A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
The thaw has arrived. The snow is gone. Small greying lumps of ice sit crushed in the gutters, tricking inattentive cyclists and sending them skidding sideways into deep, oily, muddy puddles. Instead of huddling by radiators inside the law faculty, defrosting, I’m now having to trek to the bathrooms, to squeeze the water out of my cycling shoes, hat, scarf and gloves. If I’m lucky the spray and rain wont have soaked my shoes. If I’m unlucky, it’s cold feet for the rest of the day. We’re back to British-style winter, it seems…
The point here is that whilst the ice and snow was, at times, a massive inconvenience – imagine the fast train to Schiphol taking over an hour when you’ve a flight to catch – at least it was something different, and, really, quite good fun when courage to venture out into the cold can be mustered! Going to school was a bit of an adventure, and watching people use skates on the frozen canals as a more direct means of transport than even bikes was pretty awesome. I’ve a large shipping canal just by my house, and to see this usually busy transit channel covered in wannabe Torvills and Deans or playing host to a fierce flood-lit ice-hockey battle between two groups of lads from either side of the water was to witness something that even my usually vivid imagination hadn’t foreseen. Additionally, it’s worth pointing out that Leiden is probably at its most beautiful in the snow, when the skies clear and the sun glitters back off the ice and the dusting of powdery snow that has covered everything!
Something else that struck me as particularly impressive about the freeze and the Dutch response was the reaction of the local authorities. Now when I lived in Oxford and it snowed, even the main roads remained ice-bound for days, cycling was impossible and come the thaw, there were more potholes than the local Council knew what to do with. Here, the morning after the blizzard, as the deep freeze set in still harder, I woke up super-early to take the bus into class through what I imagined to be banks of drifted snow and pools of lethal black ice. Instead, once I walked to the main road, I saw immaculately swept cycle paths, clear junctions and, remarkably, a safe way to cycling into town. As I hurried back to grab my bike, I realised this wasn’t a fluke – others were obviously more prepared, not least the squadron of schoolkids who flew past me at a rate of knots.
We’re forecast a week of warmth, then there’s talk once more of the icy northerly winds descending from the Arctic to turn Holland into a wintery wonderland again. And while this time I was underprepared, if we see the crystals start to form again on the still surface of the canals, and our breath turns to shards of ice in front of our faces, I’m sure I wont be the only previously-bewildered foreign student who suddenly considers himself a veteran of Dutch winters and decides, albeit belatedly, to finally get his skates on!