2023 Netherlands Side-Trip

Visiting Utrecht (26/06 – 30/06)

Migennes – Utrecht – Migennes

Getting to Utrecht

We wanted to have a convenient and economical means to get to Utrecht to visit our great friends, Michel and Rebecca. After a bit of research, we settled on using a Flix bus. They have a direct, 6½ h, service to Utrecht. The cost is only €17 per person for each leg – far cheaper than any other option. It even departs from near the Gare de Bercy, so a very simple train journey to get to the bus – or so we thought.

We left on an early morning train from Migennes and trotted off from the Bercy train station for a short walk to the bus station.  However, we didn’t understand the directions and ended up dragging our bag up (and later back down) a large set of stone steps, to a tree-lined path above from which we could see the River Seine but not the bus station. A small consolation was that we found ourselves walking through a sculpture garden, Les Nains de Bercy – The Dwarves of Bercy. We did see dwarves but it was the oriental-style figures that we found most striking.

The cap has 'Monaco' inscribed in it. Couldn't determine if the others had similar.
The cap has 'Monaco' inscribed in it. Couldn't determine if the others had similar.

Pleasant, but time was beginning to press so we didn’t loiter. Retracing our steps, we soon located an entrance that we had mistakenly thought was for a gym. We finally emerged into the underground bus station, where there were spaces for more than 50 buses, and you locate yours from lists posted on large screens, much like a train station or an airport.

From there, everything went smoothly. The seats were comfortable and there was plenty of space for us (used to economy air travel!). The journey included two short stops for toilets and gathering refreshments. The only negative was the poor state of the on-bus toilets. On balance, we were very happy with our choice of travel. Soon after we arrived in Utrecht, Michel came to pick us up.


When Rebecca and Michel decided to cease cruising and build a houseboat – an ‘Ark’ to the Dutch, they wanted a name for their new residence. They settled on Panache – honouring their long-time canine member of the family. We had also known Panache since first meeting Rebecca and Michel in 2013 and he had visited us on Catharina Elisabeth on several occasions. So it is lovely to see him remembered in this way.

Back when we first met Panache and Rebecca and Michel in 2013.

This type of houseboat/ark is fairly common in The Netherlands. They are built and customised in particular specialised boatyards. The majority of the ark is built out of concrete. Once the inside was been completed to Michel and Rebecca’s specification, the ark was towed to their mooring.

The ark is held in place by bollards sunk into the canal. All normal domestic services are provided from the shore.

1¼ stories above water, ¾ underwater with their garden behind.


Space for relaxing, entertaining and growing herbs and veggies – perfect.

Inside it is very comfortable, with plenty of books and interesting artworks. Some of their artworks are provided by an organisation where you can ‘lease’ paintings and show them in your own home. Part of the idea behind this is to provide exposure for upcoming artists’ works to a broader population, and with the option to purchase the piece when the lease comes to an end. Alternatively, the work can be returned and another chosen to adorn the room. A fascinating way to experience a variety of artworks. And of course, there is nothing wrong with water views from every room. A feature of the bedrooms being downstairs is that you can watch boats passing at water level. There are swimmers, rowers, board paddlers, private boats, commercial barges and hire boats. The latter sometimes pass too fast and Michel was always keen to step out and educate them about the niceties of passing occupied houseboats.

That afternoon, we took an easy local walk along the canal with an introduction to the neighbourhood and some of the idiosyncrasies of the neighbours.

‘Panache’ second from the left.

Along the path, we passed a colourful mosaic which is a recent installation that marks the maximum extent of the Roman Empire in this locality. I didn’t realise it extended this far north!


Kröller-Müller Museum

Perhaps the highlight of our visit was a trip to the Kröller-Müller Museum in the Hoge Veluwe National Park at Otterlo about 60 km by road east of Utrecht, less than an hour’s drive. The park itself is extensive and to access it you need to cycle from the entrance. So, first task was to pick a bike.

First task, Ian picking the best bike.

That done, we spent the rest of the day back and forth on cycles.

Each time you stopped to wander around, you just left the bikes at one of the bike parks and picked another one up when you were ready to continue. Our first stop was the Kröller-Müller Museum. Briefly, this was established from the private collection of the very wealthy Helene Kröller-Müller which was gifted to the Dutch people in her later years. It contains some 12,000 objects in the art gallery and a sculpture garden that surrounds it. Its greatest claim to fame is that it contains the second-largest collection of works by Vincent Van Gogh (more on that later). The gallery is a mix of sculptures and artworks over quite an extensive area. Of course, not everything is displayed but it still took well over an hour to just skim the rooms. Some examples are in the slide show below.

