For centuries, the Dutch have used winters to move from one place to another by taking to the ice. As soon as the rivers and lakes freeze over, a new dimension to transportation comes up. The Dutch have traditionally been skaters and people to enjoy the ice instead of staying inside and wait until the cold has passed. Just think of the many paintings of old masters of winter scenes: life is continued outside, but on the ice. Nowadays, cold winters are becoming rare, and the waters do not freeze over very frequently anymore. But when they do, the instinct is the same: virtually everyone moves to the ice. For the Dutch, skating on natural ice is the ultimate victory over water, but it is also a sensation of ultimate freedom.
The real dare devils try out the ice when it is still very thin, and there are often accidents, sometimes fatal, where skaters disappear under the ice. After a few more days of freezing weather, more and more people join, until the ice becomes thick enough to organize tours. Skaters get a piece of paper on which they have to collect a number of stamps to be eligible to get a medal according to the distance skated. There are hundreds of tours all over the country, the most famous one being the Elfstedentocht, which is 200km in length but organized only in the coldest of winters. After a few days of freezing weather, people in the Netherlands speculate about the possibility to organize this mythical tour in Friesland.
The culture around skating on natural ice culture consists of many things. There is always the concern of \"wakken\", or openings in the ice, often marked by branches or tape. Many stretches of ice are being cleaned regularly, so it is clear where one can skate. Skaters often have to go \"klunen\": covering a distance where skating is not possible by walking on their skates. You can then see skaters clumsily walking on the public roads - a funny sight. Then there are the inevitable \"koek en zopies\": places on the ice where you can get hot chocolate, pea soup, or other small drinks and snacks to get some strength for the next stretch of skating. All the while, the atmosphere between skaters is very friendly: complete strangers talk to each other, help each other, and there is a common sense of enjoying skating.
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