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.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Foreign

alberti
A surprisingly hard theme this week to choose a photo for, since my whole blog is about learning about a foreign city that has now become my home. As an American living in the Netherlands, I’m gradually finding it harder to pinpoint what is foreign any more, as I get more used to the country.

Italy is both foreign and familiar to me. I studied its art at university and I’ve shared my life with an Italian for 11 years, but there’s enough that is still foreign and fascinating. I have a number of photos from my trips to Italy, but the first batches are actual photos and negatives. The last batch is saved on a disc, but my laptop won’t read it. Fortunately, I had one photo already saved on my laptop, so this is my last-minute foreign photo submission.

The architecture of Italy isn’t foreign to me. In fact, when I stumbled across this church (Sant’Andrea by Leon Battista Alberti) on a trip to Mantova (Mantua), it was like running into an old friend in an unexpected place. I had gone to Mantova to see the Palazzo Té, completely forgetting that this church was also in the city. You can read more about it (and see the full facade) here. My photo is just a detail of the central arch of the facade.

Another expat recently wrote about her own visit to Mantova, which is something of a hidden jewel.

You can see other interpretations of “foreign” at the week’s weekly photo challenge page.

Sexuality of Women in Renault Commercials & Modern Oblivion

Is it a demented sign of acceptance when lesbian couplings can be depicted in car commercials? The commercial for the Renault Twingo Miss Sixty — a car seemingly marketed at women because it has floral decals on the exterior and comes in a girly shade of metallic pink — features two women at a party who make eye contact and the next thing you know, they’re stripping down in a bedroom and one is blindfolding the other. Then, the next thing you know, the one who was doing the blindfolding sneaks off and takes the other girl’s top and then you see her wearing the top and walking out to her car, which is the same color as the appropriated top. Watch the video for a clearer understanding:

On one hand, yay for not being afraid to depict lesbians in a tv commercial. Treat it as the normal thing that it is. It shouldn’t even be remotely surprising to see gays and lesbians depicted in commercials; it should be as normal as seeing heterosexual people depicted. I figure the more stuff like this happens, the more accepted it will all become and we’ll move away from the hatred and fear.

On the other hand, I can’t help but wonder if it wasn’t just a salacious way to get attention, in the way that many commercials often sexualize women as a way to get attention. Particularly when the commercial tells you nothing about the item being sold. Admittedly, the car is being marketed to women, somehow in conjunction with the Miss Sixty brand of clothing, so I suppose they’re less likely to be trying to appeal to men through a bit of nudge nudge wink wink.

For now, I’ll just be happy that at least an implied lesbian relationship can be shown on tv in a commercial. Well, not in Italy. In one of the more hypocritical moves, Silvio Berlusconi’s media companies have banned the commercial. I’ll let that sink in for a minute. The numerous media companies owned by Berlusconi — the prime minister of Italy, who is currently facing a variety of charges stemming from having sex with a underage prostitute — think the commercial isn’t right for Italian television. Have you ever seen Italian television or even some of the poster ads at bus stops there? Yeah …

*For what it’s worth, I was stuck on the title for this post and decided to turn to Leo Steinberg for inspiration and borrowed (tongue in cheek) from his Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and Modern Oblivion.

A Clown By Any Other Name …

Pippo
This is Pippo (PEE-poe).

This is also Pippo.

You see, we named our dog after the Italian version of Disney’s character, Goofy. With those ears, we had to! Our Pippo can be pretty goofy, too.

In the US, the name was lost in translation, so to speak. We had to explain it, if people asked. In fact, the vet put a little notation about it on Pippo’s file! However, here in the Netherlands, the name actually translates from Italian to Dutch, in a general way. You see, this is also Pipo.


Here, there’s a famous Pipo the Clown. He was featured in a tv series and a musical and made a number of records and such. I was first introduced to the concept of Pipo the Clown via Pipoos, a chain of craft stores here in the Netherlands. I eventually learned about the clown himself.

The common thread among all three Pippos seems to be clownish, goofy behavior.
It's a Bit Small
Yup. That seems about right!

Wine Tasting/Wijnproeven

Wine Tasting/Wijnproeven
My boyfriend, who is from Italy, has recently begun a wine distribution business, offering Italian wines primarily from the Trentino region, along the Alps. The wines from this region are excellent and the wines he is offering are particularly good; they are well-balanced, with appealing floral and fruity flavors and aromas, without being over-the-top or in your face. They go well with a variety of foods, but also stand on their own as wines to sip and savor over good conversation.

