Castellum Lights

A Flamingo in Utrecht
The Domplein — the square in the heart of the city where you will find the Domtoren and the cathedral — has a long history. The square was originally the site of the Castellum Trajectum, the Roman fortress established nearly 2000 years ago to protect the northern border of the Roman Empire. The sign in the picture above marks where one of the entrance gates to the fortress was to be found.

In fact, they have found the foundations for the old fortress and you can see some visual depictions of what the fortress would have looked like through various apps now available. I think you also get to learn and see a bit more on the DomUnder tour (which I haven’t had a chance to take yet).

Still, you can get a sense of the size of the fortress due to some installations you’ll see in areas around the Domplein. The size starts to sink in when you realize it encompased the whole square and then some. The markers in the ground are bronze-ish metal pieces flush to the ground, with lines drawn in depicting various Roman Empire borders. They’re easy to miss, and even easier to puzzle over if you don’t know the meaning. It took me a few years to finally figure it out.
Hadrian's Wall
However, in the evening, they at least become a bit harder to miss. As part of the Trajectum Lumen displays, they light up and emit a watery mist every 15 minutes or so. The marker on Domstraat is pretty impressive, the way it lights up along one of the buildings and has the cathedral behind it.
Roman Walls [Day 126/365]
There’s another by the Academiegebouw, which I managed to capture once, years ago.
Roman Fortress
More recently, I finally caught the one on Servetstraat, in front of the Domtoren. It’s a cosy little street with a nice mix of shops and restaurants, all in the towering shadow of the Domtoren. Standing along any of the old fortress borders, it’s impossible not to look around and think of all the history this one small section of Utrecht has seen and experienced. And now we all become a little part of that long history.
Castellum Trajectum

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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.

18 Things to See, Do, Taste, and Experience in Utrecht

klmmapI’m always singing the praises of Utrecht and encouraging people to visit this beautiful, historic, and vibrant city, so it only seems right that I make a handy map of some of the places and things visitors should see. So here’s a map of 18 places in Utrecht that you should see, including museums, sculptures, parks, restaurants (which, of course, includes Vino Veritas), and historic points of interest. It is, by no means, a complete listing and hopefully I’ll be able to add on to it as the spirit moves me. Did I leave out one of your favorite must-see spots in Utrecht? Tell me what you think is a must-see.

Thanks to KLM for doing the technical creation of this map for me, while letting me use my own words and photos. They were kind enough to let me focus on Utrecht, instead of Amsterdam, after I pointed out how quick and easy it is to get to Utrecht from Amsterdam. Fly into Schipol Airport with KLM and hop on one of the many trains to Utrecht. You’ll be here in just half an hour!

Europe’s Most Beautiful Canals Are in Utrecht

Paddling Down the OudegrachtAccording to the travel search engine, GoEuro, Utrecht’s canals are the most beautiful in Europe. Although Venice has long held the imagination and romance, it seems that the overwhelming tourism is causing the city to lose some of its lustre. (Though, personally, I think if you go in the off season, the stunning beauty of Venice is still quite evident.)TerraceBut I’m not going to argue with Utrecht taking top ranking. We’ve got some truly picturesque canals, and the long stretches of wharves running along the Oudegracht and Nieuwegracht really do set them apart from most other cities. Spring's Late ArrivalNo matter the size and no matter the season, there’s always something to enjoy about Utrecht’s canals. The city’s beautiful buildings are often reflected in the water, and at night, many of the canals and bridges and lit up as part of the Trajectum Lumen light show. But even the small, quiet neighborhood canals offer a tranquil spot to pause and simply enjoy the scenery.

So yes, I think Utrecht certainly earns top spot when it comes to beautiful canal cities!

ETA: GoEuro now has the article up on their site.

Boulevard Canal
ZwartewaterOpenThe BucketGolden DriftDrift at NightGolden ReflectionAlways the DomtorenAlong the CanalOudegracht/VismarktBotenAlong LucasbolwerkKromme Nieuwegracht Reflection  13|365

Out of Darkness, Utrecht

Donker UtrechtIf you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you’ve probably come across some of the posts and tweets I’ve shared about Merijn van der Vliet, AKA Donker Utrecht. His photographs of Utrecht taken at dusk or dark capture the beauty, history, and vibrancy of the city.

For the past month, an exhibit of his work has been on display in the upper level of the Stadhuis. The collection is mesmerizing and it’s easy to get lost in each and every photo, studying the details and the colors that are so richly visible, despite the time of day at which the photos are taken. Equally arresting are the viewpoints from which many of the photos are taken, such as the one above of the top of the Domtoren.

