Kerstboom Market

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Need a last-minute kerstboom (Christmas tree)? The annual Christmas tree market at Janskerkhof has you covered. From the usual larger ones all the way down to small potted plants, you can find a lovely selection of “trees”.  With some bonus Bacchus for this festive season.

Fijne kerstdagen!

Fijne Kerstdagen 2015

Kerstraam
I came across this window on one of my walks with Charlie last month and thought it would be perfect for a Christmas post. It’s an impressive winter village display, and from a photo I saw on Instagram, I think it lights up at night.

We’re not having a white Christmas this year. It’s been unseasonably warm here as it seems to be in many places. Still, it’s Christmas and we’re looking forward to our long weekend. Happy holidays to you all!
Kerstraam

Touring Utrecht’s Christmas Markets

Domplein Kerstmarkt
The other weekend, Utrecht was overflowing with kerstmarkten (Christmas markets). Mariaplaats, Twijnstraat, Domplein, Stadhuis, and other winter festivities at Neude were among the offerings and fortunately the weather cooperated. It was a gorgeous sunny winter day. The Domplein was the newest addition to the kerstmarkt scene, and having seen some photos on Twitter, that was our fist stop on our kerstmarkt tour.

Although relatively small in offerings, there was a nice mix of stylish wooden stalls and tented tables, as well as two merry-go-rounds. One was a swing type for children, while the other slowly turning one was decked out with tables and chairs to enjoy a panoramic view of the square while you enjoyed some gluhwein (mulled/spiced wine), coffee, hot chocolate, and snacks.

Among the food and snacks seemed to be freshly smoked salmon. The salmon was on wood (cedar?) planks, held in place by metal clasps and stuck above a small fire pit (center left in the photo below). Picturesque and mouth watering, all at the same time!
Domplein Kerstmarkt
There were various vendors there selling everything from Christmas trees and decorations — I finally bought one of the paper stars I’ve been wanting for the past few years — and other gift items, many of which were handmade. As I said, it was a small selection, but definitely a nice mixture of items and in a great setting. I hope they continue to do a kerstmarkt in the Domplein.
Domplein Kerstmarkt
Domplein Kerstmarkt
There was also some entertainment on hand, including storytelling, donkey rides, and a bouncy “snow globe” for kids. The snow globe features a picture of Utrecht taken by the talented artist behind the Donker Utrecht photos. (He had a stall at the Stadhuis kerstmarkt.) It was kind of nice to be able to get a photo of the globe with the Domtoren standing out, right in front of the actual Domtoren.
Domplein KerstmarktDomplein Kerstmarkt
Domplein Kerstmarkt
Domplein KerstmarktAfter the Domplein, we headed to Twijnstraat, the traditional kerstmarkt site. We always get some gluhwein when we’re there and this was no exception. It was fairly crowded and I didn’t get any photos of the actual market, though I did get some photos along the Oudegracht, where we paused to enjoy the scenery and drink our gluhwein, as is our custom.

After Twijnstraat, we headed over to the Stadhuis (city hall) to see the market there. It was a new market site last year and was a lot of fun. I think it might have been a bit smaller this year, perhaps because of the addition of the Domplein market. Still, it was a festive spot, and it even had a ferris wheel!
Stadhuis Kerstmarkt
The poffertje van was back (literally a small car/van turned into a mobile poffertje making stall), but we had plans to get poffertjes at Neude, so we just did a quick look around and enjoyed the band that happened to be playing Christmas tunes as we arrived.
Stadhuis Kerstmarkt
Stadhuis Kerstmarkt
As we stood listening to the music, I suddenly realized that the trumpet player looked a bit familiar. Turns out it was Robert, the photographer behind the Kat in de Stad books! (I edited the English version of the recent Amsterdam edition.)

Utrecht’s markets may not be as massive and famous as some of the ones in other cities and countries, but they’re still a lot of fun. I’m so glad we got to get out and enjoy a nice afternoon in the city. With work and me currently suffering my second bad cold in the past month, we haven’t really gotten into the festive spirit this year, not even putting up the tree. But visiting the markets makes me feel like I got to enjoy a bit of the special celebrations.

I hope you and your loved ones have a happy holiday season, no matter where you are or what festivities you celebrate.

