Spoorweg Museum Utrecht Netherlands Tile

Spoorweg Museum – Utrecht

It is the final week before school starts again (can I just say we all are very happy for back to school in our house?) so Maebh and I made plans to visit Primark and Miniso in the Hoog Catharijne Utrecht to get a few things before school started. As Den Bosch doesn’t have a Primark, we’ll take the train up to Utrecht no problem, but I thought why not do something fun in the city while we were there with both kids. Less than a month ago, I visited Utrecht and climbed the Dom with Funs – which was amazing but nothing that I’d like to do with the kids alone. So I thought why not take advantage of our Museumkaarts and visit the Spoorweg Museum while we were in Utrecht.

As I’ve mentioned many times before, if you live in the Netherlands [with or without kids], I can’t recommend enough that you get yourself a Museumkaart. The Spoorweg Museum is one of more than 400 museums that you enter with it. You just have to attend a few times a year and it pays for itself.  

HOW WE GOT THERE

At first I was just planning on taking the 10:08 train from Den Bosch Central to Utrecht Central and walking to the museum (I read it was about a 20 minute walk).  But I read there was an old fashioned station at the museum and that you can arrive by train – leaves every hour at 31 past the hour – so we adjusted our schedule a bit.   We took a train about 20 minutes earlier than previously planned in order to arrive into the Malibaan Station – I thought it would be fun and it was. 

 The museum is located at:

Het Spoorwegmuseum
Maliebaanstation 16
3581 XW Utrecht

Tickets are €17.50 per person over age 3 but Museumkaart holders are FREE.

After we walked back from the museum first the Jewish monument outside. It was a wall of names of the Jewish victims of the Second World War from Utrecht. The memorial wall is made from the sandstone that was also used for the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. In front of the wall was a plinth with a receiver on it. Ten Jewish men wear the shofar.

MALIEBAAN STATION

When you arrive by car or walk up to the museum, you enter through the impressive Maliebaan Station built in 1874.  The station is quite impressive and it is there were you buy your tickets at a lovely old-fashioned ticket booth.  You’ll feel like a passenger from that bygone era.  As we arrived via the Special NS train we went left into the museum and opt’d to visit the Maliebaan Station on the way out.    You could easily miss the station if you were to come in and out from the special NS train back to Utrecht Central which departs at 4 minutes to the hour throughout the day with the exception of the last train which departs at 17:11.  

WHAT IS MUSEUM ALL ABOUT?

Trains, trains and more trains.  It is one the city’s most renowned museums and makes for a great day out – especially for kids and of course any rail enthusiasts.

The museum is divided into the following sections:

1. The Great Discovery – Take a short but fascinating audio tour (Dutch, English or German) around the beginnings of the steam age in the Netherlands. The first railway line was Amsterdam-Haarlem which opened in 1839 using De Arend steam locomotive. It includes a mock-up of Amsterdam station from the time and a working replica of De Arend.

2. Dream Journeys – Discover how the well-to-do from the 19th century travelled in style by railway – such as taking a trip on the Orient Express from Paris to Constantinople (Istanbul) and on to Cairo. On show is a fine display of railway posters and leaflets from the time – including many advertising ferry/rail services between England and Holland.

3. Steel Monsters – A mechanical ride (max 4 persons per car) which takes you through the dark with the Gommers family, 3 generations who worked on the railways. You will experience close encounters with some giant steam trains. The narration is in Dutch only and the ride itself is a little tame.

4. Trains Through Time – Large exhibition hall which houses a comprehensive collection of old locomotives and carriages – from steam trains (19th century/early 20th century) to a variety of electric and diesel units from the 20th century. There is also various railway memorabilia on show and some models of Dutch trains.

SPECIAL EXHIBITION – TOASTIES TRUFFLES TRAINS   

There is a long history of food and drinks being served at the station and aboard trains. Luxurious restaurant cars in international trains served caviar and truffles to the elite.  So the Railway museum put together an exhibition showcasing just that.  They restored a historic restaurant car from 1951 and brought together a number of other fine restaurant cars, including several from Germany.  Together with never-before displayed items from the collection such as china, platform trucks, menus, photos and posters they created ‘Toasties Truffles Trains’ .  It was fun to walk through each train to see what it was like “back in the day” – some were more “retro than others”.   The kitchens were tiny – not sure how they made it work but they did. 

There is a dining tram in Rotterdam called the “RotterTram” which looks cool, which maybe one day we’ll do.  It’s quite pricy at €80 per person, so needs to be for a really special occasion to ride around a tram eating for that price.  I know loads of great places where we could eat for that (for two!).     

We had a lot of fun playing with the phone booth.

