Wednesday, November 30, 2005

How to survive a northern winter and even like it

In South Carolina, where I am from, we like winter because it is the best time of year to be outside. No bugs, you can camp out and not worry (too much) about snakes and alligators, and the poison ivy is a little easier to spot then too. Before Prague my first white Christmas was the winter of 1989, three months after Hurrican Hugo demolished much of the coast. We thought it was divine justice after having to put up with the hurricane, until the water turned off. It took only 8 inches of snow (a record) to freeze the city’s pipes and close the roads for a week because snow plows don’t exist in the coastal part of South Carolina.

I was just about as prepared when I moved here, and it took me several winters in Prague to be able to venture outside without fear of frostbite or the need to duck into every third cafe for a cup of coffee or a glass of wine (to warm up you know). Since then I have learned a few tips that I thought I’d pass along to any of you southerners who might be considering a visit to more northerly climes.

  1. It really is true - gloves, a hat and a scarf will do wonders. Today I bundled up in my parka, gloves on and a scarf around my neck and trekked to the chicken store and back. By the time I got home I was warmer than I'd been all morning sitting in front of the computer.

  2. Scarves only work if you actually wrap them around your neck. None of this catalog casual loose knot and dangle business please. A Boston friend of ours taught me how to tie one on for warmth - double up your scarf and pull the ends through the loop. And remember to tuck the scarf under your coat if it is really frigid out.

  3. Stompin‘ boots (with thick soles) are much warmer than those thin-soled beauties from Italy. I've decided this explains a few things. Like the shoes European punk rockers wear - maybe it isn’t the kick the man in the shins thing, it's the weather!

  4. Long underwear - that fancy synthetic stuff you see in L.L. Bean catalogs? Buy it. wear it. Cotton gets sweaty and bulky and on guys it can get stinky too - that is just not cool dudes.

  5. Make a point of seeing the sun in the morning, because it isn’t going to be there the rest of the day. The only winter I got seriously sun starved was the year my office was in the ground floor of a medieval building with 1 meter thick walls, ceilings I could touch with my finger tips and a window designed for a cross bow. Today the sun set at 4:05 today. You see what we’re working with here.
Things I have not yet accepted but am gradually coming to grips with:
  1. Metal earrings hold the cold very very well;

  2. Wearing a hat. Yes yes, I remember my first point too...but I have a massive head that looks funny under anything but its own hair or a towel wrapped turban style. On very cold days I will occasionally venture out in the one hat I’ve found that fits - something so Siberian my business partner greets me in Russian when I walk in the door;

  3. Don’t throw snow balls with bare hands. A former snow neophyte, I still have this romantic idea about taking off my gloves and digging my hands in the snow before sending it soaring;

  4. Don’t cut through a park when it says all paths are closed due to excessive snow. I cut through every year even though I know better because a. it is a park, not a road b. birds show up beautifully in the snow and c. every day I run a contest with myself to see how many bird types I can spot in one morning‘s walk (see b) and I'm a little bit serious about beating my top score.

    At some point in the hike you will find me either very very slowly edging down the crunchiest parts of the path or if the way is completely slick, sitting down and ignominiously sliding down the hill. I have finally learned to not even try to climb the park hill on the way home, the birds are asleep by then anyway;

  5. Winter sports. At the beginning of every winter, I tell myself that it would be a waste of time and money to learn how to ski/snow shoe/ice skate because after all I can only play a few months of the year. Six months later, when the last ski run has finally closed in May, I realize again the folly of my ways.
And now, I’d love to hear other people’s tips on how to best that ole Winter thing.

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Philip said...

The secret for a Coloradan living in Prague: house => car => work => car => house. The first year in Prague with no car highlighted the futility of fighting nature. There'd always be a 30 minute wait for a tram, resulting in severe hypothermia treatable only via IVs of hot-mulled wine. Of course, the drawback of the car is that it limits the wine thing...

Julia said...

Note the wine theme going on here - hot-mulled wine is definitely one of my favorite winter treats!

Ellen said...

my new favorite warm tip is fuzzy and thick leggings - underneath a skirt and high boots they're warmer then jeans...

Karla said...

And silk long underwear from REI (or whoever else sells it). Good with either pants or skirts.

taniad1992 said...

I will take all these to heart when we get to Hungary in January! Thanks for the tips on cold weather living when we talked at the museum. We all now have hats, gloves, jackets, bibs for the kids and good, solid boots...though the pretty ones were tempting. Need to get scarves and long underwear for me.