Fourth Place

So you came in fourth place, you probably put in the same amount of effort as a medallist and maybe if the wind was blowing a slightly different direction it would’ve been you on that podium, but today it just wasn’t meant to be. Then somehow, you figure fourth place isn’t so bad.

In fact, I would argue that it is really the very best place to be.

In September 2015 I moved to study in the ‘gezellig’ Dutch city that is Utrecht; the fourth largest city in the Netherlands, from Sheffield; the fourth largest city in England. These two lovely cities have a lot in common besides both falling short of the top 3. For one, they both have a large student population, equal to around 10% of the city’s total population. Although Utrecht is smaller, with a population of around half that of Sheffield, the large number of students and young professionals gives the city a vibrant and youthful atmosphere. Unlike in Amsterdam, you won’t be overwhelmed by bicycle-y challenged tourists, yet you won’t miss out on the typical Dutch architecture, canals, and culture. Having said that, one of the great things about Utrecht is that should you feel a pang for the hustle and bustle of a capital city, you’re only half an hour away. In Utrecht itself the big city vibe is coupled with a kind of cosyness: you can expect the usual city happenings- busy libraries by day, busy bars by night, there’s always something going on –  but you still run into people you know at the supermarket. Similarly in Sheffield there’s plenty going on, but being Europe’s greenest city, there’s still space to get away from the business of city life, have some brunch (my favourite!), or go for a walk.

Feeling a visit coming on? Here are four of my favourite things to do in each of the fourth cities:

Utrecht

  1. Stroll/cycle down the Oudegacht

You may not be able to weave in and out of people on your bike with the deftness of the Dutch, but when the sun is out or the christmas lights are up, a stroll down the main canal, popping in and out of shops and cafes, is arguably one of the best ways to spend an afternoon here.

2. Climb the Dom Tower

Alright this one’s pretty touristy, but have you really been to Utrecht if you haven’t seen it from 368 feet? On a clear day you can see all the way to Amsterdam and The Hague.

3. Coffee at  (oh too many good places to choose from) The Village, Koffie Leute, 30ml

And while you’re at it, treat yourself to some apple pie.

4. Feeling classy? Try some special beers at Cafe Olivier. Feeling trashy? Try ESN student night at Poema.

Sheffield

  1. Look over the city from the Bole Hills

You don’t have to climb a church tower to get a good view of Sheffield, just a hill or two, and maybe take a flask of tea.

2. Drive out to the Peak District National Park

Proximity to the countryside is one of the reasons so many people love Sheffield; hikers, bikers, climbers, people just enjoying the view.

3. Coffee at (also too many good places) Tamper Coffee, Marmadukes, Made by Jonty

Without Sunday cafe revision sessions with my dad and a strong cup of coffee, who knows how I would have passed Maths A-Level.

4. Feeling classy? Espresso Martinis at Tamper Coffee Sellers Wheel. Feeling trashy? Blue pints at Corporation.

It’s a joy to know two such wonderful cities, both with their own quirks, hidden gems, and lovely inhabitants. Whichever place I’m in, there’s always something to miss about wherever I’m not. In Sheffield I miss my bike, in Utrecht I miss the seven hills and the gritty northerners who live on them.

Either way, missing out on the podium has never been so good.

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