The Eleven Cities Tour… per bicycle

Elfsteden-01

“It giet oan” (It goes ahead) – famous frysian words to mark the 11 city tour is going to happen

The “Elfstedentocht” or eleven cities tour is a famous ice skating tour of app. 200km, called “the tour of all tours”. It has been held for just 15 times since 1909 and as such is a rare event. It needs at least 15cms of ice on the various canals, rivers and lakes. As soon as it starts freezing, the Dutch people start dreaming of a new version of the race. It is a fever running throuh our veins.

Not me. I am not a skater, but I do remember the images from tv when I was young. I am a cyclist and I have 4 days off. Checking the various long distance cycling routes I find this one: 260km. It is a heat wave when I start. Temperatures well over 30 degrees Celcius. I think it is hilarious to cycle an ice skating route in a heat wave. Well, I start in Leeuwarden and follow the route clockwise. Passing all 11 cities, where as part of a Frysian cultural event, a temporary artistic water fountain is presented, made by some local artist.

I furst cycle to IJlst. From a large city, to a very small one. The countryside consists mostly of green meadows, cut by small rivers and canals. Along the way I spot some small Dutch windmills and characteristic American windmills to keep the polders dry. IJlst is a lovely city with some nice historic houses and a great saw mill (with one of the fountains next to it). It is the place where most of the metal American mills were produced in the past.

The history of the 11 cities dates back to the early 1200s. Times where Frysland was one of the most thriving provinces. A lot of trade was done from the small cities and their important harbours. Due to silting of the harbours and coasts, as well as the growing trade from Amsterdam, things changed over time. Nowadays the cities are small, with tourism being one of the important industries. And that shows, I see boats everywhere. Especially sailing is very popular.

After IJlst I drive through Sneek in the direction of Sloten. Sneek has a very nice entrance gate, Sloten is just cute and small. Well known for its skate factories in the past. With a little wind in the back I reach Stavoren. A small, historic harbour city on the IJssel lake, the largest fresh water lake of the Netherlands. It was closed off from the Wadden sea by the Dutch in the second half of the 20th century. Nowadays it is a large water sports area, especially in this nice weather.

I keep on pedaling to Hindeloopen, famous for its furniture and Workum. In the mean time the weather changes. It is still warm, but now there is rain, thunder, wind. I race from city to city to stay ahead of thunderstorms in the countryside, passing Harlingen and Franeker. Lovely places, with some impressive fountains and historic centres.

The last day I pass the last of the 11 cities, Dokkum. In the skate trip it is said “who reaches Dokkum, will reach the finish in Leeuwarden.” I think so to. Just 25 more kilometer. I pass the famous bridge in Bartlehiem (the last bridge to pass in the skate tour) and visit the Eleven cities monument, a bridge filled with with over 7000 tiles with images of people who have participated in the skate tour and finished.

I arrive back in Leeuwarden, just 310km on my counter. I must have made some detours here and there. It was a nice trip with a great historic character. “The tour of all tours”.

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