OUTSIDE PLAY AREA

Another highlight of the museum for kids is the outside play area.  There is a little floating boat which goes back and forth to a small island with a lighthouse…. our kids did it once but this along with the slides/caves are really great for kids who are 4-6.   That is the perfect age for this museum.  At 10 & 12 our kids were a bit old, but they always enjoy playing outside so did it.  There is also a little train that goes around which you have to queue for a while to get on.  With COVID, they have extra measures with less people so our kids skipped it due to the line, but they would clearly be the oldest on it. 

All in all they enjoyed the museum.  I’m glad we got to visit the museum and spend the day together as the three of us, but we don’t have to rush back any time soon as we saw all that we wanted. I would, however, recommend for any train lovers – especially kids who are fans aged 3-6 to certainly go and visit!!

Update: After doing a survey just now, I saw we mist a lot of hands-on stuff, so we’ll go back again in the near future!

WALKING AROUND UTRECHT

As we walked, I showed the kids a bit of Utrecht.  Not that I’m a pro, but Funs and I were just there a few weeks back  – see post “Day Out In Utrecht” so I had a good idea of things to show them – including the Letters of Utrecht which they thought was cool. They saw the Dom all wrapped in scaffolding and had a drink in the BadaBing before walking over to Hoog Catharijne to visit Primark. Unfortunately being late August, this store has not yet done the switch over so most of their stuff was still summer. Unlike other shops focusing on back to schools hopping, here was a mixture and nothing much of interest. So we ended up only getting her a Billy Eilish t-shirt and pair of jeans – which she is excited to wear the first day of school.

BONUS SURPRISE

After the tiny bit of “shopping” if you call it that – I took them to Dunkin Donuts. 

They were thrilled to be able to get a donut each – which they could pick from a large variety (different ones than what we have back home.   I am not a big fan of DD, but they are and I knew they’d love it.  They were thrilled and loved the little to go boxes for their €2.25 donut.  Check out those outrageous prices for Dunkins 🙂  

While I’m not quite sure they both found Utrecht as nice of a city as I think it is, but they are getting there.  Both still think Groningen is nicer – despite Utrecht being a larger student city.    Oh Soren went into the comic stores on the corner and came out 20 minutes later telling me he’d like to get into comics and then when he saw the pedal boats, he was very interested in those.  I reminded him of his boating skills and how he could be a skipper here as his part time job and showed him a photo of the trash boat which came down the canal while he was inside the comic shop. 

Maebh and I found it pretty cool – he had some great skills reversing the vessel. Soren, well he was not interested – said he’d rather be on a Whale Watch boat on Cape Code for the summer.  Good for me as I can visit one of my favorite places, Provincetown!

A Day In Utrecht, the Netherlands

Saturday was spent the day exploring Utrecht.  If you read my blog lately, you know I’ve been taking some day trips around the major cities in the Netherlands and enjoying all that they offer.  Over the last couple of months, I’ve visited Den Haag/Scheveningen, Delft, and Rotterdam  I’m working on a post about Den Bosch considering it’s where I live – just not yet complete as I want to add more photos, etc.

flower shop

StarsStripesAndMayonnaise_Utrecht1101StarsStripesAndMayonnaise_Utrecht1104StarsStripesAndMayonnaise_Utrecht198

After spending the day in Utrecht I’m ashamed to say I never gave it the credit it truly deserves.  I mean I have a sister-in-law and partner who went to school there and live there now for years with their two kids, but we only visit their home when we go so I don’t know the city intimately.  Once we stayed at the Grand Hotel Karl V which was an amazing weekend but the visit was so long ago [1999 or 2000?].  So I don’t remember too much about the city apart from playing games in the cave, having a lot to drink, eating sushi and bowling and it being a really nice hotel.

Seriously, it’s a great city and I look forward to going back and exploring more.  We didn’t get to see everything and would like to visit some museums, wander around more beyond the main streets.  It has a very charming old town feel and at times when you walk it feels quaint, but Utrecht is actually the fourth largest city in the Netherlands with a population of almost 350,000 it is pretty big.  It is also home to Netherland’s largest university and has the energy and youthfulness of a college town.  With its canals and street cafes, it has the look and feel of a smaller, less crowded version of Amsterdam – which I like!!

Utrecht has a small walkable compact city center.  Just a few minutes from the central station we were at the major historical highlights including St Martin’s Cathedral and Dom Tower.

OUDEGRACHT

StarsStripesAndMayonnaise_Utrecht197StarsStripesAndMayonnaise_Utrecht199

We spent the afternoon wandering through the city center of Utrecht. Since it is so compact, it doesn’t take long to explore the area.  Stopping in a few shops to take a look.

Oudegracht is among the oldest canals in the Netherlands and was dug out during the Medieval period. A system of underground wharves eventually developed along its edges – many of which have since been converted into cafés, stores or homes.

