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Published: November 12th 2006
Where the white umbrellas are standing is the warf part with the newer buildings built on top of it.
Yesterday morning I woke up around 9am, bundled up and headed to the train station to meet a group of fellow international students to embark on a day trip to Utrecht. A little bit of history/facts thanks to wikipedia and me asking questions:
is the 4th largest city in The Netherlands
has a major central train station that goes pretty much anywhere in the country
has about 280,000 inhabitants
is older than Amsterdam. Utrecht was first built by the Romans in 47 A.D.!
one of the windiest cities in The Netherlands
The facts go on and on since this beautiful city is submerged in history.
Of course, it was raining so when I got to the train station, I was soaking wet. I locked my bike at the station and as I walked away from it, I looked back at it hoping that I would find it in the same place, not stolen/vandalised.
Everybody was supposed to meet at 10:30 sharp (so said the website) but I looked around and only 10 people were there when 30 people should have showed. SMIT (the international office) was smart and told people to come at 10:30
Nice and warm boat with a friendly captain.
when our train was schedule to leave at 11. There were plenty of people I knew from past events and my Dutch course. I saw Laia, a girl from Barcelona who was in my Dutch course and was introduced to her friend Clara who is also Spanish. There was a great deal where if you travel with another person, the ticket is only 17 euros return to any destination in the Netherlands. I buddied up with an Australian guy named Kane who was really awkward, haha. He mumbled a lot to himself, repeated what others said under his breath in a mocking manner and smirked all the time. He didn't really bother me that much - I just needed his presence to get a train ticket discount. =) The best part of the train ticket deal is that they were first
class! Pretty sweet since the first class seats are larger, poofier, and there are 6 in a closed compartment. In our compartment was me, Laia, Clara, smirking Kane, and a couple: Christoph (dutch) and Pamishma (turkish). I actually didn't catch the girl's name as she said it really fast...but I think it was something like that.
Look out kayakers!
This was a double arched bridge to direct heavy boat traffic way back when. Also note the McD's. Such a clash of old and new
ride took about 1h 45minutes and we spent the time chatting about languages, studies, and such. Clara is doing her second post-doc in Chemical Engineering and Laia is doing her masters in Chemical Engineering. These girls are super clever, yet socially competent and fun.
Touring Utrecht By Boat
After arriving, the group boarded a canal boat, sat back, and enjoyed the ride. I noticed that Utrecht's canals were structured differently than in Amsterdam. According to the information that blared on the boat's speakers, people built a warf right on the edge of the canal. Soon, the city needed to expand and more housing and buildings were built on top of the warf. So the current-day street that you walk on is actually far above and away from the water's edge. Typically in Amsterdam, there is just a wall jutting right out of the water with a rail on the street level.
As the boat ride continued, I noticed cute shops, cafes, and restaurants occupied the older warf buildings. Some of those buildings are also people's homes but I am curious to know what the inside of a warf home looks like and if it stays warm in the
MMmm.. indian food
I guess if I ever want to travel to India, I'll go here? Maybe there's a secret passage way at the back of the kitchen. yuk yuk =P
winter (warmth: very important to me).
Another something I noticed was the amount of people strolling out and about along the canal. There were tons of people jogging with their dog or with their kid riding next to them. Lots of kayakers maneuvered around the canal boat and curiously peered back at us. I don't know if I'd be up for kayaking in the murky canals, but the rentals seemed like a popular activity.
Exploring the Streets
Back into the cold we went. The boat was heated - what a luxery! By then it was around 2:30 and we all needed something to eat. It was then that I had the tastiest sandwich. We had lunch from an Italian kiosk and I ordered a veggie sandwich. In less than a minute, a big round bread roll on a white napkin slid back over to me. I picked it up and it was warm! Inside was a thin slice of cheese and lightly grilled carrots, onions, and peppers.
Utrecht is very commercialized as well with McDonalds, KFC, H&M, Vero Moda, ESPRIT, Swatch, etc etc. Basically any well-known chain. The center's streets are lined with kiosks and market goods.
The prettiest thing to see were the tables and tables of freshly cut flowers all over the place. Tulips and mini roses were the most popular and the cheapest. 30 tulips or 50 mini roses in a bouquet for 5 euros! The flowers were in every color you could imagine. I think if I lived in Utrecht, I'd buy flowers for myself every week. =)
The center of the city sends off a charming vibe and it felt very stress-free compared to the city streets of Amsterdam. Little cafes littered the sidewalks and each one was decorated to the T with a friendly theme. I also saw a lot of bookstores (used and new) as well as art galleries.
Climbing The Dom Church
This gigantic structure also has another name: The Cathedral of Saint Martin. It looks like gothic architecture (but don't quote me on my architecture knowledge...) Anyway, it has the tallest church tower in all of The Netherlands. The church as originally built in the shape of a cross, but a big tornado (yes, tornado) made the long part of the building collapse. So now where the building collapsed is the Dom square and the tower
Absolutely beautiful roses! The smell of all the flower stands wafts through the main streets
is separated from the rest of the church.
We didn't go in the regular part of the church, but the tower was massive. Our tour guide was this tall, lanky typical Dutch-looking guy who gave enthusiastic facts. We started to climb and I thought it was going to be just one straight staircase up, but we stopped 3 times along the way at different levels. The first level was where banquets would be held. Beautiful purple stained glass windows accented one of the walls. The second level had gigantic bells which the tour guide let us hit with rubber mallots. The two-ton bell was so big that almost our entire group could squeeze underneath it. The third level was a larger room with more stained glass windows. It was where a man lived who was in charge of ringing the bells (I forget his actual title). I couldn't imagine living in a cold, barely candle-lit church tower. *shivers*
It was really neat to visit the Dom Church - my first time in an old European cathedral, actually. After the church, Laia, Clara and I sat in a cafe and warmed up with a hot chocolate, swiss coffee, and
a cappucino, respectively. It was the best cappucino I've ever had and along with the delicious coffee were three dime-sized almond bites.
Din-Din at Florin's
A nice dimly-lit restaurant/bar served us a delicious dinner. They are popular with big groups and they personalized a menu for us with a choice of any of 5 dishes for only 10 euros. Being a non-meat eater, I was surprised to have two choices to choose from. Spinach and feta Lasagna with garlic bread or Herbed salmon filet and chips? I couldn't decide, but neither could Clara so we each ordered one of the dishes and then shared, which was perfect. Closing thoughts...
It was the perfect day trip and I got to know some really lovely people! Laia and Clara both warmly insisted that we should keep in touch and that if I ever want to go and visit Barcelona, I have a place to stay. =)
I hope that anybody planning or wishing to visit The Netherlands definitely make Utrecht a stopping point in their travels. Surprisingly it's only about 15-20 minutes by train from Amsterdam, so a day's visit can easily be arranged.
Today I also bought my
I don't know what this symbolizes, but the little girl looks like she's having fun
ticket to Venice for Saturday Nov. 18th where I'll meet up with Cindy and Connie for the last leg of their adventures through Italy. I was told by many people that the trains in Italy are crazy and they'll even sell you a ticket for the train when no more seats are available - which means standing room only.
School starts up again this week. I have class on wednesday for 2 hours and that's it. =)
Love hearing from all of you,
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