How to Helsinki: Last Call

Worldcon is in Helsinki this year. As a Finnish-American couple, we are very excited about this! In the coming months, we’d like to offer some practical advice about visiting Finland to our fellow fans who are considering going to the event but haven’t had experience with Finland and Finns before.

Worldcon 75 is just a week away now. In case you missed any of our previous posts, you might want to check them out, too:

 

Here are a few last-minute tidbits, odds and ends, and random pieces of advice that might be worth knowing if you’re getting ready to head to Helsinki:

Low-alcohol beverages, like beer and cider, are available at most grocery stores. For harder liquor (22+ % alcohol), you’ll need to go to one of the state-run Alko stores; you also must be 20 years old and have valid government I.D. Anyone who looks under 30 years of age may be carded when buying alcohol.

Apteekki = pharmacy

Apua! = Help!

Ateneum Art Museum is one of the three museums forming the Finnish National Gallery and located conveniently on the south side of Rautatientori square close to Helsinki central railway station.

Flickr Alessandro Grussu Ateneum Art Museum

DO NOT FEED THE BIRDS. That creates problems for residents, outdoor sellers, and other visitors. The seagulls at Kaupptori, for example, are already quite adept at snatching food from people. (That means they will dive AT YOU and steal your food FROM YOUR HAND. I don’t know about you, but I find that intimidating and I don’t want it to happen to me! –Eppu)

Public drinking water fountains are rare in Finland, but tap water is clean and safe. Carrying a water bottle is a good idea.

Dual flush toilets are becoming very common, and they’re easy to operate: small button for small flush, big for large. Please do take part in our environmental efforts.

Electric sockets and plugs are Europlug type C or the grounded Schuko type F.

Elevator behavior humorously put: Keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times, and for the sake of everything you hold dear, do not engage in small talk.

9gag Finland Elevator

More seriously: Elevator behavior shouldn’t be a problem; just be mindful that customs may be different than you’re used to and you’ll be fine.

The number for emergency services is 112. Also note that pay phones are almost non-existent in Finland because cell phones are so ubiquitous.

You may not be able to establish eye contact with strangers on the streets. This is perfectly normal in Finland; we love our personal space and want lots of it.

Gasoline is very expensive due to taxation—keep it in mind if planning to rent a car.

If you meet a Finn with whom you share a mutual acquaintance, you may be asked to take greetings to that person. It is vital that you follow through. Carrying greetings (the Finnish word is terveisiä, which covers the whole social scale from “Say hi to your buddies for me” to “Do give my sincerest regards to your honored great-grandmother”) is serious business in Finland.

Indoor spaces tend to be warm due to effective insulation. Dress in layers for the win!

With regard to the language issue, one of the most succinct answers is by author Elizabeth Bear: “[I’ve] heard some concern about the language issue. There is no language issue. If one of your languages is English […] you will have no issues at all navigating. (It’s sort of a running joke with my agent and I that while my books sell very well in the Nordic countries as imports, we can’t get a translation deal there. Because everyone speaks English […]”

Luggage storage is available e.g. at Helsinki central railway station and at the Kamppi long distance bus station.

Mosquitoes are the bane of the Finnish summer. (We actually joke about them being our air force. –Eppu) Current reports are that this has not been a bad mosquito year, but it’s still important to take precautions if you’re sensitive to bites and will be out and about in the late evening or early morning, which are the prime biting times.

The National Museum of Finland concentrates on Finnish history from the Stone Age to 19th century and has an extensive collection of objects. The building itself, of National Romantic style, may also be of interest. Free entry every Friday 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.; at other times, entry fees apply.

National Museum of Finland

Petrol is very expensive due to taxation—keep it in mind if planning to rent a car.

Pharmacy = apteekki

The word please (or the like) doesn’t exist in Finnish. Instead, the same function is embedded in the verb form of the sentence. This doesn’t mean that Finns are inherently rude; we may sound rude to native speakers of languages that use an explicit please word if we forget to use it in other languages, and we well might slip up since it’s not ingrained.

Finnish does not have gendered pronouns. The word hän means both ‘he’ and ‘she.’ It’s not unusual for Finns, even Finns who speak English very fluently and are highly aware of gender identity issues, to slip and use the wrong gendered pronoun when speaking English. (It’s a little like English speakers learning Spanish and having to remember that forks are masculine but spoons are feminine.)

Recycling is becoming very common. Your hotel room and Messukeskus might have containers for different types of trash. Please do take part in our environmental efforts.

If you bump into someone by accident, just saying “Sori” (comes from and sounds pretty much the same as English sorry) is usually sufficient. Finns don’t really do apologies for small accidents.

