Sunday, 27 May 2018

Megamarkets and Wharfs

We were in the Netherlands for a LOT of holidays: Kings's Day, Remembrance Day, Liberation Day, and Ascension Day. Karen was getting regular e-mail updates regarding events in the country and one mentioned a monster street market -- 5 km long -- that took place in Utrecht on Ascension Day every year. We had to check it out; Utrecht's only a 30 min train ride from Amsterdam.

The train station (which looks more like a high-tech airport) dumps you out into a shopping mall. After we got our bearings and sorted out how to get out of the mall, we arrived at the market and this:
Umm... crowded? More like packed,
The greatest market I know of in Europe is the Porta Portese market in Rome (read about that here). This is not like that. First, it's not 5 km long. It's 2.5 km long, which they doubled because there are stalls on each side. Second, Porta Portese sells EVERYTHING: shoes and clothes, to hardware, to leather goods, to leather-like goods, to sunglasses, to housewares, to coins and stamps, to toys, to used cameras, to mens suits and ties, to furniture, to "antiques", to used fake Rolexes to... well, darn near everything.

This market was interesting to us because it mostly catered to immigrant Muslims from North Africa (Morocco, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, etc). My friend Edwin tells me there was a immigration push from those countries about 25-30 years ago, and all were speaking Arabic or Dutch (with a bit of English thrown in), and it was clear that there were a lot of Dutch born kids (and grandkids) among them. So rather than selling EVERYTHING, there were things I had never seen in markets before, including prayer rugs and traditional clothing...
Lots of dresses like these for sale
Material to make stuff 
African styling
...and north African foods (mostly desserts).
Lots of almonds
The market had its share of sunglass vendors, and one or two home hardware guys. There were several "used" (stolen?) bike vendors and one guy selling used laptops.
All in seemingly fair shape
But there was Dutch stuff, too, like the guy smoking eels.
Ready for the smoker 
Who wants to count heads?
I did well. I found a guy selling men's dress and golf shirts for €3.50 or 3 for €10 ($5 Cdn/shirt); I bought 5.

Generally, though, the market was elbow to elbow humans all creeping along, many pushing strollers or wheelchairs. It was difficult to move, hard to pull over to look at things, and an exercise in crowd maneuvering.

Unlike Port Portese that requires at least 4 hrs just to walk through, we did the whole market in less than 2 hrs including shopping time. Being early afternoon, we opted to walk through Utrecht's downtown and look around.

The canals in downtown Utrecht are unlike Amsterdam's. Between each bridge that crosses the canal, are wharfs down at the canal level.
From the wharf level
The accesses from the wharfs that go under the roads are the basements of the canal houses. Most are shops, restaurants (that connect to restaurants in the canal houses at the street level), and so the whole place has a very "festive" atmosphere.
The wharfs are street cafes not at the street level 
Most wharfs are all seating 
Lovely juxtapositions 
Very green, very enjoyable
The only thing we found a bit disappointing was that the bridges segmented the wharfs; you couldn't walk along them as you could along the roads.

The inner part of the city is very pedestrian friendly like a lot of Dutch towns -- aside from the bikes trying to mow you down.
A main square 
A large bridge that becomes a square
Nice chair
No matter where you go, there's this really tall tower dominating the skyline.
Bad camera settings, but you get the idea 
Kinda dominates 
Bigger when you get closer 

Under restoration 
It just goes on up there
It's the tallest church tower in the Netherlands, topping 112 m. It was built between 1321 and 1382, and marks the spot where Utrecht was founded 2,000 years ago. It has 14 bells (the largest is 2.24 m across and weighs 8,200 kg), a chapel, and an apartment for the tower guards. It stands alone; the part of the church it was attached to fell down in the 1600's, so it's not connected to the current church (more like half a church), which is cool unto itself, with gothic flying buttresses.
It, too, is big 
Large windows
Buttress detail
Interesting brickwork at the back 
Also on the naves
We didn't have time to go into either the tower or the church, but we did walk through the church garden.
The rear entrance 
Side corridors 
Looking back at the church 
From the other corner 
Nice view of the church walls 
The centre fountain 
Spitting gargoyles 
Drooling lions 
The gargoyles that direct water from the eavestroughs
A sample one
We wandered back though the pretty streets to the futuristic train station.
Light and art: made up of hundreds of small LEDs
The station
We liked the feel of Utrecht. We forgot to take our guidebook so didn't know what to go look at. We therefore missed the old moated fortification walls of the city that were just a few blocks past the Dom Tower, plus some other stuff. We liked the wharf idea; kinda surprised that at least one or two canals in Amsterdam aren't like that.

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