As you may know, a good bit of my European travel over the last several years has been occasioned by pen shows. Writing instruments in general and fountain pens in particular have been a significant part of my life for a couple decades now and responsible for some of my most enjoyable moments and best friendships, to say nothing of a new husband more recently. While I was in the US, I not only went to (probably) dozens of pens shows, but I also ran one for five years and served on the national board of the hobby association. Since crossing the pond and particularly since finding T, we have been regulars on the European circuit, where we attend annual shows in London, Hamburg, Madrid, Barcelona and Bologna, among other cities. But just this past April, we were notified of a brand new show to be held in Utrecht, the Netherlands, by THE most energetic and enthusiastic person either of us had ever met. We agreed to be among the marquee attendees and quickly made our plans to head west in early June. And we’re so glad we did.
We were not disappointed in the least. The pen show was well organized, well run, well attended, and oodles of fun to boot, with new pen friends and brisk sales. Kudos to Chaïm Bruijning together with his amazing wife Christa. But in addition to Everything Pen for several days, we had the chance to see and explore a new city, and that’s the part I’ll be writing about today.
Utrecht is situated smack dab in the middle of the Netherlands and is hence a major rail and transit point for the region. Its new train station sees more passengers annually than Amsterdam’s and that’s saying a lot. It has several universities and is a commercial and high-tech hub, with a population around 350,000 souls, many many of whom are young and fill the clubs and pubs that dot the city. But of course I start by being interested in the older history, and there’s plenty of that as well.
While Utrecht truly developed in the Middle Ages, as seen in the map above, there is evidence of Bronze Age habitation prior to the development of a Roman fort, Traiectum, which apparently denoted its location as a possible Rhine River crossing point. That name evolved into Trecht with the added leading “U” meaning “downriver.” The location of the fortress became the location of the Dom (cathedral), which is the green square in the middle of the map above, just over the small canal. The Franks turned Utrecht into a center of power for the Church and it has been known as the religious center of the country since the 8th century.
But secular me just loves to wander city streets, and here’s a shot of the entrance to the old city, taken from the point of entrance at the far right of the map above:
Oh, these little Dutch cities are just heaven. I fell in love with Leiden last June, and now I can see this will be a life-long addiction. One just strolls slowly down the medieval byways that meander along and away from the canals and enjoys the bits of life that present themselves one after another…here’s a coffee shop window that got my full and complete attention for a moment or two:
…a few steps further, a lovely family waits for a shopper to finish her errands:
The canals themselves are charming and form an integral part of the urban landscape…and along this one in particular I spotted what I believe to have been a…Hijab Hen Fest, a group of Muslim women celebrating the engagement or wedding of one of their party, with significant help from their mobile devices, of course:
Here’s a Swatch store in what apparently had been a butcher shop in former times…if you can make out the writing over the door:
…and of course we dipped into the Dom to see if we could sense the leylines that we had been told ran through the site. Here T is boning up on his ecclesiastical knowledge and seeing firsthand the impact of the Reformation on the high arts in situ:
But for good or ill, Utrecht is not just a medieval village. Time marches on, and so does good and bad architecture. In the period of the 1960s or so, there was a movement to modernize the city, paving over some canals and building some new neighborhoods which, to my eye, are an acquired taste. Here’s an example along with some canal-side animal art that appears to have an environmental and recycling theme:
The railroad station, mentioned above, has a most delightful feature that helps travelers recharge their phones and connect with their Inner Child all at the same time:
Speaking of kids, I was charmed and enchanted that our hotel had separate bathrooms….just for them. I tried to put my child molestation fears to rest for just a brief moment and to enjoy the sheer whimsy and thoughtfulness of the idea. The doors are to scale, but I can’t figure out a way to show that, so you’ll just have to take my word for it:
And of course it wouldn’t be the Netherlands if it weren’t for bikes, so many bikes that I spent a good bit of my time shrieking and trying to stay out of their way as they zipped around the city in and among the pedestrians as well as in their own lanes. Here’s a art gallery that obviously attracts a few peddlers…
…so finally I’ll leave you with my attempt to create a modern Vermeer shot of the long lovely summer evening that we enjoyed before returning to Berlin:
Farewell, Utrecht for now…I can’t wait to return…and to explore more of your welcoming land.