Bicycles Instead of Fireworks

Even after many years here, when I see the date of 4 July, my mind turns to the American Independence Day, even though I’m now more likely to write the date the way the rest of the world does. Typically we celebrate in some vaguely traditional way, such as grilling out and maybe setting out an Uncle Sam figurine I have.
Tour de France Grand Depart Jaarbeurs
This year, though, it’s all about yellow instead of red, white, and blue, and bicycles instead of fireworks. This year, 4 July means the start of the Tour de France. The Grand Depart is being held here in Utrecht this year and there’s no escaping it. Rows and rows of pennants flap in the wind over most streets; trees are wrapped in yellow or white with red polka dots; flags fly from homes and businesses; large bicycle statues are in major squares; tour information desks are in the Centraal Station; and on and on and on. It seems like everywhere you look, you see something race related.
Tour de France Grand Depart Jaarbeurs

This week, I’ll be posting some photos of various decorations that have begun to take over the city. Some fans may have already arrived; the rest will be arriving throughout the week, with probably the majority coming in on Friday.

We’re also expecting a significant heat wave this week, with possible temperatures as high as 38 C/100 F on Saturday. Remember, there’s no air conditioning here. This may be my last week of blogging, as there’s a chance I may die from heat stroke this week. I don’t do well in the heat as it is, and working in a tiny hot kitchen in those temps may be the death of me. Just wandering around town today to get some photos had my head pounding from the heat.

So, with that cheerful thought, here are some of the photos I took today at Jaarbeursplein, the large square by the train station/theater and also the general site of the finish for the time trials on Saturday. (The actual Grand Depart is Sunday.) As you come out of the train station, you end up at the top of a massive set of stairs that give a great view onto the square and the painting that covers the ground. The bicycles in the foreground of the first picture are just normal Dutch bikes belonging to people probably having lunch sitting on the stairs. In the second photo, notice the tree trunk wrapped in yellow.
Tour de France Grand Depart Jaarbeurs
Tour de France Grand Depart Jaarbeurs
On the left is the Jaarbeurs convention center, which houses trade shows, exhibitions, meetings, etc. on a large scale. It’s also the home of the Beatrix Theater, where you can see concerts, musicals, and more. They’ve recently decorated the building with a plethora of bikes. I can’t help but wonder if they’re some of the ones dredged up from the canals or other abandoned bikes that have been picked up around town. I should hope so, as that would be an affordable way of decorating. There’s no shortage of broken, abandoned bicycles in town.
Tour de France Grand Depart Jaarbeurs
Tour de France Grand Depart Jaarbeurs
Tomorrow, perhaps some more trees, or maybe the Winkel van Sinkel. A bientôt!

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Time Travel: Het Maliehuis

maliehuisZo Was Utrecht, a fantastic source for old images of Utrecht, recently Tweeted this old advertising poster that dates back to 1897. It’s for the Utrechtsche Levensverzekeringsmaatschappij (Utrecht Life Insurance Company/Society), which was housed at the time in the Maliehuis located at Maliesingel 28.

The original Maliehuis (huis=house) was built in 1637 and was used by the administrator of the Maliebaan. The Maliebaan, a long, tree-lined avenue, was originally used to play the game known as malie, which was somewhat like croquet or what eventually became golf. People could rent the game equipment from the administrator at the Maliehuis. This went on through the 18th century.

Then, in the 19th century, the building was significantly enlarged and turned into a house. Eventually it then became office space, for businesses such as the aforementioned life insurance company, and nowadays, I think it’s used as an exhibition space.

It’s a nice house from the outside, with clean, simple, classical lines. There’s also a tile depiction of the house, showing the canal that runs in front of it. That section of the canal is called the Maliesingel, but it is also part of the canal that rings the old city center. The Maliehuis is just outside the binnenstad (city center). My photos are a few years old, and I think the outside has been cleaned up since then. Still, you’ll see just how much the building still looks as it did in the illustration from the late 1800s. To the right is the Maliebaan, where the game was originally played. In the 1600s, it was a student area where they played malie and generally hung out together. It’s since changed to an important and wealthy area. Het MaliehuisHet MaliehuisHet MaliehuisHet Maliehuis

Utrecht Skate Party

Skate PartySkate season is upon us again — although today’s weather has turned oddly chilly. But a nip in the air isn’t enough to stop the dedicated skaters who hit the streets of Utrecht every Friday from May through September.

The first party of the season kicks off tonight at Lucas Bolwerk at 20:00 and then follows a variety of routes through and around the city before returning back to Lucas Bolwerk at 22:00. There is music to keep you going and the route is cleared to keep the skaters safe from traffic. There are skilled volunteers throughout the pack to keep things flowing smoothly, as well. If you’re looking for sporty things to do in Utrecht, this is a great weekly event.

