I don’t want to say goodbye.

A few days ago, I said my first goodbye. That was not fun. Being cheesy by nature, I gifted my good friend a sentimental message written in a mutually appreciated novel with a polaroid we took together on the last day. With only two weeks left until the end of semester – for some, even less – there exists an unspoken rule of not mentioning that soon we must all part ways and go back to our ‘real’ lives. The topic is strictly forbidden and any word of it will result in a sea of uncontrollable tears or internal anxiety. A bit dramatic? Study abroad for half a year or more and you’ll understand.

Knowing that the end is near, I had ambitiously planned to travel every single weekend before exams. I managed to tour around Belgium, visit the famous Dutch windmills in Zaanse Schans, revisit Berlin and road-trip to Luxembourg. I even had plans to go to Morocco and London but my body finally gave in and I ended up catching a nasty cold. At least the weather is warm now (even heading towards the 30s in Celsius!). Falling sick is probably a blessing in disguise because it let me appreciate the last few moments with the city itself and spend more quality time with the people here.

The expiration date motivated my friends and I to overcome our intrinsic sloth existence by squeezing in as much time together as possible. All the whilst juggling the pressure of University and exams. We began by visiting restaurants we talked about going to but never did, and to pre-drinking but never making it to the actual party because it can be more fun to be idiots with friends in an enclosed and private space as opposed to being idiots with strangers in a larger and more public space. Wow that was a mouthful.

Maastricht is truly a hidden gem and I’m glad I had the privilege of living here pretty much like a local to truly explore all the great things it has to offer. It might seem like a small and boring city but it is one of those places that you can’t possibly appreciate to the full extent as a weekend traveller or passer-by. Since this will be my last post about my exchange period here (if you’re reading this and deciding whether to stay for a semester or two – do two), I want to leave you with some of my last recommendations/findings/experiences about this gorgeous city.

Foodbank

Foodbank is an event that runs every Friday without fail (ok maybe holidays) in the funkiest abandoned warehouse you would not expect to find by the river. To reduce food wastage and promote the awareness of vegan delicacies, this non-profit volunteer based event gathers the left-over food from the Friday markets (that otherwise would have been completely discarded) and transforms them into a delicious three course meal. Yes, that includes a starter, main and dessert!! They even have accompanying live music and decent 1.5 euro beer. The first night I went, it was ‘open-mic night’ and I was fortunate enough to hear some great freelancers perform, one of whom was a friend too! The atmosphere is fantastic because it gathers kind souls from all over the world where everyone puts in effort in preparing and cleaning.

mac SportsClub

So…I’ve never in my life purchased a gym membership but I guess when you’re on exchange, everything is a possibility. if you’re part of ISN Maastricht, there is a decent deal where you can pay for 3 months of membership and get the 4th month free! I found out a little too late and won’t be able to get the most out of the 4 months so jump on that quick! There are some fun classes like jumping fitness and anti-gravity yoga that I would seriously recommend checking out. Oh and this is not a sponsored message.

Enci B.V.

The days will get hot enough where you will dream of a beach. In Maastricht, the next best thing is a quarry. Fun place to spend a warm day! But hopefully it’s not too crowded.

How to Say Goodbye 101

Don’t avoid it, give it your all for one last hoorah! If you start feeling sad, just remember that it won’t be the last time you see them. Oh and it also means you’ll have more free accommodation around the world. Who needs Airbnb?

 

Half a year went by like a flash of light. Incredibly grateful for everyone and everything. Enough with the cheese, thanks for reading!

 

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Without warning.

It’s already May!!! How? When? What?? The month of April has been full of surprises making it all the more exciting.

5 cities in 3.5 days.

Making the most of Maastricht’s central location, a few of us rented a car and road-tripped our way down south (shout-out to enterprise rent-a-car). Fully prepared with pillows, fruits and junk food we were ready to take on the German highways where there is no speed limit. Casually driving at 210km/hr (our poor Kia could barely handle), we made it to our first stop – Frankfurt. The great thing about exchange is that you meet people from all over the world and they’re often quite happy to take you around their home city! Luckily for us we had exactly one of those friends in every city that we went to. Frankfurt is a modern city with funky architecture. Only arriving in the afternoon, we saw, drank and ate the best the city had to offer, and left early morning the next day.

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Frankfurt – a building with a hole in it.

Next stop – Basel, Switzerland. This was not planned in our already last-minute itinerary but we happened to be passing by as our stomachs grumbled. Coincidentally enough, a good Swiss friend of mine was in town and showed us around the cutest city in 2 hours! It was such a lovely surprise to see old friends again. I also had no idea it was the capital of Switzerland considering the other more well-known cities. Later that day we drove towards Lausanne and explored the area before we got to our hostel in Geneva at night. It’s an intense schedule I know!! But incredibly worth it. I fell in love with Switzerland very quickly.

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Lausanne

In Geneva, we joined a free walking tour (highly recommend), ate cheese fondue, watched a man paraglide from the lookout of a mountain that is technically part of France and visited the United Nations . The weather was perfect but alas, we had to make a move again in the evening to reach our last stop – Strasbourg. By this time, our GPS “Margaret” was getting tired herself and made navigation an absolute pain. We reached the city after midnight and finally settled in. Not many people bother to visit Strasbourg but if you get the chance to, definitely do!! It’s not too far from Maastricht, and even through the rain I couldn’t help but fall in love with the architecture, people and atmosphere. Later in the day we had to sadly part ways and go home.

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Geneva

Tl;dr Somehow we managed to visit Frankfurt, Basel, Lausanne, Geneva & Strasbourg in three and a half days whilst also being able to see the cities wholly thanks to our free tour guides – sorry, I mean friends.

