Back in the U-T-R-E-C-H-T

The Oudegracht, near our apartment

Canals, bells tolling the hours, the Dom Tower itself soaring above stepped gables, cafés on canals or crowding every scrap of pavement – even if part of that’s the street – and bicycles everywhere, yup, we’re back in Utrecht!

When we left Utrecht in the Netherlands last August, Michael and I never thought we’d miss Holland and the Dutch as much as we did the first couple of weeks.  But, in truth, we became so quickly re-acclimated to the car-based, job-focused frenzy of the U.S. that the slower-paced Dutch culture soon seemed very distant.  So I was surprised how quickly we re-acclimated to Utrecht.

After three weeks on the road, mostly in Eastern Europe, we found ourselves in a new apartment in a new section of Utrecht’s old center, and sitting at a sunny outdoor café overlooking the Oudegracht, Utrecht’s 13th century canal.  I was in heaven.  I just had forgotten where heen was.  The Dom tolled, I sighed in contentment, and Michael just looked at me, saying, “You really love it here, don’t you?”

You betcha!

The Dom tower of Utrecht

That was a month ago, and, yes, I am seriously back-logged with this blog.  But time flies.  The past month has sped by, with Michael busy teaching at the medical school, and me readjusting to life here.  We are staying in a very small two room apartment of about 600 square feet total.  Most people I know in the States have garages twice that size.  But we manage quite well. Probably the most difficult aspect in down-sizing from a five bedroom (plus full attic dorm) house was going from a larger than standard U.S. refrigerator/freezer to a dorm-sized teensy little fridge.  But, with two full service food stores (well, Dutch full service!) and one fruit and vegetable grocer all within 300 feet, daily shopping is not an issue.  Oh, and we also have on the same block as the above a butcher/deli, two bakeries, a fish store, a cheese store, three wine shops and a “bierhuis.”  Plus a bunch of cafés and drinking establishments.  And the canal is 40 feet from our front door. I absolutely love it.  Eat your heart out!

Our Bedroom

Another angle on the bedroom

Living, Dining, and everything-else room

The kitchen and “dining room”

Our “street”, Wijde Watersteeg, as seen from across the Oudegract (old canal). Our place is the lower apartment in the yellow building in the middle of the photo, a very old building.  Notice how part of its facade leans out, another back.

Part of the great fun has been reconnecting with our good friends Corinne and Martin.  A few of you met them when they visited us at Thanksgiving this past year.  For those who didn’t: Corinne van Bergen is the Dutch sculptor I wrote about last year.  Some of you saw the glass sculpture she made for us in the house we were renting this past year on Mountain Road.  We’ve spent many nights with them, meeting new people, greeting old friends, having a good time.  Martin and Michael share similar wacky humors so the two of them are usually doing something amusing.

Michael and Martin, at it again! I’ve no idea where Martin got this sheepskin “hat” or why Michael’s wearing it!

Also part of the fun lately has been watching the Dutch national football team in the warm-ups to, and then competing in, the Europe Cup 2012.  The Dutch did great in a warm-up game, bowling over the Irish, then completely bombed in their division of the Europe Cup.  So they are totally out of the race.  Meanwhile, Utrecht, as most of Holland, has been displaying orange, the national color, all over the place.  In particular, I’ve been amused at some of the orange paraphernalia.  Have a look:

The Lion is the symbol of the Netherlands. Storefronts like this one displayed victorious lions and people large and small sported orange lion manes.

Corinne sporting the orange lion’s mane and some (fake) tattoos

 

One excursion with Corinne and Martin was to an Indonesian cultural heritage festival in a nearby town.  Two of Corinne’s 9 siblings (yes, 10 kids in that family!) are married to Indonesian-Dutch.  For about 500 years Indonesia was a colony of the Netherlands, only reaching independence after WWII.  The ties between the two countries, however, remain, and over the last century thousands of Indonesians immigrated to Holland and inter-married with the Dutch. (Whew!   I hope you all appreciate such a condensed history in two sentences!)

Anyway…the results of this old relationship resulted in some interesting contrasts at the festival.  For starters, Indonesia is a VERY hot country, with about half of the country (scattered over several islands, large and small)  bisected by the equator.  The day we went to the festival, it was so cold, I was wearing my long underwear, brought in anticipation of cold days in Sweden…and I was still cold.  Upon arrival at the festival, the first cultural event we saw was a couple of very blonde dancers, male and female, attempting (badly) to perform Balinese dances.  Having seen the originals (Balinese people and dances) several times, I wanted to alternate between screaming and laughing.

Here’s the next scene of cultural dissonance:  Indonesian festival, in a bar decorated with red Chinese lanterns, a small crowd being entertained by Indonesian performers  twanging on electric guitars, singing American country music in English (of course!  Ever heard such music in Dutch or German?).  In the audience,  Dutch (except us two), several people were munching frites with mayonnaise, then a few women jumped up and started country line dancing in front of the musical trio, while one elderly lady proudly waved her battery-powered glittery-red heart on a wand.

I kid you not.  Total cultural dissonance.

Line dancing to country music

The white blip on the wand was actually a glitter-red, battery-powered heart.

Chinese lanterns at an Indonesian festival in Holland

In the past month, we’ve taken a couple of side trips, but I’ll describe those in a later blog.  This year my postings have been rather lengthy, so I’ll give my faithful readers a break and keep this one short on words and big on pictures.

Doie!

A typical alley in the old section of Utrecht where we live.

Traditionally, Dutch stores are closed on Sunday and don’t reopen until about 1 p.m. on Monday. Even within the last year I’ve noticed more stores are open on Sunday, perhaps in response to consumer demand, or perhaps due to this clever and very Dutch advertising campaign, encouraging business to open on Sundays. I walked out of our apartment on a Sunday recently to see every parked bicycle within sight with this bright seat cover, urging Sunday business openings. How better to make a point than provide a bicycle-riding society with plastic seat covers in this rain-drenched country?

Every space used: an alley here is used as a bicycle rental place.

Europe has a different and in my mind healthy attitude about pets. It’s common to see a cat basking as this one in a store’s bay window or wandering around customers in  cafes. I even spotted a cat luxuriously
 stretched out on a table inside a cafe between two patrons, both of whom were petting her while conversing. And cafe patrons routinely bring their dogs with them, even inside.

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