I was born and raised in Portland, OR. so I’m pretty accustomed to the madness that ensues whenever a relatively warm region gets slammed with serious winter weather. Back in December of 2008, the city was hit by a storm that dropped 10-inches of snow. Portland was so ill-equipped to deal with the situation that, for all intents and purposes, the entire metropolitan area shut down for several days afterward. Also: you might be familiar with this video, which was shot on a street about ten minutes from my old place. In short, “my people” and I don’t do well on snow and ice.
Much like the folks in my hometown, the Dutch are just as prone to curl-up like potato bugs at the sight of a few snowflakes, at least when it comes to motorized vehicles. We’re in the middle of a cold snap over here that began last week. When snow started falling on Friday the 3rd, the entire rail grid descended into chaos, as it always does whenever this happens. Thousands were stranded at train stations and airports around the Netherlands and the evening commute was an absolute nightmare. While up in Amsterdam that afternoon, I witnessed a couple spend twenty frantic minutes trying to get their car out of a parking spot on a street with a slight incline.
That said, provided they don’t have to drive or operate a major transportation network, the Dutch thrive in the snow. The minute the temperatures approached freezing, everyone started gabbing about the Elfstedentocht, a legendary, 200 KM ice-skating event that only takes place every fifteen years or so. Everywhere I went, that’s all anyone was talking about. “Will it happen this year? When will it happen? You’re going to take the day off for it, right? Yeah, of course I’m staying home.” Sadly, the event didn’t come together due to a few weak spots along the route but that didn’t stop hundreds from staging their own improvised version yesterday.
While people in Portland either sit at home or head out on foot during snowy weather, the Dutch are more resilient. They still use their bikes, if you can believe that. Riding a bike under normal conditions, giving the slick cobblestones, oblivious pedestrians and other cyclists, can be an insane experience as it is. They also all seem to own ice skates and flock to the nearest frozen canal the minute someone among them is brave enough to step out onto it. As we speak, the canal in our neighborhood is lined with families and couples skating up and down.
Annie’s, a local cafe here in Leiden, decided to open an “ice terrace” on Wednesday. A photo of patrons kicking back with beers on the frozen canal out front made the national news and was “shared” on Facebook over 40,000 times. For whatever reason, they moved their tables off the ice on Thursday, but Einstein’s, a nearby cafe, picked up the frosty torch yesterday. I rushed over there after work to drink a steamy glass of Glühwein on the ice. I ran in, ordered but, by the time I got back outside, a bartender was pulling up the chairs. She pointed down at the canal under the tables. “The water’s already melting. Not safe. Sorry.”
So, it’s a virtual winter wonderland over here but weather forecasters are predicting a thaw for the weekend. I never managed to go skating because it’s impossible to rent skates anywhere in this country. As Chad in Amsterdam explained a few days ago….
“If conditions allow for ice skating, everyone Dutch is doing so. The impressive part is that there isn’t even a place to rent skates in town. Only a poser would rent skates. Proper Dutchmen own skates. The frozen-over canals in Amsterdam attract Dutch skaters just as the Red Light District attracts weekenders. It’s quite a sight to behold a creature in its natural habitat…”