A Flamingo in Italy

Featured

The site is still a work in progress, but you can follow my new adventures in Italy at A Flamingo in Italy. The best way to keep up is to subscribe through email. Then you get a message in your inbox any time I add a new post. Don’t worry, you won’t get inundated and you also won’t get anything other than blog updates. Promise!

What you will get are pictures of Italian architecture, pictures of bicycles, because it’s become habit, and quite a few pictures of the wall art/graffiti that is everywhere in Bologna. And the occasional coffee and pastry, because they’re delicious!

To be honest, who knows what else you’ll get. I have a lot of city to explore and there could be all sorts of surprises! Follow along and see what I find.

Advertisements

Greetings from Italy

I had truly meant to do one last proper goodbye post before moving, but it just didn’t happen. The move was unbelievably stressful and I’m so glad it’s over. But we survived the two-day drive with dog and cats and as much stuff as we could cram into our car and despite some snow in Switzerland and a traffic jam around Milan, we finally arrived in Bologna, tired but in one piece.

I do plan on having a proper new blog for my life in Italy, but while we wait to get phones and such sorted, you can see some of my photos at the future blog’s Facebook page, A Flamingo in Italy. You can also see some other photos on my Instagram page, oranjeflamingo. And in the meantime, I may even post a few more things here that I never got around to posting about.

I still miss the Domtoren, but I have a new tower in my life. Two, to be specific. I will always love the Domtoren, but I’m developing a new love for the Two Towers of Bologna.

So for now, doei, Domtoren, and ciao, le torri di Bologna.
img_4747-2

img_5122

 

Centraal and the Moreelsebrug

dsc09457

The Utrecht Centraal train station has been undergoing a massive renovation for what feels like years and years. I rarely go to the station, so the few times I do, usually to meet up with visiting friends, it’s been a challenge to figure out where to meet, as various sections and shops have been closed off at different times.

But the main work seems to be done now and it actually looks pretty nice. I like the rolling wave effect of the new roof, visible inside and out.

dsc09477

img_4736

The foggy photo was taken from the new Moreelsebrug, a bridge that allows people to cross the train tracks without having to go inside the station or take a much longer route around the station. It has some nice views already and will probably have more when the rest of the construction at the Hoog Catharijne shopping mall is finally finished.

As well as being foggy that day, it was also really cold, especially up higher in the air like that, so Charlie and I didn’t stay long and I didn’t get as many thoughtful photos. However, if you want to read more about the bridge and see some better photos and video, I highly recommend you check out the recent post at Bicycle Dutch. I’m short on time trying to pack up and sell everything, so Mark’s post couldn’t have come at a better time for me. I can just post a bunch of photos and you can read his expertly researched and interesting post. Win win!

For now, a few more photos inside and outside the train station and the bridge. Hopefully in the next day or so I can post a few pics of one of the newer art installations that has gone up outside the station on the Jaarbeurs side.

Cycling path on the right, walking path on the left of the Moreelsebrug. Definitely read the Bicycle Dutch post to learn the cool facts about the trees planted along the bridge.

img_4737img_4738

dsc09651dsc09654

dsc09458

dsc09649

dsc09474dsc09481dsc09482

 

See You Later Alligator

dsc09390

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!

img246

img261

img40

A Rabbit Surprise

daianehemerichthinkerwashington

I love getting emails from people who read my blog. Especially when they’ve seen something that makes them think of Utrecht/me/my blog. The other day I got just such an email from Daiane. She’s a Brazilian/Italian student working on her PhD in Utrecht, but currently in the US for an internship.

She wrote:

I was visiting Washington two days ago, and I was surprised when I found another Thinker on the Rock, and immediately reminded of the beautiful pictures on your blog and missed Utrecht instantaneously… so I’m sending you a picture of me with the thinker here on the other side of the ocean 🙂

She remembered that there were a couple of other copies of the statue in various locations, but wasn’t expecting to see one, which made it a nice surprise. I love getting to see one of them in situ in the photo! Thanks again for sharing this, Daiane!

Tourists in Utrecht

DSC08217
One of the great things about Utrecht is that it isn’t overrun with tourists, especially in a city that is relatively small. Not that there is any shortage of things to see and do in Utrecht; it’s all just easier to reach on foot without taking lots of trams, buses, or even having to bike. (And really, if you’re a tourist, think twice about biking in the actual hearts of the big cities. Save it for outside the cities where you’re less likely to cause problems.)

