It’s crazy to think that I bought a new waterproof coat back in May and it has still yet to be worn. The blue skies and high temperatures were following us but how far north that will continue no-one knows. Today we would trade, in sunny Utrecht, we would gladly trade our hiking boots and jeans for shorts and sandals.
Despite priding ourselves that we have seen a large part of Holland because of how close it is to where we were stationed with the RAF for 3 years, we have never visited what is Holland’s 3rd largest city. Our train journey took us about 40 minutes on the super clean double decker train.
From Central Station to Canal Central
Exiting through the gleaming new station and equally modern shopping centre, we emerged onto a square and a large Saturday market. After passing through the market and a few more streets we came across our first canal. It felt like a mini Amsterdam. Being so close to it’s more famous neighbour it is often forgotten or overlooked on the tourist and sightseeing trail. Canals with little pedestrian streets and what felt like a million bicycles chained to the railings.
The canals were down below us but had steps down to a lower level which were once the wharves and warehouses from the city’s trading days. These warehouses had now been converted into restaurants with row upon row of outside seating. Business was brisk on this sunny Saturday lunchtime with most tab;es full. Small boats, kayaks, pedloes and even a large barge squeezed along the narrow canals while we were watching. A gondola wouldn’t have looked out of place. A five minute walk further on brought us to a large square full of bars and restaurants and our very central accommodation.
StayOK Hostel “with Benefits”
We had booked a room with booking.com. We knew it had dormitories but we had the “with benefits” booking which meant a double room with sheets, towels and a private bathroom. There was a large reception area with bar and breakfast room. Although we brought the average age up by about 30 years we didn’t feel out of place and everyone was very friendly. An added bonus was vouchers for 50% off a drink in the bar.
Housekeeping and Shopping
Housekeeping for me is basically non existent but a laundry was needed. Travelling with just a small backpack each meant only a small amount of t-shirts and underwear. The “with benefits” at StayOK did include access to the laundry but the one machine and about 8 bags of laundry queued up put us off. Only 500 metres away we found Laundry Kolman and hey presto clean smalls! A few essentials from the supermarket for our room on the way back and it was time to do some JWalking Utrecht style.
Most, if not all, European foods are available in the UK but one that doesn’t seem to have leapt over the channel is the croquettes and bitterballen. We first had these over 30 years ago when we were posted to bordering Germany. They are hard to describe but are basically a meat paste deep fried in breadcrumbs. The croquettes are obviously potatoe croquette shape and the bitterballen are little balls. In fact there is one place you can get them in London and that is De Hems a Dutch bar just off Piccadilly Circus. During the war years this pub was run by a retired Dutch sea captain and ended up as the unofficial headquarters of the Dutch resistance. An interesting place to visit if you are near enough to pop in at anytime. We can recommend the bitterballen.
Watching the World Go By
With so many bars, cafes and restaurants we felt the need to sit and enjoy the sunshine with a coffee or beer. Needless to say we ended up doing both. First of all a coffee in a lovely little street cafe by the canal and then later a couple of beers. It is fascinating to people watch and soak up the atmosphere of this city. Having Holland’s largest University makes it a busy and vibrant place.
What a great place Utrecht is and we will be looking for an excuse to come back – a Christmas market may be as good a reason as any.
13/10 – 15/10/2018