FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS

There are many shops and cafes on Utrecht corners. It really is a lovely city that is very much alive, especially with thousands of students and yet you cannot ignore the history. When I say history, I mean that Utrecht citizens were having tea parties way before Boston had its own.

Recently, we took a short walking tour of one neighborhood in old Utrecht. We walked on cobblestone sidewalks that are separated into three parts: a section for walkers, a section for bicycles and a space with ridges. The ridges feel very different from the other stone work, and there is a reason for that. The ridges are for the visually impaired, so that they may walk safely without being run down by a bicycle. And let me just say that there is an art to crossing a street when you are dodging hundreds of students riding their bikes, while they text, talk on cell phones or eat a croissant. On this day, it was the first day of school and there may have been more panicked faces than normal.

You know how animals have an instinct to know when they are in danger or that another animal is coming? I think the Dutch have a natural gift in knowing when bike riders are coming around the bend. I was about to cross the street, I looked to my right and left. No car or bike was in my vision. But a hand stopped me from moving, as a herd of bicycles came around the corner, like it was the Tour of Utrecht. “How did you know?” I asked. All I got was a shrug and “after awhile, you just know”. I don’t know what will come first, me learning Dutch or knowing when to cross the street. I will keep you updated.

We then came across a steel line in the sidewalk and street and it had a marker that stated that under this spot, 2000 years ago, the Romans had built a wall. And the bottom of the wall is under this exact spot we were standing on. This sidewalk was built about 800 years ago.  So we have an ancient wall, on top of that is an old sidewalk, and an almost old American looking down on this.

The big surprise of the day was finding a church, called Janskerkhof Utrecht. This church is the home to many different religions. Originally built in 1080, it has been many things…mainly churches, but also the city library in the 1800’s. On Sundays there are Unitarian services (I am proud to be a Unitarian) and I think that the church is very busy, as there are so many students in the city from a variety of countries.

In front of this church, is a small and delicate statue that has been there since 1960. It is of Anne Frank. She faces a busy street of cafes, bookstores and an art school. And on any given day, thousands of people pass her and hopefully some slow down to say hello. But on this day, when I walked up to the statue I saw something odd. Someone had left three parts of a half eaten sandwich on Anne’s shoulders and at her feet. It looked like someone was leaving food for the birds, but I thought it looked horrible. At that point, I got called to look at the church behind me. As I was looking at the church, a helpful person took the food off of the statue and threw it on the ground about 25 feet away. When I turned back I had a tissue out and was prepared to take off the food myself and saw that she looked perfect and three birds were now eating the sandwich. I was offended by the placement of the sandwich and felt protective of Anne. But when I thought about it later, I thought that this young girl would likely be amused by it. In my opinion, it just did not look right and I was glad that someone took the food off, as I was going to do the same thing.

The other big highlight of this walk was going to the Domtoren (Dom Tower). This is a cathedral and is the tallest tower in the Netherlands. It is 368 feet high or 112 meters. It is so high, that I got dizzy just looking up at it. As we stood there the bells rang. It was a priceless moment. Below the tower, there are outdoor cafes with people drinking beer or coffee. Tourists were looking at maps and a big white cat was lying in the sun. And the bells rang.

As we left to get to our car we walked along a street that is known as the Dutch Rodeo Drive…all the pricey shops are here Naturally, on top of these shops are apartments, I can only guess how expensive they are. At the top of one of these buildings, we spotted a creative way to dry your laundry if you don’t have a back yard or even a terrace. Hey, you do what you have to do, even on Rodeo Drive.

Another Monday in Utrecht. Enjoy the photographs.

Janskerk Utrecht

Anne Frank Janskerkhof Utrecht

Domtoren Utrecht

 Hanging out to dry Oudkerkhof Utrecht

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Comments

  • Alison  On August 29, 2011 at 11:39 am

    There are usually flowers set at the feet of the Anne Frank statue, almost every day. Certainly there are plenty after the flower market on Saturdays.

    You should come into the city in the evening some time and do the Trajectum Lumen walk. There are various light installations around the city, including some nice ones at Janskerkhof.

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