Meta Cameras

het fotoatelier
While digging through my photo archives, looking for a particular picture (that I still haven’t found), I came across this photo and realized that I don’t think I ever blogged about this shop. Now seems as good a time as any! As you may be able to guess from all the cameras, it’s a camera shop, with all sorts of paraphernalia for both digital and analogue cameras.

I first came across HetFotoAtelier while riding along Lange Nieuwstraat. I’d been up and down the street plenty of times before, but had somehow missed the unusual sign out front. On this particular quiet Sunday, I finally noticed the jutting sign made up of old cameras. I grew up around cameras, thanks to having a father who worked as a professional photographer, so I’ve retained a fondness for some of the older models of all quality levels. And I’m old enough to remember those flash cubes!

The shop was closed that day and I’ve yet to go inside, but from what I’ve heard, it’s an interesting shop, definitely worth a visit if you’re interested in cameras and photography. They seem to offer much more than just supplies. If nothing else, go check out the camera sign out front and see if you remember any of the models on display.
het fotoatelier

Dreams for Biltstraat

Wat wilt u ...
Before I was struck down with the plague (OK, maybe just a really bad cold), I got to see the new initiative taking place on Biltstraat. I had read about the stickers going up all along the street and was curious to see them in person.

Biltstraat, a great street just outside the old city ring canal has seen a resurgence in the past year or so. When we first moved here, it was a fairly dull street with not much more than a lot of work placement offices and the occasional shop and grocery store. Now, there are great shops like AYA Living (fun, affordable items for the home and more), a new branch of Bert’s Bierhuis, and lots of interesting restaurants, including the unusual Te Koop, which sells not only food, but also the random bits of décor inside the restaurant.

Still, there are a few places standing empty or currently undergoing refurbishment. To get people interested in the street again and to help potential investors and entrepreneurs get a feel for what people in the neighbourhood want to see, the Biltstraat retailers association has started a fun initiative to see what kinds of stores people want to see move into Biltstraat. Anyone with an interest can go into AYA Living and pick up some of these stickers, fill them out, and place them on the windows of empty store fronts. (Be kind and don’t stick them elsewhere.)

Some of the most frequent suggestions are for a bakery/lunch place, drugstore, bookstore, cheese shop, and a Hema (a popular Dutch chain a bit like Target). Although there are many of these kinds of shops on Nachtegaalstraat (in theory, one block over), I understand the desire to have some of these shops on Biltstraat for sheer convenience, especially since Nachtegaalstraat is much busier, not to mention the big intersection by the Stadsschouwburg.

For multiple reasons, I like this initiative and am happy to see the businesses on Biltstraat taking such a positive approach to improving this historic street. After all, the street has been around since 1139 and was first paved in one form or another back in 1290. The street even has a very active Twitter account that does a great job of promoting the shops and keeping people up to date on what is happening on the street.

So the next time you’re in Utrecht, don’t forget to check out Biltstraat. Have a coffee at Bagels & Beans, do your grocery shopping at Jumbo, pick up some new guitar strings at Key Music, have a spa day at Descansa, and play laser tag at the Laser Centrum. Who knows what will be moving in next. Maybe even a wine bar as someone requested in the first photo.
Wat wilt u ...

A Trip to the Farmers Market

Farmers Market
My dad and I made a visit to the farmers market this morning to get a few things, including some okra! I was tempted by the apple butter, but worry that it won’t fit in my suitcase. As for the pimento cheese, I’m not sure how well that would travel. Oh well, at least I can get molasses in Utrecht.
Farmers Market
The market is actually a large area with multiple open-sided “barns” like the one pictured above. Some sell just food, while others focus more on flowers and fruits. There are also areas for buying meat and such. Most items sold are local (and certified) although there are some areas where the items don’t have to be completely local.
Farmers Market
Halloween is fast approaching, so there are plenty of pumpkins from which to choose. There are small ones for autumn decorating, medium ones for cooking, and large ones for all of your Halloween jack-o-lanterns and other decorations.
Farmers MarketFarmers Market

Some areas were heavy on the flowers and reminded me a bit of the bloemenmarkt at Janskerkhof. I think the prices were relatively similar, although the selection wasn’t as extensive. Most flowers were for planting, rather than the loose flower stalk bunches (like the tulips, gerbera daisies, roses, etc.) that are such a common site throughout Utrecht.
Farmers Market
There was a nice mix of fresh fruit and vegetables, though, with varieties of apples, pears, watermelon, tomatoes, peppers, corn, squash, and much more.
Farmers Market
Farmers Market
Farmers Market

