Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?

New Orleans This Sunday, come rain or shine — just like Mardi Gras — I’m gonna laissez les bon temps rouler! Utrecht is getting its very own Klein New Orleans (Little New Orleans) for one day. Breedstraat is going to be turned into the French Quarter with food, music, and more that brings to mind the Big Easy. I can’t wait! I went to Tulane University in New Orleans (pictured above) and fell in love with the city. Sure, there’s a lot of corruption and crime, though that’s sadly nothing new. But there’s also so much passion and beauty and fun and a certain joy that’s maybe that little bit more intense because of the darkness that lurks, be it crime or Mother Nature. Certainly, when it comes to music and food, the city is exceptional. I’m not gonna lie, I’m a little worried about how the food is going to be translated at the festival this Sunday. I’ve seen a jambalaya at a restaurant here in Utrecht that was nothing like any jambalaya I ever had in New Orleans. But hopefully I’ll be pleasantly surprised. New Orleans When I graduated, there was a crawfish boil for graduating seniors and their family. Crawfish, potatoes, corn on the cob. Suck the heads, squeeze the tails! I’m definitely looking forward to some crawfish this weekend! I wonder if they’ll have any Abita beer? Oh, and red beans and rice! And pralines! And beignets! Po’ boys! Gumbo! *sigh* Hmm. I just looked at the program and I’m not sure if they’re going to have any of that, except the gumbo. Oh dear. If they do this again next year, maybe I’ll sign up to make a big ol’ mess o’ red beans and rice, at least. New Orleans Well, I’m certainly looking forward to the music. If only they could have gotten Cowboy Mouth there. Seeing them live is like a religious experience. Though there is going to be a band there called the Neutral Ground Brass Band. The name alone makes me love them already. (Neutral Ground is the New Orleans word for a median, or that little strip of land in the middle of the street.) Reverend Shine Snake Oil Co. also sounds like it could be a good one. It also looks like they’re going to Second Line it over from Neude. Maybe I should decorate one of our umbrellas! In the meantime, I’m just going to look through some of my old photos from Tulane and reminisce. I can’t really share most of them without getting a lot of people to sign wavers. I am so glad we didn’t have camera phones back then. I do have a few photos I can share, starting with one of the classic streetcar; the house I lived in my last year, complete with porch (and yes I did stand down below and yell, “Stella!”); a postcard of some of the gorgeous wrought-iron balconies in the Quarter, and a silly picture of me after graduation. New Orleans New Orleans New Orleans New Orleans

Touring Utrecht’s Christmas Markets

Domplein Kerstmarkt
The other weekend, Utrecht was overflowing with kerstmarkten (Christmas markets). Mariaplaats, Twijnstraat, Domplein, Stadhuis, and other winter festivities at Neude were among the offerings and fortunately the weather cooperated. It was a gorgeous sunny winter day. The Domplein was the newest addition to the kerstmarkt scene, and having seen some photos on Twitter, that was our fist stop on our kerstmarkt tour.

Although relatively small in offerings, there was a nice mix of stylish wooden stalls and tented tables, as well as two merry-go-rounds. One was a swing type for children, while the other slowly turning one was decked out with tables and chairs to enjoy a panoramic view of the square while you enjoyed some gluhwein (mulled/spiced wine), coffee, hot chocolate, and snacks.

