Thursday, February 16, 2012

Leiden in the snow

Looking out my office window
It's thawing now, but for awhile there much of Europe was a winter wonderland, our corner of the Netherlands most certainly included. We had at least a week below zero, and little by little the canals began to freeze. It started at first with areas sheltered from the wind, then the icy bits slowly crept towards each other, and finally made their way under the bridges, which insulate the water below and keep it relatively warm.

Snowfall was pretty light at first, but still lovely, especially as we'd started to give up hope that we'd ever get to see Leiden under a blanket.

While the snowfall was wonderful for us, many Dutch people were disappointed by the snow, as it posed a potential barrier to Elfstedentocht, an ice skating race through the Eleven Cities of Friesland. The race can only run when it freezes for long enough that the canal ice reaches 15 cm throughout the entire 200 km course, at which point thousands of would-be national heroes make their way to Friesland to compete in this rare event. As the "Eleven Cities Tour" only takes place once ever 10 years or so, the entire country went wild with speculation about whether the race would occur, and politicians curried favor by publicly proclaiming that race day should become a spontaneous national holiday. Aside from the excitement generated by its inherent unpredictability, the race has an aura of myth owing in strong part to the Hell of 1963, when only 69 out of 10,000 contestants completed the race, with the winner clocking in at just under 11 hours! Keep in mind that at this time, people still tried to stay warm by stuffing newspaper in their clothes as insulation. (And yes, I'm of course getting all my facts from Wikipedia)

It's not obvious from the pictures here, but Nisha was fearless on the ice,
whereas I just walked out a few feet.
Sadly, that beautiful snow literally did blanket the canals, insulating the water below against the freezing air. While some people went out for an unofficial Elfstedentocht, the pictures above are as close as we came to any canal skating.

We may have missed out on the drama of the big race, but the entire experience was new to us - the mysterious whorls in the forming ice, kids learning to skate by pushing chairs around in front of their houses, the realization that EVERY Dutch family has a sled and skates tucked hopefully away, just in case.

Aside from going out to snap a few pictures, I guess it's pretty obvious how we enjoyed our snow days...

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