Helsinki is one of the coldest capitals in the world, and Finland is the country with the largest population living north of 60° – so the Finns are a nation that are used to some seriously cold temperatures! I’m glad to report that we’ve now made it through our first winter (using a very liberal definition of spring…), and thought of sharing a few of the things we’ve learnt about living in a cold and very snowy city…
- Most practical advice first – watch out for snow and ice falling from roofs – it can be lethal. Maintenance companies are working long days at the moment to clear the snow off the roofs – so if you see their hazard tape or warning signs, please be careful! The roof-clearing team will usually have someone at street-level to keep an eye open for pedestrians – they use whistles to tell the guys on the roof when to stop, so keep your ears open too.
- My biggest problem second – slipping on compressed snow and ice. Finns seem to learn how to cope with this as kids, but I’m forever sliding around the pavement and giving myself a big fright. One solution is to keep a pair of walk sticks handy – personally I can recommend Black Diamond’s retractable poles with the flip lock system (see here). Alternatively, there are a variety of things that you can strap onto your shoes to improve your grip; I’m using IceRunner Grips (from Clas Ohlson) some days (including for running), but have also read a lot of good reviews for Yaktrax products. Definitely worth investing in, although not very convenient to put on and take off each time you move around outdoors. The city does a really good job of maintaining the pavements, so luckily you can usually find a route scattered with gravel where you are heading too.
- The buildings and transport in Helsinki are kept warm and toasty even on the coldest days, but it is always worthwhile dressing up warmly when heading out in the cold. One reason is that public transport can be delayed (although my problem is usually that a bus has come early), while another is that your transport may get stuck and you have to walk the rest of the way (true story – ask Brigitte…). So it is worth keeping an eye on the public transport schedule (e.g. our old favourite, Reittiopas).
- Don’t forget your jacket, gloves, scarf, beanie and thermals! If you are arriving before winter sets in, it is worth checking out the second-hand stores (FIDA and UFF are great – and their profits go to charity) for good deals on proper winter jackets. We both found good jackets for a fraction of the usual cost. If you are looking for an excellent beanie, I can recommend The North Face’s Bones Beanie – much better than any others I’ve tried (many thanks to my sister for giving me one!).
- And finally… try to enjoy the winter weather. There’s ice-skating, cross-country skiing and tobogganing around almost every corner in Helsinki. Check out the metropol’s ski track map if you don’t believe me!
PS – I can’t remember where I read that Finland has the most people living north of 60°N… anybody else seen that somewhere, or am I just making things up?