Chillin Out in Switzerland During Europe’s Record Freeze

Last night as I walked down a boulevard in Geneva, a young man passing by nodded his head and wished me a « bon froid » instead of good evening. Can a « good cold  » exist ?

frozen lake front (lake Geneva 02.10.2012)

frozen lake front (lake Geneva 02.10.2012)

ready for a swim ??

ready for a swim ??


We are having a record breaking cold spell in Europe. Parts of the Danube, Europe’s busiest waterway flowing through ten countries, closed due to ice blockages.  Canals across Holland froze turning the entire city of Amsterdam into an open air skating ring. Strong winds whip across Switzerland,  reminding me of back home in the Windy City and open plains of the Midwest. Once a tough kid, I turned into a big sissy. I love winter, but hate cold. Even though I am part Norwegian, I lack the fortitude of my Viking cousins living up by the North Pole.

In Switzerland, a northeast wind, called the Bise, blows shutters off houses and branches from trees. Everyone knows I love to exaggerate, but no kidding, docks on Lake Geneva look like chiseled ice sculptures, cars turned to blocks of ice and steel train tracks froze halting traffic.

car or ice sculpture ?

car or ice sculpture ?

The cold even penetrates the walls of our concrete home and I am literally chilled to the bone. My lips turn blue, my fingertips grow white and my feet never thaw.

Snow and ice, crunch and crackle, underfoot, as I trudge to school reflecting on childhood when snow drifted as high as window ledges.  As it nips my face and stings my eyes, I lean into wind.  I feel rugged like Grandpa Mac who cleared a path through five-foot high snow banks to light a the fire in the pot belly stove of the one room school house where my grandma first taught.

The howling wind rattles the window frames of my school room under the tiled, mansard rooftop in the attic of the one hundred year old international school, where I teach without heat. Each room has a space heater, but if we plug in more than one appliance at a time, the lights go out and computers shut down. My colleagues and I toss coins to see who’s turn it is to freeze. On my Ice Day, I wear a hand-knit Norwegian sweater, three sweatshirts,long underwear, wool mittens and a scarf.

Brrrh. I don’t want to leave my house ; I don’t  even want to leave the bed. Like the ground hog who sees his shadow in stark sunlight in a cobalt sky, I  long to retreat to my burrow under a down comforter and hibernate for another six weeks.

My joints ache ; my fingers and toes go numb. I think I am suffering. Me, with a layers of clothes, heated lodgings and a hot meal every night. I wonder about the unemployed, poverty stricken street people without a roof over head or food to eat. How do they survive the night? Many don’t.  Already over 600 people have died in Europe from the extreme weather.

I stop grumbling about winter and feel grateful. I am gifted. I have a home.

more winter pictures of Lake Geneva, Switzerland:

Posted in inspiration, social view, travel.


  1. Great job as usual, Pat. And I guess you answered your own question: a “bon froid” is one where you have a good alternative in having a “maison chaude” to go to!

  2. Hi Pat, Great job , as usual, transporting me right into your experience..your pictures are amazing…BRRR, now I’m chilled to the bone! I’m in layers as it is though so far, we’ve had an unseasonably snowless, relatively mild winter in the Northeast. Now I think I’ll go wrap myself in another afghan! Hope you warm up soon 🙂

    • Oh dear, Kathy…I didn’t mean to give you a chill! Did your grandma make the afghan you wrap up in? I have one of my own that my grandma made me years ago.

  3. Well, just so you don’t feel too homesick, the windchill is close to zero today in Chicago: bright, sunny, windy, freezing! And of course I can’t find my really warm hat and gloves. I’ll have to remember “bon froid”. Thanks!

    • Viki,
      The ol’ ring around the house hunt for hat and glove game we all play this time of year. Could make a good topic for my next post. How is the book coming along?

  4. I’m running into the other room for wool sox and a down vest just reading this. And I’m in California. It is drizzling out. Serious rain would be more welcome, as we’re in a drought.

    I’ve been looking at photos of iced-up waterheels in Avignon and snow in backyards of Provence. I guess this isn’t the year when you can predict what Geneva weather will be like in June!

