Winters in Canada can be harsh, and these past few weeks in Montreal have been no exception. Back in January 2011 in Ottawa, I thought I’d never been so cold. Little did I know that I would experience even colder weather. With a great sense of timing, we chose to spend New Year’s in Montreal during record low temps!
Winters back home in Buenos Aires are mild, and so are in Texas – although we may get the odd snowstorm. Therefore, I’m not physically prepared to withstand subzero temperatures for long. The longest I managed to be outside without experiencing pain was 20 minutes. My husband and I were joined by friends who insisted on walking everywhere. Not this girl. I took the subway and buses instead of freezing my you-know-what off. Despite my precautions, I broke down in tears in the middle of a store. I was in so much physical pain. I could not this anymore!
So, these tips are the result of my own experience, the things I did to try and survive the cold. I hope readers will find them useful.
- First, try to visit Canada in the spring or summer. If it can’t be helped, know that the snow and cold will limit what you can see and do. You may have to make a few pitstops to thaw, which means hot infusions and treats at Tim Horton’s or Second Cup!
- Wear many layers, like an onion. Start with thermal underwear and go from there. A long parka with a hood will protect you from the biting wind from the St-Laurent river. You will take off a few layers when indoors. That and wrapping myself up warm before going out felt like a full-time job!
- Get hold of hand warmers. I kept them in my pockets at first. After a while, even ski gloves didn’t work, so I started to hold the hand warmers directly in my hands. I sometimes used them to warm my face up too. It felt deliciously warm! I also tried toe warmers, but unfortunately, they didn’t work for me.
- Wearing the right kind of boots is essential. They must be waterproof and have some kind of lining. I brought two pairs, but neither was warm enough. My feet were so cold that they hurt, even with two pairs of wool socks. I ended up buying a pair of Sorel boots, which is the best brand together with Pajar and Uggs. Bear in mind that the salt from the street stains your boots.
- Speaking of streets, be mindful of where you step and watch out for patches of ice. Walk slowly and carefully, like the locals do, to avoid slipping and breaking a bone.
- I never managed to be able to spend more than 20 minutes outside before being miserably and in physical pain.
- Even your snot freezes. This is no figure of speech, the mucose membrane in your nose does freeze. It’s a strange sensation. If you have facial hair, be warned that your breath will freeze and form ice crystals on your mustache. Cover mouth and nose with a scarf.
- I was told, too late to do anything about it, that mittens are better than gloves at keeping your fingers warm. I wore ski gloves, wool gloves, and both kinds together. The best solution was to carry the hand warmers in my gloved hands.
- Take advantage of the RESO, the underground “city,” as much as you can. It can get crowded at times, but when in Rome and all that.
- Take a good quality face cream. The cold and wind can irritate your skin, as well as the dry heat from the central heating. Nivea Cream, the one that comes in a blue tin, is a good choice.
Readers who grew up in cold climates may read this and smile indulgently, and that’s totally fine. I’ll smile in the summer! Seriously, I hope these tips help someone considering visiting the True North in the dead of winter.
Share your own tips below in the comments.
Hi, I’m Ana. I’m originally from Argentina but I’m currently living in Dallas (USA) with my British husband. I’d like to share my experiences as an expat and as a traveller.