How to walk on ice without dying

It’s not actually that cold here in Helsinki. With the temperature yo-yoing around zero degrees however we have snow that melts and then refreezes – leaving a layer of ice over everything.

Around 20,000 people a month in Finland sustain injuries from slipping on ice in winter. Here are a few things I’ve learnt about surviving on icy streets:

Don’t be afraid! Go outside everyday – Helsinki is set up for it – and if you don’t you’ll end up staying inside for four months. Towers like these are set up from December and are full of tiny stones that are spread on the footpaths to help with grip.


Likewise, some of the city streets have hot water piped underneath, leaving them free of ice and snow.


Laying the pipes in summer


Ice free in winter

Ice-free in winter

Choose the path of most resistance. Walk where others walk, look for gravel to walk on and avoid shiny dark areas. If there is no gravel, choose snow over ice.


Slippery, slipperier, slipperiest

Avoid manhole covers and other metal surfaces. Always go around these ice traps.


Likewise, avoid painted surfaces, like the lines on pedestrian crossings. Once again, aim for the gravel that has been laid out for grip.


Don’t rush out the back door on your way to the rubbish room without checking the conditions first. Step outside that door at speed and you may find yourself slipping and sliding across the courtyard while squealing like a pig (true story).


Always use the handrails on stairs and if possible, send a small child ahead of you to test for slippery patches.


Stairway to hell

Leave plenty of time to get somewhere – rushing is never a good idea. I would seriously add on 50% of the time you’d normally take to walk somewhere.


If you parked your car in the street overnight, take a shovel with you the next morning. The snow ploughs that clear the streets in the night create piles of snow that might block you in.


Hidden layers of ice under snow make hills a real danger zone – but also a really fun thing to do on the weekend. If you do accidentally slide down a hill, always yell ‘yippee!’ and act like it was intentional.


And finally, grab a friend for support. Or, if you’re like me, occasionally grab a stranger. One with matching clothes is even better.


(Disclaimer: I don’t usually go around taking photos of old people from behind. It’s a new thing).

Yle News: Slip, Fall, Break a Leg – Who Pays?

Helsinki Underground

When I first used Helsinki’s subway system I felt like I was the only one swiping my travel card. Was everyone else riding for free? I didn’t want to be the only chump paying for rides so for a while I stopped swiping my travel card too. When in Rome and all that….

Kaisaniemi Metroasema

Kaisaniemi Metroasema

Turns out I’m not in Rome, I’m in Helsinki, in one of the least corrupt countries in the world. While some people may be jumping the train, many will have bought fortnightly / monthly / annual travel cards that don’t need swiping every time they get on or off. What really amazes me is the whole system is based on trust.

Walk right in...

Walk right in…

At the entrance to each Metro station you won’t find turnstiles or six-foot high gates that are opened only by a valid ticket. There are random ticket inspections however and the fine for being caught without a ticket is 80€.


People travelling with a child in a stroller up to the age of six travel for free on all HSL transport services (bus, train, metro & ferries). For those who do buy a ticket it is valid for all types of HSL transport within the city and is valid for one hour.


Unlike many European cities where you can spend hours underground getting to your destination, Helsinki is so compact the metro line currently runs in two directions only – although work is currently being undertaken to expand it.


Which makes it easy to use and also leaves you much more time to visit the city’s attractions, such as the Trevi Fountain and the colosseum Helsinki Cathedral.

Tips for using the Helsinki Metro

  • If you’re new in Helsinki don’t be afraid to try it, it basically goes in two directions so you can’ t get too lost
  • Station names are in Finnish with the Swedish name written underneath
  • Ticket machines are at the top of the escalators, before you go down to the platform
  • Travel cards can be bought & topped up at most R-Kioski (convenience stores usually found near stations)
  • All metro stations have elevators so are accessible for wheelchairs & strollers
  • Likewise, the train and platform are at the same level & there are no stairs in the trains
  • If you’re not in a hurry, don’t bother with a timetable. Trains generally arrive every 2 mins or so during peak hours
  • If you take the escalator down to the platform, stand on the right unless walking
  • Kaisaniemi station is now called Helsingin Yliopisto (Helsinki University)
  • Dogs, cats & other pets are allowed onboard and travel for free

HSL Transport info in English

Helsinki Metro

Proof of Payment System








My City Guide to Helsinki – for Design*Sponge

Many of you will have lived in Helsinki, live there now or are thinking of visiting in the future.

I’ve just put together a City Guide to Helsinki for Design*Sponge – a design blog run by Brooklyn-based writer, Grace Bonney. According to the website they currently reach over 1 million readers per day – so if your favourite Helsinki cafes are soon full of international visitors – um, sorry about that.

City Guide to Helsinki for Design*Sponge

My City Guide to Helsinki for Design*Sponge

I’d love to know any additions you would make to the list. I’ve tried to include some old faithfuls as well as some new favourites.

