Zeven Steegjes From a Different Perspective

zeven steegjes
I wrote about the Zeven Steegjes (Seven Alleys) two years ago. For a moment, I thought I’d written about them two years ago to the day, but then realized I was a month off. Still, close enough.

Last month, while on the Free Utrecht tour held every Saturday starting at the Domplein at noon, (you should go!), I ended up getting to the Zeven Steegjes from a different direction than I’d seem them originally. It was a nice surprise when I realized where we were. On my previous trip, I’d been more interested in seeing the clear rows of buildings and hadn’t really wandered down the actual streets. This time, I was captivated by the variety of decorations in the neighborhood, both on individual homes and the details within the building designs. I love a good keystone!
zeven steegjes
zeven steegjes
But seeing the rows of domestic streets from the back also gave me a different view of the rest of the neighborhood, including this fantastic view toward one of the church spires.
zeven steegjesA bright, sunny, winter day also helps. Plus, the buildings also made me think a bit of Italy, with the orange roof tiles and warm colors that some of the buildings were painted.
zeven steegjesAs if all of that wasn’t so charming you could just die, there was an adorable dog who seemed quite determined to tell us all off for invading his neighborhood. That, or he just wanted a bit of attention and someone to play with him. I would have gladly complied!
zeven steegjes

Modern Rotterdam Centraal

Rotterdam Centraal
While my friends were visiting, we did end up taking a couple of day trips to Rotterdam and Amsterdam. Our visit to Rotterdam was for one specific point of interest, which I’ll post about eventually, once I can whittle down the photos. Oh so many photos!

Rotterdam is a very modern city, due in large part to the fact that much of the city was destroyed by bombs in World War II. As a result, instead of an old city center full of traditional Dutch brick buildings that have been around for a few hundred years, you end up with gleaming glass skyscrapers and a variety of large contemporary buildings. We have more modern buildings just outside the Utrecht city center, but I only see them rarely, so it was a bit of a culture shock in a way. But in a nice way!

Today, I’m just going to share a few photos of the Rotterdam Centraal Station, which was recently renovated. It’s a stunning structure, with sweeping lines and metallic materials that shimmer and shine, especially in the crisp winter afternoon sunlight. The Utrecht train station is undergoing its own renovation right now and I hope ours turns out even half as impressive.
Rotterdam Centraal
Rotterdam Centraal
Rotterdam Centraal
Rotterdam Centraal
Rotterdam Centraal
Rotterdam Centraal
Rotterdam Centraal
Rotterdam Centraal

Utrecht Cathedral, Inside and Out

ArchesIt’s been a fun and busy week, with friends visiting, giving me a chance to explore the city anew, as well as visit a few new places here and in other cities. Lots to post about, lots of photos to share, but right now, not a lot of time. So I’ll start with a simple one.

My friends were staying at an airbnb over by Mariaplaats (very cute!), so we often met up at the Domplein as a starting point. One day, while waiting, I couldn’t resist taking a photo of the remembrance statue and the trompe l’oeil depiction of the interior of the cathedral framed by the Domtoren walkway. All the empty space in between used to be the nave of the cathedral, but that was destroyed in a “tempest” back in the 1600s. The large image on the wall serves as a sort of window into the interior of the cathedral, looking toward the apse.
Outside Looking InIn the illustration, you can see some of the central ring of columns, the stained glass at the eastern end of the church, and even some of the chandeliers. And this is how it actually looks inside.
Apse
There’s a little less stained glass throughout, but otherwise it’s the same. Either way, it’s a beautiful interior, even without all of the statues and decorations that were stripped out during the Reformation. I cut my art history teeth on Gothic architecture, so I do have a fondness for this cathedral, inside and out.

Winter Festivities in Utrecht

Winter WonderWe didn’t really get any snow last year and the way these last few months have been surprisingly warm, I’m not sure we’ll get any snow this year, either. But even without snow, there are plenty of winter traditions and events in Utrecht that give the city its own charm. And really, with all those brick streets and sidewalks, not having to navigate them when they’re covered in snow and ice is a good thing!

I recently wrote a travel feature about some of the upcoming winter events in Utrecht for a Canadian-based publication called DUTCH: The Magazine. You can pick it up at select news stands in North America, I believe, but this month, you can also read my article online. So if you’re like my three friends coming in tomorrow from the US, Canada, and Germany, and want to get some ideas of things to see and do in Utrecht this winter season, you’ll find a few tips and suggestions, along with a brief bit of history of this amazing city.

Happy Halloween

Kasteel de Haar
Halloween’s not really a thing here, unfortunately. I always loved it in the US and had a nice selection of decorations. Sadly, they were left behind and only our two black cats made the big move. They’re the best decorations year round, anyway.

Still, I can’t resist a quick post to wish everyone a fun Hallow’s Eve. I was going to post a few gargoyles, but then I remembered the Kasteel de Haar here in the Utrecht province. It’s a real castle! No vampires or ghosts, but there is a spooky doll in a window.
Pinocchio
Clouds Taste Metallic
Kasteel de Haar
The Castle
Spooooooky!

