Mysteries of Utrecht #2: who is graffiti hero KBTR?

When I’m leaving Utrecht by train I always look around (well, only when I’m not looking at my phone) and I notice the graffiti on the walls. Every time, there is one image that caught my eye and I always wonder what it means – an image of a sort of gnome. And it’s not just one artwork, there are a lot more of them. I found out that this ‘graffiti hero’ is called KBTR and that it’s part of Utrecht, just like the Dom.

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KBTR in the streets of Utrecht. Photo: Instagram @dekbtr

Who is KBTR?

Ok, maybe a bit different than the Dom, but it seems like KBTR is an initiative of an artist from Utrecht and that there’s a whole history to it. The name of the cartoon is KBTR, which stands for the Dutch word ‘kabouter’, but then only the consonants. On the website of KBTR (yes, there’s a whole website!) they explain the name: “KBTR is based on a type of gnome typical for the Netherlands that looks like garden gnomes.” Just a typical gnome, but then, eh, a bit different.

It was around 2004 when KBTR appeared on the streets of Utrecht. First, the gnome was only part of graffiti artworks, but later he also appeared solo. That didn’t go unnoticed. People took pictures of the graffiti hero and posted them on the internet. His appearance has also changed through the years. In the beginning, it was just a simple drawing, but the gnome became more complex and also expresses a certain thought or message.

Now, KBTR has its own Facebook page and Instagram account where you can see all sorts of artworks of the gnome: from artistic to political, and from a bit weird (sorry, my opinion) to really explicit and sexual.

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KBTR as Donald Trump. Photo: Facebook KBTR

Not only in Utrecht

KBTR became so famous that he didn’t stay within the borders of our beautiful Utrecht. You can also spot him in different cities, such as Rotterdam, The Hague and Leiden. In 2012, there even appeared a book about the graffiti gnome, a collaboration between the anonymous artist of KBTR and Dutch visual artist Remko Koopman.

Did you already spotted one of the graffiti gnomes?

 

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The Ultimate Christmas Playlist

I don’t want a lot for Christmas. There is just one thing I need…Christmas songs! Let’s be honest, we all hate and love them at the same time. But Christmas would simply not be the same without them! That’s why I came up with an ultimate Christmas playlist, including some all-time favourites but also some fresh tunes. So, turn up the volume and make sure you have enough space to dance because it’s time for some JINGLE BELL ROCK!

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Fun Facts about Christmas Songs

Before I give away the playlist, I need to tell you about some hidden, fun facts concerning you favourite Christmas songs. Believe us, you would have never, NEVER imagined what we are about to share with you…

  1. “Jingle Bells” was the first song to be broadcast from space, as Gemini 6 astronauts Tom Stafford and Wally Schirra sang the song as a Christmas prank in December of 1965 after they told NASA, “We have an object, looks like a satellite going from north to south, probably in polar orbit… I see a command module and eight smaller modules in front. The pilot of the command module is wearing a red suit….”
    True (Christmas) legends!
  2. ‘White Christmas’ is the best-selling single of all time. Yes, you read it right. Not Micheal Jackson, not Justin Bieber, NO it is Bing Crosby’s version of “White Christmas”, which is  with over 100 million sold copies the highest-selling single of all time.
  3. During the WWI Christmas Truce of 1914, German, English and French troops sang “Silent Night” together because it was the only carol that everyone on the front lines knew the lyrics to. The song has been translated in about 140 languages!
  4. “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” is one of the oldest Christmas songs, originating in 16th century England.
  5. In Britain, the best-selling festive single is Band Aid’s 1984 track ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’, which sold 3.5million copies. Wham! is next in the same year with Last Christmas, selling 1.4million.

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The Playlist

The list of Christmas carols is endless. Here are our Top 24 (see what we are doing here?!):

  1. All I want for Christmas is You – Mariah Carey
  2. Last Christmas – Wham!
  3. Hallelujah – Pentatonix (Their Christmas album is insane!)
  4. Santa bring My Baby Back (To Me) – Elvis Presley
  5. It’s Beginning to look a lot like Christmas – Michael Buble (also known as ‘The King of Christmas’)
  6. Santa’s Coming For Us – Sia
  7. You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch – Thurl Ravenscroft
  8. Do They Know It’s Christmas? – Band Aid 30
  9. Thank God It’s Christmas – Queen
  10. Feliz Navidad – Jose Feliciano
  11. Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas – Sam Smith
  12. A New York Christmas – Rob Thomas
  13. Man With the Bag – Jessy J
  14. Jingle Bells – Michael Buble
  15. Mistletoe – Justin Bieber
  16. Jingle Bell Rock – Daryl Hall & John Oates
  17. Shake Up Christmas – Train
  18. Christmas Lights – Coldplay
  19. Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer – Dean Martin
  20. Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town – Frank Sinatra
  21. Driving Home for Christmas – Chris Rea
  22. White Christmas – Bing Crosby
  23. Happy Xmas (War is Over) – John Lennon
  24. Baby It’s Cold Outside – Idina Menzel & Michael Buble

You can find the whole playlist with many more songs here

Obviously, there are many many more Christmas songs out there. So, if your favourite songs isn’t on our list yet please let us know in the comments! There are never enough Christmas songs.