Dogs weren’t allowed inside the market area, but a few hovered on the fringes. (No idea what happened to my camera on this shot.)
Farmers Market
There’s plenty to see at the markets, whether it’s the fresh produce, amusing signs that bring to mind Josephine Baker, or just the people watching. Best of all, there’s plenty of tasty stuff to take home at the end of it all.
Farmers Market
Farmers Market
Farmers Market
Farmers Market

ETA: Right after I posted this, I realized my dad had used the half-peck of apples we bought to make one of his delicious apple pies. Fresh from the oven!
Dad's apple pie

Cyber Maandag

The Dutch don’t do Black Friday or Cyber Monday, obviously, since they don’t do Thanksgiving, either. However, I suppose the holiday shopping starts in earnest around the time that Sinterklaas makes his arrival every November. Still, it’s kind of a relief not to have that mad rush at ungodly hours.

I know many people do enjoy the Black Friday shopping, but not being a fan of crowds, I can’t stand the idea. Having worked retail in a tiny store in a big mall during the holiday season has also put me off the shopping madness! If you’re like me and prefer to avoid the crowds, Cyber Monday (today) and online shopping in general, can be quite handy. If that’s the case, you can always buy a copy of my Year in Utrecht calendar! Or something from my Handmade page, which I’ll be updating with a couple more items in the days to come. There’s also the Ukelution T-shirt or sticker for any ukulele fans, and all the rest of the photos I’ve put up on Red Bubble.

I’m pretty that’s the last of the seasonal plugging I’ll be doing of my stuff for sale. On the other hand, if all you’re looking for is a real Christmas tree in Utrecht, check the Saturday flower market at Janskerkhof. They already have the Christmas trees for sale, even though many Dutch don’t put up a tree until after Sinterklaas. The trees are certainly tinier than some of the big trees I used to buy in the States, but I’m sure there are other places to go outside the city center to find the bigger trees. If you’ve seen taller Christmas trees for sale in Utrecht (and the surrounding area), feel free to leave a comment with the location. We’ve got a faux tree, but there’s always someone looking for the real deal!

Letters of Utrecht

Street of Words
If you walk along the western side of the Oudegracht, around the 300/400 block, you may notice a string of letters along the edge of the street. Look closer and you’ll realize the letters form words and sentences and an ever-growing poem.

One letter at a time, one Saturday at a time, the poem grows. As long as there are patrons to purchase a letter, the poem will continue. Each Saturday afternoon, around 13:00, you can head to Oudegracht 309 (or thereabouts) and see the latest letter being carved and installed.


Work in Progress
I’ve been meaning to stop by for a while, so since we were in the neighborhood last weekend anyway for Sinterklaas’ arrival, we headed down to see a bit of the latest letter being carved.

If you’re looking for a gift that’s a little bit different, yet surprisingly permanent, consider purchasing a letter for someone. They cost around €100, but €10 goes toward a charity and the rest mainly goes for costs. Each stone is also marked with a number so that the recipient/donor can easily tell which is their letter. The sponsor can also have their name or initials carved on the side of the stone, although that won’t be visible once the stone is in place.


The project officially began on June 2, 2012, but they retroactively added letters so that the poem officially began January 1, 2000. Seeing a fair chunk of the poem already in place surely makes it more intriguing and appealing and allows potential sponsors to better understand the project. If you’re interested in learning more, there’s an official website in Dutch and English. It also has information on how to sponsor your own letter. When I have a bit of disposable income someday, I’d love to have a letter of my own. It’s a nice way to leave a cultured mark on the city.

If you’re in town tomorrow afternoon — or any Saturday — don’t forget to go watch the newest letter being put in place. The S that we saw was the end of a word (langs) so a new word will be starting tomorrow. Of course, you can see the poem whenever you want simply by walking down that stretch of the Oudegracht.

If you like this post, or my blog in general, I’d appreciate it if you’d leave a nice comment for me over at ExpatsBlog. We’re in the final stretch for the blog competition with only a few days left, so you won’t have to read my begging about it any more. Promise! I’ve been truly amazed by the many many kind comments so many of you have already left and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. [Now closed]

Saturday Show


Sinterklaas Is Here

Sinterklaas arrived in the Netherlands today, thus beginning the holiday season here. For the next few weeks, kids will set their shoes out in hope of receiving chocolate letters, peppernoten, marzipan, and other treats and gifts. The big culmination is 5 December, pakjesavond, when more gifts are exchanged, after being elaborately wrapped in unusual packaging and a humorous poem accompanies each gift.

