Our good friends Rebecca, Michel and the delightful Panache had invited us to visit them in Utrecht and stay on ‘t Majeur. We had not made it to Utrecht when we were cruising in the Netherlands, so with a few days remaining before we planned to leave Veurne for France, we hopped into the car for the three-hour drive to spend a couple of nights on board.
We arrived in Utrecht in the early afternoon and quickly settled back into ‘our’ room on board ‘t Majeur.
The plan for the afternoon was to go cruising – not in ‘t Majeur – instead, we were whisked off in a small sloop and taken around the older part of Utrecht’s canal system.
As we expected, the city was beautiful and a seeing it from its extensive network of waterways promised to be a treat. So, with Michel at the stern navigating and Panache at the bow keeping watch, we set off.
To add to the ambience and the cruise experience, Rebecca plied us with a delicious picnic lunch that she had prepared and brought onboard.
We enjoyed some beers and then a wine to follow but, as someone had forgotten to bring glasses, we had to use rinsed and recycled beer bottles into which we carefully decanted the wine.
As we motored quietly along, we were treated to a potted history of the old town and enjoyed a wonderful afternoon, sheltering briefly from a light shower, sharing the space under one of the many bridges with a boatload of young men.
Castle de Haar
The following morning we were treated to a visit to Utrecht’s famous Kasteel de Haar.
A fortress was first built on the site in the 12th Century and one family, the von Zuylen’s, have owned the castle for over 650 years! Only recently has it been passed into public ownership because the offspring of the last baron was four women, who, while entitled to be called baronesses, were not entitled to inherit. They and their families do still spend one month each year in the castle after the summer tourist season quietens down.
The castle was in ruins when in 1887 the baron had the good sense to marry a Rothchilds. Now with in-laws with very deep pockets, no expense was spared in rebuilding and updating the castle. The outside is magnificently ornate.
We spent several hours touring the interior of the castle – indeed, Rebecca and Michel had to practically drag us out or we would not have had any time for other activities they had planned for the day. The castle was sumptuous and has a quite fascinating history – well documented and presented in English.
In the mid-late 20th Century the castle was a haven for jet-setters. The rich and famous used it as a place of refuge, with many film stars accepting invitations to stay, taking a little time out of the public eye. We saw the moped that Brigitte Bardot rode, the bicycle that Roger Moore used to frighten the staff with his uncontrolled riding and the room occupied by Gregory Peck who suffered from mysophobia – the fear of germs. He would cover the floor with towels so that when he walked his feet did not have to touch the floors.
Once Michel and Rebecca had extracted us, we returned to ‘t Majeur and taking advantage of this being the Netherlands – bicycle country – the four of us rode into the city and spent a delightful afternoon wandering around. The weather had improved a bit and we had an enjoyable time viewing the streetscape, having a beer and Ian enjoying a memorable cherry and chocolate chip ice cream.
We also scouted out some places for a meal that evening and settled on an Italian styled establishment and, later, had a very enjoyable meal.
As we ate, a barge containing a choral group cruised slowly past and our evening meal was made more memorable as they cheerfully sang their way along the canal.
We took it easy the next morning but it was time to leave Utrecht and bid au revoir to our friends, and return to Veurne and Catharina Elisabeth, still waiting patiently for us and our planned departure in a couple of days so we could be in France for Bastille Day.