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

Time Travel: Janskerkhof te Utrecht

JanskerkhofAs you wander through the Utrecht binnenstad, if you look closely, you’ll probably notice a number of painted-tile images throughout the city. All are hanging on walls in public places, although some are easier to spot than others. It is worth keeping an eye out for them, as they are something like the city’s own version of my Time Travel posts. Each tile image is taken from old paintings of the city, depicting various important/well-known spots around town. Sometimes, there’s little change; other times, it is completely different. Either way, it’s fun to stand in the spot and compare then and now.

The tile images are an ongoing project, from what I can tell. One of the latest ones to go up is a depiction of Janskerkhof, as painted by Isaac Ouwater in 1779. The original painting belongs to the Centraal Museum, but if you go around the back (northern side) of Janskerk, you’ll find the tile version on display.Janskerkhof
On Saturdays, it can get lost amid the bloemenmarkt, but all of the flowers for sale also add to the charm of the setting and the flower market wouldn’t seem out of place in the painting. The painting shows a handful of people going about their daily lives and it really doesn’t look much different today.JanskerkhofA few things have changed since the painting, including the addition of the Willibrordkerk (the spire in the background of my photos) and many more trees. As a result, it’s hard to get a clear, full shot of the area, but behind the trees and the flower trucks, it really does look quite similar. Trust me when I say that the Janskerk is there on the left behind the trees, looking much the same as it does in the painting.JanskerkhofJanskerkhofHere’s a winter view of the square from much the same spot.Winter Sunlight
Here’s a view of the Janskerk itself: JanskerkhofAnd here is the building on the right of the painting. The building itself has changed, but the grand entrance is still recognizable.
Open Day [day 328/365]

Time Travel: Biltstraat

Biltstraat 1947 (Het Utrechts Archief)It seems appropriate that I came across this photo of Biltstraat recently, as this is one of the only streets I see these days. The wine bar and my freelance writing are keeping me very busy. This photo is relatively recent, dating back to 1947. In some ways the street has changed little. Amusingly, even the awning looks to be the same style on the second-from-the-left building. The fifth building with the bay window looks nearly identical, as does the larger ninth building and everything in between.

The street used to be lined with trees, but those were felled during the war, I believe, but they’re gradually being reintroduced, which makes taking comparison pictures a bit more difficult. The biggest difference, perhaps, are the defined bike paths now on each side of the street. They’re the reddish strip seen in the current photo. Amazingly, it looks like I managed to find almost the exact same spot to snap this photo as the original. Mine just includes a few more rooftops, a bit of sunny, blue sky, and the other side of the street.Biltstraat
To show just how little the street has changed in almost 70 years, here’s a photo I took from the front door of our wine bar, Vino Veritas, earlier this week. In black and white, just a few steps up from where the original photo was taken (directly across from the third/fourth buildings), everything looks surprisingly similar. The grand old dame is holding up well! Biltstraat
First photo via Het Utrechts Archief

18 Things to See, Do, Taste, and Experience in Utrecht

klmmapI’m always singing the praises of Utrecht and encouraging people to visit this beautiful, historic, and vibrant city, so it only seems right that I make a handy map of some of the places and things visitors should see. So here’s a map of 18 places in Utrecht that you should see, including museums, sculptures, parks, restaurants (which, of course, includes Vino Veritas), and historic points of interest. It is, by no means, a complete listing and hopefully I’ll be able to add on to it as the spirit moves me. Did I leave out one of your favorite must-see spots in Utrecht? Tell me what you think is a must-see.

Thanks to KLM for doing the technical creation of this map for me, while letting me use my own words and photos. They were kind enough to let me focus on Utrecht, instead of Amsterdam, after I pointed out how quick and easy it is to get to Utrecht from Amsterdam. Fly into Schipol Airport with KLM and hop on one of the many trains to Utrecht. You’ll be here in just half an hour!

Utrecht Turns 892

StadsdagGefeliciteerd, Utrecht! You make 892 look great!

Today is the official Stadsdag (city day), commemorating the date that Utrecht became an official city. On June 2, 1122, Henrik V officially recognized Utrecht as a city. (However, don’t forget that Utrecht as an inhabited location has been around since at least 50 CE with the Roman fortifications, and people may have inhabited the area during the Stone Age, going back to 2200 BCE.)

Although today is the official date, the celebrations were held yesterday. Sadly, I didn’t get to get out and enjoy them. There were birthday cakes galore, with neighborhood baking competitions and a final round for the neighborhood winners. Appropriately, representations of Nijntje (Miffy) and the Domtoren were among the winners.

Numerous other events also took place yesterday, including the opening of a new exhibit, but I’ll save the details for another post. I’m hoping to squeeze in a visit of my own sometime this week. *fingers crossed* In the meantime, I’ll leave you with the news that the trompe l’oeil image that used to hang on the cathedral is back! It was a nice surprise that I noticed on Saturday while I was out. It’s good to see it back.Cathedral Art

Time Travel: Het Maliehuis

maliehuisZo Was Utrecht, a fantastic source for old images of Utrecht, recently Tweeted this old advertising poster that dates back to 1897. It’s for the Utrechtsche Levensverzekeringsmaatschappij (Utrecht Life Insurance Company/Society), which was housed at the time in the Maliehuis located at Maliesingel 28.

The original Maliehuis (huis=house) was built in 1637 and was used by the administrator of the Maliebaan. The Maliebaan, a long, tree-lined avenue, was originally used to play the game known as malie, which was somewhat like croquet or what eventually became golf. People could rent the game equipment from the administrator at the Maliehuis. This went on through the 18th century.

Then, in the 19th century, the building was significantly enlarged and turned into a house. Eventually it then became office space, for businesses such as the aforementioned life insurance company, and nowadays, I think it’s used as an exhibition space.

It’s a nice house from the outside, with clean, simple, classical lines. There’s also a tile depiction of the house, showing the canal that runs in front of it. That section of the canal is called the Maliesingel, but it is also part of the canal that rings the old city center. The Maliehuis is just outside the binnenstad (city center). My photos are a few years old, and I think the outside has been cleaned up since then. Still, you’ll see just how much the building still looks as it did in the illustration from the late 1800s. To the right is the Maliebaan, where the game was originally played. In the 1600s, it was a student area where they played malie and generally hung out together. It’s since changed to an important and wealthy area. Het MaliehuisHet MaliehuisHet MaliehuisHet Maliehuis