Last Saturday I headed out to walk through the city centre of Utrecht. The week didn’t have particularly nice weather so I wanted to make the most of the sunnier skies we had at the weekend.
This time, though, I challenged myself a little by using a longer focal length lens. The idea was not to make wide, sweeping shots of people out and about in the city centre (as they usually are on Saturday afternoons), but rather to pick out specific parts of the city to photograph.
It turned out better than I expected. I actually did notice places that, for the past five years, I never noticed about Utrecht, despite walking past them so many times. There were three general areas that I explored: Vaartsche Rijn, the city centre itself and the area around my neighbourhood. In this entry I present a selection of what I saw that day. Enjoy!
Along with Leidsche Rijn, there is another part of Utrecht called Vaartsche Rijn. The former is a newly-developed residential area, whereas the latter is also a residential area I guess, but close to the central station. I lived in Leidsche Rijn for about a year until my landlord was forced to sell the house, and since then it’s always been my dream to move back there.
Vaartsche Rijn I don’t know so much about. I remember being in the place once to visit a friend, and I may have had dinner at a restaurant in that neighbourhood while I was studying, but other than that I’ve never had a reason to go there. That said, I still don’t know much about it – I only walked as far as its train station from the city centre on Saturday, so I didn’t see a great deal.
As far as I can tell, Utrecht’s city centre ends and Vaartsche Rijn begins when one crosses over the Vaartsche Rijn bridge (below). I’d walked, cycled and been bussed over this bridge so many times in the years since I moved here, but never once knew the bridge’s name. This bridge is part of the route that bus line 12 takes to and from the university campus.
The words vaste brug mean fixed bridge. I take it that the Vaartsche Rijn bridge, unlike many other Dutch bridges, is unable to fold up for tall boats to sail through.
Once one crosses the bridge, the scene changes quite a bit. There are still cafés and shops, but also more homes and the crowd becomes much more local. Past the bridge, the canal widens appreciably and I chose to walk on the sunlit side. I saw the café that I visited a year ago with some people after a daylong workshop on data visualisation.
This time round I looked up a bit more, which was worth it because I saw some interesting scenes.
Like along the Oudegracht, which is the canal snaking through the city centre, one is able to go down to the level of the water and sit and chill. People usually park their bicycles along the guardrails before going down, like this bicycle here. What was noteworthy was how its owner used a wooden crate for the front basket. Usually people use beer crates or something else for that purpose. This was the first time I saw someone using a wine crate instead. Classy.
As one continues walking along the canal, the pavement soon goes under the train tracks. This is also the Utrecht Vaartsche Rijn station that is served only by NS Sprinter trains (which are analogous to regional trains, in contrast to their intercity counterparts). Don’t be fooled by the word Sprinter – these trains take longer to reach their destination because they stop at every possible station along the way. If you’re going to Amsterdam central station from Utrecht, for example, make sure to take the intercity!
I didn’t realise that the tram to the Utrecht University campus – also known as De Uithof, soon to be renamed to Utrecht Science Park – also stopped at the Vaartsche Rijn station. It makes sense, I suppose, since I know that quite a few students live in the area.
I had a look around the station for a bit before heading back to the city centre. The station itself is quite new as I recall, and according to Wikipedia it only opened for scheduled services in August 2016.
Walking to the city centre from Vaartsche Rijn means walking through Ledig Erf. This is a pretty hip and cool area and probably my favourite part of the centre. There’s a burger joint in Ledig Erf called Meneer Smakers and, even though it has four branches in Utrecht, this is my favourite outlet to eat at.
Next to Meneer Smakers is an arthouse cinema called the Louis Hartlooper Complex. I’ve never seen a film there before, but I recall that the toilets are free to use. This was a few years ago and things might have changed, but it’s still very useful to know, seeing as public toilets are almost never free in the Netherlands.
