Surviving super-cold travel
Northern Europe is still shivering in the this winter’s formidably icy grip. And with no end in sight it felt like high time to wrap up and get out there.
I pondered the wisdom of this as my flight from London to Helsinki, the capital of Finland and the European Union’s north-eastern outpost. The runway was a sheet of snow, distinguishable from the rest of the airport only by the level of snow. Once in the city centre exploring, it quickly became apparent that after more than twenty minutes in the frozen air a retreat to the handsome cafes of Helsinki was obligatory. The mercury plunged to minus twenty-four celcius at night.
And yet I not only got through my two days in Helsinki, I loved it. Here are a few suggestions for making the most of visiting a very cold place:
One way to deal with wild weather is to be out in it. Helsinki’s harbour was frozen, and the ice-choked waterfront made for a spectacular walk and very exhilarating run. You’ll find plenty of places to warm up.
Cyclists and climbers will tell you that layers of clothing beat enormous puffer jackets – tourists on the streets of London impersonating the Michelin Man, take note – so stack on the stratum to best keep cosy.
In many places local people have excellent alternatives to being out in the cold. The sauna is part of life in Finland and many other European countries and as well as being good places to warm up open a window into Finnish culture and manners. At the Yrjönkatu sauna and swimming hall there’s plenty of steaming, sweating and clothes-optional swimming. As it’s open to men and women only on alternate days leaving the trunks off is straightforward. The sight of naked men donning a swimming hat and goggles for a few laps was incongruous. Tremendous fun and good value at €4.40 for the swimming and sauna.
Take a trip out of town. If things are looking spectacular in a city park then a journey to a nearby town should take you through some even better snowy scenery. From Helsinki the historic town of Porvoo is an easy half-day outing.
Travelling at this time is usually much cheaper than heading out in high summer. Hotels are emptier and flights easier to come by. You might even be able haggle your way to a bargain night in a better hotel than you’d normally stay in.
Any winter travel tips you’d care to share?
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