StarsStripesAndMayonnaise_Utrecht113

WALKING TOURS
Like most large cities, you can book walking tours via the VVV.   Or you can check out  Utrecht Free Tours and Free Walking Tours Utrecht which are independent guides – and of course, while optional, they are really tip-based tours and tips are greatly appreciated at the end. Sure they are called free, but these people are doing this for a job not just for fun.   For a while, all these tours were canceled due to corona but they are back on just in a more limited capacity.    We say several happening during the day.    You can always follow your own tour, at your own pace using GPSMyCity where you can find a few different options for Utrecht.   I’ve also started looking at a new one Walk the City phone app.  Some are free and others cost  €1.09…. google is your friend.

It’s hard not to notice but the Dom Tower dominates the skyline, sitting right in the medieval center of town. Two main canals run through the city center, Oudegracht and Nieuwegracht. An ancient moat still surrounds the medieval city center, a remnant of Utrecht’s long history.  We didn’t get outside the main few streets to explore the ancient moat but in the future, it could be fun.

A  unique experience to have in Utrecht is to have a meal or a drink in one of the atmospheric cellar restaurants.  A lot of the buildings in the city center date back to medieval times. Hundreds of years ago, a portion of the Rhine River flowed right through the city, making this a very important spot for trade. During this time, a wharf system was built along the canals, and these platforms that exist today are now home to cafes and restaurants.   I even think some are terraces which go with houses above – so instead of a balcony, you have an area to sit out on the wharf – quite unique.   You can see what I mean in these photos.

wharf1wharfs2StarsStripesAndMayonnaise_Utrecht147

SEE UTRECHT BY BOAT

There are several different options for renting your own boat – but GreenJoy seems to be the most economical option at €30 per hour for an electric boat.  I did a check to see if there was any space but totally sold out on Saturday.   Clearly requires some planning ahead but with the Dutch weather, you never know.    I can be wearing a leather jacket and boats one week in July and a bathing suit flip flops the next.  I guess the minute you see a good forecast for the upcoming week, book a boat of your liking!

StarsStripesAndMayonnaise_Utrecht1100

Screenshot 2020-07-16 at 09.49.31There were some characters on the water for sure.   Check out these two ladies – one on a pink flamingo.  A boat full of 20 somethings rocking the boat having a lot of fun and a lot of beers.  There were small inflatable dinghies to some pretty large boats – even a dinner boat which is “romantic and nice if you are around the age of 85 :)”

StarsStripesAndMayonnaise_Utrecht114StarsStripesAndMayonnaise_Utrecht196StarsStripesAndMayonnaise_Utrecht1110StarsStripesAndMayonnaise_Utrecht195

GUIDED BOAT TOURS

There is also a larger tour provided by the Shipping Company Schuttevaer. They offer excursions, hop on & off tours covering the unique canal system of the medieval city of Utrecht. While it’s nice in the winter and colder days to have covered boats with heating systems but during the nice weather,  I love an open-top boat without windows.    Anyway, their guided boat will tell you all about the hidden beauties of the city and about the historic and modern places of interest. Utrecht has a unique character with its terraces along the canals, the old center with its many churches, and the beautiful parks along with the encircling defensive canal system (Singles).

Prices are €13.95 for adults and €9.95 for kids under 14.   Booking online is required.

KAYAKING

If you are feeling adventurous you can even rent a kayak and paddle along yourself along the canals.  I’m sure it’s lovely but seriously this is nothing for me.  But we saw tons of people doing this and then it was funny when I recognized some of them walking around the city later.

StarsStripesAndMayonnaise_Utrecht115

kayaks3

Being a student hub and a large city, there are a TON of bars to visit here and I’m not sure of the best ones as I’m only a tourist myself but I read about a few and we had some drinks.   Not sure where but I assume you can rent SUP’s too… there were some going around – but maybe they were their own.   One woman on a SUP had a shirt on and the backside read “hire me”.

Update: Hours after posting this – I got a “suggestion” on Facebook from DagjeSuppen.nl which happens to offer SUP rentals in Utrecht  – interesting, right!? 🙂

StarsStripesAndMayonnaise_Utrecht111sup2

STADSKASTEEL OUDAEN

Part of the Stadskasteel Oudaen brewery are two outdoor options is a terrace on Oudegracht and the unique terrace on the wharf outside the brewery, where you can enjoy a drink or have a bite to eat.  We wanted to have a drink here but there were no spaces outside.  I’m sure it would have been equally nice inside as the building itself as it looked lovely but the weather was too nice to be inside.   Instead, we had a beer at the terrace next door – Basis – which was super basic – only bottled beers.   It’s typically a techno nightclub but with corona, they cannot pack them in, so they have had to cancel all their DJs & events and that is why it was so simple.  Hopefully, they stay afloat.

BELGISCH BIERCAFE OLIVER

This is a beautiful bar/restaurant in a former hidden church, dating back to the Dutch “Reformation” period when public Roman-Catholic gatherings were forbidden. Although the ban was lifted in 1853, the church remained hidden behind a regular domestic entrance ever since.   They have a nice menu with typical food like mussels and fries and of course, nice beer!

