Finland in the Bronze Age must have been a grim, cold, pitiless and mostly an incredibly boring place.
Hunt, farm, fish then hunt again. Skin some animals, eat what’s left, wait for a few hundred years so the Swedes and Danes can invade and bring something to do with them. That’s pretty much it. Not even any runes to read before turning off the night campfire. So it’s easy to imagine a fur-draped, fluffy Finnish individual in this time, finally done curing a reindeer or something. Looking up, he sees just how far he has to trek back to his hut over a frozen lake, with his fragrant new carpet dripping down his back, and hurrumphs in a manly fashion. As he starts trudging across the ice – which hopefully won’t break like it did underneath poor Aantero two moons ago – he slips on a bone, travels a metre and lands flat on his behind. And lo, ice skating was born. Strapping bones to each precursor Ugg Boot, our hero invented ice skating and noblemen, farmers, royalty and first daters have been slipping and slaloming over patches of frozen water (also animal fat in some warmer places before refrigeration) to greater and lesser success ever since.
In honour of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia next month; here are ten of our favourite outdoor rinks and lakes to strap on some stainless steel (or bone, if the story made you feel a little medieval), laugh and lazily trace circles in the ice with your family. Or if you like to live a bit faster, carve a furrow like you’re being chased by Danes. On horses. Take your pick.
Red Square Ice Rink, Moscow
Brilliant for tourists, skating in the Red Square allows you to combine visiting one of Moscow’s most famous and picturesque landmarks with acting like a complete child, gaily slipping and sliding all over Russia’s biggest skate rink. And if you’re in town while the Winter Olympics are on, even though Sochi is over a thousand kilometres away, winter sports will be especially popular and exciting.
FlevOnIce , Netherlands
The longest ice skating rink in the Netherlands at 5km, if you like marathons then FlevOnIce is where to go. It’s a one hour drive from Amsterdam (you can also get a train) in the town of Biddinghuizen, so you should make a day of it.
Central Park, New York
New Yorkers and visitors alike agree, there’s nothing quite like serenely meandering over the ice of Wollman Rink in Central Park, with the famous Manhattan skyline right behind you. Frozen for your skating pleasure on the south side of the park. Trees and panoramic cityscapes included.
Beaver Lake, Montreal
Lac des Castors if you’re French speaking, which Montrealers of course are. This is the locals’ favourite place to skate, and it isn’t hard to see why. Beaver Lake is on top of the mountain from which the town gets its name, Mount Royal, and the fact that the city stretches out below you is brilliant. Best enjoyed with the family, skating at Beaver Lake is an amazing day out with the kids.
Plaza del Ayuntamiento, Valencia
This year the shopkeepers around Valencia’s most famous square clubbed together to build an ice rink in the heart of town. While the rink closed a few days ago for the year, make sure to keep your ears to the ground (don’t get frostbite though) to see if it will make a return in 2015, because it’s a unique and beautiful place to skate.
Hotel de Ville, Paris
The most popular rink in town, and for good reason. The ice skating outside the Hotel de Ville in Paris is free, has a smaller children’s area and opulent 19th century architecture as a backdrop. We advise coming in the evening, when the buildings light up in all their glory. As a night-time skate here is possibly the most romantic thing to do in Paris, and Paris is the most romantic city on earth, this is a top contender for the single most romantic thing you can possibly do. Valentine’s Day idea-seekers take note.
Honourable mention must also go to the Eiffel Tower Ice Rink. It isn’t in action every year however, the last one was 2012, but who knows? You may be able to ice skate atop Paris’s most famous landmark next year.
Munich Ice Magic, Munich
credit: Mark Simons
Grab your earmuffs, pull on your big clumsy gloves and head to Bavaria’s favourite frozen puddle for figure-eights. Muenchner Eizsauberi in Munich’s frankly beautiful to behold shopping district is a huge hit with locals and visitors. Delicious and warming cups of glühwein from the stalls that encircle the rink probably help too.
Tower of London, London
There are a few contenders for best ice rink in London (our other favourites are at Hampton Court Palace, the Natural History Museum and Somerset House), but the Tower of London comes out trumps because of being a singular and unique location. With the ancient and forbidding walls of the ancient Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress looming over you, you can almost feel the thousands of years of history seeping into your feet through your skates.
For as long as humans have been rearing children, we’ve known that getting kids to do something fun and physical will send them to bed quickly and happily. If you find yourself in Copenhagen then make sure to take them to Genforeningspladsen for a day of twirling, chasing with snowballs and collapsing into an exhausted pile of childhood memories. It’s a really big area so they’ll have plenty of space to flail wildly, or whiz passed you.