Therefore, the shopping season has begun. Know what would make a great gift? A special Utrecht calendar! You can roll it up and fit it inside a shoe, or a stocking, or wrap it up normally and put it under a Christmas tree. It could also make an excellent Hanukkah gift. The options are endless really. Fortunately, I know just the calendar. A year’s worth of photos of some of Utrecht’s loveliest (and humorous) spots. I carefully went through all of my photos to find just the right picture for each month, including a photo of Sinterklaas arriving in November! Enjoy!

When Harrie Met Utrecht

Sunday Morning
There’s an interesting debate taking place in Utrecht these days over whether the stores should be open on Sundays every week, instead of just the first Sunday of the month (koopzondag) as they are now. Depending on your position in the debate, you’re either a Harrie (pro-Sunday shopping) or Geen Harrie(anti-Sunday shopping). I have yet to figure out where the Harrie name came from; is it a random name given to the cartoon character in favour of shopping or does it have some additional meaning that is simply lost in translation for me.

Regardless, there are more and more fliers, tweets, articles, and discussions about the topic throughout the city these days. Certainly, in some of the winkelen (shops), you’ll see pro Harrie leaflets. But I’m seeing more and more activity on the Geen Harrie (Ik ben geen Harrie/I’m no Harrie) side, even from some shops. There are certainly arguments to be made on both sides. There was a referendum on the subject in 2005, and obviously the pro-shopping camp lost. I’m unclear as to the final showdown date this time around.

I do appreciate having the grocery stores open on Sundays now. They seem to have gotten past the shopping restrictions, which have slowly eased for grocery stores since I moved here. I believe they’ve been able to be open every Sunday since the beginning of the year, and at a more convenient time than 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. as some of them had been last year. Food is a necessity, so I think it’s reasonable for the grocery stores to be open if they so choose.

When I first learned about the possibility that stores would be able to open for business on Sundays, my first reaction was in favour of the idea. I admit I’m used to the convenience. However, as I’ve thought about it more and more, I think that now ik ben geen Harrie. I like having that one day of peace and quiet in the city when it’s not too crowded. You can wander around and enjoy the city. I love taking Pippo out for the Sunday morning walks before there are too many people out and about and too many distractions. You get time to pause and ponder.

It’s not as if the city remains a ghost town on Sundays. Cafés and restaurants still open and by noon, you start to see more and more people out and about. We do also have the first Sunday of the month (koopzondag) when the stores are open, so it’s not as if people never have the opportunity to shop on Sundays. I do understand that having the shops open on Sunday would make life more convenient for people at work throughout the week. After all, most shops close fairly early during the week, except for Thursday evenings. Yet I still can’t help but think that it’s nice to have one day a week when there’s less pressure to buy buy buy.

Of the four major cities of the Netherlands — Amsterdam, Den Haag, Rotterdam and Utrecht — Utrecht is the only one that doesn’t allow shopping every Sunday. If people are determined to go shopping, then I’m sure they will go to those cities and yes, it can be a financial loss for Utrecht. I do understand the financial ramifications. But I know that once stores start opening on Sundays, they’ll start opening earlier and earlier, and then they’ll stay open later and later, and eventually you’ll have the insane 24/7/365 shopping of the US, and I’m just not sure that’s a good thing. Convenient? Yes. Good? I’m really not sure.

Ukelution T-shirt and Other Things You Want to Buy

Ukelution: The Ukelele Revotion T-shirt
A handful of years ago, I started making these Ukelution (Ukulele Revolution) T-shirts using my own homemade screen-printing process. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the most stable of screen-printing processes and the screen didn’t make the move in one piece. Despite a few requests from people for another t-shirt, I never got around to making a new screen. But now there’s Red Bubble, which allows me to offer the T-shirts once again, but this time with a better screen-printing process. In other words, a professional screen-printing process.

So, if you or someone you love is a fan of the little four-string-with-heart and wants to join the Ukelution, head over to Red Bubble and buy one of the t-shirts there. You can choose a variety of sizes and shirt colours, although the design itself only comes in black at the moment. Hopefully I’ll get a white version uploaded this weekend to provide another alternative. The print is also a bit bigger than the one I originally made, which balances out better. If you would prefer a Ukelution sticker for your ukulele case, those are also available.

I do still make things by hand, however. Some of you may have noticed a new tab up at the top of the page, next to the About and Utrecht Calendar of Events. My Handmade for Sale page is a mix of items I’ve made and decided to offer up for sale. It’s worth checking back occasionally, since I will be adding items to the page, including some kitchen towels and fun bird napkins/wall hangings.

Please keep my page in mind when you’re looking for something fun or quirky, whether for yourself or a loved one. Just drop me an e-mail or leave me a comment if there’s something you’re interested in and we can arrange a deal. I do accept credit card payments through PayPal to make payments even easier. Thanks for looking!