Eight (NINE!) 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.

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)
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
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. Vino Veritas
vino veritas biltstraat 9What? I can’t promote my own business? ;) Vino Veritas, our Italian eetcafé/winebar/enoteca is located on Biltstraat, which is part of the Tour de France Grand Depart route. Although the route turns off before it gets to us, we’re just a short walk from the route section and we’ll probably be open for lunch July 4-5, as well as our usual evening hours. So if you’re visiting and want a real taste of Italy, stop by Biltstraat 9. All of our food is imported directly from Italy and we use small manufacturers who work in small batches, following traditional methods. And our wine is spectacular! Our meat and cheese boards and our tigelle and piadine sandwiches are a great mid-day meal and we’ve also got a selection of authentic pasta dishes. Whether you’re visiting for the Tour de France or just in general, stop by and say hi. I’m usually in the kitchen, but I’m always happy to say hi to any of my blog readers.

9. 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.)

How much is that kitty in the window?

kat boeken
While I was out the other day dodging hail, the weather took a breather long enough for me to notice the window display at the bookstore on the Stadhuisbrug. (Polaris? Selexy & Broese? Something else completely?) Of course, a window display full of cat books would catch my attention. I’m a sucker for cats in windows, whether they’re real or photos. However, I might not have taken a photo of the display if it weren’t for the fact that I had a little moment of pride when I saw this display. It includes the Amsterdam Pub Cats book that I edited!

2014 in review

I keep seeing so many end-of-year comments and posts today that I have to keep checking that today is really the 30th and not the 31st. Fortunately, there’s still a day or two left of 2014 to get things sorted, including the purchase of oliebollen tomorrow, not to mention the Hoppin’ John that needs to be made for the first. And today is my first day back at work at Vino Veritas in over a week. We’ve been closed for part of it, due to the holidays and normal days off, but I’ve been out due to round two of the cold from hell. I’m feeling much better today, though, thank goodness.

Anyway, WordPress has gathered up their statistics for the year, and I thought I’d share them for lack of will to do research on other topics. And I still have to do my Rotterdam Markthal post, but there are so many pictures from which to choose! Maybe next year. If you’re curious about some of my stats for the year, you’re welcome to check out the report below. The most interesting thing to me, as I discovered the other day doing my own stats review, is that the BBC article that came out more than a year ago is the largest referrer to my blog, outside of search engines, Twitter, and Facebook. I still get at least one click-through from that article almost every single day, and often many more. It seems to be doing the rounds again this past month or so, as the number of daily visits has increased recently.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 53,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 20 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

If I don’t get around to blogging tomorrow, here’s one last photo of the sun setting over Utrecht and 2014. Thanks to all of my visitors this year, both new and old.
Winter Sunlight

Winter Festivities in Utrecht

Winter WonderWe didn’t really get any snow last year and the way these last few months have been surprisingly warm, I’m not sure we’ll get any snow this year, either. But even without snow, there are plenty of winter traditions and events in Utrecht that give the city its own charm. And really, with all those brick streets and sidewalks, not having to navigate them when they’re covered in snow and ice is a good thing!

I recently wrote a travel feature about some of the upcoming winter events in Utrecht for a Canadian-based publication called DUTCH: The Magazine. You can pick it up at select news stands in North America, I believe, but this month, you can also read my article online. So if you’re like my three friends coming in tomorrow from the US, Canada, and Germany, and want to get some ideas of things to see and do in Utrecht this winter season, you’ll find a few tips and suggestions, along with a brief bit of history of this amazing city.

Utrecht Wijnproeverij Woensdag

wijnproeverij utrechtExcuse me while I do a bit of work promotion.

We’ve got a lot of great wines at Vino Veritas that are only available by the bottle, due to being a bit pricier. That means that many people don’t get around to trying them and we really feel like they’re missing out. So we’ve decided to start doing a wijnproeverij woensdag (winetasting Wedsnesday) once or twice a month, starting this week (29 October). We’re keeping things simple and casual for a mid-week event. We’ll offer samplings of two wines and an accompanying snack and give a bit of information about the wine and highlight different aspects, including how wines can change when paired with food.

