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Saturday Sunset 1.0

Saturday Sunset 1.0

Utrecht

279 238 332 433 458 425429 450I had neglected numerous opportunnities to see more of the Netherlands in the time I have spent here, and had resolved to do something to change this situation.  It was with this in mind that I accepted an offer to travel to travel to Utrecht with a friend the day after my birthday.  Despite my knowledge of the (tiny) size of the Netherlands, I was surprised to reach Utrecht  half an hour after leaving Amsterdam.  This suprise was compounded by the fact that I had been once before, albeit more than a decade ago.  I had been visiting another friend on that ocassion, and was looking forward to exploring the city again.

I did remember an exhausting climb up the tall church tower on my last visit, and seen the skylines of both Amsterdam and Rotterdam from the very top.  However the mist and rain which accompanied my second visit made this seem an event unlikely to occur on this occasion.  We ambled into a cafe and got chatting the very friendly proprietor, whose cat had featured in a book on city cats.  He went on to tell us that all his vets bills for the cat were listed as business expenses, as it was environmentally friendly pest control.  That philosophy struck me as typically Dutch, even if rats and mice might not think it was all that friendly.  Depends on your point of view I suppose.

The proprietor did suggest a place to eat, called Kafe Belgie, on Oude Gracht, which we promised to have a look at later that evening.  The rain had let up a bit, and we wandered around the historic centre.  The canals are at a much lower level beneath street level, or at least the main one in the city centre is.  There are some nice terraces which you can sit at, should you wish to descend and sit next to the canal itself.  This enables you to enjoy the canal scene without cars and bicycles constantly rushing by.

Many of these restaurants and bars on the canal terraces are converted basements, nonetheless, one can sit here and imagine how people must have lived centuries ago.  Such an experience is always enjoyable in historic European cities.  The relaxed pace of this city was a pleasure after visiting Amsterdam and Bruges, which feel so inundated with tourists they seem like theme parks.  Cities such as Delft, Utrecht, Antwerp and Mechelen somehow preserve the old alongside the modern, and with a bit of imagination you can really let yourself enjoy the moment

The city itself is very picturesque, not to mention quieter than Amsterdam.  We stopped for some local ale in a pub called De Drie Dorstige Heren , which has a lovely quiet atmosphere.  The barkeeper was originally from Amsterdam, but has since moved to Utrecht.  After a year in Amsterdam surrounded by the bustle of thousands of tourists, we could not help but admire the wisdom of such a choice.  Amsterdam can feel somewhat surreal at times, and it is nice to take an excursion once in a while.

We did stop in at Kafe Belgie, and had a Belgian beer this time, at the barmans recommendation, to go with our chicken.  The meal was absolutely lovely, and I am grateful to the propreitor at our first stop.  Kafe Belgie obviously has a good and longstanding reputation, due to the large crowds it can attract on a rainy Thursday evening.  It’s scenic views of the Oude Gracht only add to its excellent food and selection of beers.

What surprised me most about Utrecht, on both occasions, was the presence of an Aboriginal art museum.  It is full of the most exquisite Australian Aboriginal art, but how it ended up in Utrecht is a complete mystery to me.  It doesn’t feature in my Rough Guide, but if you have an interest in Aboriginal Art it is definitely worth a look.

Most of our time here was spent enjoying the long summer twilight out of doors, watching the evening glow over the old buildings as the weather cleared up a bit.  At about 9 we decided to head back to Amsterdam, and I am certainly resolved to make another trip to Utrecht someday.  It is a relatively undiscovered gem only half an hour from Amsterdam.

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Bruges 1.4

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Bruges 1.2

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Bruges 1.1

Bruges 1.1