Tap Water Challenge

Water in Janskerkhof
The latest TEDxUtrecht took place this week and it seems that one of the discussions was about ways to encourage Utrechters to turn to tap water instead of bottled water. Not only is tap water the cheaper option, but it’s also better for the environment, since you don’t end up with all those plastic bottles. Considering the fact that plastic recycling isn’t the easiest form of recycling here, it seems particularly relevant.

The Utrecht Tap Water Challenge, organized by TEDxUtrecht and supported by the Join the Pipe foundation, Vitens, and the city of Utrecht, wants locals to get involved and come up with ways to encourage others to choose tap water. The winning idea will win a prize and have the opportunity to see their idea implemented. The deadline is 30 November 2012.

Water in Neude

A number of free water points have been established in locations around the city and other locations are being considered. If you’re out and about and have a reusable water container or some other sort of cup, you can always fill up, rather than spend €1 for a plastic bottle of water. In a pinch, you can go really green and use your own hand, of course! There’s one at Janskerkhof, Park Lepelenburg, Neude, Griftpark, and Marco Poloplantsoen.

Drink WaterPerhaps you’re like I used to be and have some unpleasant associations with tap water, whether it’s smelly, tastes bad, or comes with a warning as it did years ago when I lived in New Orleans. I used Britta filters and bottled water like many people and continued to do so when I first moved here, simply out of habit. Then I tasted the tap water here. It’s actually really nice! Utrecht has a reputation for the quality of its water. In fact, the water we get from our tap is the same spring water that gets bottled by brands like Sourcy.

Not everyone has access to quality tap water, but it’s worth trying from time to time, rather than simply buying bottled or shelling out for all of those filters. The irony is that we do have such great water in Utrecht, but it’s very hard to actually get tap water in restaurants here. They’ll bring you a bottle of still water, instead, as there’s no profit to be made off tap water. Perhaps that should be my suggestion for the competition: encouraging restaurants to provide tap water on request.

If you want more information about the contest, check the Gemeente’s website or visit the TEDxUtrecht idea site where you can submit your ideas. (Editor’s Note 1/8/13: contest has finished)

Views Without Vertigo

I have a confession to make. Despite my love of the Domtoren, I’ve never climbed it. You see, I did climb the Campanile bell tower in Florence, but that was when I truly understood that I’m not a fan of going down stairs without a handrail. I always have a feeling that I’m just going to pitch forward. I’m like that with any stairs. Walking down the narrow, heavily worn, relatively steep steps of that tower was a nightmare for me and it’s about 30 meters shorter than the Domtoren. Fortunately, it was narrow enough that I could put a hand on both walls to give myself some sense of security, but occasionally we’d be met by people going up the stairs, which meant I often sort of pressed myself up against the wall and waited until they passed, for fear that their momentum would somehow unbalance me.

In the case of the bell tower in Florence, we were left to our own devices going up and down, so I could take as long as I needed to, but here in Utrecht, the tours of the Domtoren are guided, so you have to go with a group. Add in a knee injury a few years ago, and the result is that I’ve never gotten up the nerve to go up.

Fortunately, thanks to Google, I can now take a virtual tour of the Domtoren. Using the same street view option that allows you to get a 360-view of streets, neighbourhoods, and cities, you can now do the same with certain moments, including the Domtoren.

You can see the different levels of the tower by choosing levels 1-5, from the ground floor to the top exterior. I’m particularly fond of the view on level four, as you look up at the bells and the massive Gothic windows. On level three, you can actually move the image so that you are standing beneath the bells, looking directly up into them, clapper and all!

So if you’re like me and have an issue with stairs or heights, or if you just can’t get to Utrecht, you can now explore to your heart’s content with this great option. Zoom in, twirl about, look at the details … and maybe you’ll find yourself determined to get over your issues so you can go see it all in person.

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I’m going to canvas for comments again for my blog over at Expats Blog. Many of you have already left me amazing comments that have truly moved me, but if you haven’t and feel so inclined, please leave a comment on that page. With enough positive comments, it will help me be chosen Top Netherlands Blog.

