Utrecht Vacantie en Ontdekking

by Perette Barella

This travelogue documents Opal's and my 2022 visit to Utrecht, a city in the central Netherlands. Our trip was multipurpose: part vacation and an opportunity to see more of the world, it was also part research for a new home given the growing hostility toward Queer1  people in the US. To that end it was a chance to validate that reality matched our expectations. It was also a chance to assess our ability and readiness to adapt, to learn about neighborhoods and where we might and might not want to live, and a chance to practice our Dutch.

Times are local to the place I wrote.

Entries vary between English and Dutch. Google can translate if desired. Use the control at the bottom of the window, or visit Google Translate. To any Dutch readers: het spijt me, maar ik moet ergens beginnen.


1. Our room, Utrecht

2022-07-04 15:25

After 24 hours of travelling we arrived at our rented room in Utrecht. I think they call themselves a B&B, but there's no breakfast—just a simple but nice room in somebody's house. It seems pretty nice though: pretty, cozy and last night was quiet. It'll be a good test for Opal and I living together in such close quarters.

Utrecht is a university town and we're in the University neighborhood, so there's evidence of that open-minded, positive, forward-thinking graffiti on windows around the neighborhood.

Perette Barella and Opal Wright
Perette and Opal, fresh and excited before 24 hours straight of travel. We were much less fresh and somewhat cranky on the last leg, after a long delay at immigration.
Sissy-Boy, Utrecht Station, NL
Sissy-Boy, the perfect place for me to go shopping for a spouse if I didn't already have a fiance, given their target market of "young metrosexual males" and my penchant for dating boys who later realize they're trans. The "Sissy" is an homage to Dutchess Elisabeth "Sisi" Amalie Eugenie in Bavaria (1837-1898), but later they wanted to market to the other half of the population so they added "-Boy".
ANAL: All Nazis are Losers
Evidence the Netherlands are not exempt the current culture wars: modern anti-Nazi propaganda.
Be Gay Do Crime
I don't quite understand this one, but it seemed to be part of an Anarchist theme.
Trans Zorg Nu
"Trans Care Now": Although The Netherlands have liberal laws and attitudes (at least in the big cities), Trans health care is backlogged; "Geen Wachlijsten" = "No waitlist". And it appears there are frustrations with gatekeeping here too: "Volledige Zelfbeschikking" = "Full self-determination".
Trans care moet beter
Trans care must improve
Trans Flag half-masked with black triangle
Half of a Trans flag spray-painted on a building, half "covered" with a black triangle. I speculate that the triangle is a reference to additional monitoring of newly-approved medicines or to Nazi persecution that included lesbians. Update: Further encounters and research indicate this is a Trans-themed variant of the Anarcha-Feminism flag.

2. Exploring Utrecht

2022-07-05 19:55

We hit up a bike shop that had some used bikes for sale and bought two beaters for the month, which we'll sell back before we leave at the end of the month. We've been biking and walking around, getting to know the area.

Opal seems to have adjusted to the time change okay, but I've been sleeping oddly, napping a few hours before waking up several more, then falling into sleep again until mid-morning.

She seems to really like it here. The closeness of so many things. Good beer at the grocery stories. The friendliness of people we've met. I think I find it tougher than her, but I'm doing alright.

Meanwhile, back in the states, there have been two more mass shootings, one by somebody who crossdressed to disguise himself for the attack. Despite his apparently having anti-trans rantings on his website, I can't imagine the backlash we're going to see from this psycho's actions.

Curry Ketchup
Curry Ketchup, in the same kind of tube that lube comes in. Don't mix 'em up in the dark.
A boat named Argo
Argo fuck yerself.

3. Somber dag

2022-07-07 13:16

Vandaag is het regenen en somber in Nederland. Opal en ik heb middageten gegeten op een vegan restaurant een paar straten weg. Mijn eten was een boterham met jackfruit, welk was lekker. Nu werkt Opal op haar computer, doen de lezen en schijven voor werk. Ik schrijf dit en update mijn telefoon. Na zhal ik Nederlands studeren.

Dus alles gaat hier oke. Back in the states... ugh.

4. Fiets rond Utrecht

2022-07-07 18:37

Hoewel het regenen, ik heb vanmiddag gefietst. Ik ben naar het zuiden spoorwegstation gegaan, dan heb ik langs de Amsterdam-Rijn Kanaal gefietst. Ik kan heb fotos gemakt, maar ik heb het vergeten. Terwijl ik naar Utrecht teruggekeert, ik bij Centraal Station gestopped en een OV-Chipkaart gekoopt.

