Is the ice safe? Natuurijs in the Netherlands

by Translation Guy on January 7, 2010

What does ice formation have to do with translation? Well, I’m finding it hard to stay on top of the Dutch ice-up when I don’t speak the language. Maybe I should be calling this blog “Lost in Google Translation” because TranslationGuy is not doing so good with his ice-condition Dutch these days.  I have been trying to follow the freeze in the Netherlands for the last two years so I can realize my life-long dream to shave Dutch ice.

I love to skate, but hate to go in circles. As a kid in Pennsylvania, skating on the farm ponds that would freeze up for a week or two was fun, and Wollman Rink in Central Park is a truly great skate just a few blocks from my place, but my dream was to go as canal-straight as Hans Brinker skating off into the sunset.

Last year, for the first time in 12 years, the canals finally froze. And I found out after the melt. While everyone in Holland was having a mega skate season, I was doing laps in Central Park, around and around in total Dutch ignorance. This year, I swore it wouldn’t happen. I’ve implored every Dutchman and woman I know for information, and I’ve tried to follow events on and using Google Translate, but it hasn’t been easy.

Why? Because Google Translate stinks. (You would think Dutch machine translation would be good because of the strong correspondence between English and Dutch, but it’s not, I guess for programming and lexicon resource reasons.) But the real problem is that machine translations are push-solutions, meaning that you’ve got to identify the content you want to translate first, because the tools can’t do it for you. I suppose you could use search terms such as “natuurijs” (natural ice) and then translate your findings, but that takes a lot of time, and the search results are dominated by accounts of the Elfstedentocht, or “Eleven Cities Tour,” a 200-kilometer mega-tour of the province of Friesland known as “the mother of all skating tours.” There has got to be a better way to get to this kind of information on the real-time web, the way we do it in our native languages. I haven’t figured it out yet.

As a hockey pond kind of skater, I don’t know a snow cone’s worth about the way skating is done in the Netherlands. Tours and tickets and maps and signposts and pea soup stands (an additional source of propulsion) ― very interesting and a complete mystery.  As is the weather, as always.  So I must continue to rely on the kindness of Dutch strangers (and friends) for guidance.

The Molentocht Alblasserwaard Tour seems great, since that seems likely to offer sufficient wind-mill-age to achieve a Hans Brinker-like state of mind, or the Negendorpentocht Krimpernerwaard for a maximum Bruegelistic experience. What to do? Rent a car or take the train?  And most importantly, when to go?!

I’ve got my fingers crossed that the freeze-up will continue. So, if you have any suggestions or info on ice conditions, please share them with me, and this post can become a clearing-house for other Natuurijs-istas who are Dutch-language deprived. Hope to see you on the ice!


  1. Cory says:

    Stay tuned for both the Negendorpentocht and the Molentocht to happen next week! (2/2010). Ice conditions aren’t too great since the top layer has been snowed over and melted a while back, but the more we skate the smoother the ice becomes. And with an expected -5 to -10 for the next few days, the ice layer will thicken and bird hoes will close.
    (Conditions today, Jan. 9th, were “arctic”: down to -5 or -6 and 5-6 Bft North-Easterly winds; that’s a whole lot to push against on the wide open ice plains…)

    Run for your last minute to Amsterdam, don’t forget to bring your own “Noren” (those elongated, low-stance tour skates) since almost all shops have run out by now! Train and (water-)bus will take you to the Kinderdijk mills in under two hours!

    Regularly updated ice conditions for the eastern part of the Krimpenerwaard/Vlist area:
    Unofficial Negendorpentocht site:

  2. Hi There, my name is Maarten (I’m Dutch), I was interested in some general translation issues and came across your blog. Very interesting. I work at UNC in Chapel Hill NC and concidentally had an interesting conversation with a co-worker about the eleven cities tour in Friesland. We discussed it since I went skating in the ice-plex in Raleigh and I was just complaining about the exact same thing: “I love to skate, but hate to go in circles” :-) … I got some ice-hockey skates and couldn’t get speed skates, like the ones I used to skate on in the Netherlands. It was therefore very interesting to read your blog.