StarsStripesAndMayonnaise_Utrecht1116StarsStripesAndMayonnaise_Utrecht1117StarsStripesAndMayonnaise_Utrecht1118StarsStripesAndMayonnaise_Utrecht1119StarsStripesAndMayonnaise_Utrecht1115

On the way back to the station, we stopped in for a beer at the bar.   Not sure how the guests eating feel about this but there was a cat walking around.    Most people were having dinner when we arrived but there were some stools at the bar so it was an option for us to just have a beer.    Absolutely a place I’d visit again.

FAK – FRENCH ASIAN KITCHEN
Originally we wanted to have dinner at the Streetfood Club but there we no spots available instead of outside, so instead, we had dinner at French Asian Kitchen a place which was recommended.  The food was good – we had a sharing platter which came out with a flaming candle.

Also something called Trump Gambas which were a few large shrimps on skewers.

On the top was cotton candy wrapped around crazily as if it was his “hair”.  We both found the sugar too sweet but the shrimp were good and a funny idea.

Screenshot 2020-07-21 at 21.16.32
Credit: Cityguys.nl

DOMPLEIN TERRACES
On the corner just outside the Dom gates is the Dom Plein and there are about four cozy terraces – and we had a drink there.   The place we had a beer at on the corner – Domplien 20. The place is new – before it was called the Brasserie Domplien but it’s now called Bada Bing – I only remember that as I looked at their menu and remember saying that is what the bar in the Sopranos was called.

DOM TOWER

A trip up Dom Tower makes a good afternoon activity and the highlight of our afternoon. For one of the best views over the city, climb the 465 steps to the top of the tower.  Now there is even an ELEVATOR on the outside – and it takes 3 minutes and perfect for old poeple who would never otherwise be able to take the trip up the staair but that is the fun of the adventure!!  From the top, you can see Amsterdam and Rotterdam and a clear day.

dom with scafolling

Important Note: Currently the Dom Tower is undergoing restoration work. Scaffolding surrounds the ENTIRE tower but because of this, they built a higher platform above the tower.  So yes you do have a fence around your view, but you can still enjoy the view and can continue taking advantage of the tours offered.  Unfortunately, the magical photos of Utrecht with the Dom are not possible until after 2022 when the renovations should be complete.

Dom Tower is the tallest belfry in the Netherlands and is 112.5 metres (368 feet) in height.  It started out as a Roman fortress right where this tower stands today. In 1382 the Dom Tower construction was completed. Since that time, it has survived a tornado, religious upheavals, and centuries of European history.

StarsStripesAndMayonnaise_Utrecht179StarsStripesAndMayonnaise_Utrecht178

The Dom Tower was originally part of the Cathedral of Saint Martin, also known as Dom Church. The Cathedral’s nave was never fully completed and in 1674 a tornado destroyed this part of the cathedral left the Dom Tower a free-standing tower as it is today. Upon completion in 1382 the tower stood 109 meters tall. During restorations in 1910, its height was increased to 112.5 meters where it stands today.

The Dom Tower can only be visited on a tour.  There were some extra rules with Corona in place but all were common sense.   You had to book your tickets online in advance and they were selling out quickly so we bought ours on Thursday.   Also, you had to put all your bags and possessions in the free lockers at the VVV center but I did bring some water with us as I thought we’d need it.  After all, I knew in advance we were going to climb 465 steps to get to the top.  I knew there were some resting points along the way.

The following information is from the English sheet provided at the Dom visitor information center.  They have it translated into several languages for their non-Dutch speaking guests.

dom6dom2dom3dom5dom8

St. Michael’s Chapel (11m / 36 ft). The chapel was originally built as the private chapel of the Bishop of Utrecht. This room is more than 700 years old and had walls covered with white paint and carpets on the floor. Nowadays the chapel is mainly used for wedding ceremonies, festivities, lectures and dinners. The floor has an internal heating system since 1929. In the arched roof, you see a hatch, which can be opened and through which materials can be hoisted up. Similar hatches exist on every floor in the tower.

Egmond’s Chapel (25 m / 82 ft). Until 1901 the tower guard took residence here with his family in a wooden house, built inside this room. The tower guard was responsible for the maintenance of the bells and the clockwork and kept the tower clean. Also, part of his house was used as a café which the tower guard exploited to earn extra income. After the tower restoration in the years 1901-1931 the tower guards home disappeared and the guard did not return. On 1 August 1674, a hurricane-ravaged the city and besides destroying hundreds of buildings it also destroyed the main nave of the church. The tower remained practically undamaged. It was not until 1826 that the ruins of the main nave were cleared, and since then, the tower and church have been separated from one another by what we now know.  From the look-out, at 70 metres the remaining part of the cathedral is visible in the pavement.

