Dutch Highlights

Alright so most people go on exchange in Europe to see as much as they possibly can within the small (relative) continent but the Netherlands is a beautiful country with many unique places besides Amsterdam and the Keukenhof. So while you should definitely take advantage of being so close to Italy, Greece and all the other European locations on your Bucket List, do not forget to explore the country you are studying in!

I am very lucky to have family living in the Netherlands and so I do a lot of my touring with them but since not everyone has that opportunity, below are a few of my favourite places and things to do while visiting!

Alright, let’s start off with the Amsterdam itself since no visit to the Netherlands is complete without it. A beautiful old city but definitely at its best in the spring time. My favourite neighbourhood to wander around is the Jordaan and the 9 Streets. Take time to peek in through the windows of the old yet still grand canal houses, stop at a typical Dutch bruin cafe (not coffee shop, very different obviously) and enjoy the sunshine with a beer and some bitterballen. My favourite museum in Amsterdam is the Stedelijk, the modern art musuem, for two reasons – short lines and cool expositions. Amsterdam is filled with lots of museums, beyond the Rijksmuseum and Ann Frank House, and as something for everyone so I definitely recommend at least checking out one or two that interest you. If you are feeling up to it after a few months of living in Maastricht and think you have figured out the Dutch biking system then I suggest giving it a go in Amsterdam for a good laugh and you will really see if you have what it takes to be a true Amsterdammer. Be aware that in Amsterdam, they have a unique sense of humour and if you come across a true Amsterdammer, then you will definitely be made fun and do not be offended; it is their version of a warm welcome.

Since you are already all the way in the North Holland province when visiting Amsterdam, you may as well go a bit farther north and check out the beaches and tulip fields found pretty much all throughout the province. The major city in the area is Alkmaar but if you head farther north you reach Schagen and then Den Helder. Because my grandparents live in the area, I know that it is definitely worth the visit. Try renting a bike (or use an OV fiets if you have a card) and heading west towards the beaches and around the end of April, beginning of May (depending on the season) you can bike past fields of tulips on your way to the beach. PS this is a way cheaper option than the entrance fee into the Keukenhof if you have a cheap train ticket anyways. A couple of the small beach towns are Callantsoog, Bergen aan Zee and then if you want to see some of the dunes then check out the Schoorl Dunes as well. If you head more east, you can check out Edam and Volendam, which are beautiful old Dutch harbour towns.

If you want to head to cover the entire country in one train ride, then I would recommend you head to Groningen, the northern most city in the county. If you want to see what a true Dutch student city is like, I would recommend going there during the week and then heading to one of the many bars and cafes in the area. Maastricht is also a student city but the atmosphere in Groningen is completely different, let’s say North vs South is different. Since you are already so close, maybe check out Leeuwarden too as it is the European Capital of Culture in 2018 and they have a lot going on in the city. I have not yet been, but it is on my list to see before I head home to Canada.

So what is next? Rotterdam, Den Haag and Scheveningen. I think people either love or hate Rotterdam, but since I study in Vancouver, which is the farthest thing from an old city as possible, I love it. Feels a lot like home with more modern architecture (check out the Cube homes and the Erasmus bridge) and hip places to eat and drink. My all time favourite building is the Markt Hall for both the architecture and mural covering the inside as well as all the different food tents inside. If you head there on a Saturday, you can also check out the regular market, which is bigger than the one in Maastricht, and the contrast between the old and the new versions of a market is fun to see. Rotterdam is also home to the largest harbour in Europe so if you like giant cargo ships or just want to feel small, then definitely check it out. I participated in the Rotterdam Marathon (okay, not that fit, I did the 10.5 km option) and it was the one of the coolest experiences of my life. If you enjoy running and want to check out Rotterdam, this is a super fun way to do it! Last, but not least, since you are so close anyways, you should check out the Kinderdijk, which you can reach via the WaterBus from the center of Rotterdam.

Den Haag and Scheveningen are not far from Rotterdam and 100% worth a visit. Den Haag is the political capital of the Netherlands and also where the Peace Palace is. If International Law interests you, then you know that this is where the International Court of Justice is located and is kind of a big deal. The parliament buildings are also in Den Haag, known as the Binnenhof, and is the oldest parliament building in the world still in use. If you are there in the late afternoon during the week on a sunny day, you can see all the office people gathering on the terraces through the pleins in Den Haag and this makes for a great people watching spot. From Den Haag, you can hop on a tram to Scheveningen, which is the local beach hot spot with a pier. Again, ideal people watching but also a great place to enjoy the sun and the sand for the day if you want.

There are way too many places in the Netherlands that are worth checking out but a few others of note are Utrecht, Amersfoort, Nijmegen, Breda and S’ hertogenbosch. All are again beautiful cities with old centres and enough gezelligheid to last a life time.

Last, but not least, I recommend checking out the areas surrounding Maastricht. Limburg is a province with a lot to offer from lots of old Catholic churches to rolling hills of farmland and forest. You can even take the bus to Aachen in Germany or pop into Leige in Belgium if you would like.

