Postimees recently published a fairy-tale photo of skaters on the canal leading up to München's Nyphenburg Palace. Similarly dreamy, yet infrequently occurring scenarios were playing out on natural ice throughout areas with more moderate climates.
In Veneetsia low temperatures dipping below freezing even in the upcoming week means the sight of ice bobbing in the canals will last. In the Netherlands (Madalmaade kuningriik / Holland) hopes were high for the "Elfstedentocht" or revered "Eleven Cities" speedskating (kiir/uisutamise) race to be held along canals connecting 11 towns and cities in northern Friesland province. The last editions were in 1985, 1986 and 1997. The grueling race is one of the most deeply cherished Dutch traditions and would've drawn some 16 000 participants, but alas, hopes were dashed since ice had failed to reach 15 cm thickness along the entire course when temperatures began to rise. Though people have skated along frozen Friesian canals for centuries in cold winters, the race – first officially organized in 1909 – has only been staged 15 times.
A skating marathon did however come to pass in our own little Viljandi, where the ice of Viljandi järv is upwards of 30 cm thick. A 4,3 km track was prepped for the 50 km Mulgi uisumaraton which took place on 12. veebruar and won by Sulev Lokk, who also won a similar 60 km race in Falun Sweden the previous weekend. Mulgid or the people of Mulgimaa, (officially known as Viljandimaa) are a hardy lot. At the height of the deep-freeze on Feb. 4, 1000 dancers braved temperatures of -22° C at the 14th annual Viljandi talvine tantsupidu or winter dance festival. Woolly rahvarõivad paired with balaclavas and hiking boots was quite the inspirational sight. As was main street in the village of Kolkja on the shores of Peipsi järv, site of the 3rd annual Kolkja Kelk (sled) kick-sled races. 78 enthusiasts and 17 kids competed that same brutally cold weekend.
Estonian adventure companies provide great winter hikes including räätsa- (snowshoe), uisu- (skating) and suusa- (skiing) matkad. You can see videos of skating on the sea at the webside of "360 kraadi seiklused", 360 Degrees Adventures (www.360.ee) under the article "Jääoludest Suures väinas", posted Feb. 1st.
Estonia's first ice-road, the 3,2 km stretch from Haapsalu to Noarootsi poolsaar (peninsula) was opened on 5. veebruar and the next jää/tee from Rohuküla to Vormsi island a few days later. To see how ice-locked Eesti really gets, go to www.emhi.ee (where you can click English) > ilma/vaatlused (weather observations) > jääkaart (ice chart).
Those who dream of skating on natural ice are currently rejoicing in many parts of Europe. This was the scene on Suur väin (Large Channel) between mainland Estonia and Muhu island on Feb. 1: virtually smooth and snow-free ice. The bluffs of Kesselaid (laid = a little island) can be seen in the distance. Companies offering guided skate-hikes provide long blades to strap onto your boots and poles for balance. Photo: Seiklusfirma 360 Kraadi / 360 Degrees Adventures