I was visiting a couple of friends in Utrecht and, of course, some sightseeing needed to be done as well. Unfortunately my original plans were thoroughly ruined by illness (first theirs, then mine), so instead of doing long day trips all over the Netherlands, small outings were planned from which we could easily return once we felt tired/exhausted or just not up to the entire thing. The rest remained quite unchanged, nice cosy evenings with home-cooking, chatting and board games. Just perfect!
The weather, also, wasn’t with us unfortunately. Which doesn’t mean that the Dutch would stop riding their bikes. Oh no. Through out this week-end, I would be repeatedly teased for (repeatedly) pointing out that 90km/h wind gusts on a bike were a bit of a challenge. I didn’t learn to keep my mouth shut after the first two times.
But first things first, initially we went to visit the old town of Utrecht. And when something is called “old” in the Netherlands, then it truly is old. The first and main sight we went to was the dome. The church it belonged to dates from the 14th century and was never fully finished due to lack of funds. The dome is said to stand on the exact spot where the city of Utrecht was founded 200 years ago. Directly behind the dome, there’s … a street?! And on the other side of the street are the leftovers of the church. Turns out the unfinished nave collapsed in the 17th century and was never rebuilt. The remaining, stabler, parts of the church are now two independent buildings with a street running in the middle.
The remainder of the church, in theory, is visitable.. I had no luck however, trying to visit it twice and finding it closed on both occasions. At least, on the first attempt, the church garden’s were open.
From there we walked through the old town almost straight into the board game shop.. Because, surely, my visit must be celebrated with a new board game for their collection. 😉
We finished our walk around town along the “Oudegracht”, a water way with lots of restaurants and café’s at water level, which were all still closed because it was March, it was cold, windy and rainy. Though my Dutch friend corrected me on the latter, that is just “high humidity” not rain.
The afternoon we decided to do a small bike ride outside of Utrecht.. This was when most of the teasing happened.. I had used my google-fu to find something interesting around Utrecht to visit, failing to see the most obvious option: The Castel de Haar (which my friend would point out to me that evening and I’d go visit it on one of the subsequent days). Instead I decided on the Maarsevensche lakes in the north of Utrecht.. Here the local knowledge of my hosts was invaluable, a) because we didn’t get lost and b) because no tour guide would’ve ever told me that all the abandoned houses on the waterway used to belong to prostitutes before they closed down the operation due to health concerns and more. They also showed me the local castle, which was very pretty and motivated me to request we drive by some of those “forts” marked on the map. Being originally from the Rhine, my inner eye was showing me a countryside full of medieval castles, one older than the other, all of them pretty awesome. What I got was concrete bunkers.. These forts date back to World War 2 and definitely weren’t built to be pretty.. Such disappointment.
Our last stop on the trip (before reaching the lakes) were two wind mills.. When we got there, unfortunately, there was just one wind mill.. The other spot showed a lot of burned wood and a shield declaring this the smallest wind mill in Utrecht. It is no more, we didn’t find out what happened, maybe lightning struck. Maybe some idiot burned it down. The other mill still stood in all its glory and its blades were turning furiously. That was the first time I realised that the way back might become a challenge, so far we had had the wind in our backs.. Once we turned back it would be coming straight at us.. We tried to avoid that as long as possible, but there was no escaping the wind. The way back showed me clearly how crazy the Dutch can be.. I was pedalling in place, leaned over my bike and had to scream to make myself heard, while my friend said “oh, that’s not a lot of wind. We have this almost daily”. And rode away as if there was nothing to stop him.
The next day we spent at the local railway museum. It is really quite cool but no pictures. We happened to visit on Easter Monday, when they had some kids’ event (and we’re all still kids at heart). There were old employees in different parts, explaining how their work used to look like, how they ensure that there’s only one train on the tracks and how the lights were switched on and off. Mixed in are very modern, interactive segments.. Like driving your own train. Luckily, I wasn’t in charge of driving the train per se, since the lady giving instructions was giving them in Dutch and I’m not sure I could’ve told slower from faster in time. The ride was hilarious though!