Photo Friday: Utrecht, Netherlands

In 2005, I left New York to move to Utrecht, Netherlands. I went with just a suitcase, pack, laptop and my best friend Megan. It was there that I met SVV on my second day. This was our neighborhood:

Megan and I lived in the attic of a 72-year-old Surinamese bitch’s palatial pad, though she kept us cooped up in a tiny room on the third floor with just a bed and sink. We had to share a bathroom (no shower) with her, and weren’t allowed to use it after 10pm. Don’t believe me? Behold, our quarters:

The big catch is that, collectively, we paid 700 euro a month for this room. It’s not like we were even living on the cheap. The university set us up with such stellar accommodation, while our classmates had proper student flats in the center of town (we were in the outskirts, the senior citizen residential area if you will). It might have been partially our faults—out of confusion, we marked the “partner” box on our application. Oops. But still… Here’s the outside of the digs; our window was the tiny one on the top floor.

We did luck out, though: For the first few months we lived there, there was no drizzle and cold like you might expect from Holland. Instead, we were wearing shorts (or, in my case, skirts) all the way through mid-November.

Right down the street from our “home,” there was a stream. It was eternally green. We called it the Jello River. In fact, all the tributaries in the area were this exact color and consistency.

Often, we would see swans leisurely swimming about among the Jello. They were green, too. We all owned bicycles—actually, more than a few, as on average your bike will get swiped every two months or so, no matter how janky and chained up—as that was the preferred method of transportation. No, that is not just a stereotype.

Sometimes we took canoes or paddlebikes instead, just to mix it up a bit.

Downtown Utrecht is situated around the Oudegracht, or central canal. Many a night was spent drinking wine and eating crepes at one of the numerous cafes that dotted the waterfront.

Even after several months there, I was always getting lost. Every cobblestone street looked like the next. But I could always find my way if I could just glimpse the Domkirken in the center of town as my compass.

I (perhaps not so secretly) didn’t love it while I was there, but now I long to move back to such a quintessential European town, if just for a few short months. Maybe someday…after SVV and I have sold our Great American Novels…

*That’s SVV and me at our standard bar, Cafe Belgie, just weeks after meeting for the first time.

**All taken with a crappy Nikon Coolpix, before I switched exclusively to Canon (I left my SLF at home, as I didn’t trust myself traveling with it—good thing, too, I went through three P&Ss in as many months), pre-Photoshop days, as well (and I don’t have the original files anymore to touch them up, unfortunately). I know these pictures are terrible, but I was too consumed with other endeavors—like um, wooing SVV, gorging myself on stroopwafels, and visiting every pub in Utrecht—through the duration of my stay to take proper pictures. If nothing else, it gives you a little taste of living abroad.

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Comments ( 25 )

  1. I miss living abroad and I like your pictures! I can’t believe how green that river is.

  2. Get out! I went to a Cafe Belgie in Maastricht! Except I went there for avocado and brie sandwiches.

  3. Looks like a fairtytale! Did you learn any Dutch?

  4. Another great life adventure.
    The Jello River is creepy. Not much current there. Hope for good captains on those big boats on a narrow canal.
    Guess the wooing worked.
    Another place to put on my list, oops, it’s already there.

  5. The only thing I can think of when I see your Dutch living quarters is Flowers in the Attic. Good thing you got out a lot. Everything else looks beautiful.

  6. Oh, lovely! I have fond memories of Utrecht when I was in the Netherlands briefly last year. I only spent one day in Utrecht… I had dinner with a 29-year old couple who lived there that I’d never met before. The girl is the niece of some Dutch friends of my parents who live here in Canada, and she kindly invited me to join her and some friends for the evening even though she didn’t know me from a hole in the road. We had dinner and then she took me to a pub there to watch the Netherlands play in the Eurocup, which was a big deal at the time. It was awesome! There’s a funny picture of my riding as a passenger on a bike in Utrecht on my Flickr stream here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/smartbydesign/3337037866/in/set-72157613494301453/

  7. These photos are still great! I think wordpress makes them look like stellar when you post them. They do on my photo blog too. I was going to head to Utretcht when I was in Amsterdam and couch-surf. But I was still a newbie with that being solo, so next time. What was SV doing there again? He was at school too? Awesome for you two.

    I’m so happy my passion is back to see what I can see freely and not just feel its only good if my partner wants to do it to (happened sometimes.. I felt like if he already did something or didn’t like a place I maybe wanted to check out someday, he was in the better judgment.) AHHH how silly was I? don’t get me wrong we had some awesome adventures, but needed so see that flip side experience to understand that’s not what a compromisable relationship is about.

    Have a good one!

  8. Since your from NY you know what they say about location, location, location. It looks that this applies here too. Who cares about the room, look at where you live!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! wow!!!!!!!!!!
    I love Holland, it’s one of my favorite countries. My husband is actually trying to get a Phd there. Fingers crossed:)
    Photo Friday – Banana Plantations In Action

  9. We’d love to go to the Netherlands one day – Matthew has tons of extended family over there that we’ve never met….

    You two are adorable. That is all.

  10. NICE!!! One of my biggest regrets is not traveling more in my “youth” (heh heh). I just traveled more this year than I have in YEARS. Hoping me guy can get himself a gig in Holland so I can go too…it’s on our list (along with Spain). Love the pictures!

  11. Don’t be judging Nikon Coolpixs……….

  12. I look at those pictures and all I can think is “how quaint”.

  13. These pictures are sweet. Thanks for taking us down memory lane.

  14. Oh gosh, THANK YOU for this. You just described all the things I would have described about Maastricht as well (except that Maastricht just has one river and not really any canals).

    It seems like Dutch cities are always quintessentially European, doesn’t it? I’ve only lived in the States for that one year so I AM European all the way through but, sheesh, whenever I look around me in Maastricht or at your pictures here, I think to myself, Man, this is just like in the movies. It just never seems like people would ACTUALLY use bikes as their main means of transportation, or that bars and cafรฉs could ever be that tiny and adorable, and so on. But alas, that’s Holland. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  15. That river is the EXACT same color of the Millrace, which runs through the University of Oregon campus. BLEH.

  16. Wow that sounds like it would make a funny novel. I hope to spend 3 months in London next year.

  17. Beer and a canoe (ok, kayak)? What a lovely idea!

  18. Wow, your photos are fun. At least you were smart enough to have a digital, I resisted the format for so long (I’m a museum and archives geek, long-term archiving solutions worry me!) that all I have from study abroad are 30 rolls of 35mm film. Luckily one of my friends had a digital and shared her photos with me.

  19. Bernardina van Beek January 22, 2012 at 4:54 am

    You didn’t have much luck with your living quarters, but the pictures are nice. However, if you think Dutch food is mostly fried and the Domkerk is called Domkirken you didn’t pay too much attention, did you?

    • And you’re just like every passive-aggressive Dutch person I met while living over there, so at least some things are consistent.

      • Bernardina van Beek January 23, 2012 at 12:58 pm

        I guess it’s okay for you to call a fellow countrywoman of mine ‘bitch’ and generally be critical of the Netherlands, while someone else can’t say you’ve got some rather basic facts about it wrong then.

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