/systemwides. I’m also flexible enough that I can choose the flights where I can guarantee an upgrade. I knew I would spend a few nights in London on the way home, so it made sense to go through Heathrow. There is a British Airways direct flight (also an American partner) from Phoenix, but I always try to fly my preferred airline.

Where I stayed

Levin Iglut! The place was started by Tauno Mäkelä, a father with an incredible vision. His four daughters now help with the operation. I emailed them to hold the one igloo they had left. I didn’t want to book it yet as I still had to confirm I could pull this whole thing off. I got an incredible reply from Katriina, one of the daughters. It turns out she was an exchange student in Glendale years ago.! She agreed to hold the igloo for a few days to allow me time to book my trip. She was amazing. Her sister Marita joined her when I arrived, and we have become friends. Katriiina helped me plan my itinerary while I was there. I fell in love with them and their place. One of the suites became available on my first night, so I got to experience the suite and their regular igloo -- both fantastic.

Levin Iglut during the day
Levin Iglut during the day(Tara Hitchcock)
Levin Iglut at night
Levin Iglut at night(Tara Hitchcock)
My new Finnish bestie, Katriina Moksi
My new Finnish bestie, Katriina Moksi(Tara Hitchcock)

What I did

I packed a ton into three days! It started with a visit to Samiland, where I met Ante Aikio, one of the best ‘Yoik’ singers in Finland. His mission is also to educate people about the indigenous Sami culture. Katriina, Marita, and their nephew Aleksi (whom I hired to shoot a little video this time as I didn’t want to rely on my iPhone footage entirely) joined me for a meal at their fantastic restaurant at Levin Iglut, Restaurant Utsu. It’s actually one of the best spots in all of Levi for a meal.

The next day was spent at Reindeer & Fishing, a traditional reindeer farm where we rode sleighs and learned about reindeer. We also got to ice fish and snowshoe. It was a packed day, and Petra, our wilderness guide, was hilarious and amazing. That night, the sisters wanted me to experience another authentic Finnish dinner. There are two seatings, and the meal includes a Sami performance, as well.

Feeding Mozart
Feeding Mozart(Aleksi Kylmälahti)

▸ WATCH: Truly one of the most magical experiences

My final day was spent snowshoeing -- this time with the traditional wooden snowshoes -- in Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park. It was a VERY snowy day (as you’ll see in the pictures). James, who started the company GreenTrek Lapland with his wife, was an incredible resource and guide. He even made some flapjacks to give me some energy as I finished the morning hike. I had just enough time to get back to the hotel and change for the Finnish smoke sauna and ice swimming! In Finland, this is a big deal -- going from hot to cold. They put our cold plunges to shame! Immel Kartano is where I went. I had a great time, but it was the coldest water I’ve ever been in! While I did not see the northern lights (We came close, but the full moon may have affected things.), I would go back in a heartbeat.

Snowshoeing the "traditional way" with GreenTrek Lapland
Snowshoeing the "traditional way" with GreenTrek Lapland(James, GreenTrek Lapland)

▸ WATCH: I also tried ice fishing. It definitely tested my patience.

Coldest. Water. Ever!

Ice swimming at Immel Kartano
Ice swimming at Immel Kartano(Marita Oksman)

Thank you, Katriina and Levin Iglut (and everyone else I met along the way) for an incredible three-day trip! And thank you, Aleksi, for documenting most of it!

Aleksi Kylmälahti may be sick of me already!
Aleksi Kylmälahti may be sick of me already!(Tara Hitchcock)
Aleksi doing his thing
Aleksi doing his thing(Tara Hitchcock)

More pictures!

Feeding Mozart at Wolverine Fell Wilderness and Nature
Feeding Mozart at Wolverine Fell Wilderness and Nature(Tara Hitchcock)
I may need some help here!
I may need some help here!(James, GreenTrek Lapland)
Reindeer herder Kari Siirtola and his son
Reindeer herder Kari Siirtola and his son(Tara Hitchcock)
Dinner at with my new friends at Saamen Kammi in Levi
Dinner at with my new friends at Saamen Kammi in Levi(Tara Hitchcock)
Levi, Finland
Levi, Finland(Tara Hitchcock)
Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park
Pallas-Yllästunturi National Park(Tara Hitchcock)
Hoping for the northern lights ...
Hoping for the northern lights ...(Tara Hitchcock)
Snowshoe selfie with my GreenTrek Lapland guide, James
Snowshoe selfie with my GreenTrek Lapland guide, James(Tara Hitchcock)
I'm going to miss my new friends (left to right Marita, Katriina, Aleksi).
I'm going to miss my new friends (left to right Marita, Katriina, Aleksi).(Tara Hitchcock)
Ante Aikio giving me a lesson in Sami culture
Ante Aikio giving me a lesson in Sami culture(Tara Hitchcock)
Finland's version of my vodka cran!
Finland's version of my vodka cran!(Tara Hitchcock)
Reindeer LOVE lichen!
Reindeer LOVE lichen!(Marita Oksman)
Enjoying my one night in one of Levin Iglut's hot tub suites.
Enjoying my one night in one of Levin Iglut's hot tub suites.(Aleksi Kylmälahti)

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