A Travellerspoint blog

From the Rhône to the Rhine: Muider and Utrecht

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The one hundred and fifty mile leg from Amsterdam to Dusseldorf was the longest single day drive in the itinerary but we had several interesting stops along the way. We made a brief stop in Amsterdam proper to visit the Dappermarkt, a daily street market just east of Centrum with an emphasis on Middle Eastern and Surinamese goods. The only street food was a shawarma stall but we found an amazing cafe where the food far outshone the humble surroundings. Adequately fortified, we drove onward for another fifteen minutes to Muiderslot, a fourteenth century brick castle that is one of the most well-preserved in the Netherlands. Despite being seven hundred years old, this was not even the first version of the castle. The original was demolished in the thirteenth century after the grisly murder of Florian V, the Dutch count who had it built.

Much of the interior of the castle is devoted to the story of Florian V, who earned the condemnation of his peers for being excessively fair to the peasants who worked in his domain. The interior of the castle has numerous displays of medieval armor and other accoutrements and there is a picturesque garden outside of the moat.

The town of Muiden prospered under the protection of Floris V but receded after his death in the shadow of the growing power of Amsterdam. Muiden is now a small town crisscrossed by rivers and canals. Most of the commercial activity is along the shores of the Vecht River near the locks that control the flow of water into the IJMeer. The locks are traversed by a bridge that intermittently rotates to allow boats to pass through. The cafes along the riverside flourish due to the tourists visiting the castle as well as boaters who decide to take a lunch break while waiting for the bridge to turn.

Our next stop was De Haar Castle, a relatively modern reconstruction of a ruined Renaissance castle that was in turn a reconstruction of a burned medieval castle. The De Haar family owned the medieval castle but their line died out centuries ago and the property was passed on to another Dutch noble family. The modern castle was made possible when a distant descendant of that second family married a scion of the wealthy Rothschilds who funded the reconstruction. The brick construction and the conical roof tops were very similar to Muiderslot and I wondered if this was true of the original De Haar castle or if the Rothschilds simply wanted to build a bigger and better Muiderslot. Either way it was undeniable that De Haar was a castle straight out of a fairy tale.

Having toured Muiderslot earlier in the day we had neither the time nor the inclination to visit the interior of the castle. Instead we explored De Haar's extensive grounds which included an elaborate hedge maze that the kids loved. After the obligatory stop at the cafe in the gardens for ice cream we were back on our way.

Utrecht was established in the first century as a fortress on the northern frontier of the Roman Empire. The Romans retreated a couple of centuries later but the city survived and then prospered during the Middle Ages. In the nineteenth century Utrecht became the main hub of the developing Dutch rail network which solidified its standing as a major city. The center of Utrecht is surrounded by a moat that is the last remnant of the old city fortifications. The moat was only recently restored to its former splendor after having been drained in the 1970's to create a ring highway around the city center. It is connected to the Vecht which goes on to Muiden where we had observed it earlier that day, demonstrating to us once again that every major city in the Netheralnds and Belgium is connected in some way by water. Two canals traverse the city center from north to south. We parked at a garage close to the larger of these two canals, the Oudegracht. Because the excavated dirt from the canal was used to build up the banks, the promenade along the Oudegracht has two levels connected by staircases. It is a remarkably beautiful canal with an entirely different feel from the canals of Amsterdam.

The major landmark of Utrecht is the Dom Tower, the tallest belltower in the Netherlands. It was built as a part of the nearby St. Martin's Cathedral but the unfinished nave between the two buildings collapsed hundreds of years ago leaving the Dom as a freestanding tower. Once we crossed the canal all I could see in the spot where the map indicated the Dom should be was an extremely incongruous modern skyscraper. I had to look from several angles before I realized that what I was looking at was the Dom completely surrounded by scaffolding such that the entire original structure was completely obscured. Somehow I had missed in my research that the tower had been undergoing restoration since 2019 that was not projected to be complete until the summer of 2024. We had to content ourselves with the view of St. Martin's Cathedral, on the opposite side of a rather featureless square from the tower.

The shopping streets around the Oudegracht were busy and lined with brightly colored storefronts. One intersection was crowded with so many cafes with outdoor seating that we couldn't resist. We sat outdoors and had a couple of beers and some small dishes while enjoying the energetic local vibe. It was easy to see why some Netherlanders might prefer the beauty and serenity of Utrecht over the madness of Amsterdam.

From here it was a straight two hour drive to Dusseldorf. Our itinerary had given short shrift to northern and eastern Netherlands but it was simply impossible to cover every province in the amount of time we had allowed ourselves. We had still managed to see the four largest cities in the country which was quite an accomplishment in just four days. Dusseldorf was the first stop of a six day leg through the German Rhineland. Our Airbnb was in a highrise close to the center of town without reserved parking. Our host had advised us that parking wouldn't be difficult and surely enough there were cars parked along the sidewalk a block away with several free spaces. It seemed a little unorthodox but the signs seemed to indicate we could park free of charge until the morning. As we unloaded the car someone pulled into a nearby space, got out scratching his head, and asked me in accented English if the parking was legal. It's always entertaining to be asked for directions or some other local information on my first day in a new country.

One of the benefits of our Airbnb is that we were just a short walk from a neighborhood with so many Japanese and pan-Asian restaurants that it was called Little Tokyo. There were plenty of popular noodle restaurants, some of which had long lines and others that were closed on Mondays. We eventually found a place that could take us right away and had a decent selection of sushi, so our first meal in Germany had nothing to do with German cuisine at all.

Posted by zzlangerhans 01:30 Archived in Netherlands Tagged utrecht road_trip family family_travel travel_blog muiden tony_friedman family_travel_blog muiderslot de_haar

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