Belfry (49 m / 161 ft). This room is the domain of the bell-ringers. For centuries these bells were (and still are) the voice of the tower. The 14 bells, all of them together weigh over 31,000 kg, are the heaviest set of bells in the Netherlands and second heaviest of Europe, after the set of the Dom of Cologne in Germany. In the centre of the room, you’ll see the largest bell ‘Salvator’. Weighing 8,227 kg, this bell is the heaviest one in the collection. The seven oldest bells (you can recognize them by their clappers shaped as apple cores) are the most remarkable. They are more than 500 years old. The other seven bells (with lollipop-shaped clappers) date from 1982. The bells are made of bronze. The ringing of the complete set of bells only occurs a few times a year and 26 people are needed to ring the complete set. Bell-ringing is a trade that you can learn under supervision of a master bell-ringer. The bells are still rung for services in the Dom Church and special holidays like Christmas, New Year, Easter and King’s Day.

dom bells2dom bells

dom bells5

The Lantern (70 m / 230 ft). The carillon you see here has 50 bells and the oldest are more than 350 years old. This is the musical instrument of our city’s carilloneur Malgosia Fiebig. She sits behind a keyboard with wooden keys in the cabin you see at a height of 80 m (262 ft), right above the largest bell. The wooden keys of the keyboard are connected to the clappers inside the bells. The carilloneur plays a wide range of music and you can hear her play every Saturday from 11- 12 hours. The mechanical playing drum (1669) plays a melody every 15 minutes. Spire (95 m / 312 ft). You have climbed 465 steps!

StarsStripesAndMayonnaise_Utrecht1134
Photo credit: wiki

On top of the spire, you can see the weather-vane, which is shaped like St. Martin sharing his robe with a beggar. The spire and weather-vane of the Dom Tower are together 17, 32 m high.

As we were two of the last to go up – we didn’t go into the Lantern room at all rather our guide just sent us up the remaining nearly 200 winding steep steps to the top to take in the view first before sending up the other 20 or so right behind us.  I suspect most people find climbing the last section of stairs to the top is the most brutal.  It was dark, narrow with long spiral stairs that seemed like a never-ending climb.  There were no real handrails and the steps were very warn so a bit slippery.   Obviously, you should be wearing proper footwear so should you find yourself in flipflops, I’d suggest you NOT do the climb.

dom stepsdom steps 5

Occasionally there little things on the wall to hold onto but in general, you are on your own and just have to take your time keeping your hands on both walks you will be fine.  Going down was the same thing – it just felt like a long winding never-ending trip down but we went carefully one other couple was in front of us so it felt fine.

On and the belfry floor (the one with the bells) it could be very cold and windy had it not been summertime so if you are going during the fall, I suggest wearing a coat.  They did put up plastic on the windows but you could hear it whipping. I’d hate to have rowdy kids right behind me going down but the view at the top was well-worth the climb.

70 meters highabove the city 3above the city 6above the city 8above the cityabove the city6aove the city 2StarsStripesAndMayonnaise_Utrecht176StarsStripesAndMayonnaise_Utrecht177

I’m already looking forward to climbing future towers here in the Netherlands as it’s something I’ve never done before and when we got to the top it wasn’t scary like I thought it was going to be.   Perhaps climbing St. Jan here in Den Bosch is the next being so close and it’s only 43 meters high and even the Lange Jan in Middelburg!

Hours: Noon to 5 pm daily
Cost: €10 for adults; €5 for children 4 to 12 years old.  The lift option is €17 per person.
Website: www.domtoren.nl/en

ST. MARTIN’S CATHEDRAL

St. Martin’s Cathedral (Dom church) is located next to the Dom Tower.  The first stone of the Cathedral was laid in 1254. In the years that followed, the Cathedral was Catholic until 1580, then Dutch Reformed until 2003, when it became part of the Protestant Church.

churchStarsStripesAndMayonnaise_Utrecht135StarsStripesAndMayonnaise_Utrecht134StarsStripesAndMayonnaise_Utrecht133StarsStripesAndMayonnaise_Utrecht132StarsStripesAndMayonnaise_Utrecht131

The interior is typical of Dutch churches — stark with neutral colors and little ornament. This aesthetic is due to the Iconoclast Fury of 1566, when Calvinists across the Netherlands stripped the churches of statues and other representations of Christ, as these were thought to be idol-worshipping.  You can see signs of the destruction in hidden corners of the church.

chuch4 damage

Entry is free to but a suggested donation of €2 is appreciated.

DOMunder TOUR

History buffs should head to the Utrecht Dom Under experience.  It is an underground space where you can learn about 2,000 years of history right below Dom Square.  You’ll look at historic artifacts with an interactive flashlight that activates stories and animated films.  The 1.5-hour tour is currently only in Dutch and recommends for kids over age 10.   Adults are €12.50 and Students & kids aged 10 & over are €10.    Book online & early – as tickets are limited to six people and sell out days in advance!

