The Last of (Tour de France) 2015

Tour de France in Utrecht
The boom and bang of fireworks is pretty constant at this point. I heard the first one at 9:12 this morning. We’ve been out running last minute errands and stocking up on food and wine for tonight and tomorrow, including lots of krentebollen for dessert tonight and to ring in the new year. We also enjoyed a nice drink on one of the terraces at Neude, under the clear blue sky. Odd to have it warm enough on the last day of the year to enjoy sitting outside! We’re staying in tonight, but it’s should be a nice evening nonetheless. So far, Charlie doesn’t seem upset or anxious about the noise of the fireworks, which is a massive relief, particularly as I remember how traumatized poor Pippo was by it all.

I have one more set of Tour de France-related photos, so I thought I’d cram them into one last post for the year. In the photo above, you’ll see another bit of race-related wall art, with a hint of the Eiffel Tower spanning the Oudegracht. If I remember the race route correctly, the street this building is on is the point where the riders turned off of Biltstraat (the street in the background). We had hoped that the riders would go all the way down Biltstraat so that they would pass Vino Veritas and we could enjoy some of the action. Sadly, it wasn’t to be. At least, if they were going to steal our action, they left behind a nice bit of wall art.

It’s fun looking at some of the details of the painting. There are racers on the wharves along the canal and there’s even a yellow jersey rider being pulled out of the canal!
Tour de France in Utrecht
Tour de France in Utrecht
Have a safe and happy celebration tonight and Happy New Year to those who have already rung in 2016 and to all those still yet to celebrate! See you in 2016!

A Touch More Tour de France

Rietvelo
2015 was the year that the Tour de France came to Utrecht. We hosted the Grand Depart, the start of the race, and the city was decked out in yellow and other race-related colors for months leading up to and even after the race. Most of the decorations are gone, but a few still remain, particularly some of the wall art.

I had seen a print of the Rietvelo piece of artwork by Menno Anker, and I think I knew it was on a wall somewhere, but I hadn’t known where that wall was. I also wasn’t walking along a stretch of the stadsbuitengracht that I used to frequent fairly often. If I had, I would have seen it much sooner. In fact, soon after adopting Charlie and taking those walks along the ring canal once again, I soon spotted the Rietvelo piece, even from across the canal. I had no idea it was so close!
Rietvelo
Rietvelo
I always love when one of these large solid walls is turned into an art canvas. Some change, some remain the same. The Tour de France may be over, but I do hope this one stays up for a while. Of course, now that I’ve said that, it is probably coming down soon if not already!

Utrecht’s Gone a Little Yellow

Yellow Tour de France Grand Depart sunglasses along the Oudegracht
In case you haven’t seen enough yellow this past week in Utrecht, Toerisme Utrecht did a bit of guerilla marketing in the early hours of this morning, putting out yellow sunglasses along a large stretch of the Oudegracht. (As an aside, I’m writing this with the sound of helicopters roaring overhead. As the race is about to start in about half an hour, I guess it’s a mix of film crews and police overhead.) Anyway, the sunglasses are free to take and they’re promoting upcoming summer events in the city in Dutch on one side of the attached tag, and in English, on the other side, it’s targeting people visiting for the Tour de France today, encouraging them to visit local museums and shops while they’re here.
Yellow Tour de France Grand Depart sunglasses along the Oudegracht
I knew they were doing this, having received the advance press release, but wasn’t sure I’d end up getting to see it all. However, I woke up early enough this morning and while scrolling through Twitter, I saw a picture and thought, why not! I hopped out of bed (sort of), quickly got ready, and was out the door before I could change my mind. (It’s still warm and humid and it started to rain lightly just as I left the house.)
Yellow Tour de France Grand Depart sunglasses along the Oudegracht
Actually getting to the canal wasn’t so easy. The race is going through the heart of the city center today (as a display bit, rather than real racing), so lots of the streets are cordoned off to create safe lanes solely for the cyclists. I felt like a rat in a maze quite a few times trying to get around! Eventually, though, I found my way to the appropriate part of the Oudegracht and voilà! Sunglasses everywhere! They were on the ground around a lamp post. They were on the wall of the old post office. They were on bicycles. They were on bollards. They were on shop fronts. They were everywhere!
Yellow Tour de France Grand Depart sunglasses along the Oudegracht
Yellow Tour de France Grand Depart sunglasses along the Oudegracht
Yellow Tour de France Grand Depart sunglasses along the Oudegracht
Yellow Tour de France Grand Depart sunglasses along the Oudegracht
Yellow Tour de France Grand Depart sunglasses along the Oudegracht
So, the point is, there’s plenty to see and do in Utrecht, even when the race has gone. Go see the museums, go listen to the weekly Domtoren concerts. Go support local businesses. Go to Vino Veritas, but not today or tomorrow, as we’re closed after a long, hot, busy week. Go on foot or by bike. Just go!
Yellow Tour de France Grand Depart sunglasses along the Oudegracht

Bikes, Flowers, and Flags for the Tour de France

Tour de France Utrecht Grand Depart 2015
This adorable, at-an-angle building on the Oudegracht is often decorated for various festive events, such as Queen’s Day/King’s Day. Therefore, it’s no surprise that they’ve gotten into the Tour de France spirit. The flag is a common one you’ll see around town. We even have one hanging outside Vino Veritas. But the bike? That’s all them!