So we’ve come full circle and ended where we begun, with a Fin and some skates. Helsinki’s Ice Park is the hottest meeting point in town, and a great way to experience Finnish culture and meet its people. And as the people of Finland drink more coffee per capita than anyone else in the world, it shouldn’t be too hard to find a coffee shop afterwards to warm up.
So there it is, ten of our favourite places outdoors to skate. Make sure to check opening times, especially for non-Scandinavian places as they are open for shorter periods every year.
To get you in the mood for Oktoberfest (or die Wiesen to the locals) which starts this weekend, this week’s Flickr Friday is centred on the Bavarian capital of Munich in Southern Germany. This riverside metropolis is a short stint from the Bavarian Alps, and is ranked as one of the world’s – and certainly Germany’s - most livable cities. Take in the variety of sights and sounds that Munich has to offer, and celebrate Oktoberfest this weekend with a Krug of beer, wherever you happen to be.
München Schwabing – Kurfürstenplatz - Image © digital cat
Courtyard of Neue Rathaus - Image © maistora
The Olympiaturm in Olympiapark - Image © Kay Gaensler
Empty Oktoberfest - Image © Svenwerk
Munich Subway Tunnel - Image © John Hietter
U-Bahn - Image © nyhao
Englischer Garten, Munich - Image © Russell C
Image © Max Boschini
Surfing in the Isar river in Munich – Image © Andreas Schaefer
Image © Werner Kunz
The Feldherrnhalle (“Field Marshals’ Hall”) Image © Miroslav Petrasko
Ludwigstrasse Munich - Image © Werner Kunz
Image © Martina Oefelein
The Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich - Image © Werner Kunz
Metro station “Georg-Brauchle Ring” - Image © Jaime.silva
Image © a4gpa
Schloss Nymphenburg - Image © digital cat
Schloss Nymphenburg - Image © digital cat
Neues Schloss Schleißheim - Image © digital cat
Nymphenburg by Night - Image © Luis Miguel Justino
Image © deep_schismic
Winter wonderland in Munich – Image © Werner Kunz
Oktoberfest means something different depending on whom you ask. For most outsiders, it is a tent flap for millions to enjoy (or overindulge in) countless varieties of top quality beers – all conforming to the ‘German Beer Purity Law’ and all brewed within the city limits of Munich. But for the locals, the main draw is the fact it is the largest fair in the world and a celebration of Bavarian culture; with traditional foods like Schweinshaxe (grilled ham hock), Weisswurst (white sausage) and Steckerlfisch (grilled fish on a stick), live Bavarian music and fairground attractions. Here are some tips and tricks to enjoying the height of Bavarian brevity as if you left the womb clad in lederhosen.
1. Never call it Oktoberfest
That’s what the Saupreusse (non-local person with, let’s say, below average results at pub quizzes) call it. Always refer to the fair as die Wiesen (pronounced “dee vee-zin”).
Images © saucy little minx
2. Wear the costume
The traditional Bavarian get-up can be found either online or at many stockists in and around Munich. To quote Henry Thoreau: “live deep and suck out all the marrow of life“, and what better way to do it than in an outfit designed to catch meat drippings and bier.
Image © traveller_40
3. Watch the traditional opening day parade
Dating from 1887, and known as the Festival of Innkeepers, the parade is an hour-long procession of horse-drawn brewer wagons taking the first kegs to the millions of thirsty visitors. The mayor of Munich will tap the ceremonial first keg, and as a public servant he will most likely double, triple and quadruple check that it’s safe for consumption.
Image © elkit
4. Explore the fairgrounds
With giant Ferris wheels, merry-go-rounds, a flea circus, the Revue der illusions, a Toboggan and die Teufelsrad (a rotating wheel with foam balls pelting you), the fairgrounds are a lesser-known attraction and not just for the kids.
Image © meironke
5. Get to the beer tents early
…and preferably on a weekday to avoid the weekend rush. Keep in mind that you can reserve a table at each individual beer tent, so head there first thing and get that headache (as it were) out of the way.
Image © aleciah
6. Make friends with the locals
They can teach you Bavarian drinking songs, the proper descriptor for a glass of beer (it’s a Krug by the way, not a Stein), tell you the story of how die Wiesen began in honour of the Bavarian royal family…or even let you pinch some of their Strauben cake.
Image © el_guary
7. Family Tuesday
For many years, Oktoberfest’s Tuesday is traditionally the day dedicated to families. From 12:00 until 18:00 most of the festivities, including the rides and food, are half price for kids and everybody makes an extra effort to keep the little ones entertained, and refrain from blowing their horns and quaffing their Krugs too loudly.
Image © LenDog64
While die Wiesen is a great time to be in Munich; its friendly residents, interesting locations and delicious, hearty foods are available year long. Being a riverside city, it is a great place to visit in the summer (and even try your hand at river surfing), while being situated just north of the Bavarian Alps allows winter visitors to strap on some skis and go carve up the powder.