ICE CASTLES

When I was young and living in England, I would have to walk the length of the main street to reach the school. I remember two things about those early morning walks:  the fog and the cold. The fog was sometimes so thick that I literally could not see my feet as I walked. And in winter, I was looking out for Jack Frost. I was told to keep my eye out for him, as he arrived during the night. I have no idea what I was looking for, but there were clues to his arrival. It was very cold and there was an icy frost everywhere. If you have been watching the news you have heard about the horrible winter conditions all over Europe. Jack Frost has made a very big and dangerous appearance.

This week the Netherlands is having its first blast of cold weather, but it is nothing like what some countries are dealing with. Winters are not so bad here, with very little snow and the temperature does not get too low. Compared to living in Massachusetts, the weather here is almost balmy at times. There, the cold would come from Canada or from the mid-west. But here, the freeze is coming from Siberia. That is a hard thing to adjust to. When I feel the cold and wind I now think of Siberia—very strange.

So how cold is cold? Last night the temperature was -11 Celsius (about 12 degrees) and today it will be between -4 to -7 (about 14-19 degrees). This is big news here. Naturally, the wind chill factor makes us believe we ARE in Siberia. I think that Americans, who know so little about Dutch life, think that it is so cold here that people are ice skating to work and school each day. That is simply not the case. If this weather forecast is accurate, people will be able to skate by the weekend and for some, it will be the first time in a long time, that they have been able to skate outdoors.

The buzz around town right now is all about the waterways freezing and getting the skates sharpened. Ice skating began here about a thousand years ago. By the 1600’s, the Dutch were speed skating from town to town—it was a great way to get around as there were so many waterways. And it was a great source of fun for all ages.

There are no mountains or hills in the Netherlands. When I say this country is flat, it is beyond flat. Here are the “highs”:  climbing the Domtoren, inhaling “smoke” and driving over a speed bump. It makes sense that there is no skiing here, so the Dutch have to leave the country to ski, and they do. There are plenty of countries within driving distance that have great skiing. The big winter sport here is ice skating and the Dutch take it very seriously. They say that children learn to walk and skate at around the same time.

This week we had our first snow of winter, it looks like a tin of baby powder exploded. It is just a dusting, but it is an event here. Because there is so little snow there are not too many snow plows. Each city has some that take care of the main roads, but all other streets are not touched at all. Neither are the sidewalks. It is rare to see anyone with a snow shovel, even if there were a few inches of snow. People just walk or ride over the snow or ice. But this week, people are focused on how low the temperatures will drop. There is a saying here, “We willen ijs vrij” and that means “we want ice time”. In some parts of the country, people are already skating. But here in Utrecht, the ice time may have to wait awhile.

Me? I will be warm and cozy with a cup of cocoa, enjoying the view. No one has ever mistaken me for Dorothy Hamill and they never will. And I know that I have just dated myself with the Hamill reference, but I don’t care…it is what it is.

Here is a painting that we saw a few weeks ago at the Mauritshuis Museum in The Hague. It is called WINTER SCENE by Hendrick Avercamp and in the middle of the painting (left of the woman in the red dress) is the bare bottom of a woman bending over. At this time, people did not wear underwear, even when it was very cold. When we left the museum, I asked the children what was their favorite painting, and they both answered at the same time “the naked butt painting”. Mr. Avercamp would be so proud.

Recommended for your listening pleasure:  Joni Mitchell singing River.

Advertisements
Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Comments

  • Aledys Ver  On February 3, 2012 at 8:39 pm

    You might probably have to go out into the inner part of the country, or the north to see the real winter in the NL. In the west, the proximity of the sea makes the temperatures always milder.
    I’ve been here now for 9 years and I’ve seen a lot of ice and quite a lot of snow. Last winter it actually started snowing as early as November and by the time I came back from Argentina, everything was white with snow, and then white for weeks with ice, so there was lots of ice fun, though never enough to run the Elfstedentocht again. I’ve heard that winters used to be a lot colder and the North Sea, the Ijsselmeer used to freeze and I’ve seen quite impressive photographs of the chunks of ice caught in mid-air, frozen.
    Global warming in action, I guess…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: