What happened to spring?

Snow-covered "forget me not" blooms

Snow-covered “forget me not” blooms

Spring is always a much awaited and celebrated season in Holland. In this very flat country, the Dutch ingenuity of creating flower wonderlands in spring has always attracted millions of visitors from all over the world.

Dutch flower fields - typical spring scenery

Dutch flower fields – typical spring scenery

Easter egg hunt from 2 years ago -- weather was warm then, almost like summer so the kids had so much fun with the egg hunt

Easter egg hunt from 2 years ago — weather was warm then, almost like summer so the kids had so much fun with the egg hunt

Egg hunt from 2 years ago -- we're longing for that weather this time.  Forecast for Sunday is not so encouraging at just around 5 degrees Celsius at the warmest

Egg hunt from 2 years ago — we’re longing for that weather this time. Forecast for Sunday is not so encouraging at just around 5 degrees Celsius at the warmest

As soon as March starts, I’m already in extreme anticipation of the new season with plans to hit the flower fields and visit to Keukenhof topping the agenda. This year, however, that usual enthusiasm is tempered by the current reality of freezing temperature which if forecasts are to be relied upon, is very discouraging as it is expected to persist till most of the month of April.

What happened to spring? Why the big snub this year? Will it still ever come or are we just going to progress to summer and skip spring all together? I hope not….

We had an infinitesimal glimpse of spring three weeks ago for two days with the mercury tipping at 15 degrees Celsius at the warmest and enough to awaken the croci from their winter slumber. My little girl and I went out as she wanted to pick a few blooms and that was all that spring has been so far from our end.

Forget-me-nots with snow dusting

Forget-me-nots with snow dusting

Snow bells

Snow bells

Snow-covered blooms

Snow-covered blooms

Forget-me-not

Forget-me-not

Forget-me-nots

Forget-me-nots

Snow-dusted forget-me-not

Snow-dusted forget-me-not

Grape hyacinth

Grape hyacinth

Snow dusting on old flower remnants

Snow dusting on old flower remnants

Snow-covered leaves

Snow-covered leaves

Snow dusted plants

Snow dusted plants

Snow-covered bloom

Snow-covered bloom

My little girl and her little bouquet of croci

My little girl and her little bouquet of croci

Picking some crocus from a nearby green spot

Picking some crocus from a nearby green spot

Croci

Croci

Crocus

Crocus

Francesca

Francesca

Tulips (part 4)

April is about to draw to a close but this month which used to be in recent years the nicest time in spring has been for the most part wet, cold and grey. I still can’t say “Adieu” to my winter coat with the temperature still too cold and oftentimes unpredictable. Still, spring is inching its way forward but I haven’t really managed to take new pictures.

Here are spring pictures from last year, a continuation of my Tulips series.

A different kind of winter experience in Urk

The picturesque village of Urk

Our Valentine’s day out which was a few days late last Sunday was one that was very Dutch for we went on a date to the lovely fishing village of Urk without spending a single cent. Not that I am complaining. We were at my in-laws’ place to bring our little girl who would stay with them for a few days given the one week school holiday which the Dutch calls “crocus vakantie”. I suggested that we take a little sightseeing in the nearby Medieval city of Elburg. My husband insisted that we go to Urk instead which was also a mere 15 minutes drive from my in-laws.

Urk is a lovely fishing village which used to be an island in what was then called the Zuiderzee (South Sea) till the Dutch reclaimed lands that resulted to the creation of the Noordoost Polder and the Flevo Polder which now comprised the province of Flevoland. Noordoost Polder which was created before WWII attached Urk which since then ceased to be an island. The Zuiderzee after the construction of the Afsluitdijk, a 32-km causeway running from Den Oever in North Holland to the village of Zurich in Friesland became the Ijselmeer as it is no longer part of the sea but is now a freshwater lake.

Urk remains to be a very traditional, ultra-conservative and very religious village with the locals still going to the church several times on Sunday and business establishments are completely closed. Women still wear long skirts if not the traditional clothing. The village is picturesque that is why it attracts quite a good number of visitors. And it is also a protected area under the UNESCO World Heritage Site List.

We went to Urk because of one very amazing spectacle — the melting of the ice sheets in the Ijselmeer from the last 2 weeks of deep freeze here in the Netherlands which are then pushed onto the shores. I was so amazed seeing this sight of huge chunks of ice washed ashore. I enjoyed taking pictures because it was like being in the Arctic or the South Pole with icebergs.

On the drive back to Dronten, we took a detour via the Ketelbrug, went under the bridge to view Urk from the other side of the Ijselmeer. It was amazing to see Urk from the distance across chunks of ice sheets in the water. It was a great day out so who needs a very expensive and fancy lunch or dinner date.

By the time we were back at the in-laws in Dronten, Mam Sil has already my favorite Dutch dinner ready — the Dutch beef stew called “Draadjesvlees” which she served with boiled potatoes and beans. I brought the dessert which is a Philippine favorite called “leche flan”.

