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.

Share.

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

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A Taste of New Orleans in Utrecht

okra

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.)
grandpawneworleans

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!

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.
Fietstoren

Klein New Orleans Recap

Klein New Orleans
As I mentioned yesterday, Sunday was a warm, sunny day with plenty going on throughout the city. It was also a holiday, as was Monday, so lots of freedom to stay out and enjoy the day to the fullest. The result was that the Klein New Orleans festival was busy right from the beginning. We got there shortly after 3pm when it began and as you can see, it was already wall-to-wall people.

It was held on Breedstraat, which is also the street where the weekly Saturday fabric market is held. The festival was contained along the western end of the street, near the Predikherenkerkhof, where there’s a small square that was ideal for some of the music performances.
Klein New Orleans
Klein New Orleans
It’s a shame they didn’t have more of the street available to thin out the crowds slightly. It was hard to get around, especially when juggling food and drink, and with all the tall Dutchies, it was hard to see over the crowds! Hopefully, if they do it again next year, they can get more space. I’m sure the turnout exceeded their expectations.

The heavy crowds made it hard to see (or hear) any of the music coming from the second stage. A raised stage and a bit more amplification may have helped. As you can see from this next photo, the white tent is the stage area. I was standing on the opposite side of the street with my camera up in the air to get this shot and still couldn’t see (or hear) anything of the musicians, which was a shame. And as I mentioned, tall Dutchies make it hard to see anything, even if I’d gotten closer. I miss the days when I was tall enough to see over much of a crowd.
Klein New Orleans
We had headed to the opposite side of the street to find some room to eat. After all, food is a major part of Louisiana lore. The blend of French, Spanish, and Afro-Caribbean cooking styles has created an outstanding cuisine.

I had been a bit disappointed that there wasn’t going to be a crawfish boil. After all, that’s one of the quintessential food parties in Louisiana. They’re popular enough that even when people leave Louisiana, they’ll keep hosting crawfish boils wherever they are. I even got an email today about a Tulane Alumni Crawfish Boil in New York. I went to a few myself while living in New York and always passed a good time!

There were a handful of food stalls, including a few local restaurants. One was serving up hamburgers and one does more Middle Eastern food. Meh. That wasn’t what I was there for. I wanted Cajun and Creole cooking. One stall wasn’t doing straight-up traditional, but they had a beer-batter shrimp dish that I wanted to try. I mean, come on, fried shrimp! Awesome!
Klein New Orleans
Klein New Orleans
They were tiny shrimp, but they were tasty. The Cajun Butter wasn’t very spicy, but was fine (though it was also technically meant for the corn on the cob). Speaking of which, the corn on the cob seemed to be selling quite well.
Klein New Orleans
You can occasionally find vacuum-packed corn on the cob here, though I’ve found it to be a bit rubbery, unsurprisingly. But you don’t usually find corn on the cob sold loose in their husks the way we do in the States. So I guess that bit of exotica is why they’re popping up more frequently at food festivals here. I saw pictures of them at the Food Truck Festival that was also taking place this weekend. We didn’t order any, since it’s not something I haven’t made a million times.

I do have to point out that the girls running the stand had a cute little boat-shaped stall that they were working out of. A nod to shrimp boats, perhaps.
Klein New Orleans
Obviously, though, I was there for the gumbo and jambalaya. I knew this would be risky, but I had to take the chance. There was always the possibility I’d be pleasantly surprised. So we got a small bowl of each.
Klein New OrleansKlein New Orleans
Bless their hearts.

They at least had okra in their gumbo (the one on the right), but that was about the best I can say, unfortunately. It was lacking in any seasoning I’m afraid to say. The “jambalaya” had more seasoning, but there’s just no way that is anywhere remotely similar to a jambalaya, thus the quotation marks. It was more like a vegetarian chilli and missing just about every ingredient you’d use in a any variation of a jambalaya. Plus, the rice is supposed to cook in the jambalaya, not be served with the sauce on top. Maybe they misheard the order and gave us something other than jambalaya? I can only hope so.

I hate to be so critical, especially working in the kitchen part of a restaurant now, but I also don’t want people to think that’s how it’s supposed to be, especially if they’ve never had it. They’re going to wonder what all the fuss is about or be really shocked if they eventually try the real thing.

