Mapping Utrecht With Tourists and Locals

Locals and Tourists #50 (GTWA #145): Utrecht
(Map by Eric Fischer)

By now, you’ve probably come across self-proclaimed map geek Eric Fischer and his series of maps that explore everything from race to social media usage. Even if you don’t recognize his name, you may well recognize the maps themselves. Using data from sites such as Flickr and Twitter, as well as Census data, Fischer creates maps of individual cities so that the information creates patterns that are both new and recognizable.

His most popular series is Locals and Tourists, which was even included in a Museum of Modern Art exhibition in 2010. In the past, when I’d looked at some of the images, the list of cities was limited, although they do cover cities around the world. However, today I came across the full set and discovered that Utrecht was included! In this case, as you can see from the image above, he’s included the whole region of Utrecht, not just the city. In fact, the city is that small, colourful section on the bottom left. If you click through to see the large or original sizes and focus in on Utrecht, you can begin to easily recognize the inherent map of the city.

The red dots are photos taken by tourists, while the blue dots are taken by locals. I like to think I’ve contributed quite a few of those blue dots! Not surprisingly, the areas most heavily marked by the red tourist dots follow the path of the Oudegracht, with one of the other heavily marked tourist areas being the train station and convention center.

If you’d like to read more about Fischer, I found this article to be interesting and informative. I also recommend simply going through the various sets in his Flickr account.

Views Without Vertigo

I have a confession to make. Despite my love of the Domtoren, I’ve never climbed it. You see, I did climb the Campanile bell tower in Florence, but that was when I truly understood that I’m not a fan of going down stairs without a handrail. I always have a feeling that I’m just going to pitch forward. I’m like that with any stairs. Walking down the narrow, heavily worn, relatively steep steps of that tower was a nightmare for me and it’s about 30 meters shorter than the Domtoren. Fortunately, it was narrow enough that I could put a hand on both walls to give myself some sense of security, but occasionally we’d be met by people going up the stairs, which meant I often sort of pressed myself up against the wall and waited until they passed, for fear that their momentum would somehow unbalance me.

In the case of the bell tower in Florence, we were left to our own devices going up and down, so I could take as long as I needed to, but here in Utrecht, the tours of the Domtoren are guided, so you have to go with a group. Add in a knee injury a few years ago, and the result is that I’ve never gotten up the nerve to go up.

Fortunately, thanks to Google, I can now take a virtual tour of the Domtoren. Using the same street view option that allows you to get a 360-view of streets, neighbourhoods, and cities, you can now do the same with certain moments, including the Domtoren.

You can see the different levels of the tower by choosing levels 1-5, from the ground floor to the top exterior. I’m particularly fond of the view on level four, as you look up at the bells and the massive Gothic windows. On level three, you can actually move the image so that you are standing beneath the bells, looking directly up into them, clapper and all!

So if you’re like me and have an issue with stairs or heights, or if you just can’t get to Utrecht, you can now explore to your heart’s content with this great option. Zoom in, twirl about, look at the details … and maybe you’ll find yourself determined to get over your issues so you can go see it all in person.

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I’m going to canvas for comments again for my blog over at Expats Blog. Many of you have already left me amazing comments that have truly moved me, but if you haven’t and feel so inclined, please leave a comment on that page. With enough positive comments, it will help me be chosen Top Netherlands Blog.

St. Willibrord’s Bell

Spires
This was not the blog post I had in mind for today, but the item I was looking for was nowhere to be found, so it will have to wait. Instead, I’ll mention an ongoing event taking place from now through 8 September. It’s the annual Kerken Kijken Utrecht, which has special events and tours of 12 of the city’s most important and interesting historical churches. I may be an atheist, but I have a great fondness for ecclesiastical architecture. In fact, the last time my parents and I were together in Britain, I was the one dragging them to churches, so I could admire the architecture. The running joke was that it was my parents who were making the typical child complaint of “Oh, not another church!”

In looking through some of the information on the website (it’s in Dutch and English), I was truly impressed by the interiors and long history of some of the churches that I’ve seen from the outside, but never viewed the inside. Prepare yourselves. I think I’ll be visiting a lot of churches in the coming months.

One that I have seen inside and out is Sint Willibrordkerk, pictured above. It’s a much more recent church, built between 1875 and 1877, and designed by architect Alfred Tepe (who makes me think of Vlad Tepes, but I’ll spare you the Dracula tangent). It’s crammed in among various shops and former furniture factories, if I remember correctly, and really doesn’t look like much from street level. Of course, there are the spires, as you can see, which rise up and do a decent job of competing with the Domtoren when seen from a certain angle.

