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.

Utrecht Wijnproeverij Woensdag

wijnproeverij utrechtExcuse me while I do a bit of work promotion.

We’ve got a lot of great wines at Vino Veritas that are only available by the bottle, due to being a bit pricier. That means that many people don’t get around to trying them and we really feel like they’re missing out. So we’ve decided to start doing a wijnproeverij woensdag (winetasting Wedsnesday) once or twice a month, starting this week (29 October). We’re keeping things simple and casual for a mid-week event. We’ll offer samplings of two wines and an accompanying snack and give a bit of information about the wine and highlight different aspects, including how wines can change when paired with food.

We’re starting it all off with two of our personal favorites, a Brunello and a Cannonau. These two reds, one from Tuscany and the other from Sardinia, have received high praise from the industry and from regular consumers and now is your turn to try them. Full details of the wine tasting can be found on the Facebook event page. Reservations are required, but you can reserve your spot through FacebookTwitter, Instagram, in person, or in the comments here. We’re not picky.

The event should only last about one hour, though you’re welcome to stay after it’s over and try some of our other wines. We’ve just added two new wines. We’ve got a Ciliegiolo that is sure to appeal to all of our many customers who love our Negroamaro, and we’ve got a proper Lambrusco that is nothing like the cheap, sweet stuff you are likely to find in the grocery store. This is an elegant, dry Lambrusco that has made a lot of fans in the three days we’ve been serving it. We love it, too.

So come visit us, whether for the wijnproeverij on Wednesday, or just in general. And for everyone who thought our bar was too bright, we have new softer lamps going in today. Speaking of lights, the Biltstraat winter lights went up this weekend and the street is looking quite charming. It’s all getting quite gezellig. Come see for yourself.
utrecht wijnproeverijThanks for sticking around for the advertorial. We now return you to your regularly scheduled Utrecht adoration.
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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.

High Praise Indeed!

This evenings scene! I had the most delicious wine and plank this evening at @vinoveritas030 on the Biltstraat. Prosecco that tasted like the best champagne, white wine with a hint of tropical flavour soft and not sweet. Matched with a mixed plank and a bread basket. All the product are imported from Italy. The flavours are rich and the bread is warm and light. I could go on and on about this short visit but it was truly the best wine and mixed plank I ever had in Utrecht. I’m a very happy person at this moment.

Explore Utrecht is a great site with lots of information about where to stay in Utrecht and lists and reviews of things to see, do, eat, and buy. I always recommend the site to anyone visiting and to locals, as well. Last night, we at Vino Veritas got a visit from Dainahara and a friend. It was great to finally meet the woman behind the site, but it was a thrill to read her glowing review.

In fact, I’ve been lucky to meet quite a few people I know through Twitter in the past week and will probably meet more in the coming days. Thanks to all for stopping by and for singing our praises, as well. It’s all been truly appreciated.

The neighborhood wine bar

One of the things I’ve really enjoyed about daily life at our wine bar is meeting so many people who read my blog. It’s always a pleasant surprise when someone asks for me or asks “Ben je de flamingo?” This weekend, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a couple of fellow expat bloggers who stopped by. Yesterday, Bitterballen Bruid stopped in and on Friday Cognac and Coffee stopped by. The only downside is not having more time to chat, but a massive thanks to all who stop by. Here’s Cognac and Coffee’s post about her visit.

Cognac and Coffee

Yesterday we enjoyed some fantastic wine and snacks at Vino Veritas. The bar was recently opened by two former New Yorkers. Very pleasant atmosphere, authentic food, and really good wine. We will be back!

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Happy Fourth, America

Stars and Stripes
Between working two jobs and preparing for the Wittevrouwenfeest tomorrow, American Independence Day has gotten a bit lost in the mix. Yet being able to celebrate multiple holidays and important events is one of the perks of being an expat/immigrant. Although we won’t be doing the traditional barbecuing this year, I have made some potato salad (a traditional July 4th side dish) for lunch today. It’s the little things in life. 🙂

One of the things that stood out to me on my trip back to the US last year was the number of American flags I saw everywhere — homes, businesses, churches, etc. This is nothing new, but after spending a number of years here in the Netherlands where the flag is only flown on specific dates, it really stood out. Just a short walk through my parents’ neighborhood revealed a number of flags, and this motor inn up in the mountains of North Carolina certainly wasn’t going to have anyone questioning its patriotism!
Stars and Stripes
So, Happy Fourth of July to my fellow Americans and happy Friday to everyone else! By the way, if you’re in Utrecht this weekend, Biltstraat and the Wittevrouwen neighborhood are having a big block party. We’ll be representing Vino Veritas there, so come by and say hi, and try some of our Italian wine and food. Or come by today and enjoy the sunshine on our terrace (or cool off inside). Either way, I’ve really enjoyed meeting so many of my readers so far!
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18 Things to See, Do, Taste, and Experience in Utrecht

klmmapI’m always singing the praises of Utrecht and encouraging people to visit this beautiful, historic, and vibrant city, so it only seems right that I make a handy map of some of the places and things visitors should see. So here’s a map of 18 places in Utrecht that you should see, including museums, sculptures, parks, restaurants (which, of course, includes Vino Veritas), and historic points of interest. It is, by no means, a complete listing and hopefully I’ll be able to add on to it as the spirit moves me. Did I leave out one of your favorite must-see spots in Utrecht? Tell me what you think is a must-see.

Thanks to KLM for doing the technical creation of this map for me, while letting me use my own words and photos. They were kind enough to let me focus on Utrecht, instead of Amsterdam, after I pointed out how quick and easy it is to get to Utrecht from Amsterdam. Fly into Schipol Airport with KLM and hop on one of the many trains to Utrecht. You’ll be here in just half an hour!

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

Don’t Touch Me Tomatoes

DSC06743I’m not a picky eater, but there are two things that I’ve never liked: milk and tomatoes. Oddly, I’m ok with milk in cereal, but drinking it straight puts me off. As for tomatoes, I was fine with them in sauces, etc., but not raw. Recently, though, I’ve become a fan of raw cherry tomatoes, particularly with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt. I’ve become such a fan that they’ve become part of my daily lunch.

Thus, my reaction was more positive as we were walking down Vinkenburgstraat today, when G noticed a new shop called Tazed Tomatoes, which seems to be devoted to tomatoes. They had staff standing outside, along with a selection of various small tomatoes, but I’m still hesitant with unknown tomatoes, so I didn’t try any. Still, it’s tempting and I will likely stop in the next time I’m over by Neude, though it looks like it may be a popup open only until 15 June.

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