Among the food and snacks seemed to be freshly smoked salmon. The salmon was on wood (cedar?) planks, held in place by metal clasps and stuck above a small fire pit (center left in the photo below). Picturesque and mouth watering, all at the same time!
Domplein Kerstmarkt
There were various vendors there selling everything from Christmas trees and decorations — I finally bought one of the paper stars I’ve been wanting for the past few years — and other gift items, many of which were handmade. As I said, it was a small selection, but definitely a nice mixture of items and in a great setting. I hope they continue to do a kerstmarkt in the Domplein.
Domplein Kerstmarkt
Domplein Kerstmarkt
There was also some entertainment on hand, including storytelling, donkey rides, and a bouncy “snow globe” for kids. The snow globe features a picture of Utrecht taken by the talented artist behind the Donker Utrecht photos. (He had a stall at the Stadhuis kerstmarkt.) It was kind of nice to be able to get a photo of the globe with the Domtoren standing out, right in front of the actual Domtoren.
Domplein KerstmarktDomplein Kerstmarkt
Domplein Kerstmarkt
Domplein KerstmarktAfter the Domplein, we headed to Twijnstraat, the traditional kerstmarkt site. We always get some gluhwein when we’re there and this was no exception. It was fairly crowded and I didn’t get any photos of the actual market, though I did get some photos along the Oudegracht, where we paused to enjoy the scenery and drink our gluhwein, as is our custom.

After Twijnstraat, we headed over to the Stadhuis (city hall) to see the market there. It was a new market site last year and was a lot of fun. I think it might have been a bit smaller this year, perhaps because of the addition of the Domplein market. Still, it was a festive spot, and it even had a ferris wheel!
Stadhuis Kerstmarkt
The poffertje van was back (literally a small car/van turned into a mobile poffertje making stall), but we had plans to get poffertjes at Neude, so we just did a quick look around and enjoyed the band that happened to be playing Christmas tunes as we arrived.
Stadhuis Kerstmarkt
Stadhuis Kerstmarkt
As we stood listening to the music, I suddenly realized that the trumpet player looked a bit familiar. Turns out it was Robert, the photographer behind the Kat in de Stad books! (I edited the English version of the recent Amsterdam edition.)

Utrecht’s markets may not be as massive and famous as some of the ones in other cities and countries, but they’re still a lot of fun. I’m so glad we got to get out and enjoy a nice afternoon in the city. With work and me currently suffering my second bad cold in the past month, we haven’t really gotten into the festive spirit this year, not even putting up the tree. But visiting the markets makes me feel like I got to enjoy a bit of the special celebrations.

I hope you and your loved ones have a happy holiday season, no matter where you are or what festivities you celebrate.

Winter Festivities in Utrecht

Winter WonderWe didn’t really get any snow last year and the way these last few months have been surprisingly warm, I’m not sure we’ll get any snow this year, either. But even without snow, there are plenty of winter traditions and events in Utrecht that give the city its own charm. And really, with all those brick streets and sidewalks, not having to navigate them when they’re covered in snow and ice is a good thing!

I recently wrote a travel feature about some of the upcoming winter events in Utrecht for a Canadian-based publication called DUTCH: The Magazine. You can pick it up at select news stands in North America, I believe, but this month, you can also read my article online. So if you’re like my three friends coming in tomorrow from the US, Canada, and Germany, and want to get some ideas of things to see and do in Utrecht this winter season, you’ll find a few tips and suggestions, along with a brief bit of history of this amazing city.

Book Fest in Utrecht

Boekenfestijn
I’ve had a lot of bookstore searches leading people to my blog recently, so in the interest of being helpful, I thought I’d mention this. The Boekenfestijn is returning to Jaarbeurs next week, September 4-7. Entrance is free and there’s a broad selection of books, in both Dutch and English. Definitely worth checking out.

The Trek to the Utrecht Food Truck Festival

The title is a lie. It wasn’t a trek at all. The festival is so close I can smell the BBQ inside the house. But Utrecht’s first proper food truck festival is called TREK, and it’s been going on since Friday and finishes up tonight. The four-day festival has been a delicious way for Utrechters to enjoy the long Pinksterdag holiday weekend.

There have been a number of food(truck) festivals taking place in other cities for the past few weeks, so it’s great to see Utrecht get involved. Although I was sad that the Mac & Cheese truck that appeared in Leiden didn’t make it here. I’d really been hoping to be yet another American making a beeline for their truck. Instead, G and I tried a couple of other American classics: pulled pork and nachos. bbqporkThe pulled pork was cooked in a proper big smoker/BBQ and was moist and soft and really quite good. The only drawback is that I think it was lacking in seasoning. It needed a proper rub and the BBQ sauce was pretty unnoticeable, too. I may be extra picky, though, as I’ve spent a lot of time smoking/cooking pork on the grill and making my own rubs and sauces. This is serious stuff in the south!nachosnachosfoodThe nachos weren’t quite Doritos with salsa (as is common here in the Netherlands), but it was all a bit sweet, particularly the salsa. Nice enough, but definitely needed some deeper, richer spices and some heat. They did have bottles of hot sauce available, though. Still, definitely different from what I’m used to in the US.