Happy Sinterklaas

Sinterklaas
Today is St. Nicholas Day, when all the Sinterklaas celebrations come to a sugar-filled finale. I missed the Sint’s intocht (arrival) this year and I think I’m being punished for it with a cold that won’t go away. No gifts for me this pakjesavond, except maybe a neti pot. If you’re celebrating, I hope you get some lekkere pepernoten or kruidnoten or a chocolate letter.

(Correction, 6 December is St. Nicholas Day. The Dutch celebrate St. Nicholas Eve, so to speak, on 5 December.)
Red BalloonPepernoten

Happy Fourth, America

Stars and Stripes
Between working two jobs and preparing for the Wittevrouwenfeest tomorrow, American Independence Day has gotten a bit lost in the mix. Yet being able to celebrate multiple holidays and important events is one of the perks of being an expat/immigrant. Although we won’t be doing the traditional barbecuing this year, I have made some potato salad (a traditional July 4th side dish) for lunch today. It’s the little things in life. 🙂

One of the things that stood out to me on my trip back to the US last year was the number of American flags I saw everywhere — homes, businesses, churches, etc. This is nothing new, but after spending a number of years here in the Netherlands where the flag is only flown on specific dates, it really stood out. Just a short walk through my parents’ neighborhood revealed a number of flags, and this motor inn up in the mountains of North Carolina certainly wasn’t going to have anyone questioning its patriotism!
Stars and Stripes
So, Happy Fourth of July to my fellow Americans and happy Friday to everyone else! By the way, if you’re in Utrecht this weekend, Biltstraat and the Wittevrouwen neighborhood are having a big block party. We’ll be representing Vino Veritas there, so come by and say hi, and try some of our Italian wine and food. Or come by today and enjoy the sunshine on our terrace (or cool off inside). Either way, I’ve really enjoyed meeting so many of my readers so far!
Stars and Stripes
Stars and Stripes
Stars and StripesStars and StripesPatriotism and ConsumerismPatriotic

The Arrival of King’s Day

Koninginnedag DomtorenSo, the inaugural King’s Day (Koningsdag) celebrations are beginning, as stages and oceans of beer are being put in place across the country. It’s the first time there’s been a King’s Day; it has always been Queen’s Day since the holiday’s inception. However, after Beatrix stepped down last year and Willem-Alexander ascended the throne, we now have a king for the first time in more than 100 years.

It turns out there’s an Utrecht link to the holiday. It was an Utrecht newspaper editor who first organized Princess Day for Wilhelmina in 1885, as a celebration of her fifth birthday. The celebration eventually evolved into Queen’s Day once she succeeded her father, King Willem III in 1890.

Originally, Queen’s Day was celebrated in August, the month of Wilhelmina’s birth. When her daughter, Juliana, took the throne, it then moved to her birth date, 30 April. When Juliana’s daughter, Beatrix, took the throne, she decided to keep the April celebration date, since the weather is much nicer than her birth month of January. Willem-Alexander’s birthday is 27 April, which is when King’s Day will usually be celebrated. However, since the 27th is a Sunday this year, they decided to move the celebration to the 26th. Next year it will be on the 27th. I kind of wish he’d just kept the 30 April date to avoid confusion. Now it’s starting to feel a bit like trying to figure out when Easter is!

The party actually starts tonight with King’s Night festivities that usually include bands playing outdoors throughout the city, with plenty of covers of Golden Earring songs and Shocking Blue’s “Venus” (both are Dutch bands, if you didn’t know). The vrijmarkt also starts tonight at 18:00 (6 PM), in which the northern part of the city center becomes a massive flea market. Lots of people like to go early to find the best items, before everything gets picked over. It’s particularly useful if you’re looking for a specific item.

Tomorrow, which is the official King’s Day, will see more of the same, with lots of parties across the country. Throughout it all, there will be more orange than you’ve ever seen in your life, as the Dutch royal family is part of the Orange-Nassau family. BoatsMore OrangeKoninginnedagBand
Janskerkhof

Christmas Trees for Rent

Bacchus en de Bomen
Growing up, we always had a real tree for Christmas and I continued that tradition once I was done with apartment living and had a real house in which to put the real tree. However, when we moved here, we decided to purchase a fake tree. As well as not knowing what to do with a real tree at the end of the season, I did start to wonder about the environmental aspects of cutting down a tree that may simply end up as garbage after a month.

I actually do like our little, white, fake tree, but sometimes I long for the look and smell of a real tree. I make do by visiting the Christmas tree market that opens up around December 6 at Janskerkhof. It’s so picturesque, especially in the evening under the glow of the lamps.