Yet Utrecht does have a few spots where you’re likely to find the most tourists. This bridge over the Oudegracht is probably one of the busiest spots. To the left if the Domtoren and the white building on the corner on the left is one of our two souvenir shops. Plus, during the summer, locals and tourists alike enjoy some ice cream from the ridiculously cute ice cream truck there on the bridge. The bridge is also a great spot to take photos of the Domtoren, the views up and down the Oudegracht, and to debate whether or not to go into the “coffee shop” just out of shot.

The city has been making an effort to increase tourism, and there are pros and cons in both attracting more people and how they’ve gone about it. But so far it’s all still bearable. Having lived in Orlando, New Orleans, and New York, these are the kinds of tourist numbers that are easy to live with on a daily basis.

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.)

Amsterdam with #NoFilter

No, this isn’t me with no filter complaining about Amsterdam getting all the attention. Utrecht’s starting to get enough attention, especially with the upcoming Tour de France. No, this is me highlighting a few of my photos of Amsterdam without any filter or fussing about with post editing.

I was recently contacted about participating in London City Airport’s #NoFilter project. As they point out, with the wealth of high-quality point-and-shoots, as well as the increasing capabilities of smartphones, travel photos are easier than ever. Yet so often, people use a variety of filters on their photos, rather than letting the image stand on its own. Sure, there are times when we all use a few filters to fix a quick snap that didn’t turn out quite so well. Yet with practice and some helpful tips, you’ll find that there’s no reason to add a filter to every photo. Let the true beauty of the image speak for itself.

Admittedly, I haven’t spent that much time in Amsterdam, especially just wandering around taking photos of things that catch my eye the way I do here in Utrecht. I tend to go to Amsterdam most frequently for concerts at Melkweg or Paradiso or to hit up one of the museums, including the Van Gogh Museum and of course, the Rijksmuseum. However, in looking through my photos, I realized that because I am there so often in the evening, I thought I’d highlight a couple of my night shots of some quintessential spots, and throw in a few night photography tips.
Amsterdam Bridge at NightYou can’t go to Amsterdam without getting at least one canal shot. Fortunately, low light doesn’t mean you’re out of opportunities. Many of the arches in the bridges are lit up in one form or another, and street lamps and building lights reflected in the water create some fantastic mirror-like shots.

It was on a family trip to London years ago that my dad (formerly a professional photographer) shared a few night-time photography tips with me that have stuck in my head. When you’re working in low light, your camera aperture will need to stay open for longer to get enough light in to create something other than a solid black picture. However, with that long exposure time, any movement of the camera is going to give you a blurry image. If you don’t have a tripod (and who wants to lug one around on their travels), you need to use your body as a tripod to create as still a base as possible.

Even the steadiest of hands are bound to wobble a bit, especially with a lightweight smartphone. Regardless of the type of phone you have, try to find a solid surface, be it wall, street lamp, or bridge railing that you can steady yourself against. Use both hands to hold the camera and try to plant your upper arms and elbows tight against your body, creating your own tripod, in a sense. And for the piece de resistance, take a deep breath and hold it, right before you’re ready to take the photo. The extra breath will further solidify your upper body, making you less likely to wobble when you press the button.

While in Damplein on one visit during the winter holidays, I enjoyed taking in the hustle and bustle during rush hour in the evening, set amid the festive Christmas trees and the historic buildings, including one of the royal residences. But even amid all of the people passing by, there were areas of the square that weren’t as heavily populated. By looking around — and moving around — you can find yourself with a shot that belies the madness surrounding you.Pointy BitsIn this shot, the architecture was what first caught my eye (that’s one of the royal residences on the left), but then I noticed the patterns in the ground and the shadow of the lamp post. I also liked the blue of the banners pairing with the blue of the evening sky, and the gold of the building pairing with the gold of the lamp light. To get the shot, I leaned up against one of those lamp posts to create my steady base.

With the longer exposure, you can get fairly clear images of anything standing still, but any movement will blur. With the mass of people passing back and forth, that blur can add a sense of motion to an otherwise static image of a building, including the Bijenkorf, a grande dame of department stores. In other words, don’t be afraid to embrace a bit of blur.
KerstboomThe thing is, as I’ve gone through my Amsterdam photos to find some to feature, and as I’ve thought about tips for getting good shots, I’ve found plenty of things I want to fix in all of these photos. However, I’ve also had more practice taking evening shots since then and have learned from some of my mistakes.

