Day 1: December 14, 2022 Wednesday

Back in November we started thinking about going on an adventure for Todd’s birthday, on December 20th. We sat down at his computer in his backyard shed office that he built (which is a lot nicer than it sounds) and started brain storming. We had heard that an airline was offering direct flights to Ireland from Providence, and started looking into that route—we quickly learned that was no longer the case. Then we started brainstorming other destinations when I’d said to Todd, “Hey, for awhile there I was seeing on social media this place where you can stay in glass igloos. Where is that?”

BJ Knapp author of Beside the Music stayed in a glass igloo at Kakslauttanen near Ivalo Finland

We googled and quickly learned that place is called Kakslauttanen and is located near Ivalo, Finland which is about 175 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Ivalo (pronounced EE-vah-low) is also the folkloric home of Santa Claus, probably due to how far north it is. Near Ivalo is another small city called Roviemi, which has a very famous Santa’s village that is mobbed with families visiting Santa at this time of year. We looked on the Kakslauttanen resort web site to see what excursions and activities were offered and learned we could go on all manner of different rides like reindeer sleds, dog sleds, snow tanks, ice breaker boats, snowmobiles, etc. We also learned about smoke saunas and ice swims.

The clincher would be the weather. That far north means cold and dark. But how cold? We learned that we’d be likely to see single digits in Fahrenheit. We also learned that this time of year the sun doesn’t exactly break above the horizon. The twilight starts around 10 AM and promptly ends at 2-3 in the afternoon.

“So, are you cool with that?” he asked.

Then the flurry of booking. Booking this trip literally took all weekend, and I blame it on our feature-creep nature. There were SO MANY cool things we wanted to pack into this trip. We did manage to pack in a lot of cool things, which I’ll tell you about in the upcoming blog entries about this trip. Kakslauttanen has many excursions to choose from, and I think we only managed to not be able to schedule 2 of them. One of them was a ride on an icebreaker boat. Being boat people we were psyched for the idea of getting to do this. We had learned it would be a 13 hour excursion, so I looked it up on a map to see where the boat would be departing from in relation to Kakslauttanen and learned it would be a 5 hour drive each way to get to and from the boat. Then we spent a few hours trying to figure out how to work in the boat ride on our own independent of our stay at Kakslauttanen and couldn’t manage to figure it out. We also didn’t bother to book the trip to Roviemi for Santa’s house. We figured that it would be crowded the week before Christmas and we would rather do other things like reindeer sled rides, snow tank ride, dog sledding, etc.

So we booked everything else we could, until we got to the flight home. Icelandair does this cool thing where you can to a stopover in Iceland on the way to another destination in Europe. So we booked our flight to Helsinki with a 24 hour stop over in Iceland. We know from our last visit to Iceland that the famous Blue Lagoon resort is a stone’s throw from the airport. We booked a stay in their fabulous hotel and spa.

On the way home there were other interesting stopovers. When we had learned that we could potentially do a 32 hour stop over in Istanbul on the way home from Finland, we tried to get that to work—all with the deadline of trying to get home on time for Christmas. We spent hours shifting dates around and trying to squeeze in Istanbul, but it was not to be. We did manage an overnight in Iceland—which was basically long enough to spend the night in a hotel.

After booking everything we had the usual flurry of activity that you would go through for going on a trip. I bought a few more pairs of merino wool long johns from LL Bean that we’d liked the last time we went north. I dug out our ski pants. Then the night before we were scheduled to leave on the 14th I laid out all my outfits I wanted to wear on the bed and tried to match them with the weather forecast each day all while trying to keep to overzealous puppies from jumping on the bed and making a mess of my neat piles. I quickly became confused and made a schedule in OneNote of which outfit to wear when. We had brought two large suitcases with us, two smaller carryon suitcases and our backpacks. One large suitcase would contain our winter gear: bulky coats, hats, ski pants, boots, etc. In our small carryon suitcases we decided to each pack outfits for three days and our toiletries. This way if luggage was lost we’d have three days of clothes with us. Then the other large suitcase would contain the rest of our outfits. Every time we were to get onto a plane to go to a different stop, which would happen a few times, we’d cycle in more clothes. Let me tell you, having my outfit selection listed out by day was extremely helpful in keeping up this packing strategy. I will definitely do the outfit schedule thing again, it was genius!

Approximately 17 seconds after we booked everything back in November one of the dogs had eaten one of Todd’s winter boots. They were like the LL Bean duck boots, but very well insulated. He typically wears them when he’s doing the snow blowing. And now one of them was shredded; it was my mission to go to REI and get him some new ones. Of course one of his boots would get the puppy treatment just before heading out on a trip to the Arctic Circle. Of course.

When I dug out our ski pants and we discovered we’d put on a few pounds since we wore them. I got online and did a curbside order at Dick’s Sporting Goods to get new ones. On the way to Boston we veered off I-95, stopped at the store and we piled into the fitting room together to try on the ski pants over our clothes, which is how we’d wear them.