Reasons to Visit

Gathering

Lonely Planet recently listed its top travel destinations for 2013. Under top cities, they ranked Amsterdam number two. Overall, kind of cool, I guess, although many of you know my frustration with travel publications never seeming to look past Amsterdam. Still, they did list Utrecht as a hidden gem earlier this year, so I guess I can’t complain too much.

When I looked at the actual Lonely Planet article I found out their reasoning for choosing Amsterdam is that there are lots of anniversaries being celebrated next year. The canal ring turns 400; Van Gogh’s 160th birthday will be celebrated, along with the 40th anniversary of the Van Gogh Museum; and the Rijksmuseum re-opens after a 10-year renovation (although it’s been partially open throughout).

Those are all good reasons to visit Amsterdam and rather than complain that Utrecht wasn’t chosen, I’ll simply suggest that anyone who is planning on visiting Amsterdam in 2013 should also plan a visit to Utrecht. You see, Utrecht is also celebrating a major anniversary next year. 2013 marks the 300th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht, which brought about the end of the War of the Spanish Succession.

Treat of Utrecht

I first learned about the Treaty of Utrecht in some long-ago history class, although it was the name that stuck with me, rather than the history behind it. So when I knew we were moving here and people asked if Utrecht was famous for anything, I always mentioned the treaty. It turns out there were a series of treaties and that they formed the Peace of Utrecht, which explains why it’s usually called the Vrede van Utrecht here (vrede=peace).

It’s not exactly clear why Utrecht was chosen, although it was probably for a number of reasons, including the fact that the city had been positive toward the French in the past and previous successful treaties had been signed in the Dutch Republic. It still took more than a year of wrangling and negotiations at the Stadhuis – which had dual grand entrances that eliminated any diplomatic issues as to who should enter first – but eventually the series of bilateral treaties were signed on Tuesday, 11 April 1713.

In theory, a 300-year-old treaty doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, especially since the Dutch Republic didn’t seem to be involved other than as host. In fact a member of the French envoy tauntingly said, “De vous, chez vous, sans vous” (referring to the fact that the negotiations included the Republic and were taking place on their own lands, yet the Republic had no say in the outcome). However, 300 years later, Utrecht is turning the treaty on its head, in a sense, taking over control of how the historic event is celebrated now.

Stadhuisbrug

Utrecht has been preparing for the celebrations for years. The Trajectum Lumen light art installations are just one of the many lead-ups to the official 2013 celebrations. Various cultural events that take place every year will have specially themed events throughout 2013, including the Nederlands Film Festival, the VJ op de Dom light and music event, and the music Festival de Beschaving, just to name a few. There’s a whole year’s worth of events being planned around the idea of celebrating peace, which makes Utrecht worth a visit in its own right.

Over the past year or so, Utrecht has been promoting tourism in the city, using the tagline: te veel te leuk voor één dag (too much fun for just one day), and it’s true! For one thing, anyone visiting the city should stay overnight so that they can walk through the city and enjoy the Trajectum Lumen light exhibits all over town. They keep adding new ones, including the new lights in the Nieuwegracht by the Pausdam (where you can see other fantastic artistic light displays). Utrecht is a beautiful city at night, with the warm glow of the Pyke Koch lamps on the ancient city streets, and there’s plenty to do, with great restaurants, fun night clubs, and inviting cafés. Plus, there’s a ton to do during the day, whether it’s shopping along the Oudegracht, visiting local breweries, enjoying some of the unusual museums, or climbing the Domtoren.

So if you’re thinking of visiting Amsterdam in 2013, consider adding in a trip to Utrecht. Plus, Utrecht is a great central location for visiting other cities and is a short 20-minute train ride to Amsterdam. You could make it your base city and probably find cheap hotel rooms that cost less than similar rooms in Amsterdam. We’ve got everything from youth hostels to 5-star hotels right in the city center. Plus, I learned last year that all those souvenirs everyone (rightly) buys to take home to family and friends are much cheaper in Utrecht, including the cozy clog slippers.

Drive-By Posting

Birdie
I’ve been a bad blogger, not even updating the calendar of events. But everyone gets into a funk every now and then and hopefully I’ll work up the energy to post some interesting stuff in the next few days. In the meantime, here’s a bullet list of random interesting things and events and a picture of some new wall/door art I noticed.

