I’m trying to squeeze as much bike riding as possible into our last weeks in Holland.
Utrecht is only 43km and a couple of hours by bike from Amsterdam. Well, maybe two and a half hours into a howling headwind, with a stop for currant buns and coffee.
There’s a direct, slightly boring road and bike path from Amsterdam to Utrecht beside the Rhine Canal, but yesterday I took the scenic route, past the stately homes and leafy gardens of the rich and ostentatious, along the meandering Vecht River – a beautiful ride through prosperous little villages.
At Breukelen (pronounced roughly ‘broker-lin’ – the town which gave its name to New York’s Brooklyn) I came to the premises of Nijenrode, the Netherlands’ only private university. It seems to be doing pretty well, in a nice castle, with a moat to stop the students getting distracted by passing traffic on road or river.
Utrecht itself (population just over 300,000) is home to the largest university in the country, which gives it a lively, student feel. Numerous cafes and bars line the banks of the old canal, which is unusual in that its water is well below street level.
Utrecht has few obvious tourist attractions; just some churches, a lovely courtyard by the cathedral and some interesting small museums. One of these is a well curated and interpreted collection of Australian Aboriginal Art. Another is one of my favourite Dutch institutions, the awkwardly named Museum Speelklok tot Pierement, the museum of mechanical music. A guided tour, in Dutch and English, of the collection of street organs, musical clocks and music boxes is an hour very well spent.
The cathedral of St Martin, the oldest Catholic church in northern Europe, suffered a bit of bad luck in 1674. A tornado caused the middle section to collapse, leaving the Dom Tower standing at one end and the rest of the church at the other.
Rebuilding would have been a lot of work and cost a fair packet. The gap between tower and church became a convenient thoroughfare, so it was left that way. The graves of those who had been buried in the church are now an interesting part of the pavement.
Apart from having friends to visit in Utrecht, Mevrouw T and I always enjoy our trips there. It is less frenetic than Amsterdam and has far fewer tourists. It’s easy to get around and the central part of the town is very attractive.
There are trains back to Amsterdam several times an hour from Utrecht Centraal station, and for an extra 6 euros they’ll take your bike as well.
Here’s the route I followed. To zoom in on the details, click here.