Felicity Long
Felicity Long

InsightIcicles hanging from the fountain at London’s Trafalgar Square. Locals navigating the frozen canals of Amsterdam on skates. Pink flamingos perishing from the cold in southern France. These are among the startling images that have been coming out of Europe this past week as it struggles in the grip of a deep freeze that meteorologists say could last through the month.

Airports have been largely unaffected with the exception of London’s Heathrow, which canceled about half of its flights Feb. 5, and passengers planning to travel through London are being encouraged to check the status of future flights beforehand.

“Short-haul journeys to and from Heathrow are often the first casualties of the flight culls, and those already en route from long distances away are given priority,” said David Leslie, a spokesman for VisitBritain, stressing that many cancellations were made Feb. 4 to enable passengers to make alternate arrangements.

As to the coming days, “in general, the word around all the airports and other major transport links is that they’ll monitor the weather and will respond if more adverse conditions are expected,” Leslie said.

Airports in countries more used to dealing with snow and extreme cold, such as Copenhagen and Munich, reported no flight disruptions, while there were minor cancellations reported in Stockholm.

“The cold weather is not stopping anyone [from traveling] to the best of our knowledge,” said Victoria Larson, spokeswoman for the German National Tourist Office. “The planes are still landing, and the trains are still running on time." 

In Belgium, on the other hand, high-speed rail operator Thalys experienced disruptions from Feb. 9 to 11 affecting Ostend, Bruges and Ghent.

Eastern Europe has been hit especially hard, with crippling snowfalls in such destinations as Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia, combined with power outages and bone-chilling temperatures that have plummeted in some cases to as low as 40 degrees below zero.

Portions of the Danube have frozen over, and some major ports, including Burgas and Varna on the Black Sea, have temporarily closed.

Road conditions have also been tricky, with reports of icy conditions throughout the Continent and in the U.K., and drivers are being urged to drive with caution. 

Among the locals least perturbed by all this are the Dutch, who have been coming out in droves to skate on the country’s canals, so much so that stores are reportedly out of skates and visitors are urged to bring their own. Ironically, the Eleven Cities Tour, a skating classic that wends along the canals linking 11 Friesian cities in Holland, is being canceled or at least postponed this year because the ice is not thick enough. 

Germans are also making the best of the weather, according to Larson, who said: "As many of the lakes are frozen, the cities are hosting celebrations and festivals on the ice. In Hamburg, there was an Alster Festival on the two inner city Alster lakes just this last weekend, for example, and in Hanover, the Masch Lake in the middle of the baroque Herrnhausen gardens has been opened for ice skaters and walkers.”

Meanwhile, less hardy visitors can take advantage of indoor city attractions, some of which are available for free.

“London boasts a huge amount of indoor museums and attractions which are free, so for visitors it’s the perfect opportunity to shelter from the cold weather and catch up on some world-class culture,” said Chloe Couchman, head of communications for business & major events for the London & Partners, the city's official promotional organization.

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