Ice sheets in the harbor

Huge chunks of ice that washed ashore

Feeling like he's in the Arctic

The lighthouse of Urk

Fun on ice

A memorial to those who lost their lives at sea

Urk in the distance

ice sheets

Ice sheets on the Ijselmeer

Modern windmills along the Ijselmeer

The Dutch and ice-skating: Why the passion?

The Netherlands is at the moment in an ice skating frenzy. Every canal, shallow lake and river which has frozen from days of sustained sub-zero temperature are venues for ice skating. Some places are holding ice skating races and a colleague of mine told me that there was even an ice disco at her parents’ place in Almere. We even came close to having the almost mythical “Elfstedentoch”, that almost 200 kms. ice skating tour/race that spans 11 cities up north in the province of Friesland. The whole country waited in bated breath for the decision of the Vereniging Elfstedentoch (Eleven Cities’ Tour Committee) last Wednesday if the tour will push through (the 16th in its history which dates back to 1909 and the first this century). Even foreign members of the press descended in Friesland to cover this event and were also betting for a GO on the Elfstedentoch which is hailed as the creme de la creme, the tour of all tours and the race of all races in outdoor skating event not just in The Netherlands but in the whole of Europe.

Frozen canal across the road from our home

The little girl getting her beginner's skates on

Baby steps to mastering the ice

The country got caught up in maelstorm of emotions that it will have its 16th Elfstedentoch this winter when the oftentimes very reserved and sceptical Vereniging Elfstendentoch had its first meeting earlier in the week. Then a contingent of 50-man army members were sent to Friesland to prepare part of the route, clearing the ice of snow so that the sub-zero freeze will still enable the ice cover to further grow especially at night. The Friesians also rallied to the challenge, mobilizing everyone to do their share in clearing up the ice of snow cover either by hand or with the aid of some ice-clearing machine. The committee requires that the average ice thickness to be a minimum of 15 cm. in the entire route in order to be safe to accommodate 16,000 skaters (not including the enthusiastic public who also step into the ice to cheer the participants). With all the news focused on economic troubles across Europe these days, the idea of Elfstedentoch was a much welcomed diversion. Hotel rooms in Friesland suddenly became overbooked and overpriced. The Dutch Railways (Nationale Spoor) was offering special tickets to Leeuwarden (the capital of Friesland) with 40% discount. In every nook and corner of the country the talk was only about the Elfstedentoch.

I was one of the millions who waited in bated breath for the press conference of the committee last Wednesday. And I was one of the millions who felt disappointment and sadness afterwards. The committee after consulting all the ice masters (Rayonhoofden) decided against holding the Elfstedentoch due to weak spots in some areas where the ice thickness did not meet the minimum standard. Some places have just around 10-12 cm. which was deemed to be not sufficient enough for a large contingent of skaters. The weather forecast also showed that the worst of freezing is over and the coming days were not going to result in more ice growth. The ever enthusiastic skaters asked that the minimum standard of 15 cm. be lowered (ice skating is already OK at 8 cm.) but the committee was adamant to keep it, justifying that it was already a reduced one from the original 18 cm. in the earlier races in. Again, this shows the Dutch pragmatism who will not be swayed by emotions that were hitting the roof for a go on Elfstedentoch for no one want to have on their plates the blame in case something untoward happens.

Never mind if the Elfstedentoch is not pushing through, the Dutch en masse are still off with their skating shoes and that will stay till the ice start melting. The training and passion start early and that is for my daughter as well who actually surprised us this Friday when on her third time on the ice (2 other times were in the ice skating rink after Christmas), she just took off walking quite some distance without falling. She has conquered her fear and found her balance on the ice. I know that just like with walking and other phases in her life, it will only go from strength to strength from here onwards.

Finding her balance and conquering her fear...this little girl is catching the ice skating fever

Finding her balance on ice

Baby steps to mastering the ice...papa still in the background

Baby steps to mastering the ice

Start-up lesson in ice skating

There were other kids also getting their introductory lessons on ice

Start-up lesson in ice skating

Learning the tricks of ice skating


Falling on ice is part of the learning process

Baby steps

Teens hit the ice right after school

Birds contend with a very small unfrozen area under the bridge

This bird with its spread-out wings caught my attention


To explain the Dutch passion for ice skating is to take a deeper look at the country’s geography, geology and history. Two-thirds of The Netherlands lie below sea level. I remember that as a child when I was presented this fact, I found it extremely difficult to imagine. How can the country not be overwhelmed by water when the sea water level is higher? In the Philippines, the land is never below sea level but we still get inundated by flood waters on almost a regular basis. Why is it different in The Netherlands. Then came the story about the dike that protect a village against the water and how this one little boy stuck his finger in a small leak in the dike which made him a hero.

The Dutch can be considered as among the most ingenious of people in the world for having mastered living in this condition of most of its land being below sea level. They created dikes and levees. They even reclaimed land from the sea. How did they do it? The Dutch since centuries ago learned to pump the water from low-lying areas with the use of windmills and channel them to a series of canals. The canals then channel the water to the rivers which would eventually empty into the North Sea. That’s the reason why The Netherlands has many canals and how swampy places like Amsterdam for instance, became a habitable place and was used as inspiration by Peter the Great of Russia to create St. Petersburg.

