Signs of Spring in the Griftpark

Spring in the GriftparkA picture of two little lambs curled up together seemed appropriate for today. They’re some of the animals that live at the Griftpark, which we visited the other day. We went because I’d heard there was an International Market taking place through the 21st and I was curious to see what they had. Plus, the Griftpark is just a nice little park located nearby, at the end of a picturesque walk along one of the canals.

When we first got to the park, I realized that the kermis (fair) was also there. We were there pretty early in the day, so nothing was in operation yet and staff were getting some of the rides ready for the day.Spring in the GriftparkSpring in the GriftparkSpring in the GriftparkThe International Market was also just getting started, with a few stalls still shuttered. The offerings were mainly food, but there were a few stalls with clothing, handmade baskets, and the somewhat random stall selling necklace chains by the length. There were a number of nations represented, including Spain, Germany, Britain, and France, but the Italians seemed to be out in force. There were a number of Italian stalls selling cheese, meats, olives, nuts, and sweets. Spring in the GriftparkSpring in the GriftparkSpring in the GriftparkHowever, it was the animals that we spent the most time watching, particularly the pigs. They have a lovely curly, wiry coat that I was dying to touch, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who has had that urge, so they sensibly put up a warning sign telling people to be careful, because the pigs can bite. Duly noted! Spring in the GriftparkSpring in the GriftparkThere were also a few swans and a mix of ducks hanging around the small pond, as they often do, enjoying the sunshine and perhaps hoping for a few bites of pretzel from one of the market stalls. In all, it was a lovely little outing on a beautiful spring day.Spring in the Griftpark

Crowdsourcing a Cathedral

CathedralThe theme of this week’s Weekly Photo Challenge (for which I’m just scraping in under the wire) is Monuments. I had thought of doing something a little less obvious, but when I saw some news stories this week, I figured I’d go with the obvious monument here in Utrecht: the Domkerk or St. Martin’s Cathedral.

The best example of French Gothic church architecture in the Netherlands, the cathedral is a standout for a variety of reasons, including the fact that the nave of the cathedral was destroyed in a storm in the 1600s and never rebuilt. Various chapels and churches dedicated to St. Martin have stood there since around 700 AD. Construction of the current church began in 1254. As old as it is, and considering what it’s faced over the centuries, conservation and restoration are vital.

Currently, two of the buttresses (luchtbogen in Dutch) need to be repaired and restored. There is no government subsidy to help, so a crowdfunding campaign has begun, with the hopes of raising the €50,000 necessary for the work. If you want to make a donation, go to the Draag de Dom website. As well as doing something good to help maintain this beautiful symbol of Utrecht, you also receive various rewards, depending on the size of the donation.
Inner GlowApse

Canal Race Obstacles and Excitement

Grachtenrace ronDomThe canal that rings the old city center in Utrecht is relatively wide, as is most of the Oudegracht. These are the canals you see the most of if you take one of the boat tours around the city. Those tour boats are relatively long and wide, so they have to be able to move freely without the risk of getting stuck in a turn or taking out a wharf.

With that in mind, you’d think that a bunch of row boats wouldn’t have any trouble making their way through these same canals. After all, row boats aren’t that big. Yet there were a few close calls on Saturday during the Grachtenrace ronDom. You see, while the boats themselves aren’t particularly large, the oars certainly are! They’ve got a pretty impressive wingspan. GrachtenraceIt wasn’t too much of a problem in the wider canal areas, especially as they had staggered start times. There was no risk of oars clashing as occurred in the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race the other week.

