Tour de Gracht

Oudegracht paddle boats also ready for the Tour de France
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.
Oudegracht paddle boats also ready for the Tour de France
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.

Colorful Caryatids

Winkel van Sinkel Caryatid dressed in yellow with yellow sunglasses, ready for Tour de FranceYellow 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!
Winkel van Sinkel Caryatids ready for Tour de France. The restaurant and café decorates for the cycling race beginning in Utrecht.Winkel van Sinkel Caryatids ready for Tour de France wearing yellow dresses and sunglassesIt’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.
Winkel Van Sinkel and the caryatids decorated in pink for the giro d'italia cycling race taking place in utrecht netherlandsBut as you can see, decorating with bicycles is always an option, especially on the front of buildings.
bicycle decoration on the front of the winkel van sinkel on the oudegracht as part of the giro d'italia decorations in utrecht

Bicycles Instead of Fireworks

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.
Tour de France Grand Depart Jaarbeurs
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.
Tour de France Grand Depart Jaarbeurs

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.
Tour de France Grand Depart Jaarbeurs
Tour de France Grand Depart Jaarbeurs
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.
Tour de France Grand Depart Jaarbeurs
Tour de France Grand Depart Jaarbeurs
Tomorrow, perhaps some more trees, or maybe the Winkel van Sinkel. A bientôt!

Bicycles and Rainbows

Rainbow Brite
A rainbow bicycle seems the perfect image of my thoughts these days. With the Tour de France Grand Depart fast approaching — and more and more decorations going up around town that I hope to photograph tomorrow — it’s hard not to think about bicycles even more than normal. We had the Giro D’Italia through here a few years ago, but that was nothing in comparison. Crazy. I’m also hoping we’ll get some extra business out of it, since our little restaurant/wine bar is just down the street from part of the course. Too bad we weren’t open during the Giro! Now I just have to figure out how to promote Italian food for a French race.

But some great news has also been coming out of the US for the past couple of days, particularly in regard to some Supreme Court decisions. Justice Scalia may be having the worst week ever, but I have a lot of friends who have been positively affected by the upholding of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and now the decision that gay marriage should be recognized in all 50 states and protectorates. So now it’s not gay marriage, it’s just marriage. And about damn time!

My Facebook feed yesterday became one giant rainbow, and even as I type this, the WordPress CMS even has a rainbow banner. Rock on! So glad to see that once the ball started rolling in the US, with state after state beginning to recognize gay marriage, it took a surprisingly short amount of time for it to become legal nationwide. Sure, it’s been legal here in the Netherlands (the first country to legalize gay marriage) since 2001, but better late than never! There are some Gay Pride parades that were already scheduled for today in the US. I’m sure they’re going to be extra amazing now! Gefeliciteerd!

Roze ZaterdagRainbow Crossing

Eight More Things to Do in Utrecht

Last November, when I had friends from three countries visiting at once, I wanted to make a list of things they could do when I wasn’t available for sight-seeing — and some I wanted to do but hadn’t gotten around to yet. Of course, there were the museums. Utrecht has a lot of great museums, covering everything from art to automated music players. (Seriously, a guided tour of the Speelklok Museum is surprisingly entertaining.)

My map of 18 things to do in Utrecht has been getting a lot of hits recently, probably due to the fact that people who are coming for the Tour de France Grand Depart in just a few days are looking for, well, things to do in Utrecht. So while I have a few minutes free, I thought I’d share a few more things to check out while you’re in town, whether for the Tour de France, or just in general.

1. Visit V&D Cafeteria for the view
Utrecht 3|2013
In the Hoog Catharijne shopping center (next to the train station, so, hard to miss) the V&D department store has a cafeteria on the top floor. They serve a variety of hot and cold dishes and snacks, but the real reason to go is the view. They have a wall of windows looking out over the city center and if you can get a table next to the window, you won’t be disappointed, even on an overcast day or at night. To guarantee getting a good spot, it’s best to go at off-hours when people are less likely to be there for major meals of the day. (ETA: Sadly, this isn’t really an option now that V&D is closed, plus Hoog Catharijne is a construction nightmare. Hopefully, though, someone else will come in and make the most of the view.)

2. Walk along the Maliebaan
Artful Path
The Tour de France route goes along the Maliesingel, but it generally misses the Maliebaan itself. Somewhat ironic, as that was the site of the very first bicycle path in the Netherlands. Today, it’s a beautiful, peaceful, tree-lined street with a mix of roads and paths, as well as sculptures along one section. If you just want to get away from a bit of the hustle and bustle (or want to move between two sections of the route), it’s simply a nice walk to take.

3. Walk the ring canal
Around the Bend
11/11/11 at the Utrecht Meridian
If you look at a map of the city center, you’ll start to realize that there’s a canal that runs almost completely around the binnenstad (old city center). At one point, the canal did circle the city, and in a year or so, it will do so again. In the area around the Vredenburg/Hoog Catharijne/Centraal Station, you’ll see a lot of construction. They’re building bridges and re-installing the old canal, which had been turned into a roadway. Fortunately, most of the canal that rings the city is still in place and it makes for a nice walk around the city. You’ve always got the scenery of the canal, but you’ll also come across some other interesting sights, including the Wolvenplein, which was a working jail up until the past year or so. At the other end, you’ll find the Sonnenborgh Museum with its remains of the city’s walls(second photo).