Nu zit ik op de balkon en schrijf terwijl Opal pratt met haar collegaen en klanten op de Zoom. We gaan naar avondeten wanneer ze zijn voltooid.

Vandaag voelte ik voor de eerste tijd dat ik dit kunnen doen.

Utrecht station
Utrecht station, with platforms for both trains and buses.
Utrecht station bike parking
A multi-level parking garage for bikes at Utrecht Station. It is the world's largest bike parking garage with capacity for 12,500 bicycles.
Cranes in Utrecht
"Wil je wonen in de midden van alles?" New housing is being built on Kanaal Eisland, not far from Utrecht centrum and close to Utrecht Centraal Station.

Roads and cities, here and there

The roads here are very different from the United States. Here in the city, it's tight, twisty and windy. The small streets only rarely have traffic, although some have parked cars. There are bikes parked everywhere, and people walking and biking all around.

On the bigger streets, there's a road area, a curb that varies from nothing but change of material & color, to a bump, to a small curb. There's always a granite marking that delineates the bike lane from a walking area, to help keep people separated.

I remember riding in New York City last year, and feeling it was like driving my bus because of the level of attention it required. It's the same thing here, with bikes and pedestrians swirling around trying to go places. It probably looks choreographed, but it's actually chaotic, in the complexity theory sense of that word.

In the outskirts where I went today, I rode through a sort-of suburban-like setting along something akin to a stroad, except instead of all cars, it had several separate lanes: a pair of bus lanes in the center, a pair of car lanes around those, and bike lines on the outside. The separate traffic types were separated by medians, and the buses had tunnels under intersections so they could make good time, a huge difference from North American stroads.

The US likes to claim it can't have this because our cities aren't big enough, a claim that's empirically false since smaller cities over here have better transport. It isn't the size, it's the density—the less dense things are built, the more infrastructure-miles per property, be it either a residence or business. If you want more infrastructure at the same density, taxes need to be raised—but US citizens (especially Boomers and the rich) don't want to pay for anything new or anything they don't use, so we can't do that. And even raising taxes, I don't know if you could build what they have over here.

If we increase density, though, then we can trade extensive infrastructure for good infrastructure. The Boomers, though, can't imagine anything other than their R1 zoning with huge lawns and gardens, and refuse to accept any change, so we're stuck until they die off. And I admit, compared to here, my little R1-zoned house is a problem—though since my street is set up with 0.09 acres/house (11 houses per acre) on fairly narrow lots (40 feet wide) with commercially-zoned areas mixed into the neighborhood, I don't think it compares to the acres-large properties in residential-only housing developments located miles from anything in the suburbs.

Still, in terms of energy use and environmental impact, my single-family house will take more to heat and operate than a similar-sized townhouse, condo, low-rise or commie-block high-rise. I'm not clear how I compare to a vanity-style high-rise with glass windows, nor do I grok how effective coatings and tinting capabilities affect things—are these energy efficient or is it greenwashing? I can see how onsite co-generation of electric and heat and other features can help, but it's hard to know in the nitty-gritty of building material details without being a specialist.

5. Utrecht Fietsen en Bezoeken Amsterdam

2022-07-10 09:47

Op Fridagmiddag vertrek ik op mijn fiets voor een rit. Ik reed door Utrecht, dan rond de kant van de stad op een paar fietspadden. Ik heb koeien en schapen gezien, dan ik ging door de Utrecht Science Park en naar De Bilt, een kleine dorp of suburb van Utrecht.

Ik gefonden een interessant plaquette dat er pratt over wanneer Utrecht kust-stad is, voor de polderland was gemaakt. It pratt ook hoe de Nederlanders heb de Duitsers gestopped of vertraagd tijdens Wereld Oorlog 2.

Ik ben een beetje bezorgd voor Opal. Er staat een kerk niet ver van onze kamer dat klokkenspel elke 15 minuten, en het maakt Opal gek. Gisteren gingen we naar Amsterdam en de veel mensen was ook moeilijk voor haar. Nu slaapt ze. En dit ochtend gaat de kerk klokken veel gek, want het is zondag.

The 2.8m bridge
The 2.8m bridge, possibly the metric relative of the 11 foot 8 bridge.
Borg-lijk gebouw in Utrecht
Wij zijn Nederland van Borg. Je wordt geassimileerd.
Oostelijk Utrecht, keek van de zuid
Eastern utrecht, viewed from the south.
Schapen dicht bij Utrecht Science Park
Sheep graze in a field near the Utrecht Science Park.
Parkeren bij Utrecht Science park
A parking garage at the Utrecht Science Park. You're going to have to really work to get your auto back!

