10 Days Free and Easy Europe Tour (2017) – Day 8 Utrecht

Waking Up in Rotterdam

Morning came quickly. We liked it better staying in modern Holiday Inn Express Rotterdam than the quaint old world charm Domstern Hotel in Cologne. We slept very well. Our stay in Holiday Inn Express came with express breakfast so we went to the restaurant about 7.40 am shortly after waking up to another sunny summer morning.

The restaurant was at the further end of the lobby and lounge area. It wasn’t crowded when we arrived. The ambiance was pleasant, restaurant was presentable and clean. Breakfast selection was not very much but more than sufficient. After all, this was just an express breakfast and we were more than satisfied even though this couldn’t be compared to the German breakfast we had the day before at Domstern Hotel in Cologne.

After breakfast, we returned to our room to rest a while and then prepared to head out to visit other cities in the Netherlands. It was a bright and windy summer morning as we made our way to the train station. We went to the train office, took a queue number and waited for our turn to purchase our train tickets. Unlike the previous evening when I came to enquire about train tickets, the office was pretty busy this morning.

Rotterdam to Utrecht

Finally it was my turn to speak with the staff. Since it was already a little late, we just purchased return train tickets to Utrecht. We probably didn’t have sufficient time to visit Leiden. We also bought train tickets to Amsterdam for the next day as well as train ticket from Amsterdam to Schiphol Airport for our departure day.

So we entered the train station and went to the correct platform to wait for our train to Utrecht. The train station was very busy. Staff were deployed to help passengers with questions concerning their train journey. It was a pretty easy affair for us and soon we boarded our train and were on our way to Utrecht.

Actually, we came to Rotterdam via Utrecht the day before so we knew what to expect. The journey to Utrecht was pretty short, just 40 minutes ride away. By now, we were into the 8th day of our Europe Tour and the summer weather was getting much warmer. Apart from some chills we experienced in Vienna and Berlin, it was very good so far.

Utrecht Train Station

Very quickly we arrived Utrecht Station. This station was very pleasant. We then made our way through the mall connected with the station. We approached the tourist help desk and were attended to by a very nice lady staff. She gave us all the information we needed as well as a map.

Before leaving the train station, we did some shopping at the fashion shops here. My dear wife and son bought stuff at Bershka and Stradivarius. It was about time to do some shopping as we had just another three more days in Europe before leaving for home. With shopping done, we exited the train station.

Weekend Market in Utrecht

Outside the station, we were greeted with a sizeable weekend market. There were stalls selling clothes, food, fruits, household stuff and phone covers. What captured our attention was the stall selling cheese. The stall was so colourful with huge block of cheese, the local produce here in the Netherlands. This stall seemed to be very well received attracting constant stream of customers.

Upper Canal in Utrecht

After checking out the various stalls we decided to head to the city proper for our tour. We walked towards the canal not far from the front entrance of the train station. It was such a bright and sunny day and very glaring actually as we approached the canal area. The good thing about summer during this time was that even though it was a little hot, the humidity wasn’t very high so it was quite bearable to be outdoor now without having to wear a jacket.

Once we reached the canal, we turned left towards the upper stretch of the canal to begin our tour of this lovely city. The buildings were very nice here. This upper section of the canal wasn’t very busy. The street was a little narrow as we walked up the canal on our left with bicycles parked on the pavement.

The canal scene was peaceful with occasional boats cruising along this narrow canal. There were people kayaking on the canal as well. Trees lined along the sides of the canal providing some shades on this otherwise very bright day here in Utrecht. We liked this peaceful start on this part of the canal of our tour.

Saint Jacob’s Church

We then turned into a side street and went towards a tall church building. From the outside, the brick walls and the tall spire of this church building looked pretty under the piercing sun. The neighbourhood was rather quiet here. There were plenty of shades from tall trees outside the church. It was tranquility blending perfectly with the church setting here. Wondered what it was like years gone by when people came to church on Sunday to enjoy a day of bliss and rest under such nice ambiance.

We then entered the church which was free. There were volunteers who were more than happy to furnish us with information and provide guided tours should we require. Literatures were available on the history of this church. More multi-lingual information in the church premise also provides visitors with a thorough understanding of the church which is one of the oldest in the city.

The church was indeed interesting, very airy inside, pleasing and pleasant, especially the staff here. After checking out the exhibits in the church, we went back towards the canal again. It was an interesting visit at the Jacobikerk.

Market at Middle Canal

We walked back down along the canal to explore the middle and lower sections of the canal. We ventured through some side lanes and found some interesting restaurants and cafes as well as shops. Once we reached the middle section of the canal, the scene here took quite a drastic change. It was so busy and happening here. There were so many visitors here thronging the streets with more shops, restaurants and cafes as well as an outdoor market.

Some stalls were selling tulips at very good price. But we still had three more days to go in the Netherlands and it won’t be a good idea to bring a huge blooming bouquet of tulips to board a plane home. We aren’t attention seekers, especially not to show off the exotic tulips we were bringing home to the tropics where we live.