We’re starting it all off with two of our personal favorites, a Brunello and a Cannonau. These two reds, one from Tuscany and the other from Sardinia, have received high praise from the industry and from regular consumers and now is your turn to try them. Full details of the wine tasting can be found on the Facebook event page. Reservations are required, but you can reserve your spot through FacebookTwitter, Instagram, in person, or in the comments here. We’re not picky.

The event should only last about one hour, though you’re welcome to stay after it’s over and try some of our other wines. We’ve just added two new wines. We’ve got a Ciliegiolo that is sure to appeal to all of our many customers who love our Negroamaro, and we’ve got a proper Lambrusco that is nothing like the cheap, sweet stuff you are likely to find in the grocery store. This is an elegant, dry Lambrusco that has made a lot of fans in the three days we’ve been serving it. We love it, too.

So come visit us, whether for the wijnproeverij on Wednesday, or just in general. And for everyone who thought our bar was too bright, we have new softer lamps going in today. Speaking of lights, the Biltstraat winter lights went up this weekend and the street is looking quite charming. It’s all getting quite gezellig. Come see for yourself.
utrecht wijnproeverijThanks for sticking around for the advertorial. We now return you to your regularly scheduled Utrecht adoration.
domtoren utrecht wijnproeverij

Caturday: Winkelpoes Edition

My photo on Wednesday of the mask and sewing machine was from a window display of a tailoring shop on Voorstraat. In the past, I’ve noticed their window display more for the cat that is sometimes in the window. When I passed by recently, it was the mask that caught my eye, but soon enough, the cat suddenly appeared, although this time outside the shop.
Voorstraat Tailor's Cat
He seemed ready for the shop to open and wasn’t happy about the closed door. Perhaps he had some faulty stitches he needed to pick out from a garment. Regardless, he seemed a bit exasperated that no one was opening the door for him. You could practically hear the frustrated sigh.
Voorstraat Tailor's CatMany shops and restaurants throughout the Netherlands have their own winkelpoes (shop cat) and photographer Robert van Willigenburg has photographed many of them for his series of books called Kat in de Stad. He originally started with the cats here in Utrecht, including a few I know and have photographed myself. He’s now moved on to some of the many cats to be found in Amsterdam in his latest edition of the book that is hot off the presses.

I don’t usually promote Amsterdam stuff, as many of you know. After all, the city gets plenty of attention already. But when it comes to cats and books, I can’t resist. Particularly as I edited the English language version of the book. ;)
Kat in de Stad (Amsterdam)
Today is Dierendag, AKA World Animal Day, so give your own animals a bit of extra love and attention and maybe order a copy of Kat in de Stad. Trust me, it’s a beautiful book (in either language) full of entertaining cats.

High Praise Indeed!

This evenings scene! I had the most delicious wine and plank this evening at @vinoveritas030 on the Biltstraat. Prosecco that tasted like the best champagne, white wine with a hint of tropical flavour soft and not sweet. Matched with a mixed plank and a bread basket. All the product are imported from Italy. The flavours are rich and the bread is warm and light. I could go on and on about this short visit but it was truly the best wine and mixed plank I ever had in Utrecht. I’m a very happy person at this moment.

Explore Utrecht is a great site with lots of information about where to stay in Utrecht and lists and reviews of things to see, do, eat, and buy. I always recommend the site to anyone visiting and to locals, as well. Last night, we at Vino Veritas got a visit from Dainahara and a friend. It was great to finally meet the woman behind the site, but it was a thrill to read her glowing review.

In fact, I’ve been lucky to meet quite a few people I know through Twitter in the past week and will probably meet more in the coming days. Thanks to all for stopping by and for singing our praises, as well. It’s all been truly appreciated.

Style and Inspiration at Zelfgemaakte Markt

Toepas Candles at Vino Veritas
I’ve written before about the fantastic Zelfgemaakte Markt (handmade market) held a few times each year in Utrecht at Mariaplaats. Every time I go, I discover something new that I fall in love with and I’m constantly impressed by the quality and talent on display.

Last year, I discovered the wonderful Studio Ellessi and her exceptional ink drawings of various spots in Utrecht, including the Domtoren and Café Orloff (both now in my collection).