Towel hooks in bathrooms are only for storing the dry towels. Spread towels to dry elsewhere (rack, over the shower stall door / shower curtain bar) and hang to store.

 

Some additional reading & browsing

Images: Ateneum Art Museum by Alessandro Grussu on Flickr. Finland elevator behavior via 9gag. National Museum of Finland by Eppu Jensen

In Live and Active Cultures we talk about cultures and cultural differences.

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How to Helsinki: Getting around Helsinki

Worldcon is in Helsinki this year. As a Finnish-American couple, we are very excited about this! In the coming months, we’d like to offer some practical advice about visiting Finland to our fellow fans who are considering going to the event but haven’t had experience with Finland and Finns before.

Eppu here. First of all, I should note that I didn’t grow up in Helsinki, so I’ve had to learn the capital region transit system as an outsider. There’s no denying that it’s a big system with many moving parts (see what I did!) and that it can feel overwhelming. However, I find that, overall, information is abundant, the signage excellent, the electronic displays usually accurate, and the services run on time. Navigation or ticketing haven’t been a problem for us. (Note: Unfortunately I can’t competently comment on the success of the accessibility initiatives; I can only say there’s every attempt.)

Edited to add: Please also read Progress Report #5. Worldcon 75 staff have put together a very informational final report with lots of practical tips.

Flickr JElliott Moving in Helsinki

Some general information

The public transit network in the greater Helsinki area consists of local and regional buses, trams, commuter trains, subway (metro), and ferry. The system is managed by Helsinki Region Transport (in Finnish: Helsingin seudun liikenne or HSL; HSL on Wikipedia). Helsinki also provides city bikes for a fee (registration required).

Most lines operate between 5:30 a.m. and 11:30 p.m. or so. Nighttime lines, where they exist, are marked by letter N in the timetables (for example, 415 and 415N), and a higher night fare is charged between 2 a.m. and 4.30 a.m.

The metro sign is a white M in a red square.

Many Finns stay silent in public transit, although in large cities and/or with younger passengers this may not hold true. A Finn might also not ask someone blocking them to move; a wish to pass is often expressed only through body language.

 

Tickets, please

Always carry a valid ticket. Passengers without a ticket are charged a penalty fare of 80 euros.

There are several different kinds of tickets (single, day, travel card) and ways to get them (bus drivers, tram operators, text message, ticket machines / automats / kiosks).

The ticket machines operate in Finnish, Swedish, or English; payment is by coins, bills, or cards. Below is a how-to video:

Ticket machine. HSL/HRT. Helsinki by Den S

Note that despite what some information pages still say, train conductors no longer sell tickets; passengers need to buy a ticket before boarding.

Twitter luckyandangel HSL seutulippu Cropped

Ticket terminology

Paper tickets are Finnish-Swedish bilingual. Note that ticket validity is indicated with 24-hour clock and that dates are written out in day/month/year order.

  • aikuinen (Fin) – adult, grown-up
  • alv (Fin) – value-added tax (VAT)
  • barn (Swe) – child
  • dygnsbiljett (Swe) – day ticket
  • enkelbiljett (Swe) – single ticket
  • giltig (Swe) – valid
  • hyvää matkaa (Fin) – Have a pleasant journey
  • kertalippu (Fin) – single ticket
  • lapsi (Fin) – child
  • moms (Swe) – value-added tax (VAT)
  • region, regionbiljett (Swe) – region, regional ticket
  • seutu, seutulippu (Fin) – region(al), regional ticket
  • trevlig resa (Swe) – Have a pleasant journey
  • voimassa (Fin) – valid
  • vuorokausilippu (Fin) – day ticket
  • vuxen (Swe) – adult, grown-up

The cheapest per-trip option, a travel card, is available from 14 to 366 days—i.e., a minimum of two weeks—so they’re basically the local commuter option.

If planning to make only two trips in one day, a day ticket (valid for 24 hours) is more expensive than two single tickets. Three or more trips justify the cost of a day ticket.

Attending Worldcon 75 members get a free travel pass courtesy of the Helsinki Region Transport. At this writing there’s no more information, but it sounds like a Helsinki internal pass (cf. zones, below). After this post went live, we heard from W75 that it’s a regional pass. Yay!

 

Zoning out

There are three zones: internal, regional (two zones) and the whole region (three zones). The internal tickets basically cover only one city (Helsinki; Espoo; Kauniainen; Vantaa) or municipality (Kirkkonummi) or transit zone unit (Kerava & Sipoo).

Fare Zones within Greater Helsinki Region Sm

Helsinki central railway station is the biggest transportation hub in the greater Helsinki area. Other hubs include Pasila railway station, Sörnäinen, and Itäkeskus (literally, ‘east center’) in Helsinki, Espoon keskus (Espoo center) and Leppävaara in Espoo, and Myyrmäki and Tikkurila in Vantaa.

