Thursday, February 9, 2012

Elfstedentocht - Eleven Cities Tour

The first thing that people who come to Holland find out is that the prostitution and light drugs are legal. If the discussion evolves one might find different subtle hues of the "legal" part of these activities. All right, if you indulge yourself in an act of sweet dissipation with a woman you get to pick from the window, you might get a receipt for the money you paid and sometimes you might even deduct the VAT. On the other hand, this job cannot be included in the official list of jobs, for at least one reason: if a woman is out of job and she applied for something, and THAT job is available, she'll have to take it. No need for further explanation, maybe a future debate will follow about this :).

Then you get to learn some other things. For instance, you learn that bikes are public property, the lock is just a challenge :). So when you see bikes that are worth less than the lock (no joke at all here) do not get surprised. If you come here in the summer, you still have some time till the winter to find out about one of the greatest prides of The Netherlands. You find it invariably in your first winter here. Off the record: if you come from a somehow-continental-climate country you might miss the winter at all and you think it's just a long summer. It's about 10 degrees anyway, approximately the same as in July :D. Fine, I slightly exaggerated but I was not that far off.

However, as the temperature goes to zero, still happens now and then, you hear your colleagues talk very vividly about something. By that time you only managed to learn how to say "thank you" and you're working hard on learning "please" (alstublieft - now you try this, smarties!) and their conversation doesn't make any sense to you. Then you ask, in English, of course, what are they talking about. And they reply to you, again in English:
"We're talking about the Elfstedentocht".

You feel immediately obliged to say a "Bless you!" and still make that waiting-for-the-answer face.
"You're talking about what?"


"Bless you! Gezundheit! (never say that again to a Dutch person, it's like talking Hebrew in an Arab country or the other way around)"

"You know, it's a Dutch tradition, it means Eleven Cities Tour. If the temperatures go below zero and the water in the canals freezes, people participate in a skating trip that goes through 11 cities, in the north of Holland. It's about 200 km".

"Wow", you normally say and that's the end of the conversation.

To cut the long drama short and to dispel the suspense, let me give you some facts: I've been in Holland for 12 years, I even managed to learn to say please in Dutch, but the Elfstedentocht (don't check the spelling, it's futile) hasn't happened yet. Until now...

Now they are all talking about it, people appear on the telly and they are measuring the thickness of the ice every single minute, hoping for another micrometer. If you want my personal opinion on this, there will never be another skating event. Ever. Not because the ice will be thinner than the last time, but the rules are getting stricter and stricter. If 20 years ago we needed 25 cm of ice, now it'll be 30, which is still fine. But the number of instances to approve such an event has at least trebled.

Anyway, the most hilarious part of this is that they have rules and committees. This is an event that probably happened 5 times ever, but they have rules. Imagine there have been so far 20 football matches ever - would we have the offside rule? No way! And for this, you need to register! This is really killing. First of all, there is a deadline. No one knows if it's going through, but there's a deadline (yesterday if I'm not mistaken). If you think you registered and you'll get to participate, I hope you're young too next to being naive. There will be a drawing and only a few will be able to align for the start.

There are exceptions though. If you registered before 1973, you do not need to re-register now, you'll be in the cap for the drawing pro bono. Seventy three!! I don't know if they have some age criteria, like if you're already 30 you might not get to live for another one, you should be automatically admitted. Damn, I should have registered my son, he's one, he might still have some chances.

In the end, it's much simpler. If you like skating and if you really like it outdoor, just do it! Individually!  The ice is strong enough, especially near the banks. Forget the registration and the promise of day when you will have probably expired.  And above all, enjoy every bit of this magnificent trip through this beautiful country. Hand made!

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