Centraal and the Moreelsebrug

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The Utrecht Centraal train station has been undergoing a massive renovation for what feels like years and years. I rarely go to the station, so the few times I do, usually to meet up with visiting friends, it’s been a challenge to figure out where to meet, as various sections and shops have been closed off at different times.

But the main work seems to be done now and it actually looks pretty nice. I like the rolling wave effect of the new roof, visible inside and out.

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The foggy photo was taken from the new Moreelsebrug, a bridge that allows people to cross the train tracks without having to go inside the station or take a much longer route around the station. It has some nice views already and will probably have more when the rest of the construction at the Hoog Catharijne shopping mall is finally finished.

As well as being foggy that day, it was also really cold, especially up higher in the air like that, so Charlie and I didn’t stay long and I didn’t get as many thoughtful photos. However, if you want to read more about the bridge and see some better photos and video, I highly recommend you check out the recent post at Bicycle Dutch. I’m short on time trying to pack up and sell everything, so Mark’s post couldn’t have come at a better time for me. I can just post a bunch of photos and you can read his expertly researched and interesting post. Win win!

For now, a few more photos inside and outside the train station and the bridge. Hopefully in the next day or so I can post a few pics of one of the newer art installations that has gone up outside the station on the Jaarbeurs side.

Cycling path on the right, walking path on the left of the Moreelsebrug. Definitely read the Bicycle Dutch post to learn the cool facts about the trees planted along the bridge.

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Sint Maarten’s Fest

Sint Maarten Parade
It’s the time of year when the Sint Maarten Feest (St. Martin’s festival) takes place around town for about a week. There are theater groups, activities, plays, parades, and tonight there is a sort of trick-or-treat activity, in which little kids go around with lanterns singing songs and receiving candy.

It’s all in celebration of St. Martin of Tours. He was remembered for slicing off half of his military cloak in order to give it to a beggar in rags (the military didn’t allow him to give the whole cloak away). That night he had a dream that Jesus was wearing the half cloak saying that Martin had clothed him. Some versions of the story also have the cloak being whole once again when he awoke. Regardless, all of this was supposed to have played a major role in Martin being confirmed in his piety and being baptized.

St. Martin is a well-known Catholic saint and in fact, the cathedral in Utrecht is named for him. He’s also the patron saint of Utrecht and his sliced cloak of red and white is the symbol/shield of Utrecht. The lantern festivities aren’t just here in Utrecht, though obviously it’s particularly popular here.

Last weekend there was a parade with some truly beautiful and impressive lanterns of all sorts of figures and creatures, including a large St. Martin on his horse that lights up beautifully. Sadly, it was starting to rain and the crowds of running, yelling children were getting Charlie a bit anxious, so we didn’t get to see the parade with the lit lanterns, but we saw some of the preparation and enjoyed the other sights and sounds, including some great samba-like drumming. You can see more photos of all of the festivities on the official website and you can see a video of the drumming on my blog’s Facebook page.
Sint Maarten Parade
Sint Maarten Parade
Sint Maarten Parade
Sint Maarten Parade
Sint Maarten Parade
Sint Maarten Parade
Sint Maarten Parade
Sint Maarten Parade

Tourists in Utrecht

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One of the great things about Utrecht is that it isn’t overrun with tourists, especially in a city that is relatively small. Not that there is any shortage of things to see and do in Utrecht; it’s all just easier to reach on foot without taking lots of trams, buses, or even having to bike. (And really, if you’re a tourist, think twice about biking in the actual hearts of the big cities. Save it for outside the cities where you’re less likely to cause problems.)

Yet Utrecht does have a few spots where you’re likely to find the most tourists. This bridge over the Oudegracht is probably one of the busiest spots. To the left if the Domtoren and the white building on the corner on the left is one of our two souvenir shops. Plus, during the summer, locals and tourists alike enjoy some ice cream from the ridiculously cute ice cream truck there on the bridge. The bridge is also a great spot to take photos of the Domtoren, the views up and down the Oudegracht, and to debate whether or not to go into the “coffee shop” just out of shot.

The city has been making an effort to increase tourism, and there are pros and cons in both attracting more people and how they’ve gone about it. But so far it’s all still bearable. Having lived in Orlando, New Orleans, and New York, these are the kinds of tourist numbers that are easy to live with on a daily basis.

What do you get for the 894th anniversary?

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It’s that time of year again. Utrecht is celebrating its 894th year as an official city. On June 2, 1122, Keizer Henrik V officially recognized Utrecht as a city. (Of course, Utrecht’s history goes back much further. The Roman fortifications date back to around 50 CE, and people may have inhabited the area during the Stone Age, going back to 2200 BCE.)