However, I may start reconsidering a real tree again in the future. I’ve recently learned about the Stichting Kerstbomenverhuur Utrecht (Christmas Tree Rental Foundation). As the name suggests, you can rent a Christmas tree for three weeks, from mid December to early January. The key is that the tree comes with its roots so that it can be replanted after the holiday season.

The foundation began as a neighbourhood initiative in 2011, and has grown and prospered as a non-profit run by volunteers. The process is simple. There is a set date on which people can pick up their tree and a set date on which they return it. Prior to the pickup date, there is a period in which trees can be ordered. All trees must be ordered in advance so that trees are not unnecessarily dug up. At the end of the season, they are returned to the grower and replanted. Around 90% of the trees survive the process each year. Any that aren’t fit for replanting can still be returned and they’ll then be turned into mulch to help the other trees thrive.

The cost of the tree is only 26€, which includes a 5€ deposit, which you get back when you return the tree. The order deadline for this year is Sunday, 8 December, with pickup taking place Saturday, December 14, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. The return date is Saturday, January 4, 2014 between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. You’re responsible for transporting the tree both ways, but they do have a few wheelbarrows and bakfietsen available for people to use in a pinch. Still, it’s best to plan on providing your own transport, be it bike, auto, or muscle power.

The tree itself is usually between 1.5 and 2 meters in height and is a Serbian spruce grown in small numbers in Achterveld (Leusden) and the Veluwe. If you want more choice in the look of your tree, you’re best getting there early on the pickup day. It’s first come, first serve to anyone who has already purchased and reserved their tree.

If you’re not in the Utrecht area, but still want to rent a Christmas tree, there are other groups offering similar programs.

It really is a great idea if you long for the look and smell of a real Christmas tree, but hate the thought of trees perishing at the end of the season. Now you can have your holiday spirit and decorate it, too!

American Influence in Utrecht

Bolwerk Shore
In honor of the Fourth of July — America’s Independence Day — I thought I’d post a couple of photos of things with a touch of the US in them that I’ve seen recently around town. Some have made me laugh, while others have stood out simply for being here.

The first is the photo above. You may not be surprised to find out that this building belongs to one of the university student associations. The large Bavaria banner and flag isn’t referring to the German state. It’s the name of a common beer brand. Although the beer banners, bird statue in the window, and bicycles out front make it look like many a student domicile, the sign saying Bolwerk Shore made me laugh. The cringe-inducing show Jersey Shore has made it to Europe, and the students seem to have created their own version, although hopefully just as a joke for the end-of-year party they had had the night before. (Bolwerk refers to the street name, for what it’s worth.)

Not a typical sight ...
On the same street, but different day, I was stopped in my tracks by the sight of this yellow school bus. In the US, I wouldn’t have looked at it twice. It was a common enough sight throughout the school year and I’ve ridden my share of them as well. Yet here in the Netherlands, they stand out the way a double-decker bus would stand out in the US. They just don’t exist here. Students use regular buses to get to and from school, if they use the bus at all.

However, it’s not the first time I’ve seen one here in Utrecht, but that one was being used as a children’s mobile book store. I can’t help but wonder if it’s the same bus, though. After all, it’s been two years since I saw the bus the first time.

Happy Fourth of July to all of my fellow Americans, wherever they are in the world, and to everyone else, Happy Thursday!

Good Friday

Paas [Day 83/365]
Whether you’re religious or not, Fridays are generally pretty good. I still have work to do this weekend, but I’m still happy that it’s Friday for some reason. Sadly, our weather isn’t so good. It’s been overcast much of today and looks to be the coldest Easter in at least 50 years. Though a White Christmas may be charming, a White Easter, not so much; yet there’s the possibility of snow in some areas. We’re also doing the time change this weekend, although if lots of people are getting Monday off, that might help with the adjustment. I’m not sure what it will do to my own frequently screwy ability to sleep; I’ll have to wait and see.

All of this is a rambling way of wishing you a Vrolijke Paasdagen (Happy Easter). Don’t forget, you’ve got through Sunday to leave an awesome comment for me at the Expats Blog writing contest. I’d send you chocolate eggs as a thanks, but I think I’ve eaten them all.

ETA: Moments after posting this, it began to snow here. Still coming down. Is this an early April Fool’s joke?