Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Our own Elfstedentocht: Stop #1 - Leeuwarden


Have you ever heard of the Elfstedentocht?

The Elfstedentocht (in English, "eleven cities tour") is a speed ice-skating race which is held in the Dutch province of Friesland during the winter. It is a major sports event in the Netherlands, but it is only held on those years when the weather conditions allow canals and lakes to freeze, forming a natural ice track of approximately 200 kilometres joining eleven cities in this province: Leeuwarden, Sneek, IJlst, Sloten, Stavoren, Hindelopen, Workum, Bolsward, Harlingen, Franeker and Dokkum.


The route of the Marathon of the Eleven Cities in the province of Friesland.

This Marathon of the Eleven Cities has only taken place 15 times since it was officially started in 1909 and the last one took place in 1997. When it will next take place, is anybody's guess, since there are a number of factors that need to combine in order to create the right conditions for the race to be held safely. Ideally, the ice layer needs to have a thickness of 15 cm along the entire 200 km track. During the last decades and as a consequence of global warming, the space of time between races has become longer and longer.

Here, in the archives of Geschiedenis (in English, "history") a channel of the broadcasting network Omroep, you can find videos of the Elfstedentocht so that you can get an idea of what it is all about.

Since living here in the Netherlands, I have never been able to see one of these marathons which has been quite disappointing. That is why last year in the summer, we decided to do our own Elfstedentocht - by car.

The marathon begins and finishes in the capital city of Friesland: Leeuwarden, and that is where we will start this new series in the blog.

Leeuwarden (in Dutch, click to hear pronunciation) or Ljowert (in Fries, the language spoken in this province - click to hear pronunciation) lies about 140 km from Amsterdam. It is the city where the Nassaus (ancestors of the present royal family) resided back in the 16th and 17th century; and it is also the city where Mata Hari, the famous exotic dancer and spy, was born.

A swan, symbol of the province of Friesland, engraved on the façade of the Frisian Academy in Leeuwarden.


Let's take a tour of the city, starting at the Frisian version of the leaning tower of Pisa: the Oldehove.

The Oldehove, the leaning tower of Leeuwarden.

The story goes that in the 16th century, the people of Leeuwarden wanted to have a church tower. This could not be just any church tower: it had to be higher than the Martini tower in the neighbour city of Groningen.
They started building the Oldehove tower in 1529; but once the builders had reached a height of 10 meters, the tower began ostensibly to lean to one side. After several unsuccessful attempts to correct the problem -for the city had to have a tower at all costs- they realised that there was no point carrying on and the construction was halted when the tower had reached a height of 40 m. It is said that the master builder Jacob van Aacken died of sorrow after failing to provide his city with a tower that would rival that of the neighbour town of Groningen.

The beautiful park of Prinsentuin (in English, "princes' garden") was part of a palace garden created in the 17th century for the family of the Nassaus.

Prinsentuin in Leeuwarden.


The Prinsentuin was donated by the stadhouder family (Nassaus) in the early 19th century to the city of Leeuwarden.

Prinsentuin in Leeuwarden.


This park has been open to the public since the end of the 18th century, which makes it the oldest park of this kind in the Netherlands.

Prinsentuin in Leeuwarden.


The Waag ("weighhouse") was the trading centre of the city of Leeuwarden, where cheese and butter were weighed officially and where transactions took place.

De Waag, built around 1590.


The Fries Museum in Leeuwarden is a "must-see" if you are interested in getting to know the best things that the Frisian people have ever created.

The Fries Museum in Leeuwarden.


There you will find permanent art expositions, exhibitions of contemporary art, and style rooms. Within the complex, the Mata Hari museum and the Verzetsmuseum (in English, "museum of the Resistance") are really worth a visit if you want to know more about the famous spy or what life was like during the WWII in Friesland. I will come back to the Fries Museum later, dedicating a full blog entry to it in the future.

Façade of the Fries Museum in Leeuwarden.


If you take a walk around the city centre in Leeuwarden, you are bound to find very interesting architecture and old historic monuments. Let's take a look:

A street in the city centre, the Achmea Tower seen in the background.


The Princessehof, houses the Ceramics Museum in Leeuwarden.


Me posing by a water pump, close to the Grotekerk (in English, "big church")in Leeuwarden.


The "Oranjepoortje", the entrance for the royal family at the Grotekerk.


A quite elegant street in the city centre of Leeuwarden.


Stadhouderlijk Hof Palace (1564), former royal palace now houses a 4-star hotel.


Another street of Leeuwarden.


The shopping centre Zaailand in Leeuwarden.



Leeuwarden is definitely an attractive city from every point of view. It has a lot to offer, with its historic city centre and interesting museums, its many art galleries and antique shops and of course, the active waterways where you can take boat trips and admire the city from a different perspective.

Our Elfestedentocht will continue in a few weeks, this time visiting the city of Sneek.


