Ringing In My Ears

All Aboard
The other night, while cooking dinner, I suddenly heard this loud noise that seemed to be getting louder and nearer. The next thing I know, I spot two large horses out the front window, and they were pulling an old-fashioned beer cart. In fact, it looked a lot like this, at least from the quick, half-view that I had.

What struck me was just how loud it was! Between the clomping of the horses and the rattle and weight of the cart, it was surprisingly loud, especially echoing off the walls of our relatively narrow street flanked with tall buildings. We complain about modern noise levels, but if you stop and think about how loud it must have been here in the old city center when horses and carts were standard forms of transport, the modern noise levels seem downright quiet! That scooter that just went past as I was typing was kind of noisy, but it’s also faster, so the noise is quickly gone. Those horses take a bit longer. We could hear them as soon as they turned onto the street, and probably heard them most of the way down the street. Imagine if there were multiple carts, I think we’d have to yell to carry on a conversation in the house!

When you stop and think about the fact that cars, streetcars and horse-drawn carts were all in use at the same time, at least through the mid 1900s, it must have been madness! The past is an interesting place, but I don’t think I’d want to live there.

Fun with Mussels

Bubble Bubble
As I mentioned Sunday, we were planning on heading out to the first (of many, hopefully) Mosselfestival right here in our own neighborhood. Horeca Lucas Bolwerk (a collection of bars and cafés in the neighborhood) organized this lovely mussels festival. It ran for about seven hours in total and seemed to have a fairly constant stream of attendees. We went shortly after 2 p.m. and were immediately struck by the delicious smells emanating from the pots of cooking mussels.
Lecker Eten Leckere Bier
We soon grabbed a couple of portions, which were quite generous, and picked up a couple of beers from the De Leckere Brewery stall. The mussells were beautifully seasoned and cooked. Just a nice kick of pepper and lots of natural flavor. I was really impressed with just how well they were done for such an event.
The street was closed to traffic, so they were able to set out lots of tables on the street, each table with its own garbage bag to keep things neat and clean. There was an accordion player wandering among the tables, and there was a bouncy castle for kids to play in. Sadly, there were no special play areas for the dogs we saw there. They were kept entertained by the possibility of stray mussels, I guess!
Mag Ik Een Mossel?


I joked with G that I guess this was a bit like a Dutch version of a crawfish boil or a New England clam bake. The women working at the mussels stall were all wearing old-fashioned lace caps — along with t-shirts and jeans! It was a beautiful day with lots of sunshine and a nice breeze, and by the end of the day, all the trash was cleaned up and neatly piled away for the garbage collectors the next morning. All in all, it seemed like a success.
Service with a Smile



Remains of the day #mosselfestival

Sunday Morning Bike Ride

Bike Path
Despite finally having a bike and getting a bit more comfortable riding, I hadn’t been out for a proper ride other than a quick circling around the small section where I live. G and I had talked of doing a ride, but inevitably it got put off because of weather or Pippo getting sick or sheer laziness. Today, however, we finally went.

I managed not to crash, fall off, or weave too badly, although I still prefer to bike where there are fewer people or cars likely to pass me. They throw off my balance a bit. Since I’m still wobbly at times, I figured it was best that I not take my real camera, so I went with the camera phone instead, since that fit one of my pockets. I’m so glad I did, because we saw some lovely buildings and an adorable cat.

We headed over to the area north of Biltstraat, heading for Poortstraat and the picturesque bike path that runs along the nearby canal.

View Larger Map
There’s a lovely house on the corner and a park that runs alongside it, with some beautiful flowers lining the pathway, as you can see in the first photo I posted. Further down, we came across a long row of these gingerbread-like houses with their lovely gables and cheerful yellow paint.
This Charming House
On the other side of the street was the Paardenkathedraal (Horse Cathedral), which I’ve been wanting to see after seeing someone else’s photo. It’s a quirky cross between a Tudor house and a castle. It used to be a horse-riding arena for the college of veterinary medicine, but eventually became a theater, which it still is today.
De Paardenkathedraal
A lot of the old college of veterinary medicine buildings are in this area, with many of them reworked to serve a new purpose. One of these is Snijzaal, which is now an atelier/open café/theater kind of place. Seems like when the animals move out the actors move in.
Red Door [Day 225/365]

Heading back to Poortstraat, we saw this fantastic old advertisement painted on a building. It’s an ad for butter and basically translates to say, “The right address for quality butter made from cream is H.J. de Groot”, followed by the old (short!) telephone number.