Unless your accommodations are in one of the adjoining cities, you should only need internal Helsinki tickets during the con.

 

Airport transit

At Helsinki-Vantaa airport, there are several local and regional buses in addition to train and taxi services. Trains stop between the two airport terminals and both at Pasila and the main railway station in Helsinki, with several stops in between.

Buses run between Helsinki-Vantaa and the city, ending in the vicinity of the Helsinki central railway station. Lines terminate either on Elielinaukio on the west or Rautatientori (railway station square) on the east side of the station.

For the city center, take either the HSL bus 415 or 615. The newest and fastest connection is the Ring Rail Line (I and P trains). Both the HSL buses and the airport train require a regional ticket (seutulippu). The private Finnair City Buses run between the airport and Elielinaukio.

 

Finding the spot

Bus and tram stops have both a unique 4-digit number and a name in both Finnish and Swedish. The stop number includes one or two preceding letters which indicate(s) the city or municipality of the stop (E for Espoo, H for Helsinki, etc.). For example, Pasilan asema / Böle station is H2100 in the photo below.

In practice, only the stop names are relevant, but you can use the stop numbers, too, with the Reittiopas route planner (see below).

HSL pasilan_pysakki

Stops and departure bays display a sign with the route number(s) and destination(s) for the line(s) that use that particular stop. A small metro sign (white M in a red square) indicates that that line feeds to the metro.

Many of the stops also have transit maps and printed schedules. They are good for basic route finding if you know where you’re headed.

Electronic timetable displays at stops and terminals show either real-time or scheduled arrival / departure times for the line(s) serving that stop. Inside vehicles they typically display the route number and the name of the next stop.

You can also check out possible routes and options ahead of time with the Journey Planner (Reittiopas) in Finnish, Swedish, or English. Plug in your destination street address or attraction name and choose your preferred method and route; you can also adjust the amount of walking required or number of transfers in the settings.

Pertinent destination or stop names for Worldcon 75 are Helsinki-Vantaa airport (for which the route finder uses terms lentoasema or Helsinki-Vantaa airport T1-T2 corridor or combinations thereof), Helsinki railway station, Pasila or Pasilan asema (for Pasila railway station), and Messukeskus.

The Google Maps public transit directions also seem ok to me, but I haven’t used them often enough to comment on their reliability.

Note that the old Pasila train station is being demolished and a new one being built during the con. I haven’t personally been there, but on the basis of every newspaper photo I’ve seen it looks like signage and information on where to find connections, platforms, etc., is plentiful.

 

How to put a stop to it

The metro and commuter trains stop at every station. Enter and exit through any open door.

However, buses and trams only stop when requested. It is customary to enter through the front and exit through the middle or back doors. (People with accessibility issues may use the front door or middle door on low-floor buses both to enter and exit.)

At a bus stop, give a clear sign to the driver by holding your arm out to the side. Keep holding your hand out until the driver signals to show that s/he is going to stop.

Trams typically stop when there are passengers waiting. If the stop is shared by several routes, however, raise a hand to request that your tram stops to pick you up.

To exit at your stop, press the Stop button on the grab bars. (Note: Tape strips like some American buses use, for example, do not exist in Finland.) Do it early enough to give the driver time to stop safely. In fact, it’s not unusual to see people signal for a stop almost as soon as the bus or tram has left the previous stop.

 

What if I want to talk to someone?

The city of Helsinki tourist guides, the Helsinki Helpers, stand ready to answer questions until the end of August. Find them in their distinctive lime green vests on the inner city streets and cruise harbors. There’s also the Info Container tourist info kiosk on Keskuskatu next to Ateneum Art Museum (link to a map).

At or near Messukeskus, where you’ll be dealing mainly with hospitality workers or fellow fen, you will be in the best of company and are bound to find help, but Helsinki residents in general are used to tourists, too. Do not hesitate to ask passers-by for help if you need it. Many Finns, even if they tend to be reticent or shy of their English skills, are well-informed, eager to help, and give practical advice.

