Christmas that came late

Finally back from the land of Santa Claus! Again. Visited Finland in September last year and then, it was already chilly despite that it was supposed to be autumn, or so I thought. Well, by some twist of fate I was to return again, and while I was lamenting to some extent that I don’t think I’ll be seeing snow in 2013, well well, you never know. So never say never.

It was a Sunday morning when I arrived in Helsinki, taking a flight from Singapore on Saturday night and flying a long way to Paris. I was honestly quite apprehensive about the transit stop because it had a window of 1.5 hours. Seems like a long time, but actually it’s pretty short, considering that you can never factor enough time for possible flight delays on the inbound, and then foreign airports are sometimes quite confusing, to say the least. Besides, I had one transit experience at Paris’ Charles De Gaulle, and it wasn’t a good one because I missed my flight then due to the extremely tedious process of getting from one terminal to the other, clearing passport control and security checkpoints. It was just a nightmare. Thank God everything went fairly smoothly and I landed rather on time, and by some rushing and running about at 7am in the morning in terminals that don’t feel like they had any heating on, I managed to reach the designated gate in about 50 minutes.

It was an Air France flight that I took to Paris, which I never had a great impression of. You see, I am quite the fan of SQ, even if its standards may have slid much over the years, but Asian carriers generally pamper their customers more than the European or American ones. Surprisingly, the AF flight that took me to CDG was ok, maybe because the aircraft was an A380, which should be relatively new, and perhaps because I was sick (again), I did manage a little sleep. The inflight entertainment was quite limited, in my opinion at least, or I just was not interested in what they had. Food was ok, and during the long haul flight they actually don’t have much water service. I found out that they had, albeit infrequently, and there was a cart filled with some drinks outside the toilets that we could help ourselves to. Ok, self service I suppose? I was routed through Amsterdam on my return flight on KLM, which was pretty similar to AF but the plane was older, a 777-300ER (I think) but luckily they do have VOD, which however did not have too many films I wanted to watch. Overall, I think I only caught 2 or 3 shows on the whole trip.

So then I got to Helsinki, and my hotel, just before noon, then decided to head out to the city for a short walk about since I didn’t want to start sleeping the day away. It was gloomy, and honestly, quite depressing. It was really cold, like what I had always been told by my colleagues about the Scandinavian winters. By about an hour of being outside, despite wearing gloves (which probably didn’t work) when I was not trying to take pictures, my fingers were already numb, and afterward indoors they swelled so much that it was so painful. 😦

Even the sea was frozen. Or from what I could see, it seemed like it was frozen. 20130120-222935.jpgIt was just a short one week trip this time, and then on Wednesday evening it started snowing, and it didn’t stop until Thursday. This was taken on Thursday morning when I was having breakfast. I typically wake up really early when I am in Europe due to the time difference, or maybe I just prefer to have a slow leisurely breakfast when the place still isn’t too busy.

20130120-223021.jpgFeels very Christmas-like? Wished I was here really around Christmas time, although there probably wouldn’t have been any activity, and I was told it was even colder then. I can’t imagine.

It was sub-zero everyday of the week that I was there in Helsinki, but usually single digit minus, or sometimes in the nights or early mornings while I am still in the hotel, perhaps -10 to -15. But one morning when I woke…

20130120-223046.jpgHonestly? There seemed to be some cold snap that went through Europe that day, because from the news channels, the weather forecasts for all the nearby European cities showed a large drop in temperatures continent-wide. Strangely, this happened last year too, in February when I was in Italy. It was cold, but because I stayed in most of the time, it was still bearable, although in the office, the heating didn’t work that well so mostly I will still have my thick sweater and scarf on as much as I can. I don’t know how my colleagues could just wear normal clothes like we do. Perhaps they have really great thermal wear beneath or they are just used to it.

Oh but the scenery in the Nordic countries is really amazing. The colours in the sky were so pretty when the sun finally made its appearance towards the end of the week, but of course the iPhone camera is quite hopeless there. It’s a pity I could only visit Helsinki and not the other Nordic countries/cities. But I guess it would have been better to be there for holidays rather than work.

20130120-223105.jpgSeriously, I need to think about putting a stop to the business trips someday. Maybe at least not in this same line and not in such conditions. I just pray for the right door(s) to be opened soon, this year.

let it snow…

So, it really snowed! Don’t know when it really began, because I was stuck in back-to-back meetings where I didn’t have the chance to peep out of the windows at all but at some point I saw that snow was falling outside. It was Tuesday afternoon probably, and it just went on and on until Wednesday. Cars parked outside were all covered with snow and the entire landscape was just a blanket of white. Luckily, it wasn’t that heavy all the time to result in unpassable roads.

The snowfall I experienced this time was slightly different from last February in Milan. That was much lighter, because the heaviest time it fell then was while I was asleep. This time, it just kept on coming down, but when it fell on me it just felt icy cold. Nevertheless, it really gave me a very Christmassy feel, even though yes Christmas is last year, three weeks ago. It helps of course, that there are quite many of those pine tree-like trees around, covered with snow, and I still see some Christmas decorations hung in the apartments that I passed. And since this is supposedly the home of Santa Claus with his reindeers, it isn’t too hard to delude myself into thinking Christmas is still here! Unfortunately, reality isn’t so.

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I have been to places during summer when days are extremely long, and also to places during winter when days are shorter, but this is probably the first time I have been to such a place at such a time, where it doesn’t start to get light around until past 8am in the morning and in the evenings, it gets dark before 5pm. Even though I am here for a short time, I can already feel that the days are starting to grow longer because each morning, daylight is coming sooner, though I have yet to really see the sun at all. It doesn’t feel so dark anyway because the whole ground is covered with snow and it reflects whatever light there is. I was told that during winter, days can be as short as from 10am to 2pm… I really can’t imagine living like that, living in sub-zero temperatures for months on end. Since I got here on Sunday till now, the temperature hasn’t gone above zero. Needless to say, I have stayed indoors as much as I can; the only day I was out for a longer period of time was on Sunday, for a short couple of hours, and even then I thought my fingers were going to freeze and break, and that my face as well was going to crack from the brittle cold. Temperatures are forecasted to go down drastically over the next couple of days due to some cold drift that is going to hit a large part of Europe; let’s hope that the weather doesn’t get bad, because I need it to be clear (no snow then please!) for me to fly home!