06 December 2010

Winter wonderland

I can't help it - I love the idea of Christmas being in the depths of winter. Being an aussie, that's really, really unrealistic, but guess my generation was somewhat brainwashed by our very British heritage and upbringing.

So, when I flew out of Paris for Helsinki yesterday, it was quite an experience. The first piece of fun was being told that our flight would be at least (another) 20-30 minutes late while we underwent "anti-icing". This is not like the de-icing that takes place on planes parked overnight at Canberra. This is a full-on prevention operation just before the planes hit the runway for takeoff under the conditions that prevailed yesterday.

There are guys sitting in cherry-pickers (enclosed and heated, judging by the fact that one of our operators was wearing thongs) on top of remote controlled trucks that swing into action as your plane pulls up. Then the entire plane (emphasis on the wings) is sprayed with in a two-step process - and having an inherited interest in all things airports, I had to check out the requirements! Followed by the specifics that are in place in Europe!!

So it's OK to fly in snowy weather, right? I mean it's just like flying in the rain, but the rain has set into snow crystals. Despite having a science background, I suffer from internal mental conflict between the rational part of my brain that understands Bernoulli's principle - and the emotional part that sees a plane as having more in common with an apartment block than a bird! And I know just how much my own luggage weighed, and multiplied by the 200 passengers on board, I can't begin to comprehend why the plane will even move, let alone become airborne.

But, airborne we became. And the child in me took over. I can't remember ever before having flown out of an airport covered in snow, but it was so beautiful. Grey and white, and limited visibility to be sure - but just like Santa's distribution hub.

Then 10 minutes later we were above the weather and flying for more than two hours in clear blue, sunny skies. And then back to earth, only an hour late, in Helsinki, where at 3.30 pm the daylight had almost disappeared. By the time I reached my hotel (the fabulous Hotel Kamp in old Helsinki) it was dark, but the snow and the Christmas lights made my heart beat just a little faster. It feels like you really are close to Santa in this part of the world (and of course you are. The Finns claim to own the home of Santa Claus - rather than it being at the north pole!)

Today I've walked and taken trams around the city, drunk fabulous mulled wine, and just revelled in being in a snow-covered city for the first time in my life. My only regret is that I will miss the start of the Christmas markets just over the road from my hotel.

Tomorrow is Helsinki's national day. It's an official flag-raising day and apparently much loved by the Finns, who light two candles in their homes to honour the day. Kippis!

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