Mykonos, besides being a Greek island, is a restaurant here in Utrecht just off of Neude. When I passed by the other weekend during the Tour de France Grand Depart events, I couldn’t help but notice a certain French bistro touch to the outside that I don’t remember. Or maybe I’ve just been oblivious. Either way, it’s pretty and charming.
In case you haven’t seen enough yellow this past week in Utrecht, Toerisme Utrecht did a bit of guerilla marketing in the early hours of this morning, putting out yellow sunglasses along a large stretch of the Oudegracht. (As an aside, I’m writing this with the sound of helicopters roaring overhead. As the race is about to start in about half an hour, I guess it’s a mix of film crews and police overhead.) Anyway, the sunglasses are free to take and they’re promoting upcoming summer events in the city in Dutch on one side of the attached tag, and in English, on the other side, it’s targeting people visiting for the Tour de France today, encouraging them to visit local museums and shops while they’re here.
I knew they were doing this, having received the advance press release, but wasn’t sure I’d end up getting to see it all. However, I woke up early enough this morning and while scrolling through Twitter, I saw a picture and thought, why not! I hopped out of bed (sort of), quickly got ready, and was out the door before I could change my mind. (It’s still warm and humid and it started to rain lightly just as I left the house.)
Actually getting to the canal wasn’t so easy. The race is going through the heart of the city center today (as a display bit, rather than real racing), so lots of the streets are cordoned off to create safe lanes solely for the cyclists. I felt like a rat in a maze quite a few times trying to get around! Eventually, though, I found my way to the appropriate part of the Oudegracht and voilà! Sunglasses everywhere! They were on the ground around a lamp post. They were on the wall of the old post office. They were on bicycles. They were on bollards. They were on shop fronts. They were everywhere!
So, the point is, there’s plenty to see and do in Utrecht, even when the race has gone. Go see the museums, go listen to the weekly Domtoren concerts. Go support local businesses. Go to Vino Veritas, but not today or tomorrow, as we’re closed after a long, hot, busy week. Go on foot or by bike. Just go!
In about an hour, at 12:30, there will be a special cycling/France-themed Domtoren concert. With the Tour de France ready to start tomorrow, the theme is obvious. Carillonneur, Malgosia Fiebig, will be performing a fantastic set list that includes Tom Waits, Queen, and Kraftwerk. You can find the full set list here. As always, you’ve got to love it when a bell tower dating back to 1382, and a carillon dating to the 17th century, performs modern music. Kraftwerk! On a carillon! Brilliant!
I hope all of the visitors who have begun to arrive take notice and enjoy the concert. That moment when you’re wandering through the city and realize what you’re hearing is bound to put a smile on your face.
The Domplein and other squares throughout the city are set up with large screens for viewing the events this week, and of course, there are lots of decorations, including the tree trunks wrapped in Tour de France jersey-themed colors. The white with red polka dots is kind of funny, since it’s for the King of the Mountain and, well, this is a very flat country. There is that one slight hill over by Park Lepelenburg where they had the team presentations last night …
I wonder if the Domtoren made of bicycle parts is on display anywhere. I saw it this past December and thought it was brilliant.
This adorable, at-an-angle building on the Oudegracht is often decorated for various festive events, such as Queen’s Day/King’s Day. Therefore, it’s no surprise that they’ve gotten into the Tour de France spirit. The flag is a common one you’ll see around town. We even have one hanging outside Vino Veritas. But the bike? That’s all them!
It’s the rare street that doesn’t have some sort of decoration. As well as the flags, there are the pennants that criss-cross the streets, the occasional yellow carpet at restaurant entrances, and of course, even the flowers that decorate the lamp posts are continuing the theme.
The flowers are there every year, but it’s the color that has changed. Usually they’re some combination of red, pink, and purple and always pretty. This year, if you look closely, you’ll realize they are also in the Tour de France color scheme, featuring the ubiquitous yellow, as well as the white and red, and the green of some of the other jerseys.
Of course, with the heat wave we’re having, the flowers are at risk of looking a bit limp. They need to stay hydrated just as we do, so they’re sending watering trucks out to feed the plants. We saw one yesterday at work. Hopefully we’ll all survive the hot temperatures of the coming days!