To help spread the word, we are hosting a special wine tasting event on Sunday afternoon, 14 November, from 14:00 to 16:00, at the Café de Potdeksel (Lucasbolwerk 23) here in Utrecht. The event is free. All we ask in return is that you come with the name and address of your wine store(s) of choice (other than Gall & Gall), and maybe the names of a few restaurants you enjoy. In return for that little bit of information, you get to taste a variety of wines that run the gamut: white, rosé, red, sparkling, and dessert wines. You will also have the opportunity to order any of these wines at the wholesale price. There is a six-bottle minimum, but you can mix and match any combination you want. Prices start around €6.50, so six bottles isn’t much.

With the holidays coming up, you could always use this opportunity to buy some excellent wine to give as gifts or to serve at parties, or simply to enjoy yourself when all the holiday festivities get a bit much! The tasting will be a nice party in its own right, with snacks on hand to accompany the wines.

We would love to have anyone who enjoys wine to come to the event, even if you’re not living in Utrecht. We hope to expand to restaurants and wine stores in other cities, as well. Even if you’re not a fan of wine, if you know someone who is, please tell them about the event. The only thing I ask is that anyone planning on coming e-mail me or leave me a comment here so that we know how many people are coming. I hope some of you who read my blog will come along so that we can all meet face to face over a nice glass of wine! The event will be in English, but there will be Dutch friends attending who can help with any translation if necessary. Feel free to contact me with any questions you have. I will be more than happy to answer. I look forward to seeing you!

William and the Oranje


Dutch-related songs seem to have been the theme of the day yesterday, although Amanda took a more high-brow approach than I did. She went with the Dutch national anthem, which it turns out is the oldest national anthem and perhaps one of the longest, weighing in with 15 verses! Fortunately, they only seem to sing one or two at most.

Giovanni and I practiced the national anthem — it’s surprisingly difficult to get the word timing right — before heading out to the Potdeksel to see the Dutch football team take on Paraguay. We were excited to get a chance to blend in by singing along with the anthem. Once you get used to it, it’s quite fun. The last line is the most fun to really belt out at the end, although it’s kind of funny to think of the Dutch pledging any sort of loyalty to the Spanish in this day and age. I can’t help but hope the Netherlands and Spain don’t come up against each other at some point in the World Cup!

As for the match itself, we watched the somewhat lackluster first half at the Potdeksel before returning home for the second half. We had been perched on a couple of stools next to one of the speakers and were getting deaf in one ear. We were also watching the pull-down screen at an angle, so the shaded parts of the pitch were almost impossible to see and the Dutch were going to be aiming for the goal in the shaded side for the second half. If you care, you probably already know that the Dutch ultimately won the match 2-0, after the Danes gifted us with an own-goal, and then eventually Dirk Kuyt finally scored for the Netherlands. The team started to look much better toward the end of the second half and hopefully the next couple of matches won’t be so angsty for the Dutch fans!

Oranje

It was fun to hear somewhat universal cheers going up all over the neighborhood as the Dutch team had a few close chances and also finally scored. After the match, it was like Queen’s Day all over again, with people out in orange in full force throughout the streets. A change from the ghost town most of the country turned into during the match itself.

Orange Everywhere

Oh yeah, Italy managed a tie in their first match yesterday. We were pleasantly surprised.

World Cup Fever

Hup Holland Hup [Day 154/365]
The World Cup starts this Friday! The Netherlands is slowly turning orange as everyone starts decorating for the festivities. Shops, cafés, houses … Everyone is getting into the spirit and showing their orange. This is one of the window displays at a café on Voorstraat. It’s the same place that had the cute bunny display at Easter. I’ve yet to go inside the café, but I always enjoy their window displays.

I have a handful of countries I cheer for at the World Cup, with varying degrees of success. I can’t help but cheer for the US, of course, but I never expect them to do particularly well. Still, they’ve improved over the years, so hopefully they’ll have a decent showing this year. Because of family, I also cheer for England/Scotland (on the rare occasion Scotland makes it to the WC). I’ve been a fan of Italy for a while now, even before meeting my boyfriend. I started cheering for them in the ’94 WC (poor Baggio!). Italy is the current reigning WC champion, but I don’t see them doing well this year at all. Lippi has made some lousy choices. Fortunately, Holland has a good team this year, at least in theory. They’ve got some excellent players like Robben (please let the hamstring injury not be an issue!), Sneijder, and Van Persie, just to name a few. I’d love to see Holland go far in the tournament, even better if they finally win!