There are usually some festivities each year. I think the ones this year are more about family history. However, throughout the year, you can find a marker along the Oudegracht commemorating the event.
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In honor of 894 years as a city, I thought I’d post a few photos of some of my favorite, unique places that make it such a wonderful city.
Urban Invasion
Nijntje
Roman Walls [Day 126/365]
Cathedral Art
Grachtenrace ronDom
Autumn on the Oudegracht
Brug
Rietveld-Schröder Huis [Day 281/365]
Stadhuisbrug
Soaring
Winkel van Sinkel
Paushuize

Ghost in the Sunshine
Views from Neudeflat

Eight More Things to Do in Utrecht

Last November, when I had friends from three countries visiting at once, I wanted to make a list of things they could do when I wasn’t available for sight-seeing — and some I wanted to do but hadn’t gotten around to yet. Of course, there were the museums. Utrecht has a lot of great museums, covering everything from art to automated music players. (Seriously, a guided tour of the Speelklok Museum is surprisingly entertaining.)

My map of 18 things to do in Utrecht has been getting a lot of hits recently, probably due to the fact that people who are coming for the Tour de France Grand Depart in just a few days are looking for, well, things to do in Utrecht. So while I have a few minutes free, I thought I’d share a few more things to check out while you’re in town, whether for the Tour de France, or just in general.

1. Visit V&D Cafeteria for the view
Utrecht 3|2013
In the Hoog Catharijne shopping center (next to the train station, so, hard to miss) the V&D department store has a cafeteria on the top floor. They serve a variety of hot and cold dishes and snacks, but the real reason to go is the view. They have a wall of windows looking out over the city center and if you can get a table next to the window, you won’t be disappointed, even on an overcast day or at night. To guarantee getting a good spot, it’s best to go at off-hours when people are less likely to be there for major meals of the day. (ETA: Sadly, this isn’t really an option now that V&D is closed, plus Hoog Catharijne is a construction nightmare. Hopefully, though, someone else will come in and make the most of the view.)

2. Walk along the Maliebaan
Artful Path
The Tour de France route goes along the Maliesingel, but it generally misses the Maliebaan itself. Somewhat ironic, as that was the site of the very first bicycle path in the Netherlands. Today, it’s a beautiful, peaceful, tree-lined street with a mix of roads and paths, as well as sculptures along one section. If you just want to get away from a bit of the hustle and bustle (or want to move between two sections of the route), it’s simply a nice walk to take.

3. Walk the ring canal
Around the Bend
11/11/11 at the Utrecht Meridian
If you look at a map of the city center, you’ll start to realize that there’s a canal that runs almost completely around the binnenstad (old city center). At one point, the canal did circle the city, and in a year or so, it will do so again. In the area around the Vredenburg/Hoog Catharijne/Centraal Station, you’ll see a lot of construction. They’re building bridges and re-installing the old canal, which had been turned into a roadway. Fortunately, most of the canal that rings the city is still in place and it makes for a nice walk around the city. You’ve always got the scenery of the canal, but you’ll also come across some other interesting sights, including the Wolvenplein, which was a working jail up until the past year or so. At the other end, you’ll find the Sonnenborgh Museum with its remains of the city’s walls(second photo).

4. Flower market
Utrecht Bloemenmarkt
There’s no shortage of flowers for sale in Utrecht throughout the week, but on Saturday, the big flower market can be found at Janskerkhof. Under the tree-covered square surrounding the picturesque church, you’ll find a huge assortment of seeds, plants, trees and more for sale, as well as beautiful bouquets, all at incredibly good prices. Even if you don’t purchase anything, it’s a lovely spot to meander.

5. Lapjesmarkt (Fabric market)
Stoffenmarkt
On Saturday mornings on Breedstraat (just off Voorstraat and near Neude), you’ll find the oldest and largest fabric market in the Netherlands. It has been around for more than 400 years and takes place, rain or shine. You’ll find a variety of fabrics for everything from clothing to upholstery, as well as assorted sewing accoutrements. It’s set on another lovely tree-line street and is a fascinating part of history, even if you have no interest in fabric. Take a stroll through and then head off for some other adventures, such as …

6. Domtoren
Domtoren
Come on. Like I’m going to do a list of things to see in Utrecht and not include this. Sure, it’s hard to miss, but it’s still pretty damn impressive. Even if you don’t want to take a guided tour up the 400+ steps, you can still enjoy a lot of it from ground level. On Saturdays, you can also typically enjoy one of the carillon concerts that ring out over the city. There will be some bicycle-themed songs for the Tour de France, of course. And while you’re in the area, check out the cathedral and the cloistered garden there in the Domplein, and Flora’s Hof, another garden with an adorable marmalade cat usually on the prowl.

