The Province of Utrecht is one of the twelve provinces in the Netherlands. It is located right in the center of the country and the capital is Utrecht city. Although it's the smallest province in the country, it still has 1.213.618 inhabitants, making the 5th largest regarding people living here.
Utrecht lies in the middle of the country, bordering North Holland, South Holland, Gelderland and Flevoland. In the eastern part of the province, there is a chain of hills that is a lateral moraine leftover of the last ice age. In the north you find a lake called Eemsmeer, which marks the border with Flevoland. In the south you find the river Lek, one of the side rivers of the Rhine.
In 2015, the Tour de France will start in the Netherlands. It is scheduled to start in Utrecht, Netherlands, on Saturday 4 July 2015, with a short time trial of about 14 kilometres. The second stage on Sunday 5 July, starts in Utrecht en ends in the province of Zeeland after 166 kilometres. It will be the sixth time the Tour de France starts in the Netherlands, after 1954 (Amsterdam), 1973 (Scheveningen), 1978 (Leiden), 1996 ('s-Hertogenbosch) and 2010 (Rotterdam). This is a record for a country that has no direct border with France.
In 2013, the Dutch throne was passed on to King Willem-Alexander and what used to be Koninginnedag (Queen's Day) will from 2014 become Koningsdag (King's Day). The date will be changed to the 27th of April, which is the king's birthday. In 2014 however it will be on the 26th of April because the 27th falls on a Sunday. On this day the streets of almost every sizable town in the country come alive with activity. The centre of the action is in Amsterdam, but, if you prefer things a little less crowded, Utrecht is also a popular destination. Both cities have canals and it's just perfect to watch a boat parade with music while you are drinking a beer along the canal side terrace. There are also large outdoor concerts throughout the country, though the one in Amsterdam is the most popular. Several cities have night-markets which actually start the night prior to Koningsdag and last for about 24 hours.
Summers (June to August) are relatively cool with average daytime temperatures around 20 °C, but temperatures over 30 degrees are possible. Winters, on the other hand, are mild, and temperatures below 0 °C during the day do not occur that often. A snow carpet lasting for more than a few days is relatively rare. The best months to travel are probably May to July, when days are long and apart from occasional showers, rainfall is lowest.
Schiphol international airport near Amsterdam is the closest airport nearby, easily reached by direct trains from the city of Utrecht in about half an hour.
Dutch Railways offers trains to and from the province, mostly focused on Utrecht city, which is the center of the railways in the country. Check the website for more information about prices and schedules. Most of the Netherlands can be reached within 2 hours by train from Utrecht.
Utrecht is also a crossroads of main highways to the rest of the country and beyond. The A27 cross the province from north to south, linking Flevoland with North Brabant provinces. The A2 connects Amsterdam to Utrecht and further towards Eindhoven and Maastricht. The A12 cross Utrecht on its way from Rotterdam towards Arnhem and Germany. The A1 travels west to east from Amsterdam, across Utrecht to Apeldoorn and Germany. Finally the A28 starts in Utrecht and travels northeast towards Drenthe and Groningen.
Internet cafés are not as widespread as you would expect, but you can easily find one in the popular cities. Most hostels, hotels and camp sites have several computers, so you can keep connected with folk at home. Here is a list of internet cafés that could come in handy for travellers. Otherwise, most libraries have lots of computers and prices are around the €2-3 per hour range, although sometimes it can be even more expensive.
Wireless internet access using wifi is becoming more popular and is usually available at most hotels and increasingly at train stations. Also in trains (at least in most first class wagons, but also more and more in second class) and some buses you can use wifi. Finally, places like McDonald's and Starbucks have free wifi, and smaller individual business like cafés and restaurants are on the rise too offering these services. More often than not, these service tend to be free of charge, though there might be a limited time you can use the internet.
See also: International Telephone Calls
The country code for the Netherlands is 31. The outbound international prefix is 00. The general emergency number is 112, like many other countries.
0800 numbers are toll-free and for 09xx numbers are charged at premium rates. Mobile phones have numbers in the 06 range, and calls to cell phones are also priced at higher rates.
From internet cafés, it is also usually possible to make long distance international calls. Like in other countries, telephone booths have almost disappeared, though some are still found around public transport stations, where you can use a few coins to make calls. It is only recommended for local calls.
The cellular phone network in the Netherlands is GSM 900/1800. The main providers of cell phone networks are KPN (Dutch only), T-mobile and Vodafone, who cover the whole country. Other operators, like Hollandsnieuwe, Simyo or Tele2, use one of these 3 networks basically.
It is best to buy a SIM card when in the Netherlands for use in your cellphone, as this usually works out cheaper than using the one from home. If you are planning to study or work in the country and stay for several months, buying a cellphone is the best option. A simple one, sometimes with €10 worth on it, can be bought from around €25. The simplest smartphones are around €75.
The rate for sending a postcard or letter up to 20 grams within the Netherlands is €0.64 (2014). Since 2010 there are stamps available for domestic post which no longer include the value in €. Instead, there are stamps available with either a '1' or a '2' as a substitute for value. The '1' can be used for letters and postcards up to 20 grams, while 20-50 grams require you to use the '2'-valued stamps (or two '1'-valued stamps of course).
Sending items to other EU countries and the rest of the world (there is one price since 2014) will cost €1.05. Stamps are sold at post offices, supermarkets and smaller shops/kiosks; often the place where you buy your postcards can also supply you with stamps.
Sending parcels abroad is more costly. A standard-sized parcel between up to 2 kilograms will cost you €9 for destinations within the EU and €18 (both without Track & Trace) to the rest of the world. Prices with Track & Trace start at €13 and €24.30 respectively. Parcel service is available from major post offices only; standard-size boxes are on sale there as well. For sending parcels, it might be just as competitive and fast to use a company like TNT, UPS or DHL.
If you need to receive mail while moving around, you can have it sent poste restante (to be called for) to a post office of your choice, where it will be kept for a month. If you come to claim it, bring a valid ID, and make sure to have told the sender that the name on the envelope must be an exact match with that in your passport. For addresses of post offices, as well as more information, consult the TNT website.
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