It is 8:30 a.m. Finnish time, 1:30 a.m. NYC time. Everyone is a bit out of sorts as they’re waking up to the pilot speaking in Finnish. “Laskeudumme pian Vantaan Lentokentälle. Paikallisaika on 8:30,” says the captain, then translates into English. “We will be landing shortly at Vantaa International Airport. The local time is 8:30.”

Crusty-eyed and exhausted, although having slept, everyone is happy to be getting off the plane. They’ve been sitting for too long. They try to peek out the windows, and all they see are trees. Everywhere. Literally everywhere. This was a good sign. They loved nature, and were in need of a change in scenery from the hustle and bustle of New York City streets. All the highrises and constant construction was getting to be too much. There was snow, but not much. They knew there’d be much, much more once they arrived in Lapland, though. The plane finally landed, right on time. “Tervetuloa Helsinkiin,” says the pilot. “Welcome to Helsinki.” Alex and Annie looked at each other and burst out laughing, right as people started to clap. For some reason, this amused them every single time. They were both happy, though, that the pilot had landed safely in Finland.

The flight attendant directed those with connecting flights through to customs and the next security checkpoint. They were amazed by how clean and organized the airport was. Dad was quick to notice a distinct style of architecture that was totally different from anything he’d ever seen. Very practical, very natural, very comfortable. Lots of good vibes all around.

It was time for their next flight to Kittilä. Luckily, this one wasn’t as long as their previous one, but they were ready to arrive at their final destination. Having booked through Lapland Lodge Silmäsjärvi, they were about to get the full experience- personal airport pick-up straight to the Lodge, catered food from Káfet Cafe & Bakery, organized authentic excursions, and so much more. Everyone was in for a treat. They were soon in the air again, this time flying low over the beautiful landscapes of Finland. Annie was in absolute awe of all the trees in the country. She wasn’t surprised that Finland has some of the cleanest air in the world. Alex knocked out within five minutes of takeoff and missed all the scenery. Mark, as usual, was feeling a little woozy, but thankfully there was no crying baby next to him on this flight. Mom and dad were a few rows up, also snoozing for a little bit. As they descended into Kittilä, they were taken back by how tiny the airport was- they’d have to walk across the runway into the airport to retrieve their bags. Being the end of November, temperatures were already below freezing. And it was already starting to get dark. While there’s not much sunlight during the winter months in Lapland, the snow, the northern lights, and the liveliness of the ski resort brighten the whole place up.

Waiting for their bags at baggage claim, Annie looked around at the quietness of it all. The serenity, the simplicity, the peace that filled the entire airport. It was a glimpse into what Annie assumed would be their whole trip. Mark was starving- while waiting for their luggage, he stopped into the small kiosk to grab a snack. He’d done some research on popular Finnish snacks, and learned that salmiakki, a liquorice flavored chewy candy, was something he should keep an eye out for. Lucky for him, this was not a difficult thing to find in the kiosk. He bought a small pack with the euros he’d exchanged and tried a few. At first, he wasn’t sure. Tiny, diamond shaped black candies that were a little astringent and salty. “Hmm, interesting,” he thought. It’d take him a little while to get used to, but he liked it. He gave one to mom, who was cautious about liquorice-tasting things, took one bite and made the funniest face Mark had ever seen. Her tastebuds were pretty sensitive, and she immediately pursed her lips and squinted her eyes. “WOAH, that was intense!” she exclaimed. “Maybe you’ll think differently by the end of this trip,” Mark said under his breath.

The Lapland Lodge crew picked them up in a large van and drove them to the K-Market in Kittila to pick up whatever food items they might want for their stay. They’d be getting catered food, but wanted to get some snacks and things as well. The Finnish supermarket experience is quite different from what they’re used to in America. There’s a cleaner, more inviting and spacious feeling about them. They browsed the aisles, observing the different foods available in this small supermarket inside the Arctic Circle, and picked up a few necessities for their stay. Salmiakki, and Fazer Chocolate and Marianne candies for Mark, some authentic Finnish puuro, or porridge, for Alex and Annie (they love their oatmeal but figured they had to go for something local), some wine, baby potatoes, and of course, Finnish rye bread. The mother of all Finnish foods. Finnish rye bread is not like your typical rye. It’s pure, it’s a little sour, it’s simple, it’s healthy. And it’s a staple in basically every Finnish household. It was a must on their list.

After picking up their needed items, they headed to the Lapland Lodge in the van. All five of them were totally beat. The almost 20 hours of travel had worn them down quite a bit, and everyone was looking forward to a nice relaxing evening at the cottage. A nice hot sauna, a hot shower, a delicious meal prepared by Kafet, and relaxing by the fireplace. They were finally here. Way up in Northern Finland. Far away from city life. Away from the commotion and the chaos of their daily routines. Nestled into an entirely different world of snow, eternal winters, pristine scenery, and natural wonders. Their adventure had officially begun.