The exhibit at the Stadhuis has been one of the most popular they’ve ever had, with record numbers of visitors. If you’re in the area, you’ve got one more day to see the exhibit (February 28 is the last day). If you can’t make it to the Stadhuis, you can find postcards and other sizes of his work at the VVV offices at Domplein 9, and you can certainly find more pictures in multiple sizes for sale at Werk aan de Muur. I pretty much want them all. Time to start playing the lottery, I guess! Oh, and if you’ve ever admired the official photos for Trajectum Lumen, then it will probably come as no surprise that he’s the photographer behind those, as well.
Donker UtrechtDonker UtrechtDonker Utrecht

Utrecht Lights up the Night

City Lights
Whatever your plans for this evening, I hope you have a wonderful night and that 2014 is a great year for all of us. I thought I’d end the year with a few — ok, a lot of — photos of Utrecht as it is lit up during the holiday season. As if the Trajectum Lumen lights weren’t enough to make the city sparkle at night, holiday lights are strung up throughout the city during the end-of-year season. Tonight, those lights will be competing with hundreds, thousands, or even millions of fireworks!
City Lights
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Time Travel: Ganzenmarkt

Ganzenmarkt Then
The other week, while attending the Lekker Utregs festival highlighting local produce, I was happy to see an exhibit set up showing old photos of past Utrechters buying and selling various produce. The exhibit was a collection of photos from Het Utrechts Archief, such as the one posted here. The photo shows fruit sellers at the Ganzenmarkt in 1890.

I found it interesting to see, since I haven’t seen any markets in that area since moving here, yet it was obvious from the name that there were once markets of some sort. In doing a bit of research, it looks like there was also a poultry market at some point. Unfortunately, I don’t know when they stopped setting up markets in this area, though.

Today, the newer construction of the Stadhuis replaces some of the older buildings seen on the left. Some of the buildings on the right remain the same, while a few have at least had a facelift, starting around Theater Kikker, although the corner building seems to have maintained it corner entrance. Now, though, it’s bikes, rather than stalls and horse-drawn carts, that fill the area.
Ganzenmarkt Now
Action ShotIt is believed that the Oudegracht, which lies at the end of the Ganzenmarkt, follows part of the original flow of the Rhine River. In fact, part of it may have originally run along what is now the Ganzenmarkt. Eventually, the flow was altered, replacing water with land. Since the Middle Ages, the Ganzemarkt has been the site of various important buildings, such as the Stadskasteel Compostel (Compostela town castle), and of course, the city hall square which runs along the street now.

Although not clearly visible in the old photo, in the newer photos, you can see the tunnel that runs from the street level down to the wharf level of the Oudegracht. The canal was used for transporting goods, so the tunnel, and a crane that stood at the end of the tunnel, helped move goods from ships to land. This tunnel is also the site of one of my favourite Trajectum Lumen installations, the rainbow-coloured tunnel.
GanzenmarktAs often as I’ve walked along the Ganzenmarkt (which runs from the Oudegracht to Minrebroederstraat), I never really contemplated the history of the spot. Thanks to the old photo of the fruit market, I’ve learned a tiny bit more about the city.

The Domtoren Lights Up the Night

Domtoren
One of the things I love about living in Northern Europe is the long hours of daylight in the summer. By April and May, it starts to stay light until 9 or 10 at night. By the middle of summer, there’s still a fair amount of light even at 11 p.m.

However, if you want to see the Trajectum Lumen light displays during the summer, you’re going to have to wait a while. They traditionally begin at dusk and end at midnight, but when dusk doesn’t begin until around 10 p.m. for much of the summer, you’ve got a small window of time to see some of the lights. Some come on a bit earlier, but others really aren’t properly visible until it’s dark.

The last of the Trajectum Lumen installations was the Domtoren. The lights were unveiled on April 11, as part of the beginning of the Treaty of Utrecht celebrations. I was there that evening, although the light display didn’t begin until 10 p.m. in order for it to be dark enough to show off the lights properly. It continued to get darker later and later, which means that the only time I’ve seen the full Domtoren light display was that first night. I’ve either not had a view of the Domtoren when out late enough, or it wasn’t dark enough when I was nearby.

I do hope to head over to the Domplein on Monday evening to listen to the last of the Domtoren summer concerts — this time it will be Pink Floyd’s The Wall — but it still probably won’t be dark enough at the end of the concert. It’s starting to get a bit darker by 9:30 now, so I may finally get to see the display in person again soon. Fortunately, I came across a couple of videos today that serve as a nice reminder of what the light display looks like. If you’re not much of a night owl or don’t live close enough to see it in person, I hope you enjoy these videos for a taste of what will be visible a bit earlier in the coming weeks.

In Lumine Tuo… from Speirs + Major on Vimeo.

In lumine tuo… (Part 2) from Speirs + Major on Vimeo.