Some useful links:

* Official site of the association of the Elfstedentocht or "Vereniging De Friesche Elf Steden" where you can find information about the marathon.

* Visit Frysland, tourist information about the province of Friesland, including the eleven cities of the Elfstedentocht.

* More tourist information of the Eleven Cities.

* Official website of the Fries Museum Leeuwarden.

24 comments:

oranjeflamingo said...

What a great idea for a tour! A very lovely and interesting first stop.

I had no idea that Mata Hari was from Leeuwarden. Thanks for teaching me something new today!

Lizzy said...

How cute! My boyfriend is from Leeuwarden. This tour is a great idea! You'll have so much fun.

A Touch of Dutch said...

Cool photos! I'm loving not only your graphics as well, but everything you have to share :-) Learning a lot of great things!

AggieLap said...

All this time, I thought that the Elfstedentocht had last taken place in January because they talked so much about it and its history in the news last winter, at the time the whole Netherlands was out skating due to the frozen canals/lakes. But now I have read about it (on their website), I realise it was just the 100th anniversary :))
I'm glad I'm reading your post so I can learn more about these 11 cities (and more).
I really feel like going back and spend another weekend in Friesland!! :)

Aledys Ver said...

@oranjeflamingo,
I didn't even know that Mata Hari was from the Netherlands! :o) Her story is very intersting, I'll share it with you here some time in the future.
Thanks for your visit and comment!

@Lizzy,
Wonderful! Does your boyfriend speak Fries? I think that Fries culture is so cool!
Thanks for your comments!!

@Isabella,
Thanks a lot for your comments! I learn so much from your blog, too!

Aledys Ver said...

@Aggie,
I thought that it would be held this year, since there was so much ice and people were ice-skating everywhere and everybody said they hadn't done it in years!
I love going to Friesland! I never get tired of visiting that province.
Thanks for stopping by!

Presépio no Canal said...

What a great idea of your Eleven Cities Tour ; 0)

I know it about Mata Hari and I had a blog entry about it too :
http://presepiocomvistaparaocanal.blogspot.com/search?q=mata+hari

But I never been at the Museum. ... oh, my God, now I am very curious to see your blog entry about it !! I am a fan of spies stories ;)

In Frisia, I only know...

Hindeloopen ... I just adore their furniture...remembers me the typical furniture from Alentejo, a province of the south of Portugal...)

Franeker and the Planetarium ...amazing!!

I took so many fotos at the time. They are also on the blog :)

But now, I am so curious to see your tips about the others cities because it will be all new for me...

I can t wait for your next blog entries!!

I like also their flag, so cute with the hearths ;)

Music, I only know Twarres....very, very relaxing, ...listen here...

ttp://presepiocomvistaparaocanal.blogspot.com/2008/07/prola-da-frsia.html

Elfstedentoch...only in old movies that I saw it ( i put them on the blog last january because everybody was talking about it...with some hope that it will be this year...)

So, when is your next blog entry? ;) Oh, Mata Hari ;)

Vagamundos said...

You are quite a good guide tourist! Catchy photos to ilustrate a fully informed report on beautiful places. The Netherlands should reward you for being such a good embassador :)
Cheers from Denmark

thamarai said...

that was super interesting...I read the article on Mata Hari as well...such a cool way to travel..I will be tracking your visits too..:)

Aledys Ver said...

@Presépio,
I'll read your entry on Mata Hari, I loved her story too. You should definitely go to her museum in Leeuwarden (it's a part of the Fries Museum).
Funny how you've been to places in Hindelopen and Franeker where I haven't - that's good, we can exchange info. and impressions, then ;)
My next blog entry...? Surprise!! hehe

@Vagamundos,
THanks a lot!! Do you think I should get an honorary title or something like that? :o)

@thamarai,
Thanks for stopping by. Another Mata Hari fan? Mmm.... I'll have to speed up my Mata Hari blog entry then :)

Anita said...

Ahn ? My previous comment was not sent. Well, I have only been shortly in Leeuwarden and of course it is a very beautiful Dutch village. When I was here in the NL for the first time during the winter of 1997 there was an Elfstedentocht. I was staying some days at Schagen with a girl friend and her family was talking a lot about that. The temperatures went from -10 to -20 degrees Celsius (and when Iwent back to Brazil it was above 40 degrees !). Since then it has never become so cold again.

~Lopa said...

I came to know about The Elfstedentocht last winter, as winter was good lots of my colleagues were talking about it.
They said its so much of excitement as it is not every year that we have good winter. It happens after ice is checked and if they have formed required thickness then it is announced that it will be help this year.
It sounds so much fun ! :)

Presépio no Canal said...

