1 2 3D Go!

Just like last year, there was a special 3D chalk art piece done behind the Stadhuis recently. I really wanted to see it before the rains came, so on a crisp and sunny morning, Charlie and I headed out to see it. (To be honest, it was supposed to be a short walk, but the day was nice and I decided to keep going and see if it was still there. Charlie didn’t mind.)
3D Chalk Art
We assumed the position necessary to see the 3D depiction properly and were suitably impressed by this year’s work of art.
3D Chalk Art
I’m not sure if this year’s piece was directly related to the Nederlands Film Festival, as last year’s was, but probably so, as it was done during the festival. Last year’s Utrecht theme was more fun than the generic sports/movement theme this year, but it’s still impressive to see!

The curves, numbering, lettering, and details are truly amazing, especially when you view it from any other angle and realize how different it looks when not viewed from the one specific angle. I remain in awe of how they are able to work out the appropriate perspective and stretching and foreshortening to create the final piece.
3D Chalk Art

Reach for the Stars on the Red Carpet

Gouden Kalf
Utrecht is covered in red carpets once again with the start of the Nederlands Film Festival. Everywhere you look, there are red carpets and golden calves (the prize awarded; think Oscar statuette). Charlie and I regularly see the setup in front of the Stadsschouwburg (City Theater) where many films have their premier. I haven’t been to watch any of the red carpet walks this year, but Charlie is ready for his big debut.
Ready for the Red Carpet
In the past, the large Gouden Kalf (golden calf) statue stood in front of the Stadsschouwburg, but with its recent renovation, along with the opening of the renovated Tivoli Music Palace on the other side of town, the Golden Calf has taken up a spot at Neude, the central square in between the two locations.

We stopped by to see the statue, but Charlie wasn’t that impressed. He was more interested in the three dogs also hanging out in the square. I was more interested in the acrobatics also going on in the square.
Gouden Kalf
(WordPress won’t let me add a video any more, so here’s the YouTube link to the acrobatics.)

After checking out the action at Neude, we wandered down the L’Or Filmboulevard. (Sorry, not the best shot, but with the sun reflecting off the sign and a dog fascinated by everything going on along the Oudegracht, it was a quick snap!)
L'or Filmboulevard
The Filmboulevard is sort of like Utrecht’s version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. There is a row of plaques in the ground with hand prints (and a pair of foot prints of Carice van Houten, who has won twice) of stars who have won best actor/actress. I think they may have been preparing for a new plaque when we were walking past that morning.
L'or Filmboulevard
Live your dream, Charlie!
L'or Filmboulevard
Carice has nothing on Charlie’s tiny paws!
L'or Filmboulevard

Back to School Festivities

return of the students
There have been signs since this weekend that our park was going to be hosting some sort of event. By Monday morning, our usually empty park with room for Charlie to meander suddenly got a lot smaller and less conducive to free-range Charlie.

It seems that the peace and quiet we’ve been enjoying over the summer is a thing of the past. The students are returning and various student associations are taking over any open spot available.

One sign does seem to be encouraging vaccinations, which is always a good thing, but perhaps a bit more schooling is needed, or at least a few more spelling lessons. I think they’re missing a T. Though hopefully it’s all part of a joke, as I don’t think I’d want to get any vaccinations there!
return of the students

Anyway, aside from the usual DJs and beer stands at any event, this year’s theme for one of the groups seems vaguely southwestern/country & western in the broadest of terms. There are hay bales, a mechanical bull, and two teepees.
return of the students
return of the students

But that’s just one group, I think. In the field by the Stadsschouwburg, there’s more of a French flair with an inflatable Eiffel Tower. Though it still doesn’t hold a candle to our Domtoren.
return of the students
return of the students
As for Charlie, he gave the mechanical bull a few tentative sniffs this morning, but what he was really interested in was the Brood (bread) Company truck. He was giving any sniffer dog a run for it’s money, sniffing every inch he could reach! (He’s way up in the wheel well.)
return of the students
But the real love of his life is patat, or in this case, frites. He’s first in line! He’s not an aggressive dog, but I wouldn’t want to get between him and his fries/chips/patat/friet/frites. Met mayonaise, alstublieft!
return of the students

Pride and Remembrance

IMG_3613Cities around the world have been remembering those who were murdered at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando last week. While it is heart-warming to see the outpouring of support and love, it is heartbreaking that atrocities like these continue.

I was born in Orlando and lived there for the first 16 years of my life and while it has been a long time since I lived there, it will always be home. Having something so hateful and violent happen in my hometown makes it that little more personal, though I have LGBT friends who have sadly been the victims of violence on a much smaller but more frequent scale in a variety of cities.

