Frozen, not stirred.

I grew up on the beach so I prefer my water preferably salty with a little wave in it. As far as I’m concerned ice is belongs in the freezer or in my drink, not under my feet.  This is my fourth Dutch winter and it seems that no amount of time can change the fact that salt water runs in my veins (notice I said runs, not sits in frozen channels). Snow and ice is pretty when your inside looking out at it, with the heater on, a cup of tea in your hand and Frank Sinatra crooning in the background. But in practice ice and snow leaves me cold (I know I know another bad pun, I’m  a sucker for them).  What many people refer to as a winter wonderland I see as a frosty  fright-fest. It’s cold and slippery and dangerous and it makes me cranky, yup the icy whites turns me all Scroogy. Frozen pavements even require a new way of walking, I can’t do it, so I slip and slide around the pavement like a constipated duck.

And here we are again, the big freeze. The two weeks of the year that I dread and I just hope to god, goddess, Santa, the tooth fairy or whoever is sitting up there on a cloud listening to my dragons breath prayers that I make it through with all of my bones in tact.

Today I put my bones on the line and went ice skating, something I’ve managed to avoid for the last 3 years. Bright and early this morning we rocked up the picturesque Kinderdijk, a  long network of canals peppered with windmills, I felt like I’d done a Mary Poppins and walked into a postcard.

The idea of walking on ice, in shoes with knives stuck to the bottom of them made me nervous. As I sat on the edge of the warf with my skates on trying to work up to actually walking on water (hahaha Jesus, the jig is up!). A golf buggy drove across the ice and a pack of skaters sped past and I heard a loud cracking noise as the ice around the boat next to me, opened in a great angry gash. At that moment all  I was overcome with panic and my ability to think rationally left me completely. I raced on hands and knees along the warf and across the frozen ground and took shelter at a picnic table. Passers by gave me an odd look. I didn’t care, I was frozen with fear. I suddenly decided that people on ice was totally unnatural and ridiculous and there was no way anyone was getting me on the ice, now way no how. I clung to my picnic table, my island of safety. My boyfriend pleaded desperately with me and tried to get me to see reason but my mind was made up, hell would have to freeze over before I would get on the ice.

Well, someone must have turned the heating off in the devils lair because after a lot of coaxing and reassurance I found my self standing on the ice, my heart was beating a million miles an hour and despite the fact that it was -10degrees I was sweating like a pig on a spit.

The panic subsided with each second that passed without me falling through the ice to meet my frosty death and I spent the day pushing a chair around the ice (the chair is the ice skating equivalent of training wheels, I hung on to mine for dear life).

I spent the majority of the day doing the splits and generally sliding around in very unbecoming poses but I slowly begun to get the hang of ice skating (a little, by the end of the day I could stand still without falling over, quite an achievement I thought!). I just had to keep reminding myself not to think about the fact that I was walking on an ice cube, in the sun, with a couple of hundred other people.

With the sun in my face and a cup of steaming hot chocolate in my hand I started warming up to the idea of people on ice. Maybe ice is nice after all.

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Exploding into 2012

Fireworks are synonymous with New Years eve the world over, Holland is no exception. It’s an odd tradition really, if you think about it; lighting small explosives and watching in awe as they explode over-head, filling streets with debris and blowing off the occasional digit. But, there is often little logic in tradition. The Dutch are particularly enthusiastic about fireworks I’d go so far as to say that in some cases it borders on pyromaniac obsession.

Holland is highly regulated the Dutch love rules, laws, policy etc. But you know what they say about rules? … They’re made to be broken. Fireworks are actually illegal in Holland until a day or two before New Years Eve then the law is overlooked, firework shops pop up all over the country and if you walk around with your eyes closed it you could easily fool yourself that you’re in a warzone. On the 30th of December I went to bed in 2011 and felt like I woke up in WWII. It was total madness. The explosions started early and intensified with every hour. The streets were full of teenagers hopped up on the thrill of loud noises and the power of being able to blow various objects to smithereens. Bike riders were now considered moving targets. The air was heavy with smoke and the smell of gunpowder. I spent most of the day with my hands over my ears trying not to get blown up. But I must say with increasing amounts of champagne (Dutch courage) I actually begun to enjoy some of the whizzing, whirring, singing, colorful, ones… ooh, aah, pretty!

I discovered that there are essentially 3 kinds of fireworks, ones that make noise, ones that make colours and noise and illegal ones that go BANG, BOOM! and when I say BANG BOOM! I mean window shattering, car alarm triggering, hearing loss inducing BANG, BOOM! The BANG BOOM variety generally come from Belgium – yup, masters in diamonds, chocolates and explosives… how is it they are are not running the world?

I also discovered that there when it comes to fireworks quantity is key, the more you can set off simultaneously the better. 10,000 at once or even 100,000! (Thanks Belgium… and no I’m not over exaggerating).

I also noticed that males in general (age really doesn’t come into it) seem to be more partial to these explosive treats than females, it took me a couple of days but I think I worked it out. A guy walked into the party with a giant rocket over each shoulder; a thick cylinder with a pointy cap attached to a long stick…. sound phallic yet? Typical men, it’s all about penis’s! Fireworks are like sex with a bigger bang at the end, and it’s more acceptable to get your ‘explosive stick’ out in public.

2011 was on it’s way out and the intensity of the explosions grew as midnight approached. We rode our bikes through the carnage of celebrations and headed to the highest point in The Hague for a better view. We tramped through the dunes towards the perfect lookout, we reached the top just in time to pop a bottle of bubbly and join in the countdown… 10, 9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 and then it really started… The usual inky darkness of a winter night disappeared as the sky exploded into a myriad of colours. I’ve never seen anything like it, there wasn’t an inch of horizon that wasn’t exploding into colour, it was as if every second of 2011 was exploding to make way for 2012.

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