What the travel guides don’t tell you – walking in winter

Travel guides sure are helpful and informative. They tell you where to go, where to eat, where to shop, and very importantly, how to take public transport to your destinations. But you shouldn’t forget, that the most rudimentary form of transport, is by foot.

You must be thinking – why is walking such a big issue? Walking in normal circumstances doesn’t warrant a whole blog entry, but walking in the outdoors during winter in Ukraine is not a small matter.

After spending a month in winter in Ukraine, I am certain that when walking in the outdoors, unless you pay special attention to balancing and stepping on the correct surfaces, it is not difficult to fall down.

The importance of boots

One of the first things I recommend you to do soon after reaching Ukraine is to purchase a pair of snow boots. If you come from a tropical country like me, it is not advisable to purchase snow boots before arrival, because demand for them is low, and it is likely that only the high-range boots are imported. Snow boots in Ukraine are not expensive, especially if  you buy them in smaller cities. I paid 400 UAH (about 50 USD) for a decent pair in the market in Ternopil. They are important because they are waterproof and usually cover at least a few inches above the ankle, so you can tuck your jeans into your boots. The bottom of the shoe allows better grip on the ground than normal sportshoes. Also, they are thicker and often contain a layer of fur in the interior, so it protects your feet from the cold as well.

There are many different kind of floor surfaces that you might encounter in the outdoors in urban areas:

1. dry pavements or roads

Such surfaces are rather rare in winter, but you do not need to pay too much attention to keeping your balance.

2. dry pavements with snowflakes

Such pavements are slightly slippery, and often do not appear shiny, but rather, with many specks of white snow on the surface.

3.  pavements fully covered with a thin layer of snow

Walking on these surfaces takes a bit more effort, and it feels like walking on sand. However, it is actually easy to maintain your balance on such a surface.

4. piles of snow

Piles of snow can be deceiving. They are often found on roadsides. Very often, they consist either fully of accumulated snow, or of huge chunks of ice with a layer of snow. If it’s cold (probably less than -8*C), the snow is usually softer, but the warmer it is, the harder the snow, from my experience. Be wary of sinking your entire feet (up to knee level) into soft snow.

5. ice-covered pavements

This is definitely the worst surface to walk on. Try to avoid these as far as possible – they are shiny and you should not have any problems identifying them. These surfaces are extremely slippery. They are formed mainly in places where the temperature fluctuates above and below zero (hence it might be less common in the extremely cold places in the world, such as Ulan Bator, Mongolia or Fairbanks, Alaska, where the temperature always remains below zero throughout the winter. When the temperatures are below zero, snow falls and accumulates. However, during the days with temperatures above zero, the snow melts into water (which cause entire pavements to be flooded as well – another surface to avoid). As the temperatures decrease below zero, this accumulated water freezes into ice (not snow), and forms a strong layer on the ground surface.

This might seem to be a trivial matter, but one needs to experience winter in temperate countries in order to understand that walking is not that easy.

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