I am aware this is very off topic for a blog about Madrid, but perhaps you have Dutch friends or acquaintances who look slightly feverish this week: please do not worry about them. They do not suffer from any real disease but are taken over by the prospect of maybe, just maybe, one of the biggest sports events in their native country.
If the winter is cold enough and the canals, ditches and lakes in the most northern province of The Netherlands, Friesland, begin to be covered with ice -just as is happening now- the Dutch start to look forward to the ‘Race of all Races’ the Elfstedentocht (Tour of the 11 Cities) and can actually become quite feverish over it.
The 200 kilometer skating race (yes, through 11 bigger and smaller cities) is a rare event: to support the crowds the ice needs to be at least 15 cm think. The last tour was held in 1997 and before that in 1886, 1985, and a particularly gruesome ‘Hell of 1963’ where 10.000 people started and around 150 actually made it due to extreme weather. It took the winner in 1997 almost 7 hours to reach the finish line but in return his name -Henk Angenent, a Brussels sprout farmer during summer- will be remembered forever.
Freezing temperatures, wind and snow, collisions with low bridges, frozen eye balls, frozen toes and frozen anything-else-you- can-imagine make it a very long race for the 16.000 skaters who are all members of the Elfsteden organisation. But not too long: whoever is not back before midnight (start is at 5:30 am) will be disqualified. The waiting list to become a member is long and spaces usually only open up after the death of a member. Add up 2 million visitors and you can imagine the fever.
A short vocabulary so you can keep up a conversation with your Dutch friends:
-It giet oan!
Frisian for: it goes ahead! It is the ok given, only one or two days ahead, by the heads of each region covered by the race to tell there will be a race this year
Name of the canal in the city of Leeuwarden where the finish is
Verb: Walking with your skates on over land (covered by straw or carpet to protects the blades) to avoid the parts in the ice that are not strong enough. Yes, there is a verb for it.
Putting pieces of ice in water that has not managed to freeze yet and hope that this will be just enough
Stand to get your stamp: you need a stamp from each city plus 3 extra from secret locations to be eligible for….a medal. Miss one and you are disqualified