  5. Pat,

    Chicago is seeing quite a cold spell with some snow and cold, but, nothing like you’ve shown in these pics! We are truly blessed to have refuge from it all and pray for the safety & well being of those who don’t have…
    P.S. Those pics are breathtakingly beautiful from afar:)

    • Clara it was just amazing to see like some kind of open air Disneyland with tourists snapping photos and sliding all over. Yes,if only everyone had a home for refuge from the hawk!

  6. Patty! you’re becoming a minnesotan! pretty soon you’ll be coming to MN during the winters and think it’s warm :). miss you and only a few more months till we’re up soaking up the sun at summit lake!

  7. Had to cancel Nordic Ski practice today because the temperature and wind chill was below the “safe” level as deemed by the high school league but the wind in Minnesota certainly didn’t match that in Geneva! Enjoy a cup of hot chocolate and pull up the covers!

    • I didn’t think they ever cancelled Nordic anything up in Minnesota. By law, all road & construction workers have to halt work if the temp drop below a certain degree. Could you imagine if they did that in the Midwest? Nothing would ever get done.

  8. Amazing photos, Pat. I shivered reading about your Ice Day. (I like how you’re channeling the spirit of your Grandpa Mac!) Curl up under the eiderdown and dream of summer.

    • Friends told me about the phenomena, but you had to see it to believe it. The only problem was the wind was so cold that the camera battery kept freezing up. I am doing some California Dreamin about now!

  9. Wow! I saw Versoix like this one year, but this time it is even worse. The ice is much thicker. I do not envy you at all. Just today as I was driving home from my chippies’ basketball game and it was 28 degrees Fahrenheit, I was thinking what an incredibly mild winter we have had. This is only like the third coldest day of this winter and it may get back up to 50 again before the week is out. I’m relishing in it. We’ve only experienced about three inches of snow all winter but it was always gone before the day was out. Funny how every winter is different. Come stay with me until spring settles in over there!

  10. I’m feeling your pain, Pat. Last night there was simply nothing else I could do but put on my long undies and get under the covers. I thought I would read but it was too cold to keep my hands exposed. Seriously. I think it’s warmer outside than it is in this apartment. This should pass soon…..shouldn’t it?

    • Oh dear Delana, What is the point of being in Provence during this deep freeze. Might as well be ice fishin’ back in Minna-so-tah! ha Do they even have heat in homes in southern France? Take heart, I have been over here 30 years and don’t remember a winter being as cold as this one, so hang in there.

  11. Pat, we certainly hope you’ll b enjoying warmer weather very soon! Though we have snow falling in Omaha this morning, it’s not bitterly cold & we just finished the 5th warmest January in Omaha’s history. Stay warm & dry…have a great Valentines Day!

    • Aw this is so sweet. Happy Valentine’s back at ya! How are those adorably cute grankids? Do you get see Hannah much now that she’s a sorority sister?

  12. ” … school, where I teach without heat. Ea!ch room has a space heater, but if we plug in more than one appliance at a time, the lights go out and computers shut down.”

    This is Switzerland?? Sounds like the Third World, or the former Soviet Union.

    It’s been down to -20C at night in Moldova a couple of times in the last few weeks, but mostly around -15 or so and not much warmer during the day. My (new) house has heat but it leaks like a sieve and I’ve stuffed rolled bubble wrap around the windows.

    No proper heat in Switzerland? I can’t get over it!

    • Oh no, we have heat in Switzerland, it is just that the room where I teach built in a wing under the roof in the attic( with no insulation) and is exposed to the famous northeast wind we call the Bise. I can just imagine you wrapping your windows in bubble wrap. Love reading your blog…makes me feel like I am living in luxury even when the heat doesn’t work.

  13. What fantastic pictures! They are quite lovely to behold, though I am happy to be in my (relatively) warm Californian winter. 🙂

    • Oh Sharon, it is beautiful but so cold that a Californian would never survive. Made Minnesota weather seem mild by comparison. Instead of going outside, it is so much nicer to sit in a warm cafe and enjoy ice-on-a-cone instead!

I would love to hear from you

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.