I feel like I’ve been doing nothing but complaining — music too hard to hear/see — crowds too thick, food not right — but I think part of it is just growing pains. It’s the first time they’ve done this event and I truly hope they get to do it again next year and make it an annual event. There’s room for improvement, but I would absolutely go back again next year. And I’m sure plenty of people thoroughly enjoyed it all. I’m probably overly critical because of my time actually spent in New Orleans.
Klein New Orleans
The fact that so many people of all ages turned out means that there’s an interest and plenty of people looked to be having a good time. I’m glad an enterprising group put this together and I’m still happy to have helped out a small bit with the crowdfunding. I’ll help out if they do it again. Though I might make a few food requests or try to set up my own food stall. Po’ boys, anyone?
Klein New Orleans
Klein New Orleans
Oh, and a shout-out to the two guys I saw wearing Jimmy Graham Saints jerseys. What were the Saints thinking selling him to Seattle?!
Klein New Orleans

Klein New Orleans Intro

Klein New Orleans
Sunday was a glorious day and perfect for all of the festivals going on throughout the city that day. There was a food truck festival over at Griftpark, a Jazzfest over at Janskerkhof, and of course, the first Klein New Orleans on Breedstraat. For a new event, it was packed, even early on! I have plenty to write about — and lots of photos — but I also have a raging headache today, so I’ll save the details for tomorrow.

For now, some of the underwear bunting that served as decoration. Not, perhaps, what I would have thought of were I doing the decorating myself, but I suppose it still works. Certainly kind of funny. In the first photo, the two buildings in the background are named Castor and Pollux. That actually seems to fit New Orleans well, as the city has a number of references to mythology, including cross streets along St. Charles Avenue named for the muses.

As for this next photo, I couldn’t resist the combination of the corset and the cross. This also seems somehow appropriate for New Orleans and certainly takes me back to many a late-night discussion, especially one about the architecture of different faiths and our own quirky takes on the symbolism. Thanks for that late-night drive and discussion, Jenny and Lee.
Klein New Orleans
Klein New Orleans

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

Fat Freddy’s Drop

Fat Freddy's DropFat Freddy’s Drop is a great reggae/soul/funk/dub band from New Zealand. They tour fairly often here in Europe and have come to the Netherlands (although not Utrecht) a few times over the years, but I’ve always missed the show for various reasons. But now they’re coming to Utrecht. And I’m still going to miss them! I’ll be working that night. Why couldn’t they play on a Monday?!

So if you like reggae/soul/funk/dub with some extra kiwi flavour, get your tickets now. The horn section alone is worth it! I’ll just be sitting here sighing deeply and watching YouTube videos, and occasionally chuckling about the band’s name when taken with the Dutch meaning of drop (licorice candy).

Maybe a King’s Not So Bad …

Koningsnacht 2014I’m far from being a monarchist, but having a monarchy has its moments. Like this weekend. Queen’s Day has always been fun — and nowadays is more about having a good time than celebrating a monarch — and now the first King’s Day has also gone over well. We celebrated King’s Night a bit more than the Day, but we still got out and wandered around the city a bit during the day, although we skipped the heavy crowds of the vrijmarkt this year.

Our house is close to one of the multiple stage areas around the city, so as soon as the live music started up, we could hear it all clearly from home. We enjoyed some from our terrace, as we grilled out, and then after dinner, we decided to go out and see it in person. The sounds of the salsa band playing were particularly enticing. As it turned out, I even knew the trumpeter. It’s Robert from the Kat in de Stad books! We weren’t the only ones enjoying the music. There was a growing crowd, but still enough space for dancing.Koningsnacht 2014After listening for a while, we decided to wander around, checking out more of the festivities. The streets were blocked off from auto traffic, so the streets were a free-for-all of people and bikes. Mainly people. Lots and lots of friendly people. It was a really positive vibe, as it is every year. We decided to head over to Neude, where another of the big stages was set up, but not before stopping for a glass of prosecco along the way. Wine, beer, coffee, soft drinks, and food … all of it was available from a variety of stalls and restaurants. It was a bit like my New Orleans days; open containers allowed! The first place we got our prosecco from even had fluted plastic glasses for it!Koningsnacht (Neude)Koningsnacht 2014By the time we got to Neude, it was getting darker and the crowds were getting bigger, but still everyone was having a great time. We stopped for another glass of prosecco before heading over to Janskerkhof where another big party was getting under way.