Suburbs, here and there

In North America, there's usually a fairly densely built city center, which is usually the oldest part, and things get less and less dense as one approaches the edge of the city, until it gradually gives way to countryside.

Here in The Netherlands, city centers are densely built but they tend to be low-rise buildings. High rises tend to be in newer areas; the old were not destroyed to make way for the new. Still, though, the city stays fairly dense until... suddenly, there's a threshold, and across that border it's countryside with operating farms. When there are "suburbs", they seem more like a small, also dense, independent village; there isn't the sprawl that we see in America.

Thinking of the wasted prime farmland in areas like Lancaster, Pennsylvania that's given way to housing developments and sprawl—farms that were relatively close to the city, that are now housing that's far from the city and the only way there is to drive—the Dutch way seems better.

Bike Parking

We rode our bikes to the train station and stored them in the multi-level bike parking garage. Riding up to level 2 is the biggest hill I've ridden up since I arrived. Then within the level, there's 2 levels of bikes stored; they call them "stalls". The garage must accommodate thousands of bikes, but there isn't a lot of obesity here. In America we treat these as separate problems, but they aren't.

Fiets stallen
Using a bike stall: Lower the slot, load the bike, and lift it up. The stall feels sprung to help lift the bike.
Fiets stallen
Lift the stall slot all the way up.
Fiets stallen
Slide the slot into place, being careful not to snag cables.
Fiets stallen

6. Biking around & Visiting Amsterdam

2022-07-12 10:27

On Sunday jetlag and Saturday's outing caught up with Opal, so she was low-energy. She needed some time alone, too, so I left her in our room while I went out on a jaunt through De Bilt, Bilthoven, Zeist, and Bunnik. De Bilt seems like a candidate future home, with more recent construction, more dense than R1 but not high-rises either. The line between De Bilt and Bilthoven is vague.

I took some bike paths to Zeist, passing through some low-density R1-type stuff, although it was built in the woods with lots of trees around rather than on giant open lawns. A lot of the terrain there was sandy (probably reclaimed beach), so lots of pine trees and not great for agriculture.

Zeist seemed like a nice city but is a little further from Utrecht, although it's not far from the Science Park. It seemed a little upscale for us, although I'm not sure I judge it fairly from a single pass through the city.

A fountain in Zeist
A fountain in Zeist.
Bunnik is a similar distance, smaller, and again hard to judge. I reserve judgement.

Monday Opal and I went into Amsterdam. Due to a scheduling problem, our appointment with immigration attorneys fell through, but we visited the Vondelpark, a fairly large park on the east side of the city, close to the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum. It's in some ways reminiscent of Central Park, but is less manicured, with thickets of grasses and trees along streams and ponds running through the park. It's smaller, too, although it's a good-size park; it really makes one realize just how big Central Park is.

Eend in Vondelpark, Amsterdam
A duck in the Vondelpark.
Opal Wright bij een meer op de Vondelpark, Amsterdam
Flowers, a pond and Opal at the Vondelpark
Een vogel op de cafe in de Vondelpark, Amsterdam
A crow awaits dropped food at the Vondeltuin cafe in the Vondelpark.

Along the way, I put money on my OV-Chipkaart and was able to use it on transit in Amsterdam. Woot! Something finally works. (Advice to anyone visiting: scan out when you get off the tram. It returns money on short trips.) I still haven't gotten the card to work on Nederlands Spoorweg. Grrr.

After we got back, I needed more exercise so after de boodschappen doen, I went out for another ride, this time to Houten. Houten is a schlep from Utrecht, although a lot of the ride is through serene farmlands. Houten itself seems very bike-friendly, and was apparently Fietsstad (Bicycle City) 2018. They call their bike routes Fietsnet HOUTEN.

Utrecht Province Bike Network

The Utrecht Province has a set of bike routes marked in an interesting way: instead of numbering the paths, they number the junctions. If you know where you are (what "node" number you're at), you use the map (there's usually one posted there) to figure out the sequence of nodes/numbers to follow. This seems more intuitive, something that might make more sense to the geographically challenged.

Utrecht knooppunt #9
Node #9 between Zeist and Bilthoven, with posted directions to node 12, 50, and 95.
Utrecht knooppunt #82
Node #82 is at this roundabout in Zeist, decorated with flowers and a metal sculpture of... a dead branch?

