In this collection of travel stories, The Netherlands has a special place, because I was born and raised here. And I actually still live here. Thinking about the most Dutch sight or event I could share with you, I decided that the Elfstedentocht, or 11 Town Tour, is by far the most typical Dutch event with a very special place in Dutch culture. Although difficult for foreigners to understand, I will still try. The Elfstedentocht is a skating tour of 200 kilometres, held only in very cold winters which allow all the canals and lakes to freeze with a substantial amount of ice, capable of carrying the 16,000 participants. The tour is held in the province of Friesland, but the entire country comes to a standstill when it happens - it is perhaps the strongest typical and unique cultural event we have.
For a very long time, the tour was not held and for an entire generation, it seemed impossible it would ever be held again. I was one of those born after 1963, the last, memorable and historic tour in which only around 1 percent of all participants actually finished. Ever after, winters were mild, and it seemed that 1963 was the last time the event could be held. But then, in 1985, there was so much ice, temperatures dropped so far below zero for such a long time, that in the end, just before spring would start, the tour was organized. I was one of the lucky ones to participate and I will never forget the atmosphere during the whole day, the audience in the towns and villages on the way from Leeuwarden to Leeuwarden.
It was almost surrealistic to be skating this tour, and it was almost more unrealistic that already one year later it was again such a cold winter that it could be organized again! And after 11 years of warmer winters, in 1997 was the last time for the Elfstedentocht to be held so far. Part of the culture are the weeks before the event, when it is the hottest issue in the evening news, and measurements of the ice are given, previsions for the weather, experts trying to guess when the event can be organized, and the climax when the chairman of the responsible organization discloses the date when the Elfstedentocht will be held.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Eleven Cities Race (Netherlands). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Eleven Cities Race.
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