Finally, there was no fog on our walk this morning. Just lots of sunshine and beautiful colors. We took a stroll along the Maliebaan. The Maliebaan is a historic and scenic street that has walking paths along both sides of the street, and even some pieces of sculpture along one side. This is also where the first bicycle path was created in the Netherlands in 1885. There’s a sign post that commemorates what would be the first of many cycling paths in this country.
But for a girl and her dog, it’s just a great place to take a walk on a crisp autumn morning.
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
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. (ETA: Sadly, this isn’t really an option now that V&D is closed, plus Hoog Catharijne is a construction nightmare. Hopefully, though, someone else will come in and make the most of the view.)
2. Walk along the Maliebaan
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
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
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 …
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
Every 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. The Inktpot and the UFO
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.)
Zo Was Utrecht, a fantastic source for old images of Utrecht, recently Tweeted this old advertising poster that dates back to 1897. It’s for the Utrechtsche Levensverzekeringsmaatschappij (Utrecht Life Insurance Company/Society), which was housed at the time in the Maliehuis located at Maliesingel 28.
The original Maliehuis (huis=house) was built in 1637 and was used by the administrator of the Maliebaan. The Maliebaan, a long, tree-lined avenue, was originally used to play the game known as malie, which was somewhat like croquet or what eventually became golf. People could rent the game equipment from the administrator at the Maliehuis. This went on through the 18th century.
Then, in the 19th century, the building was significantly enlarged and turned into a house. Eventually it then became office space, for businesses such as the aforementioned life insurance company, and nowadays, I think it’s used as an exhibition space.
It’s a nice house from the outside, with clean, simple, classical lines. There’s also a tile depiction of the house, showing the canal that runs in front of it. That section of the canal is called the Maliesingel, but it is also part of the canal that rings the old city center. The Maliehuis is just outside the binnenstad (city center). My photos are a few years old, and I think the outside has been cleaned up since then. Still, you’ll see just how much the building still looks as it did in the illustration from the late 1800s. To the right is the Maliebaan, where the game was originally played. In the 1600s, it was a student area where they played malie and generally hung out together. It’s since changed to an important and wealthy area.
Although the 300th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht was in April, the celebrations continue. Recently, an outdoor photo exhibition was installed along the pathways of the Maliebaan. Titled “Making Peace”, it is an exhibit that shows the horrors of war, but gives hope through also focusing on the people and organizations that work to end war and promote peace.
The international exhibition was first put on display along the shores of Lake Geneva in 2010, organized by the International Peace Bureau to celebrate their 100th anniversary of winning the Nobel Peace Prize. The exhibit includes photos from around the world, from some of the great photojournalists. A comment/explanation for each photo is provided in English and Dutch. Many of the photos are moving and thought-provoking. Some break your heart, while others provide a glimmer of hope.
The Maliebaan is an historic avenue in Utrecht and now one of the most expensive streets in the city. Located just outside the old city center, it was opened in 1637 and features multiple lanes, separated by tunnels of trees. Some lanes are for vehicles, others for bicycles and pedestrians. In fact, the very first bicycle path built in the Netherlands was along the Maliebaan. The street has seen its own share of war and peace over the centuries, particularly during World War II, when the occupying Nazis had offices in the street. But it seems there were also resistance groups along the street, as well.
These pathways are a perfect setting for the photo exhibition. The street is relatively peaceful and allows time for contemplation of the numerous photos. The exhibit runs until 28 July and is definitely worth a visit.
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)
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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.