Utrecht: And Villages Around
We stayed in The Netherlands for ten days, which was longer than originally anticipated. However, we found it difficult to leave.
Per recommendations from our gracious hosts, we explored areas outside of Amsterdam, which granted us with a slightly more comprehensive understanding of the area.
Although you can rent city bikes, we were advised that it gets competitive to find the allocated parking spots. So, we rented bikes (with hand breaks!) from Discount Bike Rental.
It's remarkable how the city is so orchestrated to accommodate bikers. Bike paths and lanes are accessible in even the more remote areas.
Among the seemingly countless amenities the city provides, free ferries across the River IJ for pedestrians and cyclists run every few minutes from Central Station. The ferries are jammed with bikes as the quick ride provides access to the Noord.
The ride itself is super scenic, as we rode in and out of small villages.
There were quaint bars along the way, along the shaded path.
As the trees opened, and we saw glimpses of the water.
The unique landscape gave us a window into life on the lowlands.
The tiny village of Durgerdam is along the IJsselmeer.
Traditional wooden houses line the water.
Despite that the land was farmed dating back to the 13th century, the entire village was destroyed by a fire in the late 17th century.
Therefore, a Protestant church built in 1687 remains the oldest building in the village.
Although picturesque, there aren't too many cafes for lunch options, so we packed a picnic. We ended up sprawling in the grass for a few hours. Tip: travel towels make great picnic blankets.
Once it cooled a bit, we rode further down the Waterlandse Zeedijk, a dyke built in the middle ages to protect the Waterland region.
It was a significant landmark for the Dutch merchant navy in the past, but today remains a fishing village, specifically for herring.
There isn't too much going on in Durgerdam proper, but it is a great day trip via bike to escape the city.
For a more extensive getaway, we took the train to Utrecht and stayed for two nights.
It has the largest student population in The Netherlands.
As such, the city is currently going through a revival with trendy shops and eateries popping up.
However, the main draw for many is that Utrecht is one of the countries oldest cities, dating back to the Middle Ages.
The medieval center is orchestrated around split-level canals.
In the 13th century, warehouses were situated on the lower level.
Today, more geared toward visitors, you can grab a drink or a bite on the water.
The local train from Amsterdam Central to Utrecht Central runs every ten minutes. It's about a 30 minute train ride, only 17 Euro for us both. Upon getting off, I was disappointed in finding that Utrecht Central is connected to a sizable mall. However, a short walk away, the streets narrow.
And your brought right back to Old Europe.
We stopped at De Zakkendrager for lunch with our packs in tow. It's known for serving more modern Dutch food, in a garden setting.
I had one of the best warm goat cheese sandwiches of my life.
Our airbnb was slightly outside of town, about a 30 minute walk, which was bittersweet.
But I came to appreciate our walks home in the evenings.
Similar to Amsterdam, the city is extremely bike centric.
En route to our airbnb, we walked through tunnels setup for cyclists.
We also found no shortage of green space downtown.
Which was lucky, since The Netherlands was experiencing an unprecedented heat wave. With no fans or aircon, we can assure you Utrect was hot. In fact, one of the nights we stayed was the hottest night the country had in recorded history. Thus, we sought shade as much as possible.
On our first evening, we liked getting disoriented down the winding streets.
We discovered narrow alleyways.
And secret courtyards.
It was easy to distance ourselves from the more popular areas.
Given that city center could feel quite hectic.
That being said, we there's a great ice cream truck selling Tony Chocolonely Caramel Sea Salt gelato around the Dom Tower. The chocolate has a cult following around Amsterdam, and turns out makes great gelato as well.
The Dom Tower itself is the symbol of Utrecht, and the tallest church tower in The Netherlands. It's precise location is where the city was founded nearly 2,000 years ago.
Due to a lack of funding, the cathedral was never finished. The incomplete nave collapsed in 1674, and the Dom Tower remains free-standing today.
To escape the heat, we ventured outside of the city by bike.
The most famous castle in the area is the Castle De Haar. It's dubbed the largest and most opulent castle in the country. However, it was built in the early 20th century. Coming from the States, we're quite familiar with architecture from that era. A couple of years ago, Will and I visited the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. It's the largest privately owned house in the U.S., constructed at the turn of the century by the Vanderbilt family. Long way of saying, we were more interested in seeing something uniquely European.
Our airbnb host suggested Slot Zuylen.
It's not the grandest castle, but it was built in the 13th century.
Certainly a structure not found Stateside.
A guided tour, the only way to see inside of the castle, was 24 Euros for us both.
Beforehand, we stopped at their farm stand to supplement the picnic we packed. All of the produce was grown in the family garden.
I found the grounds to be gorgeous.
We rode our bikes around the corner to find a lunch spot.
The castle is located in the small village of Oud-Zuilen, about three miles northwest of Utrecht.
We found a bench nearby to enjoy our baguettes and of course, aged gouda. The fruit is so sweet!
When we went back for our scheduled tour, we were informed that we were the only ones. And so, we got a private tour of the castle.
Slot Zuylen was originally built by lord van Suilen Anholt as a tower on top of the motte.
It was destroyed during the Hook and Cod wars in 1422 and rebuilt in 1510.
Perhaps most impressive was the tapestry that covered every wall of the ballroom.
Needless to say, we were impressed. Once we exited the stone castle, reality hit. It was oppressively hot.
We dreamed about our shaded picnic spot, so we biked right back.
The covered gazebo was available, and we snatched it. The village itself is tiny, with only about 200 inhabitants.
Hours passed, and people stopped by with their dogs to chat, dive into the canal. Boats would dock to wait out the draw bridge.
We re-upped our supplies, read, wrote, played cards. It was such an oasis.
By this point, it was after 8 p.m. when the wind started to pick up. We couldn't believe our luck, finally some reprieve! But then I faintly heard thunder. Will checked his phone, and confirmed that a downpour was imminent. It got dark quick, and started to smell of rain. We packed up and raced back. It was so breezy and I was peddling as fast as my, too big for me, bike would go. In hindsight, it's one of my favorite memories. I love the moments right before a rainstorm.
On our final day in Utrecht we went to Wilhelminapark. I'd say shade was the key takeaway during our stay.
When visiting Amsterdam, one of our biggest recommendations is to get out of Amsterdam.
We didn't go far. Besides a train to Utrecht, the rest was explorable by bike. But we found The Netherlands we did see to be stunning. The seemingly endless parks defined our time there. The beauty is unparalleled.