It was quite the party here two years ago for the European Cup, so I can only imagine what it will be like for the World Cup! I can’t wait! Hup Holland Hup!
Waiting for the World Cup

Giro D’Italia in Utrecht

25 To Go
Just a quick follow-up on the Giro D’Italia that came through Utrecht yesterday. Around mid-day I took Pippo out for his mid-day break and saw that the excitement was definitely starting to build. More and more people were out, especially for a Sunday, and the barriers were out lining the main street through town, down which the racers would pass. All, and I do mean all, of the Italian shops were open and making the most of it! Italian flags were flying, banners were out, specials were on offer. Even our Italian neighbors had hung the Italian flag outside their window. (G’s not that patriotic, so we have no flag to fly.)

A little later, G and I went out to wander around a bit further and see what was going on down at the Neude. We saw the 25km-to-go marker (above) over by Janskerkhof and as the road was still open to cyclists, many people passing under the 25km gate seemed to enjoy pretending a moment of greatness, riding through it with arms in the air. Further down, we found a huge crowd of all ages over at the Neude. There were lots of Red Bull marketing items, including some sort of bouncy toy for kids, but there were also beer stands for the adults. ;) Naturally, there was a large screen so that people could watch the race while enjoying the festivities.
Neude Feest
We didn’t stick around for long, though, because Italian that he is, G wanted to get back home to see the Bologna football (soccer) match that was on that afternoon. It was an important match, after all; Bologna secured its spot in Serie A for next season and doesn’t have to worry about relegation now. It was a close thing. So while he was stressing over the Bologna match, I was watching the bicycle race on tv with my parents. The race would be passing by the end of our street, so I wanted to keep a close eye to make sure I could get down there in time to watch, but still be able to watch most of it on tv. As they got closer, I set the tv to record and finally with about a minute to go, G, my dad and I hurried down the street and then rushed to find a free spot in order to see the racers speed by.
Giro D'Italia

Chase Group

Go Speed Racer
Lousy photos, I know, and that was with the sports/action setting turned on! They went so fast! Watching tv, it looked like there were a lot more of them, but when they passed in person, it looked like a much smaller group. We really did see all of them, though! Blink and you’d miss them is what it felt like. We were surprised at just how fast it was; we were also surprised at just how many support vehicles bring up the rear! I got video of the last few racers and most of the support vehicles, along with a few shots of the helicopters hovering overhead.

Unfortunately, despite recording it, we didn’t get to see the part we were at on tv, because one of the racers had fallen earlier and they were showing him rather than the tiny bit where we were! Still, we recognized Biltstraat and some of the other areas in town, which was kind of exciting.

One of my favorite moments of the whole experience is probably when the last two police went past on bicycle. All of the racers and support vehicles and everything else had gone by, and then these two lone police officers rode past and as they approached, the crowd started cheering in much the same way as they did when the racers themselves arrived. It was a nice moment of group-think humor and even the police seemed to get a laugh out of it.

Utrecht, Italian Style

Giro Di Sinkel
Friday night we took my parents to De Muntkelder, the fun pannenkoekenhuis (pancake restaurant) on the Oudegracht. It’s one of those things you just have to do with visitors. Afterward, we headed over to Graaf Floris for Irish coffee and appelbollen. As we got to Winkel van Sinkel I couldn’t help but notice a bit of decoration strung up. I also noticed a couple of bikes up on one of the railings. Oddly enough, I didn’t at first think of the bikes as decoration; I found myself assuming they’d been strung up there by some random person being silly. After all, it’s not the first time I’ve seen bikes in strange places here.
Parallel Parking
However, I soon realized that those bikes were supposed to be there, and the decoration was there to celebrate the Giro D’Italia bicycle race that is making an appearance here in the Netherlands this weekend. (The first stop is often in a country outside of Italy.) The riders are going from Amsterdam to Utrecht and should be going through the city center here later this afternoon. In fact, they should be passing the end of my street, so hopefully I’ll be able to get a glimpse of it all if the crowds aren’t too deep (and tall).

Meanwhile, the city is covered in pink, the color of the Giro D’Italia. There are Ronde Van Italië (Dutch way of saying Giro D’Italia) flags and banners up all over town, along with lots of independent displays, including some nice show window displays. Even the Domtoren has been lit pink in the evenings.
Giro Domtoren
Pink
Winkel Van Sinkel