Brick Street Tetris

Drain RepairI’m fully aware that this may be one of the most boring blog posts ever unless you like posts about general street/drain management and construction. But since living here, I’ve developed a love/hate relationship with the brick streets and sidewalks here in the old city center.

For starters, they’re hell on heels, not only making it difficult to walk in high heels but also generally tearing up sturdy, sensible shoe heels. I used to walk all over Manhattan in thin high heels, but I just can’t do it here. The sidewalks are too uneven and the heels tend to get stuck in between the bricks.

Secondly, there’s a marked difference in riding a bike on a brick street and riding on a smooth surface. When you get onto a smooth bit, there’s a sudden sense of relief as you realize you’re no longer rattling about. Ahhhhhhhhhh.Drain RepairHowever, I do admit that the brick streets are more picturesque than the typical asphalt or concrete and when it comes time to make repairs, whether to drains (the box bit at the bottom of the picture) or to actually widen the sidewalk area, it’s surprisingly simple.

Today we got a front row view of a street drain being replaced. The parking spot next to the drain was blocked off with some cones and soon enough, a yellow JCB digger showed up, along with a few shovels and picks. Then men in high-viz orange clothing began simply digging up the surface bricks of the street and sidewalk and then used the digger to get out the deeper dirt. The bricks aren’t permanently grouted or stuck down, so they’re easy to take out and replace as needed.

Once the new drain shaft was installed, they simply filled the dirt back in, put the bricks back in place, and filled in the gaps around the bricks with the remaining dirt. There are no horrible asphalt fumes, no horrendously mismatched lumpy layers, and as soon as everything is in place, you can walk on it, bike on it, or drive on it. It also takes a relatively short amount of time from start to finish. This was essentially a morning job. Drain RepairOnce they were done, everything was back in place and only a bit of excess dirt remained.

So now that I’ve bored you with the dirty underbelly of Dutch brick roads, here’s a slightly prettier view of a patterned brick street in glorious sunshine.Brick Street in the Sun


6 thoughts on “Brick Street Tetris

  1. Brick is still better than kinderkopjes! Those are really hell on your feet, whether in heels or comfy shoes! And on a bike…UGH! Bricks really is an inventive solution for easy street repair — I was amazed how quickly the did the drain/sidewalk repair in front of my in-laws last year. Really impressed. But I did moan a bit about them starting so early. 7:00AM is too early when I’m on vacation !! But as you said, it was done quickly and the street was passable before lunch.

    • Unfortunately, we were already up early today waiting for someone to come fix our water heater, but at least we got everything over with! And fortunately, I didn’t need to write today. All that banging and clinking and pounding might have been distracting otherwise. But I really was impressed with how quickly it was all done.

  2. Actually, I think this subject is fascinating. Part of my research involves storm drains and sewer lines in California. It’s always hard to imagine exactly what’s underneath all that asphalt, and even harder to access it sometimes. When we were in NL in 2012 I saw workers pulling up bricks to work on the street and I was captivated. It looked so much simpler than what we have here.

    On a random note, I’m coming to Utrecht next month for a 2 week stay. I’m taking the Certificaat Nederlands als Vreemde Taal examen (Profiel Academische Taalvaardigheid). I’ll be staying in the Nieuw Engeland/Lombok area and will definitely rent a bike to explore. Any unique shops or good cafes that you can recommend? I’ve read your blog for years, so maybe I just need to search back through your old posts as a reminder.

    I’m also looking for folks to practice my Dutch with or just to say Hi to. So let me know if you might like to meet up for thee/koffie sometime. Or if there’s anything you’re craving from the US that would fit in my suitcase.

    • I thought surely there had to be at least one other person out there who would be as interested in the torn-up streets as I am. 🙂 I had no idea there there was a whole shaft leading down (which I suppose makes sense), rather than just the drain hole.

      Succes met de taal examen! Je weet meer dan me. 😉 Lombok is a nice area and I just read about a new international café recently opened there. You might want to check out It’s a great website about the city with lots of shopping and dining recommendations. I think the most recent review is of the Lombok café. And maybe we can meet up while you’re here.

  3. It’s worse when they don’t put them back right or they place them slightly farther apart than normal. There is a patch of street on my daily cycle where they have done just that and it makes the bike rattling effect 10 times worse.

    • There’s one narrow section of sidewalk on a nearby street that I try to avoid, because it’s just a wonky mess likely to tip me over into the bike lane or break my ankle.

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