 

An outsider’s perspective

Erik here. As a foreign visitor, I’ve always found Helsinki quite an easy city to get around. The city center is compact and easily walkable, if that’s your preferred mode of transportation. If not, there are many good public transit options, as Eppu has explained. As with other parts of Finnish culture, there are some local details about getting around that may confuse you or not be obvious if you’re used to American cities. Here are a few things to keep in mind when you visit Helsinki:

  • Public transit has a bad reputation in some parts of the US. This does not apply in Finland. Finnish public transit is clean, modern, efficient, and easy to use. You’ll see everyone from parents with little children to business executives on their way to meetings riding the trains, buses, trams, and subway in Helsinki.
  • Always cross the street at a marked crosswalk and always obey the Walk/Don’t Walk signs. Even if the street is empty, don’t cross against the lights. This isn’t just a matter of courtesy, it’s also for your safety. Finland is a very law-abiding nation and drivers expect pedestrians to follow traffic signals. If a driver has a green light, they may not look out for pedestrians crossing the road in front of them. In Helsinki, unlike in many American cities, the buttons for crosswalk signals actually work.
  • In many places, you’ll find the sidewalk divided into two lanes, one for bicycles and the other for foot traffic. The lanes may be marked with painted symbols (a bicycle or a pair of walking figures), or the sidewalk may be partially paved, partially cobblestone (bicycles on the pavement, walkers on the cobble). Try to stay in the appropriate lane. This is also a matter of both courtesy and safety. There are a lot of bicycles in Helsinki and it’s both rude and dangerous to get in their way.
  • If there isn’t a marked division on the sidewalk, it’s good manners to stay to the right so that other people have room to get by you.
  • Turning right on a red light is not allowed anywhere in Finland, which is useful to know whether you’re driving or just walking around.
  • Few stores in Helsinki have public toilets and those that do may charge a fee. But free public toilets are available around the city. Look for dark green metal sheds on sidewalks and in parks, about the size and shape of a newsstand. These are free, clean, and kept in good condition.
  • As in many other European cities, look for street signs at the corners of buildings, not on free-standing posts.
  • Because Finland is a bilingual country, all road signs and many informational signs are posted in both Finnish and Swedish. Many places and neighborhoods around Helsinki also have names in both languages. Sometimes it’s obvious—it’s not hard even for an English speaker to guess that Eerikinkatu and Eriksgatan are the same street. Others are not so easy to guess. Without a little linguistic knowledge it can be hard to know that Ruoholahti is the same as Gräsviken. The announcements in public transit are also bilingual (occasionally trilingual, with English following Finnish and Swedish).

 

Online information for getting around in Helsinki

Any additional tips? Do share!

Images: Moving in Helsinki by J.Elliott on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). HSL seutulippu, detail, by luckyandangel on Twitter. Fare zones screencap from HSL “How to Use Public Transport”. Pasilan pysäkki by HSL.

This post has been edited to add resources by Worldcon 75 and correct the type of HSL pass given to W75 members.

In Live and Active Cultures we talk about cultures and cultural differences.

How to Helsinki: Sauna, That Scary-Hot Room Full of Naked

Worldcon is in Helsinki this year. As a Finnish-American couple, we are very excited about this! In the coming months, we’d like to offer some practical advice about visiting Finland to our fellow fans who are considering going to the event but haven’t had experience with Finland and Finns before.

Eppu here. Sauna is among the most well-known things about Finland abroad. Incidentally, sauna might also be the most commonly known Finnish word in English (although kalsarikännit seems to be making some inroads lately). Here is a short introduction to sauna I hope will be helpful to newbies.

