A Hill

A Hill
Utrecht — and much of the Netherlands — is a flat place. Not a lot of hills or mountains, so sometimes I feel like I can tell you exactly where to find any hills or slight inclines that may exist in the city center. Most, if not all, are man-made.

One of the interesting things about most of these hills, though, is that they represent the location of some of the old city walls that protected the old city. In fact, this particular hill really is a leftover from the old walls. A small segment of the wall still exists just behind where I was standing when I took this photo.

Take the Long Way Home

Less Traffic
They really don’t want you to drive in the city center of Utrecht. Besides every road being a one way never in the direction you want to go, half the time you can only turn in one direction onto the next street, no matter that the traffic goes both ways on the street. And then there are the random streets that are just blocked off all together.

We went to deliver some wine to Casa di David today on the Oudegracht. I think we need to consider a boat for future deliveries. It’s got to be much easier in the long run. First of all, just getting there was a bit hit or miss in terms of legalities of how we got on each street. There might have been some turns and backing up that were a bit questionable. Then we had to wedge the car into a spot that just left enough room for other vehicles to pass, while we lugged six boxes of wine down some steep stairs. Have I mentioned that I get a bit nervous going down stairs and like to have something to hold on to? Yeah, that first trip with two boxes made me a bit nervous, to say the least.

Once we actually had the wine delivered, we then had to get back home. That’s when things got really interesting. We thought we were doing ok, until the road suddenly ended, with metal posts blocking the road. Midday on a Tuesday? Sure! Excellent time to close a road off to traffic. And no, it wasn’t for construction. It was just closed. So then we tried to turn left, across the canal. That didn’t go particularly well, as the continuation of the road was also closed. We could turn left again, taking us back down the canal, but there was a truck blocking the road, as five workers were involved in cutting loose broken/abandoned bikes from the railings.

Let me rant on a tangent here for a moment. I’m all for the removal of these abandoned bikes, and I’m all for people having work, but when they’re cutting money for the arts and cutting the amount of money to help immigrants with the required assimilation programs (especially when you’ve got people like Wilders in office who are so bothered by immigrants), it seems a bit excessive to have one person driving the truck, two people cutting lose the bikes and putting them on the truck, and two other people riding along on separate scooters writing down the info and tagging the bikes removed. I’m pretty sure that task could have been cut down to just three people. I don’t think it would take that much longer to do the job with fewer personnel. I could totally be wrong, but at first glance, it seems a bit excessive.

Anyway, it turns out we could have probably turned right, but that would have lead to more questionable areas, so we just ended up turning left once the truck moved on. Eventually the truck reached a spot where it could pull over and let the following traffic pass. But then we got to the end of the Oudegracht, thinking we could turn left onto the main road, but no! More metal poles blocking the way! We’d forgotten about that! So that’s when things got a bit iffy and turns were made that may be a bit grey in their legality, but eventually we made it onto the road we wanted. And then took the long way around — because it’s the only way around — to get back home, despite passing our street on the way.

Don’t get me wrong. As a frequent walker and a rare cyclist, I appreciate that they’ve limited the amount of driving that goes on in the city center. It certainly helps keep the city more attractive, as well. Up until the 1970s or so, there was a lot more parking, a lot more cars, and narrower sidewalks from what I’ve seen. It’s much nicer now and I appreciate it all. I’m just glad I’m not the one ever having to drive here, despite my friends’ encouragement! I told G we should get a good bakfiets for any future deliveries. It’s got to be easier in the long run. They even have “trailers” you can attach to your bike. Perfect!

Unexpected Sights

Broken on the Oudegracht
I went over to the Oudegracht area today for a couple of reasons. First off, my main goal was to go to the Stadhuis to see the Trekhaak Gezocht exhibit. They have some photos and bits and bobs showing one man (and his dog) on a hitchhiking trip from Utrecht to the three European Cultural Capital Cities of 2010. The kicker is that he was hitchhiking with a caravan. As he headed from city to city, he had to rely upon the kindness of strangers to help tow his caravan from place to place. The website has a lot of info in English, so I do recommend checking it out. And if you’re in Utrecht, head to the Stadhuis before 1 November to see the exhibit. Plus, on 31 October, there will be a free showing of the documentary that was made along the way.

My second goal of the day was to head to Hema to get their infamous (and delicious) rooktworst. We’re having hutspot tonight! Yum! Lekker! *drool*

As I was wandering through the city (with camera phone, rather than full-on camera), I saw a few unusual sights. First was that broken umbrella hanging from a branch out over the Oudegracht, as seen above. I’m not sure if it blew away and happened to get caught, or if someone decided to toss it and managed to catch it on a branch. Either way, it was kind of pretty amid the few yellow leaves and against the reflection in the canal.