  • Coming Out Day 2012 is held on 11 October and Utrecht will be one of 36 municipalities flying the rainbow flag. The goal is to promote safety and acceptance for the 20,000 GLBT residents of Utrecht.
  • Also on 11 October, Utrecht’s new Information Center will be opening on the Domplein with Nijntje/Miffy opening the center. The t-shirt chosen from the numerous entrants in the Big T-shirt Contest will also be on display.
  • The Impakt Festival is also starting on 11 October. This is a five-day multi-discipline festival focusing on media art.
  • And now for something completely different that is already out … BlogExpat.com kindly invited me to participate in their expat interview series and it’s out now. In it, I ramble on various topics and show why it is important to always have someone else proof your own work no matter how good you are at proofing the work of others.

A Flamingo on Facebook

Patience of a Saint
And a flamingo on Pippo’s head …

In the process of trying to do something that didn’t work, I created a Facebook page for my blog. I like to keep my personal Facebook somewhat personal, but figured it could be handy to have a Facebook page for the blog as another way to interact with people and also pass along interesting links and stories as I find them, but don’t necessarily have time or interest to actually blog them.

So, feel free to “vind het leuk” on Facebook!

Bicycle Parking in Utrecht

Fietsen
A few weeks ago, I posted about the “pop-up” bicycle parking that can be found at certain spots on the weekend. Now there’s going to be more designated bicycle parking around typically busy and popular spots. Beginning October 1, the gemeente (municipality) will begin a three-month trial of special bicycle parking. Designed to provide a safe and secure spot for short-term parking, the goal is to reduce the number of wildgeparkeerde (wild parked) bicycles that you see everywhere, while still encouraging people to bike, rather than drive, in the city.

The five test sites are located at:

  • Twijnstraat by the Albert Heijn
  • St. Jacobsstraat by Lange Koestraat
  • Oudegracht and Stadhuisbrug by Selexyz
  • Neude on the corner of Lange Jansstraat
  • Neude on the corner of Potterstraat

Speaking of bicycles, I was approached by Expatica a while back to participate in a blog contest they’re holding to culminate at their annual I Am Not A Tourist Expat Fair. We were to send in one of our favourite/most popular blogs. I decided to send in one I did about how difficult it is to make a forceful statement at the end of an argument when you have to bike away, rather than drive off. You can read the post again — and vote for me — at the official blog contest web page.

Point In Time

Janskerkhof Sundial
If you’re ever wandering through Janskerkhof and want to know what time it is, there’s a fun way of checking. Built in 1983, there is an analemmatic sundial built by De Zonnewijzerkring, a sundial society.

Analemmatic Sundial

In the center is a strip with each month marked out. Circled around it are hour markers, with seasonal zodiac signs placed around it, as well. In order to tell the time, you simple stand on the center line, next to the current month marker and hope the sun is out. If it is, your own body will then cast a shadow toward the appropriate hour. Of course, with daylight savings time, it’s off by one hour in the summer.

If you’re there and forget how it works, there’s a plaque inside the sundial that has instructions.
Sundial Instructions

To give you an example of how it works, here’s a photo of Pippo demonstrating. I have a photo of G demonstrating how it works, but it’s just funnier to see a dog demonstrating.
Sundial Pippo

Admittedly, he was sitting on August, but his head was over July, so his shadow was pointing toward 11. Taking into account the fact that it’s summer, that means the time was 10 a.m., which it was!

Of course, being the Netherlands, with rapidly disappearing sun, you might have to wait a bit to actually be able to tell time. If it’s a grey day, you’re better off just walking a short distance to see the time on the Domtoren’s clock. I was worried I wasn’t going to get my shot this morning. As soon as I got Pippo into place, the sun disappeared. Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait long for it to reappear. The weather was on our side, for once!
Assume the Position

For an interesting aerial view of the clock, as well as a view of the stone markings of where parts of the Janskerk used to be, you should visit the Zonnewijzerkring website.