Utrecht has a lot to offer during December, including Christmas markets, ice-skating and many more festive things. For more details have a look at our festive agenda.

Sinterklaas has something to say to all the internationals!!

Sinterklaas

My lovely internationals, great to meet all you guys.
listen to me closely, for I am old and very wise

Last Saturday I once again stepped foot on Dutch ground
I am very famous in the Netherlands, heroic and profound

My name is Sinterklaas aka the good Saint.
I’ve came with a steamboat from the country called Spain
To spend three weeks in the land of cheese, grass and rain

You might have already seen me, in the stores or on the street
Probably with my helpers, they are all called “Pete”

At night we roam the rooftops, and go down every chimney
and bring presents and sweets, I’ll have all those with me

Now don’t mistake me for that amateur Santa Claus
Just so you know it: I am the real boss

If you haven’t behaved, you better do it quick
Or else you won’t get any presents and Pete will beat you with a stick

And when you’ve been really bad, Pete will put you in his bag.
We’ll take you back to Spain, and it won’t be relaxed

Cause Spain is very nice but you will never see
You’ll be stuck in a factory, wrapping gifts for me

Besides sweets & presents, I’m the bearer of gossip
The next three weeks, You’re all the hottest topic

I know all you’re secrets and if you’re naughty or nice
I know if you’ve been studying or have been drunk during the nights

I know who is dating and I know who hustles
I have my eye out on you, even when you’re in Brussels.

I have done this for centuries, and am still going strong
Believe me when I say that I know what is going on

We are everywhere and we’ll definitely take notes
And share it with the public, all your secrets and quotes

Now go live your life but be sure to remember
That the secrets will come out on the 5th of December!!

Sint en piet

 

 

How to save money during your exchange period

How to save money during your exchange period
Even though a lot of people say “traveling is the only thing you buy that makes you richer”, you’ll probably spend more money abroad than you expected. On top of all the parties, trips and other fun activities, life in The Netherlands might be more expensive than what you’re used to from back home. In this blog we will give you some tips and tricks to save some money while living in Utrecht, so you don’t have to end your time abroad with an empty wallet.

Groceries
It’s convenient to do your groceries at the nearest supermarket. However, it might not be the cheapest place to go. Different supermarkets in The Netherlands can differ a lot in price. Therefore, it can make a big difference when you take the time to do your groceries in another supermarket. You can go to the Lidl or Aldi for instance, two of the cheapest supermarkets we have. In addition, you can try to only shop in the sale. Adjust your dinner plans to the cheap offers of the day or week.

Another place to get cheap food, is the market at Vredenburg. You can go there every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Especially for fruit and vegetables, the Vredenburg market is the place to be!

Parties
Know where and how to party low budget! First of all, you should bring your student card and ESN card. Some places have entrance fees for non-students, but are free for students. Furthermore, make sure you go to the places with the cheapest (but the best) drinks. Some clubs or bars are pretty expensive, while other places sell cheap drinks or have a lot of student discount promotions. Naturally, the best example for good student discounts, is the ESN Student Night in the Poema every Tuesday!

Traveling
If you’re staying here for a longer time, it’s highly recommended to buy a bike! It’s an investment that saves you a lot of public transport costs. You can buy a second hand bike with 10% discount at Celil CityBike. All the Dutchies are travelling by bike already, so you’ll fit right in! Make sure you lock your bike (with a chainlock) every time you park it, though. There are a lot of bikes in Utrecht, and as a result also a lot of bike thieves!

If you only stay in The Netherlands for a short period or when you just don’t want to ride a bike, it’s smart to buy an OV Chipcard. This is a card you can use for most of the public transport services in The Netherlands. You can top it up with a debit card at one of the yellow vending machines at Utrecht Central Station. This is much cheaper than buying a bus or train ticket every time you’re using the public transport.

6 Dutch foods you need to try during your stay

We all know that the Dutch cuisine isn’t as famous as the French or Spanish cuisines, but there are many Dutch foods which are absolutely delicious! During your stay in The Netherlands, you need to try the following foods at least once. You will be surprised about how tasteful everything is!