Flickr johanjeijon Sauna ROI Midnight 2010
Sauna, Rovaniemi, on July 2, 2010, midnight sun; by johanjeijon
  • At its core, sauna bathing is exactly that: a form of cleaning yourself thoroughly. (Think extreme showering, of sorts.) Early saunas were typically small huts with benches along one wall, a wood stove (kiuas) in one corner, and a place for washing with pails of water in another. Modern saunas at pools or public baths (uimahalli) are right next to the showers, and in private homes they are attached to a full bathroom.
  • After an initial, quick shower, bathers sit down on the bench of their choice (high, middle, or low) and wait. If too cool, you can move up a bench and/or toss a ladle of water onto the stove for a burst of steam (löyly). If too hot, you can move to a lower bench, splash yourself with water with the ladle, or step into the shower room for a moment (or drink water, take a shower, go swim). In fact, dividing your sauna bathing into several consecutive short trips to cool off and then returning to the heat makes the experience more enjoyable. A final, good wash head to toe, fresh clothes, and a glass of water afterwards will feel heavenly.
  • Yes, you are indeed supposed to feel hot in sauna. Really hot. The point is to get the sweat flowing—that’s the main thing that’ll make you feel fresh and clean afterwards. However, you shouldn’t feel dizzy or bad; that’s not normal. Don’t be shy about stepping out for a moment before returning. Also note that anything metallic worn on the body (like glasses or jewellery) might get hot and feel uncomfortable.
  • Some people combine alcohol with sauna bathing (typically, a beer or two afterwards instead of water), but I find I get dehydrated enough to want to stick with non-alcoholic drinks. A little something savory can feel good to replenish the salt you’ve just sweated out, though.
  • There is some paraphernalia involved. The two absolutely essential ones are a bucket of water and a ladle, and they are included by default. If desided, you can bring a bottle of water to drink, a sauna whisk (vihta or vasta), a sauna hat, and a bathrobe (to cool off in after the final wash but before changing into fresh clothes). A small cotton or linen towel as a sit-upon (pefletti) can also be a good idea. (Note that some public saunas may require a sit-upon and rent or sell disposable ones to those who don’t bring a personal one.)
Sauna Whisks for Sale
Sauna whisks for sale at a Finnish market square (kauppatori) in 2004
  • There are no time limits or minimum stay to “do sauna right”—you stay as long as you feel like. I know people for whom sauna bathing is an hours-long ritual, whereas I’m a fairly speedy bather myself. (Note, however, that if you’re paying for sauna access, like at hotels and pools, they typically do limit your bathing time.)
  • Sauna bathing can take many forms depending on the composition and mood of the group. It can be silent and meditative, or active and chatty, or anything inbetween. It can be a private affair with each bather in their own thoughts, or part of a stag or hen night. It can be a part of families’ weekend routine, or it can be enjoyed by a solitary business traveler in a hotel in the middle of the week.
  • That said, even the more taciturn Finns can open up in sauna. Because we’re all literally reduced to our bare essentials, sauna is seen as a great equalizer and an easier environment to talk to strange people, especially Intimidating Foreigners (thank you, Arttu, for the wonderfully self-deprecating phrase).
  • And yes, you really are expected to go in completely nude. This is perfectly normal in Finland. In fact, bathing suits that have been used in chlorinated pools may release toxic gases in the heat and are therefore usually prohibited in public saunas.
  • It’s typical for a family to bathe all together, but not necessarily outside the home, nor necessarily after the kids hit puberty. Public saunas may be either segregated or co-ed, or there may be shifts set aside for women and men separately.
  • Note that, as with any place where people appear in a state of undress, there are strict social codes in place. Imagine going to the beach with your family—you wouldn’t want to be stared at, followed, intruded on, touched, or have your physicality commented on. It’s the same while sauna bathing.
  • A note about co-ed saunas specifically: Co-ed bathing tends to skew towards the younger and/or student populations, but it’s not universal. Not all Finns are comfortable with co-ed saunas, and there’s nothing odd about that. It’s perfectly fine to skip a co-ed sauna. Breaches of conduct (lewd comments or gestures), while rare, can happen. Again, think of a beach: it’s not likely that someone misbehaves, but since it is a public setting no-one can guarantee that everyone behaves 100% of the time.
  • You can have a sauna year-round, and we Finns do. (Erik and I can personally testify how lovely it is to have a sauna after hand-shoveling a foot of snow from the driveway!) However, sauna bathing in the nightless night of summer is special, especially at a cottage with added dips into a lake, river, or the sea. Since Finnish natural waters can stay rather cool even in summer, it’s typical to make several visits (sauna, water, sauna, water, etc.) before washing up. And grill some sausages for a salty after-sauna snack.

Finally: It’s not weird to be apprehensive by the thought of a hot room full of naked strangers. However, sauna is a wonderful, relaxing, and cleansing experience, and may just be worth overcoming those doubts. YMMV, naturally. If you’re sauna-curious but extremely shy, a hotel room or an apartment with a private sauna (yes, both are a thing in Finland!) are a possibility.

But don’t take just my word for it. Below are links to non-Finnish sauna bathers’ thoughts. (Note: Some apply specifically to Ropecon, the largest Finnish role-playing con, and therefore to the younger end of the geeky / nerdy circles in Finland.)

Two bonus links: a post from Visit Finland that combines useful info with a delightful lack of marketing-speech: Enjoy Urban Sauna Culture in Helsinki; also, “Sauna Time,” a comic from Scandinavia and the World with a humorous take on the difference between Finnish and Scandinavian sauna bathing.

And a note from Erik: For my fellow non-Finns who haven’t experienced sauna before, you may have your doubts about the whole thing. I certainly did before I tried it. Here’s what I knew about sauna before meeting Eppu and visiting Finland: 1) it’s damp and really, really, really hot; 2) you sweat a lot. Both these things are, of course, true. Now, my previous experiences with damp, hot environments and sweat were not good ones: humid summer days, over-heated pools, gym classes in un-air-conditioned spaces, etc. The thought that someone would voluntarily subject themselves to those kinds of conditions sounded very strange to me.