There was one last southern staple that I was tempted to try, but I was hesitant after the first dishes that weren’t as hoped for, and the slightly higher cost eventually stopped me from giving it a shot. Because if you’re going to make fried chicken, you’d better do it right, especially when you call it the ultimate comfort food. Because it is. Don’t mess with comfort foods! Having seen what was being served, it looked more like chicken fingers. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE chicken fingers and they may have done a great job, but for €6.50, I just didn’t feel like taking the chance. They were probably awesome. Oh well. kipNext time maybe I’ll stick with the Dutch classics, including croquettes, poffertjes, and the ubiquitous saté. I really was tempted, but after a less-than-healthy food weekend, I figured I’d be good. Plus, it was getting really hot! Still, despite the complaints, it was fun and still more than edible and I hope we get some more food festivals like this. I joked with G that maybe we should do the wine bar during the winter months and start up our own BBQ food truck for the summer months to show how it should really be done!sate(Apologies if I sound like an annoying expat, but pulled pork is where I get fussy. I generally recall the words of my great-grandmother who was known to say, “It’s different. It’s good, but it’s different.” That’s what these dishes were, but when you have certain expectations, it can be a bit of a let-down. But more power to them for working that grill all weekend in these really hot temperatures!)

It’s not all food at the festival. There have been musical performances, and even a DJ booth (spinning real vinyl) in the shape of an old tractor going by the name De Witte Snor (The White Mustache).djAnd if you were feeling a bit shaggy, you could also get an old-school shave and a hair-cut, although for more than two bits. G was particularly sorry to have shaved this morning, as he’s always wanted one of the proper barber shaves. Fortunately, Pappas is here in town. I think I might know what to get G for his birthday this year!shave

Bevrijdingsdag in Utrecht

BevrijdingsdagToday is Bevrijdingsdag (Liberation Day) in the Netherlands. It marks the 69th anniversary since the Germans surrendered at the end of World War II and signed the capitulation documents in Wageningen. There are various celebrations held throughout the country today, including here in Utrecht. Today is also one of the official days when the flag is flown and there are flags fluttering in the sunshine across the city and on most streets. Our neighbor is flying the flag and it looks lovely against the bright blue sky.

Although today marks the liberation of the Netherlands, the full component of allied forces didn’t arrive in Utrecht until 7 May (and later in other areas). However, in the days leading up to their arrival, food began to make its way into the city as part of Operation Faust. Food had been dropped by airplane in various cities in the country and then was gradually distributed to help feed the starving citizens of the Netherlands.

The Utrecht Archives has some photos of the early arrival of these important food deliveries, which I found particularly fascinating and poignant, as many were taken here in my neighborhood. This first one shows some of the trucks arriving on the eastern edge of the city center, having driven up Biltstraat (in the background) and then crossing over to Wittevrouwenstraat. On the right is the turn to Lucas Bolwerk.
http://www.hetutrechtsarchief.nl/collectie/beeldmateriaal/fotografische_documenten/1940-1950/97576In fact, in this next photo, you can see the trucks lined up along Lucas Bolwerk. There’s a narrow park that runs along this street, with the city ring canal on the other side. It’s where we used to take our dog Pippo every day, so it’s an area I know very well. That makes it seem that much more real and not just a historic photo.
http://www.hetutrechtsarchief.nl/collectie/beeldmateriaal/fotografische_documenten/1940-1950/22187The final photo is of an allied motorcyclist riding up Voorstraat in the last few days leading up to the liberation of Utrecht. From the waves of the hats, he was surely a wonderful sight to see. And once again, it’s a street I know so incredibly well — in fact, we walked along there on King’s Night last week — which makes it more personal and yet still so hard to imagine.http://www.hetutrechtsarchief.nl/collectie/beeldmateriaal/fotografische_documenten/1940-1950/97699After the liberation of Utrecht, a tree was planted on the south-eastern side of the city, in the park area at the end of the Nieuwegracht. It’s where my beloved Spoetnikkijker statue now stands. The Bevrijdingsboom (Liberation Tree) has a painted, ironwork sign in front of it to mark its commemoration of the liberation of Utrecht and the country in May 1945.BevrijdingsboomDirect links to the photos:Wittevrouwenstraat
Lucasbolwerk
Voorstraat

