The Tour de France Starts in Utrecht

Tour de France DomtorenToday’s big news is that the 2015 Tour de France will start off here in Utrecht. There’s been a lot of will they/won’t they going on for the past few weeks (months), but the official announcement came today.

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.
Chase Group

European Youth Olympic Festival 2013

EYOF 2013There 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).
EYOF 2013
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!
EYOF 2013

Alternative Olympic Bicycle Sports

Trajectum Fietsen
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?

Judo Champions, Mars, and Flamingos

Sunning
Here’s a quick news roundup for you all.

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.

Last Hurrah

Dutch Spirit
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!

Hup Holland Hup

Utrecht en de EK
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.

Café de Potdeksel

Big and Small … and Ice

Groot en Klein ... en Ijs
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.

In the News

There are a couple of recent stories that have caught my interest, with some of them having tie-ins to things I’ve posted about recently or in general. I thought I’d do a quick run-down here of some of the stories and why they’re of interest to me.

Tick Tock

First up is the news that the Domtoren is no longer signaling the quarter hour as it used to do. It seems that one of the pieces that is used for the automatic playing is damaged through normal wear and tear, so it won’t be used until it can be replaced. The current piece in question has been there since 1980. Fortunately, once the piece is replaced, the Domtoren will go back to chiming every 15 minutes.

Lego My Chair
Next up is the news that Rietveld’s famous Red and Blue Chair (seen here in a Lego version) is inspiring artists yet again. DWA, along with RnB, has used the chair as the basis for their redesign project:

The redesign project is an experiment into using music as inspiration in the design process, we ‘remix’ existing designs according to various musical genres, with the hope of making design as expressive as music.

I particularly like the RnB IKEA (pop) version of the chair, perhaps because of the interactive element, as well as the humor of it.

Headscarves
Finally, in somewhat more serious news, Queen Beatrix has been in Abu Dhabi this past week on a state visit, and while there she visited the Great Mosque. Naturally, she wore a headscarf/hijab (over her hat) as is required of any woman wishing to enter the mosque. Of course, members of the generally anti-Muslim PVV party decided to lambaste the queen for doing so, claiming she was legitimizing the suppression of women. The queen fired back that it was “echt onzin/sheer nonsense”.

As one of the articles about the story points out, “Ironically the party’s remarks came while Beatrix was in Abu Dhabi, one of the Islamic world’s most emancipated states, where two-thirds of university students and 70 per cent new business owners are women.”

As another article says, Wilders, the leader of the PVV, has certainly been known to wear a yarmulke when visiting synagogues, despite the fact that he is not Jewish. Depending on the branch of Judaism, there are sects where you could argue that there is similar suppression of women. For that matter, I remember lessons learned at a Southern Baptist school that also made it clear that women were lesser beings. In other words, Wilders and his supporters are being a bit hypocritical to say the least.

So, there’s my roundup of stories I’ve come across this week and found of interest. Hopefully, you found some of it at least vaguely interesting, as well. If you’re in Utrecht tomorrow, don’t forget it’s the kick-off of the monthly Cultural Sunday events held throughout the city. There’s always something interesting going on somewhere!

Oh, one last thing … Go Saints! (The New Orleans Saints are playing a play-off game tonight. Fingers crossed that they win!)

Spot the Beesie

Hidden Humor
One of the frequent search terms people use that lead them to my blog is “beesie”. A beesie is one of the little toy thingies that the Albert Heijn grocery store was giving away during the World Cup period in 2010. The things showed up everywhere and we certainly had fun with them, using them as bracelets and hair ties, as well as home decorations. I still have a bowl full of them. Still, I’m always surprised when I find people still looking them up online. But then I see sights like this and think maybe it’s not so odd that people are still looking them up. After all, they’re still showing up in strange places, even after more than a year!
Hanging Out