Utrecht, the Netherlands

Guys, we did it.

It’s taken us 5.5 years, but we made the long and treacherous 1 hour and 56 minute train ride from Groningen to Utrecht!

I know our days in the Netherlands are numbered, so I have an unofficial Dutch bucket-list running in my mind. We’ve hit a number of the major Dutch cities – Den Haag & Rotterdam, for instance – but Utrecht was still on the list. A few of my old colleagues (& friends) live in the area now, so we had an inexpensive ‘nachtjeweg’ & mini-reunion courtesy of an NS Spoordeel.

Part of the Mucosis crew in Utrecht!

Expat Tip: Take advantage of the NS Spoordeelwinkel!

We’ve used this a few times now. The deal is for two people: one night in a (mid-range) hotel with breakfast included and a return train ticket from anywhere in the Netherlands for ~ €100 – 120. Considering for us, coming from Groningen, a one-way full-price train ticket is €25 per person, this is a steal! If overnight isn’t your thing, there are ‘dagjes uit’ (days out) and other activities.


And speaking of hotels, this was the view from our room window. Notice something earth friendly and cool?!

It’s not a bus stop, it’s a Bee Stop!

It’s common knowledge that the bee population around the world is declining. To help out the Dutch bees, Utrecht has transformed over 300 bus stops into bee stops to encourage pollination. Such a simple yet innovative idea!

Back to Utrecht.

Utrecht is unique, in that there are two levels to the canals: the street and the boat level. When Utrecht was built, it was designed with a series of cellars underneath the street level which were used by the business or house above it. Today, those cellar’s aren’t used for storage, but (in the city center) have been transformed into restaurants and bars which line the canals. I can only imagine how nice this would be on a sunny & warm day!

This two-level set-up also means that the road itself can’t support the weight of delivery trucks – then or now – due to the hollow cellars underneath. The solution? Delivery boats! We didn’t witness it, but apparently the ‘Utrecht Beer Boat’ and the ‘trash-boat’ make regular appearances though the canals.

The two-level canal.

Now, you might be wondering: “How did she learn such interesting information about Utrecht?!”

A walking tour, of course!

Tip: Utrecht Free Walking Tours

They offer tours in English 4 days per week, two times per day. They have general city tours (which is what we did) or specialty tours (WWII, for example).

Our tour group. Photo courtesy of our guide, Donna.

The tour started out at the Dom Tower. I wish I had taken a picture to show how dissapointed I was when we arrived. Not because the tower was unimpressive – it’s 112m (~365ft) and the tallest building in Utrecht. It’s also under renovation and completely covered with scaffolding. *facepalm*

We also missed out on the museum DOMunder, which is a tour through the archaeological site underneath Dom square that dates back to 45 A.D.. We (mostly I) convinced people to go to Museum Speelklok, which is a museum dedicated to the self-playing musical instruments that are notoriously Dutch.

A typical Dutch street organ (in Groningen).

To be honest, if you only have time for one museum in Utrecht, don’t visit Museum Speelklok unless you’re really into musical clocks/instruments. Don’t get me wrong, they were cool to see, but it seemed over-priced and it was very, as our tour guide eloquently put it, niche. If you’re into learning a little about the city, then I would recommend something else.

Shane for scale.

One thing that I did really enjoy was De Letters van Utrecht.

It’s a piece of street art started in 2000. It’s an ongoing poem written in the bricks of the street. The unique part is that only one letter-brick is added per week – every Saturday at 13:00 you can see them add the next letter. The artist intended it to be a gift to future generations by creating an poem that can be carried on for generations. The full poem to date can be found online, and if you’re interested in contributing then you can apply to write a line of text.

The rest of our walking tour took us through the park and through city center.

It was quick, but a nice weekend away with good friends!

In other news, Shane and I tried to go see a movie last night and it was cancelled because two dead bodies were found in the theater…

That’s a first.

Tot ziens!

Whitney

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We are two Americans living in the Netherlands with our fat cat, Meatball. The Shwits is a diary of our time abroad!

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