  1. Poffertjes

Poffertjes are small, fluffy pancakes which are typically served with powdered sugar and butter. Most Dutchies eat this tasteful treat in fall and winter at outdoor markets. Here several stands usually serve poffertjes on a little paper plate with a tiny fork. Sometimes you also find a poffertjes stand at the market on Vredenburg square on Saturdays!

  1. Stamppot

Stamppot is a savory Dutch winter meal. Traditionally it’s made out of mashed potatoes and vegetables like kale or carrots, served with smoked sausage (‘ rookworst’). The kale version (‘ boerenkool’) is the most popular version of this filling meal. Other versions of stamppot are with onions and carrots (‘hutspot’) and raw endive (‘rauwe andijvie’). Do you don’t know any Dutchie who wants to cook this tasty meal for you? Then try out this following boerenkool recipe, it’s very easy to make stamppot!

  1. Saucijzenbroodje

This very tasty snack is made out of puff pastry and has a filling of spiced minced meat. Most Dutchies eat this snack on the go, because you can buy it at several places (Kiosk, Broodzaak and Albert Heijn) around central stations.

  1. Limburgse vlaai

This is a delicious pie with a light crust, often filled with fruits like cherries or apricots. This type of pie is originally from Limburg, in the south of the Netherlands. In this area you can taste the best Limburgse vlaai, especially in Maastricht. Are you not planning on going there any time soon? Then go visit Multivlaai in Hoogcatharijne. Here they serve also all different types of vlaai.

  1. Bitterballen

Bitterballen are small crunchy snacks, with a savory filling. The filling is a gooey mixture of chopped beef broth, flour, butter and herbs (‘ragout’). Order this typical Dutch snack during a round of beers at Bar Walden or Café Hofman, or any other café in Utrecht. Be careful when you bite through the crust, because the ragout filling is often very hot!

  1. Kibbeling

Kibbeling is the Dutch version of English fish and chips, but without chips and vinegar. The white fish has a fried crust made out of flour, eggs and milk. Usually kibbeling is served with ravigotte sauce. This sauce is also a must try, because it’s a perfect companion for kibbeling! You can buy kibbeling in any fish shop or fish stand at markets.

Which of these foods are you going to try first? Let us know in the comments below!

Christmas in Utrecht: the most festive agenda!

Ahh, Christmas!! It’s that time of the year when you start looking forward to that warm feeling inside, to all the presents that you are going to offer and receive and to all that unbelievable amount of food made by your grandmother!!

Maybe you’ll go back to your home town, but before that you can enjoy some Christmas feeling here in Utrecht! Going around, you might have noticed the Christmas lights on the streets, some proudly announcing the neighbourhood at which you just arrived. If you are looking for some events, here are some awesome suggestions!

  • Knus.

This is the best Christmas event in town! For two full days, the city center becomes a winter wonderland. On Mariaplaats there is a traditional Christmas market, where you can find locally handmade gifts for you and your family, and on Streekmart you can eat like a local. Through the city there will be several street performances; maybe you will find yourself listening to a poetry reading! Come with your friends and join around the log fire, with a hot chocolate or a mulled wine to warm your cold hands. Pro tip: there will also be ice skating! Knus. 16 and 17 December, several locations in Utrecht , free.

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  • Country and Christmas Fair

If you feel like going to the beautiful Kasteel de Haar, I suggest that you go there around the time of their Christmas market. There you will be transported into a magical land of Christmas! Besides being able to visit the castle and its lovely gardens, you will find in the market exclusive homemade Christmas gifts, local products and home decorations. There will also be a lounge terrace and a choir singing, to help spread the Christmas cheer! Country & Christmas Fair 21 to 26 November, Kasteel de Haar (Haarzuilens), 16€ (online purchase)

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  • Fonteyn Festival

Are you fond of wine? In Janskerkhof you will come across this wine festival, with 60 different types of wine to choose from! Also several restaurants take part in the festival, providing food during the festival, so you can go on drinking! Good music, provided by live band shows and DJ’s, will guarantee that you will have a very Christmas-y evening! Fonteyn Festival 15 to 17 December, Janskerkhof, 4€ (mandatory wine glass purchase)

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  • Ice Skating

And for the star of this list… Ice skating!! If your Christmas doesn’t mean the same to you without it, you are in luck! In the Railway Museum, there will be a skating ring for you to enjoy, and you can rent your ice skates over there! To warm up in the end, you can also get hot chocolate and mulled wine. If you have some extra time, you can also take a tour in the museum. Winter Station 23 December to 7 January, Spoorweg Museum, 16€ (museum ticket)

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  • Light seeing

If want to know what Utrecht looks like at night, you have a chance to do just that from the highest tower in Utrecht: the one and only Dom Tower! In December, you can buy a special guided tour, where you  will be treated to the breath-taking view of the Christmas street lights, shining brightly in the streets and canals of Utrecht! In the end, a warming cup of hot chocolate is included. The tours take 90 minutes and start at 20:30. Lichtjes Kijken 13 December to 5 January (scattered days in this period), Dom Toren, 12,5€ (reservation online)

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A bucketlist for international students in Utrecht

Utrecht is a beautiful city. It is cosy and lively at the same time. There is so much to see and do that even locals get overwhelmed sometimes. That’s why we decided to make it a little bit easier for you. We made you a bucket list with five things you should have done by the end of your abroad period!