St. Willibrord's

The relatively mild-mannered exterior gives way to a riot of colour when you step inside. The building is an amazing example of the Utrecht School of gothic revival, and fortunately, a restoration was carried out recently to help preserve the amazing paintwork that seems to cover almost every inch of the interior. The richness of the colour truly is breathtaking. I didn’t have my camera with me the one time I went inside, but I do hope to go back and try to get some photos. Fortunately, you can get some idea of what it’s like from the link I included above.

Interestingly, although Willibrord has his own church now — and it was one of the first Catholic churches in the city to be built in almost 300 years since the Reformation — he was the one who founded two churches in 695 AD. Those two churches were St. Maarten and St. Salvatore, both of which stood in the Domplein. St. Salvatore is no more, but St. Maarten church became what is the foundation for the cathedral that stands there now.

Ring the Bells

We were over by Sint Willibrordkerk the other week and got to enjoy the sounds of the bells of St. Willibrord ringing out in competition with the Domtoren. If you look closely in this photo, you can actually see the bell in mid-swing (in the lighter-coloured spire).

You can see and hear for yourself in this short video I filmed standing behind the Stadhuis.

If you’re thinking about visiting Utrecht, or are already here, and have an interest in architecture and history, I highly recommend taking advantage of the Kerken Kijken Utrecht openings and tours. Even some of the simpler designs can be incredibly beautiful and awe inspiring.

I ♥ Utrecht

An Open Letter (of sorts) to Travel Publications

Molen de Ster

Dear Travel Publications and Websites:

You should apologize to my friends and readers. You see, you’ve got me ranting again. I noticed on Facebook that Travel + Leisure magazine was requesting hotel recommendations in Amsterdam, because they’re sending a reporter there next month. (Let me rant tangentially for a moment. Reporter? Really? That seems a bit grandiose of a term for someone writing about A’dam for a travel magazine.) Anyway, yes, a major travel publication is going to be reportingwriting about Amsterdam. Oh, but they’re going to be writing about some of the neighborhoods of Amsterdam. That’s different and branching out![/sarcasm]

I known I’m becoming a broken record on this topic, but I wouldn’t be if all of the travel magazines and websites weren’t broken records themselves. Just a few weeks ago, Mark Bittman, noted food writer, did a piece about Dutch cuisine for the New York Times. Yet he didn’t actually leave Amsterdam when trying various restaurants for his article and complained that restaurants in the Netherlands weren’t embracing their traditional Dutch cuisine. Perhaps he should have expanded his search. Furthermore, I really feel like they changed the title of that article. It now refers specifically to Amsterdam in the title, but I’m almost positive the original title was something more general along the lines of In Search of Dutch Cuisine. That was one of the reasons the article bothered me so much originally, because it was supposedly about Dutch cuisine, but never went outside A’dam.

What kills me is that we live in an age where everyone is so gung-ho to go off the beaten path and go to places that give you the real feel for the country and people, blah blah blah. Unless you’re visiting the Netherlands, it seems. Then you can’t leave Amsterdam. I sometimes wonder if people even know that there are other cities in the Netherlands. I’m pretty sure most people think that red-light districts and coffee shops are only in Amsterdam, which is very much not true. I mention these two things, because for a certain group of tourists, this is particularly of interest, especially the access to weed/pot/hash/ganja/maryjane/space cakes. People seem to think it’s only available in Amsterdam, when it’s quite the opposite. I can think of three coffee shops, just off the top of my head, that are within a five-minute walk (or much less) from my house. That’s not counting the various ones on the Oudegracht, if you prefer a bit more scenery.

Tall and Thin

Even if that’s not your thing, there’s plenty to do in other cities and you can see the same damn canals and narrow houses that you’ll see in A’dam. You want tourist trinket wooden clogs? Trust me, you’ll find them somewhere in most big cities, and you may actually find some of the trinkets cheaper than in Amsterdam!

Tourist traps aren’t for you? Then what are you doing in Amsterdam?! You prefer elegance, art, or something quirky? We’ve got the one-room hotel (Hotel Nieuwegracht) here in Utrecht on one of our famous and unique wharf canals. We’ve got innovative, modern fashion and homegoods in shops along Twijnstraat, Lijnmarkt, and elsewhere. We’ve got the stylish new Hotel Dom, with it’s attractive restaurant and bar right next door to the cathedral. We’ve got beautiful parks, fine dining, and interesting museums. We’ve got the Trajectum Lumen nightly art light displays that surely top any red-light display. We’ve got windmills! We’ve even got a UFO on top of a building!

But Are They Legal?

