Which way is up?
In case you haven’t seen enough yellow this past week in Utrecht, Toerisme Utrecht did a bit of guerilla marketing in the early hours of this morning, putting out yellow sunglasses along a large stretch of the Oudegracht. (As an aside, I’m writing this with the sound of helicopters roaring overhead. As the race is about to start in about half an hour, I guess it’s a mix of film crews and police overhead.) Anyway, the sunglasses are free to take and they’re promoting upcoming summer events in the city in Dutch on one side of the attached tag, and in English, on the other side, it’s targeting people visiting for the Tour de France today, encouraging them to visit local museums and shops while they’re here.
I knew they were doing this, having received the advance press release, but wasn’t sure I’d end up getting to see it all. However, I woke up early enough this morning and while scrolling through Twitter, I saw a picture and thought, why not! I hopped out of bed (sort of), quickly got ready, and was out the door before I could change my mind. (It’s still warm and humid and it started to rain lightly just as I left the house.)
Actually getting to the canal wasn’t so easy. The race is going through the heart of the city center today (as a display bit, rather than real racing), so lots of the streets are cordoned off to create safe lanes solely for the cyclists. I felt like a rat in a maze quite a few times trying to get around! Eventually, though, I found my way to the appropriate part of the Oudegracht and voilà! Sunglasses everywhere! They were on the ground around a lamp post. They were on the wall of the old post office. They were on bicycles. They were on bollards. They were on shop fronts. They were everywhere!
So, the point is, there’s plenty to see and do in Utrecht, even when the race has gone. Go see the museums, go listen to the weekly Domtoren concerts. Go support local businesses. Go to Vino Veritas, but not today or tomorrow, as we’re closed after a long, hot, busy week. Go on foot or by bike. Just go!
One last post today, as I noticed people getting to my blog via searches for the beautiful canals of Utrecht. We do have beautiful canals, the Oudegracht being one of the best known. I like how it changes depending on where along the canal you are. Some parts are busy and more commercial; one section features some of the typical tall, narrow buildings(see above); while another section is more quiet and residential. All are appealing in their own right.
The section in the first photo is filled with lots of great shops, including a nice yarn shop, and a shop called It’s a Present, which has lots of fun little decorative items, toys, and tchotchkes. The buildings along this section are the tall, narrow buildings many people think of when they think of Dutch canal buildings. One of the most charming views is of the old Magazin de Vlijt.
The southern end of the canal, along Twijnstraat, is the quieter spot and there are some areas along the wharves that have been built up recently, to protect against erosion perhaps? Regardless, they look lovely with all the greenery. This first photo was taken in the middle of December, with some beautiful winter sunlight.
These next two photos are of roughly the same spot, but taken from the opposite side of the canal, and a month earlier. The peace and tranquillity, not to mention the lovely views, make this one of my favorite spots in the city. Who wouldn’t want to sit out there with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and enjoy the scenery.
According to the travel search engine, GoEuro, Utrecht’s canals are the most beautiful in Europe. Although Venice has long held the imagination and romance, it seems that the overwhelming tourism is causing the city to lose some of its lustre. (Though, personally, I think if you go in the off season, the stunning beauty of Venice is still quite evident.)But I’m not going to argue with Utrecht taking top ranking. We’ve got some truly picturesque canals, and the long stretches of wharves running along the Oudegracht and Nieuwegracht really do set them apart from most other cities. No matter the size and no matter the season, there’s always something to enjoy about Utrecht’s canals. The city’s beautiful buildings are often reflected in the water, and at night, many of the canals and bridges and lit up as part of the Trajectum Lumen light show. But even the small, quiet neighborhood canals offer a tranquil spot to pause and simply enjoy the scenery.
So yes, I think Utrecht certainly earns top spot when it comes to beautiful canal cities!
A few months ago, while looking through Pinterest, I saw a fantastic graphic-style print of Utrecht that I fell in love with instantly. Besides the style of it, I loved the different aspects of the city that were represented. Sadly, when I clicked through, trying to find any information about the artist or where I could buy a copy of it, I came up blank.
Imagine my thrill when I was walking down Domstraat recently, admiring the artwork on display in the windows of Catch, a local art store, and suddenly there it was, the print I had been searching for! The store was closed at the time, but I went in last week to enquire about the print. Pondering a bit more, I ended up going back yesterday and bought it. It’s the large print on the right, in case you hadn’t figured that out. It’s signed and numbered, even! The artist is Utrecht-based Jochem Coenen, and I absolutely love his style that seems to combine traditional and modern illustration so beautifully.
As well as buying the print, I also picked up some frames for some modern and antique prints I’ve been collecting. One is a print from 1857 of one of the early incarnations of the Paushuize. I’ve been writing a lot about the Paushuize recently for various websites and publications, so when I came across the print, I couldn’t resist. The pen and ink drawing of the Domtoren and Oudegracht is one that I picked up recently from another local artist, Ellessi, and the final print is another antique print of Utrecht depicting the bend in the Oudegracht in front of the Stadhuis.
It’s a spot that is still recognizable, although much of it has changed in the past two hundred years or so, well, except for the Domtoren, of course. The Stadhuis (white buildings, center left) was rebuilt in a neo-Classic style around 1830. The crane on the left was originally built in 1402, although it underwent various updates and rebuilds until it finally gave up the ghost in 1837, while trying to unload the large caryatids that form the columns of the Winkel van Sinkel.
I recently came across a painting of roughly the same spot as my print by an Utrecht artist, Georg-Gillis van Haanen (1807-1879).
Nowadays, although many of the buildings have changed, that curve of the old canal, with the Domtoren rising up above the city, remains instantly recognizable. I’m sure even the artists of these images would soon feel at home.
I originally came across this photo on Pinterest and it caught my eye for multiple reasons. Obviously, unlike many of the old photos I usually use for these Then and Now posts, this one focuses more on an individual than a building or setting. The woman, a gypsy (zigeunerin), is the main subject of the image taken by Belgian autochromist Sebastiaan Alphonse van Besten. Van Besten was a refugee here in the Netherlands during World War I and took photos in various cities throughout the country, including this fantastic photo here in Utrecht. This particularly image now hangs in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. I look forward to seeing it in person soon.
There are still gypies/travellers/roma, etc. in Utrecht and the Netherlands in general, but not quite so obvious now. However, the setting is barely changed. She stands just to the side of a set of stairs that lead down to the wharves along the Oudegracht and the St. Augustine Church in the background remains seemingly unchanged. Even the handrails of the stairs seem almost the same. Now, though, there are more parking signs and bicycles along the railing. In fact, if it weren’t for the bicycles, I could have stood in almost the exact spot to get my “now” photo.
FYI, the photo I posted for my last Wordless Wednesday was taken almost directly underneath this spot, down on the wharf level.
We’ve had a fair bit of rain the past few days, but not enough that I would have expected a whole chunk of the wall/road along the northern section of the Oudegracht to simply give way. Yet that’s what happened today. The eastern side of the Bemuurde Weerd has collapsed.
The historic embankment dates back to 1300. It is in this area that Sinterklaas arrives each year, and in fact, the part that collapsed seems to be right where I’ve stood in years past. It’s only about a month until Sinterklaas’s arrival, so I’m not sure what they’ll do now, since much of the surrounding area is unstable at the moment.
So far, one tree has collapsed into the canal, blocking boats and taking part of the embankment with it. Another tree seems to be at risk, and the road/bridge next to the Nijntje Pleintje is also considered unstable at this point. According to some of the photos posted to Twitter, it looks like a cart and even a car are also at risk of going in.
I’m sure the Dutch mastery over water will win out in the end, but for now, water has won this round.