These canals would get frozen in winter especially when the sub-zero freeze goes on for a sustained period of time. I guess it is because of these conditions that the Dutch became very passionate with ice skating and the history goes to as far as the 14th century when they started using wooden platform skates with flat iron bottom runners. The skates were attached to the skater’s shoes with leader straps. Poles were attached to propel the skater. Around 1500, the Dutch added a narrow metal double edge blade, making the poles a thing of the past as the skater could now push and glide with his feet (called the “Dutch Roll”).

While the Elfstedentoch is a “No Go” for now, the hope that it can still push through has not completely waned. THe temperature will warm up beginning end of Sunday till most of the week but by end of next week, there is a second freeze expected. Who knows, it might still happen…let’s keep our fingers crossed for now.

More pictures here:

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The magic of winter


After the generous snow fall of the previous day (Friday), we woke up to an amazing Saturday morning. The initial temperature was icy cold at -15 degrees Celsius which eventually warmed up to around -5 degrees Celsius. The sky was blue with not a speck of cloud in it and the snow covered trees looked like they were decked in diamonds and glittered spectacularly from the sun rays.




Too bad that my husband had to leave very early in the morning and missed all the fun, off to tropical Jakarta where the temperature difference that would greet him was around 45 degrees Celsius. He was so sorry to leave and to be missing the much awaited snow but work commitment calls.

My daughter’s friend was by the door at 9am, ringing the door bell for the continuation of the fun in the snow from the previous day. There is no better day than this to enjoy the snow with the sun and blue sky altogether. This is cheap fun too! With the crisis that is currently besetting Europe these days, many have foregone the usual winter skiing holidays in the alps or in Scandinavia. Getting this generous heaping of snow brought that winter fun right at our doorstep so why not enjoy this wonderful days of snow and ice.












Nothing is more precious than to see pure happiness in my daughter’s face as she glided downhill on her sled over and over again. She hardly noticed the passing of the time till she was exhausted and ravenous from hunger.

More pictures here:

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Fun in the snow starts


There’s nothing more fun for children in winter than to be able to play in the snow. After almost giving up that winter will ever put in a real appearance this year, the cold snap from the high pressures emanating from Russia and the Atlantic finally brought us the much awaited winter wonderland. Snow fell generously last Friday that finally there was enough coating to be able to enjoy real winter fun.



We live along the dike or actually more of a sound wall that acts as barrier to the noise coming from the A1 highway. This unique location means that we have this little inclined area which from spring to summer is a patch of green dotted with wild blooms and now in winter is one fun area for downhill sleighing.





We were out to enjoy the much awaited snowfall. Francesca got both the old-fashioned wooded sled and a plastic one. Of course, fun in the snow is not complete without friends to play with so we checked on her friends (Luuk and Job) if they were around and luckily they were. What a lot of fun it was as they glided downhill on Francesca’s plastic sled over and over again till they were cold, wet and hungry. I made some sausage rolls which they devoured in no time.

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Winter fun Dutch-style

When the temperature dips below freezing, the Dutch are in a celebratory mood. The atmosphere is festive.  Many even take holidays from work.  Two things are possible then:

  • With snow, everyone with be out with their sleds or making snowmen. Because the country is flat, every little incline like a dike will be converted into an instant skiing or downhill sleighing course.  This is the case in our area because ours is a dike house.
  • With ice, that’s when the temperature remains sub-zero for so many days that the canals freeze, everyone will be out skating in the open.  This was the case almost 3 years ago when we had sustained cold spell at the beginning of 2009.  We drove to Kinderdijk which was about an hour’s drive from Amersfoort to introduce Francesca to her first sleighing adventure.

Skating is a Dutch tradition just like cycling and swimming.  Children are introduced into these activities early on.  No wonder that the Winter Olympics for instance, is dominated by Dutch athletes and the same goes for swimming in the Summer Olympics.

Sub-zero temperature is now eagerly awaited here.  With the crisis besetting Europe these days, most people who normally go on winter holidays to ski resorts in the Alps or in Scandinavia will be foregoing that this year and will just settle for winter fun in their own backyard.

For info on Kinderdijk:   http://www.kinderdijk.nl/

One winter morning at Groeneveld Castle

The first speck of snow is yet to fall in Holland and we can hardly wait for that to happen. In years past, we would have already seen snow at this time of the year but so far, no luck of that this year.

Many points to global warming as the culprit. Could be true…our spring was warm and the dry spell that lasted for months was categorized as drought. The summer months were wet and cold with July and August being the wettest and coldest months this century. Autumn turned out to be warm again and dry that in October, we were at the beach. Crazy, huh!

I’m now in a rewind mode for winters past…

It’s two years ago when these pictures were taken one winter morning in nearby Groeneveld Castle in Baarn, some 10 kms. away from our place. We love going to this castle which is just perfect for a walk and afterwards, reward ourselves with some nice “merienda” in the castle’s basement restaurant.

Info on the castle: http://www.kasteelgroeneveld.nl/

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