Just when I thought that from autumn we’ve skipped a season and progressed to spring especially as crocuses are already starting to peek out of the ground and bloom, winter suddenly puts in a very much delayed appearance courtesy of high pressures from Russia and the Atlantic that eventually found their usual winter rythmn. My mindset is already in a spring mode and now I need to shift back to winter which means thick and warm clothing lest I freeze. Brrrrrrrrrt!
There’s a lot of excitement sweeping the country with this weather development. Few more days of sustained sub-zero temperature will mean that outdoor ice skating will be the main event this coming weekend. In some areas up north, some shallow lakes are already covered with ice that is strong enough for skaters to skate on. In our place, the ice cover is still thin so we still need a bit more time. My daughter can hardly wait…
Our family on ice
The other times that there was ice, she was still too young for skating. Now at four, she is just at that perfect age to start learning this very Dutch preoccupation. I say very Dutch because ice skating has been a Dutch-dominated Winter Olympics sport especially the long distance (10-kilometer) category. This is not a surprise because this kind of skating is very much imbued in the Dutch tradition. Up north in Friesland in times of severe winter when there is ice, they have this special event called “Elfstedentoch” or Eleven Cities’ Race
which involves skating through frozen canals, rivers and lakes between eleven historic Friesian cities covering a distance of almost 200 kms which should be completed before midnight. It is no easy feat but one that is eagerly awaited and has a long waiting list for would be participants as they have to be a member of the Association of the Eleven Friesian Cities. Some of the participants have even been registered at birth by their parents to ensure a place because the number of participants is capped at 15,000 of amateur skaters. Why is this the case? Well, we don’t get ice that can sustain this event that often. Even though there had been occasions of sub-zero temperatures in the last few winters, oftentimes they were not long enough to really ensure that the ice in the almost 200 kms. skating route would be thick enough (minimum of 15 centimeters along the entire route) and safe enough for the huge contingent of skaters. The last time that this race took place was in 1997 and before that was in 1985 or over 20 years earlier.
Another way of enjoying the ice
This canal is part of the almost 200 km. route for the Elfstedentoch
Francesca getting her skating lesson from her father
Over a year ago we were in Harlingen (Friesland) after Christmas visiting family and there was ice. Francesca got her first ice skating lesson. Me, on the other hand, didn’t skate but just walked over the ice. I tried ice skating before in my earlier days here in Holland and decided it was not for me. I can endure a few bruises and blue spots but the fear of broken bones was just too much. I’m just too old to learn the tricks of this sport and just prefer watching those around me glide through the ice with ease.
Every single Dutchman is out to enjoy ice skating when there is ice
I love the frenzied atmosphere when there is ice. It is akin to celebrating a national skating fiesta where everyone is out to just enjoy this fun for free. The Dutch, known for being wise with their money, welcomes anything that will not cost a cent and outdoor nature skating is one of them. Some very enterprising ones even get to earn extra bucks putting up stalls selling hot coffee or hot chocolate with heaping of whipped cream, such very much welcomed comfort amidst the chilly weather.
In our neighborhood are also shallow canals which froze two years ago. We were there as well though the little girl was still too small to skate so she stayed seated on her sled being pulled either by me or her father. She enjoyed watching the other kids showing off their skating skills and told us that when she’s older and bigger, she’ll do the same too.
Skating lesson from her papa starts this way
Skating aside ftom being a national passion is also an amazing bonding moments for families. Parents and their kids are just at their happiest on these times. It is amazing to see small children learning their ways into the ice from their patient parents who are dedicated to ensuring that this national passion lives on.
A chair is a beginner's essential
Most if not all towns and villages also have their ice skating associations. If skating is held in canals or lakes, they also have their ice masters or experts who check the quality of the ice and declare when is it safe to skate on the natural ice. Other villages are even more creative, creating temporary ice skating rinks by flooding a contained area like fields with a thin layer of water which then freeze a lot faster than the canals.
Bets are being made now (probability currently at 25%) whether we will have the Elfstedentoch this year as the sub-zero temperature is expected to continue until next week. If that happens, expect Holland to be featured on world news.