So we made a mental note on the price of these beautiful tulips perhaps we might be able to buy some home on the last day before we depart Amsterdam. We didn’t expect to see tulips as it was already late May so we were glad the markets were still selling tulips.

Beautiful Middle Canal Scenery

The canal here was very much wider and more exciting. The canal scene seemed to be very popular with cafes and restaurants just beside the canal where many happy customers were having meals alfresco style. It was a pretty scene, very scenic and beautiful. Again boats were plying on the canal as well as people kayaking on the canal. This was a really happy place to hang out, so lovely and nice out here where many retail stores were nestled on both sides on the street level of the canal. No doubt this was a very touristy place but we didn’t mind to mingle in crowd to enjoy a slice of the action here.

The beautiful canal made a turn and vanished behind the beautiful buildings here. We were right in the middle of the city. Tourists were everywhere and some were on their bikes touring this city on wheels. However, quite a number had to push their bicycles here due to the crowd of people that made it very difficult to cycle on the cobblestones street with the high chance of colliding with someone inadvertently.

We had crossed over to the other side of the canal now and walked on among the crowd of people. Soaking in the sights and sounds along the way, the canal emerged again but very much narrower like the first stretch of the canal we visited earlier. It was no less beautiful here, so lively and so lovely on this summer day as we explored the city here in Utrecht. We were thoroughly taken in and lost ourselves in this pretty city. So far during this Europe Tour, we enjoyed Prague the most and now we fell in love with Utrecht.

Wonderful Outdoor Lunch in Utrecht

As we continued our stroll, we soon came to an open area where visitors were having lunch out here taking in every bits of this lovely city. We too were looking for a nice restaurant for lunch. We chanced upon a sitting area just outside a lovely restaurant where guests had just vacated. So we parked ourselves right outside this restaurant to people watch as we poured over the menu.

The restaurant staff were very nice and friendly. We decided to take their lunch specials and settled down to indulge ourselves with the sights and sounds this part of Utrecht. How often do we have such opportunity to dine alfresco style under very pleasant weather conditions. A soft wind was blowing on this rather hot but not very humid summer day. People were coming and going and none was wearing sad faces here.

The restaurant was very busy with waitresses rushing in and out of the restaurant serving food to diners outside the open area with the huge opened umbrellas. It took quite some time before our food finally arrived. We didn’t mind the wait as we were captivated with the scene out here on the street in this lovely city. This was the first time we had Dutch food. The lunch was really very good. We enjoyed the lunch from starter to desserts.

Upper Canal in Utrecht

After this very enjoyable lunch and the equally enjoyable feasting of the sights of the street scene, we continued out stroll along the canal. Not much further ahead, we reached a much wider road that bridged both sides of the canal. This was another very busy and exciting area in Utrecht. Here was where we could see the very tall Dom Tower just behind the row of shops along the canal. Quite a number of bicycles were parked on this bridge over the canal. The buildings on both sides of the canal provided much shopping and dining options to tourists here.

The canal scenery though narrower than the middle stretch was no less exciting. There were people sitting on the edge of the canal. Revelers were on boats with party atmosphere drinking, dancing and singing. It was so much fun to see these people having a great time here.

Heading to Dom Tower

Next was to head to the Dom Tower and Saint Martin’s Cathedral. The shops and cafes on both sides of the short passage into this Dom and Cathedral area were very interesting too. The souvenir shop at the corner was a good place to shop for souvenirs too. The ice cream shop seemed to be a nice place to rest a while as well.

The entrance into the Dom Tower flanked by shops on both sides was quite unique. The Dom Tower stood stately in the middle of the passage. In addition, the Tower is the tallest building here in the city, another centre of attraction in Utrecht. The interesting arch shape entrance gives a mysterious feel into the open courtyard between the Tower and the Cathedral.

St Martin’s Church and Dom Tower

The open courtyard is pretty large. Visitors were hanging out here mostly looking up the very tall Dom Tower. Some were simply sitting around resting and enjoying this nice summer day in Utrecht under plenty of shades provided by trees in the courtyard. The exterior of the Cathedral and the Dom Tower looked pretty impressive. This place was quite a contrast from the busy and boisterous scene along the canal outside the courtyard.

We then entered the Cathedral for a look. This Cathedral looked more impressive and opulent compared to the Saint Jacob’s Church. However, those volunteers and guides at the Jacobikerk were more friendly and helpful and more eager to provide information to visitors. They seemed to be more keen to share the history of their church and were proud of their church.

Lower Canal Scene

After this brief visit, we left the Cathedral. With a few more glance around the courtyard we left and then headed back to the canal area. We returned to the bridge and enjoyed the happy canal scene one more time before moving on with our tour of Utrecht. The canal scene was lovely with visitors enjoying the canal activities. Cafes along the edges of the canal provided added options for visitors to soak up the fun along the canal.

So we continued our stroll on the street level along the canal. We were stopped at a section where the street was blocked up. House movers were moving furniture up one of the units on the building here. The extended ladder resembled more like equipment fire fighters use to access buildings during rescue operation. It was an interesting sight again as we only saw such a scene during one of Jackie Chan’s action movie.

Returning to Utrecht Station

We then continued our stroll a little further and crossed over the other side of the canal. It was already past 3 pm so we decided to head back towards the more exciting middle section of the canal. It was the same scene along beautiful streets with lovely shops, cafes and bakeries. The pastries and cakes in those bakeries looked so temptingly delicious. Soon we were back to the centre of Utrecht. There was a huge colouful chair not meant for human in the middle of town. Here is another picture moment in lovely Utrecht.

Walking through the crowd of visitors, we were soon back to the train station. It was shopping time again. We spent some time at different retailers and then approached the tourist desk again. Earlier, we were told there was a windmill in Utrecht not far from the train station. This time we were given more detailed information how to walk to the windmill by another more senior staff.

Locating Windmill in Utrecht

Armed with this latest details, we exited the train station and walked towards the windmill. The windmill is actually on the other side of the train station. After exiting Utrecht Station, we walked past NH Hotel. Walking towards the canal, we could see the windmill not very far ahead. Strolling along the canal with ducks and birds inhabiting here, we reached the windmill. This was a very quiet residential neighbourhood. Over here was obviously not a touristy place.

We walked near the windmill but didn’t enter the premise. We saw staff up the windmill making adjustment to the canvass on the windmill. Against the backdrop of a cloudless clear blue sky, the windmill looked pretty awesome. At certain position, the sun was right behind the windmill. It was quite a fascinating sight. Having spent enough time admiring this windmill, we walked back towards Utrecht Station.

Quiet Weekend in Rotterdam

It was near 5 pm now as we waited for our train back to Rotterdam. It was the same short train ride back to Rotterdam. Over at Rotterdam Station, we went into a convenience store to stock up on water and essentials. Before returning to Holiday Inn Express Hotel, we walked into the shopping mall area.

Surprisingly, this shopping area was rather quiet today. It was so busy and noisy the day before and we were quite taken aback. Of course restaurants were open but the ambiance was so different. Where did the shopping crowd go during this weekend we had no idea. Perhaps everyone had gone to Utrecht which was so lovely and exciting.

We walked through the entire shopping area with many shops closed. What we saw were some teens skateboarding in the almost empty shopping complex. We thought we could come back to do some shopping here but we were obviously mistaken. So it was time to find a restaurant for dinner. Dining scene outdoor was present but can’t compare to the day before. The crowd was so thin here. What a contrast from the scene we experienced at Utrecht!

Chinese Dinner in Rotterdam

Our first meal in Rotterdam was Chinese food at the only Chinese Restaurant here. So we decided we would have Chinese food for dinner. When we entered the Chinese Restaurant it was a different scene altogether. While the crowds were missing in this shopping mall area, the restaurant was packed with diners. Where did these people come from? We had no idea. Many diners seemed to be regulars and knew each other and even the restaurant manager and staff greeted some diners warmly.

It was quite a different situation for us. We were asked whether we had made a reservation and of course negative as we didn’t expect to come back for Chinese food in Rotterdam. We were in fact thinking of having dinner in Leiden. Perhaps we might be better off visiting Leiden instead of the dead city here in Rotterdam.

Anyway, we were ushered to an empty table. The elderly Chinese waitress who served us the day before was a little rude. It was true the restaurant was busy and everyone was quite stressed out. Her impatience was quite telling when dealing with customers coming into the restaurant. Taking a little longer to pour through the menu displeased her as if we were wasting her time.

So we ordered something quick and got our dinner over with. The food was nice but the service was a little disappointing. However, speaking some Cantonese might be easier for Chinese diners though the staff could speak English probably Dutch as well.

Resting in Rotterdam Holiday Inn Express Hotel

With nothing much happening in the city, we returned to Holiday Inn Express Hotel. We went to the lobby first for a look around and had a game of table soccer. The hotel was also quite quiet as well leaving hotel staff chatting among themselves. We then went up to our room with nothing much else to do at the lobby lounge.

Back in our comfortable room, we settled in to rest for the evening. The room was nicely made up while we went out to explore Utrecht. It was time to pack up as well as we would be departing for Amsterdam the next morning. This modern hotel room was really what we needed after a long day out shopping and dining.

Visiting Utrecht was one of the highlights of this Europe Tour. We didn’t expect Utrecht to be so lovely and captivating with the city along the canal. It wasn’t Venice of course but just a very small version of city life around a canal where everyone could enjoy some pleasant time in this historic city in the Netherlands. Seeing a windmill up close also accomplished one of our missions here in the Netherlands. So we were expecting to have more fun at our final destination Amsterdam in a couple of hours time.

Continue to Day 9

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