Sunday, April 27, 2008

Vechtplassen and Utrecht blues

With temperatures soaring to 23 deg C this weekend, it was a perfect day to go out with a friend to explore the countryside.

imageOn several occasions, trying to get overland to Schiphol, I've been blocked by lakes and waterways north of Utrecht. This area is the Vechtplassen (literally Ponds of the Vecht river, shown in a map, right, from Natuurkaart.nl, and more commonly known as the Loosdrechtse Plassen). The lakes are divided into smaller ponds, separated by dikes and surrounded by small villages. The shoreline is extensively serrated, a result of extensive peat mining in the area during the Golden Age. Today, these canals support boat moorings and holiday homes, very reminiscent of the Norfolk Broads in England. It's a great outdoor recreation area, and a perfect place to enjoy a warm, sunny day.

Vechtplassen Apr 08 17

The main recreation is boating and fishing,and the lake was filled with people on the water, all flying huge Dutch flags. There were lots of sloop-rigged and gaff-rigged sailboats reminiscent of Norfolk, classical stylings with lots of teak and wonderful lines. The motor boats resembled large lifeboats, broad and deep with rounded ends, able to carry a lot of people (or fishing gear and beer!).

Vechtplassen Apr 08 19

Vechtplassen Apr 08 25

The shores are filled with holiday homes, mostly modest waterfront houses and beach trailers. The Dutch have largely escaped the blight of trophy mansions that encrust US shores. Even so, Paulmakelaars.nl indicates that these sell for between 150,000 and 1 million euros (still low compared to US waterfront). There was a lot of construction, though: I hope the area isn't being 'discovered'.

Vechtplassen Apr 08 15 Vechtplassen Apr 08 05

We headed down to Utrecht for an unusual dinner at The Ostrich. They offer 'authentic' African cooking styles and ingredients (crocodile, zebra, etc.). I tried the ostrich (half expecting chicken), and found it different, but good: a consistency like beef and a strong taste of fowl. The kudu (a bit like an antelope) was a very good cross between beef and venison. The canalside ambience is much better than the close darkness inside the restaurant: 'lots of party boats and a lingering twilight that keeps stimulating laughter and new conversations over an extended meal.

Utrecht April 08 29 Utrecht April 08 23

Utrecht April 08 38

The annual Utrecht Blues festival was on from 10 pm until 1 am all weekend. I went to graduate school North of Chicago, hanging out in great blues clubs like Biddy Mulligans and Kingston Mines. Unfortunately, Utrecht's styles ran from rock with no blues to blues ballads fused to rock-a-billy or reggae. 'Good music and a very pleasant (suprisingly middle-aged) crowd, but the music left me longing for the old clubs, sorry.

Travel Notes: Reach the Vechtpassen via the N201, either from the A1 through Hilversum or the A2 at Vreeland. Dutch roadworks are in full swing, and the N201 is torn up in spots east of the ponds; detours are long and tortuous. The best paths across the area are from Oud-Loosdrecht west across a dike dividing the north and south parts of the main lake, or west from Nieuw-Loosdrecht to Tienhoven at the southern end. There is an open-air cafe at Tienhoven that is a great place to have lunch and watch the boats.

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