I ♥ Utrecht

Lamps, A Rabbit, and Missing Art

I’ve got a couple of blog post ideas, but they require a bit of research and I’m not in the mood after the editing I’ve been doing. Maybe this weekend I’ll be feeling more inclined. Instead, today, you get a few follow-up comments on some of the stuff I’ve mentioned recently.

For example, here’s a photo of one of the first Pyke Koche lamps to be renovated in the Domplein. The glass is now clear, instead of the frosted yellow it used to be, and yes, the red and white Utrecht shields are in full colour!

Pyke Koche

More embarrassingly, when I posted about the missing nave and the trompe l’oeil painting of the nave, I should have looked more closely at my recent photos. I might have noticed that the painting isn’t there anymore.

Where Did The Art Go?

Talk about taking something for granted! I started going through my old photos to try to figure out when it was removed, but I can only narrow it down to sometime between January and October 2011. Yeah, last year. As I said, embarrassing! I’m hoping someone else can help me out and let me know when it came down, just for curiosity’s sake. I think they should put it back up, though.

Finally, hartelijk gefeliciteerd met je verjaardag, Nijntje! (Happy Birthday, Nijntje/Miffy!) The little rabbit, who was the creation of local artist Dick Bruna, is celebrating her 57th birthday this weekend. She’s become famous around the world since then, and has her own square (Nijntje Pleintje) here in Utrecht. If you’re in town, I’m sure there are festivities at the Dick Bruna Huis across from the Centraal Museum.
Nijntje

Check out the Utrecht Events Calendar for some of the events going on this weekend. I’m about to update it with tips for architectural events, the 200th anniversary of a street, and a human peace sign.

Links 2 3 4

Het Mooiste
Over the past few years, I’ve collected various links to sites with news and entertainment information about Utrecht. Some sites I use more than others, and nowadays, I follow a lot of relevant sites through Twitter, and click through to the site when a story headline catches my interest. Still, I thought I’d share a few of the sites I seem to click through to the most these days. If you’re new to the area and looking for different resources, these handful of links might be of use. There are certainly many more sites than I’m linking to, but these are the ones that I’m interested in these days. Feel free to suggest other sites if you find them particularly helpful.

De Utrechtse Internet Courant: This is probably one of the most useful and interesting ones, and I don’t say that just because they’ve used one of my photos in the past.

Ik Hou Van Utrecht/I Love Utrecht: This is a new site, but it looks like it is going to be quite interesting. It has information in Dutch, English, and French, and includes links to numerous other news sites, in addition to what I’m posting here. It’s definitely worth exploring.

Dichtbij: This site isn’t just for Utrecht, but it does feature an extensive section about Utrecht and Leidsche Rijn, covering news, sports, food, lifestyle and more.

Utrecht.Nieuws: This site features a variety of news and event information, as well as a guide with links to a variety of resources.

ExpatDesk Utrecht: Utrecht finally has an Expat Desk. It’s only just started this month, but they do seem to be adding more information. If you’re going to be moving here soon or are recently arrived, the site may prove quite useful, particularly as an addendum to the Gemeente Utrecht website.

Speaking of the Gemeente page, did you know that you can have your own photos considered for use on the site’s homepage? They have a photo group on Flickr where you can submit photos for consideration. If they choose your photo, it will be used on the site for a week. In fact, one of my photos was up there last week. You can find out more information and see past photos (mine is the street organ photo by indigo_jones) on the gemeente’s website.

Happy World Water Day

Water in Janskerkhof
Happy Wereld Water Dag (World Water Day)! We seem to be on an environmental kick this week, what with the national tree party day yesterday and now the United Nation’s day to raise awareness of sustainable fresh water management. Utrecht has been involved in hosting related events in past years, including the installation of free drinking water taps at various locations in the city.

Not a lot of things are free here, including toilets, but there are a couple of places where you can get free drinking water if you’re in a pinch. The first is the one pictured above, located at Janskerkhof. The second one, which came a bit later, is located at Neude, although it might be bit hard to find right now what with all of the set-up for the Tweetakt Festival, which begins Friday. This water fountain in Neude is located over by the Dutch Games Garden and ABN AMRO if you’re there and need some water.

So raise a glass of water to the hope that someday everyone will have easy access to clean water!

Water in Neude