 

  1. Enjoy the view from the Dom Tower

This first bucket list item is kind of an obvious one, we know. But it’s the proud of Utrecht, so it would be weird not to mention it in this list. The Dom Tower is several centuries old and 112 meters high. If you manage to climb the 465 stairs to the top, you will be able to enjoy the beautiful view over the city. Don’t worry, you don’t have to do it in one go. During the climb, your guide will take a break on several floors, to tell something about the history of the Dom Tower (and so you can catch your breath).

 

  1. Eat ‘Domtorentjes’

After the climb, you’ll probably think you deserve something sweet. Thankfully, you’re not the only one who thinks that. At Theo Blom’s bakery, you can buy chocolates that are named after the Dom Tower: Domtorentjes. They don’t exist as long as the Dom Tower itself, but they’re definitely legendary in Utrecht!

 

  1. Boat trip

The Netherlands is famous for its canals. Utrecht is one of the cities that’s characterized by them. The canals give the city a cosy look. Instead of looking at the city while you’re walking or riding your bike through it, you should definitely go and see what the city looks like from the canals. There are several places where you can rent a boat or book boat trip with a guide. Especially when the weather is good, it’s lovely to spend a few hours in a boat with your friends.

 

  1. ‘Broodje Ben’

There are a lot of nice places in Utrecht to get a good lunch, but there’s one place locals are particularly fond of: Broodje Ben. This is a stand at the Oudegracht where you can buy fresh, delicious buns with a range of several different fillings. Do you fancy a nice lunch but are you too lazy to get out of your house? No problem, Broodje Ben also delivers!

 

  1. The Black Slope

Last but not least, the Black Slope. This is a nickname for a pub crawl in the pubs along the Nobelstraat. In the Nobelstraat, there are a few pubs next to each other, which makes it a really fun place to go out. When you’re not really enjoying yourself in one bar, you can walk to the next one in less than a minute!

4 tips to avoid the winter blues

Winter is coming! And winter in the Netherlands is rainy, grey and a little cold. Some people love winter, while others (like me) are just waiting for the sun to come out again. If you’re one of the latter, it’s easy to catch the so called ‘winter blues’. To make sure the lack of vitamin D and the overload of rain won’t make you grouchy all winter, I looked up some tips to avoid the winter blues.

  1. Make your room cosy
    One thing I often miss the most about summer is being outside, chilling on my balcony or in an outdoor café. It’s boring to stay inside the whole day, but when you don’t like the rain and cold of winter either, you kind of have to. To make staying in your room more often a little less boring, you can make your room cosier. Winter is the perfect time for candles and fairy lights. So buy a warm, fuzzy blanket, light some candles and put on your best sweater. Besides, you don’t have to stay in alone! Invite your friends over for a movie night and enjoy the cosiness of winter together.
  2. Plan fun things
    During summer(break) everyone is always planning fun things to do. You go to a festival, organise a barbecue or maybe even enjoy a day at the beach. Then, the colder days come and people stay in and don’t plan as much fun activities anymore. It’s quite logical that you don’t go to the beach when it’s pouring outside, but you can still organise some exciting things. For instance, you can plan a big dinner with your friends, where everybody prepares their favourite dish. Or you can go ice skating or visit a Christmas fair, you name it. Just plan enjoyable things. It will be summer again before you know it!
  3. Make sure you get enough Vitamin D
    One of the biggest causes of the winter blues, is a lack of vitamin D. When the sun is shining, our body is able to make its own vitamin D. But when the sun is hidden behind big, grey clouds, our body has to get it somewhere else. Luckily, it’s quite easy to boost your vitamin D levels with certain types of food. Meat, eggs and oily fish are full of it. Are you a vegan? Then it might be necessary to take vitamin D supplements. They are available at most drugstores, so don’t worry!
  4. Focus on the nicer things in winter
    Off course Dutch winter is depressing when you’re only thinking about the rain and the cold! That’s why you should focus on the nicer things in winter. The holiday season is coming up: Christmas dinners, presents, tons of parties to celebrate the beginning of 2018 (or the end of 2017). Furthermore, the city centre of Utrecht never looks cosier than during winter!


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