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Seeking the Northern Lights in Finland

Nothing prolongs a hangover like a hundred dogs barking. The next day, our last in Levi, five of us went on a husky safari. The dogs were so loud I couldn't hear the guide's instructions. Nonetheless, I quickly surmised that you stand on the runners at the back of the sled, and step on the clamplike brake to slow down. The bracing air—and hard work—eventually cleared my head. We stopped at an old logging camp for lunch—split-pea soup and sausages roasted over an open fire—in a three-sided hut. Someone remarked how fascinating fires are. "There are three things you never get tired of looking at," said the guide. "A roaring fire, running water, and a sleeping baby."

The food at our farewell dinner, in Levi's mountaintop restaurant, Tuikku, was what I can only call nouvelle Lapp—caviar, fresh salted salmon, reindeer pâté, grouse, smoked reindeer, and rosettes of salmon. The view was probably awesome, but it was so dark all we could see was our own reflections in the windows.

On to Helsinki, where we spent fewer than 24 hours. What I saw of the city I liked, but the best part had to be dinner at Helmi, a place I later learned is one of the trendiest restaurants in town. I hadn't realized how much I missed pasta. Or chicken. Or lettuce. Helsinki seemed trapped between the mythical lightness of Scandinavia and the darkness of Russia. The people I met were friendly, but strangers gave me dirty looks for no reason (at least that I knew of). It must have been a massive attack of seasonal affective disorder. I would gladly return to Lapland any time of year, but when it comes to Helsinki I'll take Lonely Planet's advice and wait until summer.

ERIK TORKELLS is an associate editor at Travel + Leisure.


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