Not many people leave the New Zealand summer behind just as it is in full bloom, but for Auckland musician and photographer Anthony Milas the chance to experience a Nordic winter proved too good to miss. While in Europe visiting family and friends in January, he spent ten days in Helsinki visiting friends who had relocated there.
“I had never thought about visiting Finland before and I’m not sure I would have come to visit otherwise.”
His spontaneous decision also meant he arrived during one of the coldest weeks of the Finnish winter so far. On his third day in Finland the temperature dropped to -16° Celcius, with a wind chill factor of -19°.
“My first impression was that being this cold didn’t feel nearly as cold as I thought it would. I’ve been in Arrowtown when it was above zero and the wind made it feel much colder. It helps that the houses in Finland are much warmer, you don’t come inside and stay cold as you often do in New Zealand.”
The chill didn’t put him off however, and Anthony spent his days exploring new sights and capturing the frozen landscape with his Canon 60D camera.
“It’s almost a feeling of being on another planet. The nature here in winter is almost hostile and what I enjoy most is the feeling of everyone being in it together. You know if you’re stuck out in the cold that anyone would help you. It’s not just a matter of being nice, it’s a matter of life and death, and that’s a really positive feeling actually.”
The risk doesn’t come just from the cold though, as when the mercury rises above zero the snow melts, only to freeze again as the temperature drops, leaving the streets slick with ice.
“Sometimes it’s really slippery. The street becomes like an obstacle course laden with booby traps, so shoes with really good grip are essential.”
The trip held lots of firsts for Anthony, including the chance to visit a beach covered in snow and seeing the Baltic Sea frozen in place. “It was surreal. I was also surprised that no matter what temperature it is, there are always kids under five playing outside. It’s such a big part of the culture to play with the snow and the kids are raised to understand that.”
While winter solstice has passed, the days are still short in Helsinki, with the sun rising after 9am and setting just after 3pm. “I thought the short days would really bother me, but they haven’t,” says Anthony. “I’m taking a vitamin D supplement and I’ve noticed that if the sun does shine through a gap, I’ll stop and stand in it. Sunshine becomes more about quality than quantity and that little bit becomes much more valuable.”
Most New Zealand residents travel overseas during winter according to Statistics New Zealand and December through February are the quietest months for international travel, making them a great time for special airfares to places such as Finland.
“I’d definitely recommend to anyone who likes travelling to do this or something like it. You get to experience these crazy extremes, but once you’ve had enough you can easily head indoors, and I don’t know if there are many places like that,” says Anthony.
Although he’d like to return in summer, for now Anthony is glad he chose to come and experience his first Nordic winter.
“There’s something really beautiful about being somewhere that you’re not really meant to be able to survive. I’d often find myself taking in the beauty of the landscape and thinking, ‘I’m not really meant to be able to stand here and enjoy seeing this, but I am’.”