You can find the guide here: City Guide to Helsinki for Design*Sponge

Baby it’s cold outside


Port of Helsinki, 29th December 2014, -18° celcius (-0.4° F)

I know what cold is. Or so I thought. Once when I was young we left our goldfish bowl outside (long story) and it froze over. The goldfish survived but I have been living off this story for years to show how hardy I am.

The Baltic Sea starting to freeze

The Baltic Sea starting to freeze


And I’ve lived in cold houses. One year I went around declaring that I was experiencing ‘the winter of my discontent’. Which is a bit over the top seen it never dropped below 9° celcius (48°F) during the day.

Port of Helsinki

Port of Helsinki, 29 December 2014, -18° celcius (-0.4° F)

But to quote the great poet Phil Collins – take a look at me now! Baby it is cold outside and I am in it! In fact it’s too warm now because anything above zero means the snow melts and then refreezes, making everything slushy and slippery.


Low maintenance garden, 23rd December 2014

I’m often reminded how easy we have it too when I see elderly people making their way about with walking-frames in the snow. The other day I had to help a woman who was struggling to make any progress as her wheelchair was stuck in heavy slush.

The Bana - December 2014

The Bana – 23rd December 2014

My biggest inconvenience is getting cold fingers while I take photos and then having my phone battery die within ten minutes because it can’t handle sub-zero temperatures.

Christmas Day in Lappeenranta, around -15° celcius (5° F)

Not much to complain about really when I’ve finally started to see the beauty that is around us in the colder months.


Christmas Day, Lappeenranta, about -15 celcius (5° F)

The sunlight when we have it creates a kind of golden glitter in the air and the snow on the ground sparkles as though it’s mixed with granulated sugar.

The only way to get around

The only way to get around

It’s a warm 2° celcius (35°F)  today and I’m really hoping the temperature will drop so we can witness the lakes and sea in full frozen glory.

Sunset reflected on Töölönlahti, 7 January 2015 (-2 celcius, wind chill -8)

Sunset reflected on semi-frozen Töölönlahti, 7 January 2015, -2° celcius, wind chill -8° (28°F)

Because, I’m like, you know, really good at this cold thing and I’m finding for once I’m having a winter where I am quite content. But, to quote another famous poet (Randy Bachman), I actually ‘ain’t seen nothing yet’.

Fake birds and sun lamps

“I’ve got sunshine, on a cloudy day,” – The Temptations

Number of winters The Temptations spent in Helsinki: zero.

Töölönlahti starting to freeze

Töölönlahti starting to freeze

Getting up before the sun is no big deal in Helsinki these days because the sun doesn’t get up until 9am. And by up, I mean legs over the side of the bed, still in its pyjamas.

Today's forecast - with 3 weeks to go until the shortest day

Today’s forecast – with 3 weeks to go until the shortest day

At mid-day the sun in Helsinki sits just 8 degrees above the horizon. Which means that while we have sunlight, we often have very little sunshine. In fact, November was ‘three times gloomier than average’ with Helsinki having a total of just 12 hours of sunshine in the first 26 days.

A rare November day

A rare November day

So how do we cope with these grey days that seem like constant twilight? Well luckily it’s still quite novel which helps and before heading out we have a hit of Vitamin D spray every morning.


We also bought a sunlamp which wakes us by filling the room with a soft glow. This grows stronger until we wake to what feels like a room full of sunlight – it also has a setting that includes the sound of birds chirping.

Time to wake up! The fake sun has risen & the fake birds are chirping

Time to wake up! The fake sun has risen & the fake birds are chirping

The temperature has been sitting around 2 degrees for a month now, which means any snow we have doesn’t stick around. Last winter was very mild by Finnish standards and no snow means dark days as there’s nothing to reflect the light. So for the first time in my life I’m really hoping it will get much colder!

Perfect number plate for snow

Perfect number plate for snow

But I’ve got a bit to learn yet about snow. I was walking home the other day admiring the flakes as they fell around me and decided to pull my hood on. What a rookie! There’s no better way to spoil a romantic mood than by dumping a whole lot of snow on your own head!

Sun and Moon times in Helsinki

Colours All Around Us



Finland has four very definite seasons and syksy (autumn) has surprised and stunned me with its vibrant colour displays.


We are very lucky in New Zealand to have a native bush reserve behind our house, but I realise now that it is made up of evergreens, that while beautiful, hardly change colour.


My walk home from Finnish class today was punctuated by trees sporting shades that match all the new words we have recently learnt – punainen (red), vihreä (green), keltainen (yellow), oranssi (orange) and ruskea (brown).




The walk around Töölönlahti is different each day as the trees start to drop the leaves we watched them grow only six months ago.



I find the beauty of the city right now is definitely helping me adapt to the cooler weather.





Today was a warm 12 degrees and so Miko and I stayed on after daycare to play with some friends in the leaves.



IMG_3098We used to always try to imagine how things will look once they are covered in snow. For now I’m just enjoying how they look painted for autumn.