Back in 2012, I wrote about the gay rights memorial here in Utrecht on the Domplein. At that point, gay marriage hadn’t been legalized in the US. In fact, one of the other states I used to live in was trying to make it very specifically illegal. Fortunately, that was something of a last gasp in the fight against marriage equality for all and gay marriage is now legal in all 50 states. Of course, the rights of transgendered people have since become the new battle. One step forward, two steps back is how it sometimes feels.

Yet for all the ugliness, there have certainly been large steps forward overall. IMG_3614Pride parades continue to grow and more people stand in support of equal rights for all. Utrecht has an annual Midzomergracht Festival, in its 20th year, celebrating sexuality and gender diversity. At its start on Friday, it included a remembrance at the memorial in honor of those who died in Orlando.

Early Saturday morning, while Charlie and I were out walking, we ended up at the Domplein. The street sweeping machine was out cleaning up the square, but the flowers, cards, figurines, and candles remained atop the memorial. Many of the candles were still burning. It was a sobering, yet touching display. It is awful that so many innocent lives were taken, but it is heartening that they are being remembered and honored around the world.

What do you get for the 894th anniversary?

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.
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
Roman Walls [Day 126/365]
Cathedral Art
Grachtenrace ronDom
Autumn on the Oudegracht
Rietveld-Schröder Huis [Day 281/365]
Winkel van Sinkel

Ghost in the Sunshine
Views from Neudeflat

Utrecht Festival Survival

Festival season is upon us, ranging from street festivals to massive music festivals. Even in the city center of Utrecht you’ll find an increasing number of festivals going from spring until autumn. Some of the newest are the Trek Food Truck Festival and Klein New Orleans. Trek is coming up on it’s third year, while Klein New Orleans is going to be celebrating it’s second year in a couple of weeks. Both have been massive successes. Plus, there’s my absolute favorite, the autumn edition of the Bock Beer Festival.

Maximize is putting together a list of top festival hacks from a variety of bloggers for all sorts of festivals and they’ve invited me to get involved. You can get involved, too, by commenting here and using the #UltimateFestHacks hashtag. I’m particularly interested in learning about others’ tips for Trek, as that festival just gets bigger and busier each year! For now, though, here are some of my tips that work for pretty much all of the three festivals I’ve mentioned.
Klein New Orleans

Get there early.
You may be tempted to go to any of these festivals later in the day/early evening, but if you wait, you’ll end up in long lines amid a crush of people. We usually hit the Bock Beer Festival around 3 p.m. on the Saturday, and it’s still busy, but you can more easily find friends in the crowd and not have to wait in too long a line to try the various beers. For the Trek festival, the earlier the better. It’s busy almost right from the start and the lines just get longer and longer as the day goes on. As for Klein New Orleans, get there from the start, as well, so you can take part in the Second Line.

Scope out your options in advance.

Most of the festivals post information on their website or Facebook page about who and what will be there. If you’re limited on time and/or budget, or there with a group of friends, you can decide what is most important to you and aim for those areas first. Trek, in particular, has so many food vendors set up throughout the Griftpark that making that first choice can be overwhelming, especially if you’re with a group of people. If you can all agree in advance on one place to start, that will tide you over while you plan your next excursion.

Have plenty of cash.

Most festivals don’t take PIN cards and there aren’t always cash machines nearby (although there is one near the Bock Beer Festival, but the lines get long there, too). Try to get some smaller denominations and coins, too, so the vendors don’t have to use up all of their change. If you’ve done some advance research, you might have an idea of how much things cost. For example, there’s a set fee for the glass you’ll get at the Bock Beer Festival and then there’s a set price for the tokens you need to get the beers. Always buy more tokens than you think you’ll want. We ALWAYS end up buying more and the lines are much longer by then. You can turn them in at the end if you don’t use them and get your money back.


Especially when it comes to the food at Trek and Klein New Orleans, the lines can be long, and if you want to try lots of things, sharing is a great way to cover all your bases. At Klein New Orleans, we ordered both the gumbo and the jambalaya and then split them between us. Though there’s a crawfish boil planned this year, which might require a serving all to myself! At the food festivals like Trek, you’re bound to want to try so many things that if you share dishes, you won’t end up too full after the first few stops.17933083269_d8605e3727_m

Be adventurous.

One of the great things about sharing is that it’s a good excuse to try things you aren’t quite sure about. With two or more people eating, it won’t go to waste if you don’t like it, but it’s also a good way to try things you might not otherwise go for on your own.

Wear comfy shoes.

Be adventurous with the food, not your footwear. At most of these festivals, you’re going to be on your feet for a long time. You’re also going to be in some big crowds where there’s the potential to have your toes stepped on or to get splashed with spilled something or other. You probably want to skip the heels and delicate sandals, as boring as that may be.

So what are your favorite festivals and tips for surviving and making the most of them?

