Utrecht_skyline

When I was fourteen, I took a journey on a plane for the first time in my life. Having grown up in the warm city of Valencia, Spain, I din’t find the Netherlands the fanciest summer destination. But the unthinkable happened: the grey skies, the bikes, the old houses and mysterious coffee shops, and especially the politeness and social vibe of the Dutch stole my heart in such a way that I promised myself I would come back one day. And I kept my promise! Last year, I lived for 10 months in the place where my heart belongs. Welcome to a hidden gem in The Netherlands: the city of Utrecht.

Oudegracht
Photo: Nora Quintanilla (All rights reserved) Oudegracht

And why is such a moment of tranquility important in Utrecht? Because the rest of the time the streets, bars, shops and houses are bursting with people! Utrecht is home to, among other things, the largest university in the Netherlands, and youthful creativity is absolutely leaking from every window. Creative festivals often take the main square of Neude (which, by the way, is guarded by a rabbit statue reminiscent of Donnie Darko). In fact, anyone interested in game development can meet with the representatives of creative start-ups in buildings located along the square called “incubators” and possibly score a contract to work on the next big hit.Water canals make up the backbone of Utrecht’s urban structure, and like in many other Dutch cities, bikes are the queens of the street. But once you find your way around, it’s easy to realize there is something different: a flight of stairs that leads down to a wharf situated on the Oudegracht, that is, the old canal that crosses the heart of Utrecht. The platform, placed at the water level, is full of chairs and tables on the rare days when the weather is delightful and sunny, and full and of ducks and birds the rest of the time when it’s grey. But no matter what the weather is like, one has to take the chance of sitting for a while below the street level: the rhythm of the city slows down, just enough to keep up with the pace of the dry leaves floating on the water.

Tunnel
Photo: Nora Quintanilla (All rights reserved). Tunnel

Furthermore, Utrecht is a city where you breathe art. Not only because of its numerous museums and music festivals, its theatre, and cinemas, but also because of the art literally painted on its streets. When night falls, some of the historical locations are illuminated in iridescent colours. The inside of the bridges in the Oudegracht, for example, are dyed a light blue, and another tunnel alternates glowing in every colour of the rainbow. Simply, art in Utrecht is accessible to everyone and for its uniqueness effortlessly survives in the memory.

Even in my last days there, on my daily bike rides in and out of the city, I continued to make amazing discoveries: I found a house called Rietveld-Schröderhuis which, designed by Gerrit Rietveld, is a prime example of the artistic movement called “De Stijl”. And now that we have gotten to my daily routine, I will introduce you to my most precious Hidden Gem in Utrecht…

The House in the heights

Though I took advantage of the fantastic transport structure of the Netherlands to visit a lot of its charming cities, the place I found most lovable was De Uithof—home of my university campus. A microcosm of student life in the countryside, it surpassed all my expectations.

De Uithof was the spot where the faculties, dorms and research facilities were located. Thirty minutes away from the city center and surrounded by a forest and lake, it features the most basic things every student needs to make it through university: a supermarket, a bar and a lot of friends.

Utrecht_skyline
Photo: Nora Quintanilla (All rights reserved). Sunset Heights

Past the window, the horizon opened before my eyes, and on clear days I could even distinguish the nearby town of Zeist. On the cold nights, my flatmates and I would gather on the balcony for a drink and gaze at the stars in the sky—a rare sight back home in Spain. My room was located on the 17th floor of an 18-floor tower. It was from my “room in the heights” that I first discovered what a snow-covered landscape looked like. It may sound strange, but having never seen snow before, or animals wandering freely around, I experienced life in De Uithof as a child discovering the novelties of the world.

On that same balcony, I would also sit to watch the sun disappear behind the Utrecht skyline, appreciating how the Dom Tower cut past the rest of the shorter buildings to its sides. The sky was a living canvas turning from a warm red to a cool dark blue… one of the most beautiful pieces of art I have ever seen, which will hang in the museum of my memories forever.

Cover photo: Nora Quintanilla (All rights reserved)

 

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