2 July 2012

Pretty Utrecht

There was no specific reason for going to Utrecht. It seemed to make sense to not spend all my time in Amsterdam but I could not travel too far because I had bought a return rail ticket to there and limited research suggested that Utrecht had some pretty bits.

And so I found myself there for a couple of grey damp days in June.

Arriving by train is a disaster.

Yes, you are very close to the town centre but the station is in the middle of a large complex shopping centre and there is no clue where the town is.

My hotel was only 200m from the station yet it took me about an hour to find it and most of this lost hour was spent in the shopping centre rather than the old town outside. Eventually I found a shop prepared to sell me a map and managed to escape the labyrinth and find the hotel.

The first thing that the map reveals to you is the old town bounded by its defensive zig-zag canal.

The old town within is not that big, and some of it has been blighted by an incomprehensible shopping centre, which made it fairly easy to decide where to explore.

From the station, I headed towards the south-east corner of the town and was soon among pretty terraces of brick cottages looking a lot more like an English market town than any part of Amsterdam did.

It was also refreshingly quiet; almost eerily so. Once the idea of 28 Days Later gets in to your head it is hard to shake it.

Moving a street or two in towards the centre and the houses got grander, shops were allowed and people appeared. Canals sulked through the town sunk well below the level of the road as if the town was ashamed of them.

Diligent footpaths followed the canals. These were built to provide access to the buildings and so they do not provide proper passage through the town, hence these were quiet too.

Each bridge encountered meant scrambling up to street level again and then tumbling back down the other side. The effort was worth it for the peace and, of course, the views.

There is an old and vibrant town centre made more interesting by the way that the canals cut it in to unusual shapes.

Here I found a large church and a larger town set a little distance from it. You can climb to the top to get stunning views as far, I guess, as Russia. The price put me off though. Not the height. Definitely not the height.

Utrecht is extraordinarily well served by cafes and I could easily have spent all day going from one to the other. They were all fresh and funky with refreshing options for vegetarians, usually involving exciting bread.

FourSquare reminds me that I went to Josephine which means that it had wi-fi (I was not going to pay for international 3G just to keep track of the places that I visited).

The cafes were a useful source of energy and a welcome respite from the frequent showers. This is the sort of exploring that I like to do.

Pretty, interesting and evocative though most of old Utrecht is it is the canals that define the town to a casual visitor and that is where I spent most of my time.

One of the things I noticed along the way was the number of comics shops. I went in a few just to soak up the atmosphere and to enjoy the artwork, the Dutch words meant nothing to me.

I also enjoyed the frequent street art and the Utrecht people's eagerness to wear anything orange, no matter how silly, in anticipation of the football game being played that evening. The less said about the Dutch performance in Euro 2012 the better.

Old Utrecht is small so I am not sure that it could entertain me for much more than one day. One day was all I had though and Utrecht easily kept me happily occupied despite the efforts of the unseasonal weather.

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