7. Meer fietsen rondom Utrecht


Gisteren heb Opal al dag gewerkt, dus ik ging op mijn fiets een rit. Ik ging naar Nieuwegein, een dicht bij dorp. Hoewel het heeft fietspadden, het lijkt er voor auto's was gebouwd. Toen reed fietste ik langs de Amsterdam-Rijn Kanaal naar Houten en door dat dorp. Ik heb weer gevergetd om fotos te maken. Ik heb voor een ijs gestopt, den kwam aan Bunnik. Eindelijk keerde terug ik thuis.

Na in de middag heb ik naar het park geloopt. Er heb ik een beetje Nederlande geleest: een kinderboeken "Verhalen voor rebeljtes meisjes" en een boek voor de mens leert Nederlands.

Transfeminism: Bedankt, Julia Serano, voor schrijven zulke mooie woorden en ideen.
Trans-themed bike
Opal and I like this paint job.

8. Visiting La Trappe Brewerij with Opal

2022-07-16 17:28

Vandaag ging Opal en ik naar Tilburg in het zuiden van Nederland. Deze stad heeft een brewerij, La Trappe. De bier is door de monniken van de abdij gemakt. Volgens Opal is het bier geweldig, maar ik zeg het is slechts bier. Het alles proeft naar bier op mijn tong. Maar Opal was blij om er te gaan.

We ging op de train, hoewel omdat spoorwerk tussen Houten en Geldermalsen moet we ook een bus gerijd.

De stad Tilburg lijkt niet op de staden rond Utrecht. Het is meer autogericht. Minder mensen rit de bus. De straten lijkt op de Verenigd Staten (Onvernigd Staten, deze dagen). Het is oke voor een dag, maar ik wil niet naar daar wonen.

Perette Barella and Opal Wright
Perette en Opal drinken bier op La Trappe brewerij.
Perette Barella and Opal Wright
Perette en Opal kijken bloemen op La Trappe landgoed.
Perette Barella and Opal Wright
Perette en Opal rijden de trein naar huis.

9. Visiting Broeklen

2022-07-19 09:48

Maandag ben ik naar Brooklyn—err, Breukelen—gefietsd. De waard van onze kamer zegt Breukelen is misschien een goede plek voor Opal en ik te wonen. Het oosten van Breukelen is oude dorp. Het lijkt een beetje op Utrecht, met nauwe straten en verbondene gebouwen. Het heeft een plein met meredere winkels en restaurants. Ik heb op een cafeteria wat kip voor middageten gegeten. Het zuiden-westen van Breukelen heeft nieuwere vooral R1 huizen, en het noorden-westen heeft vooral low-rises en mid-rises met flats. Het is een beetje ver van Utrecht, en de huizen lijkt een beetje duur, maar we kan slechter doen.

Langs de weg naar huis ben ik bij een strand gestopt. I ging in het meer zwemmen. It voelte lekker want de weer was warm. Na fietste ik langs boerderijen, en langs een kanaal met huizbooten woonbooten.

Breukelen, Utrecht provincie, Nederland
Breukelen, Utrecht provincie, Nederland.
Business school
A business school near Breukelen. The moat seems apropos.
Breukelen plein
The square at Breukelen
Breukelen ophaalbrig
A drawbridge in Breukelen
Molden van de Polder Westbroek en Molen van de Polder Buitenweg
The largest and the smallest windmills in Utrecht provincie, Molen van de Polder Westbroek en Molen van de Polder Buitenweg. Their duty is pumping water.
Water vogels
Waterfoul and a few horses in Oud-Zuilen, Utrecht provincie.
Een kanaal en lock met woonboten
A canal and lock with houseboats.

10. Woerden, Kasteel De Haar en meer

2022-07-24 08:53

Ik schrijft laat want ik heb gebezigd.

Dinsdag had ik een rustige dag in Utrecht, dan op Woensdag fietste ik naar Woerden, een stad 20km ten westen Utrecht. Na oversteken de Amsterdam-Rijnkanaal, mijn route bracht me langs een kanaal en door Harmelen, een kleine dorp dat lijkt leuk.

Amsterdam-Rijn Kanaal
Amsterdam-Rijn Kanaal.
Brug over kanaal
A distinctive bridge crosses the canal in Stadsdam.
The square in Harmelen
The square in Harmelen.
A church in Harmelen
A church in Harmelen.
Leaving Harmelen
Leaving the village: throughout the region, a crossout is used on signs to indicate "end of" or "leaving".

Er was een uitzicht van Woerden als ik dicht bij komen de stad aan. Een meer lig ten oosten van de stad, met een paar wandelpadden door de grasen en wilde bloemen langs de meer. Een strand lig op het zuiden van de meer.