    Here’s an article that gives an update about the state of ‘nature-ice’ (I wouldn’t know how to translate that to English; natuurijs … outdoors speed skating?). If you’d like I could help you translate more, but here’s a Dutch version of an article in ‘NRC handelsblad’, a Dutch newspaper that I read on-line. If you’d like to chat you can reach me at

    Outdoors marathons anounced for ice skating: “Ronde van Loosdrecht” and “Veluwemeertocht (Elburg)” …

    Twee marathons op natuurijs aangekondigd
    Gepubliceerd: 7 januari 2010 16:16 | Gewijzigd: 7 januari 2010 16:17
    Hoogland, 7 jan. Het ijs is na dit weekeinde dik genoeg voor het verrijden van schaatsklassiekers op natuurijs. De schaatsbond KNSB meldde vandaag dat maandag 11 januari de Ronde van Loosdrecht doorgaat en een dag later de Veluwemeertocht vanuit Elburg.
    De vrouwen schaatsen in beide tochten 60 kilometer, de mannen 100 kilometer. De dikte van het ijs op de plassen bij beide plaatsen is volgens KNSB-marathoncoördinator Teun Breedijk 10 centimeter. Door de vorst van de komende dagen groeit de laag naar 12 centimeter. Veilig genoeg, aldus de coördinator.

    Volgens Breedijk behoort volgende week ook een Nederlands kampioenschap marathon op natuurijs tot de mogelijkheden. Vorig jaar werd dit NK voor het eerst sinds 1997 gehouden op de Oostvaardersplassen nabij Lelystad. Sjoerd Huisman won.

    Nederland telt twaalf zogeheten natuurijsklassiekers. Ook de Elfstedentocht behoort daarbij. De laatste Veluwemeertocht werd gehouden op 8 januari 1997. De Ronde van Loosdrecht ging voor het laatste door op 1 februari 1996.

  3. Zackery says:

    the Netherlands is such a good skating nation and they also have great hockey players

  4. Thoms B. says:

    Hi Ken, check out my pictures from the Mill tour Alblasserwaard (Molentocht Alblasserwaard) –

  5. Franky says:

    Nice photos, check out these ones also –,ice

    • Ken says:

      Amazing photos. Thanks! I am bringing a ton of film and video. We are now shooting for a Wedneday departure to hit the ice Thursday afternoon in De-Rijt to skate with some Dutch friends, then down to Utrecht for the weekend. We’ll see if the weather holds. I’ll be wearing a florescent orange cap, can’t miss it…

  6. Zion lover says:

    The Elfstedentocht or “Eleven Cities Tour”, a 200-kilometer mega-tour in the province of Friesland known as “the mother of all skating tours.” sounds awesome

  7. Future Prez says:

    all eleven cities of Friesland in a single day! Cool!

  8. BlindOne says:

    The Vereniging De Friesche Elf Steden meets and chooses a tour date. Usually it’s only 48 hours in advance. But the word gets out fast, and that’s when the mass hysteria really kicks in.

  9. Cary says:

    Some spots are chosen in a lottery – good luck…

  10. Johnnie says:

    Molentocht means windmill tour

  11. Mark Demanno says:

    Here’s my review on the ordeal…what was I thinking!

    • Ken says:

      Very funny story, Mark, if scarey. I thought that Molentocht was some tourist cakewalk. 75 klicks! I’m going to be windmilling past the windmills. Should I post pictures of my feet on return?

  12. Mark Demanno says:

    Please do Ken, I’m sure they will be stunning! I’ll keep an eye out 😉

  13. Zumma says:

    Great story Mark!

  14. Snowflake says:

    Who knew you could find so much information for something as random as ice skating in the Netherlands on a blog? Great work to bring this collection of hard to find information together!

    • Ken says:

      Thanks, Snowflake. This has been an amazing experience. We’ve had two days of great skating, and the ice keeps hanging on, just cool enough at night. They say today was our last day, but if we get some wind…. Our hotel, the Golden Tulip, is right on the lake, so walk out of the lobby off the dock into the ice.

  15. maarten is my daddy he is a scientist and his birth day is at december 15 he is 40 years old and he is aT nORTH cAROLINA

  16. B.C. says:

    Come to Canada!
    In Ottawa, every winter, the canal freezes and you are able to skate to your heart’s delight.
    no Circles :)

    • Ken says:

      I’m coming to Ottawa next year, for sure

  17. Twitcher says:

    Or how about Winnipeg! The longest natural trail:
    Ottawa and Winnipeg had a good-natured (I hope) battle for the title a while back.

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