Happy Pakjesavond

Pepernoten

The pepernoten are flowing and flying, the pakjes (presents) are all wrapped up with poems at the ready, the Piets are knocking on doors and windows and dropping off sacks of presents or bagging up naughty children, and the Sint is ready to head back to Spain.

It’s pakjesavond, the night when Sinterklaas and the Piets hand out presents to all the boys and girls who have been good this year. I don’t think we’ve been very good, so no presents for us tonight. That said, I did make sure we stocked up on the chocolate kruidnoten today so I’ll have enough to last me for the next few months. They’re perfect with a cup of tea or coffee!
Presents
Making Waves
Greetings

What do you get for the 894th anniversary?

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It’s that time of year again. Utrecht is celebrating its 894th year as an official city. On June 2, 1122, Keizer Henrik V officially recognized Utrecht as a city. (Of course, Utrecht’s history goes back much further. The Roman fortifications date back to around 50 CE, and people may have inhabited the area during the Stone Age, going back to 2200 BCE.)

There are usually some festivities each year. I think the ones this year are more about family history. However, throughout the year, you can find a marker along the Oudegracht commemorating the event.
stadsdag
In honor of 894 years as a city, I thought I’d post a few photos of some of my favorite, unique places that make it such a wonderful city.
Urban Invasion
Nijntje
Roman Walls [Day 126/365]
Cathedral Art
Grachtenrace ronDom
Autumn on the Oudegracht
Brug
Rietveld-Schröder Huis [Day 281/365]
Stadhuisbrug
Soaring
Winkel van Sinkel
Paushuize

Ghost in the Sunshine
Views from Neudeflat

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.

Tour De France 2015 Route Presentation

Today is the grand announcement of the route of the 102nd Tour De France taking place next summer. It’s relevant to Utrecht, because Utrecht is where the race begins next year! We’ve known that for a while, but the official release of the full route was just announced moments ago. I watched part of the presentation on the Cyclingnews.com website, but had to laugh/cringe at the English pronunciation of all of the Utrecht sites (Jaarbeurs, Lepelenburg), but the worst was the name of the city itself. I don’t know who was responsible for the English commentary/translation I was watching, but dear lord, I hope they get that figured out soon. You should at least be able to pronounce the name of the city!

The race kicks off on 4 July, a Saturday, and part of it even goes down Biltstraat, where Vino Veritas is, though I think they turn off before they get to us. There will also be events in town in the days leading up to the start.

For a few months now, a statue of a bicycle representing the Tour de France has been in place on the Stadhuisbrug. I’ve taken ground-level photos in the past, but last month while up on the Neudeflat, I got a few more aerial views of the statue. Someday I may get over the Jaarbeursplein to see the big ground design they in place there. I guess I have until next July. For now, enjoy these shots of the statue on the bridge over the Oudegracht. You’ll notice that the Domtoren, in the background of one, was much too tall to be fully included. Also pay attention to the boat going through the canal in the shots, particularly the shot where you can see the man essentially pushing the boat away from the canal walls to get it through a rather tight bend.
Tour de France Utrecht 2015
Tour de France Utrecht 2015Tour de France Utrecht 2015

The Oudegracht from Above

Oudegracht from above
I’ve often mentioned Utrecht’s famed multi-level canals, with the wharves down below street level. However, it’s not always easy to get a good photo that really shows both levels in one shot. Fortunately, while getting a bird’s-eye view of the city from the top of the Neudeflat recently, I was finally able to get a couple of shots that show both levels.

