Sunday, January 11, 2009
Ice skating (schaatsen) is super popular in Nederland. When I say super popular, I mean that Nederlanders get deliriously amped up when there's ice to carve. Let me show you. Here is where I work, High Tech Campus Eindhoven:
Not a bad sunny-Friday lunch hour, skating on the pond, eh? Somebody scraped the snow off of a nice winding loop around the pond, creating a schaatsbaan for everyone to enjoy! There was music pumping and hot-chocolate (warme chocolade) for sale outside. By the way, the tall building in the background holds my office.
To me, the ice frenzy appears somewhat like the "powder day" in the Rocky Mountain states -- where it's sort of assumed that you can have the morning off to go skiing if there's a big dump of snow. However, skating this week wasn't just Friday, and it wasn't just a fair-skies fascination. This was Thursday, same scene, in the freezing fog:
Me? After discovering the schaatsbaan on Wednesday, I forgot to bring my skates to work both Thursday and Friday. D'oh! However, the weekend was gorgeous, so I strapped my skates to my bike and rode down to a pond not far from my house to see if there was any skating happening there. Wow, was there ever!
Timeless family fun. The scene on the local pond was not that different from this one, painted in Holland in the 17th century:
Schaatsen has a long history in the Netherlands, for sure. Leisure skating, speed skating, even hockey, to a lesser extent (most Dutch think of hockey has a summer grass-field sport -- played by men and women, by the way). The nation holds an impressive number of records in speed skating competitions, and, historically, skating on the vast network of Dutch canals was a favorite wintertime activity. Unfortunately, in recent years, winters have rarely been cold enough for skating! I think that a big part of the reason for the hullabaloo around skating here and now is because it has become so rare.
A famous Dutch skating marathon, the Elfstedentocht, or, literally, Journey of Eleven Cities, has become almost a mythical tradition. It was last held in 1997 because the ice has not been consistently good enough to hold a 200 km race since! It's interesting right now, because it has been unusually cold for nearly two weeks and everyone is talking about whether it will be possible to hold the Elfstedentocht. I sure hope so, maybe I'll make the trek up north to see it!