They Startle Easily

A Taste of New Orleans in Utrecht


This morning, before lethargy and two jobs could distract me, Charlie and I headed out to the market at Vredenburg in search of some okra. I knew that there used to be a vegetable stall there that always had okra, but it has been a while since I’ve been to the Saturday market and I was worried they wouldn’t be there today. Fortunately, my concerns were soon allayed and I was in possession of a nice bag full of okra. And I only had to wrestle Charlie back to his sit position twice!

(Charlie is relatively well trained, but when he’s out in the world with lots of distractions, he gets a bit overwhelmed. I’m trying to get him more used to crowds and all the associated smells and such and he’s definitely making progress. I’m very proud of him!)

As for the okra, the reason I absolutely had to get some today is because I’m turning Vino Veritas into a Creole/Cajun restaurant for one night only on Tuesday, which happens to be Mardi Gras. This time of year, I always get nostalgic for my years in New Orleans and I’ve had a hankerin’ for some authentic gumbo. Since the Klein New Orleans event last summer was such a big hit (although I still question some of the recipes), I thought I’d host my own Klein Mardi Gras — on a much smaller scale, of course.

This has been a really last-minute decision, so I’m sadly short of purple, green, and gold decorations, but at least we should have some mighty fine food and a good Mardi Gras/New Orleans music playlist. I brought a small selection of some of my Mardi Gras beads with me when we moved, so maybe I’ll hang some off the cactus we have at work, in honor of the trees covered in Mardi Gras beads in New Orleans. We had one such tree right outside our dorm room freshman year. I have fond memories of sitting on the balcony and watching the plastic beads catch the light.
Mardi Gras [Day 47/365]
Oh, but the food! That’s what y’all want to know about! We’re going to be serving up gumbo, jambalaya, and shrimp etouffée, and I’m thinking about a marinated avocado and crab salad and/or a corn and black bean salad for starters. And if I can scrounge up some food coloring, I might be making mini king cakes for dessert. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it! And if you’re wondering, I have my own recipes, but also got some recipes from my friends from Louisiana, just to make sure I’m doing it right. Seriously, y’all. This is going to be the authentic taste. I guarantee! Ooo weeee!

(I had to throw that Justin Wilson link in. My grandpaw, who used to catch his own shrimp and fish in Florida and cooked a bit of Cajun-style food — despite being from Tennessee — used to watch Justin Wilson regularly and I’d watch with him when I was visiting. It’s one of my fond memories. The last time I saw my grandfather before he died was actually in New Orleans. We ended up going to the Court of Two Sisters for lunch. It was one of the first restaurants I went to in New Orleans and it was always a favorite. While we were having lunch, he told me about visiting the restaurant while he was in the Navy during WWII. They’d been stopped in New Orleans before heading out and he and some friends had dined at Court of Two Sisters. Years later, while we were cleaning out my grandparents’ home, I found a photo taken that night. It’s one of my cherished possessions. That’s him on the right.)

So, anyway, if you’re in Utrecht this Tuesday, 9 February, head to Vino Veritas (Biltstraat 9) and pass a good time as if you were down on the bayou! Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Charlie and the Golden Calf

Gouden Kalf
The annual Nederlands Film Festival is going on right now, and since the Stadschouwburg is undergoing renovation, the Gouden Kalf (Golden Calf) statue has been moved to Neude this year. Neude has always been one of the spots for the film festival. Pippo and I used to go check out the setup in years past. This year, the old postkantoor (post office) is also being used for some of the festival events. Charlie and I took a walk over yesterday morning to see the sights.
Gouden Kalf
Nederlands Film Festival
Nederlands Film Festival
While the Gouden Kalf was one of the things I wanted to see on the walk, my main destination was the square behind the Stadhuis. I had seen mentions on Twitter about 3D chalk art and wanted to see it for myself, especially before the festival was over or before the rains came again.

We were fortunate to have come at it from the correct angle, so it was fairly clear to see the image right away. But as we stood there at the official viewing spot, we saw people coming from the opposite direction and actually standing on the piece and not having any idea of what it was. It wasn’t until they got to the viewing spot that they realized.

Here’s Charlie sitting in the viewing spot (though getting distracted):
3D Chalk Art
3D Chalk Art
The piece depicts some of the symbols of Utrecht and the festival, with the Domtoren to the right, the Golden Calf in the center, standing in the Oudegracht, and the Inktpot with the UFO shown on the left, among other items.

As I said, if you come at it from the right angle, it’s easy to see. But when you see it from any other side, you realize how unusual and impressive it is!
Nederlands Film Festival
I’ve seen photos of work like this before, but this was the first I’ve seen in person. Definitely worth seeing, and a nice addition to the decorations around town for the festival.

Domtoren Tour de France Concert

Domplein Tour de France Trees
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 …
Domplein Tour de France TreesDomplein Tour de France Trees
I wonder if the Domtoren made of bicycle parts is on display anywhere. I saw it this past December and thought it was brilliant.

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)
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
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.)