Day 6: We arrive in Heerenveen and watch the 1500

After we picked up our rental car in Amsterdam, we headed immediately to Heerenveen.  We had 4 hours, which we estimated would be plenty of time to arrive, find the Thialf, eat some lunch, and be in our seats for the start of the racing, but we didn’t want to take any chances.  John drove the whole way, while I got to admire the scenery – farmland and windmills …

… and sheep …

… and elephants.

We didn’t have a detailed map of Heerenveen; having heard that it was a small town, we assumed that finding our way to Thialf would be straightforward, and I had looked at google maps earlier to get a general idea of the town’s layout.  It all worked out fine; we got off the highway earlier than necessary, but that decision was a wash.  The drive to the oval was a little longer, yes; but we got to see fluffy wonderful sheep and tiny lambs at the side of the road, so we I didn’t mind the extra time.

We arrived very early at Thialf, so much so that we got an extremely close parking spot – just steps away from the oval’s own lot – which was a very good thing, because at this point both of us were quite ready for lunch.  (This is turning into a recurring blog theme … How We Haven’t Yet Learned To Eat Lunch On Time.)   But no problem, we thought – we’d hop over to Thialf and pick something up.  We were so excited, both at the prospect of forthcoming food, and that we were finally at a place we’d heard so much about, and from which we’d watched so many live-streamed races online.

Maybe it doesn’t look like much from here, but Thialf is where many of the biggest meets are held; it’s the heart of speedskating in the Netherlands, which, as a country, is the heart of speedskating in the world.  I said in an earlier post that Thialf is speedskating’s Mecca, and I think it’s still an appropriate description.  There are other major ovals where top competitions are held with some regularity (the oval in Hamar, Norway, and those at high altitude in Calgary and Salt Lake City where world records often are set come to mind) but none that I know of is as large or as regularly packed full of fans.

Unfortunately, lunch at Thialf was not as forthcoming as we’d hoped.  This was the moment when we first ran into trouble with our non-microchipped American debit cards, which the cafeteria would not accept.  We’d just used our last euros on parking, so off we went on foot on an ATM-finding mission – there isn’t one at the oval, surprisingly enough.  Not having enough cash in hand was another not-best decision of the day, but it also turned out fine.  The walk was nice; we saw some familiar faces – American skaters and coaches were arriving at the oval on the back side – and passed some more beautiful crocuses, which of course I had to stop and photograph.

We also passed two older men riding side-by-side on a two person recumbent tricycle, which I previously did not even known existed.

After a quick lunch that we picked at random off the menu, hoping the items would taste good (which they did – fries, a sandwich, some sort of cheese item), we headed toward the seating areas, and immediately ran into the rest of my family.  Mom, Dad, and Ryan had spent the first part of the week touring Amsterdam and other parts of Holland; we were all meeting up together for the championships!  We found our seats, and I immediately commenced annoying the three new family members by incessantly taking their photos, while John breathed a sigh of relief.

Mom’s all decked out in her Team USA hat:

… Dad’s wearing his Sochi Olympics 2014 shirt, signed by various skaters:

… and Ryan’s wearing a suspicious expression.

I have a large number of photographs of him looking at me like that.

I’m not sure why.

It turns out though that just because other human subjects were readily available, John wasn’t off the hook.

He looks happy for having had a temporary reprieve, doesn’t he?  I think he was also excited for the upcoming 1500.

Eventually the racing started, so everyone finally got a real break from my portrait-taking practice; we watched the women’s 3000 and the men’s 1500.  I didn’t get any good photos, since my camera is not really set up for indoor action shots.  (My maximum aperture is 16mm/2.8.)  But it was cool to see Jonathan skating in real time with the overhead TV showing a different angle, which I tried to capture.

Most of the times we’ve been to watch him skate in real life, it’s at rinks like Salt Lake City where there’s no such thing as a giant instant-reply screen overhead.

Jonathan placed 7th, with what we all thought was a pretty good time, but I think he was hoping to do better.  (Hint: this may be a safe rule of thumb – if he didn’t come in first, he was probably hoping to do better.)

