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.
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.
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.
▸ 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.
▸ WATCH: I also tried ice fishing. It definitely tested my patience.
Coldest. Water. Ever!
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!