7. Utrecht free tour
utrecht free toursEvery Saturday at noon, under the Domtoren, you can take an amazing free guided tour of the city. Completely led by volunteers, they take you on a three-hour walk around the city, giving you some great insight into the history and culture that makes Utrecht so wonderful. It’s a fantastic way to also get an idea of things you might want to explore further during your visit. It’s also great for anyone new to the city, and even those of us who have been here for a while. Just show up at noon and you’re good to go!

8. The Inktpot and the UFO
Urban Invasion
I can’t believe I have forgotten to add this to either of my lists! Sadly, it’s rare that you can go inside the Inktpot building itself, which is spectacular, but you can certainly see the UFO that landed on it in 2000! The aliens liked Utrecht so much, they decided to stay. I don’t blame them at all. Some say the UFO is just an art installation. Believe what you will. (The building is located by the Moreelsepark, near the train station.)

Superguppie Hearts Nijntje

Superguppie xx Nijntje
Next stop on the Nijntje Parade is the Domplein, where two of the decorated, larger-than-life statue of Nijntje (Miffy) can be found. Even amid festivals and markets, the statues stake their claim.

This one seems a particularly good pairing. It’s titled Superguppie xx Nijntje, by Fleur van der Weel. She’s the illustrator behind the Superguppie books written by Edward van de Vendel. Her style blends well with Dick Bruna’s simple graphic style, not surprising, as she’s a fan of his work.
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Utrecht on Easter

Paasdag
Utrecht is looking mighty fine today. The weather is glorious, though still with a bit of chill. But as you can see, the sun was shining in full force and the sky was a glorious shade of blue with the occasional fluffy white cloud.

We took a walk along the canal that rings the old city center on the eastern side, planning to drop off some recycling, see my dear friend the Spoetnikkijker, and then head to the Domplein to check out the Streekmarkt, in hope that there would be some fresh asparagus on offer.
Paasdag
The walk along the canal was perfect, with daffodils sprouting everywhere and the water reflecting the sunlight like a mirror. Although the trees are still bare, greenery is popping up elsewhere, making everything look lush and welcoming.

It was a joy just getting out and enjoying the city and the scenery, camera in hand. It’s been too long since I’ve had a chance to walk around on a nice day, without work obligations hanging over me. I think I took something like 200 photos, so there should be plenty of new pics to post for the next few weeks! I even got a couple of shots so I can do some more Time Travel posts (and close a few more tabs in my browser). Oh, and lots of cat photos!
De Streekmart
Eventually we made it to the Domplein to visit the Streekmarkt. I think it’s the first time the market has been held in the Domplein. It’s been on Twijnstraat and Mariaplaats in recent years. It’s a nice market, typically focusing on organic food and other items all made in small batches. Sometimes there’s fresh produce, so I was hoping to find some asparagus for tonight’s dinner, but sadly I didn’t see any. There were a number of food trucks of one sort or another, including an Argentinian grill truck and a tosti truck. The aromas in the square were mouth watering and everything looked delicious.

Since we were in the area, I decided to stop by the VVV (tourist office) that’s there in the square. I knew they had begun carrying some 3D-printed Domtoren necklaces and earrings and I was interested in getting a necklace. I’ve had a VVV giftcard in my bag for more than a year and figured now would be a good time to use it. In the end, I got the necklace, a Tour de France-inspired Domtoren T-shirt (don’t forget, the race starts here in Utrecht, 4 July), a Domtoren print, and a mug that matches one of my favorite Utrecht prints. All in all, a very nice day!
Domtoren

Variations on a Theme: Trajectum Lumen

ganzenmarkt tunnel
ganzenmarkt tunnel
ganzenmarkt tunnel
I’ve written before about the Trajectum Lumen light art installations to be found throughout the city. From simple to grandiose, they put the spotlight on Utrecht’s rich history. One of my favorites is the Ganzenmarkt tunnel. The lights are constantly changing colors, creating a psychedelic fairytale landscape that makes me think of Alice falling down the rabbit hole. Plus, the tunnel leads down to the Oudegracht, where you get a great view of the Stadhuis, plus some more lights under the Stadhuise bridge. During a past visit, this was one of the color sequences, though the shifts from one color to the next are more gradual.

If you’re visiting Utrecht or thinking about visiting Utrecht and are looking for things to do, a walk through the city, enjoying the lights, should definitely be on your list. The lights begin at dusk and go until midnight, 365 days of the year, so you can check them out whenever you like. It’s a nice way to cap off an evening.