…could you think of to do a race? I expect the ever-inventive Dutch could beat you hands down.
Yesterday was the start and finish of the Elfstedentch or ‘Eleven Cities Race’ in Bolsward, where we are moored. For once, we managed to arrive somewhere, where an event was in progress, rather than just having the front-row seats for the clean -up (illuminating though that may be).
The Elfstedentoch started as a race around the Eleven Historic Cities of Friesland (Dokkum, Leeuwarden, Sloten, Bolsward, Iljst, Franeker , Leeuwarden, Stavoren, Hinderloopen, Sneek) on the frozen canals. So determined are they to do this, that in 1997, they actually transplanted ice at certain vulnerable points on the route, such as beneath the canal bridges. Let’s face it, if you can make your whole country from otherwise flooded land and then another bit (Flevoland ) by reclaiming it then , transplanting ice is a mere trifle.
Recently though, the winters haven’t been severe enough to make the ice skating feasible. So they’ve invented new ways to keep this tradition alive and kicking. The Eleven Cities Bike Race has been going since 1912 and these days , it has to be limited to 15,00 people (I have never seen so many bikes!) and isn’t a race, but a ‘ 225km tour’ for health and safety reasons. We watched some of it, while doing our own, modest, 25km cycle ride. There were the usual sort of ‘Cycling Gods’ in lycra, travelling fast, and the majority of the participants were men.But there were also women and not all in the first flush of youth. There were groups from cycling clubs, in matching kit, the young and fit and not-so-young, but still so physically fit as to make a Brit feel inadeqaute. Even some people on tandems. Hurrah for the tandems! While we were wathing, one man left the route to say ‘Hallo’ to his wife and small daughter. We saw others stopping off with their families’ camper vans and tents, to gulp down a platefull of pasta, before continuing. And the finsh. Well!! There was a ‘Fietsens’ enclosure which wasn’t accessible to mere mortals, where weary cyclists downed beer and burgers, before staggering off to family cars and a hot bath, clutching their prizes, the inevitable bouquet of flowers.
The previous day was the ‘Scooter Elfstedentoch’.
People of all shapes, sizes and ages, completed a route on scooters and were validated at the finish by a brass band.
Everyone, it seems was on the streets, drinking beer, listening to incredibly loud music and having fun. And not one single Police Officer in sight.
There was also an Eleven Cities run.
Some just marked the Elfstedentoch by having a drink and some food with their neighbours.
How many other ways could they keep this tradition alive? Eleven Cities cakes? Eleven Cities Pancake race (they like pancakes here!) They’re very keen on pets so could there be an Eleven Cities Dog Race? I challenge you to think of it before they do.
For me, it was like swimming with dolphins. Towards the end of this morning, our cycle route was shared, briefly with the Gods of the Elfstedentoch. Never before and I suspect, never again. Sadly!