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!

See You Later Alligator

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Not my usual picture of Utrecht or the Domtoren. This one’s a bit grey and gloomy, especially when you look at the Domtoren’s clock and see that it’s 12:30, as in midday. That’s about as bright as it got yesterday, though at least it didn’t rain.

This past weekend was the seemingly citywide Christmas market festival. Mariaplaats, Stadhuisplein, Neude, Janskerkhof, Twijnstraat and other locations were hosting a variety of festivities. I usually enjoy it, but it didn’t seem as fun this year. The Zelfgemaakte Markt at Mariaplaats was great, as always, but the Stadhuisplein was pretty empty, while Twijnstraat was bigger and busier than ever, to the point that it was too crowded. We got our traditional cup of gluhwein and headed away from the crowds to sit and enjoy the mulled wine by the canal.

Perhaps the grey weather and the not-quite-so-enjoyable Christmas markets were Utrecht’s way of making me feel a little less sad about leaving.

Yup. We’re moving on. It’s not really what we had expected or planned, but it is what’s happening. After eight years in Utrecht, we’re now moving to Italy. In one month exactly. Stressful, depressing, and by the way if you need any furniture, kitchen odds and ends, it’s all for sale and we still have to pack and get the pets’ passports and ahhhhhhhhhhh!!!!

We’re heading to Bologna next, where I plan on doing some more blogging. After all, I have a degree in art history with an emphasis on Italian Renaissance architecture, so if you think I did a lot of research on stuff here in Utrecht, you can imagine what I’ll be like there!

Still, I’ll miss Utrecht and the Domtoren and the Domtuin/Pandhof and the Spoetnikkijker. I certainly have plenty of photos of them all to remember them by, but it won’t be quite the same. But Bologna is a stunning city and I’m sure I’ll find some new favorite spots.

I certainly hope to do a little more blogging here, as there’s stuff I’ve yet to get around to posting about and a few things I want to see one last time or see before I leave. I’ll keep this blog up, too, as it still gets its fair share of visitors. And hopefully some of you will follow me virtually to Italy. Last time I was there I was using film and not a very good photographer. I can’t wait to improve on all of my grainy photos!

Ciao!

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Utca’s Finest

Utca's Finest
As I mentioned in my last post, Utrecht’s former red-light street — Hardebollenstraat — is now the place to find lots of local and indie shops selling clothing, designs pieces, and much more. The large windows that were de rigeur for the previous tenants have remained in some cases and been redesigned in others. Each shop is putting their own stamp on the street.
Utca's Finest
Utca’s Finest is one of the new shops that has found a home in this revamped street. It has been around for a few years now, first as a webshop primarily and then in other locations and pop-ups around town. They are known for their various types of clothing that all promote Utrecht in a cool, urban, graphic style. Think hip hop, skateboarding, and tattoos.
Utca's Finest
Utca’s Finest is voor Utrecht, uit Utrecht (for Utrecht, from Utrecht). Utca is another way of saying Utrecht, sort of a street version, in the way that Utreg is a dialect version. But don’t take my word for it. I may be too old and too allochtoon. What I do know is that I love their style and plan on getting some of their shirts when I can make up my mind which to get first. U’tje Tattoo, Utca 030 (030 is the Utrecht area code), or the Utca Crest. And then there’s the scarf that is sadly out of stock! Plus there’s all the cool stuff in the brick-and-mortar store on Hardebollenstraat. Choices!
Utca's Finest
It’s located across the street from the mural I posted about yesterday. In fact, you can see the mural reflected in one of the Utca’s Finest windows. So if you want a special Utrecht gift or just want to wear your Utrecht pride on your shirt/hat/sweater, stop by Utca’s Finest. And if you can’t make up your mind what to get someone, they also have gift certificates so your recipient can be the one to struggle making a choice!
Utca's Finest

Smoke ’em if you got ’em

headshop mural
Everyone knows about the “coffee shops” in the Netherlands (and yes, it’s not just Amsterdam), where you can purchase various forms of hash, weed, pot, marijuana, etc. Voorstraat/Wittevrouwenstraat have a couple of places where you can purchase, but there are also places in town where you can buy your own paraphernalia, AKA headshops.