It’s the rare street that doesn’t have some sort of decoration. As well as the flags, there are the pennants that criss-cross the streets, the occasional yellow carpet at restaurant entrances, and of course, even the flowers that decorate the lamp posts are continuing the theme.
Tour de France Utrecht Grand Depart 2015
The flowers are there every year, but it’s the color that has changed. Usually they’re some combination of red, pink, and purple and always pretty. This year, if you look closely, you’ll realize they are also in the Tour de France color scheme, featuring the ubiquitous yellow, as well as the white and red, and the green of some of the other jerseys.

Of course, with the heat wave we’re having, the flowers are at risk of looking a bit limp. They need to stay hydrated just as we do, so they’re sending watering trucks out to feed the plants. We saw one yesterday at work. Hopefully we’ll all survive the hot temperatures of the coming days!
watering the flowersTour de France Utrecht Grand Depart 2015

Tour de Gracht

Oudegracht paddle boats also ready for the Tour de France
Although I haven’t listed it on my “things to do in Utrecht” posts, others have recommended renting one of the pedal boats on the Oudegracht. I’ve come close to doing it, but for various reasons, never have. Still, it does look like a fun way to see the city from canal level. I’ve done one of the boat tours and it really does give you a different perspective.

Of course, like everything else in the city at the moment, even the pedal boats have Tour de France fever. Some have gone a bit jaundiced, others seem to have a rash, and a few have gone a bit green around the gills.
Oudegracht paddle boats also ready for the Tour de France
Sorry, I do love the excitement and seeing the whole city getting involved, but it’s fun to take the mickey out of it all occasionally. Still, I’m no better, as I’m essentially devoting a week to blogging about the event and dedicated this month’s blog header to the Tour.

If you’d like to see the city by pedal boat/canal bike, you can find them by the Stadhuis, across from the Winkel van Sinkel. You can rent them for 1.5 hours and they cost €9.50 per person. Be aware that there’s a €20 deposit on the pedal boat.

Utrecht’s canal-side wharves add something extra to seeing the city by boat. Give a wave to some of the diners at the restaurants right there on the wharf, and you may see some artists and stonemasons at work, as well. There’s plenty of great scenery. There are other types of boats and kayaks to be rented, as well, so there are plenty of ways to explore Utrecht’s beautiful canals.

Bicycles and Rainbows

Rainbow Brite
A rainbow bicycle seems the perfect image of my thoughts these days. With the Tour de France Grand Depart fast approaching — and more and more decorations going up around town that I hope to photograph tomorrow — it’s hard not to think about bicycles even more than normal. We had the Giro D’Italia through here a few years ago, but that was nothing in comparison. Crazy. I’m also hoping we’ll get some extra business out of it, since our little restaurant/wine bar is just down the street from part of the course. Too bad we weren’t open during the Giro! Now I just have to figure out how to promote Italian food for a French race.

But some great news has also been coming out of the US for the past couple of days, particularly in regard to some Supreme Court decisions. Justice Scalia may be having the worst week ever, but I have a lot of friends who have been positively affected by the upholding of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and now the decision that gay marriage should be recognized in all 50 states and protectorates. So now it’s not gay marriage, it’s just marriage. And about damn time!

My Facebook feed yesterday became one giant rainbow, and even as I type this, the WordPress CMS even has a rainbow banner. Rock on! So glad to see that once the ball started rolling in the US, with state after state beginning to recognize gay marriage, it took a surprisingly short amount of time for it to become legal nationwide. Sure, it’s been legal here in the Netherlands (the first country to legalize gay marriage) since 2001, but better late than never! There are some Gay Pride parades that were already scheduled for today in the US. I’m sure they’re going to be extra amazing now! Gefeliciteerd!

Roze ZaterdagRainbow Crossing

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.)

Taking it too far?

Too far?
Perhaps it’s just as well that there’s now less than a month to go before the Grand Depart of the Tour de France here in Utrecht. Bicycles are obviously a common sight, but the amount of yellow popping up is definitely increasing, as is the amount of — at times — cheesy promotional stuff. Take this flag hanging outside the entrance for the Domtoren tours. Throw in some yellow, a bicycle, and a random apostrophe, and suddenly anything can be related to the Tour de France. Zut alors!

Bicycles on Display

Fietsen
It’s almost impossible to take a photo at street level here in Utrecht without a bicycle in it. And on the rare occasion that there is no bicycle and you want one, you only have to wait a few seconds for one to go by. But for all the bicycles around, it’s not so common to see one proudly displayed in a window that isn’t part of a bicycle shop. This is just a residential street, with a great selection of bicycles on display, both inside and out. I must say that the window bicycle is certainly a change from the typical cats and plants I usually see in a front window.