This weekend saw my first ever visit to the lovely Friesland, home of the famous black and white Frisian cows and the world famous ice-skating phenomenon known as the Elfstedentocht (Eleven cities tour). Our trip happened to coincide with one of the best winters for ice skating in a long time. For those who are not in the know, the Dutch LOVE their ice skating. Friesland has produced quite a number of world class skating champions.
I could never understand the affinity for ice skating, and I think this was largely due to two things….one, my disdain for the cold, and two, the fact I could not skate. However Herself, a keen skater, decided to take up the task of teaching me how to stay upright on a pair of ice skates during our time in Ukraine. Having mastered the art of not falling down, I started to enjoy it more and more. But given that it has never been cold enough here in Holland to justify owning a pair of skates, we limited it to the winter ice rinks and boot rentals each year. My mastery of the cold was something that came much quicker though. When I lived in Finland for a spell, I was taught by my Finnish friends how to wear lots of thin cotton layers, covered by a thick wind proof layer to help keep me warm.
So suitably donned in long-johns and furs, we headed North for our first trip to Friesland. When we arrived at our little B&B (a gorgeous little place in Kimswerd, just south of Harlingen) we happened upon a huge gathering of skaters. At first I thought it might have been a race or something, there were that many of them. But when we went to explore, we noticed that it was just people out skating for fun. Mums, Dads, kids and babies in prams were all skating along from village to village. It was an amazing sight to behold. I can’t help but admit some pangs of jealousy to those little three year olds who could easily skate rings around me 🙂 In fact it seems that your average Frieslander is taught how to skate pretty much as soon as they’re able to walk….at least that’s what it looked like to us.
At dinner, we spoke with some skaters who stopped in for a hot chocolate on their way through. Some of them were skating 100-200 km’s that day. Armed only with warm clothes and a few snickers bars, they would skate from Leeuwarden, down to Heerenveen, across to Sneek, up to where we were in Harlingen and then back home to Leeuwarden. Having only mastered roller-blading myself, I could not even imagine myself being able to accomplish such a feat. And of course, these lovely Frisians were of the motto to enjoy the ice while it lasts. They are especially passionate about natural ice, getting all poetic and waxing lyrical about how different it is to skate on versus the ice on a skating rink.
Sadly they will have to wait perhaps another year to host the Elfstedentocht as the ice was not quite thick enough apparently. It’s been 15 years since they last held the event. Now that I have a new found respect for what’s involved, I will be cheering them on and hoping that the ice returns next year.
“De nich will diken mut wiken”