Woerden heeft allerlei buurten. Het oosten heeft sommike duur huizen met uitzichten van de meer. Het zuiden heeft veel low-rise flats. Een beetje ten westen zijn kantooren en een ziekenhuis. Het noord-westen lijkt op een American "housing development", met een "maze of twisty passages, all alike." Het centrum heeft kleiner straaten, maar het is niet zo strak as Utrecht of evens Breukelen. Het is meer auto-georiented, hoewel niet zoveel als een stad van Verenigd Staten. Ze hebben ook op fietsen na gedenkt.

Woerden, Utrecht Provincie
Worden, viewed from across the lake.
Woerden, Utrecht windmolen
A high-rise windmill in Woerden.

Terwij ik thuis teruggekeeert, ik fiets langs Kasteel De Haar. I besluit dat Opal en ik moeten aan deze plek komen na.

Als laatste ik fietste door Maarssen, ten westen de Amsteram-Rijn Kanaal. Dis plek is dik gebouwd, met veel low-rise flats. Een beetje auto georienteerd maar het heeft een station en niet te ver van Utrecht.

Donderdag was regenlijk, zo ik leeste een slaapte. Ik heb de reizen voor onze laatste dagen hier gepland, maar eerste heb ik de verkeerd tijd want mijn computer hebt de verkeerde tijdzone gezet. Nu is alles goed, hoop ik.

Vrijdag Opal en ik ging naar Amsterdam. We eten middageten met haar co-werker en zijn friendin. Na komen we thuis, we waren moe, dus we niet veel doen. We keken een film op de computer.

Perette Barella and Opal Wright
Perette and Opal in front of Amsterdam Centraal Station.

Zondag fietsten we naar Kasteel De Haar en lopen rond de tuinen. We lopen ook door de kasteel. Het is veel mooi.

Kasteel De Haar
Castle De Haar, rebuilt in 1892 on the foundation/ruins of the prior castle, which was built in the early 1500 on top of the ruins of the original castle, thought to have been built in the 1200s.
Kasteel De Haar
The docent we talked with made it sound like this section of the castle acted as a sort of kids cottage, with the larger building for the adults.
Kasteel De Haar
A spire is visible from a garden walkway at this end of the lake.
Wandelpad door Kasteel De Haar tuinen
A walkway through the castle gardens.
Toegang op Kasteel De Haar
The main entrance of Kasteel De Haar.
Kasteel De Haar
A side view of the castle.

11. Utrecht Centraal Museum, Water Bikes

2022-07-24 18:56

Today Opal and I wanted an easier day, so we went to the Utrecht Centraal Museum. The main exhibit, I think inspired by the recent COVID-19 pandemic, is about the health of the people of Utrecht throughout history.

As an American, when I think of 500 years ago I think of shacks. But here in Utrecht, the city had already been established for 400 years. It had already been over 100 years since they'd outlawed thatched roofs to mitigate fires. They were just starting on their "Dom Tower" (God Tower), a 100m+ bell tower the priests wanted.

There were a few period books, one with accurate anatomical drawings—the beginning of the enlightenment. Maybe things like that are why there are so many streets here named after famous scientists. How often do you see that in America? Sports figures, rich folks, politicians, maybe movie stars... but nerds, thinkers, scientists? Very rarely.

There was a caption for one of the pieces that really caught me, relating to declining health in the region in the 1850s. The English version read:

It was clear around 1850 that the city had to become healthier. But how? Initially, the liberal city council placed the responsibility with the citizens themselves. Progressive doctors, known as the 'Hygienists', believed that the government should take the lead

More than ever, it was clear that the city dwellers depended on each other for their health. In the increasingly crowded and dirty city, diseases could spread rapidly, even from poor to rich neighbourhoods. Urban public health was therefore a shared problem that could be solved only through intensive cooperation between scientists, the city authorities and the people.

I was talking with someone over here about the Ununited States a week ago, and the words that fell out of my mouth were "pathological individualism." I think it's something I've been contemplating but hadn't had words for, but these fit it. The US populace has become so enamored with the idea that their individuality comes first, that it has become a destructive phenomena. There is never any cooperation, collaboration, taking individual responsibility—the problems are all somebody else's fault, and the individual is entirely free to do whatever they want, consequences be damned:

  • It doesn't matter what doctors think, if you think you know something about medical science, your idea is entitled to the same validity of the scientists who specialize in it.
  • It doesn't matter what's happening to the environment, if you want a truck that makes a lot of noise and smoke you're welcome to it---that's what being an individual is.
  • If you want to hold a party that keeps your neighbors up 'til 3AM every week, well, fuck 'em. It's your house. If they don't like it, they can close the windows or turn on a fan.
  • I could go on, you get the idea. It's all over modern America.

