Apart from a short stint in 2008 I am that lucky girl who has not had to suffer ridiculously low temperatures in almost a decade. That’s right, I have been living in perpetual summer for the last 10 years.
So when work sends me to Chicago in the middle of the winter, after not one, but two biblical snowstorms, I quiver, I shiver and I fear the worst. I then check the weather forecast and I get petrified. It is true, temperatures are well below zero and I have a grand total of 4 sweaters. And remember that historical snowstorm that hit New York? Well that’s the story of any day in Chicago.
So what do I do?
I devise a plan to not spend a single minute outdoors and I pack almost all of my warm clothes and layers and layers of leggings, stockings and long-sleeve warmers. But to survive a Chicago winter I needed much more than that, I needed to remember that basics of winter which unfortunately, I had long forgotten. So here you are, for all those who live in places where there are seasons, I will simply make you aware of what you no longer notice. And for those who are venturing into the winter, fret not, this is all you need to know not to freeze your a** off like I did.
1. One tap is not enough
So in Singapore I would turn on whatever tap when I wash my hands. The hot water will come out cold at the beginning, long enough for me to wash and the cold water is, well, not that cold. In Chicago, I tried to wash my hands in the office and they almost fell off. I turned the tap on the cold side without any hot water and it was so cold my hands went numb immediately. So please, turn the cold AND the hot water taps on
2. Showers are evil!
In Singapore I would get into the shower and then let the water run until its warm because the coldest water is, well, warm-ish. In my sleepiness and drowsiness after 4 sleeping tablets I woke up in the morning slightly confused. I jumped into the shower and I turned on the tap. Holy…! the cold water as close to freezing and I woke up as if from my worst nightmares. Before I could quickly switch it off I was soaked in winter ice. Never jump into the shower before the water is hot enough!
3. Forget romance, snow ain’t your friend
How romantic to see the snow flakes dance in the wind from inside my office building. Wouldn’t it be romantic and beautiful to walk in the street and feel the flakes caress my face?
What was I thinking?
Nobody walks in the middle of a snowstorm or right after one because, let me clarify, the streets are full of, well, snow! And that is very dangerous. I was ill equipped with my ugg boots and despite I was warm enough for the 25min walk (Google maps had actually told me 15min only but I was walking as if on egg shells) but the streets were so slippery I had near-miss death moments a few times.
Leave the romanticism at home and watch the snow fall from behind the window. Much better, much safer.
4. Rudolph is not cute
In my adventure walking the streets of Chicago I also learned that no matter how many clothes I was wearing I did not bring anything to cover my entire face so by the time I made it to the hotel I looked like Rudolph. My nose and my cheeks were so red that it was apparent this wasn’t just the cold, I had actually got burnt in the cold wind. They don’t call it the wind city for nothing! The following morning my cheeks and nose were still bright red and felt just like when I’ve had too much sun. Don’t forget to pack a balaclava.
5. Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize
In winter the weather is not just cold, it is also much drier. Even if the atmosphere is not necessarily that dry the central heating (which by the way I crank up to the maximum prompting the room service guy to ask if I was ok) creates the driest of environment. I went through an entire pot of moisturizer and lip balm. At one point I was not hungry at all thinking that I might have eaten the entire tube of lip balm. It is very hard to sleep when it’s 25 degrees, even if it seemed like a good idea when you got into bed.
6. It is cold inside too
For someone who perfectly survives 30+ degree heat and 100% humidity in the middle of the day under the sun the cold is not something I would easily put up with. Even if the office and the hotel had heating this was not enough for me. I saw everyone else changing their massively warm boots for simpler flats in the office while I was still geared with my 10 layers and my uggs. And even with all that much more clothing, I still had to rub my hands every 5min to keep warm. At 6,30pm the heating went off and that was enough warning to evacuate the building, as if it was on fire!
7. The snow eventually melts
What a mess when the snow started to melt leaving a trail of mud and dirt al together, it wasn’t pretty. All that romanticism attached to the white nights went away when I woke up to a massive puddle all across the city. And let me tell you, if you walk on snow for long enough your boots will still get wet, fast. I must have forgotten about that science class where they explain the 3 states of water.
8. Need to dry my hair!
When I went in exchange to Canada 13 years ago the student services were kind enough to give us a few tips about how to survive the extreme below zero temperatures that hit Montreal for months. One of the things they said and which is still engraved in my brain is how you should ry your hair before you leave the house because the water could freeze in the cold and your hair could fall off leaving you bald! So what did I do on my first day? The usual Singapore hair style, wash and brush and ready to go. Not a good idea. I had to run inside shortly after hiting the streets because my hair and my head hurt so much because of the cold and then I remember the face of the student services guy in Canada: “bald, bald, bald” it all echoed in my mind. Never. Again.
9. Uber it
Another aspect I clearly remember from Montreal is how punctual the bus service was. No wonder, in -30 degree cold you can’t be waiting outside for long. I should have remembered that when I left the office in search of a cab. What was I thinking? Uber it and wait inside, totally worth it!
10. Two may not be enough. Go ahead, don’t be shy!
I packed all of my winter clothes in my suitcase, it was an easy exercise since I did not have a lot. All of my 4 sweaters were from a decade ago, I have not needed them for that long and for the 5 days a year that I go back home in Spain for Christmas I never bothered about fashion and I am sure nobody remembers they see me wearing exactly the same every time. But Chicago was another story, I had to layer up everything I had. Trousers over leggings over lycra pants for the gym. I was not ashamed of it, I wore 3 layers of trousers topped with a tshirt, a long sleeve tshirt, a thermal sweater, a feather vest and a ski jacket. That’s right, I looked like an astronaut but at least I was warm inside, kind of. Nobody will see how many you are wearing so don’t be shy, layer up!
Remember that big underwear you bought by mistake? Great change to wear it, the bigger the warmer!
11. Electric shocks
As expected, with all that wool and layers of clothing plus the sheepskin boots and the carpet I got electric shocks when touching anything. My laptop, the lifts, the door knob, the coffee machine…anything that carries electricity warmly welcomed me with a handshake. I remember that happening to me before, as well as my hair getting all fuzzy and funny standing up because of the electricity but when everything you touch gives you an electric shock you stop touching things and only push them with your butt, wait for others to touch it for you or pull your sleeves not to touch it with your naked hand. Sigh, dangerous life in the winter!