Posted on 31 January 2009 by joost
“When it freezes outside, the Dutch melt” – anonymous foreign visitor. That pretty much sums up what happens when the temperature outside drops below freezing. All the water we have freezes, and we must, must go outside ice skating.
Ice skating is one of the great national sports in .nl, but only when it freezes. You see, all the water we have then turns to ice. And when all around you are great frozen lakes, beckoning for you to conquer them on ice skates, when the roads turn to a grey slosh, the call is irresistible. So when it freezes, seriously freezes, we ice skate. And we do it properly.
During those freezing times – last seen in January 2009 – a strange virus takes hold of .nl folk. It seems everyone has a pair of ice skates laying around, and time to go out and get on the ice. There are a few distinct classes of ice skaters. Everyday folk with everyday skates. Kids with hockey skates. And older people with long-distance skates (noren). All go outside at the crack of dawn and stumble across the frozen tundra.
The ‘official’ depth of the ice is 10 centimeters, at which point it is considered thick enough to hold the onslaught of Dutchies and assorted parafernalia such as chairs and food stands. But the official depth is pretty hard to reach: it has to freeze for over a week for the ice to grow that thick. So invariably after just a few days the first dare-devils will go out on the ice. Strangely enough, the older someone is, the more likely he/she will take the risk of early ice-capade. Presumably this is because older people long for the olden days when every winter used to be icy from November till March. So invariably the first accounts of natuurijs (natual ice) are accompanied with reports of people slipping into a hole in the ice (a wak) and the freezing of assorted body parts.
Then after a few days, when the freezing continues and the country is covered in a white blanket, the first cries for an “Elfstedentocht” are voiced. This long-distance ice skating marathon runs over eleven Frisian villages, hence its name, Eleven cities trip. Or quest rather, because it is a very strenuous and difficult trip. It requires very low temperatures for two weeks for all the ice surrounding these eleven cities to grow thick enough to support the contestants. But when it happens, oh boy the country is filled with joy. For a brief period, all is good, Netherlands is Nederland again, ice skate sales go through the roof and we all sit behind the tube, since the trip is broadcast verbatim across the country. Sadly, the last edition was in 1997. Thank you global warming.
Of course, there are other sporting events besides the mother of all trips. The Dutch Championships run every year, since we have a plethora of indoor skating rings all over the country. But fairly soon after the first natural frost, the first outdoor national championships are held in shallow waters. We had the last one in January 2009. The best contestants of the national championships compete in Europe, and people from this pool compete in the Olympics as well. Tiny as .nl is, we have a fair number of world-class athletes who have won some serious medals. Innovations such as the klapschaats (clapping skate) are Dutch, too.
Food and beverages
Where there’s hoards of people, there’s others catering food and beverages. Outdoors ice skating is no exception and it will not be long before you see your first koek en zopie. Koek means cake or cookies and zopie means beverage, usually alcoholic. The term koek en zopie applies to every catering outfit on the ice and it is one of those strange Dutch words that every native seems to understand without ever being explained.
Hot chocolate is a favorite on the ice, with added rhum optional. All kinds of cookies and granola bars can be had as well, plus chocolate bars such as Mars and Snickers (insert local brand name chocolate bar here). On the hearty side, snert (thick pea soup) is abundant, as is the rookworst (smoked sausage), with a thick slice of bacon optional. As you’d have guessed, winter in .nl means serious calorie intake and huge amounts of animal fat. Just go along and worry about your diet when the temperature rises again.