Kerstboom Market

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Need a last-minute kerstboom (Christmas tree)? The annual Christmas tree market at Janskerkhof has you covered. From the usual larger ones all the way down to small potted plants, you can find a lovely selection of “trees”.  With some bonus Bacchus for this festive season.

Fijne kerstdagen!

Large-scale Bicycle Parking

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If you’re walking, or better yet, cycling around Utrecht, you may start noticing more and more of these signs. Despite my photo, which was taking in strong morning sunlight, the green numbers positively glow, even from a distance. This is one of a pair that has gone up in the last month or so by Voorstraat and even in the nearby park, I can see the bright red and green of one of the signs from a fair distance.

What are they, you may ask? They’re bicycle parking signs. More specifically, they show primarily how many parking spots are available in various designated parking areas. And yes, I do mean bicycles and not cars. Keizerstraat refers to a smaller parking lot that primarily serves university students, particularly those going to the library, which is part of the building in the background. UB Plein is a larger, underground parking area in the University Library’s courtyard area. The station refers to the train station, which has space for around 30,000 bicycles at the station, with additional areas nearby for alternative options. The Centrum parking I’m not exactly sure about. I know that on weekends they set up temporary bicycle parking lots at Neude and in other areas, but I’m not sure if this is referring to a more permanent location.

Still, the numbers shown on this early Sunday morning gives you a small idea of the volume of bicycles in the city. This also doesn’t account for all the free-range bicycle parking you see everywhere, along with the smaller neighborhood bike racks. These signs are more for parking while you’re commuting, shopping, or studying. Even with all of the parking available, there seems to always be a need for more. Like the old Field of Dreams quote says, “If you build it, they will come.”
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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)
Stoffenmarkt
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
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.)

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.

Style and Inspiration at Zelfgemaakte Markt

Toepas Candles at Vino Veritas
I’ve written before about the fantastic Zelfgemaakte Markt (handmade market) held a few times each year in Utrecht at Mariaplaats. Every time I go, I discover something new that I fall in love with and I’m constantly impressed by the quality and talent on display.

Last year, I discovered the wonderful Studio Ellessi and her exceptional ink drawings of various spots in Utrecht, including the Domtoren and Café Orloff (both now in my collection).

This year, at the market in May, when I went to pick up the Orloff print, I noticed the work of Toepas Creaties. Among the items on display were vases and candle holders made from wine bottles. As we were weeks away from opening our wine bar, I couldn’t help but think their work may be perfect for us. Unfortunately, G wasn’t with me that day, so I held off on purchasing them, but when I told G about them, he was definitely interested. Fortunately, you can also find some of Toepas Creaties’ pieces as Spring Stores on Voorstraat. It’s a great concept store that gives smaller designers an affordable place to show and sell their wares. That’s where G had the chance to see the wine bottle candle holders in person and agreed that they’d be ideal for Vino Veritas.
Toepas Candles at Vino Veritas

We ended up getting in touch with Toepas through Instagram and recently placed our order. The wood bases are made from cast-off wood from a wood factory and the wine bottles are all recycled. I love how they have upcycled these materials into something fun and stylish. They also make bags, lamp shades and such from recycled banners. With the candles (although I forgot to take pictures), the diamond-shaped bases allow for the pieces to be put together in fun shapes, as well, so the potential for display options are extensive. They also come in different colours, so you can mix and match or go for all one colour.
Toepas Candles at Vino VeritasThey had some additional designs with them when they came to deliver the candle holders and we couldn’t resist getting a few for the front window. These are taller, round, wood bases, mimicking the bottle base, and they come in various heights.
Toepas Candles at Vino VeritasIf you’re interested in seeing the candles for yourself, come visit us at Vino Veritas. Or if you want to purchase some for yourself, visit Spring Stores, or come to the next edition of the Zelfgemaakte Markt, which is taking place this Saturday (30 August)! Seriously, go to the market if you can. You’re sure to find something that you’ll absolutely love.

Pretty in Pink Revisited

Pretty as a PictureI originally posted this photo back in 2011, but since I’m not going to get a chance to go look for new photos today, I thought I’d repost this one. The reason for the pink balloons was the running of the annual Meidenloop, and today is the date for the 2014 edition. The Meidenloop is a 3k, 5k, or 10k race for women through the city, including under the Domtoren, which is where this stretch on Zadelstraat leads.

The race raises money for the Helen Dowling Institute, which helps those who are battling cancer. It takes place every year, so if you’re the running type, consider taking part in the next edition. It’s for a good cause and follows a beautiful route. Succes dames!

This Is How We Park Our Bicycles

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As you may know, the bicycle is one of the leading forms of transportation throughout the Netherlands. Work commutes, outings with friends, shopping, you name it, people use their bike to do it. Great for the environment and great for the closely packed cities that don’t have cars overwhelming the narrow streets. Yet at some point, people get off their bikes to go into the shops, offices, etc. That’s when things get challenging. What to do with all of those bikes?
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Sure, there are plenty of old-fashioned bike racks that can hold a handful of bikes, and those are put to good use, often with multiple racks placed in a long row for busy neighborhood corners, especially corners close to bars and cafés. But even those fill up quickly and bikes are soon left chained up to anything remotely stable.

In the city center, it can be particularly challenging to find somewhere safe to lock up your bike. Finding and fitting your bike into a vaguely free spot in the racks can make Tetris look like a game for infants.

Obviously, the city is aware of the need for decent bicycle parking, so they continue to develop new parking options. On weekends, when even more people are coming into the city to shop and socialize, special mobile bicycle parking lots are created wherever there’s room for them. Neude, in particular, is a popular central spot for these pop-up parking lots.
Parking, Dutch Style
These free parking lots are set up by the city and provide a centralized parking spot where people can leave their bikes all day. With Utrecht’s city center being so small and walkable, Neude is a great spot to park and go.

Still, these bicycle parking lots are usually only on the weekend, so there’s still the need for additional, organized bicycle parking throughout the week. The latest instalment is also at Neude, but this time it’s indoor parking.
Fietsenstalling NeudeThe Neudeflat, the tall, rather unattractive building next to the old post office, has become the latest bicycle parking receptacle. The ground floor, which has been home to a variety of city information spots in recent years, has now been converted into a free indoor bicycle parking spot.
Fietsenstalling Neude
Considering the tangle of bicycles that usually develops in multiple spots around Neude, this seems like a decent use of space that might otherwise have sat empty. Easy to use, less chance of ending up with a soggy bottom on a rainy day, and hopefully a few less dings, dents, and broken bicycle bells when you return. After all, who wants to mess up a unique paint job like this!
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