Winter in Amsterdam is not for the faint of heart. The days are short and grey; I leave the house in the dark and make my way home in the dark. There are long stretches of rain. Then wind. Then wind-driven rain. We’ve had some unseasonably “warm” days but this week the cold has set in. Even for someone who has spent most of her life in New England – which is, currently, colder than Amsterdam – the winter has been a bit of a slog.
The Dutch, of course, are completely at ease with the weather. I don’t think they like it – though it gives them something to talk and complain about – but they have learned, out of necessity, how to deal with it. And maybe even how to enjoy it.
This weekend wraps up the Amsterdam Light Festival, which, since late November, has brought some much-needed beauty, light, and art to the dark nights. The Festival offers a staffed and well-marked walking route, as well as a number of canal boat trips to see some of the art up close. We did the walking route a few weeks ago, but it’s been more fun to stumble on some of the light installations as we biked or walked around the city. The Festival ends tomorrow I know I will miss seeing those giant red and green men a few streets away, or the lovely Northern Lights that spans the Amstel. The city will be a little darker without them.
But the days are slowly getting longer and you can start to believe that Spring may actually be a reality, if a distant one. The promise of spring was clear today, as we kicked off the tulip season on National Tulip Day.
Dam Square in front of the Royal Palace was transformed into a public display and garden of over 200,000 tulips, and crowds lined the square to “pluk ze zelf”, or pick their tulips – for free!
After windmills and wooden clogs, tulips are what most people think about when they think about the Netherlands. (Ok, some people also think about pot and prostitution, but you’re not one of those people, right?) The history of the tulip in Holland is fascinating – fortunes were made and lost during the Tulip Mania of 1637-38. Thankfully, speculation ended but the tulips remained, and today, at least, they were a hopeful and bright sign of warmer days and sunnier skies.
Until those warmer days arrive, we’re doing our best to learn from the Dutch, and find ways to embrace the cold and the grey, instead of just surviving it. Enjoying a crisp December night strolling through the Botanical Gardens to see the Light Festival (and stopping for a cup of gluhwein to warm us up). Investing in a warm, rainproof coat or a new hat to make biking a bit easier and more comfortable. Using the still-dark morning commute to really notice and absorb things that I may have missed. Doing our best to make the most of it all.