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Amsterdam and Utrecht – when and where to explore them

My recent travels have brought me to two cities in one day—Utrecht and Amsterdam. Both filled with different levels of charm and appeal which I was not expecting when I arrived in either of them. My day began in Utrecht and I will admit that it was not because I wanted to go there. I arrived in Utrecht to acquire a digital COVID-19 vaccination QR code. How practical, right? Why carry a piece of paper that gets ripped up and crumpled in your pocket when instead you can have a QR code on your phone that is linked to your biometrics? It is a safe and practical system but that topic is for another article, all that matters right now is that the only place I could convert my US vaccination card into a QR code was in Utrecht.

         I arrived in Utrecht with no expectations and no idea what would be there. Perhaps my judgment was inherently distorted because without expectations the entire city blew me away. It is an old city with small city charm. Homes with colorful facades on every corner and canals encircling the city with long parks running along them. The city’s charm was characterized by the fact that it was clean and inviting on every corner. I was able to buy lunch from the city center and then walk down a set of stairs to sit next to the canal and eat. Utrecht was clean and welcoming making it easy to explore and feel welcomed in.

         Then on a personal note, Utrecht really became my favorite city so far (spoiler warning – sorry Amsterdam) because of the museums. Within Utrecht is one of the most famous railroad exhibits in Europe which is only a short walk from the center of the city. Through a beautiful row of old homes and over a few canal bridges which are older than the United States itself is the rail museum which is housed in the original train station of Utrecht. With giant chandeliers and paintings on the ceiling the museum preserved the old beauty of the station while also bringing you through the history of rail in Europe. Not only was it fascinating but it was shocking, not because of any of the trains or the information, but also because of the weird attractions inside the museum. The most surprising of which was a mini-roller coaster in the museum which was like riding a tiny Space Mountain (Disney, please do not sue The Hoot—we just got new computers which was our entire budget). The ride was not alerted to (or maybe I just cannot read Dutch) but it was just there and we were shuffled onto it not expecting anything but walking away pleasantly surprised.

         To finish my time in Utrecht I embellished my touristy tendencies and went on a canal tour to get a complete view of the city. Utrecht immediately rose to the top of my list in terms of favorite cities but I was still excited to see what Amsterdam at night time had to offer.

         In short, not much if you weren’t already oriented with the city and its nightlife. I had a general idea of the attractions of Amsterdam but I had no idea how to really navigate it and where to stay away from. I spent most of the night in the center of the city which was dirty, loud and crowded. The old charm of Amsterdam and the canals and the Palace were undermined by its crowded and busy nature as a large city. A city which, as the yellow sun goes down, turns on red lights. A district I accidentally found myself in when trying to genuinely find a church to look at. I swear I had the purest of intentions when trying to find this church but as the crowded streets became filled with a different kind of person looking for a very different kind of entertainment I left immediately. It was a sweet relief to make it back to the train station and back to white lights.

         This is not to say that Amsterdam is not beautiful and not filled with the same charm as Utrecht, I was just simply unable to find it when I was there briefly. Amsterdam certainly deserves a second trip when I have more time to see all of the city and its more beautiful parts during the day time. But as for the day when I was traveling, Utrecht was the clear winner when it comes to the welcoming feeling and beauty of the city. Plus it helps that my neighbors from Worcester have a son who owns a pub in Utrecht—what a small world!


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