Whilst the Dutch do, these days, celebrate Christmas Day on the 25th a far more important festive tradition is observed on December 5th, the day before the feast day of Sinterklaas (St Nicholas). This is the day that Sinterklaas, assisted by his helpers, the colourful Zwarte Piets (Black Peters), hands out presents to the good children of the Netherlands.
Although there is only one Sinterklaas he can be in every city, town and village simultaneously and here in Utrecht he takes up residence for the day at the Catherijneconvent Museum, housed in a rather grand Medieval Monastery. Here he holds court, flanked by a couple of his assistants, and is visited by children of all ages. The following morning he leaves the Netherlands for Spain and doesn't return until the next year.
He isn't averse to getting his photo taken and even agreed to pose with a VT flag - see the pics on the meeting TL - http://members.virtualtourist.com/meeting/The_first_SINTERKLAAS_meeting-4155/
Tucked away between the Domkerk and the University's administrative centre is a cloistered parterre garden dating from the late 14th, early 15th centuries. This would have been the monastery's herb garden and these days is a public space especially popular during the summer when there's often live music.
The cloister which runs around three sides is also interesting especially for its Gothic bas-reliefs and looming gargoyles and in the garden's centre is a fountain with a statue of Hugo Wstinc, a 14th century friar.
Entrance to the garden is through the arched doorway leading from the Domplein, where the Jelling Rone Stone stands.
This chunk of carved sandstone on the Domplein, just outside the entrance to the Pandhof Garden of the Domkerk, was a gift to Utrecht in 1936 by Denmark to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the city's university.
It is a copy of the stone erected around 965 AD by King Harald Bluetooth at Jelling. Harald is accredited with unifying the Danish people and bringing Christianity to the country. The original stone is dedicated to his parents, Gorm and Thyra, and as well as the pagan symbolism the figure on the reverse is thought to be the first public symbolism of Christ.
Housed in a grand Medieval monastery the Catherijneconvent Museum showcases the Netherlands' Christian art and history from the middle ages to the present day. The permanent exhibitions hold both Catholic and Protestant works of art, manuscripts, altar pieces, clerical robes and many other religious artefacts following the role of Christianity in Dutch society through the years.
We didn't have time to visit the museum proper, since we were there purely to meet Sinterklaas, but as an interesting little digression we did pop in to this fascinating mini-exhibition: The Sculptor At Work. In the convent's courtyard there's a small workshop where a couple of sculptors repair and recreate details from the city's churches and other historical buildings. This is an open-door workshop where visitors are more than welcome to watch the guys at work and they are happy to talk about what they are doing.
As you might have guessed from the line on my homepage, I am quite fond of a beer now and again (and again and again!). When i went to this place to meet some Dutch friends, I really though I had died and gone to heaven. I dislike the current overuse of the word awesome, but this place really does merit it in it's proper sense - it certainly inspired awe in me.
What is this nirvana, I hear you say. It is the Cafe Belgie in the Oudegracht, right in the cnetre of town.
It is a fairly typical Dutch beer bar, but the selection of beer is quite staggering. there are 20 draught beer taps, of which at least 17 are in operation at any one time. Added to this, there are somewhere in the region of 170 different bottled beers including some very odd things. Please see the photo for the menu and that's not even all of them. I tried the banana beer (much to the amusement of the barman) and found it very pleasant. I did, however, have to draw the line at the coconut beer. the staff are friendly and very knowledgeable about the products sold. They will even give you small taster glasses if you are not sure what you want.
If you like beer, this is an absolute "must see", although I suggest you go there in the evening or you won't get to see very much else in this interesting town.
With so many really good bars and cafes in Utrecht, it almost seems churlish to single out one for particular mention, but I really enjoyed this place. the staff were frinedly, the music policy was good (I discovered a great new band), and, best of all, they had a pinball machine (the Flintstones, if you must know). They also double as a live music venue.
I always like to know where I can grab a quick beer either before I travel, or having arrived somewhere, and I make a point of finding the nearest watering hole to the Station wherever I am. Well, this is it. Situated on the station concourse, this is a pleasant little cafe, typical of it's type worldwide. Clean, with friendly staff and decent beer, what more could you want? They also do the usual range of Dutch bar snacks. A Hawaiian tosti (toasted sandwich) will set you back €3.
