Pandemic flashback - the snow inside our letterbox

With each passing year it is getting harder to remember how it really felt to live through the pandemic years.

Early 2021 was still a period of a lot of uncertainty. The vaccines were here but the Dutch vaccination program was still in a disarray. This meant that lockdowns and curfews were still the Government’s primary tools to keep covid from spreading and making people sick in numbers that would overwhelm the healthcare system. And to top it off, the Dutch government had resigned in January over a scandal.

Against this depressing backdrop we got a week that lifted our moods up. The temperatures in Amsterdam started to dip in mid-February. The max temperature stayed a few degrees under 0ºC for nearly a week. Spells like these are increasingly rare1. We even got a freak storm during a day or two of this cold spell that moved around a lot of snow.

I remember stepping out for a walk with the wife along a route in our neighbourhood that we had by now traversed hundreds of times since Amsterdam went into lockdown in March the year before. A lot of people were out and about. Some to experience the novelty of snow in Amsterdam, others out of necessity of having to walk their dogs.

We didn’t get very far in the sub-zero weather. Our fingers and toes were painfully numb within 15 minutes of stepping out. I must have also been worried about slipping on the icy streets and hurting myself. A hospital visit in the middle of a covid wave would’ve been a memorable experience for all the wrong reasons. We were back home in no time. It took us both a shot of Jägermeister to restore sensation in our extremities.

When we checked our mailbox the next day, it was full of snow! We cleaned it out before the temperatures could rise and turn it into water.

Then the canals froze. It hadn’t been anything like the cold spell of the year 2012 and I don’t recall the ice ever being officially declared safe. Yet, a few brave souls began to venture onto the canals. We certainly kept our distance. There was an air of defiance against officialdom after all those months of lockdowns, and this felt every bit like an act of rebellion as much as something done for the sheer joy (or foolhardiness) of it. I vividly remember waking up one day to an otherworldly high-pitched pinging sound that skating on fresh, thin ice makes2. Someone was out skating on a section of a canal opposite our home that had frozen.

A frozen canal near our houseA frozen canal near our house

Brave souls on thin iceBrave souls on thin ice

A few days later as the ice and snow began to clear, we headed out for a longer walk. The sun was out and everything was resplendent in the winter light.

People had come together and made a giant snowman at Nieuwmarkt. The black upside-down bucket that acted as its tophat made it look like one of those shifty Victorian characters from a Charles Dickens novel. And may be because Brexit had so dominated the news those days (alongside the pandemic of course), I thought it bore a striking resemblance to Boris Johnson.

  1. Since the year we moved here in 2011, there have been only 2 recorded instances of max temperatures being under 0ºC for 7 consecutive days or more in February-March. Data from KNMI↩︎

  2. Something like this but at a much smaller scale.↩︎

May 27, 2024