Canal Race Obstacles and Excitement

Grachtenrace ronDomThe canal that rings the old city center in Utrecht is relatively wide, as is most of the Oudegracht. These are the canals you see the most of if you take one of the boat tours around the city. Those tour boats are relatively long and wide, so they have to be able to move freely without the risk of getting stuck in a turn or taking out a wharf.

With that in mind, you’d think that a bunch of row boats wouldn’t have any trouble making their way through these same canals. After all, row boats aren’t that big. Yet there were a few close calls on Saturday during the Grachtenrace ronDom. You see, while the boats themselves aren’t particularly large, the oars certainly are! They’ve got a pretty impressive wingspan. GrachtenraceIt wasn’t too much of a problem in the wider canal areas, especially as they had staggered start times. There was no risk of oars clashing as occurred in the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race the other week.

However, even the wider canals have narrow bridge passes. The bridge in my first photo wasn’t a problem, as it is a single, wide arch. However, many of the bridges in Utrecht are actually made up of two or three arches, significantly narrowing the space through which a boat can pass. As the boats quickly approached each bridge, they had to line up properly and quickly pull the oars in tight against the body of the boat as they passed underneath, while still trying to get as much speed as possible out of the last few oar strokes before going under.GrachtenraceIn this next photo, I was standing on the bridge, directly over the arch they were passing through. You can see some of the oars being pulled in, but a couple were also making a last stroke to keep up the momentum. (I love all the swirling water in this photo.)Grachtenrace ronDomWhen they got to the Oudegracht, some of the bridge arches were a bit bigger. In that case, they would often just pull in the oars on one side, depending on which side was closest to the wall or wharf.Grachtenrace ronDomStill, as you can see here, if they didn’t pull in the oars on at least one side, they’d be likely to hit something, even if they went through the center of the arch.Grachtenrace ronDom
To give you a bit more perspective, particularly once the race reached the Oudegracht, here’s a photo of one of the tour boats I mentioned earlier (going under the bridge), along with a row boat fast approaching.Grachtenrace ronDomJust because there was a race going on didn’t mean that all boat traffic on the canals stopped. Quite the opposite! Along with the tour boats and the other leisure boats as you see docked there on the right, there were also people in canoes, city maintenance boats, and even people out on peddle boats. Things got particularly interesting when the peddle boats and row boats came up against each other on one of the narrowest parts of the Oudegracht. As I saw the people in the peddle boat in this next picture casually enjoying the scenery, I found myself feeling like someone on the beach in the movie “Jaws” ready to start yelling, “Behind you! Move faster! It’s going to get you!”Grachtenrace ronDomIn fact, it ended up being a close call and there might have been a little bit of contact between the oars and the peddle boat before it was all over.Grachtenrace ronDomGrachtenrace ronDom
It wasn’t just the many boats and bridges that the racers had to contend with, either. We decided to watch the race as it went through the Oudegracht from the Donkere Gard section, which is where the canal gets quite narrow. There is some construction/renovation being done to one of the buildings, with scaffolding set up on the canal side. As the boats went through and the oars came up, it was clear just how little space was left. At one point, it even looked like the oars on one of the boats was going to hit the scaffolding!Grachtenrace ronDomGrachtenrace ronDomFortunately, at least during the parts of the race I saw, everyone seemed to manage ok, avoiding all the obstacles and manoeuvring quickly through the canals. Congrats to all who took part and thanks for providing some fun Saturday entertainment amid Utrecht’s beautiful canal scenery!Grachtenrace ronDom

A Boat Race Through Utrecht’s Beautiful Canals

Grachtenrace ronDomYesterday, Utrecht’s beautiful canals were filled with boats taking part in the Utrechtse Grachtenrace ronDom. The boat race began just south of the city center and then lead the rowers along the eastern and northern sides of the city, through the buitenstadsingel, the canal that rings the old city center. They then turned down onto the Oudegracht, the large canal running from north to south, before rowing on to their final destination.

The race has been going on for just over a decade and covers more than 14 kilometers. It seemed to be a fairly broad mix of people taking part, with men and women representing a range of ages.GrachtenraceGrachtenraceGrachtenraceGrachtenraceGrachtenrace ronDomGrachtenrace ronDomI took a lot of photos, from different spots along the race, so I’m going to break it up into two (maybe three) posts, focusing on different aspects of the race that I noticed. As well as the physical exertion, there were certain parts that looked particularly challenging! But through it all, lots of great examples of why Utrecht’s canals are the most beautiful in Europe!

Sinterklaas Is Coming to Town

Hij komt!
Hij komt!

There will be lots of children shouting that on Sunday when Sinterklaas makes his arrival. Sunday is the intocht, AKA Sinterklaas’ arrival by boat from Spain.
Sinterklaas Intocht
Despite the recent issues with the canal walls near the Weerdsluis, it seems everything has been stabilized and Sinterklaas will be able to disembark in his normal spot. If the rain holds off, I may go see some of the festivities. The kid in me gets a kick out of it. Plus, it seems like a good time to get the first oliebollen of the season.

