We have departed the Southern Hemisphere summer in Australia & New Zealand. We continue on with our RTW journey and return back to the Northern Hemisphere, with the sole mission of following the sun around the world. Our entire world travel itinerary was purposefully planned to avoid the cold of winter in favor of the warmth of the sun. We only packed shorts and summer clothing in our Osprey convertible wheeled backpacks, so we were committed to this plan or else we would freeze our asses off.
Summer is approaching in Europe, so that’s the direction us Flashpackers headed. Our first stop in Europe was a return visit to the Netherlands. On our previous month long visit to Holland, we split our time between Amsterdam & Rotterdam and used them as our base. From there, we explored by train some really cool smaller Dutch cities (Haarlem, Delft, Utrecht, Zaanse Schans, The Hague, and Scheveningen). We really enjoyed each of these places but our favorite of them all was Utrecht. Utrecht seemed to attract travelers searching to get off-the-beaten path and looking to enjoy its’ small town vibe. One of the benefits of having 4+ years of travels under our belt, is it enables us to cherry pick some of our favorite locations we previously just passed thru and stay longer term. On our last visit to the Netherlands, we day tripped to Utrecht via the super efficient Dutch railway. On this return trip we were able to hunker down in this authentic and genuine Dutch city and explore the town in a more relaxed way and in greater detail without any time constraints. Utrecht is like a ‘mini’ version of Amsterdam with similar picturesque canals and bicycles used as the primary mode of transportation. The car-free pedestrian zone in the main hub area of town was nice, however, you still have to watch out for those bikes zipping around.
We absolutely loved the vibrancy and nonstop action of Amsterdam. However, on this return visit to the Netherlands, we opted for the less crowded and more laid back lifestyle in Utrecht as it represents more what the Netherlands is all about. Our 10 day stay was simply perfect. Utrecht reminded me of a quaint ski village with the only thing missing…..the snow. We settled into our amazing AirBnB and lived amongst the locals. Our AirBnB hosts provided us with bicycles which we put to good use every day cruising around the canals exploring the entire city. Our days were spent biking to the quaint local cafes, taking some mental health breaks in the local coffeeshops and then retreating to one of the many local parks. While Amsterdam has over 150 coffeeshops, Utrecht has only about six that we found. We made our daily visit to Coffeeshop Andersom which was conveniently located smack in the center of town on a pretty canal lined with ultra chill European cafes. Our absolute favorite coffeeshop was the Cultureboat. A large wooden boat permanently docked directly on the canal waters. It was such a cool place to hang out on the boat which slightly swayed on the canal waters, adding to the “trip”.
Every afternoon we rode our bikes to one of the towns green parks and hang with all the Dutch locals. Winters are really long in the Netherlands. Consequently, as soon as that spring sun pokes out, it is certain to see flocks of locals out and about biking around, eating at the many outdoor cafes and chilling in the parks. Griftpark, which is right down the block from the Cultureboat coffeeshop had an animal park which was a great place to play with some of the most healthy looking goats, cows, sheep and chickens. This place was Flashpacking Barbie’s little animal haven and favorite place to get loved up. These were some of the most relaxed animals I have ever seen living in the cleanest setting. They were really looked after. In New Zealand and Australia you could not get within a few feet of the sheep as they were scared shitless of humans. Rightfully so, as all the sheep somehow knew that ‘the humans’ coming close were really only after their chops and wool. We spent the most time in the super relaxing Wilhelmina Park as we conveniently lived right down the block. Rhijnauwen Park, is another really cool sweeping park just a short bike ride outside town. One of the rewards of visiting this park was the fabulous, Teahouse Rhijnauwen which was located on a relaxed outdoor grassy area setting. This teahouse arguably has the best tasting apple pie w/ whipped cream on planet earth. Couple this apple pie with their wide variety of mouth watering Dutch pancakes and you will be ‘good to go’.
Barbie and I both absolutely loved our time spent in Utrecht. In my opinion, it is such a better alternative place to base instead of the frenzied and touristy atmosphere of Amsterdam. However, I do see the writing on the wall that in time (just like with every other hidden gem location), this obscure ‘under the radar’ Dutch city will soon get discovered. More tourist crowds will roll in but hopefully it can keep its charm and remain the best kept secret of the Netherlands. One of the good things about Utrecht is it’s close proximity to Amsterdam. Only a short 30 minute train ride to the big city life of Amsterdam if you desire the action packed big city life. Therefore, the pro traveler tip strategy is to base in serenity and daytrip to the chaos.
CASUAL LUNCH PLACES –
Vis ’n Friet – best fish n chips
Saowapa – great Thai food. Real casual.
Teahouse Rhijnauwen – awesome pancakes and apple pie
Kimmade Vietnamese – excellent Vietnamese
The Streetfood Club – cool place, great food
Spaghetteria – good Italian dishes
Parkcafe buiten – good breaky by beautiful Wilhemina park
Bond & Smolders – great bakery, awesome apple tart
Talud9 – cool coffee place
OTHER PLACES ON OUR HIT LIST WE NEVER MADE IT TO –
Anan Saigon Streetfood
Bastacosi – pizza
Sirtaki – greek
Cerveceria Blvd. – tapas
Watertoren Utrecht – higher end