This year, at the market in May, when I went to pick up the Orloff print, I noticed the work of Toepas Creaties. Among the items on display were vases and candle holders made from wine bottles. As we were weeks away from opening our wine bar, I couldn’t help but think their work may be perfect for us. Unfortunately, G wasn’t with me that day, so I held off on purchasing them, but when I told G about them, he was definitely interested. Fortunately, you can also find some of Toepas Creaties’ pieces as Spring Stores on Voorstraat. It’s a great concept store that gives smaller designers an affordable place to show and sell their wares. That’s where G had the chance to see the wine bottle candle holders in person and agreed that they’d be ideal for Vino Veritas.
Toepas Candles at Vino Veritas

We ended up getting in touch with Toepas through Instagram and recently placed our order. The wood bases are made from cast-off wood from a wood factory and the wine bottles are all recycled. I love how they have upcycled these materials into something fun and stylish. They also make bags, lamp shades and such from recycled banners. With the candles (although I forgot to take pictures), the diamond-shaped bases allow for the pieces to be put together in fun shapes, as well, so the potential for display options are extensive. They also come in different colours, so you can mix and match or go for all one colour.
Toepas Candles at Vino VeritasThey had some additional designs with them when they came to deliver the candle holders and we couldn’t resist getting a few for the front window. These are taller, round, wood bases, mimicking the bottle base, and they come in various heights.
Toepas Candles at Vino VeritasIf you’re interested in seeing the candles for yourself, come visit us at Vino Veritas. Or if you want to purchase some for yourself, visit Spring Stores, or come to the next edition of the Zelfgemaakte Markt, which is taking place this Saturday (30 August)! Seriously, go to the market if you can. You’re sure to find something that you’ll absolutely love.

The neighborhood wine bar


One of the things I’ve really enjoyed about daily life at our wine bar is meeting so many people who read my blog. It’s always a pleasant surprise when someone asks for me or asks “Ben je de flamingo?” This weekend, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a couple of fellow expat bloggers who stopped by. Yesterday, Bitterballen Bruid stopped in and on Friday Cognac and Coffee stopped by. The only downside is not having more time to chat, but a massive thanks to all who stop by. Here’s Cognac and Coffee’s post about her visit.

Originally posted on Cognac and Coffee:

Yesterday we enjoyed some fantastic wine and snacks at Vino Veritas. The bar was recently opened by two former New Yorkers. Very pleasant atmosphere, authentic food, and really good wine. We will be back!


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Google City Experts Visit Vino Veritas

Google City Experts in UtrechtLast week, I received an email about participating in a Google City Experts event. Not specifically as an expert, but as one of the host venues for city experts to visit. They were organizing a tour through Utrecht’s newest cafés, bars, restaurants, and hot spots and wanted to include Vino Veritas! Obviously, we said yes.Google City Experts in UtrechtLast night, only our third night open, 30+ Google City Experts arrived in a fleet of tuk tuks to sample our wine and atmosphere. It was a fantastic experience and a thrill to see our wine bar completely full and buzzing with people enjoying our wine. Google City Experts in Utrecht
Being a Google event, you probably won’t be surprised to know that someone was there with Google Glasses. I didn’t get to try them, but got to hear a bit more about what they’re like.Google City Experts in Utrecht It was great getting to meet Tim, one of the members of the Google Team who lives in Utrecht and was so happy to get a chance to promote the city. The other cities around the world who are a part of this new project are: Amsterdam, Atlanta, Austin, Barcelona, Birmingham (UK), Boston, Bristol (UK), Chicago, Edinburgh, The Hague, Houston, London, Los Angeles, Madrid, Manchester (UK), New York, Osaka, Paris, Phoenix, Portland (OR), Raleigh-Durham, Rotterdam, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Sydney, Tokyo, Toronto, Utrecht, Washington, D.C., and Wijchen. However, it’s a new program and they’ll be adding more cities as more people sign up and get involved. If you’re interested — no matter where you live — you can sign up here. As an expert, you get special access and recognition, so it’s worth checking out. They key is to add new hotspots and places of interest to Google Maps, with photos, reviews and more, making the maps even more useful.Google City Experts in Utrecht

I’ll leave you with a few more photos of the event and encourage you to stop by Vino Veritas, whether you’re a city expert or not!Google City Experts in UtrechtGoogle City Experts in UtrechtGoogle City Experts in UtrechtGoogle City Experts in Utrecht