PANDHOF SINTE MARIE GARDEN

Between the buildings of the conservatory, you will find Pandhof Sinte Marie (St Mary’s Courtyard), a remnant of the former Mariakerk (St Mary’s Church). We walked quickly into the garden area.  You can admire the 15th-century cloister surrounding the courtyard as well.

garden

This is NOT the same PANDHOF gardens at the Domkerk which is a much larger and more stunning garden area – which we didn’t go to but here is a photo.

Pandhof Gardens Utrecht
Credit: Holland.com

RIETVELD SCHROEDER HOUSE

The Rietveld Schröder House is the architectural highlight of the art movement De Stijl. The iconic house was designed and decorated in 1924 by Utrecht architect Gerrit Rietveld, for Dutch socialite Truus Schröder-Schräder and her children.  The UNESCO World Heritage Listed house was a private residence until 1985 but is now open to the public for guided and audio tours. If you happen to be a fan of quirky houses, then this is definitely the tour for you.  The guide demonstrates the transitions between interior and exterior and the clever use of space and light in the house by sliding various walls and pointing out cleverly designed furniture.

Every 15 minutes there are only TWO slots available, so you really need to book online well in advance.  All tickets for Saturday were already sold out when I looked on Thursday.   Tickets are €18 per adult.

FLOWER MARKET ON SATURDAYS

If you are lucky enough to be here on a Saturday, stroll through the flower markets.

The Bloemenmarkt of Utrecht takes place in not one but two locations! Every Saturday from 7.00 am to 5.00 pm, the Janskerkhof morphs into the largest flower and plant market of Utrecht. This is where you can by everything from bulbs to plant pots.  We walked by here later in the day looking for a restaurant so lucky for me, I got to see it.

StarsStripesAndMayonnaise_Utrecht185StarsStripesAndMayonnaise_Utrecht186StarsStripesAndMayonnaise_Utrecht187StarsStripesAndMayonnaise_Utrecht188StarsStripesAndMayonnaise_Utrecht189

At the same time, another flower market is on at the Oudegracht.  But today there were only a few market stalls selling flowers but I was in sunflower heaven! 

StarsStripesAndMayonnaise_Utrecht193

StarsStripesAndMayonnaise_Utrecht139

“HIDDEN GEMS” IN UTRECHT

Utrecht has some interesting and unusual things – we’ll say “hidden gems” for the lack of a better world.  I’m sure there are tons more but these are what I found when I did some searching for cool things to do and see when there.

MIFFY TRAFFIC LIGHTS

You already know about the Nijntje Museum, but there are several tributes to Bruna and Miffy around the city such as this super cute traffic light on St Jacobsstraat with a rainbow crosswalk – located just near the de Bijenkorf.

sidewalk nijntejsidewalk

Screenshot 2020-07-16 at 22.25.55

WORLD’S LARGEST BICYCLE PARKING LOT

The biggest bicycle parking lot in the world is located in Utrecht and is now fully operational.  Here is a video I found on Youtube where you can see it from the perspective of a bike-rider.  The garage, located Utrecht’s Centraal Station, has room to park over 12,500 bicycles, and cost over 30 million euros!   I’d 100% have to take a photo of my bike’s location each time as I would NEVER be able to remember where I left it at the end of a weekend away.   I’m very spoiled here in little Den Bosch – where I nearly always get a spot in aisle 10 or 11 in the lower level.  They say we are creatures of habit – I tend to try and park in the same area.  Imagine what it is like at peak rush-hour when 7,000+ bikes descend on this station?!

Also, the first 24 hours you park your bicycle is free but afterward to pay €1.25 for each additional 24 hour period.  If you regularly use the bicycle storage for longer than 24 hours, an annual subscription can be cheaper – which is 75 a year and you can park on the ground level in the special area marked “abonnement“.   You see it in the videa when the person first rides in.  It was built in stages to allow the station to remain fully operational.  Because of its central location in the Netherlands, Utrecht Centraal is the most important railway hub of the country with more than 1000 departures per day as the station is the busiest in the Netherlands.  (credit: wiki)

SEE THE HOUSES OF UTRECH’S MOST FAMOUS FORMER RESIDENTS 

You can take a walk by the houses of Utrecht’s most famous former residents. The only Dutch Pope, Adrian VI, also called Hadrian VI, originally name Adrian Florenszoon Boeyens, (born March 2, 1459 actually came from Utrecht.  Adrian’s birth home was Oudegracht 265. But in 1517, he gave an order to build the Paushuize (The Pope’s House) on the Pausdam, where, unfortunately, he never got to live in.  We didn’t see the Pope’s House ourselves but we did see his birth home on the Oudergracht.