So much of the advertising, if you deconstruct it, tries to bind products to our sense of individuality. It's fucked up.

Seeing a caption expressing such a different ideology written on the wall of the art gallery was... well, let's say it's got me thinking, a new set of input to the equations for deciding to go/no-go this Nederlands move. It's not catchy or flashy, but is nevertheless an idea that feels like it carries weight.

After the art gallery, we rested a little while then went out and rented some water bikes and waterfietste rond sommige kanalen.

12. Bussum, Hilversum & chaos in a pond

2022-07-26 17:59

Yesterday I took a train up to Bussum, taking my bike along on the train. It's about 23km, or about 14 miles, for which the fare is about $5. At the IRS reimbursement rate of $.56 (I've kept records and the IRS rates are quite close to actual cost), that distance would cost $7.84 to drive. So, if I wasn't taking my bike, I'd beat the cost of driving.

And before you start saying, "Yeah, but how are you going to get around?", the NS-App (Nederlandse Spoorwegen's phone app), when you lookup train times, tells you how many bikes are available for rental in the destination city (many). They're available for a few bucks a day. I could train up, rent a bike, and train back for about the cost of driving.

But I was on a one-way journey, planning to ride back, so I paid the $7.50. I had credit on my OV-ChipKaart, but I couldn't figure out how to use the credit to pay for the fee—either this is counterintuitive to do or a stupid oversight in their system.

Anyhow, after arriving I started by riding up to Naarden, a former fort on the New Holland Waterline [Nederlands]. The waterline was a defense system whereby they could flood sections of the land a few kilometers wide too deep to march through, but not deep enough for boats. Being one of the northern-most forts on the waterline, I think it used to be on or near the ocean, but then they built a dam so now it's a big lake, and then they poldered some of it into the Provincie Flevoland. Anyhow, Naarden still has a moat and they've preserved its fort walls, but it's just a city now, albeit one that's a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Utrechtse Poort, Naarden, NL
Utrechtse Poort in the Naarden walls.
A fountain, Naarden NL
A fountain in Naarden.
Naarden, Utrecht Provincie, Nederland
A street in Naarden.
Kerk in Naarden, Utrecht Provincie, Nederland
Like every municipality in The Netherlands, Naarden has the mandatory ridiculously overbuilt church. I guess when you've got several centuries to work on improving things, and clay is more readily available than wood for building, you eventually end up with stuff that's nice and worth keeping around instead of knocking it over to put in a new Taco John's in a 20-year-building.
Fort muren, Naarden, Utrecht NL
The fortress walls and moat around Naarden.
Poem on a wall
A poem on a Naarden wall.

I translate the poem as follows:

What the Wall Says

If these walls could say what they have heard and seen
they would say: look up and read this poem
forget a moment who and where you are; become
so light that you are weightless, and float
through the rooms and see what I see:
there you are, somewhere between the people.

I cycled south through Bussum, which was uninspiring other than the sheer number of trains. There are trains coming up from Utrecht every 15 minutes in the daytime—less at night, but they run all night. In the States, nobody wants to use public transit because it's infrequent and usually runs on busy streets, where it's tied up in traffic so everything is slow. If you miss the last bus run at night, you're screwed. And a car is always much faster because you can go when you want and you can take highways or alternate routes. Here, transit is in frequent service, and usually gets dedicated rights-of-way. For those times transit interacts with other traffic, they put a lot of effort into making sure transit is prioritized.

There was a quote I saw recently:

“A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It's where the rich use public transportation.” —Gustavo Petro, Mayor of Bogotá

That pretty much nails it.

Nederlandse Spoorwegen Trein
A train passing through a crossing in Bussum.
Nederlandse Spoorwegen Trein
Just as I was putting my phone in my beltclip, the crossing started ringing again. This one was heading the other way.

Next up was the city of Hilversum, which is located in the middle of the Goois Natuurreservaat2 . The north end of the city seems a bit affluent, but I liked the city center which featured mixed-use buildings with lots of restaurants and shops in a walkable neighborhood.

