Beautiful Frozen Helsinki
I returned to the city I’d ached for after leaving a year ago. A city and country that had stayed in my thoughts for much of the last 12 months.
When I’d been in Helsinki in December 2014 I’d been too early to experience this city in the full grip of winter: it had been mild and sunny.
I’d done a weather report the day before I flew this January and it gave a promisingly wintry -8ºc for the following day however when my flight landed into Helsinki airport that evening the temperature had dropped to a chilly -22ºc.
It was a bracing walk across the tarmac to the waiting bus to transport the passengers the short distance to the terminal: I have never experienced such a low temperature before!
There is a new train that links the airport with the city making this part of the journey a breeze. Arriving into Helsinki station I crunched on the hardened snow that was crusted to the platform, walked through the station and found myself in the familiar surroundings of the city centre.
The following morning I layered up and set off to explore a sparkling white Helsinki.
The harbour steamed as the January sun rose to a clear, cloudless day. The mist danced over the icy sea and the trees and spired roofs of Valkosaari – a small island in the bay – peeked ethereally above the vapour.
It looked so beautiful!
When you’ve dreamt of returning to a place that you fell head over heels in love with there is always that nagging feeling that it won’t live up to your exalted expectations.
When I glimpsed that dancing mist from the side streets of Katajanokka – the gorgeous area of the city where I was staying – I knew it was not going to let me down.
Exposing my fingers to use my camera was colder than I could possibly imagine but the scene in front of me when I reached the Kauppatori was just too irresistible.
It was an extraordinary sight: the sun flared with rainbow-hued sun dogs – something I’ve rarely seen – and a hulking ferry appeared dreamlike through the mist.
Momentarily I debated taking the ferry to Suomenlinna – the island sea fortress in the bay – as the ferry was about to depart: how magical it would be to sail through the mist!
I felt underdressed for a day on the island though, the temperature was well below -20ºc and my outfit was untested.
The market square – Kauppatori– was covered with a thin layer of compacted snow which glittered in the sunshine. A few market stalls huddled at one end selling souvenirs, t-shirts and Lapland food: the vendors looked a lot more wrapped up than I was.
I walked up to Senate Square (Senaatintori) where Helsinki Cathedral (Helsingin Tuomiokirkko) gleamed white against the brilliant blue sky. The square was empty bar the statue of Alexander II, when I’d been here in the previous winter a Christmas market had filled the space.
Carrying on north I walked to the handsome Hakaniemi Market Hall, a beautiful red brick building with grand arched doorways.
The market hall was a warm refuge for my now frozen toes. The market stalls were tightly packed and abundant with produce: colourful veg, big cuts of meat and fresh fish.
A narrow escalator took me up to the upper floor where there were stalls of fabrics – including Marimekko –, craft supplies and undies. At the heart of the upper floor there is a coffee shop and locals were taking their mid morning coffee and pulla.
It was too cold to be outside all day so I spent the afternoon in Kiasma, Helsinki’s contemporary art museum. When I emerged hours later – after a thorough culture fix – it was dark.
The following day was Epiphany and many places were closed. The mist was still dancing on the harbour and the temperature was even colder than the previous day.
I had nowhere particular to go so I decided to let my feet choose a route.
This led me to Kaivopuisto. This lovely shoreside park was blanketed in snow and kids were sledging down the slope from the little observatory.
The mist danced here too; the sea lapped gently over ice-shrouded rocks at the shore while the marina was frozen and snow-flecked.
I could have explored and photographed to my heart’s content but my feet and cheeks had other ideas: the cold was nagging them to get moving.
I wandered back towards the city centre as I needed to buy a couple of things. I could feel my eyelashes freezing up, my hair too was a crispy mess of ice where it was free of my hat!
Eventually I ducked into a shop – Findlaysons, what gorgeous fabric they have! – and my ice-crusted lashes quickly melted in the heat of the store taking my mascara with it, streaking it blackly down my thawing cheeks! No mascara from now on!
With none of the museums open I pottered around some of the shops then took an afternoon nap to thoroughly thaw out before heading back out to see the Lux Helsinki light show that evening. (More on Lux Helsinki in a different post.)
I left Helsinki the next afternoon, after another sunny stroll around Katajanokka and the Kauppatori area, heading north to Hämeenlinna with a Finnish friend.
While the freezing temperatures took a little acclimatising to I wouldn’t have swapped these gorgeous few days for anything, not even a tropical beach somewhere!
Pin it for later:
Try these posts:
Helsinki: The Thought Of Leaving Was Unbearable I lay my heart out to this beautiful city.
Colourful and Cool: Lux Helsinki Lux Helsinki 2016 Light Art Festival.
Why I’m Learning Finnish Finally discovering a language I want to learn!
Korvapuustit Finnish cinnamon rolls! Amazing!
Beautiful Suomenlinna in Pictures a crisp December day on this island fortress.
A Gorgeous Helsinki Bay Walk get out of the city without leaving the city!
What’s the coldest you’ve experienced? Where was it and was it beautiful?