Conveniently, perhaps, Magic Mind is a long-standing one at the corner of Voorstraat and Hardebollenstraat. Hardebollenstraat used to be the inner-city red-light district here in Utrecht, but no longer. It’s now a trendy shopping street with lots of great indie shops. More about that tomorrow.

With the new shop fronts on Hardebollenstraat comes a new wall mural. (OK, it’s been there for a few months at this point.) Philip Lindeman, a young graphic artist/illustrator is the artist of this latest wall art to enhance Utrecht. I really like his style and a copy of his book The Cover Art Catalog is on my wishlist. Give the mural a look-see the next time you’re in the neighborhood.
headshop mural

The Return of the Canal

The continued return of the canal
Historically, a canal has ringed the old city center of Utrecht. I posted last year about how a section along the western/northwestern side of town was drained and turned into a highway back in the late 1960s/early ’70s. Fortunately, they never got around to paving in the whole canal. Still, the road was still there when we moved here.

Fortunately, that side of town has been undergoing a massive renovation for eight+ years, though it’s got a ways to go still. Some bits I’m still a bit unsure about, but as things start to come together a little more, it’s all looking a better.

I wrote about how a large section of the canal was recently refilled (late last year/early this year), but it seems I never posted the few pictures I took. Probably because it was a rainy day and I only had my phone’s camera and a dog that didn’t feel like pausing for long to get a decent shot.

This week, I discovered that the section near the newly rebuilt Tivoli Vredenburg music hall (the one with all the circles) has had some updates and the water has been added there, as well. The picture quality remains lousy, because it was another rainy morning and Charlie wasn’t interested in stopping for long, and I still only had my phone. Still, you can see the start of things to come. The picture above is a poster showing what the final plans are and as you can see, the steps leading down to the canal on the left have just gone in. In the photos to follow, you’ll see the large central structure under construction. That area behind it all is part of the Hoog Catharijne shopping mall, which is a nightmare now with so much of it torn down and other bits being built. It was always easy to get lost and it’s even easier now!
The continued return of the canal
The continued return of the canal
Behind this view is the stretch of canal that has already been filled in.
The continued return of the canal
I managed to find the photos I took in January so you can follow the canal a bit.
This is looking toward the bridge where I stood to take today’s pictures. You can see that the large central construction is making progress.
The water returns
This is another bridge slightly further down (with bonus Charlie).
The water returns
And this is the bend in the canal along the northern section. I should go back and see what they’ve done with the dirt areas. Greenery would be nice.
The water returns

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!

Utrecht’s Gone a Little Yellow

Yellow Tour de France Grand Depart sunglasses along the Oudegracht
In case you haven’t seen enough yellow this past week in Utrecht, Toerisme Utrecht did a bit of guerilla marketing in the early hours of this morning, putting out yellow sunglasses along a large stretch of the Oudegracht. (As an aside, I’m writing this with the sound of helicopters roaring overhead. As the race is about to start in about half an hour, I guess it’s a mix of film crews and police overhead.) Anyway, the sunglasses are free to take and they’re promoting upcoming summer events in the city in Dutch on one side of the attached tag, and in English, on the other side, it’s targeting people visiting for the Tour de France today, encouraging them to visit local museums and shops while they’re here.
Yellow Tour de France Grand Depart sunglasses along the Oudegracht
I knew they were doing this, having received the advance press release, but wasn’t sure I’d end up getting to see it all. However, I woke up early enough this morning and while scrolling through Twitter, I saw a picture and thought, why not! I hopped out of bed (sort of), quickly got ready, and was out the door before I could change my mind. (It’s still warm and humid and it started to rain lightly just as I left the house.)
Yellow Tour de France Grand Depart sunglasses along the Oudegracht
Actually getting to the canal wasn’t so easy. The race is going through the heart of the city center today (as a display bit, rather than real racing), so lots of the streets are cordoned off to create safe lanes solely for the cyclists. I felt like a rat in a maze quite a few times trying to get around! Eventually, though, I found my way to the appropriate part of the Oudegracht and voilà! Sunglasses everywhere! They were on the ground around a lamp post. They were on the wall of the old post office. They were on bicycles. They were on bollards. They were on shop fronts. They were everywhere!
Yellow Tour de France Grand Depart sunglasses along the Oudegracht
Yellow Tour de France Grand Depart sunglasses along the Oudegracht
Yellow Tour de France Grand Depart sunglasses along the Oudegracht
Yellow Tour de France Grand Depart sunglasses along the Oudegracht
Yellow Tour de France Grand Depart sunglasses along the Oudegracht
So, the point is, there’s plenty to see and do in Utrecht, even when the race has gone. Go see the museums, go listen to the weekly Domtoren concerts. Go support local businesses. Go to Vino Veritas, but not today or tomorrow, as we’re closed after a long, hot, busy week. Go on foot or by bike. Just go!
Yellow Tour de France Grand Depart sunglasses along the Oudegracht