The Dandelion Fountain

On a recent trip to Helsinki’s amusement park Linnanmaki, we came across a fountain that Ilona mentioned was somehow connected to the fountain in Sydney’s Kings Cross. Having lived in Sydney for eleven years my interest was piqued – how did such a famous monument in the Southern Hemisphere come to be replicated here, at a fun park, more than 9000 miles away?


The fountain at Linnanmaki

Like all good investigative reporters I headed straight to Wikipedia (ha!) where I was happy to read but misinformed that the man who designed the Kings Cross fountain was born in New Zealand. Turns out Bob Woodward was actually born in Sydney in 1923 and his career designing fountains that resemble dandelion thistles had a strong link to Finland.


El Alamein Fountain, Kings Cross

During World War II, Woodward worked mostly as an armourer where he honed his skills working with wood and metal. After the war he studied architecture and travelled to Finland to study with one of the country’s most famous artists, Alvar Aalto. Woodward was impressed by Aalto’s commitment to bringing the organic world into design. During an interview in 1996 he said “Aalto’s principles are that essentially everything in architecture is related to biology. If you take a leaf from a tree, for example, you can see design principles which should apply to architecture itself.”


Aalto’s iconic vase – at times attributed to the flow of a Sami woman’s dress or the lakes of Finland

In 1955 Woodward returned to Australia where he won a competition to design the El Alamein Memorial Fountain to commemorate the Australian soldiers who fought in Egypt in 1942. The fountain became an icon for Australian tourism and is now a common meeting place for people in Kings Cross.

Woodward's legacy spread like dandelion spores across the globe

Woodward’s legacy spread like dandelion spores across the globe

Woodward went on to win international recognition for his design and had a long career designing fountains around the world. His works can now be found in countries as diverse as USA, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, France, Turkey, Sweden, Romania, Ukraine, China and yes! New Zealand. In 1972 the Ferrier family commissioned replica fountains to mark the opening of the Christchurch Town Hall in New Zealand.

Ferrier Fountains - Photo Credit: Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 1021-1516

Ferrier Fountains in Christchurch – Photo Credit: Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 1021-1516

El Alamein Memorial Fountain

Bob Woodward Obituary




Breaking free in the Baana & beyond

Miko is great company but we don’t get much of a break from each other these days.  So its a real a treat for me to have a walk by myself – no stroller to push; no wrestling a human octopus into a jacket and no need to hear myself issue instructions like ‘Stop licking me, I am not an ice cream!’


On a beautiful spring day last weekend I managed to escape on my own for a couple of hours and set out to explore the Baana, without really knowing where I would end up.


Like New York’s High Line, Helsinki has transformed a former freight line into a safe route for pedestrians through the heart of the city. Called the Baana, this ‘Low Line’ is carved out of the streets and provides a 1.3km passage from West Harbour to Töölö Bay via Kamppi. With an entrance at each end and four ramps to street level along the way, there are paths marked out for those on foot as well as those travelling by bicycle.


Near West Harbour there are ping pong tables, a basketball court and seating areas, all of which were being used on the sunny day I set off. Like most of Helsinki there were loads of people passing by on bicycles, safe from the main traffic area. After coming out near the city I carried on towards Töölö and the peninsula known as Hietaniemi.


One of the nicest thing about this time of year is seeing Finnish people just relishing the sunshine and taking the time to sit with friends and relax in its rays. I can’t help but smile when I see people sitting alone, eyes closed, face lifted to the sun with looks of pure bliss on their faces.


This lake is so close to the city but feels miles away. The number of birds returning to the area after their winter travel is increasing, their presence made known by the camera-shutter sound of their wings.


The foliage on the trees is changing dramatically and the shades of green at the moment are so fresh, like a giant salad tossed on the ground.


I walked past a large cemetery and further on passed by the back of a hospital where women were tending the vegetable garden. It seems nature is left untamed here, no fancy hedge trimming or pruning; each plant’s journey towards the sun left uncompromised after such a long winters sleep.


The hospital garden

I felt so refreshed by the end of my walk I looked forward to heading home and putting my feet up. Best of all I was ready to spend time with Miko again, musing over the mysteries of life, because really, its important to know, ‘Does everyone have bottoms?

Ode to Bicycles


I see you there, bicycle

Leaning on the wall

Waiting for your rider

As in a shop  they call


You are a swift and silent steed

As you canter through the streets

Your tires are pumped

Your saddle plumped

No need for bribes or treats


You have your own marked laneway

That no one would dare cross

Without a quick glance left and right

Unless they’re up for loss

A police outline of a flattened mother & child and the bicycle they suspect did it

Police outline of a flattened mother & child and the bicycle they suspect did it

No helmet for your rider

In Helsinki it’s not needed

Road rules apply, no cars defy

And safety’s always heeded


So there you wait, outside cafes

Ready to get rollin’

I can’t believe that you’re still there

In Sydney you’d be stolen.