Toward the end of our ride, we passed this adorable cat, who seemed quite determined that she wanted inside. She was pawing at the window and meowing periodically. She looks so much like my own Luna, both long and lean and determined to get what they want.
Let Me In!

It was a fun ride through a beautiful section of town that we haven’t explored quite as much. Every time I wander through the area, I want to see more and more.

The Sheriff of Utrecht

Superstar [Day 43/365]
There are a lot of semi-famous cats here in Utrecht, ones who are a regular fixture in their neighborhood or in various shops and restaurants. The Oudegracht is home to many of them, but we’ve got one in our neighborhood, too. His name is Sheriff and he’s absolutely adorable.

He lives up to his name, keeping an eye on things and making sure people get home safely. It’s not uncommon for me to pass Sheriff on my way home and for him to end up following me all the way. He likes to run along the parked cars and keep a few paces behind or ahead of you, but always following along. He sees you off at your front door and goes about his business, keeping the neighborhood well-patrolled!
My Hero!
He’s seen his share of disturbances, if his ears are anything to go by, but otherwise he seems in good health and definitely doesn’t seem to go hungry. He’s held his own with our dog Pippo, too, who likes to bark at any cats in the neighborhood. Pippo rounded a corner and startled Sheriff one day and got whacked on the nose in the process. He’s been more hesitant around Sheriff ever since! (For the record, Pippo’s always on a lead and we keep an eye out for any cats to try and avoid any scenes like that.)
I think the people at Café De Stad take extra care of Sheriff and he’s often found curled up for a nice nap on one of the cushions on their benches. The rest of the time, he’s often to be found prowling around the other cafés and through the park. Just keeping an eye on the neighborhood.

(No, it’s not snowing, these are just old photos of Sheriff, caught on an occasion when I didn’t have my hands full and did have a camera with me. It’s just taken me a while to blog about him.)

Just An Average Saturday

Curious Cat
The weather has turned lovely and everyone is enjoying it, throwing open windows, sitting outdoors, and just generally living the gezellig life. Even I’m feeling more like myself again, even if I do get easily tired. To make the most of the good weather and my return to health, G and I headed out this morning to hit up a few shops on Nachtegaalstraat. I had my camera with me, of course and took a few shots along the way. I figured I’d share some of the photos I took today that seemed to embody the spirit of the day. As you can see from the first photo, even the neighborhood cats were enjoying the spring weather and the open windows!
The annual Festival aan de Werf is going on this week and the area in front of the stadsschouwburg (city theater) has been taken over by a colorful part of the festival. I loved the geometric shapes, simple colors, and bright sunshine.
Festival a/d Werf Town
Unfortunately, by the time I got to that point, I was already feeling a bit wiped out. In my head I could envision the type of photo I wanted to get, focusing tightly on the shapes, but my mind just wasn’t moving quickly enough. I guess that’s the result of only really having two meals in three days. Still, with a bit of cropping, I got something close to what I had in mind. Fortunately, I’ve got the rest of the week to try again.
Geometric [Day 140/365]
Even our own animals couldn’t resist the siren song of the sunlight. Pippo made a beeline for the terrace when we got home and started sunning himself under the apple tree. It’s a dog’s life!
Tomorrow or Monday — Eerste and Tweede Pinksterdag (a two-day celebration of the Pentacost, and national holidays here) — I’ll be going over to the Griftpark to check out this year’s Utrechtse Fabriek, an indie craft show. I went last year and got to meet Nina from ninainvorm, who makes lovely pottery, including a piece I have. This year I’ll definitely be going to check out the work of fellow Utrecht-resident Kerry, of solohandmade. Even if you don’t get to go to the show, check out her website. She makes beautiful stuff!