However, even the wider canals have narrow bridge passes. The bridge in my first photo wasn’t a problem, as it is a single, wide arch. However, many of the bridges in Utrecht are actually made up of two or three arches, significantly narrowing the space through which a boat can pass. As the boats quickly approached each bridge, they had to line up properly and quickly pull the oars in tight against the body of the boat as they passed underneath, while still trying to get as much speed as possible out of the last few oar strokes before going under.GrachtenraceIn this next photo, I was standing on the bridge, directly over the arch they were passing through. You can see some of the oars being pulled in, but a couple were also making a last stroke to keep up the momentum. (I love all the swirling water in this photo.)Grachtenrace ronDomWhen they got to the Oudegracht, some of the bridge arches were a bit bigger. In that case, they would often just pull in the oars on one side, depending on which side was closest to the wall or wharf.Grachtenrace ronDomStill, as you can see here, if they didn’t pull in the oars on at least one side, they’d be likely to hit something, even if they went through the center of the arch.Grachtenrace ronDom
To give you a bit more perspective, particularly once the race reached the Oudegracht, here’s a photo of one of the tour boats I mentioned earlier (going under the bridge), along with a row boat fast approaching.Grachtenrace ronDomJust because there was a race going on didn’t mean that all boat traffic on the canals stopped. Quite the opposite! Along with the tour boats and the other leisure boats as you see docked there on the right, there were also people in canoes, city maintenance boats, and even people out on peddle boats. Things got particularly interesting when the peddle boats and row boats came up against each other on one of the narrowest parts of the Oudegracht. As I saw the people in the peddle boat in this next picture casually enjoying the scenery, I found myself feeling like someone on the beach in the movie “Jaws” ready to start yelling, “Behind you! Move faster! It’s going to get you!”Grachtenrace ronDomIn fact, it ended up being a close call and there might have been a little bit of contact between the oars and the peddle boat before it was all over.Grachtenrace ronDomGrachtenrace ronDom
It wasn’t just the many boats and bridges that the racers had to contend with, either. We decided to watch the race as it went through the Oudegracht from the Donkere Gard section, which is where the canal gets quite narrow. There is some construction/renovation being done to one of the buildings, with scaffolding set up on the canal side. As the boats went through and the oars came up, it was clear just how little space was left. At one point, it even looked like the oars on one of the boats was going to hit the scaffolding!Grachtenrace ronDomGrachtenrace ronDomFortunately, at least during the parts of the race I saw, everyone seemed to manage ok, avoiding all the obstacles and manoeuvring quickly through the canals. Congrats to all who took part and thanks for providing some fun Saturday entertainment amid Utrecht’s beautiful canal scenery!Grachtenrace ronDom

A Boat Race Through Utrecht’s Beautiful Canals

Grachtenrace ronDomYesterday, Utrecht’s beautiful canals were filled with boats taking part in the Utrechtse Grachtenrace ronDom. The boat race began just south of the city center and then lead the rowers along the eastern and northern sides of the city, through the buitenstadsingel, the canal that rings the old city center. They then turned down onto the Oudegracht, the large canal running from north to south, before rowing on to their final destination.

The race has been going on for just over a decade and covers more than 14 kilometers. It seemed to be a fairly broad mix of people taking part, with men and women representing a range of ages.GrachtenraceGrachtenraceGrachtenraceGrachtenraceGrachtenrace ronDomGrachtenrace ronDomI took a lot of photos, from different spots along the race, so I’m going to break it up into two (maybe three) posts, focusing on different aspects of the race that I noticed. As well as the physical exertion, there were certain parts that looked particularly challenging! But through it all, lots of great examples of why Utrecht’s canals are the most beautiful in Europe!

Europe’s Most Beautiful Canals Are in Utrecht

Paddling Down the OudegrachtAccording to the travel search engine, GoEuro, Utrecht’s canals are the most beautiful in Europe. Although Venice has long held the imagination and romance, it seems that the overwhelming tourism is causing the city to lose some of its lustre. (Though, personally, I think if you go in the off season, the stunning beauty of Venice is still quite evident.)TerraceBut I’m not going to argue with Utrecht taking top ranking. We’ve got some truly picturesque canals, and the long stretches of wharves running along the Oudegracht and Nieuwegracht really do set them apart from most other cities. Spring's Late ArrivalNo matter the size and no matter the season, there’s always something to enjoy about Utrecht’s canals. The city’s beautiful buildings are often reflected in the water, and at night, many of the canals and bridges and lit up as part of the Trajectum Lumen light show. But even the small, quiet neighborhood canals offer a tranquil spot to pause and simply enjoy the scenery.

So yes, I think Utrecht certainly earns top spot when it comes to beautiful canal cities!

ETA: GoEuro now has the article up on their site.

Boulevard Canal
ZwartewaterOpenThe BucketGolden DriftDrift at NightGolden ReflectionAlways the DomtorenAlong the CanalOudegracht/VismarktBotenAlong LucasbolwerkKromme Nieuwegracht Reflection  13|365

The Ubiquitous Bicycle

Flowers and FietsInvader Stu left a comment for me today on how difficult it must be to take a photo in the Netherlands without at least one bicycle getting into shot. It’s a conversation I’ve had with others, as well. Certainly when it comes to city photos, it is nearly impossible to get a street-level shot without at least one (or many more) bicycles in view.

Fortunately, bicycles add a certain charm to most photos and settings. Sometimes they even complement a scene, such as the red fietstas (bicycle bag) in this photo that pairs well with the red of the flowers. I find it best to embrace the bicycle and try to make it a part of the photo, rather than awkwardly trying to block it from the shot. Give in! Embrace our bicycle overlords!

