Groetjes uit Nederland! (Greetings from the Netherlands!)
This is Jules here, your correspondent from Utrecht for the next 5 months!
The Netherlands is famed for its tulip fields and windmills, and although it has plenty of those, I’m quickly finding out that there is a lot more to this vibrant country than first meets the eye. Having lived here for about a month now, I’ve got used to walking past buildings that were built hundreds of years ago, and not ducking in fright whenever a bird flies near my head (no magpies here!).
My first couple of weeks passed in a blur of names as I met exchange students from all over the world – Austria, China, Singapore, Italy, America, Germany, France, Sweden, Thailand, Greece, the list goes on and on! The sheer number of Aussies was also astounding. I had been forewarned that Aussies were everywhere in Europe, but had no idea that that we were quite literally everywhere. Fortunately, this helped to make me feel right at home almost immediately!
Settling in was easy and enjoyable, thanks to the Erasmus Student Network, which runs fun events for international students throughout the semester. During the Introduction Period, I enjoyed a boat tour of the canals, had a go at karaoke for the first time and tried some Dutch fries with mayo, a staple of Dutch cuisine – they didn’t last long!
With so many bright-eyed international students eager to explore their new surroundings, good company is guaranteed for any adventure. One sunny (but very cold) afternoon, myself and some other international students went on a bike ride to Kasteel De Haar, a small medieval castle supposedly very near Utrecht. Like any good tourists we managed to get lost in the middle of the countryside, but after 1.5 hours of constantly checking google maps, we made it and got to enjoy the majestic views.
On another excursion, we visited the Domtoren, a medieval church tower and one of Utrecht’s most famous landmarks. After 456 steps (a good cardio workout), we beheld a breathtaking view of the city and surrounds – you could even see Amsterdam in the distance! And I can confirm, the Netherlands is definitely flat.
It’s been a jam-packed first month on exchange, and I’m looking forward to sharing more tales of the adventures to come! In the meantime, here’s a little cultural note about the cities of the Netherlands.
Cultural note #1: Utrecht, an underrated city
If you ask locals, and even international students the question, “Which city do you like best, Utrecht or Amsterdam?” the majority will emphatically state “Utrecht, of course!” (or some other variation). And in my short time in the Netherlands, I’d also have to agree. Don’t get me wrong – Amsterdam is spectacular in its own right. As the capital city, it enjoys the prestige of the famous museums and grand monuments, and is an outstanding cosmopolitan conglomeration of a city.
But on the other hand, Utrecht has an irresistible charm like no other. The medieval cobbled streets in the very heart of the city are like something out of a fairy-tale; and along with the twinkling winter lights and quaint canals, Utrecht has a homelier feel that the hustle and bustle of Amsterdam can never quite live up to. It is a stunning example of a quintessential Dutch town. It’s probably up to personal taste, but Utrecht’s charm has won me over.