St. Maarten

Oh dear. Today is St. Martin’s Day. It’s times like this that curtains would be useful. Today is the day that kids in some areas go around house to house singing songs and receiving treats. Sort of like Halloween, but not as ghoulish or costume-y. That said, we don’t have any treats to give out.

Fortunately, we didn’t get any visitors last year and I’m hoping this year will be the same. Maybe we should turn the lights out and eat dinner on the sofa. Just in case.

Sounds of Utrecht

As I sit here surrounded by silence that is broken only by the ticking of the clock, I find myself pondering the sounds that I have come to associate so closely with Utrecht. Living here in the city center, we get our fair share of noise, but we still manage to have our fair share of golden silence. The noises that I associate with Utrecht — my Utrecht — may be nothing like the noises any other person would think of when they think of this city. On the other hand, some of the noises could be ones that anyone in the Netherlands could find familiar.

One of the first sounds I associated with the city is the chiming of the bells coming from the Domtoren every hour. It’s not just the tolling of the hour at hand; there’s also a musical prelude to the hourly tones. Hear for yourself:

That may be the more obvious sound of Utrecht. My own private soundtrack has more to do with the clanging of pots, pans and silverware that drifts out the open door of the Indonesian restaurant across the street. It’s the chatter of the young child who lives in the apartment building next door as he plays in the courtyard. It’s the sound of the daily piano playing and the frequent opera singing practice also drifting over from the apartment complex. It’s most certainly the sound of the cheerful doei or doe as people say their goodbyes. I think that in the way I still remember the sound of the streetcar clanking past in New Orleans, I will always remember the sound of the almost high-pitched doe that is such an integral part of the everyday Dutch language.

Even if you try to bring the sounds of another city or another country into a new environment, the daily, regular sounds are bound to interfere and give the interloper a run for his money. I attended the RioolFest this week, which means I went to the spot on Zadelstraat where the specially designed speaker was sending its imported sounds out into the Utrecht sewers. On the day I was there, the sounds of the Paris Metro could be heard coming up from underground. It was a subtle sound, but there nonetheless. It was a metallic hum underlying the usual sounds of the street. That said, it was certainly quieter than I remember the New York subway cars being when they rushed immediately beneath your feet. I suppose you’re going to need the real thing to get the real feel and sound! Yet as I tried to make a recording of the sounds I was hearing — a poor recording, though — what struck me the most when I played it back was the loudness and primacy of the typical sounds of the street: the feet walking past, the broom sweeping in front of the shop.

I enjoyed the idea of making something unpleasant (sewers) into something unusual and a bit arty. In the end, however, it’s the real sounds of my adopted city that make me smile the most.

To the Rescue

Morning Emergency
I awoke this morning to the sound of sirens. At first I thought that it was perhaps the police finally going to intervene in the all-night student party going on nearby (at 7 a.m. I could still hear the remnants of the party). Then a strange, loud noise started up, making it impossible to drift back to sleep. Curious about what was going on, I peer out the window and saw a couple of brandweer (fire department) trucks out in front of Café de Stad!

It didn’t seem to be a raging fire, since things seemed relatively calm and people were standing close to the building. No one was rushing about and there was no smell of smoke in the air. When G took Pippo out about an hour later, the fire trucks were gone and all that was left were a few policemen who had taped off the whole terrace area, stretching from Café de Stad up to Tilt.

I’ll be curious to find out what happened. Hopefully, nothing serious or terribly expensive to repair.

ETA: Well, it must not have been that serious. They’re open for business and all seems back to normal enough.

Neighborly Visit

Look at what else we found in our back garden yesterday:

Last evening, we happened to notice that we had a visitor. Wandering around our back garden was this lovely fellow. He didn’t stick around for long, though, and didn’t seem interested in a chat. Didn’t even stay for coffee and a cookie!