Cats and Canals

Hanging Out
Cats and canals, or more specifically, cats and the water in the canals, don’t usually mix well. But in a country where both cats and canals exist in large numbers, there’s bound to be the inevitable crossing of paths. Sadly, not all cats survive their canal encounters.

Fortunately, there are groups like Kat Uit de Gracht (Cat out of the canal) that work to protect cats from a watery end. Through the installation of special ropes along canal edges and tray islands in the canals, along with education, environmental changes, etc., they try to discourage cats from areas where they’ll be at risk, or give them a place to take refuge if they do find themselves in the water.

Here in Utrecht, in the Koekoeksvaart (the appropriately named cuckoo canal), tray islands have been installed in the canal to give cats a place of purchase until they can be rescued. Hang in there, kitties!

Idle Interrupted

Surprises on the Nieuwegracht

The Secret Room
I love the little surprises I still find wandering through the city. While showing a visiting friend around the Nieuwegracht the other week, we spotted a few unexpected sights. First up is this Secret Room that is a part of the Hotel Nieuwegracht. Actually, let me correct that. It’s the only room in the Hotel Nieuwegracht. The hotel is the smallest in Utrecht, although eventually it will have a second room. From their website:

At this current moment, Hotel Nieuwegracht consists of one room. The room has a private entrance door right at the channel, and was recently completely renovated. Room features:
– bathtub with shower;
– flat screen TV with DVD player and digital TV
– water boiler and complimentary coffee and tea;
– complimentary bottle of white wine.

For those not familiar with the Nieuwegracht, it’s one of Utrecht’s famous canals with a wharf level below street level. For example, this is the view you would have outside your door if you stayed at Hotel Nieuwegracht:

Sadly, it was overcast and a bit gloomy that day, so this doesn’t show it at its best, but it’s still a lovely view and is particularly charming when the trees are in full leaf, or when snow coats the streets and wharves.

Heaven and Hell
The other unusual sight we came across just a few steps further down the Nieuwegracht was this sign pointing to heaven and hell. Interestingly, the sign is lateral rather than vertical. In this case, I have no idea if the sign has any specific significance, but it’s certainly food for thought.

Foto Vrijdag: Reflections of Amsterdam

Amsterdam Bridge at Night
One of the things I like about Dutch cities is the way they use a variety of lights to add to the overall appeal. You can make the most of cheap holidays by simply wandering the streets of any decent-size Dutch city — Amsterdam, Utrecht, Gouda, Delft — soaking up the sights and the sounds. Many of the canal bridges throughout the country often have special lighting of some sort, turning a simple walk through town into a fantastic light show, as you can see in this photo of one of the many Amsterdam canal bridges. Of course, Utrecht has taken it all to new levels with the Trajectum Lumen light art display. Every night, you can enjoy everything from simple blue lights under the canal bridges to high-tech digital light displays in hidden canal nooks.

Foto Vrijdag: Golden Drift

Golden Drift
This was taken a couple of weeks ago after a storm, and I loved the golden light and how it brought out the warm tones of the buildings along the Drift Canal. The reflection of the salmon-pink building (Polman’s Huis Restaurant) in the canal is the perfect finishing touch. Plus, of course, the row of bicycles chained up to just about every free spot along the canal railing.

Time Travel Thursday

Oudegracht - Winkel van Sinkel
(photo courtesy of gertvr)
I recently came across a large set of old photo postcards of Utrecht on Flickr and I’ve enjoyed going through them and seeing which ones I know well and which ones I don’t recognize anymore because of the changes. The person who posted them on Flickr has mapped them all out on Google Maps and has started taking new photos of these old locations. I thought I’d go through some of my own photos and see what I have that matches up and maybe head out to take new version of some of the photos if I don’t have any already. These will be my Time Travel posts and I’ll try to post one at least every Thursday.

Today is the Oude Gracht (the old canal), which runs through the city and is one of the more touristic spots, yet still very much a part of regular life for locals, too. One of the more famous buildings along the Oudegracht is the Winkel van Sinkel, which is primarily a restaurant/café/nightclub now. The name seems to have changed since the original photo was taken (Vlaer & Kol), but otherwise, the buildings and the canal look very much the same.
In Front of the Stadhuis

My photo was taken a few years ago during one of the Cultural Sunday events when there was a boat-based set of concerts up and down the canal. Boats with musicians would work their way along the canal to different spots to stop and perform. Other than a few more trees now, there seems to be little difference!


Saturday, while heading over to the Domplein for the ill-fated coffee, I decided to stop and get a shot that is a well-known view of Utrecht. The Oudegracht, the old canal, which runs generally north/south through the city center, is probably our most touristic spots. Everyone that visits the city tends to end up there very quickly. After all, it features some of the famous below-street-level wharves. Still, there’s a lot along the canal that appeals to locals and not just tourists, although I noticed that one shop on the corner of the canal and Servetstraat, leading to the Dom, has become conspicuously touristy. All sorts of tourist knick-knacks explode from the store: postcards, Delft blue pottery type pieces, clogs, and the little decorative house figurines, along with Utrecht’s own Nijntje (Miffy).

Fortunately, when it’s off-season or simply a weekday, it’s easy enough to feel like you’re just on any other (incredibly picturesque) street. Tourism does seem to be growing here in Utrecht, but it’s not the madness of other big tourist hot spots. You can still take a moment just to enjoy the view without getting jostled about. You still have to watch out for the bikes, though. They’re everywhere.
Met Fiets

Rising Waters

Yesterday, as we were leaving De Streekmarkt, we noticed that one of the drawbridges was being raised. Moving closer to the canal to get a better view, we soon realized that there was no tall ship coming through, they just seemed to be testing the bridge. Oh well, it was a nice reminder for me of the drawbridge we used to cross to get to my grandparents’ house on Daytona Beach Shores. The sunny weather and the quality of the light, with the water nearby, had certainly brought Florida to mind for me a few times that day.

As we were walking back home along the canal, we reached another bridge, this time a bridge we needed to cross to get home. As we were standing on it, discussing the stepped seating nearby, a warning bell went off and the barriers came down as at a railroad crossing. Unfortunately, I was in the middle of the bridge and had to quickly limbo my way under the barriers! The next thing we knew, that bridge was also being raised. This time, there was a boat coming, but it was a simple motor boat, too small to need the bridge raised. We soon realized that they seemed to be working their way down the canal, testing the drawbridges.
Lente Dag

I was reminded of the joke I made to Invader Stu last week when he wondered if there were any bridges in all of the Netherlands that didn’t have bikes parked on them. I figured maybe the drawbridges might be free of bikes, at least on the move-y bit. It turns out I was right! Of course, I was also right in that bikes were locked up to the parts of the bridge that remained stationary. Parking is at a premium!

It was a beautiful day, so we decided to stop and enjoy the sunshine on the steps. We also got a bit of a show, because the boat that had just passed, was entering into one of the locks. In the photo above, you can see them docked for a while as the water slowly rises. As they were tying up, we got to watch the lockmaster (?) close up the gate they had just entered.
Closing the Gates
Once that northern gate was closed, he headed down to the next gate where his “office” is located and took care of whatever needed to be done on that end. We could see the water bubbling away and got to see certain parts of the lock area eventually covered by the rising water.
Waiting for the Water
Locking the Lock
It was fun watching the whole process (although it was also a bit slow and I gave up taking photos). I’ve never actually watched it all before, so it was nice to finally see all of this machinery in action. Not a bad way to spend some time in the sun!