Finlandia – August 29, 2022


Departing Utsjoki, at the northern most point of Lapland, we made for a town called Ivalo about 200 kilometres south in a mini-bus. On the way, the scenery went from sparse hills where only small stunted birch trees could survive to pine forests hugging the edges of the winding road. Then there were the lakes. Looking out the bus window, I seemed to see more lakes than on the journey up to Utsjoki, many of them quite large; Anya commented in her typical pithy style: ‘that’s because on the way to Utsjoki you slept most of the way’.  

Ivalo was a dull town.

 That’s true of every town in Lapland, which have no old centres, no old buildings, but Ivalo was much  bigger than the other towns we had stayed in and it seemed oppressively sterile.

 Mind you, the apartment we had booked turned out to be a small, run down, prison-cell sized apartment right on the main road with a great view of traffic and trucks – as well as the noise, especially from the rumbling trucks and the whining two stroke motor bikes.

With the windows facing into the sun, none of which could be opened, it was hot and stuffy. The internet didn’t work and there were one power point.

Extremes in accommodation are an inevitable part of travelling especially when like us, you are on a budget and don’t book ahead. This apartment, reminiscent of the communist era apartments in Eastern Europe, formed a stark contrast indeed with the place we had booked in Utsjoki; that was also a surprise, but of the positive kind: a house with a large lounge/kitchen with table and chairs and sofas, a separate bedroom with cupboards and bed lamps, and large bathroom – and oh, also a sauna. And this place was cheaper than our apartment in Ivalo!


Apartment in Utsjoki


Apartment in Ivalo


Apartment in Ivalo from outside (ours is with the fan)


With an afternoon to kill – and going back to our apartment was an option to be absolutely avoided – we wandered through the backstreets and then through a forest reserve until we ran into ….a lake, another one. I was actually starting to get bit jaded with lakes. I’d seen so many of them. Large and small. Of every conceivable size and shape. 

At one point, I saw a cow.

A lone cow on an area of land next to a wooden house near the lake’s edge. It hit me that this was the first cow I’d seen in two weeks and along with this came the realization that in the whole of Lapland, a large area by any standards, there was no organised agriculture of any kind.

Was the land too stony (then again that’s hasn’t been an obstacle for Australian farmers) or was the climate too severe?


A far more likely explanation was a combination of these factors together with the ubiquity of the lakes.

Finland is blessed with more lakes and more water per head of population than any other country in the world and most of those lakes – the 190, 000 of them = were south of Lapland, i.e., in the southern provinces, where most of Finland’s small population live, concentrated into modern cities with high rise apartment blocks.

Aesthetically attractive and great for tourism – Finland’s lakes also have a downside. The lakes mean that the availability of land for agriculture is a fraction of Finland’s total land area. Finland has a small population – 6 million – but given its actual useable land area, it’s not able to support a much larger population.

Furthermore, given that agriculture is not an option as a major export industry, it makes sense for Finland to concentrate on the high tech sector, which in turn also explains why its education system is one of the best in the world  (the other Scandinavian nations and The Netherlands also invest heavily in education but it’s often Finland which tops the list).

Forming an opposite pole to Finland is The Netherlands; in theory, with a small land area than Finland but in reality, even with its heavy population density – one of the highest in the world – it has far more agricultural land at its disposal and far better land: it is one of the world’s biggest food exporters.


Our next bus trip is a part of a longer journey south into ‘Finland’ as opposed to ‘Lapland’.  At this point everything is a matter of maps, guide book, booking the next lot of accommodation; of step for step moving further and further south until we end up back in Helsinki at some unknown point in the future.

Only one thing is certain: where we are headed, where ever it is, there are going to be many more lakes. Lots and lots of them. 

I’d better get used to the idea!






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