Here’s what I learned, though: sauna is different. In sauna, the damp heat and sweat feels good. It relaxes your muscles and quiets your mind. It gives you the all-over relaxing warmth of a hot bath, but no part of your body has to stick out in the cold air. You only stay in as long as it feels good: if it starts feeling bad, you just step out and cool down. And as soon as you’re done, you shower away all the sweat. There’s no feeling of clean quite like the clean of being fresh from the sauna.

Of course, your experience may be different. You may try sauna and decide you don’t like it, which is perfectly fine, but don’t be scared to give it a try.

Images: Sauna by johanleijon (CC BY-SA 2.0); Sauna whisks for sale by Eppu Jensen

This post has been edited to add resources.

In Live and Active Cultures we talk about cultures and cultural differences.

Quotes: [People Are] Not Isolated or Sensationalized Exceptions

“[…] I wanted to write about people who were seen as freaks, who had been broken out of the Acceptable Mainstream Mold, because […] those are the more interesting characters to show. But I didn’t want to punish them for it.

“And I didn’t want that punishment to be seen as what was valuable about them. […]

“But it wasn’t until the Devil’s West books that I faced head-on what had been simmering […]. I wanted to show those characters as part of the society that created them, not isolated or sensationalized exceptions. More, I wanted to show them as active parts of that society.”

– Author Laura Anne Gilman

Author Laura Anne Gilman talking about how anger (at sensationalizing attitudes and at one novel in particular) has directed her creative work; specifically, to show charcters outside the accepted American norm not as outsiders but insiders.

Gilman, Laura Anne. “The One Book That Piqued My Creative Fury”. Tor.com.

Serving exactly what it sounds like, the Quotes feature excerpts other people’s thoughts.

Cold

Keira Knightley performing “how not to dress in the snow,” from King Arthur via IMDb
Keira Knightley as “how not to dress in the snow,” from King Arthur via IMDb

It’s cold outside, at least hereabouts where we are, which always sends my thoughts to the depiction of cold weather and the people who have to cope with it in the media I enjoy. The experience of serious cold weather is one that’s hard to convey to someone who hasn’t lived with it, so perhaps it’s no surprise that while some books, movies, and tv shows get it right, others really don’t.

If you want to get it right in your stories, here are a few things to know about the effects of cold and how to deal with them in pre-modern settings:

Exposed skin is bad. Very bad. Especially skin with lots of blood vessels close to the surface like heads, necks, ears, noses, cheeks, hands, and feet. That’s how you lose heat, and if you lose too much heat, you can start losing body parts, too. If you find yourself out in the cold unexpectedly, the first thing you should do is cover up as much skin as you can.

John Snow realizing he knows nothing about dressing for the cold, from Game of Thrones via IMDb
John Snow realizing he knows nothing about dressing for the cold, from Game of Thrones via IMDb

Layers are good. Layering clothing creates air pockets, which is what keeps heat in. Metal provides poor insulation. Leather and cloth are better. Any cloth will do, but wool is particularly good. Fur is excellent, but if you’re wearing fur for warmth (rather than as a fashion statement), you want the fur on the inside where it can trap air more effectively, not the outside catching snow. For body parts that you can’t cover with clothing, such as your face, a layer of hair or grease will help, but not nearly as much as proper clothing.

Frostbite is VERY bad. Frostbite is not “Ah, it’s a little chilly, I think I’ll stick my hands in my pockets to warm them up.” Frostbite is when ice crystals form inside your body and kill your cells. It is treatable if caught in time, but it’s serious. This is how people lose fingers, toes, even limbs to the cold. Less serious than frostbite is frostnip, when the body pulls blood away from exposed skin. Frostnip is treatable just by warming up, but do not rub! Rubbing frostnipped or frostbitten skin can cause damage to tissues made fragile by the cold.

Dangerous cold doesn’t always feel cold. The experience of frostbite and frostnip doesn’t necessarily feel cold. The affected area may actually feel hot or just numb. This is the result of nerve cells shutting down or dying. In extreme cases, some people suffering hypothermia will start taking off their clothes because they feel overheated, even though they are literally dying of cold. Alcohol increases blood flow to the skin and extremities which makes you feel warmer (and can be useful when you’ve come in out of the cold into warmer surroundings), but can be dangerous when you’re still exposed to cold temperatures.

People are mammals. That means, in addition to some other fun features, we make our own heat. That heat comes from the same place the rest of our energy comes from: food. Cold makes you hungry. Eating keeps you warm.

Cold makes you go. Your body responds to cold by pulling blood away from the extremities into the core. Your kidneys respond to all that blood rushing around by going into overdrive trying to purge excess fluid from your system, leading to a full bladder.

These are all things to remember as you write about characters braving the harsh winter weather. I’ll leave the last word, though, to Magnar of Finn:

Post edited for clarity.