4. Flower market
Utrecht Bloemenmarkt
There’s no shortage of flowers for sale in Utrecht throughout the week, but on Saturday, the big flower market can be found at Janskerkhof. Under the tree-covered square surrounding the picturesque church, you’ll find a huge assortment of seeds, plants, trees and more for sale, as well as beautiful bouquets, all at incredibly good prices. Even if you don’t purchase anything, it’s a lovely spot to meander.

5. Lapjesmarkt (Fabric market)
Stoffenmarkt
On Saturday mornings on Breedstraat (just off Voorstraat and near Neude), you’ll find the oldest and largest fabric market in the Netherlands. It has been around for more than 400 years and takes place, rain or shine. You’ll find a variety of fabrics for everything from clothing to upholstery, as well as assorted sewing accoutrements. It’s set on another lovely tree-line street and is a fascinating part of history, even if you have no interest in fabric. Take a stroll through and then head off for some other adventures, such as …

6. Domtoren
Domtoren
Come on. Like I’m going to do a list of things to see in Utrecht and not include this. Sure, it’s hard to miss, but it’s still pretty damn impressive. Even if you don’t want to take a guided tour up the 400+ steps, you can still enjoy a lot of it from ground level. On Saturdays, you can also typically enjoy one of the carillon concerts that ring out over the city. There will be some bicycle-themed songs for the Tour de France, of course. And while you’re in the area, check out the cathedral and the cloistered garden there in the Domplein, and Flora’s Hof, another garden with an adorable marmalade cat usually on the prowl.

7. Utrecht free tour
utrecht free toursEvery Saturday at noon, under the Domtoren, you can take an amazing free guided tour of the city. Completely led by volunteers, they take you on a three-hour walk around the city, giving you some great insight into the history and culture that makes Utrecht so wonderful. It’s a fantastic way to also get an idea of things you might want to explore further during your visit. It’s also great for anyone new to the city, and even those of us who have been here for a while. Just show up at noon and you’re good to go!

8. The Inktpot and the UFO
Urban Invasion
I can’t believe I have forgotten to add this to either of my lists! Sadly, it’s rare that you can go inside the Inktpot building itself, which is spectacular, but you can certainly see the UFO that landed on it in 2000! The aliens liked Utrecht so much, they decided to stay. I don’t blame them at all. Some say the UFO is just an art installation. Believe what you will. (The building is located by the Moreelsepark, near the train station.)

Taking it too far?

Too far?
Perhaps it’s just as well that there’s now less than a month to go before the Grand Depart of the Tour de France here in Utrecht. Bicycles are obviously a common sight, but the amount of yellow popping up is definitely increasing, as is the amount of — at times — cheesy promotional stuff. Take this flag hanging outside the entrance for the Domtoren tours. Throw in some yellow, a bicycle, and a random apostrophe, and suddenly anything can be related to the Tour de France. Zut alors!

800,000?!

DSC08161So it seems that 600,000-800,000 tourists are expected here in Utrecht for the Grand Depart of the Tour de France in July. The city’s population will double or nearly triple.

That’s a LOT of people.

I thought the Domplein seemed much too crowded with tourists as it is on a normal sunny Sunday. Hmmm. Maybe I should stop encouraging people to visit more of the country than just Amsterdam.

Bicycles on Display

Fietsen
It’s almost impossible to take a photo at street level here in Utrecht without a bicycle in it. And on the rare occasion that there is no bicycle and you want one, you only have to wait a few seconds for one to go by. But for all the bicycles around, it’s not so common to see one proudly displayed in a window that isn’t part of a bicycle shop. This is just a residential street, with a great selection of bicycles on display, both inside and out. I must say that the window bicycle is certainly a change from the typical cats and plants I usually see in a front window.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Motion

scooter and bikesI was looking through past May photos to find one for my new header when I saw this shot and remembered that the Weekly Photo Challenge theme this week is motion. I like the blur of the scooter, like something from a Futurist painting. But I also love the background of all those bicycles, which suggest potential motion. There had obviously been a lot of motion going on to get all of those bicycles there.

Junk in the Trunk

bicycle basket
Wednesday, I showed you a bakfiets, useful for carting around kids, groceries, pets, household goods, etc. The ability to transport more than just yourself from place to place is an important part of making cycling an everyday mode of transport, rather than just a sport. Of course, if a regular bakfiets is a bit too big for your needs, you can always go with something a bit more streamlined. Plenty of space for groceries and small pets in that plastic bucket on the bike above.

However, if you’re regularly transporting large items, you might need something with a bit more storage space. Fortunately, there’s a bike for that. Who needs a truck when you’ve got the bakfiets XL!
bike transport
I’ve seen these used for a variety of purposes. Cornering might be a bit more difficult, but you can certainly fit plenty of stuff in there!

However, many of us make do with a normal bike and a regular basket up front and/or saddle bags on the back. It’s surprising just how much you can get on a regular omafiets. And for the slightly bulkier or more awkward items like brooms and storage containers? Well, just hang on to them like these women are doing.
bike transport