Although I haven’t listed it on my “things to do in Utrecht” posts, others have recommended renting one of the pedal boats on the Oudegracht. I’ve come close to doing it, but for various reasons, never have. Still, it does look like a fun way to see the city from canal level. I’ve done one of the boat tours and it really does give you a different perspective.
Of course, like everything else in the city at the moment, even the pedal boats have Tour de France fever. Some have gone a bit jaundiced, others seem to have a rash, and a few have gone a bit green around the gills.
Sorry, I do love the excitement and seeing the whole city getting involved, but it’s fun to take the mickey out of it all occasionally. Still, I’m no better, as I’m essentially devoting a week to blogging about the event and dedicated this month’s blog header to the Tour.
If you’d like to see the city by pedal boat/canal bike, you can find them by the Stadhuis, across from the Winkel van Sinkel. You can rent them for 1.5 hours and they cost €9.50 per person. Be aware that there’s a €20 deposit on the pedal boat.
Utrecht’s canal-side wharves add something extra to seeing the city by boat. Give a wave to some of the diners at the restaurants right there on the wharf, and you may see some artists and stonemasons at work, as well. There’s plenty of great scenery. There are other types of boats and kayaks to be rented, as well, so there are plenty of ways to explore Utrecht’s beautiful canals.
Yellow is a tough color to wear, but the caryatids at the Winkel van Sinkel on the Oudegracht seem to be pulling it off. I guess if you’re going to wear such a vivid shade, it’s not surprising that you’d need to also wear shades. On a bright, sunny day (which we’ve got an abundance of, suddenly) it’s an almost eye-searing display!
It’s not the first time the ladies have dressed up for a cycling race. When the Giro d’Italia came through a few years ago, they got into the spirit, though in perhaps a more elegant and understated way.
But as you can see, decorating with bicycles is always an option, especially on the front of buildings.
Even after many years here, when I see the date of 4 July, my mind turns to the American Independence Day, even though I’m now more likely to write the date the way the rest of the world does. Typically we celebrate in some vaguely traditional way, such as grilling out and maybe setting out an Uncle Sam figurine I have.
This year, though, it’s all about yellow instead of red, white, and blue, and bicycles instead of fireworks. This year, 4 July means the start of the Tour de France. The Grand Depart is being held here in Utrecht this year and there’s no escaping it. Rows and rows of pennants flap in the wind over most streets; trees are wrapped in yellow or white with red polka dots; flags fly from homes and businesses; large bicycle statues are in major squares; tour information desks are in the Centraal Station; and on and on and on. It seems like everywhere you look, you see something race related.
This week, I’ll be posting some photos of various decorations that have begun to take over the city. Some fans may have already arrived; the rest will be arriving throughout the week, with probably the majority coming in on Friday.
We’re also expecting a significant heat wave this week, with possible temperatures as high as 38 C/100 F on Saturday. Remember, there’s no air conditioning here. This may be my last week of blogging, as there’s a chance I may die from heat stroke this week. I don’t do well in the heat as it is, and working in a tiny hot kitchen in those temps may be the death of me. Just wandering around town today to get some photos had my head pounding from the heat.
So, with that cheerful thought, here are some of the photos I took today at Jaarbeursplein, the large square by the train station/theater and also the general site of the finish for the time trials on Saturday. (The actual Grand Depart is Sunday.) As you come out of the train station, you end up at the top of a massive set of stairs that give a great view onto the square and the painting that covers the ground. The bicycles in the foreground of the first picture are just normal Dutch bikes belonging to people probably having lunch sitting on the stairs. In the second photo, notice the tree trunk wrapped in yellow.
On the left is the Jaarbeurs convention center, which houses trade shows, exhibitions, meetings, etc. on a large scale. It’s also the home of the Beatrix Theater, where you can see concerts, musicals, and more. They’ve recently decorated the building with a plethora of bikes. I can’t help but wonder if they’re some of the ones dredged up from the canals or other abandoned bikes that have been picked up around town. I should hope so, as that would be an affordable way of decorating. There’s no shortage of broken, abandoned bicycles in town.
Tomorrow, perhaps some more trees, or maybe the Winkel van Sinkel. A bientôt!