Earlier in the week I spent some time in Sodankylä. This is a kind of staging post town in Lapland. Not very remote Lapland, but certainly getting on for there. The town has a population of similar size to Stornoway, the largest town in the Outer Hebrides. Like Stornoway and Lewis, there is a strong focus on one animal (sheep for Stornoway, reindeer for Sodankylä). Also like Stornoway, it serves as a service hub for the large surrounding area (which has a similar population density to the Outer Hebrides).
So there are very well-stocked supermarkets there:
...where things such as good quality bananas are not in short supply:
So how do the two compare? Well, very differently. Though my visit to Sodankylä wasn't that long, it was sufficient to draw some comparitive observations.
Sodankylä is preferable because...
- The local airport is efficient, and whether it is open or not doesn't depend on whether Donald has an upset tummy or whether he fancies a cup of tea.
- Better supermarkets with a much wider selection of good fruits, vegetables, dairy products and breads
- Stornoway has a reasonable public library, though with disappointing opening hours and a reference section that prioritises local history to the exclusion of most other things. The one in Sodankylä is superb, being very well stocked with all kinds of media.
- There are options for things to do on a Sunday.
- The weather is better. Less rain and wind than Stornoway; more sun and snow.
- The northern lights.
- Much better scenery (apart from the beaches). Reindeers, forests, literally billions of trees, endless snow. It's like classic Christmas card scenes, but with no exaggeration.
- A wider range of shops and services.
- Much better public transport links with the rest of the country; more reliable and of better quality. Public transport and road transport is not affected by the weather.
- Better roads and more considerate drivers.
- Like Finland in general, much better pavements and more pedestrian crossings that are respected by drivers. No road rage or car-is-king mentality.
- A resident can get to any other part of the country on the same day for less than 100 pounds by public transport.
- No threat of the entire local area being decimated by e.g. massive windfarm developments.
- Universal fast and cheap broadband seemingly everywhere.
- A better quality of housing e.g. triple glazing.
- ...and some (but not all) of the housing is quite attractive.
Stornoway is preferable because...
- The light in Sodankylä is extreme. Being above the Arctic Circle, in winter there is no daylight, and in Summer it's not a good place to be if you are an insomniac.
- More DIY and builders merchants. Need any kind of screw, nail or hammer - Stornoway is your place.
- You don't need to drill a hole in the ice in order to get seafood such as scallops.
- Better places to eat out. Sodankylä is cheaper, but being a bit of a frontier town eating out is friendly but basic.
- Some of the most spectacular beaches in the world are nearby.
- It's easier to buy a house here than in Finland.
- Finnish is hard (though you could easily get by with English and a little Swedish).
- You don't have to ski to the shops in winter.
Sodankylä, like many Finnish towns, has a river winding through it. This leads to the peculiarity that in winter many residents apparently find it easier to e.g. go shopping, as they just drive across the frozen river:
I don't have a pithy conclusion to draw, so will stop there. Anyway, my trip finishes here, and I am very sad to leave Finland and Scandinavia. It's time to go home, wherever that is.