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.)

More Goodies from the Zelfgemaakte Markt

Zelfgemaakte Markt
I’ve posted before about my love for the Zelfgemaakte Markt (Handmade Market), so I was thrilled that it was back in Utrecht this weekend. This time, it was in the Domplein, instead of its previous spot at Mariaplaats. It was also paired with a food festival of sorts, with one side of the square filled with food stalls selling food to eat then and there, as well as food to take home. Tempting, but I was there for the arts and crafts.
Zelfgemaakte Markt
I continue to be impressed with both the quality and the cost of the items in the market. Everything is appealing and made by lots of talented people and surprisingly affordable. Ceramics, t-shirts, prints, drawings, and so much more … I wanted just about everything! Way too often, you go to markets like this and there are only one or two stalls with things you’d actually be interested in looking at, much less buying. Here, everything is of interest!

I did a quick run through to see what was really catching my eye (and to see what I could afford, since I had limited cash and not everyone takes PIN). My mental list was getting pretty long! Then I saw the Toepas stall and had to stop.
Zelfgemaakte Markt
It was at the market around this time last year that I first saw the Toepas Creaties stall and the fantastic items she makes from reclamed/recycled items, including ad banners and, of course, wine bottles. We ended up buying a number of her wine bottle candle holders for Vino Veritas and they remain real eye catchers. I stopped at her booth to say hi, but also to get a look at the necklaces she has started making. I’d seen them on her Instagram account and wanted to see them myself. They were just as cute in person and I made my first purchase of the day, buying one of the fox pendants.

After chatting, as I was walking away, I heard someone go up to the booth and clearly say “Vino Veritas”. Whether customers or someone who had seen the candles in our window, it was great to hear someone recognize them and make the connection!
Zelfgemaakte Markt
Next up was a stop at IsaBella’s stall. As soon as I saw her flamingo print, I knew I had to have it. That said, I would have happily bought one of everything. I really like her style and the whimsical nature of her prints. The hot-air balloon print would also go nicely with the new sofa pillow covers I recently bought. And though it wasn’t intentional, I love that I caught her in much the same pose as the girl in her print!
Zelfgemaakte Markt
My final stop was at the booth of another artist, Julie. As well as a fondness for flamingos, I also have a thing for dodos. When I saw her “Je t’adore” illustration of a dodo, I couldn’t resist!

I really wanted one of the Domtoren silhouette prints by Lucas van Hapert, but funds were running low at that point. But hopefully the opportunity will arise again. I picked up his business card as a reminder.
Zelfgemaakte Markt
It was a perfect day for the market, with the sun shining, and temperatures pleasantly warm. The square was filled with people, many of whom were clearly foreign tourists. On the plus side, yay, more people are learning about Utrecht! On the down side, it’s definitely getting more crowded and manoeuvring around all the tourists (who don’t want to move out of the way) is bringing back memories of New York.Zelfgemaakte Markt Hopefully, some of these tourists picked up a few items at the market to serve as lovely souvenirs. I’m certainly happy with the items I picked up! (The book was from a second-hand book shop and ended up being a story on its own. Not worth going into, but it seems I have an American laugh.)