After a hectic last term, I’ve finally found time to write, as I sit on a bus taking me to Paris. Having just left Utrecht and the Netherlands this morning, it still hasn’t quite sunk in that my exchange has finally come to a close, although the many goodbye hugs from my fellow exchange students this morning are still fresh in my mind.
But before that, let me rewind back to some of my recent adventures – such as my trip to Berlin!
In early May, around 1000 exchange students from all over the Netherlands embarked on a 3 day trip to Berlin organised by the Erasmus Student Network. As a bit of a history buff, Berlin has always been a point of fascination for me, so visiting sites such as the Topography of Terror, Sachsenhausen concentration camp, the Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie were very interesting and moving experiences. Yet despite this city’s turbulent past, a flourishing music and arts scene has emerged, creating a unique blend of old and new. Aside from the historical monuments, I enjoyed marvelling at the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag (German Parliament) and the beautiful public gardens, although I was not prepared for the long walking distances between the attractions – I’ll definitely be packing my runners next time!
As summer arrived, I also continued my exploration of the Netherlands and Dutch culture. I went sailing on a huge lake, cycled through a national park, performed a little roleplay in Dutch (my Dutch is heel goed now!), and even went to the beach! I also paid a visit to The Hague, the parliamentary capital of the Netherlands, as well as Madurodam, a miniature park with scale model replicas of famous Dutch monuments. Over the last week alone, I’ve been on three daytrips to Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Brussels, all of which were extremely enjoyable. Some highlights included the beautiful Markethal in Rotterdam, the amazing museums in Amsterdam (the Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum and Anne Frank Museum to name a few), and landmarks such as the Atomium (a giant atom) and the decedent Grand Place in Brussels.
Although I have loved sightseeing in the Netherlands and throughout Europe, the thing I’ll miss most about exchange is the amazing people I’ve met. I’ve made some wonderful friends during my time here, and the many hours I have spent discussing cultural differences, goals for the future and different types of beer (I’ve learnt a lot about beer) will be dearly missed. I’ve also learnt a sprinkling of Hungarian, Greek, Spanish, German and Italian words which I’m sure will come in handy some day!
I’ll be heading to Paris and London on my own personal travels before I return to Australia, but I’ve had a blast writing about my experiences this semester. My exchange in Utrecht has been an absolutely incredible experience. The Netherlands is such wonderful country, the classes at Utrecht University have been super interesting, and living in Utrecht itself has been a dream come true.
If anyone reading this is considering going on exchange, don’t hesitate to come to the Netherlands and Utrecht; with an open mind and an open heart you’ll have the most amazing time!
Cultural note #3: Cycling in the Netherlands
If you’re a keen cyclist (like myself), then the Netherlands is cycling heaven. Dutch people ride to work, to the shops, and to the clubs, so owning a bicycle is essential. This is especially true in Utrecht, which has an estimated 1 million bicycles and the largest bike storage facility in the world for around 345,000 residents!
Aside from my initial braking woes thanks to coaster brakes, and once you get used to riding on the right side of the road (super important for us Aussies to remember!), riding around is pretty fun, and a great way to see the city. Bicycle lanes are everywhere and have their own traffic lights. And unlike Australia, both drivers and pedestrians give way to bikes. I’ll definitely miss the easy cycling in the Netherlands!