(I’m just teasing him a little, although I think that might be not totally inaccurate.  But I do know that sometimes he’s happy with his time despite his placement, and sometimes he’s not so pleased with his time despite placing well.)

After he’d cooled down and changed, he came over to the stands for a while to sit with us, which was very nice.

John and I hadn’t seen him since August, so we all said our hellos and caught up while the women raced.

(Martina Sablikova won, which is no surprise.

She’s absolutely the fastest woman in the longer distances.)

We were interrupted several times by Dutch fans.  Ever since Jonathan came in 2nd at All-Arounds two years ago, he’s been a celebrity in Holland – maybe not among the general population, but at least for speedskating fans, and certainly in Thialf.

The men in the family soon decided to pretend my camera didn’t exist….

…although Mom was still willing to pose.  Thanks Mom!

After the day’s races were over, we went back to Jonathan’s hotel for dinner and more catching up.

We’d just come from Paris, Jonathan from 7 weeks of traveling all over Europe, Russia, and Kazakstan, and the others from Amsterdam, so there were lots of stories and experiences floating around, waiting to be shared.  The entire US team was staying in the same place, so we also got to catch up a little with others like Brian (Hansen), Jonathan’s friend and longtime skating compeer.

After a tasty dinner we all retired to our respective hotels, to relax and prepare for another exciting day of speedskate-spectating!

62 thoughts on “Day 6: We arrive in Heerenveen and watch the 1500

    • We were taken totally by surprise by those elephants – in fact, John pointed them out to me and I had to scramble to snap a photo in time. I loved seeing them though – it added a great piece of whimsical eccentricity to the countryside!

      I think that they were part of a highway-beautification art project of sorts, because we saw another sculpture along the same road. (The other one was a sort of rusty-looking house with boat in the roof…. Not as picturesque!)

      • On the Dutch wikipedia there is more info on these art works (use a translate button!) (elephants) (boat house)

        Did you know the house with the boat in the roof symbolizes the land the Dutch made from the sea? The houses are on the sea bottom, and boats used to be above where the roof tops are now.

        I am Dutch, and was born on the bottom of the sea (I like to be able to say that :-)), in the Noordoostpolder, a little south west of Friesland.

        • Wow, thanks for the art-installation info! I wouldn’t have thought of looking them up on nl.wikipedia (or known what words to use) but I’m glad you brought it to my attention. I especially like knowing about the boat/house sculpture – we had no idea what it was or what it meant at first – and I like it a lot more now that I know about its symbolism!

          Thanks for the useful and interesting addition here!

    • It really was great! We were expecting the weather to be similar to our home state of Oregon, lots of grayness and drizzling rain, but the weather was absolutely beautiful the whole weekend.

      Thanks for visiting!

    • It really was excellent – and since it’s kind of in the middle of nowhere, it was an extremely reasonable price. Best of all worlds! If we go to another meet in Heerenveen, we are definitely planning to stay there again.

    • Oh cool – were you in Heerenveen/Friesland, or elsewhere in Holland? Where did you stay? I hope you have a chance to go back sometime – we certainly wish we’d had more time there, and would love to go back, possibly with a slower pace next time.

      Thanks for stopping by my blog!

      • My grandmother’s sister and her husband live in Heerenveen. We stayed with them. We visited family all over the Netherlands. It was an awesome vacation. I really hope to go back one day.

        • That sounds like such a great trip – it’s always nice to have family or friends to show you around a place. Did you do anything in particular that you’d recommend seeing/doing if we go back again? (Of course some things may be different 20 years later …)

  1. Love the family adventures and can’t wait until my kids are old enough to travel and carry their own duffel bags. Right now they are still bring worms inside the house, so I have to live vicariously through posts like yours. Thanks for sharing!

    • I hope you do get to travel with your family when your kids have gotten a little bigger – it’s one of the things that has kept ours close, despite the different directions we’ve gone in life as we’ve gotten older. Family vacations were great fun when I was younger and living at home, and I’m so glad we’ve been able to continue them together. Are there any particular places that your family is hoping to visit?

