1. Schools are Local
Most Dutch children have the luxury of attending a school which they can either cycle or walk to. It means I don't have to de-ice a car every morning to haul the kids off to school, sit in endless traffic jams or worry about ice and snow and the chaos it causes on the road, if it comes. Instead, should snow fall, the kids get taken to school on a sledge and the journey is filled with laughter and merriment. In the absence of really wintry weather, the close distances of schools mean I don't have to be out in the cold or wet, grey, miserable winter weather for very long at a time.
2. Making the Best of the Weather
When the sun shines the Dutch flock to the beach and parks, taking time off work to take full advantage of a heat wave. Similarly in winter the Dutch are constantly poised to leg it to the local frozen body of water to make the most of a cold spell. Last week there was talk of a cold front heading our way. The word 'freezing' was thrown about. There was faint excitement in the air.
If you stopped what you were doing and put your ear to the ground you could have heard the sound of thousands of ice skate blades being sharpened - the Dutch at their most positive. Screw the fact that windscreens suddenly have to be scraped, traffic is chaos and riding a bike means putting your life at risk (not that this stops the Dutch getting on two wheels) - all irrelevant because freezing temperatures means the ice skates can come out of the cupboard. It's a wonderful atmosphere when the temperature drops below zero and the Dutch take to the ice in their masses - nothing gets in the way of the fun to be had on the ice. And whilst the temperatures stay low, if you listen carefully, you can hear a nation uniting, gently humming the mantra, "elfstedentocht, elfstedentocht".
Dutch winters are not typically consistently so cold that you don't want to leave the house. In fact, Dutch winters encourage wanderings. Wrapping up warm and getting a breath of fresh air along the canals, in the dunes, in the woods, or on the beach is a great way to appreciate the Netherlands in winter - stopping for a warme chocolademelk met slagroom along the way.
Winter is when Dutch food comes into it's own; stamppot, soups like erwtensoep that are a meal in themselves, oma's gehaktballen, stews and casseroles. It's the perfect time to get that slow cooker busy. My Facebook status last night in fact, is proof of this:
"Complete Dutch diva in the kitchen tonight - I made stamppot. Turns out if I just plonked the sausage on their plates and ditched the rest of the meal my family would be perfectly content. Lacking nutrients of any sort.... but content."
Winter time brings out a special kind of gezelligheid in the Dutch. It differs from the gezelligheid you experience in the summer when the Dutch are camped out on beach cafe terraces sipping iets lekkers watching the sun set. Winter gezelligheid is something much warmer and cosier. It's about candlelight and little lamps giving off warm, orange subdued light to block out the dark, cold evenings outside the living room window. It's about families around the dining table. You'll know exactly what I mean if you take an evening walk around your neighbourhood and take a peek through the undressed windows.
So you see, January in the Netherlands has many positive sides. There's fun to be had even in the deepest, wettest, coldest part of a Dutch winter. You just need to know where to look!
What do you like about winter where you live?