As you can see from my photo of the Oudegracht, the largest of the canals running through the city, the main buildings are on street level, but with cellars beneath them at water level, along with wide wharves at water level. Many of these cellars, or kelder, are used as restaurants, shops, studios and more. On this particular stretch of the Oudegracht, they are mainly restaurants, giving diners a great opportunity to enjoy a meal right next to the canal, assuming the weather cooperates.
Views from Neudeflat
As you can see when you look a bit closer, the wharves are accessed by stairs located at various spots along the canal. The little red and white building on the bridge is the Venezia ice cream stand that pops up seasonally during the spring/summer months. And all the flowers on the lamp posts and along the street appear throughout the city during the same time period. They add a pretty touch of color to the city.
Oudegracht from above
Finally, one last photo to show one of the boats that services the restaurants and other buildings along the canal. As well as trash boats, there are convenient beer boats that service the many restaurants. Rather than having to get big trucks on the pedestrian streets above, or having to carry numerous crates and boxes down the stairs, these boats are set up to pump in beer from canal level. Very sensible! I also love the tall, thin, pointed rooftops in the bottom of the photo. You can even see a bit of the back of the decorative facade that hides the simpler structure.

Electric Boats and a Dog

Koningsdag 2014On King’s Day, as we were passing by the Oudegracht, my eye was caught by this beautiful dog. So shiny! So strong and handsome! And of course, he reminded me a bit of Pippo, who I still miss every day.

As I was admiring the dog, I eventually noticed that there were some interesting boats zipping around in the canal. I’m used to a variety of boats in the Oudegracht, from small kayaks and peddle boats to luxury yachts. These boats definitely weren’t luxury vessels, in fact they looked to be about half the size of a kayak, but what they lack in space, they seem to more than make up for in speed and manoeuvrability.Koningsdag 2014It turns out, they’re electric canal boats and they’re now available to rent (I think). They were created by Fred Hulshoff, who has been working on various designs for years. With the electric canal boats, the idea is that they can explore nearly every inch of the waterways. They’re small enough to take through low/tight spaces, and their silent, electric motors allow them to go where noisy motorboats aren’t allowed.Koningsdag 2014I’ve yet to find any detailed information about where to rent them or how much it costs, but they were on the wharf level of the Oudegracht just south of the Vismarkt. If I find any official information, I’ll update.

The Arrival of King’s Day

Koninginnedag DomtorenSo, the inaugural King’s Day (Koningsdag) celebrations are beginning, as stages and oceans of beer are being put in place across the country. It’s the first time there’s been a King’s Day; it has always been Queen’s Day since the holiday’s inception. However, after Beatrix stepped down last year and Willem-Alexander ascended the throne, we now have a king for the first time in more than 100 years.

It turns out there’s an Utrecht link to the holiday. It was an Utrecht newspaper editor who first organized Princess Day for Wilhelmina in 1885, as a celebration of her fifth birthday. The celebration eventually evolved into Queen’s Day once she succeeded her father, King Willem III in 1890.

Originally, Queen’s Day was celebrated in August, the month of Wilhelmina’s birth. When her daughter, Juliana, took the throne, it then moved to her birth date, 30 April. When Juliana’s daughter, Beatrix, took the throne, she decided to keep the April celebration date, since the weather is much nicer than her birth month of January. Willem-Alexander’s birthday is 27 April, which is when King’s Day will usually be celebrated. However, since the 27th is a Sunday this year, they decided to move the celebration to the 26th. Next year it will be on the 27th. I kind of wish he’d just kept the 30 April date to avoid confusion. Now it’s starting to feel a bit like trying to figure out when Easter is!

The party actually starts tonight with King’s Night festivities that usually include bands playing outdoors throughout the city, with plenty of covers of Golden Earring songs and Shocking Blue’s “Venus” (both are Dutch bands, if you didn’t know). The vrijmarkt also starts tonight at 18:00 (6 PM), in which the northern part of the city center becomes a massive flea market. Lots of people like to go early to find the best items, before everything gets picked over. It’s particularly useful if you’re looking for a specific item.

Tomorrow, which is the official King’s Day, will see more of the same, with lots of parties across the country. Throughout it all, there will be more orange than you’ve ever seen in your life, as the Dutch royal family is part of the Orange-Nassau family. BoatsMore OrangeKoninginnedagBand
Janskerkhof