StarsStripesAndMayonnaise_Utrecht1102StarsStripesAndMayonnaise_Utrecht1103

Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen, the inventor of the X-ray and winner of the first Nobel Prize in physics was in fact expelled from Utrecht University.  Outside is a large mural painting.

Giant Bookcase Wall Mural – Boekenkast by Jan Is De Man

As it’s not located in the city centre, we didn’t bother going over to see it in person but it’s worth mentioning as it’s very cool.

Screenshot 2020-07-16 at 11.49.50

Screenshot 2020-07-16 at 11.51.50

L’Or FILMBOULEVARD

The Filmboulevard is sort of like Utrecht’s version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. There is a row of plaques (Gouden Tegel) in the ground with handprints (and a pair of footprints of Carice van Houten, who has won twice) of stars who have won the best actor/actress.

StarsStripesAndMayonnaise_Utrecht191StarsStripesAndMayonnaise_Utrecht192

LETTERS OF UTRECHT – THE POEM WITH NO END

The literary creation, called “De Letters van Utrecht,” is being written one character at a time, block by block, one letter per week.

StarsStripesAndMayonnaise_Utrecht1105

A kind of “social sculpture,” The Letters of Utrecht is a 21st-century project intended to expend into the 22nd, the 23rd, and on and on… to wrap around the city for as long as its residents support it. The lines are being written by a changing roster of Utrecht’s Guild of Poets (so far there have been seven), the words known only to the next writer’s imagination.

The project was started in 2012, but in order to pinpoint an easy start date, the first 648 blocks were laid out and back-dated to January 1, 2000.

StarsStripesAndMayonnaise_Utrecht1108

Since its inception, every Saturday one of 22 stone carvers from a local guild chisels a single letter into the stone has pulled the next stone from the border of the canal path, in order for the current poet to inscribe a letter. It takes months, but words slowly begin to appear, and with each year the verses will continue to wind through the streets.

The beginning of the poem is at the corner of and Lange Smeestraat and Oudegracht (the Old Canal) at #279.   Our first loop around the city we missed this completely…. and then we purposely walked back to find the start and had a chuckle that we were there hours earlier.

StarsStripesAndMayonnaise_Utrecht1107

The project is supported by the city, but you can make a sponsored donation of €100 or more and your stone with a character (even punctuation like colons and periods count towards a weekly carving) and number engraved on its face and your name engraved on its side.  With Corona situation, it is currently on hold so we didn’t see the new stone laid on Saturday between 1 & 2 pm – would be fun to see.   But here is a video from Youtube so you can see how one letter is put in before.

The full text, so far, can be found here in the original Dutch.  Roughly translated, in English it reads:

You have to start somewhere to give the past a place, the present is getting less and less. The further you are, the better. Go ahead now,

Leave your tracks. Forget the flash in which you may exist, the world is your street plan. Was there a time when you were another: it went by.

You are the other though. You are, as you know, the spell of this story. This is eternity. It takes. It’s time. Therefore, go into your story and swallow. Tell.

Tell us who you are with each step. In our story we disappear naturally, and only you remain in the long run. You and these letters, which are cut out of stone. Like the letters on our grave.

They burst into the Dom. Raised to the sky like an index finger, to indicate the guilty and demand more time. So we can go up straight, like people along the canal.

Stare at their feet. Look up! See Utrecht’s churches protruding above ground level. Raise the hands, begging with the towers to be this privilege: to be, now. The weather is nice.

Stand on. Life is witness to your gaze on the horizon. Your footsteps connect the past with written letters…”

Each poet is limited to 52 letters a year since they put a new letter out every week.  In order for a poet to qualify for participation, he or she must have published at least a book of poetry or two, and even if they make the cut, their proposed verses must be approved by the guild.

SHOPPING
Like all the big Dutch cities, Utrecht is no different.  They have the main shopping street, little concept shops like Keck and Lisa and all the big shops like de Bijkorf but what they also have is a huge American-style mall which Maebh would LOVE called Hoog Catharijne.

hoog cath

We walked through from Centraal Station to the city and there was a Primark and Miniso shop – so a return trip here is due for her when it’s back to school shopping time.

MUSEUMS TO VISIT
There are several museums in the area to visit.   We didn’t make it in any of them this day but on a rainy day or during return visit we’ll certainly visit a couple.

CENTRAAL MUSEUM

Classic meets modern at Centraal Museum with collections of design, modern art, and works from the art masters.  The Centraal Museum is the main museum in Utrecht and was founded in 1838.  The museum houses a wide-ranging art collection, including the largest collection of Rietveld pieces in the world so if you cannot make it to the house you can still get to appreciate his designs.  Among the highlights of the museum is the one-thousand-year-old ‘Utrecht Ship’. The ship is part of the collection ‘Stadsgeschiedenis’. The ship was found in 1930 preserved in the clay, near the Van Hoornekade in Utrecht, and was put in the cellar of the 16th-century part of the museum building.   It is €3.50  with a Museumkaart – but I am not sure if that is accurate as I always thought it was free.   Adults are €18.50, kids 12 & under are free, and kids 13 – 17 are €9.25.