I have only one slight complaint about the place. It obviously used to be a typical Station bar, and it has some interesting old railway photos and memorabilia about the place. Why then they felt the need to go with a Wild West theme is beyond me. There are absolutely incongruous life-sized mannequin gunslingers there, huge plastic cacti, and a glance at the photo will show you what they have done to the exterior! It's only a minor grumble, however, about what is a decent place for a beer and a snack.
Utrecht seems to be a town where the citizins take much proud in having nice plants and flowers at the smallest spots possible.
In some areas there is some more room, like at the Mariaplaats.
If you are a flower lover, don't miss the occasion.
If I would go to Utrecht for one day I would do the following:
I would breakfast or brunch in De Bakkerswinkel. Corner of de Plompentorengracht and de Wittevrouwenstraat. Very good food...
Then I would go to the Dom and clim tot the top, it is the best view of Utrecht you can get. http://www.domkerk.nl/
If you come out of the Dom there and walk into the narrow street to the bridge, there is a greek. Go to the openfaced place, next to the bagsshop. Very good lunch.
Then go see a museum. The Catherijne Convent is very nice.http://www.catharijneconvent.nl/
Then for dinner I would go to restaurant Opium or Paradise. Paradis looks like crap, but the food is perfect and not to expensive. Opium is a bit more expensive but fantastic. Both are asian.
Also nice is to visit Ouddean. This is a city brewery, their beer is very nice and you can even book a educational tour of the brewery. The guy who does the tours is very handsome:)
Have fun...Utrecht is lovely, much nicer than Amsterdam. It is more laidback and a piece of real holland.
The Nijntje Pleintje is a small square bearing the name of Nijntje, a creation of writer Dick Bruna. The statue of Nijntje is made by Marc Bruna, Dick's son. After the statue was placed it lasted several years before the square got its official name.
Both national bicycle routes LF7b and LF9b lead to this square.
There are lovely art installations throughout the city. The best one I saw was the LED circles installed on streets--one in particular off Utrecht Centrum to the right of the Apollo Hotel. (Look for bright LED circles on the ground).
Before the Dom Tower, there is a metal art piece with a map that has a green neon light through it.
Continue north from the city centre, and you will see an LED circular structure above a building. It is to the west of the square adjacent to the Post Office building.
Cafe Olivier is one of the city's most interesting bars. Housed in a former church (that of Mary Minor) this is a self-styled Belgian Beer Cafe offering seven beers on tap and over fifty in bottles.
The pub is tucked away on a side street between the shopping street of Lange Elisabethsstraat and the Hoog Catherine Mall, which is especially useful if you fancy a beer before catching a train as the train station is accessed through the shopping centre.
As well as being an atmospheric location with a good range of beers it also offers a Belgian-biased bar menu with plenty of simple snacky options and of course mussels and fries.
Utrecht City Tours offers guided walking tours in English through the historic centre of Utrecht. From only 5 euro per person, no reservation required and, starting in July 2010, almost every day a tour.
A typical tour takes a couple of hours and shows you the history and cultural charm of Utrecht, from the Roman border via castles and churches to the modern art, coffee shops and multiculturalism.
Reservations are not necessary. Just turn up at the meeting point before the tour starts. For some tours you will also get a free postcard. The longest tour includes a packed lunch and a free cotton backpack.
This is an example of a 13th century Castle, located right in Urecht city. It had a rich history of Knights of old, before becoming an old folk's home, and now is a Brewery, Conference centre, and has a Restaurant. The Steam Brewery is located on the lower level, alongside the Oudegracht Canal. There are different tours that can be done of the Brewery.
For more information, see the website below. It will give you the prices of the Beers, Restaurant meals, and information on the Tours.
I found it on my walk around Utrecht.
This market is held under nice shady trees in the city centre. Stalls are also alongside the Canal. Here you will find plants for the garden, and heaps of stalls selling bunches of all types of Flowers. I was there near the finish, and the stall holders were yelling out cheap prices to get rid of their Flowers. I have never seen so many people walking around with Flowers! I wish they were that cheap back home, and I would be one of them. Very pretty. Located in the city centre.
Is held from 7 - 4pm on a Saturday.
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