      Thanks for visiting, and for your feed back; I’m really glad that my post brought some happiness to you.

    • How did you like Amsterdam? I really wish we’d taken a little time to tour the city … but maybe we’ll be able to go back sometime to see it.

      We certainly enjoyed the peacefulness and beauty of Friesland!

      Thanks for visiting me!

      • Back when I went, I was 19 and still pretty naive about the red light district. I wasn’t too happy about it and it was a cold day. There were some nice restaurants and the hostel I stayed at was good. I decided for the last day I was there to visit Zaanse Schans which was just outside of Amsterdam in Zaandam. It was a nice replica of an old Dutch village. I’m glad I went.

        • Cool – the replica village sounds like something John and I would be interested in, for sure. (We went to Colonial Williamsburg for our honeymoon…) If we go back, we’ll have to look into that.

          Thanks for sharing :)

  2. Heerenveen is on my list. My wife, Maun, and I live in Salt Lake City but spend a lot of time in Europe on our bikes. This summer we will be in the Netherlands and could easily visit Heerenveen but I don’t know if I want to peddle out of my way if there is no event. We’ll see.

    In 2002, we rented our home, moved into a friend’s vacant home and spent the proceeds on tickets to the Olympics. Even with the substantial amount of rent we got for our home, we had to prioritize our Olympic ticket buying. So we bought a lot of packages that included some obscure events. Apparently long track speed skating was on that list as far as the organizers were concerned because we ended up with a lot of tickets to the Kearns Oval. So many that we got hooked and now we go to every event we can every winter. They are incredible and we see some exciting skating because sooner or later any skater who wants to set a record has to come to Salt Lake’s fastest ice in the world. We have been to events where we have seen a world record broken only to see the record broken again in the next heat. Especially when Shani Davis is next up. So have we seen Jonathan? If not it looks like we will.

    On one of our trips we were in Paris for Lance Armstrong’s sixth, and record breaking victory, in Le Tour de France. We had to be on the Champs Elysées very early to get a place where we could see. We did and there was a group of young, but adult, Dutchmen behind us wearing the ridiculous orange outfits some of them wear to sporting events. Tout de France hooligans we called them and by the time we had waited all day for the riders to arrive at about 1630, these guys had drunk plenty of Heiniken’s, or whatever. As you know, the race ends with a dozen or so laps around the Champs and every time the Americans came by these guys would boo them. I finally got tired of it. My mother was born in the Netherlands and I spent a couple of years there as a missionary for the Mormon church. So long with my proper Dutch, my wide ranging interests led me to learn to swear with the best of them. Finally I used a few of these choice words on these guys along with telling them that they made me embarrassed to be a Dutchman. It’s a wonder they didn’t kill me but in Europe assault and battery is pretty rare and I am sometimes braver than I should be. Anyway this didn’t shut them up but when I finally told them how many skating events I had been to and reeled off a pretty good list of Dutch skaters, they were impressed. And when I told them that from then on I was going to go to the meets in Salt Lake and boo all the Dutch skaters, they actually left us in peace.

    • Wow, what an awesome set of experiences … and another real American speedskating fan! That’s a rare person to meet. Hi! Thanks for visiting my blog!

      Your cycling trip in Holland in the summer sounds very fun, although I don’t know about visiting Thialf in the summertime… I imagine you might get to see some of the top skaters in training, which would be cool – although not as exciting as a meet, for sure.

      I’m not sure if you’ve seen Jonathan or not, but if you go to the SLC oval that often, you probably have! He’s there for the national meets (one of which always occurs in SLC – last season, it was in late October, but usually is around Christmastime) and also for whatever world cups bring him there. He doesn’t go to the sprint meets, though, not being a top sprinter; his forte is definitely the longer distances.

      Your story about the TdF is hilarious – threatening their skaters sounds like the perfect way to get the Dutch to behave!

  3. Go team USA! Your blog is fantastic and the photos are wonderful. As i was reading it and studying the photos the one you labeled “and elephants” complete caught me off guard and i was laughing so hard. Thank you so much for sharing your adventure with so many of us. Keep blogging you are great at it..

