Yesterday, Utrecht’s beautiful canals were filled with boats taking part in the Utrechtse Grachtenrace ronDom. The boat race began just south of the city center and then lead the rowers along the eastern and northern sides of the city, through the buitenstadsingel, the canal that rings the old city center. They then turned down onto the Oudegracht, the large canal running from north to south, before rowing on to their final destination.
The race has been going on for just over a decade and covers more than 14 kilometers. It seemed to be a fairly broad mix of people taking part, with men and women representing a range of ages.I took a lot of photos, from different spots along the race, so I’m going to break it up into two (maybe three) posts, focusing on different aspects of the race that I noticed. As well as the physical exertion, there were certain parts that looked particularly challenging! But through it all, lots of great examples of why Utrecht’s canals are the most beautiful in Europe!
As mentioned previously, the Tour de France Grand Depart in 2015 will take place here in Utrecht. Today, the official routes were announced and there will be a big celebration taking place at the Domplein tonight at 7 p.m.
I really wish it was any night other than tonight, because I would like to go. However, today is also the American holiday, Thanksgiving, which involves a big dinner, which will probably be going on at 7 p.m. Sure, it’s just G and I, and we could have postponed it until tomorrow or celebrated whenever we want (or not at all), but I prefer to celebrate the holidays on the actual day whenever possible. So instead, I wandered around town a bit today and saw some of the decorations going up around town. I knew the Domtoren was flying yellow flags, but I wasn’t expecting the yellow carpets being rolled out everywhere. The Winkel van Sinkel is also home to some of the celebrations tonight, including some of the press conferences.
It looked like the police were even getting in on the yellow decorations. Or maybe they were just wearing their usual yellow hi-viz coats. Because regular people riding bicycles here don’t wear special clothing, but police on horseback do.
To celebrate, the Domtoren has been festooned with yellow flags (in reference to the yellow jersey of the Tour de France). You can’t see the yellow flags that clearly in my photo, but I kind of dig the way the whole photo looks vaguely flat like an old-fashioned painted backdrop or stage set.
It’s not the first time we’ve had a bicycle race come through town. The Giro d’Italia passed through in 2010, but this will perhaps be a bit bigger, particularly as we’re the starting point. I wonder if they’ll ride on the Maliebaan, site of the first official bicycle path here in the Netherlands.
There are always flags up around town promoting upcoming events, whether it’s the latest Cultural Sunday or one of the many festivals that take place regularly in Utrecht. For the past few weeks, this rainbow of flags has been glowing in the summer sunshine throughout the city, reminding everyone that the European Youth Olympic Festival (EYOF) was finally about to begin.
It may not garner the same attention as the regular Olympics, but the city has been counting down to the event for almost a year. A countdown clock stood in Neude square since last year, and during the first official visit to Utrecht by the new king and queen, the EYOF mascot was there to greet them on the Domplein, along with some of the athletes.
Dutch Olympic swimmer and triple medalist Pieter van den Hoogenband is the tournament director. He got his own start as an Olympic athlete when he took part in the 1993 edition of EYOF. He has been working hard to promote the Youth Olympics, which has around 3,000 young athletes participating this year.
If you want to follow the action, through the end of the week, you can follow @Utrecht_2013 on Twitter or visit the official website (be warned that the live feed starts automatically).
The flags aren’t the only signs of the event around town. Even many of the manhole covers have gotten in on the act, turning into medals. The city also made an attempt to dress up the ugliest building in town with a leaping basketball player emblazoned on the upper windows. The building is still ugly, but the spirit behind the youth Olympics is great. Congrats to all who are participating!
While watching some of the indoor cycling the other night — which we don’t always understand, but still enjoy — we started joking about what the sports would be if the Dutch had started the Olympics.
We decided that the velodrome bike sports would be a competition to see not only how fast you can go around, but how many people you can fit on one bike while racing. Children would be used, of course, in order to make the most of the multiple child seats. There would also be bakfiets racing.
Other competitions would involve carrying large, awkward items on a bike. Sort of like weightlifting, you’d gradually work your way from surfboards and multiple bags of groceries, up to small trees and small sofas.
There could be a dressage competition for the most interestingly decorated bicycles.
Finally, there could be a competition to “park” a bike in the highest and most difficult to reach position possible. Such as far-reaching branches of a tree over a canal.
What would be a funny Olympic sport representing your country?
The flamingos at the Amersfoort Zoo here in the Utrecht region have laid four eggs. This is the first time the birds have bred in ten years! The eggs hatch around 28 days, so we should have some more flamingos in the region by the end of the month.
Last night, right before the men’s 100m race, some idiot threw a bottle down onto the track behind the runners. Fortunately, the runners weren’t hit or truly distracted. Fortunately — for everyone who hates that kind of idiocy and poor sportsmanship — Edith Bosch, one of the Dutch women who won an Olympic medal in judo this year, was sitting right behind the idiot. Horrified by what he had done, she gave him a hard smack on the back with the flat of her hand. Somehow, I suspect the hit of a judo champion might have a bit more force and power behind it! Good for her! Too bad she missed the actual race.
Finally, it was exciting to wake up to the news this morning of Curiosity’s landing on Mars. It turns out that a scientist at Utrecht University played a role in the project. Inge Loes ten Kate worked for five years on one of the instruments that is aboard the Mars rover. The instrument will be analysing soil and gas samples. She’ll continue to be involved in the project over the next two years.
You may have noticed a lack of comment on the Euro Championship since my first post. That would have something to do with the fact that the Dutch team, although considered a favourite to do well, has yet to win either of the first two games in their group. It’s been painful, to say the least. They’re not officially out of it; there’s one more game to play tonight in the group round. However, the chances of us advancing are pretty slim and require a lot of other things to happen. Still, we’ll be watching this evening and keeping our fingers crossed. Kom op jongens! Laat de leeuw niet in z’n hempie staan!
The country is turning orange as everyone prepares for the Netherlands’ first game of the Euro 2012 tournament against Denmark this evening. Houses have been decorated — in some cases, completely wrapped in orange — and whole neighbourhoods are now decked with orange bunting, banners and more. This orange madness is called oranjegekte, and as the team progresses, so will the mania. During the World Cup, there were orange wigs, face paint, lion costumes (the lion is the symbol of the team), and much more.
We’re ready for the game tonight with some bitterballen, Dutch cheese, and orange-coloured tompouce for dessert. We’ll also be decked out in our own orange clothing and other accessories to cheer the team on to victory. The best part is that even if the Dutch don’t go all the way, based on how things were four years ago during the same tournament, the festive spirit will continue. It looks to be a fun few weeks.
I love these two contrasting buildings across the canal from the Stadsschouwburg. The smaller Breyerskamers to the right is one of my favorite buildings in town. You can also see how parts of the canal were freezing over, which is particularly notable, as these ring canals around the city don’t freeze as easily.
There has been talk these past few days about the possibility of the elfstedentocht finally happening again, but it’s still up in the air as not all of the regions are quite frozen enough. What is the elfstedentocht you ask? It’s an 11-city ice skating race covering about 200 kilometers. As it’s an outdoor race through the canals of 11 Frisian cities, it always depends on the weather. Despite some cold weather the past two years, it hasn’t been consistently iced enough to make it safe. The last time the race was held was 1997. Still, each winter, as soon as a cold snap hits, everyone starts wondering if the elfstedentocht will finally make a return.