The arthouse cinema and burger joint are both located on the same side of the Twijnstraat. On its nameplate, I saw that this particular street was already considered a shopping street back in the 13th century. This would make it around 800 years old. Eight centuries of business being conducted – imagine that!
Walking back to the centre along the Oudegracht, I took note of a few buildings. Take this one for instance: why is there a heron/crane on its roof? I never realised it was there before and I’m a little curious now as to its story.
A store I visit from time to time in Utrecht is Stach. Its food items are on the pricier side (think Marks & Spencer), but very delicious. I usually get the crisps, but have bought the lasagna and chocolate bars before. The store is on the ground floor of a building whose façade appears below.
The building seems to have been built in 1890, which is quite recent for a city this old. It makes me wonder what stood there before it was built. Seeing as it’s close to the Dom cathedral and tower, there must’ve been something at this spot the entire time. Who knows.
The next two buildings are located on Steenweg and Lange Elizabethstraat, a walkway that runs between the Oudegracht and Hoog-Catharijne (a newly-renovated mall next to Utrecht Centraal). Looking at Google Maps, I see that Steenweg transitions to Lange Elizabethstraat at the junction with Voor Clarenburg, which is where a Subway restaurant can be found.
Again, despite walking through this street dozens of times for half a decade, I never really paid attention to anything above street level. There are some beautiful features of buildings to behold here. Furthermore, I never really took the time to learn the streets’ names. I just knew where things were, which often made it difficult to describe specific locations in the city centre. (‘That part of the street close to HEMA and the fancy french fries shop, but away from the Oudegracht canal – let’s meet there!’)
As one walks along Lange Elizabethstraat, the street eventually gives way to Vredenburg, a large square that itself has a long history. The square has been known since the 12th century and you can read more about it on Wikipedia (only available in Dutch).
Diagonally across the square is the TivoliVredenburg, which contains a few concert halls. I’ve wanted to make a photo of the building for a long time now, but it’s not that easy because it’s surrounded by other buildings that get in the way. Apart from going higher than street level in one of the surrounding buildings, there are few ways to get a shot of the concert venue without anything else appearing in the frame.
Alternatively, I could put in more effort and find a position that allows me to capture the building in a pleasing way. But for now this will do.
Vredenburg is also the name of a street, and a busy one at that. Many buses drive through the street as it’s one of the few ways of entering the city of Utrecht from the bus station at Utrecht Centraal. Where I stood to make this photograph is also close to a bicycle parking garage that I used often during my student days.
I had a big incentive to ride to the garage early in the day because it quickly filled up, leading to a queue of people and bicycles waiting to enter. When I started working I used a different and larger garage, which also filled up when I got there late but which wasn’t as bad.
The area around my neighbourhood
The way home also featured little points of interest. The following are photos of scenes I see relatively frequently. I’ve just never thought of recording them. Charging stations for electric vehicles are a common sight in the Dutch larger cities (perhaps in the smaller ones too), since one gets some kind of subsidy when buying an electric car.
This I see every day when I leave my flat. I don’t know for how long the shoes have been hanging on the cable, but well done to whoever did it, because it’s hanging nicely in the middle. The first time I saw such a thing was eight years ago in Texas. Then, I was very confused about what it meant.
It was only later that I learnt that this was the kind of thing (drunk) students do for fun. Or maybe someone got pranked and had to walk home barefoot. I have a feeling that it’s a combination of both.
Thus ended my two-hour walk through Utrecht’s city centre on Saturday. I was surprised that I made a decent number of photos when I counted them at home. These are the ones that I think capture best what I saw that day.
This blog post stands out in a couple of ways. This is my longest entry thus far at almost two thousand words, I’ve never shared this many photographs in an entry before – 17, to be exact – and those that are featured here were only made a few days ago. Well, the first two bits are definitely a new first, while the third point occurs far too rarely here. As far as I can remember, the only other post that was published soon after its photos were made was the one about noctilucent clouds.
Have a good week everyone!