From Clocks to Organs

Dance Hall Days

Last week, while Amy was here in town, I had the perfect opportunity to be a tourist and finally go see the famous National Museum from Musical Clocks to Street Organs (Nationaal Museum van Speelklok tot Pierement). It’s one of the Utrecht museums that is always recommended, by both locals and travel guides.

I now understand why it comes so highly recommended! The museum is housed in an old church and retains a lot of the Gothic architectural elements, but in a light, bright, cheerful manner. Tours are offered every hour and come in English and Dutch. I definitely recommend the tour, so that you can hear many of the music boxes and organs in action, since most require the guide to work them. You can read the informational cards and look at the other pieces on display while the guide performs the tour in the other language or after the tour when you’re free to wander around again on your own.

It’s incredible to see the detail put into these musical pieces, be it the decoration or the mechanization. From the smallest of music boxes to the massive wall organs used in dance halls (as seen in the photo above), it’s incredible to see the craftsmanship and artistry. They have a special Haydn exhibit going on now, including a piece left just as Haydn himself programmed it.

One bit of history that I got a kick out of was the fact that the larger street organs became fairly popular in the Netherlands, to a large degree because of the flat terrain here, which enabled the pieces to be pushed around town.

Starting Point

My Dutch language skills are still pretty much in their infancy, although I can string together the occasional sentence. However, I realized I was able to understands bits and pieces of the tour when the guide was speaking in Dutch. (On a side note, I was particularly impressed with his Gs.  Beautifully pronounced — and something I don’t think I will ever be able to do so well and with such ease.) One of the words I was excited to realize I recognized was smartlappen. I was familiar with the word due to the Smartlappen Festival held annually in town. The word came up during the history part of the tour, when some of the early songs performed on the chest organs were discussed.

After the official tour was over, Amy and I headed upstairs to see some of the other pieces in the museum’s collection. One piece of particular interest was a royal cart that ran over a track on the floor. The track had the same cutouts as the organ songbooks in order to produce the sounds. When the cart was pedalled down the track, music played. The cart was designed for children, but I think it helps to have a bit of weight in the cart to get a fuller sound. One or two small children didn’t seem to create quite as big a sound. Amy, being on the shorter side, decided to give it a go. Then I tried getting in. Suddenly, I felt so Dutch! My legs were too long! I was too tall! The pedals came up too high for me to be able to put my feet down without my knees getting in the way of the bar across the center, so I had to sit with my legs stretched out and held up, while Amy pedalled us down the track! It was great fun!

Ride and Play

So, to recap, definitely visit the museum — one block over from the Oude Gracht — and more importantly, take one of the guided tours. You’ll be so happy you did!


Fountain at Janskerkhof
Originally uploaded by indigo_jones

Despite our anniversary being last Wednesday, we didn’t go out for our planned sushi dinner until Saturday. We went to Konichiwa over on Mariaplaats. Sadly, no toro (a type of tuna), but we did try something new: baars. It wasn’t until we got home that we found out it’s perch. It was very delicate and quite good, so we’ll end up adding that to our list of regulars, such as eel and salmon.

After dinner, we stopped by Graaf Floris café for an Irish coffee. (They don’t use whipped cream to top the coffee, they use proper cream poured over the back of a spoon.) We got a seat outside and enjoyed the last bright rays of summer sun and did some people watching. There seemed to be lots of Italians about that evening, as well as a handful of Americans.

Friday was a lovely evening as well, although we were a bit tired that evening and didn’t stay out very late. We met a large group of friends at Café Potdeksel; a group gathering of many of the people we’ve been fortunate to meet so far. The latest Dutch phrase I’ve been taught is lekker ding (eye candy). Today, Lip, one of the lovely people we’ve met, is getting married. I hope everyone has a great time.

Tomorrow I’m going to go finalize my residency stuff and get my ID card. (Hopefully, I won’t be asked to show it often, as the photo is atrocious.) I had a moment of panic this morning, as I couldn’t find where I’d put the piece of paper I have to take with me. It was in the other safe place I’d put it. I had thought that I would have to go back up toward Amsterdam, but it turns out I can go to the IND office that is here in Utrecht. That makes things even easier!

This upcoming weekend should be good. Saturday is the Open Monument Day, where museums and monuments around the country open up free of charge. I need to make a list of places to go. I should probably just go to the tourism office in order to get a better of idea of just what all the places are. I’ve looked briefly at the Open Monument Day website, but the Dutch, of course, makes it a bit more difficult. 😉 There’s some sort of musical toy museum that I’m curious to see. Then on Sunday, it’s the Culturele Zondag (Cultural Sunday) event with the Utrecht Uitfest, which is going to be the opening for the cultural season. It seems to be a circus theme of sorts this month. The Utrecht Film Festival is this month as well, although I suspect we might need to know a bit more Dutch before we can truly appreciate that. 😉