Apocalyptic Skies and a Banana

Good ol’ Dutch weather. Sometimes it changes from one day to the next, other times it changes from one minute to the next. Mercurial easily defines the weather of the past few weeks in Utrecht, when we’ve had a stunning mix of sun and clouds, often at the same time. Today we’ve got ridiculously high winds that even managed to open our front door! (The locks are now firmly in place.)

We’ve had quite a few days of clear blue skies, without a cloud in sight, which are always a joy to see.
blue skies
And then we’ve had days with apocalyptic clouds paired with crisp sunlight.
clouds and sun
Sometimes you get a mix, depending on whether you’re looking east or west. These two photos were taken seconds apart in front of our restaurant on Biltstraat, looking right (east) and then looking left.
light and dark

And when you start to get acclimated to the bizarre weather and think you won’t see anything strange, nature pulls another trick from her sleeve: the banana bush!
banana bush

Fairytale on Voorstraat

The sound of horse hooves rang out along the street and heads turned to catch a glimpse. Like me, most of us probably expected to see a pair of police horses patrolling the street. Although not a daily sight, they aren’t completely unheard of, either, and can be seen in various spots throughout the binnenstad (old city center).

Suddenly, as we rounded the bend in the street and the cars passed, we realized that today’s equine amblers were a little bit different. Four white horses suddenly appeared, drawing behind them a storybook carriage.
Fairytale on Voorstraat
Fairytale on Voorstraat
With a line of autos and bicycles forming behind them and signs for sushi, Saigon, shoarma, and tattoos, surrounding them, it really did seem as if a fairytale carriage had been plucked from its story and dropped into the middle of modern Utrecht.

The horses moved at speed, unbothered by shifting scenery. The carriage itself was empty. Perhaps this is just the beginning of the fairytale, with the villain magicking away the carriage sent to reunite the story’s amorous pair. Or perhaps the drivers and footman are our heroes in disguise, magicking themselves away to avoid some rogue character.
Fairytale on Voorstraat
Fairytale on Voorstraat
The end of the story remains a mystery as the horses and carriage soon disappeared from sight. Was a cruel deed victorious or was there a happily ever after? Make of it what you will.

Weed Sauce and Fries

Plassend Mannetje
Remember the scene in Pulp Fiction where Vincent and Jules are discussing fast food in Europe, including the fact that the Dutch use mayo on their fries? Well, if Tarantino wants to do an updated version, he can talk about one of the new sauces on offer at Manneken Pis, a famout chain where you can get fries to go.

Manneken Pis is famous for offering a variety of sauces for the fries (frieten/patat) they sell. You can even choose multiple sauces, such as the famous patatje oorlog (war fries), which is usually peanut sauce and mayo, with or without chopped onion. This is more of a traditional Dutch choice, but I suspect the new flavor is going to be a big hit with the tourists. You see, the new sauce is a wietsaus (weed sauce). And no, we’re not talking garden weeds.

However, if you’re looking for a buzz from your fries, think again. It turns out that the hemp flavor used for the sauce contains none of the hallucinogenic elements of THC. All of the earthy flavor, none of the fun. I have to say, the hemp hand lotion I use never makes me particularly hungry when I smell it, but I’m sure someone — gullible tourists? — will go for it. If you want to try, it’s for sale beginning Thursday at the three locations in the center of Utrecht and one in Amsterdam.

Oh, and in other non-appetizing news, Manneken Pis means “little man pee” and is the name for the famous Belgian statue/fountain. Well, the Belgians are famous for their fries. Since I don’t have a photo of the shops in town, I went with the Dick Bruna version of the manneken pis.


How Much Is That Doggy in the Window

Howling Hound
I’m used to seeing cats in windows. After all, our own cats spend plenty of time hanging out in the front window, watching the world go by and soaking up the heat from the radiator beneath them. I’ve seen plenty of neighbour cats in the windows, as well, and pretty much anywhere you go, you’ll probably spot at least one cat in a window on any outing.

What you don’t see so often is a dog in the window. But that’s just what we saw on Sunday on our way back from the kerstmarkt. We were first alerted to his presence by his baying. We could hear him and after checking the streets, we eventually checked the windows and that’s when we saw him.

Howling Hound
He would stop briefly when he’d get distracted by people passing by, but then he’d soon return to his howling. Most likely, he was feeling lonely and hoping that each passer-by was a family member come back home. You often hear about breeds like the beagle or basset hound having a baying howl, but it’s easy to forget how distinctive it is until you hear it again. I wonder how the neighbours feel about him!

Speaking of dogs, our own dog Pippo is having a bit of a health issue right now. He’s going in for X-rays tomorrow, so please think healthy thoughts for him. We’re hoping to get some answers and a path for treatment so he can be completely back to normal.

I Can Only Imagine the Search Terms This Will Generate

Plassend Mannetje
I Google so you don’t have to.

I came across a photo of this little guy the other day, with no information other than that he is a Dick Bruna design and that he was located at Janskerkhof. Curious, and thinking perhaps he was perched atop one of the Trajectum Lumen light installations there, I decided to go see him for myself. After wandering through most of Janskerkhof and not seeing him, I began to wonder if it had been a limited-time installation. Then I saw him.

