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.
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!
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
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
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
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
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)
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 …
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
Every 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
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.)
This one seems a particularly good pairing. It’s titled Superguppie xx Nijntje, by Fleur van der Weel. She’s the illustrator behind the Superguppie books written by Edward van de Vendel. Her style blends well with Dick Bruna’s simple graphic style, not surprising, as she’s a fan of his work.
As part of the celebrations of Nijntje/Miffy’s 60th birthday, statues — decorated by a variety of artists — are showing up all over the city. Our Thinker on a Rock rabbit has been joined by a version of Nijntje decorated by Klaas Gubbels. His work, titled Canto Ostinato, is inspired by a painting of his by the same name. He, like Nijntje’s creator, Dick Bruna, works primarily in two dimensional images, although in this case, two two dimensions have been applied to a three- dimensional form.
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!
So 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.