History for Writers is a weekly feature which looks at how history can be a fiction writer’s most useful tool. From worldbuilding to dialogue, history helps you write. Check out the introduction to History for Writers here.

Making A Proper 1420

Here’s a look at how we made yesterday’s A Proper 1420.

The menu

  • Boiled chicken dinner
  • Poppy seed-cakes

erikchef1There’s few ways of cooking more traditional than boiling. You can put vegetables and meat all in one big pot and boil until cooked through. Everything comes out piping hot and full of flavor. It’s simple and satisfying.

Dinner12

Our dinner this month is based on an old staple of New England cookery, the boiled dinner of corned beef or ham and root vegetables. I’ve substituted chicken for the meat and used what seemed like suitably Hobbitish vegetables: onions, potatoes, carrots, and cabbage.

We can be certain that Hobbits have chickens, since there’s no end of eggs in Bilbo’s kitchen. (H1) Pippin also complains about Gandalf guarding the palantir “like a hen on an egg.” (3.11) Potatoes, carrots, and onions are all on Sam’s wish list for a good stew (4.4) and the Gaffer scolds his son for dreaming of elves and dragons instead of cabbages and potatoes. (1.1) These ingredients all seem pretty solidly attested.

“Seed-cake” can mean any of a variety of cakes flavored with seeds, but I picked an old poppy seed-cake recipe that sounded like something Bilbo would enjoy. (H1) Poppies have long been cultivated in western Europe and elsewhere for their seeds and oil; they seem like they would be at home in the Shire.

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Dining in Middle Earth: A Proper 1420

“Altogether 1420 in the Shire was a marvellous year. […] In the Southfarthing the vines were laden, and the yield of ‘leaf’ was astonishing; and everywhere there was so much corn that at Harvest every barn was stuffed. The Northfarthing barley was so fine that the beer of 1420 malt was long remembered and became a byword. Indeed a generation later one might hear an old gaffer at an inn, after a good pint of well-earned ale, put down his mug with a sigh: ‘Ah! That was a proper fourteen-twenty, that was!’”

LotR Dinner12

We come back, at last, to the Shire, to end our year of dining in Middle Earth with a humble Hobbit dinner such as Frodo and his friends might have enjoyed after returning home from their adventures. A boiled chicken dinner makes a warm, homey meal for cold winter nights, and of course there’s beer to go with it. For dessert we have seed-cakes, an old favorite of Bilbo’s.

LotR Dinner12 Main

The table setting is sunny and cheerful, decorated with the Hobbits’ favorite colors. An unbleached linen table runner with green and yellow stripes sits over a dark green tablecloth. Green also comes on the napkins and plant pot with an ivy motif. The dinner is served on one large, hefty platter. A cloth-lined bread basket holds the small dessert seed-cakes. Fancy water glasses add another pop of greenish hues to the table.

LotR Dinner12 Dessert

Check out what’s it about in the introduction, or read the how-to!

Images by Eppu Jensen

Geeks eat, too! Second Breakfast is an occasional feature in which we talk about food with geeky connections and maybe make some of our own. Yum!

Making The Return of the King

Here’s a look at how we made yesterday’s The Return of the King.

Dinner11

The menu

  • Saffron seafood soup
  • Roasted pork with olives and dates
  • Sauteed spinach
  • Almond pastries

erikchef1Since we really only see Gondor in a time of war and Tolkien gives us very little detail about what daily life was like after the defeat of Sauron, it takes some imagination to come up with a proper meal for such an occasion. In creating this month’s menu, I had a specific idea in mind: a feast that would represent all the people of Gondor. Aragorn’s coronation meant a new beginning for a kingdom that had been in a long decline. It touched all of Gondor’s people and it made sense that they would all contribute something to the table.

From the fishing folk of Ethir Anduin, we get a seafood soup. This recipe uses a variety of different seafoods combined with carrots and onions. It is, at heart, food for a hardworking family making a living from the sea and small coastal gardens, but the addition of cream and saffron makes it richer, sweeter, and more luxuriant. (5.1)

From the small farmers and herders of the hill country, we have a haunch of roast pork. To reflect the southern climes of Gondor, the pork is stuffed with herbs, olives and dates. This, too, is simple food, but presented in royal style.

From the fields and gardens of Pelennor, we get sauteed spinach, flavored with garlic and ginger. This recipe is inspired by a medieval dish from the middle east which seems appropriate for the Mediterranean-ish setting of Gondor.

Finally, from the sophisticated city-dwellers of Minas Tirith itself, we end with an artful set of almond pastries representing the white tree and seven stars of Gondor.