Fietspadden in Goois Natuurreservaat
Bike paths in the Goois Nature Reservation.
Fietspad in Goois Natuurreservaat
A bike path through the woods of the Goois Nature Reservation.
Hilversum plein
Hilversum plein.
Hilversum kerk
Hilversum kerk.
Hilversum Sportpark
A pond in Hilversum Sportpark, a park with walking and biking trails on the south side of the city.
Nederlandse Spoorwegen Trein
A train passes by the Sportpark. I like the lovely structures that hold the overhead catenary on this line.
Natuurbrug Horneboeg
A bridge over the road provides a corridor for animals to move between different areas of the Goois.

I passed through Hollandsche Rading, a tiny village with a cafe and a train station. Maartensdijk, a village of about 5,000, seemed huge by comparison. It's a little far away, but it seems like a nice, quiet place to live, and it's got a train station too.

As I neared Groenekan, there was a pond along the bikeway that had fascinating patterns on the surface. Pollen on the surface was gradually swirling, I think driven by the winds although it's possible there was a slow current feeding the pond. It was intriguing to watch.

A small pond swirls slowly creating complex, chaotic patterns in the pollen floating on the surface.

13. Overvecht

2022-07-27 10:38

Gisteren fietsten Opal en ik naar Overvecht-Zuid, een gebeid in het noorden van Utrecht. Het heeft zijn eigen station, Utrecht Overrvecht. Meest (misschien alle) de treins zijn Sprinters, en aan elke station stoppen. Om naar Amsterdam te gaan, mens moet naar Utrecht Centraal reisen en overstappen naar de Intercity trein.

De buurt heeft veel mid-rise woongeboud, met meer gras en bomen round er dan in het centruum. Op de andere hand, het is alleen woongeboud. De winkels en restauranten liggen andere plek, niet op de grond verdieping. Het is niet ver maar ik vind de twee samenbeiden leuk.

I'm going to cheat here, because I can't quite say what I want in Dutch yet: Mixed-use zoning seems to inspire lots of small, service-oriented businesses around the area. There are dozens of places within a short walk of the B&B we're in. The side-streets are residential and maybe a few offices, with the shops on the bigger streets, so most of the time they're not making the side-streets louder. Many of these businesses are locally owned, small businesses.

Comparing the north and south sides of the rail line, the difference is obvious: on the south side an older, mixed-use neighborhood with shops everywhere. On the north side is more recent, separate-use zoning with all the businesses concentrated into a few shopping centers, where there are some small businesses but not nearly what is seen in the mixed-zoned areas.

Het winkelcentra zijn in de buurt of dicht genoeg bij de buurt, dus het lijkt precise niet op de Onverenigd Staten voorstaden. Ik kan vijf minuten fietsen om naar het centruum te komen. Ik hoop in de toekomst ze meer voorzichtig zijn wanneer ze steden plannen.

Ondanks de problemen, Overvecht is niet te duur voor ons, en we vind de multicultureel gevoel leuk.

14. Een laatste fiets

2022-07-27 Evening

Vanmiddag I fietste een laatste keer voor deze vacantie. Morgen moet ik terugverkoop onze fietsen aan de fietswinkel.

De reis was goed. I ging weer door Overvecht, Bilthoven, De Bilt, Zeist en Bunnik. Ik vond nieuwe gebeiden in Bilthoven, De Bilt en Zeist. Alle deze kunnen goed passen zijn voor ons.

Herbie gaat Nederlander! Hier zit hij buiten de dorp De Bilt. Nu weten we waarom Disney geen Herbie filmen meer maken.
Nederlandse straat bordje
I'm glad I looked this up. It means "no parking", but my guess was it meant no restrictions since nothing is crossed out. That could have gotten me in some trouble.
Parking garage status sign
This sign indicates space availability in various bicycle parking garages. The LEDs didn't photograph right, so you can't see the numbers, but they update as spaces are filled or vacated.

15. Terugkeren naar huis—Returning home

2022-08-02 09:52

Our time in Nederland ended and we have returned to the (Un)United States. There was a time limit on how long we could stay at the B&B, so we packed up on Thursday night and departed Friday morning for Elsendorp Naturistiche RecreatiePark, a naturist retreat in the southeast. In the north east, English is a common second language, and they speak it well. In the south west, German seemed to be the secondary language, with some rough English as third.

Given the nature of Elsendorp, there are no pictures except this one of Opal and me waiting for the taxi. The park was well-maintained, with an upscale restaurant/snack bar and a nice beach. We stayed in a safari tent, which featured a comfortable bed.

