How to stop your South African bones from freezing when visiting England for Christmas

2018-11-04 06:30 - Gabi Zietsman
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I was bussing back from visiting some friends in Market Harborough to my boyfriend's sister in Milton Keynes. By this point I had gotten used to everything having heating indoors, and didn't realise there wasn't any on the bus.

As I stepped off for a short 10-minute walk to the sweet embrace of warmth, the Arctic wind that smashed into me suddenly amplified my cold body, screaming for the African sun.

By the time I made it indoors, I was shivering like a Chihuahua with no body temperature. I was coddled onto the couch and wrapped in a million blankets, wondering why anyone comes to England over Christmas.

TRAVEL PLANNING: Save 12% on your next break to London -  sale ends 4 November 

England was never extremely high on my list of top travel destinations, mostly because of the weather, but I ended up in the kingdom of Queen Elizabeth II on a trip with my boyfriend's family. I saw my first English sun only on the fourth day of my holiday, and I was so excited to wake up to a sunrise that I just sat staring at it for a good 20 minutes. 

The weather and early darkness might seem like good reasons not to visit England over the December and January period, but what it lacks in sunshine it makes up for in an extravagance of Christmas-ness that you won't ever find in South Africa.

In London the streets are lined with lights, trees and the most stunning decorations. Shops look like they've been taken over by The Big Red Man himself. Hyde Park becomes a land of thrill with its annual Winter Wonderland with rides that will take you high enough to see almost the whole of London before crashing back down to earth; Kew Gardens sets up a light show that will make your jaw drop and if you stay over New Years, the fireworks display by the London Eye is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Even the world of Harry Potter, one of England's biggest cultural exports, dresses up for the holidays at the Warner Bros. Studios by dressing up the film series' Great Hall in their witchy Christmas decorations, bringing out the Yule Ball props and dousing the Hogwarts model replica in snow. Kids (and grown-up kids) also get the chance to see how movie snow was made and how they make invisible footprints appear in Diagon Alley.

If you want a world of Christmas that's less shirtless tanning on the beach and more snuggling up to coco and a crackling fire, here's a few tips for surviving the cold weather when you're body is more prepped for a hot December.

WATCH: Explore the heart of England's Cotswolds region

A White Christmas is actually rare in England

Despite what you see in the movies, snow is pretty unpredictable in England  - especially the southern parts - and having it fall over London in a blanket of white over Christmas is not an every year occurrence.

It only snowed once during my entire two week holiday, and that snow melts pretty fast, although outside the city it may be a bit slower. Your more likely to get ice on the roads than proper snow, so always check socials for traffic reports if you're travelling by road.

The cities are going to be more pleasant than the countryside

At one point we left London and its surrounding cities and travelled into the countryside, stopping over in the grandness of Bath and finally visiting family friends on a typical English farm. Rural England is designed to be enjoyed in their summer months, not winter, and you're going to need some high-rise Wellies to do any walking through the woods.

In the cities, however, it's not too bad and if it starts raining there's always somewhere to duck into - which can lead to finding some very interesting spots you might have otherwise just walked by. One downpour we hid underneath the Marble Arch by Hyde Park and had a good long look at its intricate designs that I might have just walked past unnoticed.

SEE: Set the scene: Real-life places from favourite films to visit on your next break

Layering going to be the only way to make your body stay sane

In South Africa, we kind of just deal with whatever the weather is outside. Indoor heating is a non-existent term to us, but in England it's like the Brits' lifeline. You will not go into a place without heating, and for some reason they want it to feel like the Sahara Desert inside when it feels like the Antarctic outside. 

The only way to deal with it is to layer, layer, layer. Scarves, thin jerseys under thick jackets, gloves and beanies. Things that will keep you warm but that you can easily take off indoors without undressing in front of everyone. Antiperspirant deodorant will also be a necessity to pack, because it's like an instant steam room when stepping into a restaurant.

Thick shoes, thick socks, thick pants

My mother lent me her snow boots that she wore in Switzerland (they are too hot for SA) and every day I sent up a little prayer in thanks. Especially if you're walking everywhere, buy or borrow decent boots that are warm and fuzzy on the inside and has a heel for the multitude of puddles you will have to manoeuvre around. 

You can also pad your thinner boots by buying extra thick socks, which is what I did on the sunny days with sneakers. But the main area where I failed in my wardrobe was my pants. I figured jeans would be fine, but while they might keep out wind, they don't keep out the chill. At one point it felt like my jeans were actually frozen, and a few days I opted to wear stockings underneath. The best plan of action here is thick leggings or long johns.

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The darkness is going to be tough

Coming from the long days of the South African summer to the ridiculously short days of an English winter is going to get to you. By four it already feels like midnight and it's going to mess up your sleeping cycle with its super late sunrises. 

It's also almost permanently overcast, so even during the day the sun is hiding, which can really affect your mood. There isn't much you can do about this, but when it does look like sunny weather is afoot, opt for an outdoor activity just so that you can recharge your drained South African cells, even if you can barely feel the heat of the sun.

Pack light pyjamas

Again, the Brits want to pretend that they are somewhere tropical when it comes to internal heating, and when you're staying in a hotel or someone's home and you don't know how the heating works, you're gonna struggle sleeping. 

Seeing as it's England, I only packed warm pyjamas, but soon abandoned them for just a shirt because I felt like I was in the middle of the Northern Cape. Pack a combination of both types of pyjamas - in the countryside they were a little less insane with heating - so you are prepared for a perfect English sleep.

SEE: Save 12% on your next break to London as BA launches new Durban direct flight route

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