I've done that crazy thing again. Stayed late in the office (really late) Ubered it home, started packing (I know, I've been meaning to start packing for ages, but never got around to it. Well, to be fair I'd made some stacks of things to pack in anticipation...) then threw everything in another Uber and zoomed off to Heathrow. I've been really looking forward to this holiday to Lapland, I have little expectation but of course, really want to photograph the Northern Lights in all their glory.
There has been no time for sleep, breakfast, or it transpires, to actually put the essential items I'd gathered for the trip in the suitcase. It could have been worse but after buying a new waterproof skirt (that was a find), jacket and gilet (waistcoat of many pockets) for the occasion, none of them actually made the packing!
I meet Rob Canis (our tutor) and my fellow photographers by the check-in. I'm introduced to everyone but in a sleep-deprived befuddled state I seem to forget their correct names instantly. I'm convinced there's a John and a Wendy, but I'm not positive who is who. However there was no John nor a Wendy, in this case though.
I still need to procure some Norwegian Krone but the Travelex people seem determined to send me on a wild goose chase around the terminal, and eat up all my airport shopping and breakfast consuming time. I finally get to the gate, still sporting the tiara I just had to wear today (despite it causing a minor drama in security), without Krone (it was just too painful in the end) and mighty hungry. I'd set my heart on a slip-up birthday Eggs Benedict but the plan was thwarted by my frustrating forex fail. But there is a vending machine by the gate, perhaps I'll get lucky. This particular vending machine only serves Ben & Jerry's and so my birthday breakfast turns out to be chocolate ice cream. Breakfast of champions!
We change flights in Helsinki, again time is short so I have to refrain from checking out Marimekko, which I was rather keen to do. My evil plans of self-gifting on my birthday are entirely curtailed. Finally we arrive at Kittilä and meet our guide, Dirk, to drive us to the reindeer farm, our home for the first few nights. It's so exciting to be here, all around us is the evidence that Father Christmas lives here. Obviously we are way too early to see him, he's no doubt, in a workshop or auditioning elves, or something.
We have some reindeer stew (sorry, Rudolph) and are making our way back to our cabins and Dirk is pointing at the sky saying we have to get a move on, get away from the distracting lights as the Aurora Borealis is upon us. We can't see anything, try as we might we squint at the dark sky, but it looks normal to us. Dirk may be Dutch but we're all convinced his years in Finland have turned him Finnish, Lappish or maybe even Sami. He can definitely smell the Northern Lights so we grab our warm clothes, tripods and head torches and head for a lake.
And there the magic happens. I'm not sure I can really describe was we saw, it was a truly breath-taking spectacle for hours. With the naked eye, we were standing in a huge, ghostly chandelier with long pale tendrils constantly shivering and dancing all around. Then a huge swirl of brighter white light would snake across the black sky totally enveloping us with this mystical glow. With the longer exposures, our cameras could discern the iridescent rainbow colours and the outline of the trees reflected in the lake. We stopped shooting in the wee small hours and the light show was still performing. What an astonishing and magical experience!
We realise later that the red lights on our head torches have rendered the rowing boats by the edge of the lake red in our long exposures. It's a curious, though not expected, phenomena.
I haven't slept for so many hours but it doesn't matter as the euphoria is carrying us through. My birthday wish of Northern Lights was granted, that's exactly what I hoped for when I blew out the candles on my cake! Happy birthday to me!