Thursday, January 8, 2009

Cold Spell

We're in the second week of a cold spell here in Delft. The canals and other bodies of water are frozen. Speed skating is always a popular winter sport here that people like to watch on TV, but lately people are really catching ice skating fever: Tuesday morning on my way to work I rode by some guys playing ice hockey right outside my building; this evening on the way home I saw some children skating down a canal (again right outside my building); and of course all week I've heard other tales of people seeking out the best skating spots in local parks. The thing that really has people excited, though, is the chance that the Elfstedentocht ("Journey of Eleven Cities") could take place this year.

The Elfstedentocht is a speed skating competition held in Friesland (northern Netherlands) whenever the Dutch winter provides sufficiently thick ice. The course is along canals that connect 11 cities. According to Wikipedia, the ice has to be 15 cm (~6 in) thick along [nearly] the entirely of the course for the race to take place. The current forecast for next week is calling for ice thicknesses greater than 15 cm, so fingers across the Netherlands are crossed in hopes that the race could happen this year. I've been told that most people will watch the race on TV and that if I find myself alone at work one day soon, the race is the likely culprit. The last race happened in 1997 and only four have taken place in the last 50 years (4!). The winner last time took almost seven hours to finish and probably had ice hanging from his face at the end. The route is shown below in orange; zoom out to get a better idea of where it is in the country. If you can't see Delft on the map after zooming out, then know that we're located close to Den Haag, well south of the course. It's almost 200 km or 125 mi from Delft to the southernmost point on the race course by car - roughly the length of the race course itself!

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