Travel Diary: The Magic of Koli

Travel Jael Koli National Park

In snowy and peaceful Koli in North Karelia we watched as the world as we knew it began to crumble. Things I couldn’t even have imagined in my wildest nightmares suddenly became reality. In more and more countries kids were no longer going to school, borders were closing, people were being fined for going outside and hospitals started to collapse. In the middle of all the misery, fear and anxiety the calmness of the surrounding area offered some much-needed comfort. This weekend and Koli became unforgettable for me in more than one way. Find out why in this blog post!

A Snowy Escape

Cross-country skiing in Koli
Koli has 80 kilometres of excellent cross-country skiing tracks.

Located in North Karelia, Koli offers some excellent possibilities for anyone who loves winter activities. Downhill skiing, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are among the many options available.

This year’s winter has been exceptional in the sense that there’s been no snow in Helsinki. I’m a summer girl, but I still miss seeing those wintery views. As Koli is a lot further up north (around 6 hours by car from Helsinki) there’s plenty of snow – although much less this year than previous years.

My boyfriend’s family are originally from North Karelia and they have a lovely cabin in Koli, so we’re really lucky to be able to use it every now and then. To celebrate my boyfriend’s birthday and to get a nice winter break we headed up to Koli.

Covid-19 Hits Finland

Travel Jael Koli National Park
Admiring the views from Paha-Koli in Koli National Park.

However, during the drive towards Koli on the 12th of March, we were listening to the increasingly alarming news regarding the new coronavirus Covid-19.  The events we’d watched unfold in many other countries suddenly reached Finland as well.

It would still take another four days before the government would announce it was closing borders and schools, but Thursday was the day we realised that’s where we were headed. It was clear that pretty soon our lives would change drastically.

We didn’t turn back home, but it became obvious we’d have to make some adjustments regarding our plans for the weekend. For example visiting the spa would definitely have to wait for another time.

In a way I think I went into some sort of a state of shock. As a journalist I’ve followed a lot of global news events, but this was different. Things I could never ever have imagined – like borders closing and the freedom of movement being taken away – suddenly became reality.

Winter Fun and Inconceivable News

Travel Jael Koli
Beautiful sunsets remind us that there’s still hope.

The majority of the weekend was spent listening to and reading news, thinking: “Is this really happening”? But we still managed to enjoy the winter wonderland outside as well.

I went sledding and cross-country skiing all by myself, enjoying the silence of the snowy hills.

We also enjoyed some lovely sauna moments and went hiking in Koli National Park. The view from Ukko-Koli just never gets old!

The Biggest Surprise of All

Travel Jael Koli
Checking out the views after hiking near the cabin.

Ever since the first time I visited Koli it has had a special place in my heart. Few landscapes have managed to move me to tears, but Koli is one of these places. There’s something so breathtakingly beautiful about these views!

During our weekend in Koli my boyfriend made sure that Koli would remain special to me forever.

The warm weather switched to cold transforming the melting snow into a hard crust that carried our weight (barely, but still). We were able to climb the hill by the cabin to go see the views over Lake Pielinen.

Looking out over the frozen lake and the snowy hills, suddenly my boyfriend went down on one knee and surprised me by popping the question. Without hesitation I said yes!

Love Isn’t Cancelled

Engagement ring
Hello new ring!

My feelings are mixed. Of course I’m happy – I’m newly engaged and in love! Yet, it does feel almost wrong to flaunt any kind of joy in these terrible circumstances.

On the other hand, maybe good news is just what we all need right now? To see that despite our world being turned upside down life still goes on?

Getting engaged reminded me of something important: there’s something more powerful than this virus.

Concerts are cancelled, sports events are cancelled and museums are closed. Stock markets are plummeting and people are losing their jobs. Many are scared. Some are mourning the loss of loved ones. But no matter how bad the situation is love is still stronger.

It might sound cheesy (I know, I’m all high on love), but it’s true. The thought of there being something this virus can’t affect gives me a lot of comfort.

Stay Home But Be There For Someone

Koli National Park
Social distancing helps flatten the curve – thank god we’re still allowed to go outside in Finland!

Don’t get me wrong. Love won’t make the virus go away. We really need to take this seriously and follow recommendations experts give. We need to stay home and do our bit to flatten the curve and help make sure our health care can cope with this.

But it’s important not to lose hope and to remember that even in the darkest of times there’s still light.

So now more than ever we need to show the people around us we care. Help your senior neighbours with grocery shopping, call your parents, hug your pet, have a video chat with a friend or just make sure you stay home (that’s showing you care too).

In these awful times, it’s given me hope seeing how this virus has brought out the best in people. Like for example strangers helping each other and people getting creative attempting to cheer each other up (hello, Italy’s balcony singing!).

The world will probably never be the same again. But let’s hope once this is over we can look back and see this made us all grow into better people. Who knows, maybe the world post Covid-19 might even be better than it was before?


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