Winter is coming – Shopping, Packing and Visa

So far, this is what we had done.

Hailing from a mostly tropical country (India), living in the most mild weathered city of the said country (Bangalore), we had just planned and booked a holiday In January (the peak of winter) to one of the coldest countries in all of Europe. We were going to travel south to north going from cold to frozen to holy-shit-i-cant-feel-my-body-is-that-a-frostbite phase of our journey. Wow! We were so not prepared!

After all the bookings were done, we contemplated where in the city could we possibly get clothes and gear which will keep us alive through this vacation. Considering we live in south India, the warmest part of the country, we knew we could not rely on normal shopping malls. So we headed to the sports mall, Decathlon.

Shopping

We were not disappointed and over the course of next few weeks and 4 trips to the -5ºC section of Decathlon (we skipped over the -20ºC section since it was a little outside our budget and because we were feeling adventurous) we felt somewhat prepared. We were also soothed by the fact that Tiina would provide us show suits and snow boots to survive in Utsjoki. I read a ton of blogs on pointers to pack for extreme winter. Here are a few:

  • Face moisturising cream – It should not be water based but cream based. Boro plus works quite well, so does ponds cold cream.
  • Body lotion – Dove and Nivea were my choice but i did end up buying a local one from there, because Indian brands refused to do the job.
  • Lip guard – must have if you want to avoid chapped lips. Korres shea butter worked well for us.
  • Gloves – two layers. You need woollen ones inside and waterproof / snow gloves outside. Specially if you want to operate a camera, you need an inner layer. Note: Mittens as outer layers work better than gloves.
  • Socks – at least 2, sometimes 3 layers. All wool. I made the mistake of wearing cotton socks, they got all sweaty and cold and froze my feet. Nothing better than wool socks.
  • Hand warmers (for both hands and toes) –  Don’t buy toe warmers, they run out way too fast. We put hand warmers between woollen gloves and mittens and also inside the toe part of our snow shoes and they were the best. (Tip: You wont find them in India. Buy them from a supermarket once you reach there instead of getting them delivered here and paying the premium on shipping). One set works for about 4-6 hours.
  • Waterproof Hiking / Snow Shoes – 2 sizes bigger. Need big shoes for all those layers of socks to fit it and still have extra layer for insulation. Tight shoes == no insulation. Also need space to put in the warmers.
  • 3-5 layers top and bottom – Wear and carry layers instead of heavy jackets. When you are walking or hiking, you get warm and its easy to take off one or two layers and put them back on. Also, more layers, more insulation. Outer layers should be snow proof / waterproof.
  • Jacket with hoodies – outermost jacket should have hoodies, they prevent cold air from getting in through the neck.
  • Balaclava / Monkey Cap / Ski cap – to keep your nose covered. See if you can find one with gap on the mouth / under the nose to breathe. In cold dry weather, you breathe out water vapour and it freezes on your nose and mouth otherwise.
  • Innermost thermal layer – Merino wool is best. sheep wool and 100% polyester work well too.
  • Travel bags – make sure you have waterproof bags that you can carry on your back as well as stroll. Its hard to stroll in deep snow and you wont get help over there.
Frozen breath around the nose making the cap wet
Frozen breath around the nose making the cap wet

Visa

Once we had made all the bookings, we got all the documents together for the Visa. This was not my first time getting a Schengen Visa but since the last time was more than 3 years ago, they wanted all the documents we had and then some, to process our application.

No document which proves your identity, relationship with your fellow traveller(s), financial status, housing status or any other status, should be left out. Nothing is unimportant. Better print them out and take from home in advance instead of paying the ridiculously high price getting them printed at the visa office. Thats just a waste of money, which we had to endure. The visa checklist on the website is not even close to complete.

Here are some of the things we forgot to take because they were not mentioned anywhere on the websites and blogs:

  • Cover letter – God knows why, but they want a cover letter detailing your itinerary and purpose of visit and request for a visa
  • Rent agreement for current apartment
  • Income tax statements (Form 16s) for last 3 years
  • Bank statements for the past 3 months for each traveller
  • Marriage certificate / relationship document if travelling with relatives (not compulsory, but helpful to make sure they don’t deny one visa)
  • Special photo – if you took a photo for some other purpose recently, you should still go to a studio which specialises in visa photos and double check. On the spot photo is available but expensive and time taking
  • Photocopies of all existing visas on your passport as well as front and back
  • Needless to say all bookings, tickets and other travel documents
  • Visa fees in cash

This list is by no means exhaustive. You should still go and check the Finnish embassy website. But it does contain gotcha documents that we forgot to take. Luckily we keep all our documents on cloud, so we could still get printouts from their internet cafe. It only cost us an arm and a leg.

Oh and don’t forget to take your passport 😀 (Believe it or not, people forget that too!).

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