Skaters glide on the ice near windmills in the village of Kinderdijk.-AFP photos

The Dutch, who love to ice skate, on Sunday had a rare chance to hit the canals after they froze over for the first time in almost three years. Some however hit the ice a bit too hard, taking tumbles that landed them in hospital despite an official plea to spare overstretched emergency services. In Amsterdam, dozens of skaters took to the Prinsengracht, an iconic canal in the city center on Sunday, even though the ice was not thick enough in all places. At least one person broke through, but was able to make it to safety unaided, local media reported.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte had warned against mass skating to avoid the risk of spreading Covid-19 as well as injuries that could clog up hospital emergency rooms. But in Kinderdijk, western Holland, dozens laced up their skates for a spin near windmills that are often seen on postcards and have been listed as UNESCO world heritage sites. "Most people are usually still in bed on a Sunday morning at this time.

But this ice is so beautiful, it's a fever, it grips you and you have to get out and go skating," said Cok Hartkoorn, 71, who looked on from the canal bank. "This might not happen again for a few years. You have to take the opportunity when you can." Marleen Bouman, 49, added: "Skating is so nice because we're all together in it. We're outside, we're moving. In these tough corona times that's a rare thing."

Dutch tradition

Skating, like cycling, is a Dutch tradition, and almost everyone is said to have a pair of skates ready for when the canals freeze over. Many had hoped that a popular competition, the Elfstedentocht, or Eleven Cities Race, would be held for the first time in nearly a quarter-century this year. But Rutte said skating had to be limited to pairs under anti-coronavirus restrictions.

Last held in 1997, the ultra-endurance marathon follows a gruelling 200 kilometer route along the northern Friesland province, and completing it is considered a true test of character. Despite it not being held, emergency rooms were twice as busy as usual on Saturday as people turned up with broken wrists and other injuries suffered during falls, medical staff associations noted on Twitter. A week-long cold snap was due to end yesterday, and many municipalities have warned it will soon be time to get off the ice. - AFP