Around the World

Beating the Blah

February 2007: a gang of five discovers the joys of an empty ice bar in Montreal at -20 F.

It’s the beginning of February. If you live in the northern hemisphere, this means it’s the middle of winter. The farther north you go, the colder and darker it gets, and the more the residents have that hopeless look in their eyes that indicates a disbelief in the possibility of summer. Your winter coat is dirty, your snow boots smell, and you don’t remember what it’s like to wear pants without long underwear underneath. Right now, winter is never-ending, and hibernation and developing a World of Warcraft addiction seem like the only reasonable things to do. Of course, even they will get old…and if your travel plans aren’t until the summer, you’re stuck miserable and bored in your home. Blah.

February 2007: a gang of five discovers the joys of an empty ice bar in Montreal at -20 F.

Unfortunately, since you’re reading this article, this means I’m going to tell you to put on your grown-up pants and get over it. There’s a certain amount of hipocrisy in that statement, because I do like hibernating and (I admit it) I’ve got my fair share of Warcraft issues. The trick is to know that being miserable in February (and, for that matter, during all the dark cold months) means you miss out on some pretty spectacular adventures. Here are some suggestions.

If you live in an urban area, check out White Night festivities. While many northern cities such as St. Petersburg hold theirs in the summer, other cities have become famous for their all-night shindigs in the dead of winter. Le Festival Montreal en Lumière, for example, makes February weekend nights exciting with art exhibits, special museum tours, concerts, and food treats from dusk until dawn. The last Nuit Blanche I attended in Montreal, we wound up ice skating on the St. Lawrence River until 6 AM- in spite of the fact that it was -20 Fahrenheit! These events tend to have many options that are kid-friendly, so parents looking for a unique night out with their children definitely have options. If you’ve got a little extra money, and your taste for adventure isn’t satisfied by wandering in the cold, how about staying in it overnight? A few cities offer hotels made of ice– and if you’re in Quebec, you’ll even sleep on an ice bed.

During the day, a lot of businesses offer reduced prices to encourage people to get out of the house (and spend their money). Museums with seasonal exhibits sometimes offer special winter prices and indoor activities, such as the Chicago Botanic Garden’s bonsai exhibit or the Matthaei Botanical Gardens Conservatory’s Wild Wonderful Winter exhibit in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Hotels and spas all across the hemisphere also offer winter bargains, and if you live in Europe, some of these hotels and spas are housed in castles that ordinarily cost a lot of money to stay in. If you’re anywhere near Harbin, China, check out their world-famous Ice and Snow Festival, which features sculptures, sports, and even snow economy activities for both daytime and nighttime fun. Of course, other, more mundane options always include horse-drawn sleigh rides, hot chocolate in a cozy cafe, and shopping midwinter sales.

If you’re not in an urban area, your options might be a little more do-it-yourself. Coming from New Hampshire, I can sympathize with the belief that all the fun winter activities are in cities, especially once the novelty of snow wears off. You can only shovel 12+ inches so many times before you grow to loathe the once-beautiful flakes that seem to come constantly from the sky. But if you’re in a rural area, you have one advantage that city dwellers don’t: you don’t have to risk driving along treacherous roads to get to the outdoor sports areas. Strap on a pair of snowshoes and go a-wandering wherever your heart desires. Don’t own any? Many stores and outfitters rent them for just a few dollars a day. If you’re willing and able to support a bigger budget, try skiing. Downhill skiing, if you’re so inclined, is accessible to anyone with good upper-body strength and a sense of balance. If you prefer to remain more level, or there aren’t mountains nearby, give yourself a workout with cross-country skiing and see how far you can go before it starts to get dark. Ice skating, sledding, and snowball fights are more things to add to the “easy to find” list of winter fun.

As with city dwellers, rural dwellers also have fun options for those with more extreme tastes. One of my personal favourite ideas- something I fantasize about doing, but have yet to try- is winter camping. As with camping at any other time of year, it can be done in an RV, in a cabin, in a shelter, or in a tent, and comes with the side bonus of having fewer crowds to deal with. If you plan on tenting or sheltering, make sure to take a look at some guides from experienced winter campers so you don’t wind up with frostbite! If you’re planning to camp in a cabin, grab some firewood and friends before heading out, and bring some games (my suggestion would be Dungeons and Dragons, but I’m a nerd) to keep yourselves entertained. It’s the cold-weather, grown-up version of middle-school sleepovers!

So there you have it: a (short, non-comprehensive) list of ideas to help you keep February blah-free. Feel free to add any other ideas you might have that get you out of the house and enjoying the world around you!

Erica Laue
Erica first set foot on a plane when she was ten months old. 28 years, 18 countries, and four continents later, the travel bug’s still strong in her veins, and she's become increasingly engaged with issues of power, gender, sex, equality, and access around the world.

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