My final pieces of advice for traveling in the Netherlands are:

  • Ride a bike as much as you can – you cover some distance but you go slow enough to see what you want and can stop along the way
  • Look for train deals on sites like VakantieVeilingen and ActieVanDeDag or at the AH/Hema for day trips
    • also use group deals – 4 people or more
  • Hope that the sun shines as much as possible but bring your umbrella

 

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Spring at SBE

If you choose to come to Maastricht for a spring semester, you are in luck. The Netherlands is at its best in the springtime, with the trees coming out of hiding as their leaves grow into that bright, almost shiny green, fruit trees are blooming and the birds are chatting away. Since I grew up just outside Vancouver, I am used to having four seasons during the year and out of the four, spring is my favourite. Some quick reasons why:

  1. People are glad that the throes of winter are behind them but have not yet begun complaining about it being too hot.
  2. Mother nature begins to remind us of her mastery of colour beyond the shades of black, white, grey and brown.
  3. The air smells of new beginnings – blossoms, baby birds, exam resit week just to name a few
  4. Daylight begins to stretch out and before you know it, it is 8 o’clock and you still do not need to put your bike lights on

If you come from somewhere with dry and wet as your only options, going on exchange in the Netherlands will let you these seasonal changes and you can pick for yourself which one is your favourite. Having four seasons is a small thing I took for granted in Vancouver but speaking with a few other international students reminded me not everyone gets to experience them every year.

Apart from the cool nature things that happen, spring time at the School of Business and Economics is ripe with new adventures. Before I get into these adventures, let me quickly explain the SBE system. There are two semesters a year and there are three periods within each semester. So instead of taking four courses for 13 weeks, you take two courses for seven weeks and then have a week of finals, followed by a re-sit week for those who did not pass exams in the previous period, and then you begin two new courses for seven weeks. They also have a third period where students take a two-week, condensed, skills based course.

Maastricht University uses a PBL system, which is great if you are like me and do not learn much from sitting in a lecture for an hour or two. Most courses you choose to take should instead consist of two hour tutorials twice a week, where you and your classmates discuss the readings and look at the material from a problem solving stand-point. You are in a group of 15 students max with a tutor, and this group stays the same for the entire period. Within these tutorials, each course differs depending on what it is but often you are given cases and need to present solutions on these working with a team of two or three and running the tutorial in a sort discussion leader/facilitation style to cover the important material. Everyone is expected to complete all the readings prior to the tutorial and participation is required to pass the course without having to do an extra course assignment, which I have not had to do but rumour has it, they suck. Honestly, it is also just a lot better for the group if everyone participates because it makes it more dynamic and various perspectives are brought to the table. I think the most valuable experience I have gained from my time at SBE is the number of presentations we have to do. While tutorials are small, you are practicing public speaking either in the role of facilitator or presenter and I think in total over two periods I will have done this about 8 times, give or take two per course. As daunting as PBL may sound at the beginning, I really enjoy being able to concentrate on two courses at once and learning/reading at my own pace.

Alright adventure time. So if you are a semester only exchange student, you should not have to resit an exam during the resit week, which means you get a whole week off. I also had my other exams at the beginning of exam week so in total I had about 10 days off. Like I said, lots of time for adventures. One of my good friends came and visited me so we spent a weekend in Amsterdam, I ran the Rotterdam 1/4 Marathon, then we hopped on a plane to Lisbon, Portugal (which by the way, is beautiful but April is rainy month so if you want to check it out, maybe wait until May). Once my friend left, I still had a few days so I went to the north of the Netherlands to visit family friends in Groningen and caught a soccer game between F.C. Groningen and Roda JC (not Ajax or PSV but still loads of fun).

Then it was back to the grind but after a week and a half of school, it is now time for a long weekend as April 26 is King’s Day, aka one giant orange party here in the Netherlands. Mine just happens to be extra long as I only have class Tuesdays and Fridays. Rough, I know.  I am heading to Amsterdam, where some family friends will show me the ropes, however ISN also puts on an King’s Day Activity in Amsterdam and there are more than enough day festivals to check out. The night before, known as King’s Night is celebrated by more than enough people so it is also something to check out. I will update this blog post with some photos once I have some so you can see the craziness for yourself. Searching it on google or instagam should also explain it a bit…

My time in Maastricht is really flying by but thanks to spring, I getting plenty of opportunities to stop and smell the flowers.

Tips and Tricks for Maastricht

Hi everyone! My name is Kirsten and I am an exchange student from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada. I have been in Maastricht for about four weeks and I really love it. Maastricht is a very gezellig – Dutch word with no English equivalent but, along the lines of cozy, warm, and having a sense of closeness with the people around you – as it is a small, student-filled city and is also the second oldest in the Netherlands. The people are friendly and there is no shortage of cafes to stop for a cup of coffee/tea or a beer.

