Quincey and I are in the Cold Dark North, 400 miles (643km) south of the Arctic Circle in Helsinki Finland. At 60° North, on December 29th, we'll experience less than five hours of sunlight and the forecasted high is 38° F (3.3°C). We might get some snow but likely we'll see more rain. Chance of seeing the sun? Zero percent.
Honestly, I'm loving it. Yes, it's cold. Even with all the proper clothing, it's still cold. The Baltic seems to have a chilling effect I haven't experienced anywhere else, even on the breakwater in Berkeley. Sure, Berkeley never 'freezes,' but on average it feels colder than our home town of Park City, Utah (I'm not kidding in-the-least). Humidity is a game changer. The Baltic holds the lead for coldest place on earth, for me. Our first trip here was in 2015, also in December. We visited Stockholm, Sweden and Tallinn, Estonia. On new years day, in Tallinn, I poured a few ounces of water on the stone street. We watched the small stream I created make it about five feet before it froze, in less than 60 seconds. My hypothesis? We had good reason to tour all the cafes and restaurants we could find. This was the coldest I had ever been in my life!
So, while we're here, why not go for a swim? Where is the adventure in visiting Finland in December if not to take a dip in the Baltic! Does the 38°F air sound cold? Well, how about 35°F (1.6°C) water? Thankfully there are traditional Finnish saunas everywhere. Well placed on the shores of downtown Helsinki sat our venue. We set ourselves up for success, all we had to do was get in and get out! Thankfully, the air temp in the saunas was 160°F (71°C) at lung level. We had a happy balance of extremes.
I challenged everyone in our group to swim the 30 feet (10m) that separated two swimming ladders. Quincey, being the bravest among us (or, just wanting to get it over with) went first. I had strategy here, if we didn't get out of each others way at the ladders, some of us would have been forced to 'enjoy' the shock for longer than others. My plan worked, by the time each of us lowered ourselves down the ladder (yes, no one jumped) the other person was halfway across the pool. We probably looked like those impossible to catch 'water skeeters' we all frustratingly tried to catch in our adolescences, though not as elegant. When we climbed out, the air temp was tropical.
Wait a minute, why are we here again? What has compelled us to visit countries boarding the Baltic Sea twice in December? Simple and hard to argue with; weddings. Quincey's siblings, though American, are drawn to fair skinned socialists. Good people in my often humble opinion.
Our days are usually spent touring the host cities with family (a good size group of world-traveling Latter Day Saints). Yesterday we visited the 18th century sea fortress, Suomenlinna, which was a fitting venue for two seafarers and included a ferry ride and survey of a World War I era submarine (you can't get us away form boats!). This small group of islands, two miles from Helsinki, has been occupied by Swedes, Russians, and Finns and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We're not often convinced to visit tourist attractions but if you're ever in Helsinki, I encourage you to spend a few hours here. But not in December, it's unreasonably cold. And wet.
Of course, we've spent a good amount of time during each visit sampling local cuisine. The Scandinavian and Baltic regions are famous for numerous types of cured or pickled fish, cold meats, and sweet and savory pastries. Not our usual choices but always eagerly anticipated. In the summer you'll find many more types of fresh fruits and veggies but only Q can speak to this as I haven't had the pleasures endless days, yet.
All in all, for a three day visit to the Cold Dark North, it was worth it. Helsinki is a beautiful and old city that welcomes visitors and caters to all needs. There is certainly no language barrier, all Finns learn English and Swedish in grammar school. How cool to be fluent in three languages before you're 15 years old! All the service was wonderful, everyone was very polite and most were outgoing. Even in the dark months, happiness radiated through endless smiles.
We'll be back, and hopefully on our own boat!