Give yourself extra time to get good evening shots. You’ll have to think more about your light sources and finding a way to give yourself a steady base. Even if you don’t have a lamp post or building to steady yourself against, borrow a travelling companion’s shoulder, if nothing else. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much better your shots turn out.

But even if you do just grab a few quick snaps on the go — and you’ll find plenty to catch your eye in Amsterdam — embrace the blur and the not-so-perfectly framed shots and remember that not every photo has to be gallery perfect. All of those less-than-stellar shots should still serve as valuable personal memories of a trip to a truly fun city.

In my case, I know these photos aren’t going to win me the #NoFilter competition, but I’m sure judge Duncan Rhodes from The Urban Travel Blog will have plenty of spectacular photos from which to choose. Do check out #NoFilter on Twitter and the other sites linked to see some of my fellow travel bloggers photos and tips.

Junk in the Trunk

bicycle basket
Wednesday, I showed you a bakfiets, useful for carting around kids, groceries, pets, household goods, etc. The ability to transport more than just yourself from place to place is an important part of making cycling an everyday mode of transport, rather than just a sport. Of course, if a regular bakfiets is a bit too big for your needs, you can always go with something a bit more streamlined. Plenty of space for groceries and small pets in that plastic bucket on the bike above.

However, if you’re regularly transporting large items, you might need something with a bit more storage space. Fortunately, there’s a bike for that. Who needs a truck when you’ve got the bakfiets XL!
bike transport
I’ve seen these used for a variety of purposes. Cornering might be a bit more difficult, but you can certainly fit plenty of stuff in there!

However, many of us make do with a normal bike and a regular basket up front and/or saddle bags on the back. It’s surprising just how much you can get on a regular omafiets. And for the slightly bulkier or more awkward items like brooms and storage containers? Well, just hang on to them like these women are doing.
bike transport

The Importance of Bike Lanes

Urban Utrecht
Last night, while scrolling through Twitter, I came across a post with a picture of a bike lane in New Orleans. It was a post celebrating Bike to Work Day. Great, right?

Noooooooooooooo!

As I looked more closely at the photo, I realized that the very wide bike lane was in fact meant for both bicycles and buses. Yes, buses. And it turns out the lane can also be used by cars turning right at an intersection or driveway. It seems it’s the first combo bus-and-bike lane, but that implies that there might be more in the future. I hope not.

In looking at other photos of New Orleans bike lanes, there are a few lanes that are strictly bicycle lanes, but they do stop and start and it looks like they often are right next to street parking or have no separation from regular car lanes, presenting its own issues. For proper safety, they should be more consistent and they should never combine with buses! That seems like the worst combination. Ever! Big buses and little bicycles are an accident waiting to happen.

As you’ll see in my picture above, all of the lanes in the part of Utrecht near the theater and shopping mall are strictly segregated. One of the times in life when segregation is a good thing. Bicycles have their own wide lanes on each side of the road, with plenty of space separating them from the bus/vehicle lanes.

It’s not like that on every street here, or even exactly the same on that same street as it continues. In some areas where the street narrows, there isn’t the same gap between road and cycle lane, but there is still clear/raised definition between the two areas.
Street Life
On other streets, such as Voorstraat, there’s a segregated bicycle lane in one direction, though in the other direction, bicycles share the space with cars and deal with parked cars. Not ideal, but cars generally make way for bicycles.
Voorstraat
Of course, car traffic is also discouraged in much of the city center here in Utrecht. Many roads are one way or generally limited primarily to buses. But that’s not the case everywhere, and even just outside the city center, where car traffic is heavier, you still have separate bicycle lanes to keep cyclists safe and encourage them to keep cycling along major roads.

It’s great to see bicycle lanes showing up more frequently in New Orleans, as it would be a great city to cycle in. It’s a doable size in terms of distances and terrain, especially if there were consistent lanes to speed up the trips. I do hope the city continues to add more bicycle lanes, but I hope they rethink combining them with buses and other vehicles. They really should look to other countries where cycling is more integrated to better understand how to make it safe for everyone involved.

As always, if you’re interested in learning more about Dutch cycling, check out Mark’s blog, Bicycle Dutch. He’s got plenty of details, history, and information about how it all came about and how it can and does continue to improve.