Saturday, August 20, 2016

A weekend in Miffytown: Utrecht, The Netherlands

Back in July, to celebrate a long weekend due to Belgium's national day we naturally headed out of the country. Both of us fancied something low-key, preferably without having to fly, so we decided it was high time to check out a bit of Belgium's northern neighbour. There are any number of interesting cities within a few hours' drive (The Hague, Delft, Leiden, Maastricht, Rotterdam to name a few) but after some deliberation, we settled on Utrecht. Basically just because it seemed quite a pleasant place.

On the way, we took a small detour through Baarle-Hertog/Baarle-Nassau, a place I've wanted to visit for some time. If you google Baarle, you'll find all manner of enthusiastic articles that basically make it seem like a wonderland of geographical oddities. Basically, although the whole area is surrounded by the Netherlands, you have scattered bits which belong to Belgium, and within these are further Dutch enclaves. It looks like this:

These articles make the town sound super-exciting: you have a restaurant where the clients all have to switch tables at a certain time of night because the Dutch side can stay open longer than the Belgian! You have houses which have their kitchen in Belgium and their dining room in the Netherlands! The insanity! Truth is, it's actually a pretty boring place. We thought you'd see borders running back and forth all over the town centre, but, although there were some, they're just lines on the road. There's a reason all the photos in those articles look pretty much the same. It's hard to find a spot that isn't just the border running across some tarmac and terminating in a garage wall with a wheelie bin next to it. Anyway, fun enough to visit for half an hour on the way to somewhere else, but if we had driven out there specifically I would have been a grumpy bunny.

Jules astride the border
Utrecht proved to be pleasant indeed. It still had the vibe of a laidback student town even in the middle of summer. Its main feature are the canals running through the centre, which are the perfect places to go for a drink and to watch the world go by.

Enjoying a drink right next to the water 

The canal area was also a prime location for Pokémon Go players. This was maybe the week after the game was released in Europe, and there were a crazy amount of people playing outside on the fine summer evenings.

Including me!
The Dom, or cathedral, is another prominent feature. The inside of the cathedral itself was not that exciting, but next to it is a really pretty cloister garden we liked a lot. You can climb up the Dom tower, but only as part of a guided tour that takes like an hour, so on the first day we were too tired and then the weather was not as good on the other days, so we didn't bother. The Dom tower is actually no longer attached to the cathedral proper, because the section in between was destroyed in a storm in the 17th century.

View of the Dom tower

Canal and Dom tower by night

The beautiful cloister garden

Heading in to the cloisters

The only thing of note we really did was a visit to the Catharijneconvent museum, which focuses on religious art. Long-time followers of the blog will know I'm a sucker for that sort of thing. It had a beautiful treasury, full of reliquaries and monstrances and such things, and a nice collection of paintings through the ages. Probably not for everyone, but nice enough.

"You wanna go? I'll take you down mofo!"

When he tries to sneak out without waking you up

A creepy modern version of the Pietà
Finally, Utrecht is the birthplace of Miffy, the adorable little bunny! Did you know Miffy's real name is Nijntje? We didn't make it to the Miffy museum but we saw Miffy's traffic light!

High excitement! All in all, Utrecht is a great place for a short break if you're looking to eat and drink and take it easy. Pro tip: we left the car in a park and ride outside the city which cost 5€ for the whole time we were there, plus a day bus pass for both of us. Versus parking in the centre near our hotel, which was 30€ overnight! As you might expect from a Dutch city, the place is car-unfriendly and bike-friendly. Try not to get run over!


  1. Miffy! Wasn't that what you used to call Francesca, or vice versa?

    1. Haha I think you mean Nuffy the imaginary dog

  2. Ha ha, I say this every time you post artworks, but your captions crack me up. What's the story behind that guy sneaking out?

    Miffy traffic light-- so cute!

    1. I think it is Joseph and Potiphar's wife, from the Bible. Usual evil woman trying to seduce good man and then crying rape nonsense.


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