This was my first visit to the Netherlands in the dead of winter. Summer is great, spring is super, but winter is…
Cold. And gray. And wet.
But I wanted to make the most of it anyway, so I convinced my husband and in-laws that we needed to take a walk around town one day. That’s the husband and kidlet above, near the shipping channel running behind my in-law’s house.
Though their small village has less than 5,000 people, it still has plenty of charm, at least to this culture-less American.
One of these homes was for sale. I thought about how fun it would be to buy a home built in 1415 and fix it up. That thought lasted approximately 12 seconds before I remembered 1) it’s in small-town Holland, 2) it would take a ton of cash, 3) there’s a reason my husband left town when he was 17 years old, and 4) its right around the corner from my in-laws.
The small harbor behind the lock for which the town is named was frozen over.
And then I learned something else about Dutchies: remember the stereotypical postcards with ice-skating Dutch people on them? It’s a stereotype for a reason. Ice-skating is a way of life in winter.
It seemed like half the town was out on the ice that afternoon. They start by clearing the snow off the ice in an oval pattern, leaving an oval-shaped patch in the center.
I thought maybe it was just this group of kids happened to clear the snow that way, but no. Every time we were out, we saw the same shape scraped on the canals, rivers and flooded parking lots. It’s either a) because that’s what they all saw on tv growing up (my father-in-law watched speed skating every single day we were there) or b) because they’d rather not clear a lot of heavy snow if they don’t have to. I suppose it’s a combination of both.
Ice-skating is apparently a treasured Dutch tradition. Nearly every town and neighborhood has a skating rink, or something they use as a rink during the winter. We drove by the rink my husband used to frequent as a boy, and he fondly recalled angst-y junior high days when you skated around the rink, trying to impress the girls. Or in his case, jumped the rink edge to head out into the frozen swamp, where he could skate for miles, no girls included.
On the Sunday after Christmas (kirst! See, my Dutch is improving!), we passed a summertime recreation spot on the country road near his brother’s house. The road’s shoulders were packed with parked cars. I craned my neck to see what the fuss was about. It was ice skating, of course. Those Dutchies were out on the lake, skating their hearts out in the afternoon sun.
The kids in my husband’s hometown didn’t mess around. They had their oval cleared in no time. Then it was time to skate.
Look, I’m just going to tell you, since you aren’t Dutch and don’t know: you can only skate one direction around the skating oval.
And you should probably watch out while you are taking photos of the skaters; they go pretty fast. And also, since you don’t speak Dutch, you aren’t going to know what people are yelling at you as you crouch gingerly on the ice, focusing your camera and trying not to wet your jeans. Clearly, none of this is autobiographical.
Luckily for houseboat dwellers, they have a new back yard for the winter! And a front row seat for the ice-skating action.
His town is famous for it’s tugboats. Two years ago in April, we watched a tugboat… parade? Is that what you call it when a bunch of tug boats assemble at the harbor and then rumble around the canals in a long line behind each other?
This little tug looked like he had been out of commission for a while.
And eventually THIS little guy decided he was cold, so we went home.