Canal-Biking in Utrecht

The Oudegracht

The Oudegracht

Michael and I have been trying to engage in some fun activities besides teaching, blogging, and simply “hanging” with friends, all of which are great fun, mind you. Recently we rented kayaks and paddled up a river away from the city. Unfortunately, I didn’t take my camera as I didn’t want to risk it suddenly taking a swim if I dropped it.

One recent, sunny day, we decided to rent a “canal bike,” or paddle boat. Two years ago we had taken a rather pleasant tourist boat tour through Utrecht’s canals, but the motorized boat went too fast to take all the detail pictures I wanted. So, on another sunny day, we rented a “canal bike” and off we paddled.

One aspect of living in a land riddled with water — canals, rivers, irrigation ditches, dikes — there are an awful lot of bridges, large and small, you cross over. What is interesting living in an old city like Utrecht is passing under the bridges and seeing their unique aspects. One of my favorites is “The Smiths’ Bridge,” or “Smee Brug,” as seen below. Even after centuries, you can see the sculpted relief of a blacksmith hammering on his forge. Most of the old bridges received their names because of what activity took place in the environs. There used to be a number of smiths living in the area.

The Smiths' Bridge

The Smiths’ Bridge

This is one of several bridges spanning the Oudegracht, or “Old Canal,” which runs through the center of the old city. In the northern sections the Oudegracht dates to 1000 C.E., and were connected to the old bed of the Rhine River; the “younger” sections date to about 1122. Along the waterways of the canal and rivers were a system of locks and sluices, still used today, to help control flooding and maintain a constant water level.

Old wharfs and doors leading to storerooms, many now converted into cozy homes or restaurants.

Old wharfs and doors leading to storerooms, many now converted into
cozy homes or restaurants.

The old city of Utrecht was once encircled by a moat-like artificial waterway called the Singel. Parts of it were filled in and covered over, but there are plans afoot to dig out and reopen the old Singel’s to its original path.

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The Singel, wider than the major canals, served as a moat around the old city.

So, if the Singel is like a water belt around the inner city of Utrecht, the Oudergracht runs, more or less, on a north-south direction down the middle, bisecting the Singel. A “new canal,” The Nieuvwegracht,” runs roughly parallel to the old canal to the east. It’s called the “new” canal as it was constructed in the late 1300s. It’s also been called by many people one of the prettiest canals in all of the Netherlands.

By turning north under this bridge, you enter the Nieuvwegracht.

By turning north under this bridge, you enter the Nieuvwegracht.

On this paddle up the canal, we spotted an elderly man fishing. I knew who he was immediately because of the heron perched on his bow. I’d been told that this heron lives on the man’s boat, even when it’s moored in the Singel, and stays with him when he fishes, because the man will give him some of the fish he catches. I’d seen the boat, empty, with the heron perched on it, and, true to what I’d been told, here was the heron, accompanying the fisherman in the boat.

In Utrecht, a fisherman's best friend is a heron.

In Utrecht, a fisherman’s best friend is a heron.

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Our good friends Corinne and Martin, and Fred and Petra, all live on a lovely stretch of the Nieuvwegracht. When we first came to the Netherlands in 2011, we stayed several days in a hotel apartment right next to Corinne and Martin, which is how we came to be friends. We stayed there again this year for a week, waiting for our “permanent” apartment to be available.

Many pleasant hours have been spent in front of Corinne and Martin's wharf house (with the open black doors). We stayed in the apartment to the right with the white bench in front of it.

Many pleasant hours have been spent in front of Corinne and Martin’s wharf house (with the open black doors). We stayed in the apartment to the right with the white bench in front of it.

Corinne, Ferdinand, Michael and Martin.

Corinne, Ferdinand, Michael and Martin.

One of the prettiest parts of the Nieuvwegracht is where it narrows considerably and begins to twist and turn through the old neighborhoods of Utrecht. Here the houses are much closer to the water, many flush against the canal walls, or there is only one small street alongside the canal.

Turning into the narrows of the Nieuvwegracht.

Turning into the narrows of the Nieuvwegracht.

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This section is called “Kromme Nieuvwegracht,” or “Crooked New Canal.” Most of the bridges here have been rebuilt several times over the centuries, while a few from the1500sstill remain.

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The Plompe Toren, or Squat Tower.

The Plompe Toren, or Squat Tower.

This plaque in stone relief marks where the “Squat Tower” once stood. It was once part of the outer defense works of the old city. Unfortunately, it was destroyed in 1832 to make way for the growing city.

The old drainage system.

The old drainage system.

As you can see from the pipes jutting from both sides of the canal, these pipes were part of a drainage system funneling wastes and excess ground water into the canals. Fortunately, the canals have cleaned up considerably.

The Nieuvwegracht connects at its north end to the water-ring, the Singel, and then a left hand turn a couple hundred meters later put your canal-bike back on the Oudegracht (Old Canal).

Stately 19th century homes line the north end of the Singel.

Stately 19th century homes line the north end of the Singel.

Paddling south on the Oudegracht, passing the center of the city where hundreds gather on wharf restaurants to enjoy the ambiance.

Paddling south on the Oudegracht, passing the center of the city where hundreds gather on wharf restaurants to enjoy the ambiance.

We’ve spent many an evening dining along this stretch of the Oudergracht, which meanders through the heart of the old city.

And, back to the rental kiosk and the end of our canal-bike tour.  Dooie!

In the heart of old Utrecht. The Dom Tower is in the background.

In the heart of old Utrecht. The Dom Tower is in the background.

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3 thoughts on “Canal-Biking in Utrecht

  1. I’m so envious of the home on the Nieuwegracht! Such a beautiful area! I’ve been thinking about trying the paddleboats, and seeing your post gives me more incentive. Beautiful photos!

  2. Love the pictures. These are parts of the Netherlands you don’t see in guidebooks. I especially love the Dutch appreciation for the old…the blend of architecture from various centuries. In America we are often too enamored with new and modern…and bigger.

    • Thank you for the kind words you’ve written about my blogs. I enjoy reading, researching and especially living about the Dutch and the Netherlands. I hope you’ll continue to follow my blogs on other countries as I travel. And, there are older blogs from the summers of 2011 and 2012 from when we spent several weeks in the Netherlands then, as well.

      Enjoy, and dank u wel!

      Carol

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