Utrecht Skyline

Views from Neudeflat
Friday I posted a teaser of a photo with a view of Neude square from above. Today, the grand reveal. Thanks to the post I did a couple of weeks ago about the Neudeflat building that is considered an eye-sore by many in Utrecht, someone filled my request to see the view from the top of the building. Herbert, a Twitter acquaintance, happens to work for the city, who own the building. He kindly offered to take me up to the 16th floor to see the grand view of Utrecht from above.

The weather had turned a bit foggy, so distance views weren’t great, but the low light worked out well. I really do have a lot of photos, but for today, just a few overviews. I’m thinking up ideas for some of the other photos.

In the first photo, obviously you see the Domtoren and the cathedral, with the Willibrord church on the far left. The building in the middle foreground area with the flags is the stadhuis (city hall) and the Oudegracht canal runs off to the right, though it’s a bit lost amid all the buildings.

And now, a bit to the northeast, here’s a view of Voorstraat as it leads off from Neude square, and on the left is an old water tower. This is the binnenstad, the old city center, but notice all the trees. It’s an old, urban city, but it’s nice to see bits of greenery, as well.
Views from Neudeflat
That’s all for now, but you’ll be seeing plenty more in the coming weeks, I’m sure.

Time Travel: Janskerkhof and Bikes

janskerkhofhua(photo via Het Utrechts Archief)
This photo from 1959 shows the Janskerkhof during one of the weekly Saturday flower markets. That aspect hasn’t changed at all and it’s a stunningly beautiful spot to hold a flower market. In the shadow of the church and the trees throughout the square, the flowers in the market are just gilding on this historic space.

I love the hustle and bustle and bursts of color that fill the space on Saturdays, but I also love the serenity of the area on a quiet Sunday morning, when the only remains of the market are a few fallen flower petals and a new bouquet at the feet of the Anne Frank statue in front of the church. My present-day photos were taken on one of these quiet Sunday mornings. To be honest, I was interested in the row of bikes and the scooter that day. I only saw the old photo of the spot recently and knew I already had a comparison photo.
Janskerkof Fietsen
The area today looks much as it does in that photo from 1959, though they’ve gotten rid of most car parking in the square in recent years, though you will see the odd scooter. Even the lamp and bicycles look much the same, though the bikes now face the other direction to allow for a separated bicycle lane. Today, you’re just as likely to see people walking away with the same bouquets of flowers as cycling away, with flowers in hand, under the arm, or in bags or baskets. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen someone leaving the market with a small potted tree strapped upright onto the back of their bicycle.
Janskerkof Fietsen
Janskerkof Fietsen

Sound the Alarm

BrandbelThe other week, I wrote about a former fire house that dates back to the 1860s. With buildings so closely packed together, it was vital to have a number of these fire stations spread strategically throughout the city. But when your fire truck relies on literal horse power and there are no mobiles that allow anyone to quickly dial 112 (the emergency number) if they spot suspicious smoke, an effective alarm system is vital.

Obviously, in the days before telephones, it was important to have a way of alerting people that there’s a fire. As well as warning neighbours who may be at risk, the firefighters needed to be alerted, as well. One way that was done was through the use of a brandbel (fire bell). Just like the fire stations, they were set up a various locations throughout the city. The bells, some of which came from demolished 17th century cloisters, stood atop wood or stone posts. In case of fire, ring bell.

The firefighters would hear the bell (or be alerted to it) and then head out to the fire. I assume that as someone rang the bell, someone else might run over to the station to alert the firefighters as to the specific location. The bell would at least give them time to get their gear ready while someone else sprinted over.

On 3 March 1921, a telephone alarm system was put in place and by 1935, the last of the fire alarm bells were gone from the regular city landscape. The one in my photo is down by the southern end of the Nieuwegracht and is a replica of one that would have served the Schalkwijkstraat fire station I mentioned in my previous post. It’s nice to have these little reminders of days gone by, but it certainly makes me thankful for modern improvements!

The Old Fire Station

brandspuithuisjeHistory is full of stories of devastating fires ripping through closely packed cities. Having enough fire houses spread throughout the city to quickly respond was vital, especially in the age before motorized vehicles that could move quickly. I think if I was living in a time when you were reliant upon horse-drawn vehicles, I’d probably want to live pretty close to one of the fire stations.

Although it has long since been retired, there is one of the old fire station buildings on Schalkwijkstraat, a charming little street near Lepelenburg Park. (It’s charming now, anyway, although I wonder what it was like originally. Schalk seems to translate as “rogue” so schalkwijk seems to mean “rogue district”. Maybe the firehouse was regularly needed!) This sensible brick building dates from 1860 and served one of the volunteer fire services that were located throughout the city. Although there were many such buildings, only two of them now remain: this one and one on Burgemeester Reigerstraat further east outside the old city center.
brandspuithuisjeI think an architect firm now makes its home in the old building. Fortunately, it retains its large double doors, while the small circular window over the doorway and the scalloped pattern along the top add a surprising decorative element to what was an important functional building.

I’m glad so many buildings like this still exist, giving us a chance to visualize history in ways that you just can’t when it’s only through words or old photos. Seeing the buildings in situ gives a better feel for how they really fit in the city landscape. Of course, it comes in handy that many buildings have informative plaques on them. I often wish any building over 100 years old had some sort of plaque listing any pertinent history/use. It would make my research so much easier (and feed my curiosity)!

(Additional information, in Dutch, can be found here.)brandspuithuisje