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Dining in Middle Earth: The Return of the King

“Frodo gave way; and Gandalf, as if he were their esquire, knelt and girt the sword-belts about them, and then rising he circlets of silver upon their heads. And when they were arrayed they went to the great feast; and they sat at the King’s table with Gandalf, and King Eomer of Rohan […]”

LotR Dinner11

This month, we try to imagine a celebratory feast in Minas Tirith for the coronation of Aragorn. The people of Gondor had lived through war and privation, but they would surely have laid on the best they could for their new king and the return of peace. Our feast includes saffron seafood soup, roasted pork with olives and dates, sauteed spinach, and almond pastries for dessert.

LotR Dinner11 Main

Our table setting is based on a contrast of primarily white dishware and the dark tabletop. Most of the color comes from the food. The shapes of the dishware are simple, with no patterns or surface decorations. Silver cutlery, silvery candlesticks, and a white, shimmery table runner introduce a touch of luxury. A pewter cup holds mint sprigs for additional color and flavoring.

LotR Dinner11 Dessert

LotR Dinner11 Drink

Check out what’s it about in the introduction, or read the how-to!

Images by Eppu Jensen

Geeks eat, too! Second Breakfast is an occasional feature in which we talk about food with geeky connections and maybe make some of our own. Yum!

Making Flotsam and Jetsam

Here’s a look at how we made yesterday’s Flotsam and Jetsam.

The menu

  • Roasted ham
  • Sliced apples
  • Toast
  • Honey
  • Wine

erikchef1Merry describes the available food pretty clearly and we have stayed close to it. (3.9) The only substitution we have made is ham for salted pork. The two meats are similar, but salt pork is fattier and closer to (what Americans call) bacon. Ham is meatier and more satisfying for a meal. We added fresh sliced apples to go with the ham, reasoning that if Minas Tirith has apples in storage, Isengard’s storerooms probably had the same. (5.1) Our toast was made with bakery bread a few days old, like the Isengard bread that was “three or four days old.” (3.9)

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Recipes

Roasted ham with apple slices

Our ham was a small portion from a local farm and was not pre-cooked. Roasting times will depend on the size of your ham, so use a thermometer to make sure that the meat reaches a temperature of 160 F / 70 C.

Ingredients

  • Small, uncooked ham
  • 2 firm apples

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 F / 160 C.
  2. Wash and trim the ham.
  3. Lay the ham in a roasting pan with a meat thermometer stuck into the thickest portion.
  4. Roast until the temperature reaches 160 F / 70 C. Small hams may take only an hour; larger hams may require up to three hours.
  5. Core and slice the apples thin. Serve as garnish to thick slices of ham.

Dinner10 Ham Apple

 

Setting

eppucamera1 Unlike Peter Jackson’s movie, Tolkien’s version of the Isengard sequence actually includes a meal shared between the two Hobbits and Aragorn et al. It takes place indoors in a guard-house hewn out of stone. Other than the presence of “a hearth and chimney,” “a long table,” and “dishes, bowls, cups, knives and food of various sorts,” we hear few details. (3.9)

Dinner10 Toast

Finding a location for our photoshoot was a bit of a problem. You may have noticed that after the first four dinners, we’ve moved away from our initial spot; the desk we used was too narrow and too close to the wall for a good variety of setups. Since then I’ve tried several different areas of the house and even outdoors, but haven’t landed on a single place that has everything I want. Anyway. 🙂

We don’t have access to a stone structure that sounds suitably like Saruman’s guardroom. We do, however, have a room with wooden walls and a built-in bench that could stand in for a table: our sauna. We decided it was non-typical enough of an indoor space for our purposes. In the end, I decided to add two old table leaves on top of the built-in bench because I quite liked their worn surface for this purpose.

The setting in the ruins of Isengard sounds quite bare, but not ascetic. I chose therefore not to have a tablecloth, but added a simple unbleached linen napkin. In addition, I selected simple ceramic and wood dishes like the oval plate and the turned wooden tumbler. There’s a plain wooden knife for spreading butter and honey on toast, and an iron eating stick for spearing the ham and apple. On the side, one of our sushi sauce bowls masquerades as a honey dish.

LotR Dinner10

Finally, purely for mood purposes, there is a stack of extra plates in one corner and two candlesticks in the other. I used candle stubs, for Saruman doesn’t strike me as the kind of leader who makes sure their underlings have sufficient supplies handy at all times.

If I were to do this dinner setup again, I don’t think I’d have large changes to make. (Unless I could find a fancy stone room like Tolkien’s text describes.) Perhaps I’d consider adding a butter dish, but that’s about it.

Check out the introduction for more!

Images by Eppu and Erik Jensen

Geeks eat, too! Second Breakfast is an occasional feature in which we talk about food with geeky connections and maybe make some of our own. Yum!