    • Thanks so much – both for visiting my blog and for your kind and supportive words!

      I’m really glad you like the elephant surprise – your reaction is exactly what I felt when we saw them in real life. As I think I mentioned in another comment, I barely got my camera ready in time to catch them. We were so taken aback at first and afterward amused by them.

      And I agree – go team USA!!!

    • Ah, very cool! We certainly enjoyed our time there – apart from the skating, the downtown area seems pretty nice – we visited a cheese shop and a traditional windmill and the canal area, and saw some of the nightlife (from a distance) after the meet was over on Sunday.

      Also, I have to ask – did you ever go to Thialf to watch the skating? I’m not so self-absorbed as to assume that everyone in Heerenveen must like speed skating, but I am curious ….

      What did you do for fun there? It’s possible that we’ll go back for other meets, and it’d be nice to have some insider ideas of what to do in the off time!

    • Thank you – I certainly am excited and happy to have been chosen for the Freshly Pressed front page!

      Re. microchipped credit cards – we actually only encountered a problem that one time, so I think the situation isn’t as dire as some travel advice makes it out to be – but it certainly would have made our arrival in Heerenveen easier if we’d had the proper cards.

      I do think it’s possible to buy pre-paid debit-type temporary cards in some European convenience stores, so we’re considering going that route next time – although I think American cards are moving in the direction of being microchipped also, so by the time we go back we may not need to worry about it at all.

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting!

  4. My son, (University of Vermont, scholarship/Montreal) played pro hockey in the adjacent arena for the Heerenveen Flyers a few years back. We loved touring around the area so your wonderful pics brought back some great memories. Your cataloging of the day in the stands waiting anticipating is all about the life of tracking an athlete on and off his adventure, great reporting and blogging, keep it up ! I interviewed our great Canadian Olympian Gaetan Boucher many many years ago for Maclean’s magazine and fell in love with the dedication of speedskaters.

    • Thanks for stopping by – it’s nice to have another person’s perspective about having a professional athlete in the family. I don’t know much about hockey at all but I’m sure it has a whole culture and world of its own, like speedskating – but as you say, some things must be universal, like the anticipation for events and eager following of the sport and the athlete.

      Did you do anything in particular around Heerenveen that you’d recommend hitting if we go back again? We don’t know how long Jonathan will keep skating, but certainly for a few more years at least, and we may end up at another meet at Thialf.

    • Thanks! We did have good seats, although in most ovals all of the seats are pretty close to the ice; the roofs are low, and the stands don’t go more than maybe 30 rows up. But we were glad to be near the middle of the straightaway!

      Thanks for visiting my blog!

  5. Really nice photo’s! I see you also had a bit of sun in the Netherlands, count yourself lucky! ;) I love the picture of the two men on the tricycle, I used to cycle places with clients who wouldn’t be able to cycle themselves. Fantastic posts, makes me think of home :)

    • Thank you – and we definitely did. We went over expecting rainy drizzliness (like we so often have at our home in Oregon) and were thrilled to have some beautiful weather. It was great to be able to spend some time outside, and to see the countryside.

      Is your home near Heerenveen? Or elsewhere in the Netherlands?

      Thanks for visiting me!

  6. I wanted to go to Heerenveen as well, but never got the chance. Ala, I live só close to Heerenveen, so it’s funny to see something like this in Freshly Pressed!
    I hope you enjoyed Heerenveen ánd Friesland!

    • Oh, where do you live? Have you hoped to go to Heerenveen for skating, or for some other reason? And since you live nearby, is there anything in the area you recommend doing or seeing if we visit again? We definitely enjoyed it very much, and may go back for another meet sometime – so if you have any suggestions, they would be welcome.

      Thanks for visiting!

    • Yes, I think it is. In both ways – many people ride bikes instead of driving, and there’s a lot of wind energy used – but also its raininess has filled it with verdant vegetation. Of course it was very early Spring when we went, but the plants seemed to be in great shape. (Much like Oregon!)

      Thanks for dropping in!

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