We were there, in Hindeloopen and Franeker, Summer 2008, between July and August.
I think you will like to see our fotos about the Museum of Hindeloopen and the Planetarium of Franeker :) Enjoy! You are always welcome, you know that :)
I just love Frísia! So antique!
We bought also a book about their traditional cuisine with ancient songs!
I want to go there again because it is a very relaxing province and so beautiful...so your next blog entries will be very useful...I must say, I can`t wait!!
Have a great week!...ah, and I agree with Vagamundos!;)

Aledys Ver said...

@Anita,
Well, Leeuwarden is the capital of Friesland, not a village! :o)
Yes, 1997 was the last time the Elfstedentocht was held, a long time ago. Who knows if we'll ever have another one!
Thanks for your comments!!

@Lopa,
Yes, I think that in 2009 we were really very close to seeing a new Elfstedentocht. A pity that it couldn't happen, because this year is the 100th Anniversary of the event! It would've been nice!
THanks for stopping by!

@Presépio,
So we might even have been there at the same time, then ;) I didn't go to the museum of Hindelopen, I just have a picture from outside. And we didn't visit the Planetarium either! I'll have to check your blog entry to see what it was about.
This summer we went back to Friesland (actually, he went to Hindelopen again) and then we were in Harlingen (a town I love!) and then we went to one of the islands.
THanks for your comments!!

buday said...

In my country there used to be a brand of canned milk called Frisian Girl. I couldn't help chuckling while reading this because finally I know what Frisian means, haha.

This is great, a blog series. I just subscribed to your blog --- wouldn't want to miss the latest posts (Up next: Sneek Peek?).

I agree with @Vagamundos, the Netherlands should name you an honorary ambassador.:)

Aledys Ver said...

buday,
Indeed! There's a brand called "Frisian Girl"!Farming is one of the main activities in this area, so I'm not surprised :o)
For some reason, I had not suscribed to yours so I was missing your last updates. Now I've set that right!
Thanks for your comments!

Just a Plane Ride Away said...

Beautiful! I have heard of people ice skating from town to town, but someone told me that the canals haven't frozen over very often in recent times. But maybe we're too far south?

Aledys Ver said...

JaPRA,
Indeed, the race has taken place just 15 times in the last 100 years. Maybe the canals freeze every year but not enough to make the race safe for the ice skaters.
I think that it's not so much that we are too far south but that the climate in the Netherlands is very much influenced by the water that surrounds it, which makes it more temperate. That, and global warming... or so they say...
Thanks for your comments!

M.Eugenia said...

Que interesante todo lo que cuentas del maratón y de la ciudad.
Volvere con mas calma.
Saludos

Anonymous said...

Another excellent article! I feel like visiting this place!

Aledys Ver said...

@M.Eugenia,
Muchas gracias por tu comentario, un saludo!


@Anonymous,
Thanks a lot for stopping by! Cheers!

annis said...

Mejor te escribo en nuestro dulce español :)
Mi esposito es de Friesland!
Y cuando fuimos a Leeuwarden, si vi la iglesia o edificio inclinado, se va a sorprender cuando le cuente lo que acabo de leer jeje.
Hay un restaurancito que se llama Yucatan, no teniamos hambre pero fuimos para recordar mi MExico querido, y no hallamos mexicanos jeje, pero si me comi unos buenos nachos...
Y a mi tambien me encantan las vacas, lleno que esta de vacas en todos los caminos, y ovejas tambien. Yo me pregunto, porque teniendo tantas vacas, cuando hacen barbecue, solo hay pequeños trocitos de carne, y no bisteck marca VACA como aqui en Mexico? tal vez tu ya sabes, si si, comentame manita... que pronto que vaya para alla quisiera cocinar como se debe :)
gracias por tu info! super interesatnte!

Aledys Ver said...

Hola Annis! Qué bueno leerte. Imagino por lo que dices que estás ahora en México? Y cuándo te vienes de nuevo a NL?
Friesland es mi lugar favorito en NL, sobre todo en verano - es un disfrute pasear por los pueblitos tan pintorescos y los lagos, lagunas, canales... precioso!
Las vacas que tienen aquí son en mayoría vacas lecheras, no para carne - por eso es que la carne vacuna aquí no es gran cosa. Te imaginas lo que sufro yo en este aspecto viniendo de Argentina... y para que te des una idea de lo que pienso de las barbacoas (asados) holandeses, al asador que utilizan normalmente yo le llamo "tostadora" y cuando vamos a comer uno, siempre le digo a mi esposo: "ya pusieron las tostadas en la tostadora?" jaja
Un saludo!

annis said...

Como lo sospeche, mi esposito se sorprendio de lo que aprendi en este blog jeje. Si, aun sigo en MExico, llego alla el 20 de julio :) ya casi semana y media mas. Y a iniciar a aprender el idioma y empezar con los tramites legales ... y se podra conseguir un bistek tu crees? jeje buscare la manera de cocinar algo asi cuando este alla jeje. Un saludo!