Fairy Tale Castles, College Towns, and a Never-ending Staircase

Charlie (Charles) McDowell
February 27, 2017

It’s 9:07 am and my doorbell is buzzing incessantly. I want it to stop, I want to go back to sleep, I don’t want somebody waking me up right now. It takes a few minutes to realise that the person ringing my bell is my friend, and he’s waking me up because we’re leaving on a weekend trip to Utrecht in 13 minutes. I scramble to pack and am out the door.

My hair is unwashed, I’m exhausted, and I forgot my toothbrush and deodorant. It’s cold and foggy and I’m waiting in a small cafe because it’s not my time to visit the castle yet. I don’t want to explore the grounds, I’m in a proper bad mood. I wish the trip wasn’t this weekend, I want to be back in bed.

It’s a five minute trek to the front of the castle. I’m not complaining about 5 minutes, but it gives a sense of how large this property is if I’ve already walked 5 minutes from the gift shop to the cafe and still have another 5 before I even reach the front door. I’ll later learn that Catle de Haar has 25 bathrooms for almost all of the guest rooms and I could get lost without ever seeing one of them. It’s massive, it’s a dream. I want to live there.

By the time our tour was done I had forgotten about the toiletries I’d forgotten to pack or the bedhead I was sporting. The castle had put me in a better mood. I had learned that the castle was built in the late 1800’s, but the property had been owned by the Baron who built it’s family for centuries, where countless other castles had been but had been destroyed. It had it’s own church. I watched a bride and groom exit from said church that day, they were so happy looking even when it was drizzling and not very pretty out. By the time our castle tour had finished, I was no longer upset at myself for oversleeping and forgetting half of my necessities. I was excited for what the weekend had in store for me.

Utrecht is the fourth largest city in the Netherlands and is mostly a student town. That’s about all I knew of the place from the fun facts written on our itinerary. I didn’t know if the architecture would be modern like Rotterdam or if it’d be old like Amsterdam is. I didn’t know if there’d be canals or waffle shops. What I explored was rather small, giving me the impression that the city itself was rather tiny though I’m certain I missed a lot of things. The buildings are less crooked, and the canals exist but not on the same level that most of the people do. The canals are lower, with opportunities for restaurants and other businesses to put shops along the water. That part was nice, it felt like Chicago a bit, where lakefront bars and walkways exist just slightly separately from the rest of the city.

The next morning we filed into the groups we had picked for ourselves before the trip began. I chose to climb Dom Tower, not knowing that it was the tallest church tower in the Netherlands. I also did not know that the higher we climbed, the steeper and narrower the steps became. I soon discovered that from the top of the tower you could see the entire city, and that there were spaces in the tower that could still be used for events. I learned that someone came and played the church bells every Saturday morning. The church associated with the tower was breathtaking, but the view was even better. Stationed only half an hour or so from Amsterdam, if the day had been clearer, I could have seen that city too.

The trip was short, only two days that I was there but I ended up loving the experience. It reminded me that there is so much history where I am, and that I should go out and explore it more. I was taught a lesson in caring less about the small things that are easy to get caught up in and looking at the bigger picture. I explored a castle that could have been magical, visited a city that the only Dutch Pope lived in, and climbed a 635 year old tower that I soon fell in love with.

Maybe the point of adventure is to forget about what you’re wearing or who you sit next to on the bus. Maybe the point of adventure is just to get out there and experience things, to change yourself by learning the history of others, and to allow yourself to get a little lost. Utrecht might not have been a place I was excited to go to, but the experience taught me that I am more resilient than I thought I was, and that there is still so much more that I can get out and do. The next time I have to go somewhere, I am not going to be concerned over if my hair is brushed or my bag has absolutely everything. I’m going to focus on what I’m going to get out of this experience. I’m one of the lucky few to get to live in a different country for four months as a student. I am not going to let that opportunity go to waist. I am going to have a good adventure.

More Blogs From This Author

fallback blogs
Charlie (Charles) McDowell,

Finding Myself in Amsterdam

What can a man in a boat with a poodle and a beer teach me? Amsterdam's taught me a lot more than what my classes covered, and I might be more similar to this...

View All Blogs

Charlie (Charles) McDowell

<p>I am a 20 year old Psychology and Intercultural Studies major escaping the suburbs of Chicago in search of an adventure. I can be found reading or writing most of the time, and love to talk to people. I&#39;ve been daydreaming of traveling the world since I was a child, and am so excited that the time for that is finally here! Thank you for stopping by, I hope my stories are as helpful to you as these moments were for me.</p>

2017 Spring
Home University:
Elmhurst University
Explore Blogs