/ The Amsterdam Guide
Amsterdam — By Marianne on January 26, 2010 at 11:58 am

Dutch Skating Fever

Temperatures will dip to -15°C (-5°F) in the northern part of the Netherlands for the next few days. This is music to the ears of ice skaters and especially Eleven-Cities-Tour skaters, Elfstedentocht, in Dutch, a 200-km speed skating competition.

The Elfstedentocht is a national event which takes place every ten to twenty years, when the temperature is low enough for the Frisian lakes and canals to freeze over. The tour was held only fifteen times in the past century. The last one was in 1997.

Ice-master volunteers probe the ice with a five-foot long harpoon-like pole. If the ice measures fifteen centimetres (six inches), it is safe. The decision to skate is always made at the last minute and followed by frantic preparations by thousands of volunteers and tour skaters.

The start and finish are in Leeuwarden (map). The tour passes through eleven cities in the province of Friesland. This grueling two hundred-kilometre (125 miles) race leads along frozen canals, across ice-locked lakes, under humpback bridges and past quaint villages. Thin patches of ice along the route mean klunen for the skaters. They slip rubber protectors on the blades of their skates, walk across a snowy patch of land or across a bridge to a place where the ice is again thick enough for skating.

It is early morning and still dark when the tour starts. A huge pile of shoes indicates the spot where the participants put on their skates. Cheered by a large crowd, the professional and semi- professional skaters set off first. They will reach the finish after six and a half hours. Sixteen thousand recreational skaters follow. For them it is not so much who arrives first, but who skates the whole stretch. Skaters who don’t reach the finish before midnight are disqualified.

Elfstedenkoorts, Eleven-cities fever, has started, the weather looks promising. People have begun making preparations, but it is still uncertain if the race will take place this year.

TIP: If you don’t look forward to sub zero temperatures, ice and skating, but like to see skating people, frozen over lakes and snow-laden trees, spend an afternoon in the Rijksmuseum. The current exhibition; The Little Ice Age, Dutch Winter Landscapes by Hendrick Avercamp shows the beauty of snowy landscapes and ice skaters, without you getting cold hands and feet. Finish your afternoon in the Rijksmuseum café sipping hot chocolate laced with rum, the traditional drink for skaters.

WHAT: The Little Ice Age, Dutch Winter Landscapes
WHEN: Masterpieces permanent collection, Little Ice Age until 15 February 2010
WHERE: Rijksmuseum, Jan Luijkenstraat 1, (map)
Opening hours: Daily 09.00-18.00, Friday 09.00-20.30
Admission fee: €12,50, free for museum card holders.
Tram 2 and 5 from Amsterdam Centraal Station

photo credit: Alex Verweij @flickr

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