The other week, I wrote about a former fire house that dates back to the 1860s. With buildings so closely packed together, it was vital to have a number of these fire stations spread strategically throughout the city. But when your fire truck relies on literal horse power and there are no mobiles that allow anyone to quickly dial 112 (the emergency number) if they spot suspicious smoke, an effective alarm system is vital.
Obviously, in the days before telephones, it was important to have a way of alerting people that there’s a fire. As well as warning neighbours who may be at risk, the firefighters needed to be alerted, as well. One way that was done was through the use of a brandbel (fire bell). Just like the fire stations, they were set up a various locations throughout the city. The bells, some of which came from demolished 17th century cloisters, stood atop wood or stone posts. In case of fire, ring bell.
The firefighters would hear the bell (or be alerted to it) and then head out to the fire. I assume that as someone rang the bell, someone else might run over to the station to alert the firefighters as to the specific location. The bell would at least give them time to get their gear ready while someone else sprinted over.
On 3 March 1921, a telephone alarm system was put in place and by 1935, the last of the fire alarm bells were gone from the regular city landscape. The one in my photo is down by the southern end of the Nieuwegracht and is a replica of one that would have served the Schalkwijkstraat fire station I mentioned in my previous post. It’s nice to have these little reminders of days gone by, but it certainly makes me thankful for modern improvements!
Someday when I win the lottery (which I suppose I should start playing) or when our upcoming wine bar becomes ragingly successful (fingers crossed), I’d love to own one of the homes along the Nieuwegracht. What a view!
Today is Tweede Paasdag (Second Easter Day), a holiday for lots of people in the Netherlands. As a result, it meant that the city was fairly quiet this morning, without many people out and about. Well, except for quite a few groups of Italian tourists. I probably looked like a tourist, as well, taking photo after photo, but the city was like a supermodel who looks amazing from every angle.
These quiet morning walks are my favorite, and since we have a few of these kinds of holidays this month and next, it’s a great opportunity to see Utrecht blossoming everywhere you look. I’ll probably be posting lots of random photos in the coming weeks, just because everywhere you look, there are flowers blooming, trees turning green, and beautiful signs of spring.
When we got to the Nieuwegracht today, it really did take my breath away. The soft light, the blossoming trees, the reflection of the trees in the canal … it’s amazing that you can find what looks like a green oasis right in the city center. As you look south along the canal, it looks like a fairytale setting. Utrecht really is ridiculously gorgeous.
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!
This was taken before the snow came, but is representative of how much of the city seemed to look. With all of the rain and mild temperatures we’d been having, everything had gone a bit green. The Domtoren was covered in mossy green splotches, and the Nieuwegracht, seen here, was starting to look like the wharves were made of grass, rather than brick. I’m not sure if the snow and freezing weather will have any impact, or if we’ll simply return to green when the white has disappeared. Still, I suppose it adds a nice touch of colour during the otherwise grey winter months.
I love the little surprises I still find wandering through the city. While showing a visiting friend around the Nieuwegracht the other week, we spotted a few unexpected sights. First up is this Secret Room that is a part of the Hotel Nieuwegracht. Actually, let me correct that. It’s the only room in the Hotel Nieuwegracht. The hotel is the smallest in Utrecht, although eventually it will have a second room. From their website:
At this current moment, Hotel Nieuwegracht consists of one room. The room has a private entrance door right at the channel, and was recently completely renovated. Room features:
– bathtub with shower;
– flat screen TV with DVD player and digital TV
– water boiler and complimentary coffee and tea;
– complimentary bottle of white wine.
For those not familiar with the Nieuwegracht, it’s one of Utrecht’s famous canals with a wharf level below street level. For example, this is the view you would have outside your door if you stayed at Hotel Nieuwegracht:
Sadly, it was overcast and a bit gloomy that day, so this doesn’t show it at its best, but it’s still a lovely view and is particularly charming when the trees are in full leaf, or when snow coats the streets and wharves.
The other unusual sight we came across just a few steps further down the Nieuwegracht was this sign pointing to heaven and hell. Interestingly, the sign is lateral rather than vertical. In this case, I have no idea if the sign has any specific significance, but it’s certainly food for thought.
This is a typical sight here in Utrecht. A view over a bridge (covered in bikes), looking along a canal (Nieuwegracht), with a variety of building styles. The Nieuwegracht is one of the canals fairly unique to Utrecht, in that it has a wharf area along the sides that sits below street level. You can catch a glimpse of it here: