The ongoing excavations in Utrecht show that there was a settlement in this area even two thousand years ago. In 1122, the place was granted the city status. The cathedral, Dom, was built in the 14-15th centuries; the celebrated university was founded in the 17th century. Today it is a beautiful city with the old town intact, its lovely quiet streets winding along Oudegracht, the Old Canal street. The cathedral tower dominates the townscape, making orientation easy: one can see it from practically any point in the city. There are lots of pretty houses, old and new towers, statues and decorations scattered around. Utrecht retains its uniformity and its old world charm, together with several important modern factors. Its transportation system is really excellent, with buses circulating around the area and going to the nearby towns. It is easy to get to and from the Central Train Station. There is a direct train from Schiphol airport near Amsterdam.
The things one notices, however, are a little different from the traditional urban scene. There are lots of bicycles, bicycle stops, and cyclists everywhere. That must be one of the reasons why the people look so fit. They are also quite tall, moving with the easy grace of natural athletes. Practically everybody speaks English, not only students and teachers, but also bus-drivers. Hotel staff, waiters, shop clerks and street vendors. It is estimated that about 98% of the Dutch population speak English, which probably makes them the best linguists in Europe. I have come across just one occasion when a bus-driver, who clearly understood me, did not reply in English, but he spoke Dutch to me very slowly and showed me the number of stops with his fingers. The people are very friendly. Wherever you go, say Good morning first, then ask for a ticket or anything else, as per the situation. In a café, we asked if they had a menu in English, and the young waitress said brightly, “Yes, we have one!” It turned out she literally meant one copy, which we shared. Shopping in Utrecht is easy, just go to the canal and walk around. Sadly, Die Slegte, the well-known secondhand book store, was recently sold to another company. There are plenty of book stores where you can find lots of books, in Dutch, though if you have the time and wish to rummage around, you may find some copies in other languages. All the usual chains, from C&A to fashionable boutiques, are conveniently located along one of the main streets. There is also a large shopping mall near the Central Station. Food supermarkets, notably HEMA, and lots of kiosks, bakeries and food stalls are to be found everywhere. Usually, lots of shops are closed on Sundays, and they may close down quite early on Fridays. Flowers and souvenirs can be bought in many places around town. Utrecht is a great place to relax and unwind in, with its mild weather, its beautiful buildings, cozy cafes and the charming canals.








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