Toto, I don’t think we’re in Utrecht

If you were wondering, I made it without incident back to the US on Monday. I lived here long enough that I’m not experiencing complete reverse culture shock, but I am a bit more aware of certain things now. It feels more as if my life in the US and my life in the NL are two completely separate things. Not good or bad; just completely different.

As for photos and blogging, I’ve been taking photos, but unfortunately I forgot to get a plug converter for my European laptop (with a useless battery), so I can’t upload photos until I get an adapter for my laptop. I did take a couple of photos today with my phone’s camera, though. One of the amusing differences between Utrecht (and much of the Netherlands) and North Carolina is the matter of elevation. We’ve got a lot more hills and mountains here. For that matter, just getting to the house requires muscles I haven’t used much in the past five years. Trust me, the photo doesn’t begin to show how steep a hill this is. I’ve been on rollercoasters with easier drops.
Fortunately, there are lots of magnolia trees to enjoy on the trek.

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.


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.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Journey

Spoorweg Museum
Thinking about this week’s theme, I thought I would offer up the Spoorweg Museum, the Dutch National Railway Museum. It’s not just a museum; it used to be a working train station that was built in 1874.It was closed in 1939, but eventually reopened and was remodeled various times until it now looks much as it did in the 1800s.

Many people began and ended their journeys in this building, through this lovely entrance.


You can still take a short journey of your own on some of the working trains they have on display. There is now train service on an hourly basis, Tuesday through Sunday (and Monday during holiday periods), between the museum and the central train station.

Trains at the Spoorweg Museum



Perhaps not surprisingly, I’ve had Billy Bragg’s version of Train Train stuck in my head.

De Boog Brewery


As I learn about Utrecht’s history, it’s like a constant game of connect the dots or six degrees of separation. There are frequent light-bulb moments when I can make connections between various buildings and locations around the city. Yesterday, as I was reading up on De Zeven Steegjes, I realized that there was a connection to another building I’d meant to research after photographing it recently.

During our visit to the kerstmarkt (Christmas market) that runs along the Oudegracht, we’d gone down to the wharf level so I could take some photos. As I was looking around, I realized one of the buildings on the opposite side of the canal was a (former) brewery called De Boog. There was a gate leading down to the wharf level with Boog written above it, as well, so I figured the bulk of the buildings that you can see in the photo above were a part of the brewery at some point. However, once home, I forgot to look further into the topic and it slipped my mind until yesterday when I saw the brewery mentioned in relation to De Zeven Steegjes.

De Boog brewery began production sometime around 1584 and remained in business until 1897, when industrial competition became too great. The Oudegracht was a common site for breweries at the time, because the canal waters themselves could be used in the brewing process, and the canal also served as a convenient way to bring in the materials and ship out the finished product. In an interesting bit of trivia, the brewery was damaged in the same storm in 1674 that caused the destruction of the cathedral’s nave. The nave was never rebuilt, but obviously the brewery was.

The brewery was originally owned by the Van Wyckersloot family, but eventually came into the ownership of Willem de Kock in the 1700s. Upon his death in 1761, he bequeathed almost all of his property, including the brewery, to the Roman Catholic church, specifically to benefit the poor and the poor houses. The brewery remained in operation and the profits went toward the construction of housing for the poor, including the building of the Zeven Steegjes! As a result, some of the names of the seven streets bear names that relate to the brewery and Willem de Kock: Boogstraat, Kockstraat, Brouwerstraat (Brewer Street) and Moutstraat (Malt Street). I can’t help but think that another of the streets, Suikerstraat (Sugar Street), might also bear some relation to the brewery and the brewing process.

It was nice to have this bit of research fall in my lap yesterday. It’s like a two-for-one deal in knowledge! I recommend taking a look at the photos and paintings included on the brewery’s Wikipedia page, particularly the painting of the buildings in the year they closed. It’s always interesting to see how little some sites have changed.

De Boog

100 Headscarves

Friday I went with A Georgia Peach to the Centraal Museum to see the new Bloemaert exhibit, and along the way got to see a few other exhibits and pieces that I didn’t realize were already on display. One of the exhibits was this collection of 100 photos of a woman wearing variations on the hoofddoek (headscarf), a topic of interest in the Netherlands — and other countries — as the discussion of Muslim identity and integration rages on. One of the elements of this exhibit was to show that the headscarf is usually worn by choice, and worn at a later age than people often think. The exhibit aims to educate and present thoughts on it by the women who wear the headscarf.


The main woman in the exhibit is Boutaïna Azzabi, born in 1984. She lives in Doha, Qatar, and Veghel, Netherlands (where she was born). She studies communications here in Utrecht, and works as a social media analyst for Al Jazeera. She eats halal kroket and Verkade cookies. She has a passion for travel and investigative journalism; listens to Adele; and finds the headscarf indispensable. The variety of scarves is beautiful, as are the different faces she makes in the photos. I think my favorite is the cheeky wink.

De Baas
Along with the photos, there are quotes from Azzabi on the walls. The one seen here says that there is the perception that women who wear the headscarf are suppressed. “Nonsense,” is Azzabi’s response, as she goes on to say that her mother is the real boss of the house.

Regardless of your personal choice and opinion on the issue, it is a nice exhibit to raise awareness and help people be a bit more informed when discussing the topic. For me, the headscarves are still something that I notice, simply because I rarely saw in the US. Yet more and more, they are becoming part of the general scenery as I become used to seeing them here. Certainly, the young girls I see wearing them — girls who look trendy and are outgoing and behaving exactly as teenage girls always do — enforce this idea that the headscarf itself is no big deal.

Far-Flung Friends

Amsterdam Centre

A friend of mine from one of the websites I’ve been involved with for years has been living in the UK for a few years now. She’s soon returning to the US, though, but has been making the most of her proximity to Europe to squeeze in a few more trips. This past weekend, she was in Amsterdam, and I got a chance to meet up with her for lunch.

This was my first trip to Amsterdam (I’m not counting flying into Schipol and driving to Utrecht), although I didn’t see much more of the city this time, either. But that’s ok, because my main goal was just to meet up with my friend. We took the train up, which was easy peasy; the ride is at most half an hour, if not shorter. Going from my apartment in Queens down to Union Square in Manhattan usually took longer.

Jenny was there with her husband and baby daughter and we all met up at Haarlemerstraat and Prinsengracht before finding a little restaurant where we could eat outside and enjoy the changing weather. In the time that we were there, it drizzled, the sun came out and then it got quite chilly. Dutch weather is never boring.

Admittedly, I only saw a tiny portion of the city and most of what I saw was mainly for the tourists, but I couldn’t help but think that — for now — I prefer Utrecht, specifically because it is a bit smaller. It’s accessible. And has fewer tourists.

Hey! I have a stamp in my passport! I’m not a tourist! 😉