The City of Pretty

My friend and I woke up at an ungodly hour to catch the first train out. We had packed our staple out-and-about lunch of ham and cheese sandwiches, bananas, and huge red strawberries. We contemplated whether this might be too much; deciding in favour of excess rather than want, we tossed in another banana and were on our way. We were headed to Utrecht.

We reached as the sun was just starting to gently warm the chilly February morning. The city seemed tiny and quaint, and positively pulsing with soft energy. People milled about us, and the air smelled of waffles and vanilla.

We made our way to our first stop, the city square, where we met our walking tour guide. I remember this walking tour as the one which won me over for this style of tourism for life: I insisted on taking a walking tour of every single city I ever visited after Utrecht. Apart from her career as a charming and knowledgeable walking tour leader, our guide was a history teacher, and would intricately trace each snippet of information she disclosed about the city to the most ethereal mythological tales, or to real-life events. While talking about a bridge that historically, no member of the royal family was supposed to pass under, she explained how the prince had had to sprint across an alternate route – to much bemusement – when his college graduation procession marched under the bridge.

After walking for miles and drinking enough lattes to feel energetic again, I stepped inside a museum known for its exhibition of self-playing instruments. There were tiny pianos playing Beethoven’s fifth without human stimulation, parked next to giant machinery exhibits where you could see how these instruments functioned. Napoleon was a great lover of music, and had commissioned several clocks which would play soothing symphonies for him as he strategised. These were displayed placed on heavy blue velvet, with elaborate descriptions. I purchased a pocket-size wind-up music box at the gift shop for my sister, who I knew would have loved the museum as much as I did.

We ended our day by participating in something called the ‘luminosity walk’, or the search for lights, where you are given a map containing fifteen destinations. Each destination – a building, square or path – is lit in a unique way by a different artist each, and you have to plan your journey in a way that the lights end up forming a pattern. This pattern is subjective, and depends on how you interpret each artist’s work. Again, we walked for hours, well into sunset (so as to better see the lights), and explored pristine, special areas of Utrecht on foot.

We reached home tired, but so happy to have spent a day in one of the sweetest cities we knew.

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