The city itself is great if you are interested in exploring Europe, as you are so centrally located. You are pretty much closer to Paris than to Amsterdam… well almost. You also have two smaller airports close by where you can score cheap flights with Ryan Air, either Eindhoven or Brussels Charleroi. Cologne and Dusseldorf are also not too far away! You unfortunately do have to take a train to most of these places but check google for deals. Within the Netherlands, look at trein reiziger for regular updates. You can easily get tickets anywhere in the Netherlands for 12 Euros, which is about 50% a ticket to Amsterdam. Oh and if you go in groups of four or more, then definitely take advantage of the group deals!! If you want to check out Belgium, look for the GO Pass, which is a pass for those under 26 and works out to be about 15 Euros for a day return trip. One last money saving travel tip is to get yourself an ESN card as soon as possible because you get 8 flights with Ryan Air at 15% off with a free checked bag but you need to book 28 days in advance to take advantage of it.

As for living arrangements, I opted to not live in Guesthouses and found a room to rent on the Maastricht Room/Sublet Facebook group. I share a kitchen, living room, toilet and bathroom with two other lovely girls and then have my own room for around 400 Euros. Personally, sharing a kitchen and bathroom with so many people in the Guesthouses did not appeal to me and for less money than a private room in guesthouses I found something else. That being said, please exercise caution if you are choosing to not live in the Guesthouses and do not send any money until you are absolutely sure there is actually a place for you. The Guesthouses are great for meeting people, have a wonderful set up, and you also have great flexibility with the dates you are staying. In general, the Guesthouses just did not fit my personal preferences however, I have only heard great things from my new exchange friends living there now!

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My new home for the next five months.

No matter where you end up living, I would highly recommend getting a bike!! Do not worry too much about investing in a fancy bike since you will only be here for a short while and crappy bikes are less likely to get stolen. Plus, it’s a pretty flat place (especially compared the Pacific Northwest) so even gears are not a must but, you do have to bike up a small incline to get to Guesthouses so keep that in mind. More important than the bike is a good bike lock. I think the rule of thumb around here is that your lock should cost more than your bike!

The best part about having a bike is that you can easily go to the market on Wednesdays and Fridays for groceries. Wednesdays are a bit smaller but on Friday mornings and early afternoon, you can bike to the Markt Square for your fresh fruit and veggies, cheese, fish, chicken (5 Euros for a kilo!!), bread and towards the end of the afternoon they sell large bags of fruit nearing the end of shelf life for 5 Euros, which are great for smoothies, desserts or if you eat them fast enough, just a regular snack. They also have a bunch of random things, like hygiene products, textiles and clothing.

Although Dutch cuisine is not internationally renowned, I would recommend trying at least some of the local dishes and desserts. Zuurvlees, Stamppot (or for a different variety there is Hutspot) with Rookworst, and Dutch Indonesian (Sate, Nasi etc.) are traditional dinners, while zakje friet (literally bag of fries) and brodje croquette from a frituur or FEBO are less filling and unhealthy but just as local. Bitterballen are also delicious while at the fish market you can check out kibbling, haring and paling. As for desserts, well there is no shortage. Stroopwafels, tompoucen from the HEMA, gevulde koek, Dutch Appeltaart, poffertjes, pannenkoeken, and in a specialty in Limburg is vlaai. Of course we cannot forget the most important Dutch food.. CHEESE. Just walk around the Market or any cheese store and you will sample plenty. To balance all this eating, you end up biking everywhere so I think the Netherlands may be the only place where exchange students loose weight.

The coolest part about coming to Maastricht for the spring exchange is that you get to be part of the Carnaval celebrations in February. This is something they only celebrate in the Southern parts of the Netherlands and in Germany as well. I cannot speak to what it is like in Germany but boy was it a blast in Maastricht. The celebrations officially begin Saturday night but the entire city is getting ready weeks before and just like Christmas music in Canada, they are playing carnival music in the grocery stores a little earlier than necessary. Honestly, I have no idea about the history but you get to dress up, drink beer, and dance in the streets to tacky carnival music. Yup, it was as fun as it sounds!!! And you can choose to do this Sunday, Monday and Tuesday again if you wish. Don’t forget to check out the parades on Sunday and Monday to see what the different carnival associations create for floats and costume designs.

I promise you that you will not understand a word of the songs but fake it until you make it right? As for a costume, there are plenty of stores you can get some cheap things from or take something simple along if you manage to have any room in your suitcase. Carnival colours are red, yellow and green so even that works great! Whatever you decide, make sure you dress warm since everything is outside but a big no-no is not dressing up so you will look like an outcast.

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Carnaval!

Fun fact about Maastricht – the city has a knack for turning former religious buildings into more modern things, like a bookstore, hotel and gym. Check them out!! Even the Business school itself is in an old covenant.

PS if any of you are interested in trail running and end up coming to Maastricht, feel free to send me a message so I can share the trails I have discovered and save you from running in circles through the city, like I did for the first few weeks.