After purchasing our new ski pants, the rest of it went pretty quickly. We drove the hour and a half to Logan Airport in Boston, dragged our suitcases to the Icelandair counter and got checked in. We made our way to the gate and had dinner while we waited. Before we knew it we were fastening our seatbelts and getting ready for a trip of a lifetime.

BJ Knapp author of Beside the Music took a trip of a lifetime to the Arctic Circle

December 15, 2022 Thursday

I like flying overnight when going international. Even though I am not getting a full 8 hours of sleep--and I am very unpleasant when I don't get enough sleep-- I still oddly feel refreshed and ready to take on a new country when I arrive usually around daybreak.

We did the customs thing and got onto a bus that took us to the Blue Lagoon. OK, so Blue Lagoon. Imagine a pond. Now imagine that pond is a milky turquoise blue and is as hot as a hot tub. The whole pond is waist deep and we were able to wade around in very soothing hot water. They have a swim up bar and they have another area where you can get a handful of therapeutic clay mask to streak all over your face and then rinse off by ducking down into the pond. It simply is a slice of heaven.

BJ Knapp author of Beside the Music visited the Blue Lagoon in Iceland

BJ Knapp author of Beside the Music enjoyed the Blue Lagoon in Iceland

The Blue Lagoon is all man-made. There is a geothermal energy plant right next door, and the water in the Lagoon comes from the run off from the plant. The hot water comes from deep inside the earth and the steam from it powers turbines to create electricity. The water is siphoned off to heat the pond that is the Blue Lagoon. We had learned the last time we were in Iceland that the water that comes from the geothermal plants is also piped into the homes all over the country to heat houses. Then that water is piped under the sidewalks to melt the ice. And then it’s dumped into the sea where it heats a beach just enough to be able to go swimming—as the ocean is incredibly frigid, as you can imagine for the northest of the north Atlantic.

When we were last there in 2016, they were building the hotel and spa complex at the Blue Lagoon. The last time we simply changed into our bathing suits in a locker room and hit the Lagoon. This time we planned to spend 24 hours exclusively at the Lagoon. We booked in for a day at the spa and then a night in the hotel.

Of course, because we arrived at daybreak our hotel room wasn’t ready. So, we booked a day room at the spa. It’s a small room that has a massive shower and a changing room. Robes were at the ready, we took a shower, and put on our bathing suits. We followed a guide through the meandering spa. There were restaurants, access to a private section of the Lagoon, and at least a half dozen themed chill out rooms. There were fireplaces, nest-like basket chairs suspended from the ceiling, saunas, steam rooms, and a large three room area where they offered free clay and algae scrubs and masks. They called it the mask ritual and the whole thing could take up to an hour. There were several exits from the building into the Lagoon, and then at the end there was an area for an in-water massage—which we’d booked for the afternoon.

We spent the day alternating between wading in the pools of the private lagoon and chilling out in the relaxation room. We napped in those nest chairs. At some point we ate. We poked our heads into every room and napped in the Fire Room which had a big fireplace in the center of it. Just after lunch our hotel room was ready and they brought our suitcases up there for us.

So, it is worth noting that the service at the Blue Lagoon hotel was absolutely spectacular. The staff was incredibly friendly and helpful. And in Iceland you don’t tip. Which for us was incredibly awkward as we are accustomed to tipping for excellent service like that. The room was very modern in that it took us a minute to figure out how to even turn on the lights and the shower in the place. We had views of the nearby mountains and the lava rock on the ground, that you could barely see through the snow.

I did the scrub and mud ritual next. It was a guided experience that involved lots of standing under the enormously oversized rain showers. After a shower first was a salt scrub. The attendant put the salt scrub paste into a small bowl and I was instructed to generously apply it to my skin and rub. I was more careful on my face, as this stuff was pretty aggressive. Back under the rain shower and then an all body clay mask that I had to sit and allow to dry for 10 minutes, another rinse, and then the green algae mask and sit for another 10 minutes. With all that sitting around I managed to strike up a conversation with a British couple—turns out she worked for the British equivalent of NASA. Always strike up a conversation, you never know when you’re going to meet someone cool.

After the scrub and mud thing we did our in water massage. I had been puzzling over how an in water massage would work. I had to lay on my back atop kind of like a floating yoga mat kind of thing. My massage therapist, Marcos, covered me with a thick towel which was more like a blanket. I took my bathing suit top off and Marcos squirted massage oil on his hands and reached under me and proceeded to give me the most amazing massage from under the water. Every so often he would press me at the shoulders and dunk me further into the water to warm me up, as it was after dark by then and the wind had started to pick up. I stared up at the Icelandic sky wishing that the northern lights would emerge at that moment. They didn’t, so I settled for the stars.

Continue the story, read part 2 of the Arctic Circle Adventure here.

BJ Knapp is the author of Beside the Music, available for purchase here. Please sign up for the Backstage with BJ Knapp mailing list to get updates on events, signings, dog pictures and so much more.

BJ Knapp is the author of Beside the Music, available for purchase here. Please sign up for the Backstage with BJ Knapp mailing list to get updates on events, signings, dog pictures and so much more.