I love Utrecht. Ever since I was a young law student in the mid-1990s contemplating the possibility of spending a semester there on exchange, there’s been something about the place that draws me in. Why?
Of course, in the mid-1990s, I didn’t even know where Utrecht actually was, and had even less idea of the differences between the cities in the Netherlands that make up the Randstad: from Rotterdam’s bustling post-war suburbs to Den Haag’s split personality folksiness and, of course, Amsterdam’s pigeon and tourist parades.
Utrecht, being slightly smaller and a little bit further away, is like none of these cities and yet somehow encapsulates most of the things I like about the Netherlands.
Of course, the Dutch are just as prone to sentimental cliches as the rest of us (see what I did there?), and Utrecht is a place where you’re almost guaranteed to hear someone talking about how, unlike [insert name of city here], Utrecht is a real village (population 300,000, FYI), where everybody knows everyone else, where people are friendlier and cooler and not from Amsterdam.
Whatever. I mean, why not go the whole hog and say Utrecht is actually Cheers? With Woody Harrelson, Carla and the rest of the gang hanging out together all the time, eyes misting up whenever they see yet another person they know, literally ODing from gezelligheid?
But I digress. The fact is that with its sunken canals, beautiful historic centre, profusion of drinking establishments and ‘ye olde University town’ feel, Utrecht is the most wonderful city I’ve never had the privilege of living in.
Why we’ve just spent the last twelve months living in Den Haag instead, I’m not sure. I would put it down to the high costs of renting in Utrecht but then the same is also true of most parts of Den Haag, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and even smaller towns like Delft. Maybe I’m just not ready for Utrecht.
Or else, Utrecht is simply not ready for me.
All of which baloney is a pathetic lead-in to the real subject of this post: the fact that in January this year, I travelled to Utrecht for Het Huis van de Poezie, a one-night festival where I made my Dutch poetic debut, reading along with five other poets for a total of four hours in a non-stop verseriffic marathon.
And yes, I made that word up. Marathon, I mean.