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Notes from Finland - First impressions

And here I am, in a commuter train, looking at the snow falling on rooftops and birch branches. Learning to use my new phone with freezing fingers. In Helsinki, on my way to a new job.

First impressions

I usually stay in Finland for around six weeks every year with friends and family. But now we have a flat in the suburbs of Helsinki and are straddling two countries. For me, it's back to Finland for real after twenty years.

Living here makes you look at things in a different light. Like noticing how twenty below zero doesn't stop people from wearing fake leather trousers, long sparkly nails or cowboy boots. And after a long search I remember snowboots are sold on a different aisle in the supermarket, not where they have normal shoes. But most importantly, air in our flat is so dry our clothes are ready to wear in a few hours after washing. Even after taking a shower there's no condensation running down the windows. And the radiators are not even warm! I don't know what it is that's keeping our two rooms, bathroom and kitchen warm. Kinetic energy? The candles I'm burning?

Compare that to our home (double glazed windows with the same air vents as here, cavity wall and loft insulation) in the north of England where I'd hope to get my jeans dry on the third day after I've washed them. Thermostat is set at 21 degrees in the evenings and the radiators are on full blast whenever it gets near freezing outside.

Snowstorm that never happened

Just like in Britain, weather (forecasting) is a constant source of joy. Local trains mostly seem to run on time, at least during the three weeks we've been here. But that one morning when we were expecting to get more snow, lumimyräkkä, there were train cancellations and dire warnings to avoid the traffic chaos and work from home if you can. Sound familiar? And when I left for work, a few flakes were gently falling from the sky and there was much eye-rolling at work.

But enough snow for skiing

I realise how much I've missed snow. I could just sit by the big window of our third floor flat and enjoy the whiteness. The view itself is exotic, for me at least, if not for many others. We're talking 1970s four and five story blocks of flats, grey and brown with car parks and trees in between. In cloudy evenings the streetlights seem to reflect from the snow and bounce off the clouds, making the light pollution something I've never really noticed before, lurid shades of orange and pink. Our daughter says it looks like it's always morning.

Snow only fell properly after Christmas so it's featuring heavily in people's lives. We visited Helsinki's latest public building, Oodi, the central library next to the railway station and opposite the Parliament building. I could see how a woman was cross-country skiing across the park to the library, making her own tracks in the untouched snow. In the centre of an urban area of 1.5 million people.

On my way to the shops in the evening

From our balcony

City centre after the first big snowfall since I arrived
On my way to work. Festive lights are still on in town and
in people's gardens and balconies.


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