Amsterdam Day Three. The day I had been waiting for. The day we actually LEFT Amsterdam and traveled south to where my love affair with the Netherlands began, Utrecht. It wasn’t just the fact that I was returning to my second home, I was excited to show my Mum where I lived for three months, and I hoped that she would love the city as much as I did. I needn’t have worried, because once we stepped off the train and into the city, she instantly preferred it to Amsterdam. Like most capital cities, Amsterdam is manic. There are people, bikes, noise and activity on every single corner. Utrecht, however, is a little more slower paced. As I like to say, it is a smaller, prettier, way less touristy Amsterdam.
We had arranged to meet a Dutch family friend for lunch at 12.30pm, so since we were over an hour early (the train only takes 20 minutes from Amsterdam to Utrecht), I gave Mum a quick tour of the city (this is where I used to go for coffee, this is where I usually parked my bike when I went shopping…!) before having a sparkling water by the Oudegracht. I couldn’t get over how busy Utrecht was on a Sunday. There was never a crowd when I was living there! There were a couple of markets taking place and one of them had a children’s puppet show. All the puppets were made out of wood. If you look closely, you can see the wooden butterfly that was flapping it’s wings while we watched 🙂
Lunch was had at de Rechtbank, a restaurant in a hotel that used to be the old court house in Utrecht. It was the prettiest little place where all the locals went, and so family friendly. In front of the terrace area were toys that children could play with so they weren’t disturbing over customers. On leaving, I noticed all the bicycles with boxes for kids attached to the front! Mum and I agreed that this was what we in Ireland were missing, especially in rural areas. We sat outside (op terras!), we wined, we dined, and a whole four hours later we finally left!
After lunch, Mum and I went for yet another walk. This is the Nieuwegract, or the new canal, in Utrecht, and one of the reasons why I fell in love with the city! The houses on either side of the canal are exquisite, and they include the basements which actually have a door out onto the canal itself, as you can see in the photo above.
Originally, I had planned on taking Mum up the 465 steps of the Dom Tower (Domtoren), the tallest church tower in the Netherlands). But since Mum has this little phobia of heights and small spaces, and I had already climbed it, we decided to simply admire it’s architectural wonder from the safety of the ground. There is a small garden right next to the tower where we sat down for a few minutes and enjoyed the peacefulness, because we knew there were crowds of people waiting just over the wall for us!
It soon became clear why Utrecht was so busy – there was a festival taking place. It was the start of the Cultural Season, and today was a Cultural Sunday! I have seriously never seen the place so hectic, and I kept on saying to Mum how unusual it was, as if to somehow apologise for all these extra people. Last Sunday, art & cultural organisations were showcasing their talent all around the city. It was a hype of activity.
Green carpets lead the way to various stages where different events were taking place. At Neude, there was a dancing demonstration taking place. The dancers were picking people from the crowd to dance with and everyone was invited to join in. Later on, we came across a fitness class being held at Neude. Men on the stage were doing sit ups and the empty space you see in the picture was filled with regular people joining in.
We then went for a 30 minute walk towards where I used to live on the UCU campus! To get there, I used to cycle through the magical de Wilheminapark. That little fairytale-esque building hidden under the trees is actually a restaurant. I can’t even begin to describe the feeling of being able to show my mum all of these places! It was just incredible. As someone so eloquently put it that day, the place of your spirit is so important. Utrecht is mine!
We said goodbye to Utrecht about 6pm, and after a half an hour wait for a train (there had been a crash!), we were back in Amsterdam. Next stop of the day was Madam Tussauds Wax Museum. I hadn’t been to a wax museum in years. The last time was probably the one in Dublin when I was 7! In all honesty, I found it creepy at the very beginning. Many of the models looked too life-like for my liking. The first thing we were told to do was get our picture taken with Barack Obama. Then, as I was getting a photo with Robert Pattinson, one of the stewards told me to put my arm around him. I couldn’t. There was just something so wrong about it. I soon let go of my inhibitions and ended up dancing with Charlie Chaplin, singing with Pavarotti and chillin’ with ET. Mum even had a coffee with George Clooney!
Day Four. Last day with Mum 😦 We slept in, had breakfast and checked out of our quirky hotel. The lovely receptionist gave me her personal email address as we left (in case I needed anything), and then I moved my stuff over to a friend’s house to start the house hunting. Mum and I then decided to go to The Happiness Project which ‘tells the amazing story of our bodies and the influence that the emotional phenomenon of happiness has on our health’. It brought me back to my secondary school biology days, but instead of looking at the inside of rabbits, I was seeing real human body parts that had been donated to science. It was very inspiring and educational to see how physiology impacts our happiness and vice versa. A lot of it was all very much common sense, and everything that I preach. Between every floor there were giant signs on the walls with phrases such as if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. There were other fun aspects too such as cycling to find out information about the importance of exercise and swinging, just because 🙂 Mum and I both took a Your Happiness Card on leaving. Mine said ‘Today, listen for half an hour to your favourite music’. Hers told her to take up an old hobby that she used to love. It really is the small things that influence your happiness the most!
There was still a couple of hours left before Mum had to catch her flight, so we finally got the chance to briefly visit the Red Light District. If any of you have been there, you’ll know that it is a lot different during the day than it is at night, but I still find it strange to see these women working and beckoning men to their windows in broad daylight. It was an interesting experience to say the least. We had lunch on Dam Square with delicious coconut mocktails, and made our way to the train station where I bid adieu to my momma. I won’t lie, there were tears. We had such a lovely time together, and I really didn’t want her to leave. It is so rare that we get to spend quality mother-daughter time where she doesn’t have to rush off to do work or mom stuff for the others! I miss her already!
“Never go on trips with anyone you do not love”