Yet I think the most unexpected sight I saw was the arrival of the holiday lights that are strung up over many of the streets here in town. Echt? Already? It’s not even November! I know the pepernoten has been out for a while, as have the chocolate letters, but somehow I thought the lights might wait a little bit longer.

Holiday Lights

A Few of My Favorite Things

I’ve recently been the recipient of the Beautiful Blogger Award from both Isabella over at A Touch of Dutch and Dave at Random Walks in the Low Countries, both of which are regular reads for me. It’s always nice to realize others are reading and actually enjoying my pictorial ramblings.

There are a few vague rules associated with this award; rules which are quite open to interpretation. Here are the original rules and requirements:

Beautiful Blogger rules (change to fit your mood)

  • Recognize and link to the person who nominated you.
  • Paste the award on your blog.
  • Share 7 interesting things about yourself.
  • Nominate (or note) 7 bloggers who you like.
  • As many have done, I figured I’d change the “7 interesting things about me” to something a bit different. In this case, I’m going to go with seven interesting things about Utrecht.

    1. The Domtoren. An obvious choice, but it really is pretty fantastic. It’s the tallest church tower in the Netherlands, standing at 112.5 meters/368 feet. I love that almost anywhere I go in town, I can see it rising up over the rooftops. I find it impossible not to get at least one shot of it whenever I take my camera out on the town. I’ve got a whole set devoted to it over on Flickr.
    2. Binnenstad. I love that the city center of Utrecht is relatively small. It’s easy to walk from one side of town to the other. Every time I look up a location on Google Maps, I find myself thinking, “Oh, that looks kind of far.” Then I actually walk it and it’s incredibly close! I like a walkable city!
    3. Cultural Sunday. Every month, there’s a Cultural Sunday event here in the city center. The theme changes every month, so you’re bound to find a topic that will interest you throughout the year. Music is a frequent theme, but done in all sorts of styles and presentations. This Sunday the theme is jazz. Past events have included the musical boat parade, the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the annual Uitfeest, just to name a few.
    4. The Post Office. Really! It’s interesting from the outside, but it’s unbelievable on the inside! I keep forgetting to take my camera with me when I go, which isn’t all that often, so I need to plan to go specifically just to take photos. It’s a fantastic interior that anyone visiting the city should see.
    5. The History. This one’s a bit esoteric, but I truly do love living in a city that had its start around 47 CE (AD). That was when the Romans arrived and set up shop where the Domtoren and cathedral now stand. As I’ve mentioned before, there are markers in some of the roads, showing the outlines of that first Roman fortress. One of the other great things about so many of the historic buildings in town is that they are still used and not just turned into sterile museums. They’re living history, still a vital part of everyday life here.
    6. Maliebaan. A beautiful, tree-lined street, with statue-lined walkways. Even with traffic going past, it’s surprisingly calm and peaceful. I love strolling down the path with Pippo at my side, enjoying the combination of nature and art. Interestingly, it seems that Louis XIV, the Sun King himself, was quite taken with the Maliebaan when he was here in 1672.
    7. The Cathedral. It’s kind of hard not to love the only cathedral in the Netherlands closest to the French Gothic style. It’s even harder not to love it when you realize that more than half of the cathedral is no more. The nave of the cathedral collapsed during a hurricane in 1674, and it was never rebuilt. It’s still an impressive structure with its buttressed apse and the area where the nave once stood is now a charming square where all sorts of events and festivals take place throughout the year.
    8. I figured I’d throw in one last, extra tidbit. Utrecht is trying to start a new campaign promoting the city and province. The official campaign begins 1 March, I believe. In the lead-up to the campaign, there’s a song written by Utrecht’s own Colin Benders, more famously known as Kyteman of the Kyteman Hip Hop Orkest. Here’s a video of Kyteman conducting an orchestra performing his composition Ode aan Utrecht.

    And now for something completely different (from what I’ve been writing about) … Here are a few blogs I enjoy and recommend — and nominate if they’re so inclined. Since many of the ones I read have been nominated by others already, I thought I’d go with a cooking/food theme for my recommendations.

    • Kayotic Kitchen: I’ve mentioned her quite often, but I truly do love her recipes and have never been disappointed with any of them. She also takes beautiful photos.
    • The Misadventures of Mub: She tries out lots of different recipes each week and then posts her reactions to them and suggestions for making them better, if necessary. I love that kind of real-world approach.
    • Lizzy Goes Dutch: If you’re one of the people who think vegetarian food is nothing more than leaves and twigs, Lizzy will make you think twice. She makes all sorts of vegetarian recipes that are appealing, satisfying and downright tasty!
    • Home Cooking with Sonya: This is one of the newest blogs I’ve started reading. As an American expat, it’s handy to see what she comes up with for substitutions or variations on American recipes that require ingredients that aren’t so easy to find here in the Netherlands.