The snow is quickly melting away again after eight days of exceptional winter weather for the Netherlands. There hadn’t been this much snow and ice for over a decade. It snowed for almost 48 hours first and then the canals and lakes started to freeze over. At the end of the week the ice was strong enough to carry the weight of skaters and the Dutch went crazy over it. Did this mean they put away their bicycles? Not really!
The snow front arrived on Saturday night on the 6th of February, right at the time the Corona curfew started. This meant the snow was almost untouched when that curfew ended Saturday morning at 4:30, just as I was finishing last week’s video. I love snow, so I went for a morning walk. It was magnificent! But even at that hour the city had already sent out snow clearing teams. Their hard work had little to no effect at first because the snow kept falling (with short breaks) until Monday morning. Because the temperatures dropped considerably (up to negative 16 Celsius at some locations) and didn’t get over the freezing point until Sunday 14 February, the snow stayed for well over a week and the entire country was covered in a beautiful snow deck.
Snow clearing teams spread salt over the roadways, but that system relies on car traffic to spread that salt further for it to really work. Due to Corona there was almost no traffic during the nightly curfew, the lockdown and most people working from home. All non-essential shops, the bars, restaurants, theatres, cinemas and museums are still closed in the Netherlands. It led to quite a few disturbances on the road and also in the train services.
The machinery that clears the cycleways works differently. Bicycle tyres do not spread the salt as car tyres do, so these snow clearing vehicles have rotating brushes. These brushes clear the snow first and then fewer salt is necessary to melt the residue. This was now extra advantageous, it meant the cycleways in ʼs-Hertogenbosch were often cleaner than the roadways. It is a known fact that infrastructure makes people cycle on in the winter. It is not the cold stopping them. To stay warm I reused the winter outfit I had bought for my trip to Finland last year, to the Winter Cycling congress there. Incidentally this year’s Winter Cycling Congress took place last week in an online version.
By Tuesday 9 February the snow had finally stopped falling and the essential routes were all quickly cleaned. It made cycling very much possible at most locations. Only in the smaller streets you had to be very careful. Cars made the snow messy: loose and partly melted with the salt they dragged to these streets from elsewhere. I learned the hard way that this makes cycling tricky, twice… And I was lucky there were no consequences in either of these falls. Unfortunately, not everybody is that lucky! In ʼs-Hertogenbosch the city clears some essential walking routes, such as from the station to the shopping centre. Most Dutch cities don’t do that. In the past it was customary that residents had to clear the public foot paths right in front of their property. These regulations were abolished decades ago, but that also meant most people stopped doing that and now the sidewalks simply stay untouched. After all the hard work of all these snow clearing teams the situation could be very different from street to street and from town to town, but people did cycle on. The Cyclists’ Union investigated how the paths were in a number of other towns and cities and it is indeed a mixed bag, ranging from unacceptable to very good, or improved after complaints. It is interesting to see that the current and former best cycling municipalities Veenendaal and Houten do a great job (and ʼs-Hertogenbosch is also a former winner after all).
When the sun started to shine later in the week. Cities and towns began to resemble paintings from 17th century masters. It was very enjoyable to be out and about. At the end of the week it became even prettier when the canals had frozen over. By Thursday the ice was capable to carry people and the ice skating frenzy took the whole country. Here too conditions vary a lot. While it had been possible to skate on some Amsterdam canals as recently as 2018, I know that I was on the ice of the ʼs-Hertogenbosch city moat for the first time ever. And I have lived in this city for almost 26 years. Foreigners were surprised that so many of the Dutch donned skates and took to the ice. But when you look at the speed skating medal table of the winter Olympics it should be no surprise that skating is the national sport in this country. Even last weekend the Netherlands won a lot of gold medals in the Speed Skating World Cup, held in Heerenveen, also in the Netherlands. That doesn’t necessarily mean the Dutch are all good skaters. The hospitals had to treat over 40,000 people for mostly broken bones sustained after falling on the ice.
Last Monday the winter periode was over. Temperatures are now over freezing point and the rain started again. It may feel a lot like spring next weekend! Fortunately, I was able to take a lot of pictures and I also filmed a lot. You will see more snow on this blog in the near future, but let’s start with the video below. Enjoy!
This week’s video: Do the Dutch cycle in the snow?
Bonus video: a short ride in the marsh south of ʼs-Hertogenbosch.