SPOORWEGMUSEUM

This railway-themed museum is located a bit outside the city center – but you can walk there or take a shuttle from the central station.   It was first opened in 1927 and is a very popular attraction for train enthusiasts of all ages but especially children who are fans of Thomas the Train – which visits once a year for a huge event like they do back in the states.  On display are a number of collections, locomotives, train cars, trams, freight cars. The museum is split into four distinct sections – Dream Travels, Steel Monsters, The Workshop, and the Great Discovery.  It’s very hands-on and there is an outdoor playground.    I know my kids and both my parents would LOVE this place.  Tickets are €17.50 and kids under 3 are free.

NIJNTJE MUSEUM

As Utrecht was the home of Dick Bruna, the author of Nijntje (Miffy).  There is a museum built in the honor of his most famous work.  While I have never been it’s a super child-friendly museum, perfect for families with young children visiting Utrecht.  You’ll find lots of Miffy stuffed animals, Miffy-inspired rooms, and interactive activities for the kids.  At 12.5 and 10, my kids are too old but I’d say kids 2-6 would enjoy it most.    Hommage to Dick Bruna is scattered around the town with statues of Nijnete and there is even a walk signal.

nijntje

MUSEUM SPEELKLOK

This museum will entertain both adults and children with countless interactive exhibits, fascinating history, and a lot of quirks.  The entire museum is dedicated to automated instruments that can play a melody without humans – most of which still work and can play their music.  Among the instruments on display are music boxes, musical clocks, pianolas, barrel organs (including the typically Dutch large street organs which you see in the markets with a guy shaking a jar for coins), and a turret clock with carillon.

Aside from the brilliant instruments and objects, the museum also gives an in-depth look at how these things are created and the high amount of dedicated, patience, and craftsmanship that goes into each piece.  According to their website, you no longer have to book online – you can buy tickets at the entrance.  Adults are €14 and kids 4-12 are €7.50  Free to Museumkaart holders.

SONNENBORGH MUSEUM EN STERRENWACHT

At the historic 19th-century observatory, scientists deciphered the composition of the sun and made the first weather forecasts. Today, Sonnenborgh is a museum where visitors can conduct their own research. Climb the stairs to the observatory and wonder at the starry skies during a Star Viewing Night.  Learn all about the unique building, the stars overhead, and the weather in one of their exhibitions, tours, or lectures. Sonnenborgh was built on a monumental 16th-century bastion and is one of the best-preserved city wall bastions in Northern Europe.  Would you like to see the surface of the sun up close with your own eyes? Visit the observatory for Sun on Sunday: every week, visitors have the opportunity to look through one of the largest solar telescopes in the Netherlands.

Interested in looking at the nighttime sky? Visit a Star Viewing Night at Sonnenborgh. During autumn and winter, you can peer through the telescopes every weekend evening. The program always consists of a lecture, a demonstration of the telescope, and a short tour around the museum. In case of clear skies, you can look for objects in the sky yourself: gas nebulae, planets, or the surface of the moon. The observatory is open for ages 12+ on Friday evening, and on Saturday evening there is a special Children’s Star Viewing Night for children aged 6 to 12.  Note that the Star Viewing Nights are in Dutch only.

This museum is a 20-minute walk from Utrecht Centraal Station but due to corona restrictions, it has limited hours on during the week and on Sunday so we didn’t visit.  But it looks cool and I think the kids would enjoy it.  Adult tickets are €8.50 and kids between 4-17 are €5.00. Entry is free for Museumkaart holders.

MUSEUM CATHARIJNECONVENT

Museum Catharijneconvent occupies a characteristic building in the old city center of Utrecht. The building has a long history going back to the fourteenth century. Originally, it was the site of a shelter for the homeless. In the fifteenth century, the Carmelites acquired the land and built a convent. Later, the knights of St John turned it into a hospital, which it remained until the beginning of the nineteenth century. Subsequently, it served various other functions until becoming a museum in 1979.  Presently it houses the beautiful collection of medieval art in the Netherlands.  Miracles All Around Us is the current temporary exhibition.  Adult tickets are €14. and kids between 6-17 are €7. Entry is free for Museumkaart holders.

Overall Utrecht is a GREAT city and I definitely want to return and explore more both with and without the kids.  I felt like at each corner we turned, there was another square with terraces and cafes filled with people enjoying themselves and the great weather.  If you find yourself in Amsterdam for a few days, take the 20-minute train ride to Utrecht and see for yourself.

Have you been to Utrecht?  Do you have a tip or suggestion of a great place to see and things to do?  Send me a private.