Participation is free, so dig out your skates, whether inline or old school, and glide on out for a fun evening. Go with friends or make new ones along the way and finish off at any of the bars and cafés at the start/finish point. Want to learn more? Visit the USP website.Skate Night

A Boat Race Through Utrecht’s Beautiful Canals

Grachtenrace ronDomYesterday, 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.GrachtenraceGrachtenraceGrachtenraceGrachtenraceGrachtenrace ronDomGrachtenrace ronDomI 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!

The Tour de France Starts in Utrecht

Tour de France DomtorenToday’s big news is that the 2015 Tour de France will start off here in Utrecht. There’s been a lot of will they/won’t they going on for the past few weeks (months), but the official announcement came today.

To celebrate, the Domtoren has been festooned with yellow flags (in reference to the yellow jersey of the Tour de France). You can’t see the yellow flags that clearly in my photo, but I kind of dig the way the whole photo looks vaguely flat like an old-fashioned painted backdrop or stage set.

It’s not the first time we’ve had a bicycle race come through town. The Giro d’Italia passed through in 2010, but this will perhaps be a bit bigger, particularly as we’re the starting point. I wonder if they’ll ride on the Maliebaan, site of the first official bicycle path here in the Netherlands.
Chase Group

European Youth Olympic Festival 2013

EYOF 2013There are always flags up around town promoting upcoming events, whether it’s the latest Cultural Sunday or one of the many festivals that take place regularly in Utrecht. For the past few weeks, this rainbow of flags has been glowing in the summer sunshine throughout the city, reminding everyone that the European Youth Olympic Festival (EYOF) was finally about to begin.

It may not garner the same attention as the regular Olympics, but the city has been counting down to the event for almost a year. A countdown clock stood in Neude square since last year, and during the first official visit to Utrecht by the new king and queen, the EYOF mascot was there to greet them on the Domplein, along with some of the athletes.

Dutch Olympic swimmer and triple medalist Pieter van den Hoogenband is the tournament director. He got his own start as an Olympic athlete when he took part in the 1993 edition of EYOF. He has been working hard to promote the Youth Olympics, which has around 3,000 young athletes participating this year.

If you want to follow the action, through the end of the week, you can follow @Utrecht_2013 on Twitter or visit the official website (be warned that the live feed starts automatically).
EYOF 2013
The flags aren’t the only signs of the event around town. Even many of the manhole covers have gotten in on the act, turning into medals. The city also made an attempt to dress up the ugliest building in town with a leaping basketball player emblazoned on the upper windows. The building is still ugly, but the spirit behind the youth Olympics is great. Congrats to all who are participating!
EYOF 2013

Alternative Olympic Bicycle Sports

Trajectum Fietsen
While watching some of the indoor cycling the other night — which we don’t always understand, but still enjoy — we started joking about what the sports would be if the Dutch had started the Olympics.

We decided that the velodrome bike sports would be a competition to see not only how fast you can go around, but how many people you can fit on one bike while racing. Children would be used, of course, in order to make the most of the multiple child seats. There would also be bakfiets racing.

Other competitions would involve carrying large, awkward items on a bike. Sort of like weightlifting, you’d gradually work your way from surfboards and multiple bags of groceries, up to small trees and small sofas.

There could be a dressage competition for the most interestingly decorated bicycles.

Finally, there could be a competition to “park” a bike in the highest and most difficult to reach position possible. Such as far-reaching branches of a tree over a canal.

What would be a funny Olympic sport representing your country?

Last Hurrah

Dutch Spirit
You may have noticed a lack of comment on the Euro Championship since my first post. That would have something to do with the fact that the Dutch team, although considered a favourite to do well, has yet to win either of the first two games in their group. It’s been painful, to say the least. They’re not officially out of it; there’s one more game to play tonight in the group round. However, the chances of us advancing are pretty slim and require a lot of other things to happen. Still, we’ll be watching this evening and keeping our fingers crossed. Kom op jongens! Laat de leeuw niet in z’n hempie staan!

Hup Holland Hup

Utrecht en de EK
The country is turning orange as everyone prepares for the Netherlands’ first game of the Euro 2012 tournament against Denmark this evening. Houses have been decorated — in some cases, completely wrapped in orange — and whole neighbourhoods are now decked with orange bunting, banners and more. This orange madness is called oranjegekte, and as the team progresses, so will the mania. During the World Cup, there were orange wigs, face paint, lion costumes (the lion is the symbol of the team), and much more.

We’re ready for the game tonight with some bitterballen, Dutch cheese, and orange-coloured tompouce for dessert. We’ll also be decked out in our own orange clothing and other accessories to cheer the team on to victory. The best part is that even if the Dutch don’t go all the way, based on how things were four years ago during the same tournament, the festive spirit will continue. It looks to be a fun few weeks.

Café de Potdeksel