'Sculpture flottante' (1960-1961) - Marta Pan
Part of an extensive Japanese sculpture garden.
One of the trees was not living.
Sculpture by Picasso - 'Petite Chouette' [Owl] (1951-1953)
'Part of the Red' (1981) Anish Kapoor.
'Tower of Babylon' (16cent.) - Hendrick van Cleve (III) ?
One of the museum's Monet paintings - 'The Studio Boat' (1874)
'Sculpture flottante' (1960-1961) - Marta Pan

Not surprisingly, it was the Van Gogh works that struck us most strongly. We were absolutely thrilled to find that two of our favourite of his paintings were hanging and so accessible that you could actually touch them (we didn’t) and, unlike the van Gogh gallery in Amsterdam, you could freely take photos. So we did. Arles, and the actual bridge that he painted, is at the top of our bucket list for visiting on Catharina and has been almost as long as we have owned her. Such a thrill to see the real painting. The gallery below has a selection of the works on display. Notable also, is the painting Joseph Roulin, the postmaster of Arles – this immediately triggered our recollection of one of our favourite films. If you haven’t seen the brilliant movie ‘Loving Vincent’ (trailer) – run, don’t walk, to the video store and get a copy to watch.

Background to the collection
'The potato-eaters' (1885) - van Gogh (first version).
'The Garden of the Parsonage with Arbor' (1881) - van Gogh
'Portrait of Joseph Roulin' (1889) - van Gogh.
'Bridge at Arles (Pont de Langlois)' (1888) - van Gogh.
'Cafe terrace by night (Place du Forum)' - (1888) - van Gogh.
Background to the collection

We then spent some time walking around the sculpture gardens before finding another set of cycles to tour other parts of the national park.

Michel’s favourite – a tower consisting of suspended cables and pipes. Why it doesn’t fall escapes us.

(more photos in the earlier gallery)

The other main feature is the old hunting lodge of the Kröller-Müllers – a massive building from which they entertained their visitors. Unfortunately, not open to the public but impressive.

We then cycled back to the exit for the trip back to Utrecht.

Pottering around Utrecht

The next morning Michel and Rebecca took us on a cruise around the local canals on their small electric outboard dinghy. There were some tense moments when the unreliable battery gave up and the uncertainly charged reserve was bought into action but all was well and we thoroughly enjoyed cruising past all the different types of vessels and houseboats moored along the canals.

Quite the palatial estate on the canal.

Next, on their suggestion, we took the afternoon off, just the two of us, to walk around central Utrecht. The first task was lunch and as I have been missing kibbeling for years, we ordered our lunch from the highly recommended but curiously-named ‘Mannekinpis’ shop (why is a Belgian statue on a fish and chip shop?). The serves were huge, cheap and delicious – sharing is not necessary. Or welcome. The holes cut into the tables are there to hold the cones of frites – see the chap behind.

We then walked around the town centre where we watched the beer-boat servicing one of the shops. The ‘Stroomboot‘ is an electrically powered barge that is used to deliver supplies to the difficult-to-access businesses on the canalside in the centre of Utrecht. It makes several trips from a park outside the city centre each day as we can attest from viewing from our bedroom and other places on Panache.

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And saw furniture being delivered to a second-story apartment.

Later, when lunch had settled, we had to stop off at another stand we had found a few years ago for another remembered treat, a cherry chip and dark chocolate ice cream. Happy with multiple boules of the one flavour. Satiated and needing to walk off the repast, we strolled around to the Dom – a tower that is a famous Utrecht landmark. Unfortunately, it was closed because of renovations so instead we toured around the church next to it to which, long ago, the Dom had been connected. Inside, the ornamentation was restrained and some items showed evidence of the Iconoclast Fury of 1566, when Calvinists across the Netherlands defaced statues in the churches where they thought them to be idolatrous.

In the centre, top to bottom were the heads of God, Anna, Jesus and to his right ‘Catharina’.

Walking on further we came to the ‘Stadskraan‘ a replica of the cranes that were operated by ‘hamster wheels’ for loading and unloading goods from barges. The current crane was built entirely using traditional materials and techniques, is operational and opened in 2022. Apparently, visiting it is free but a little pressed for time, we just had a quick look – but an impressive exercise in patrimony.

Some of the details of its construction.

Back to Panache, we had another delicious meal outdoors and then, for dessert, we went for ice cream again. This time it was part of a concert that a local sea shanty group were giving in nearby Vreeswijk. Michel is one of the singers. It was a cool evening but the performance was excellent. In the clip below, you can just pick out Michel at the back over the left shoulder of the conductor.

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At the end of the concert, everyone walked across to the nearby ice cream shop for what was, apparently, a traditional end to the session. Walking on a little further, we came across an old friend – ‘t Majeur, the first barge we travelled on and up until recently Rebecca and Michel’s home. ‘t Majeur is now owned by their son and his partner so they are still quite involved with her.

Such fond memories – for us as well as Rebecca and Michel.

Back to Migennes

Next day it was back on the bus. The vehicle was in better condition than the earlier one in that the toilet was in good condition. We had a hold-up due to an accident on the freeway, and shortly after the bus was pulled over and papers were inspected for nearly an hour. Plenty of well-armed police, with other cars and buses being corralled, and sent on their way. But our delay was lengthy, and no explanation was provided. Strange. So we were a little late into Paris but no bother to us other than it was dark when we arrived back on Catharina. Nonetheless, we’d be happy to recommend Flix Bus for travelling if you want to save money and aren’t pressed for time or wedded to travelling business class.

While the Rally was about ten days away, we decided that there was nothing holding us to the shipyard so we would have a short shakedown cruise to nearby Joigny, moor at our favourite spot and, you guessed it, do some more work! Then, it would be just a short two-day cruise to Auxerre and the Rally.

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