There was a big stage with live music and lots of lights and colors. The music wasn’t my favorite, but visually the area looked amazing!Koningsnacht 2014Koningsnacht 2014Koningsnacht 2014Koningsnacht 2014Koningsnacht 2014After taking in the sights, we finally finished the loop and headed back to our own neighborhood to enjoy more of the party. We watched some of the music for a while and then decided to head home. That didn’t mean we were done for the night, though. The weather was so fantastic that we decided to do what many a Dutch person does and set our chairs out on the sidewalk in front of our house. That way, we could enjoy the music and do a bit of people watching. We stayed out there until the music ended at one in the morning, exchanging greetings with lots of passers-by. We had a truly gezellig evening!Koningsnacht 2014For King’s Day, we had a leisurely start to the day and watched a bit of the royal family taking part in their own festivities on TV. We then headed out around noon — while things were still quiet — and enjoyed the sunshine and the friendly atmosphere. When we got to the Oudegracht, we even saw a band that we’d seen last year that we really liked. I wish I knew their name, because I’d love to see them perform again. They have a super cool, blues-y, Morphine-ish sound that is fantastic.Koningsdag 2014We were feeling pretty mellow ourselves, so after a walk to Mariaplaats — before the crowds arrived — we headed back to enjoy some more of the bands playing in our neighborhood, finishing the day relaxed and happy.Koningsdag 2014Koningsdag 2014

Perfect Day on a Not So Perfect Day

Perfect DayAs I’ve surely said countless times before, one of the things I love so much about Utrecht is that it’s a perfect blend of historic and modern. Buildings that are hundreds of years old are still used as homes, businesses, and more, rather than being turned solely into museum pieces. Even the Domtoren manages to keep up with the times through its music choices. Although many pieces played every 15 minutes are classical, you’re just as likely to hear more modern songs, from Toto to Lady Gaga.

The various bells throughout town become background noise on a daily basis, but every once in a while, especially during some of the midday Domtoren concerts, a certain song will jump out at you. As I was working today, I found myself humming Lou Reed’s song Perfect Day. At first I didn’t think much of it, since that and other songs of his have been in my head this week after the sad news of his passing. But then I realized that the song was in my head because I was hearing it played on the Domtoren carillon.

Sadly, today isn’t as perfect a day as last Thursday when I managed to salvage these photos from my camera. That was a glorious day, crisp and bright, without a cloud in the deep blue sky. Unfortunately, today is cold, grey, damp, and miserable, but hearing Perfect Day played on the Domtoren carillon brought a bit of sunshine into my day.
Perfect Day

A Day in the Park

Day in the Park 2013
Look! It’s a big school bus in its natural habitat! After seeing a couple of the big yellow buses in Utrecht, it’s almost entertaining to see them actually on the streets here in the US. They come in all sizes and colors here, although the yellow remains the most typical for actual daily school runs. White ones, such as the one seen here, are more commonly used for extra activities, such as transporting students and athletes to sporting events, or in this case, transporting the members of the Andrews High School marching band.
Andrews Marching Band
Here in the US, most schools have a marching band that performs at sporting events, as well as local parades and festivals. The Andrews marching band performs each year at the annual Day in the Park in Jamestown. They started off marching through some of the park, before finishing at the stage area where the band played a few songs and the dance squad performed.
Andrews Marching Band
Andrews Marching Band
Andrews Marching Band
Andrews Marching Band

The Day in the Park has been going on for years and is a mix of music, games, food, crafts, and stalls where people show off their skills, sell their wares, or simply spread the word about their organization. I’ve attended quite frequently over the years, in part because my father is a regular exhibitor.
Day in the Park 2013
This year, he could be found in the Folk Life display, where people exhibited basket weaving, yarn making, quilts, and, in my dad’s case, ships in a bottle. He’s been making them for years and attends the festival to tell people about the hobby and explain a bit about how it’s done.
Day in the Park 2013
Day in the Park 2013
Day in the Park 2013
Day in the Park 2013
If you’re ever in Jamestown around the 20th of September, give or take a day or so, do check out the Day in the Park. It’s a fun, friendly event in a beautiful setting (more of the actual park to come in another post). In all, you could say it’s gezellig.