If you want to see the festivities in person, here’s this year’s schedule:
12.00 The boat parade begins at LedigErf
12.30 Weerdsluis festivities begin
13.00 Boats arrive at Weerdsluis
14.00 Begin the procession to Janskerkhof
14.30 Festivities at Janskerkhof

Amsterdamned and Utrecht Blessed

At various points over the years, I’ve seen and heard references to the film Amsterdamned, a 1988 Dutch horror film focused on the canals of Amsterdam. The reason why I’ve heard about the film is because of a famous boat chase. Two speed boats — one with the masked killer and the other with the investigating police officer — race through the city’s many canals, doing their best to avoid numerous obstacles. At one point, a tour boat is blocking the whole canal and the boats veer onto the wharf in order to avoid the tour boat, scattering people sitting at tables next to the canal.

*sound of record scratching*

Wait a minute! Amsterdam canals don’t have those kind of wharves! Although the boat chase does go on for quite a while, it doesn’t go on long enough for them to have suddenly appeared in Utrecht’s Oudegracht! Yet that’s exactly where they are! Then, just a few moments later, they’re back in Amsterdam.
Dinner Destination

You see, the Oudegracht and Nieuwegracht canals here in Utrecht, with their water-side wharves below the regular street level, are pretty much unique to Utrecht. Amsterdam has nothing like them, despite the many canals. In order to create an eye-catching stunt for the boat race, they decided to make use of Utrecht’s canal, location be damned!

This is why I’ve come to know of this film. This 30-second location blip is fairly well-known to Utrechters. Despite knowing about it, I had yet to see the film or even the boat race, until yesterday. I came across a video about the filming of the stunt in Utrecht, and then finally found a video of the boat race itself. You can see it for yourself. Utrecht shows up at about the 5:30 mark and is gone again by about the 6 minute mark, so keep your eyes open!

Catching Up with Boats and Monstrances

Thousand-year-old boat
After a day spent wrestling with Firefox (which refused to play nice with the other programs I needed), I’m going to simply attempt a quick roundup post to cover a few things of interest.

First up, you may remember the post I did about the recent theft of a monstrance (religious doodad) from the Catharijne Convent Museum. Well, it turns out that they caught the three people responsible and recovered the missing bit. The museum hopes to have it back on display soon.

In other news, they’ve found the remains of another old boat near the Catharijnesingel. (Honestly, Utrecht isn’t like Atlanta where everything is named Peachtree, or in this case Catharijne. It’s just a coincidence.) The canal, which became a highway, which is reverting back to a canal, was the site of the recent archaeological excavation. In fact, for my British readers, you may appreciate the fact that it was found near the Boots pharmacy over by the train station.

Anyway, the remains of the ship are oak and measure around 8 meters long and 2.5 meters wide. American (and some British) readers will have to do the metric to imperial conversion on their own, but trust me, it’s a good size. The boat dates to sometime between 500 to 1000 AD. It’s one of many boat remains that have been found in the general area in recent years. In fact, the really poor photo at the top is of a thousand-year-old boat that now stands in dry dock in the Utrecht Centraal Museum. You can literally smell the history when you step into that room. For what it’s worth, history smells a bit funky.

Sunday in Yellow

Autumn on the Oudegracht

Not much to say today. The weather has been chilly but nice here in Utrecht and the autumn colours are still going strong. Pippo and I went for a long walk this morning and I spent the afternoon making erwtensoep (split pea soup) for tonight’s dinner. The time change last night has thrown us all off, though. We all still woke early and now the afternoon is dragging. Pippo, who is a creature of habit and schedule, is seeming a bit discombobulated that we’re not keeping to schedule.

For all of you dealing with the possibility of Hurricane Sandy in the US, I hope you’re all safe and don’t get any damage or inconvenience. One thing I don’t miss is the threat of major storms. May your waters be as calm as the Oudegracht.

Paddling Down the Oudegracht

Summer’s Last Hurrah

We’re expecting one last burst of summer this weekend, with temperatures expected to get up around 27C. That means there will probably be many more boats like this on the canals and lots of people heading to the beach for one last hurrah.

If you’re in town and want to enjoy the water, there are numerous boats for hire, whether it’s the tapas boats, the peddle boats, or even just one of the larger guided city boat tours. There are also kyacks and even inflatable boats that can be taken out.

Of course, there’s lots of other events going on this weekend (see my events calendar), including markets at Griftpark and Molen de Ster, as well as lots of buildings specially opened for Open Monument Day. We still have to figure out which sites to visit, although we’re considering visiting the newly repaired Paushuize, the residence built for the Netherlands’ only pope.

Whatever your plans, enjoy! And if you have a dog, make sure they have access to plenty of water and shade. Or just take them with you, like this dog.
Travelling in Style