Utrecht Skate Party

Skate PartySkate season is upon us again — although today’s weather has turned oddly chilly. But a nip in the air isn’t enough to stop the dedicated skaters who hit the streets of Utrecht every Friday from May through September.

The first party of the season kicks off tonight at Lucas Bolwerk at 20:00 and then follows a variety of routes through and around the city before returning back to Lucas Bolwerk at 22:00. There is music to keep you going and the route is cleared to keep the skaters safe from traffic. There are skilled volunteers throughout the pack to keep things flowing smoothly, as well. If you’re looking for sporty things to do in Utrecht, this is a great weekly event.

Participation is free, so dig out your skates, whether inline or old school, and glide on out for a fun evening. Go with friends or make new ones along the way and finish off at any of the bars and caf├ęs at the start/finish point. Want to learn more? Visit the USP website.Skate Night

Electric Boats and a Dog

Koningsdag 2014On King’s Day, as we were passing by the Oudegracht, my eye was caught by this beautiful dog. So shiny! So strong and handsome! And of course, he reminded me a bit of Pippo, who I still miss every day.

As I was admiring the dog, I eventually noticed that there were some interesting boats zipping around in the canal. I’m used to a variety of boats in the Oudegracht, from small kayaks and peddle boats to luxury yachts. These boats definitely weren’t luxury vessels, in fact they looked to be about half the size of a kayak, but what they lack in space, they seem to more than make up for in speed and manoeuvrability.Koningsdag 2014It turns out, they’re electric canal boats and they’re now available to rent (I think). They were created by Fred Hulshoff, who has been working on various designs for years. With the electric canal boats, the idea is that they can explore nearly every inch of the waterways. They’re small enough to take through low/tight spaces, and their silent, electric motors allow them to go where noisy motorboats aren’t allowed.Koningsdag 2014I’ve yet to find any detailed information about where to rent them or how much it costs, but they were on the wharf level of the Oudegracht just south of the Vismarkt. If I find any official information, I’ll update.

Canal Race Obstacles and Excitement

Grachtenrace ronDomThe canal that rings the old city center in Utrecht is relatively wide, as is most of the Oudegracht. These are the canals you see the most of if you take one of the boat tours around the city. Those tour boats are relatively long and wide, so they have to be able to move freely without the risk of getting stuck in a turn or taking out a wharf.

With that in mind, you’d think that a bunch of row boats wouldn’t have any trouble making their way through these same canals. After all, row boats aren’t that big. Yet there were a few close calls on Saturday during the Grachtenrace ronDom. You see, while the boats themselves aren’t particularly large, the oars certainly are! They’ve got a pretty impressive wingspan. GrachtenraceIt wasn’t too much of a problem in the wider canal areas, especially as they had staggered start times. There was no risk of oars clashing as occurred in the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race the other week.

However, even the wider canals have narrow bridge passes. The bridge in my first photo wasn’t a problem, as it is a single, wide arch. However, many of the bridges in Utrecht are actually made up of two or three arches, significantly narrowing the space through which a boat can pass. As the boats quickly approached each bridge, they had to line up properly and quickly pull the oars in tight against the body of the boat as they passed underneath, while still trying to get as much speed as possible out of the last few oar strokes before going under.GrachtenraceIn this next photo, I was standing on the bridge, directly over the arch they were passing through. You can see some of the oars being pulled in, but a couple were also making a last stroke to keep up the momentum. (I love all the swirling water in this photo.)Grachtenrace ronDomWhen they got to the Oudegracht, some of the bridge arches were a bit bigger. In that case, they would often just pull in the oars on one side, depending on which side was closest to the wall or wharf.Grachtenrace ronDomStill, as you can see here, if they didn’t pull in the oars on at least one side, they’d be likely to hit something, even if they went through the center of the arch.Grachtenrace ronDom
To give you a bit more perspective, particularly once the race reached the Oudegracht, here’s a photo of one of the tour boats I mentioned earlier (going under the bridge), along with a row boat fast approaching.Grachtenrace ronDomJust because there was a race going on didn’t mean that all boat traffic on the canals stopped. Quite the opposite! Along with the tour boats and the other leisure boats as you see docked there on the right, there were also people in canoes, city maintenance boats, and even people out on peddle boats. Things got particularly interesting when the peddle boats and row boats came up against each other on one of the narrowest parts of the Oudegracht. As I saw the people in the peddle boat in this next picture casually enjoying the scenery, I found myself feeling like someone on the beach in the movie “Jaws” ready to start yelling, “Behind you! Move faster! It’s going to get you!”Grachtenrace ronDomIn fact, it ended up being a close call and there might have been a little bit of contact between the oars and the peddle boat before it was all over.Grachtenrace ronDomGrachtenrace ronDom
It wasn’t just the many boats and bridges that the racers had to contend with, either. We decided to watch the race as it went through the Oudegracht from the Donkere Gard section, which is where the canal gets quite narrow. There is some construction/renovation being done to one of the buildings, with scaffolding set up on the canal side. As the boats went through and the oars came up, it was clear just how little space was left. At one point, it even looked like the oars on one of the boats was going to hit the scaffolding!Grachtenrace ronDomGrachtenrace ronDomFortunately, at least during the parts of the race I saw, everyone seemed to manage ok, avoiding all the obstacles and manoeuvring quickly through the canals. Congrats to all who took part and thanks for providing some fun Saturday entertainment amid Utrecht’s beautiful canal scenery!Grachtenrace ronDom

A Boat Race Through Utrecht’s Beautiful Canals

Grachtenrace ronDomYesterday, 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.GrachtenraceGrachtenraceGrachtenraceGrachtenraceGrachtenrace ronDomGrachtenrace ronDomI 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!

Utrecht Turns Yellow for Tour de France

tdf stadhuis
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.
tdf winkel van sinkelSo 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.
tdf paard

tdf pronto
tdf potdeksel
tdf cafe
tdf inspired

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

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!