I recommend Utrecht, because it’s what I know, but really, there’s no excuse for every magazine and website to constantly focus only on Amsterdam. Den Haag (The Hague) is a beautiful city and more than just an international court. Rotterdam is a fascinating modern Dutch city. Arnhem is the green jewel of Europe. Maastricht gives you a southern take on Dutchness. I’ve worked as a magazine editor. I know how easy it is to run essentially the same story every year, especially if you’ve got a small budget. But when you’ve got Condé Nast and American Express Publishing Company behind you, you’ve got the budget to search out new and interesting places. That means you’ve got no excuse to be doing the same tired article about visiting Amsterdam that everyone and their mother has already published a million times.

If it’s your first visit to the Netherlands, then of course you should visit Amsterdam. You can even make it your base. But if you’re staying more than a day or two, why not visit other places? Especially when those places are sometimes only a half-hour train ride away. You probably travel that long just to get to work each day! Be that traveler who takes the road less traveled, who lives with the natives, who goes off the beaten path. The best part is that here in the Netherlands, you can do all of that in stylish comfort and you probably won’t have to eat anything too weird. Well, except for the herring. Mmmmm. Lekker!

Bullets, Bits, and Bobs

Daily Scenery

There have been a few stories of interest that I thought I’d share in a bullet format today, since they’re all short little bits.

  • The Utrechts Archief now has short videos in their archives and you can see some of them online. This one is from 1929 and shows a tram running straight through the Domtoren and turning into the area pictured above. It’s fun to see how much has changed, even in this very historic section.
  • Utrecht also finally got some recognition from the people at Lonely Planet. We came in at number six on their list of 10 of the World’s Unsung Places. I guess the Toerisme Utrecht people are doing their job!
  • Utrecht is also getting an International School this year, which will be a bonus for the children of people who come here for work with international companies.
  • Finally, in sad news, it was announced today that Prince Friso, the second eldest son of the queen, has suffered brain damage after being trapped in an avalanche earlier this week. At this point, they don’t truly expect him to ever regain consciousness. My thoughts go out to his wife, children, and family.

Oudegracht

Oudegracht
Saturday, while heading over to the Domplein for the ill-fated coffee, I decided to stop and get a shot that is a well-known view of Utrecht. The Oudegracht, the old canal, which runs generally north/south through the city center, is probably our most touristic spots. Everyone that visits the city tends to end up there very quickly. After all, it features some of the famous below-street-level wharves. Still, there’s a lot along the canal that appeals to locals and not just tourists, although I noticed that one shop on the corner of the canal and Servetstraat, leading to the Dom, has become conspicuously touristy. All sorts of tourist knick-knacks explode from the store: postcards, Delft blue pottery type pieces, clogs, and the little decorative house figurines, along with Utrecht’s own Nijntje (Miffy).
Arches

Fortunately, when it’s off-season or simply a weekday, it’s easy enough to feel like you’re just on any other (incredibly picturesque) street. Tourism does seem to be growing here in Utrecht, but it’s not the madness of other big tourist hot spots. You can still take a moment just to enjoy the view without getting jostled about. You still have to watch out for the bikes, though. They’re everywhere.
Met Fiets

Foto Vrijdag: Keukenhof Duck

Conversation
If you love flowers, you may be interested in knowing that the famous Keukenhof Gardens will be opening again soon. In fact, they’re opening next week, 24 March, and the theme this year is Germany: Land of Poets and Philosophers.

We went last year while my parents were visiting and I couldn’t help but love these floating water sculptures, especially when the ducks got involved. I loved how it looked like the two were having a conversation.

I Be Trippin’

Thanks to Aga, one of the lovely people who actually reads this blog, I recently received the opportunity to start blogging for Trippist.com, a site designed to help visitors to the Netherlands find out about some of the events going on throughout the country. It started primarily focusing on Amsterdam — what else is new — but they’ve been branching out and I get to do my bit for Utrecht.

Today marks my first post — for those who know my art history background, you won’t be surprised that my first post is about an art exhibit — and I should be posting a few times a week from here on out. Surprising how gut-churning it was to actually click the “publish” button! Despite years spent working in publishing, it’s always a bit nerve-wracking to send stuff out for public consumption. This blog doesn’t count; it’s just me rambling.

Hopefully, as I try to get out and visit some of the events myself, I might have more to write about here on a slightly more regular basis. I blame the recent heatwave and an allergy attack for the lack of recent posts here. That and my recent introduction to True Blood, the tv series. It’s Louisiana vampires; of course I’m going to watch! I didn’t live in New Orleans and get an Anne Rice book autographed for nothin’! 😉