Happy King’s Day

KoningsdagFijne Koningsdag! So far the first King’s Night/Day has gone really well. We’ve certainly had a lot of fun. I’ll post a few more photos tomorrow, but couldn’t resist sharing this photo that I took today. I originally posted it to Twitter, and someone there caught something in the photo that I’d missed both when I took the photo and looked at it later. If you look at the open window on the left, you’ll notice a couple of pairs of feet sticking out! I’ve seen lots of people hanging out of open windows this weekend, but solely soles is something new!

Signs of Spring in the Griftpark

Spring in the GriftparkA picture of two little lambs curled up together seemed appropriate for today. They’re some of the animals that live at the Griftpark, which we visited the other day. We went because I’d heard there was an International Market taking place through the 21st and I was curious to see what they had. Plus, the Griftpark is just a nice little park located nearby, at the end of a picturesque walk along one of the canals.

When we first got to the park, I realized that the kermis (fair) was also there. We were there pretty early in the day, so nothing was in operation yet and staff were getting some of the rides ready for the day.Spring in the GriftparkSpring in the GriftparkSpring in the GriftparkThe International Market was also just getting started, with a few stalls still shuttered. The offerings were mainly food, but there were a few stalls with clothing, handmade baskets, and the somewhat random stall selling necklace chains by the length. There were a number of nations represented, including Spain, Germany, Britain, and France, but the Italians seemed to be out in force. There were a number of Italian stalls selling cheese, meats, olives, nuts, and sweets. Spring in the GriftparkSpring in the GriftparkSpring in the GriftparkHowever, it was the animals that we spent the most time watching, particularly the pigs. They have a lovely curly, wiry coat that I was dying to touch, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who has had that urge, so they sensibly put up a warning sign telling people to be careful, because the pigs can bite. Duly noted! Spring in the GriftparkSpring in the GriftparkThere were also a few swans and a mix of ducks hanging around the small pond, as they often do, enjoying the sunshine and perhaps hoping for a few bites of pretzel from one of the market stalls. In all, it was a lovely little outing on a beautiful spring day.Spring in the Griftpark

The Agreement’s In The Bag

The AgreementLast year, as part of the Treaty of Utrecht anniversary celebrations, a massive photo canvas was hung from the front of the Stadhuis, signifying the various parties involved in the historic agreement.

The image was a composite of photos taken by artist Red Saunders, melded beautifully into a fascinating tableau. After the celebrations, there had been the hope that a place would be found where the image could hang on permanent display. Unfortunately, the sheer size meant that it just wasn’t feasible. It could have been folded up and left somewhere to gather dust, but an alternative solution was agreed upon.

The variety of cultural festivals and events that take place here in Utrecht produce a number of sturdy banners that would become garbage if someone didn’t find an alternative use. As part of the duurzaamheid (sustainability) that is of growing interest, many of the old banners have been transformed into sturdy, unusual, and stylish bags. The people who have been doing this are going to do the same with The Agreement. Rather than have the large image languish in oblivion, it will be turned into a bag that can also be used as a picnic blanket, perfect for the Bevrijdingsfestival. Anyone interested can order one for just €20, and have their own personal and functional keepsake.

Now if only I could get a bag made out of the section with the dogs …The Agreement