Artful Pee
For those not familiar with Utrecht, that black metal sculptural piece upon which he’s perched is, in fact, a public urinal. Once you realize that, look at bit closer at the original photo. If you hadn’t noticed it the first time around, you might notice the obvious connection now.

A number of years ago, it seems the city made a concerted effort to get people (men) to use urinals, rather than peeing in random places, so they installed these urinals. However, now the thinking seems to be that people don’t realize these structures are urinals, so now they’re adding these little figures to the tops of them. Admittedly, it took me a while to realize they were urinals, as well, but then it’s not as if I’d be able to use them anyway. Which is a whole other rant about how men get urinals all over town but women have to find a bar/restaurant/shop that will let them use their facilities or find one of the rare public toilets. In either case, you usually have to pay. So men can go for free, but women have to go out of their way to find an option and then have to pay for it.

Anyway … I think these little figures are supposed to light up at night, making them more noticeable. I’m still not sure it will really make that much of a difference, but it’s an amusing and cute attempt! What’s not so cute? Googling to find out some of the information for this post. Just imagine the search terms I had to use. As I said, I Google so you don’t have to.

Bunnies Grow on Trees

Konijntje Boom
Last week it was free-range chickens; this week it’s bunnies growing on trees. There’s always something to make you pause in surprise!

Saturday, as we were walking along the Oudegracht, enjoying the misty but pleasant autumn weather, we were stopped in our tracks when we saw this tree. It’s not often that you see a tree draped in an assortment of fabric rabbit shapes.

Rabbit Tree

I have no idea who put them there or why. I did a quick Google search and came up with nothing, other than the fact that one other person posted a photo of them on Twitter back on 17 October, so they’ve been around for a while.

Perhaps they’re the new variation on guerilla knitting. Guerilla konijnen? Whether they serve a greater purpose or are just meant to give passers by a smile, I’m glad they’re there. They’re just one of the many reasons I’m thankful to live in such a fascinating and lovely city. (That’s my subtle way of saying Happy Thanksgiving to my fellow Americans. We’ll be celebrating on Saturday, when I can get pecans for the all-important pecan pie.)
Blue Bunny

Chicken, JLo Style

Urban Chicken
Sometimes I feel at a loss for things to write about — at least things that won’t take a ton of multi-language research — and I start to long for those early days of life as an expat when everything seemed new and amazing.

Fortunately, when I start to feel like that, it seems as if something always comes along just in the nick of time. Today was one of those days when a new blog topic arrived as if it were manna from heaven. Or in this case, chicken from heaven, or at least chicken from the block. (Thus the post title.)

You see, G came home from running a short errand, and I could hear him laughing before he’d even gotten the front door open. He then called out, “There’s a chicken in the street!” Having ascertained he meant a real, live chicken and not someone’s dropped dinner, I couldn’t resist peeking out the front door, despite still being in my less-than-lovely pajamas. Sure enough, this was the view I saw. One very big, fluffy, bird behind.
With His Feathers in a Huff

Not dressed for the occasion, I quickly handed G the camera and off he went to take these photos. When he got back, we were discussing the fact that we’d both often wondered if we were hearing things in the past when we heard the occasional clucking and cockadoodledoo. It seems one of our neighbours does indeed keep at least one very stylish, fancy-pants, free-range chicken!

I suppose this could count for a time travel post, as well, since I’m sure seeing chickens roaming the street has only become unusual in recent years. It’s not the idea of people keeping chickens that I find so amusing. We’ve had various neighbours over the years who have kept them. But there’s something about seeing such a chicken roaming the city center streets and sidewalks that just seems slightly out of place now. Which is what makes it all the more entertaining! Rock on, you urban chicken!
Kip Strut
All photos taken by G. Chiarini

First Helicopters, Now F16s

Spoetnik Kijker
My beloved Spoetjik Kijker (Sputnik Watcher) became an F16 Kijker this morning. Around 10:30 this morning, I’m sure many people’s heads suddenly turned to the sky when they heard a loud noise up above. Even inside the house, I was startled by the loud, growling noise outside. It eventually became clear that it was a jet, but it certainly sounded different than the usual jet. We also don’t usually hear normal jets in the city center. Helicopters, sure, but not jets!

It sounded disturbingly close and I had a moment of panic wondering if it was too late to move to safer ground, as visions of crashing planes filled my mind. It soon passed, but then was followed by another. G was upstairs and went outside to look. He was the one who confirmed it was a military jet. I checked Twitter, of course, and saw that a few other people had posted in surprise about the unexpected appearance and very loud noise.

After surely many requests for information as to what was going on, the air force responded by saying that the two F16 jets were doing a reconnaissance flight and were taking urban photos as part of the exercise. There were some complaints as to how low the planes were flying, I think, but while I think the legal limit as to how low the planes can fly is an altitude of 360 meters, these jets were flying at 450, so they were well within the legal limits.

At least there were no sonic booms! I remember quite a few of those as I was growing up in Orlando. I think we were close enough to various military groups and plane-related companies that the occasional sonic boom wasn’t unheard of. When the boom went, I jumped as did everything sitting on my dresser!

Surprises on the Nieuwegracht

The Secret Room
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.

Heaven and Hell
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.