It’s a Surreal World and We Just Live in It

surreal worldSome art is beautiful, some is disturbing, some makes you think. Surrealism seems to cover all of the bases. I love it! During my studies, I focused more on Italian Renaissance (architecture), but I always found Surrealism, Dadaism,and similar styles to be incredibly fascinating. So when the Centraal Museum in Utrecht opened their Surreal Worlds exhibit recently, I knew I had to see it.

Surrealism developed initially in France around 1920 and took about 10 years to make its way to the Netherlands. Interestingly, it was here in Utrecht where it really took root in the country. Much of Surrealism dealt with getting rid of the moralism, sexual inhibition, and stifling rules of Catholicism and the average bourgeois culture. Utrecht, which had so long been a seat of power for the Catholic church, may have been rife with artists ready to open their minds to this new way of expressing themselves. Surrealism moved beyond the rational world, turning to the dream world and free association.Surreal WorldMost of the extensive exhibit focuses on the Dutch artists, from the 1930s until present times, who were drawn to Surrealism. One of the most prominent of the early Dutch Surrealism artists was J.H. Moesman, whose work is on display, capturing the essence of so much of the style.

However, the exhibit does include a few small pieces by some of the biggest international names of the movement, including Man Ray, Max Ernst, Joan Miró, and Marcel Duchamp. It was fun to see some of the pieces in person and to recognize the styles of these individual ray ironduchampjoan mirómax ernst(Apologies for the less than stellar photos. Low museum lighting and an ancient camera phone aren’t the best combination.)

The exhibit is incredibly well done, covering a variety of artists through the last 80 years or so. They also chose a fascinating way of displaying many of the works, dividing them into groups based on various body parts, even the “naughty bits”. Interested in seeing a large net bag filled with glass breasts and penii? They’ve got it. From head to toe, there are some fascinating works that range from creepy to stunning.

They also have some works by Pyke Koch, a Dutch artist who lived for many years here in Utrecht. I first learned of him because of his design of the lamps throughout the city, but his paintings, done in the Magic Realism style, have really grown on me. I really enjoyed getting the chance to see more of his work. This one, in particular, really caught my eye:pyke kochThe exhibit runs through 9 June and I highly recommend it if you have even a passing interest in Surrealism. This weekend is a great time to visit the Centraal Museum, because it’s Museum Weekend. Museums across the city are opening their doors for free or for reduced entrance fees. You can visit the Centraal Museum this weekend for just €1, so there’s no excuse not to go. This piano alone makes it worthwhile!Surreal World

Weekly Photo Challenge: Street (and Bicycle) Life in Utrecht

Street LifeThis week’s photo challenge theme is street life, which in Utrecht and most of the Netherlands, could easily be called bicycle life. It’s a rare moment that there isn’t a bicycle in sight, whether passing by or parked somewhere.

I decided to focus on one short stretch of street (approximately .2 miles), which is part of the main street that runs east/west through the old city center of Utrecht. Moving from west to east, you pass Janskerkhof, the square surrounding Janskerk (John’s Church), which is the big church-like building in the background. The street is closed to through traffic now, so the only real traffic comes from buses and bicycles. As you can see, there are specific lanes for the bicycles going each way, two lanes for the buses and occasional car, and sidewalks for pedestrians.Street LifeThere may be bicycles everywhere, but that doesn’t mean people don’t share a ride. Hopping on the back of the bike is done by everyone, both children and adults.
Street LifeIn the square in front of the church is the Broodje Mario shop stand. Mario’s is an institution in Utrecht, with the classic Broodje Mario made up of Italian meats and cheese and spicy vegetables, somewhat similar to a muffuletta in New Orleans. During the lunch hour, there’s usually a line of people and others milling about enjoying their sandwich. There’s no drive-through, but you can ride your bike practically right up to the shop.

Our final stop on this brief journey highlighting a small segment of street life in Utrecht takes us to Florin, a bar/restaurant popular with the university students. On Saturday afternoons, they host live music events, so it’s not unusually to see signs, banners, and people standing outside chatting. And of course plenty of bicycles parked outside.Street Life

Heads Up with a Side of Escher

FramesThis was going to be a Wordless Wednesday post, but I thought I’d throw in a few words of explanation. This is the view looking up through one of the stairwells at the Centraal Museum. I love the alternating frames that emphasize the artwork of the light at the top. And if you look at it all a bit twisted, there is a sense of Escher to the whole scene. Just more proof that it pays to look up.Frames