|It's cold out here in the east of the Netherlands. View of some farms in the outskirts of Zwolle.|
Let me refresh your memory if you have visited this blog before: the Elfstedentocht is a 200 km long ice-skating race that connects eleven cities in the northern province of Friesland. Unfortunately, the race cannot be held every winter for there are a number of conditions that need to be met in order to make it possible and safe for the people involved.
During the Elfstedentocht the participants in the race skate from city to city over frozen lakes, canals and ditches across the province of Friesland. The race starts and finishes in the capital, Leeuwarden and it connects this city with ten others: Sneek, IJlst, Sloten, Stavoren, Hindelopen, Workum, Bolsward, Harlingen, Franeker and Dokkum.The temperatures have to stay below the 0°C mark for several days to allow the waterways to freeze evenly and form a layer of ice thick enough to support the huge weight load of thousands of professional and amateur skaters. The quality of the ice along the 200 km is the key issue for this big event to take place.
Obviously winters have been quite mild for the last 15 years in the Netherlands, for there hasn't been an Elfstedentocht since 1997. European IceSkating Cup on natural ice, yes, Race of the Eleven Cities, nope.
That is why every winter, every time the thermometer goes below 0°C for a couple of days, you can feel the excitement building up across the country. Will there be an Elfstedentocht this year or not? Hardly a news bulletin goes by without a mention of this event. Yesterday the whole nation's expectations reached a high point when it was announced that the rayonhoofden (district heads or chiefs) would convene in Friesland for an overleg (consultation) and study the possibility of finally running the race. Hotels in Leuwarden and other cities along the race route were flooded with calls from people making reservations, in case the hoofden (heads/chiefs) today decided it was going to be Elfstedentocht ja.
Maar helaas (but unfortunately) this morning during a press conference it became clear that the Elfstedenkoorts (fever) was probably a bit premature. The experts informed that the conditions of the ice are not the required, especially in the south and southeast of Friesland; in Stavoren and Luts the ice is even considered to be still "too bad" to hold the race. They are looking for a steady thickness of minimum 15 centimetres of ice and it hasn't reached that point just yet. The members of the Vereniging De Friesche Elf Steden -the Association of the Eleven Frisian Cities- have informed that they will be working "with might and main" at the weak points and probably find an alternative route, for in the rest of the circuit in the north of Friesland the quality of the ice is the desired for the race to take place.
Since coming to live in the Netherlands I have seen long-ish periods of very cold winter weather, which I really like. I have also joined in the general excitement out there on the ice, watching people ice skating or having fun in the snow. But I have never ever yet seen a Race of the Eleven Cities take place, except for short video clips on tv or online.
So I am really hoping that it will be an Elfstedentocht já this year! For the time being, this is the closest I'll get to witnessing an ice skating race: