465 Steps

Trip Start Oct 24, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Netherlands  , Utrecht,
Friday, November 27, 2009

In order to get to Utrecht, we had to take a train from Alphen.  Fortunately for us, Frank was home from school sick, and offered to give us a ride to the station.  As usual, we were pushing it: as we got out of the car, the train pulled into the station and we had just enough time for Frank to quickly buy us tickets and then dash onto the train.

The half hour train ride gave us an opportunity to see a bit more of the gorgeous Dutch countryside.  It's true that the country is incredibly flat, which means that you're able to see forever and ever across the very green fields, littered with sheep and an occasional windmill (I know, you think they're everywhere in the Netherlands, but they're not!).  The train itself was much nicer than any we'd been on before: much more modern and far cleaner (though, to be fair, it was about a million times more expensive than any other train we'd been on, and about one-twentieth the travel time).  

The thirty minutes went by very quickly, and before we knew it we were in Utrecht: a big university town, and the country's fourth largest city (and by fourth largest, I'm talking about a population the size of 300,000 -- just slightly larger than Madison!).  (Oddly) The train station empties into the city's biggest mall -- a perfect opportunity for me to do a some much needed shopping.

Since moving to Istanbul, I'd had an impossible time trying to find shoes (which I now needed because we'd left the tropics and sandals could no longer support me year round).  All the shoes in Istanbul were far too tight and high heely jobs that were not remotely suitable for someone who needed to stand on her feet for 8 hours a day.  As if that weren't enough, the shoes were all ridiculously expensive -- not a DSW in sight!  While in the Netherlands, I planned to do some shoe shopping in hopes of finding something that didn't cripple me after ten minutes on my feet.

After ten minutes, we were leaving the mall with a new pair of cheap black shoes in hand -- things were looking up!  We wove our way through the streets of Utrecht and headed straight towards Domtoren (Dom Tower).  Domtoren, the main tourist draw in Utrecht, is the tallest church tower in the Netherlands.  It was built in conjunction with the neighboring church between 1321 and 1382, but they ran out of money and sort of half assed the job, choosing to leave some of the reinforcements off the final structure.  In 1674, a very rare hurricane swept through the area and collapsed part of the building, leaving a gap between the tower and the church which still exists today.

We knew we wanted to see the Domtoren, but we also needed to eat something before doing so.  We started wandering the streets, stopping at numerous places, but (rather surprisingly) not having much luck finding any English menus.  Those English menus we did stumble upon didn't have any vegetarian food (the Dutch appeared to have as large a penchant for meaty foods as the Turks!).  As a result, we continued our stroll along Utrecht's wharves, another reason for which the city is famous.  As many people know (and our pictures show), the Netherlands is criss-crossed by canals.  Utrecht has taken the canals a bit further and instead sports a series of wharves lined with restaurants and cafes.  I imagine it's gorgeous in the summer, but during the wintry end of November, it wasn't too enjoyable to sit outside, so we carried on, eventually landing at a cheap student cafe (run by a Turk, of course!) where we grabbed a falafel and a pita before dashing off to try and make the 2pm Domtoren tour.  

We were a smidge too late, so bought tickets for the 4pm tour and set off to explore the city for the next two hours.  It was a lovely city and it was easy to feel the energy of the student population as we ambled about.  We found a cool second-hand clothing shop (another thing missing in Istanbul) and decided to pop in to scavenge around for some winter weather wear.  Konrad found a pea coat (which he desperately needed because the winter coat he bought in Istanbul was not cutting the mustard in Utrecht's cool climate) and I found another pair of shoes that fit.  With our bags a bit heavier, we made our way back to Domtoren, making another stop along the way to buy some second-hand books (also a bit difficult to find in Istanbul).  

After depositing our new purchases at the main office, we followed the rest of our tour group into the tower.  In all we would climb 465 steps on our way to the top of the tower.  We stopped a few different times to learn about special rooms in the tower, pausing the longest at the bell tower (where Konrad put his head in a giant bell).  The timing worked out so that we were able to see the city just as the sun had set, providing us with a great view of the city lights from 365 feet up.  

As we climbed down, it started to sprinkle, so we ducked into a cute pub where we had a few drinks and watched the raindrops fall.  The rain let up long enough for us to find a restaurant where we had an expensive dinner before walking back to the train station and grabbing the train back to Alphen where our wonderfully hospitable host was waiting to pick us up.  As it was Friday night, we all stayed up for a bit to chat and discuss our plans to drive to the "touristy" town of Volendam the following day.  
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