the city of Utrecht

February 20th, 2006

The city of Utrecht. Do you see anything wrong with that sentence? No? Let me give you a hint, it's like an IQ test, you have to find out which word it is that doesn't match with the other three. City. The *city* of Utrecht. What do you mean city, where is the city? Being the 4th biggest (could you run that through wikipedia for me?) *city* in Holland, one would almost expect to find a city here. Except there is none, what you find is basically a huge suburb. If you pick some random person from outside the country, you tell them Utrecht is one of the bigger cities and you walk them around Utrecht I'm pretty sure they will say "this is nice, where is the centre?" "we're right in the middle of it" "what, _this_??" Uhm, yeah.. kind of.. I guess. Hmmm. So why do they call it a city? Well, by the number of citizens it qualifies for city status I guess, other than that there isn't much to suggest that there is a city somewhere nearby. And I live right downtown.

So what is it? Suburbia.. Densely populated housing areas, lots of narrow streets, residential buildings with shops on the ground floor, very little traffic, few cars, tons of bikes, quiet, cozy, peaceful. Flat as the ocean, buses, no subway, no busy streets, no big intersections, no cars exceeding 40 km/h. Canals, every few blocks there is one, tiny bridges crossing them, tiny roads on either side, with parked cars and bicycles in abound. In all of the "city" I've seen so far, two, I repeat two, streets with more than one lane. I've only seen one gas station so far.

But it's more than that, stores open at 1pm on Mondays (no, that's not a typo), close at 6pm on Fridays. Close at 6pm all weekdays, in fact. After 6, the city is almost completely shut down, what's left is restaurants, clubs, bars and the odd shop. Banks open at 9am.. Stores in the mall open at 10 (!) It's all very pedestrian, noone is in a hurry, noone is walking fast, bikers obey the tiny traffic lights in the bike lanes when crossing a street where no car has driven for 2 days. The only thing city-like is the aptly named Centraalstation and the mall, which connects to it.

And this is the heart of Europe afterall, although it feels like a quiet holiday town for people relishing escape from hectic city life. To think I expected to come from Trondheim, which isn't quite a city (but comes closer to the mark), where the _city centre_ is tiny (as opposed to non-existent), to Utrecht, where I expected a medium sized city with busy city life, seems like a huge misunderstanding. That's not to say Utrecht isn't nice, it just isn't a city, that's all.

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9 Responses to "the city of Utrecht"

  1. ash says:

    In England places are 'officially' cities when they havea cathedral, so usually that would be at least near the city centre.

  2. Diana says:

    Welcome to the Netherlands :D

    This what you described here, I have only seen this in The Netherlands, not in any other European city I have been to...

  3. erik says:

    I don't think that's entirely true, Diana. I've lived in English 'cities' like that. Even Salerno was often described to me by Italians as 'the big city' ( :wth: ).

    Europe only has a couple of big cities, that list includes Paris, London, Amsterdam, Rome, Napels, Madrid, Barcelona and some others. Places like Utrecht, Salerno, Liverpool and some others aren't really cities, but they're still being called such. It's a pan-continental error in thinking as far as I'm concerned.

  4. Diana says:

    [3] Erik, read carefully "not in any other European city I have been to" so that means; the city that I have visited :)

  5. erik says:

    I just assumed you've travelled around a lot :D

  6. erik says:

    On a more objective note:

    There is a list of world cities; based on their contribution to global affairs, history and more. Notice how Amsterdam is the only Dutch city considered to be a global city. Rotterdam and The Hague show some evidence of being on their way; Utrecht is nowhere to be found.

  7. Diana says:

    [5] Well, I did :) but when it comes to 'big' cities, well I guess I visited about...not even ten, but I did visit many 'small' cities, and I must say, they were all quite more vivid (and with this I mean in the evenings and weekends) then any Dutch city I have visited. For example: The centre of Rotterdam is EMPTY at 20.00 in the evening!!! Even in the summer!!! Quite disappointing for the 2nd bigest city in the Netherlands.

  8. erik says:

    Well that's protestant mentality. You'll find the likes of Breda, Tilburg, Eindhoven, Maastricht or even Goes and Terneuzen and others are ten times more lively than Rotterdam, or even Amsterdam.

    Especially with Carnaval coming up :party:

  9. policeMAN says:

    so what?
    it's quit ok...i'm not shoping every day, i've got party every day till 5 or more...and isn't big city - yeah it''s true that is NOT BIG city...but it ok. for me they don't have nice clubs, but whatever:>...i like it...of course i prefer my city cracow...but U can't have everything in one time...