One last post today, as I noticed people getting to my blog via searches for the beautiful canals of Utrecht. We do have beautiful canals, the Oudegracht being one of the best known. I like how it changes depending on where along the canal you are. Some parts are busy and more commercial; one section features some of the typical tall, narrow buildings(see above); while another section is more quiet and residential. All are appealing in their own right.
The section in the first photo is filled with lots of great shops, including a nice yarn shop, and a shop called It’s a Present, which has lots of fun little decorative items, toys, and tchotchkes. The buildings along this section are the tall, narrow buildings many people think of when they think of Dutch canal buildings. One of the most charming views is of the old Magazin de Vlijt.
The southern end of the canal, along Twijnstraat, is the quieter spot and there are some areas along the wharves that have been built up recently, to protect against erosion perhaps? Regardless, they look lovely with all the greenery. This first photo was taken in the middle of December, with some beautiful winter sunlight.
These next two photos are of roughly the same spot, but taken from the opposite side of the canal, and a month earlier. The peace and tranquillity, not to mention the lovely views, make this one of my favorite spots in the city. Who wouldn’t want to sit out there with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and enjoy the scenery.
I’ve often mentioned Utrecht’s famed multi-level canals, with the wharves down below street level. However, it’s not always easy to get a good photo that really shows both levels in one shot. Fortunately, while getting a bird’s-eye view of the city from the top of the Neudeflat recently, I was finally able to get a couple of shots that show both levels.
As you can see from my photo of the Oudegracht, the largest of the canals running through the city, the main buildings are on street level, but with cellars beneath them at water level, along with wide wharves at water level. Many of these cellars, or kelder, are used as restaurants, shops, studios and more. On this particular stretch of the Oudegracht, they are mainly restaurants, giving diners a great opportunity to enjoy a meal right next to the canal, assuming the weather cooperates.
As you can see when you look a bit closer, the wharves are accessed by stairs located at various spots along the canal. The little red and white building on the bridge is the Venezia ice cream stand that pops up seasonally during the spring/summer months. And all the flowers on the lamp posts and along the street appear throughout the city during the same time period. They add a pretty touch of color to the city.
Finally, one last photo to show one of the boats that services the restaurants and other buildings along the canal. As well as trash boats, there are convenient beer boats that service the many restaurants. Rather than having to get big trucks on the pedestrian streets above, or having to carry numerous crates and boxes down the stairs, these boats are set up to pump in beer from canal level. Very sensible! I also love the tall, thin, pointed rooftops in the bottom of the photo. You can even see a bit of the back of the decorative facade that hides the simpler structure.
Things have been a bit quiet around here, haven’t they. It’s not that I don’t have anything to say, I’ve just been a bit busy. Hopefully tomorrow I’ll get a chance to explain more. For now, as it’s Wednesday and I usually just post a photo anyway, enjoy this shot of a sight you’ll see quite often in many cities, not just Utrecht.
You may be familiar with traditional window seats — the kind where you sit inside, next to a window. Here, you’re just as likely to see legs dangling out from windows high and low. If the weather if nice, the windows will be open and you won’t have to look far to see someone taking advantage of it all. In this case, it was a nice day and there was a rowing competition taking place. This guy had an excellent view of the action taking place on the Oudegracht.
Here are a couple of other photos I’ve taken over the years of people sitting in windows.
On King’s Day, as we were passing by the Oudegracht, my eye was caught by this beautiful dog. So shiny! So strong and handsome! And of course, he reminded me a bit of Pippo, who I still miss every day.
As I was admiring the dog, I eventually noticed that there were some interesting boats zipping around in the canal. I’m used to a variety of boats in the Oudegracht, from small kayaks and peddle boats to luxury yachts. These boats definitely weren’t luxury vessels, in fact they looked to be about half the size of a kayak, but what they lack in space, they seem to more than make up for in speed and manoeuvrability.It turns out, they’re electric canal boats and they’re now available to rent (I think). They were created by Fred Hulshoff, who has been working on various designs for years. With the electric canal boats, the idea is that they can explore nearly every inch of the waterways. They’re small enough to take through low/tight spaces, and their silent, electric motors allow them to go where noisy motorboats aren’t allowed.I’ve yet to find any detailed information about where to rent them or how much it costs, but they were on the wharf level of the Oudegracht just south of the Vismarkt. If I find any official information, I’ll update.
Yesterday, Utrecht’s beautiful canals were filled with boats taking part in the Utrechtse Grachtenrace ronDom. The boat race began just south of the city center and then lead the rowers along the eastern and northern sides of the city, through the buitenstadsingel, the canal that rings the old city center. They then turned down onto the Oudegracht, the large canal running from north to south, before rowing on to their final destination.
The race has been going on for just over a decade and covers more than 14 kilometers. It seemed to be a fairly broad mix of people taking part, with men and women representing a range of ages.I took a lot of photos, from different spots along the race, so I’m going to break it up into two (maybe three) posts, focusing on different aspects of the race that I noticed. As well as the physical exertion, there were certain parts that looked particularly challenging! But through it all, lots of great examples of why Utrecht’s canals are the most beautiful in Europe!
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!
The other week, taking advantage of my museumkaart (a card good for a year that gets you into most Dutch museums for free), I finally visited the Aboriginal Art Museum Utrecht. Located right on the Oudegracht, just a short distance from the Domplein, this museum is unique not just for Utrecht and the Netherlands but for all of Europe. You see, it’s the only museum in Europe dedicated to contemporary aboriginal art from Australia.
The museum is spread out on three floors, but each floor is relatively small so it’s not overwhelming at all. The lower floors feature the special exhibits, which change two or three times a year, while the top floor contains some of the permanent pieces (although I believe they do change a bit, as well).
The current exhibit is called Country to Coast: The Colours of Kimberly, focusing on the variety of colours and styles of aboriginal artists from this remote north-western region of Australia. Most of the works on display are canvases, but there’s a special section dedicated to paintings done on bark of the Wandjina. The Wandjina are the ancestral beings who created the country and are responsible for various lagoons, rivers and other water sources.
Despite a degree in art history, I admit that I know next to nothing about aboriginal art of any period. I was able to pick up on some information by reading some of the placards throughout the museum, but mainly I focused on the visual forms of each painting. After all, art is art. There’s no one way to view it. Even within art history, there are multiple approaches, including focusing more on form than content/context. And truly, many of the paintings were visually stunning and evocative in their own right. There are a few in particular that have stuck with me. There’s a fantastic use of colour throughout, but also a number of graphic elements that were equally fascinating. Oddly enough, some even reminded me of the works of Keith Haring, for what it’s worth.
If you enjoy art in general, I do think a trip to the museum is worth it. The signs throughout the museum are all in Dutch, which may make it a bit less accessible for foreign visitors, but on a purely visual level, it’s still interesting and a nice way to spend an hour or so. The museum’s website does have information in English, though, so it’s possible to get some basic background on the works on display to round out the visit if language is an issue.
It may seem unusual to have a contemporary aboriginal art museum in Utrecht, but it developed from a group of aboriginal art enthusiasts. They created an association in 1999, paving the way for the opening of the museum in 2001. Interestingly, the chairman of the board of trustees is Hans Sondaal, a former Dutch ambassador to Australia. It is still a private foundation, with money coming from donors, rather than government funding. There seems to be a fair amount of support, though, and the gift shop, which features a number of beautiful pieces, probably helps add a few more funds to the coffers.
ETA: I’ve heard from the museum and they have English texts of the current exhibit now available. So there’s no excuse not to go!