Perette Barella and Opal Wright
Perette and Opal outside Elsendorp Naturistiche RecreatiePark

The retreat was a nice way to unwind, although travelling to and from it was a bit of a hassle, it being rather out-of-the-way. We did okay with buses to get there, and the taxi to the station on Saturday was polite and on-time. However, as someone had advised, credit cards aren't accepted as reliably in the south—the Dutch prefer debit cards, and indeed, we ran into problems buying tickets at the rural train station. Fortunately, we had cash and we were able to pay a passer-by to buy tickets from the self-service kiosk for us.

We stayed at citizenM hotel at Schiphol Airport to avoid travel problems making our flight on Sunday. The room was very different from a typical hotel: it was small, but dense, with drawers built in to the bottom of the bed. It felt cozy in the way a dorm room does. The check-in is all self-service, although they have a helper there—they call them an ambassador, but whatever—and the room was a tribute to automation. Technophiles would love the place, Opal and I were only amused by it. It was clearly trying to present itself as hip and trendy and modern, but did so in such a smattered-on way it came off as kind of goofy. But it was clean, the room was quiet, the plumbing worked, and it was slightly cheaper than the other hotels so close to the airport.

citizenM schiphol kamer
Our bathroom had a frosted glass wall, potentially offering a sexy silhouette show when someone showered.
citizenM schiphol kamer
The bathroom light color was adjustable from a tablet so your partner could give you a nightclub light show while you showered.
Opal Wright
Opal smiles as she sips a beer at the citizenM canteen. Throughout Nederland she was able to get excellent quality beer at (mostly) affordable prices.

The next morning we had the hotel breakfast, which was good although a bit heavy on carbohydrates, then walked over to the airport and started our day of waiting. We were in the queue to get our tickets and check bags for about an hour. Tickets acquired, we queued another 40 minutes for security, then for 20 minutes to get through customs.

Perette Barella and Opal Wright
Flying home.

For the return trip were were in mid-grade seating—"comfort" class—and we arrived at JFK on schedule. After an insanely long walk to customs, then queueing for an hour and a half, we collected our bags and carried them to the re-checkin. At which point we realized we were again outside the security area—fuck. How many decades have we had airport security, and this hasn't been fixed so international arrivals can go to their connecting flight gate without going through security again?

After a bunch more walking and another 20 minute wait, I started loading my shit into the x-ray scanners side-by-side with several other people, made more difficult by security wanting electronics out of bags (which no other security checkpoint in the last month wanted), and shoes off (same). My laptop briefly disappeared, but thankfully the person who ended up with the bin it was in was honest and just put it through the scanner.

The fucking backscatter X-ray machine shit the bed 4 people before me, so they started routing us through an old-school metal detector gate and checking us with a handheld paddle. They ended up pulling some of my shit aside, and complained that a nice water bottle that Aida gave me as a goodbye gift at the end of the school year still had water in it. They offered to escort me out so I could drain it elsewhere, but I just couldn't take any more and I let it go. I feel bad about losing it because it was a gift, but I couldn't take any fucking more of this shit, of another fucking half-hour of going through this security gate again.

I packed up and we started off, at which point I realized I'd lost my boarding pass and I lost my cool. I remember madly unpacking and scrambling through shit in a corner looking for it, until Opal got me calmed down and assured me it could be replaced. I was overheating so I took leggings off, and we made it partway to the gate before I felt panic starting up. I was super thirsty so I found a water fountain and drank a bunch, then realized I was still overheating so I used the water to splash-cool myself down. I tried to get one of the airport helper-guides to help me find a quiet, cool place to rest but they were useless.

I remember as a last-ditch effort biting my arm as hard as a could, and then focusing on the pain to keep myself from completely tipping over. I found another corner, and I think cried while Opal got more water because I was thirsty and hot again. It's kind of vague after that, I remember her insisting I get food so we got a burger.

I don't remember much about the flight home, but I was glad that David picked us up at the airport. We stopped for dinner together at Aladdin's. I felt so tired. I still do, I think it's the jetlag. I'm trying to push through that so I can get caught up on everything and so my circadian rhythm resets to Rochester.

16. One final treat from the ride home

2022-08-05 09:39

As one final bonus for the difficult ride home... I spent a few days feeling tired, with my allergies going nuts, or so I attributed it until I started feeling the sore throat Wednesday afternoon. A COVID test had a very vague shadow, which on a retest Thursday morning was a distinct purple line. Shit. But at least it wasn't on the way there.

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  • 1.   I know some people don't like this word, but the alphabet soup that is LGBTQIA<etc> is ever-growing and becoming unmanageable. Queer is a nice, short, inclusive, already-partly-reclaimed word without this problem.
  • 2.   The Dutch really should have invented CamelCase to deal with theRunTogetherWords they seem to like.