Not to mention, our road trip was planned incredibly last minute haha. We didn’t officially decide to go until the day before. We booked the car and each of our accommodations only the day before. A bit of spontaneity and thrill of hustling made it more fun than we expected. Mostly, however, the company I was so fortunate to be blessed with is what made the whole road-trip the best I’ve had in a while.

Keukenhof

Spend a day getting the train with friends to see the tulip show! Honestly, what a beautiful place to walk through. I would even recommend to sneak in some picnic snacks and drinks. I also bought three pots of hydrangeas for 3 euros that bloomed within days and makes your room smell great!

 

Kings Day

A sea of orange I will never forget. Put effort into your orange outfit otherwise you’ll feel left out for sure! I considered spending “Kings-night” (the night before if it wasn’t obvious) in Amsterdam but everyone I knew pulled out last minute since accommodation was sky-rocketing if you didn’t book months in advance. Maastricht was just as fun since I bought tickets to the Kingsland festival which hosts a bunch of outdoor and indoor DJ sets with names like Dash Berlin and Afrojack. The atmosphere was incredible and I loved every moment of it. Being a bit ambitious, I managed to get a train to Amsterdam that night for a boat party and hitched a bus ride home afterwards. It was an intense day but if you’re lucky enough to be in Netherlands during the Spring semester, King’s day celebrations are a must!

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 24-hour Amsterdam adventure

For some reason, being on exchange and travelling puts you in a mindset that helps you make friends from just about anywhere. I randomly met a girl at a techno event in Amsterdam as we bonded over our dance moves and a few weeks later I’m at her house party. My friend and I also felt like staying overnight to wander and shop around the beautiful city of Amsterdam but didn’t realise hostels were either completely booked out or costed a fortune, especially since it was the weekend after Kings. Too late – we had already bought our train tickets and were fully prepared to spend the night in Amsterdam homeless. Although staking out at McDonalds all night was almost inevitable, we somehow managed to meet the most interesting and kind human being that let us couch-surf for the night. Moral of the story – if there is a will, there is a way!  If you haven’t gathered already, I am quite the impulsive traveller and that may not suit everyone. Though, I do know that Exchange is ephemeral and that forces you to make every moment count.

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The beginning of 24 hrs in Amsterdam

In Short

Highlight: Making even greater friends than I could wish for + unexpected escapades.

Lowlight: A bit of pre-planning would be more ideal. Flights and travel costs get quite expensive during May and the closer it is to Summer! So, be sure to book tickets early if you can. I would seriously recommend going to Morocco or Portugal/Spain during the relatively long break between Period 4 and 5 if you are at Maastricht University!

See you next time

It’s only the beginning of the semester and work hasn’t creeped up yet! Period 5 in Maastricht University seems to be a little more relaxed than the previous period (in SBE at least) so my challenge for this month is to travel every weekend! Fingers crossed I’m still functioning to even write my next post.

Spring is coming.

End of March 2017.

As I predicted, this semester has gone by way too quickly for my liking. I am almost half way through and I have barely had a breather to reflect on everything that has happened. Partially why I’m glad I signed up to write this blog even though it’s a week before my first round of exams. Alright, since this isn’t exactly a personal blog to divulge the oh so fascinating chronicles of my life…I will recount the past few weeks based upon the most memorable events that will give you a taste of what it is like to live abroad in the Netherlands – while also incorporating some useful tips I’ve learnt along the way…

Carnival Week – something I have learnt to not question or understand…

This is a week where people of all ages unapologetically dress up in crazy extravagant costumes and drink like there is no tomorrow. Celebrations begin on a Friday night and if you’re lucky, last until Tuesday night the next week. There was a parade that snail paced their way around the city whilst blasting funky dutch carnival music. Honestly, the amount of effort people put into their makeup, fake lashes, costumes and props etc is quite impressive. Some people spend the whole year hand-making them! However, if you’re part of the lazy folk like me, you can just go to the many carnival shops scattered around the city where you can buy things from face-paint to hot dog costumes. So low is also another shop that sells really cheap knick knacks. Warning! DO NOT wear nice shoes, they will get so dirty and ruined that they will never return to the pristine condition it once was 😥 What a rookie mistake by me. Urgh.  Such a fun weekend that I would definitely recommend to stay for at least a day or two, so don’t plan any travel plans too hastily during this period! Oh did I mention that you get a whole week off from university????

Trip to Prague: where beer is water and fairytales comes true.

Since the Spring semester have many glorious holidays spread intermittently throughout the periods, I booked a trip to Prague in Czech Republic. Luckily, I made a good friend from there and he was basically my personal tour guide for four days. I got tickets from Ryan Air for only 30 euros return!!  –Make sure to regularly check out the deals on this site because you can get to so many different places for as little as 10 euros! – It was departing from a crappy airport that is a pain to get to but hey, worth the price! The airport is called Charleroi and you need to take a train, then bus to the airport. As a student you can go to any city in Brussels for only 7.50 euros and I found this is the best site to buy tickets from (http://www.belgianrail.be/en/) where you can also download the ticket onto your phone through the app which saves you the hassle of printing.

The beauty of living in Maastricht is the centrality for travelling to various wonderful locations.

Boat and Caves

By far the most underrated school-like excursion in Maastricht offered by ISAP (google it). They combine a boat trip with a cave tour at a really cheap price compared to if you were to go by yourself. Even though I was incredibly hungover from ISN CANTUS (also google it) the night before, I still managed to get up and go which I’m so glad I did! You take a boat to these man-made caves from a few hundred years ago, a 200km labyrinth used during various periods in history including for refuge in World War II. You’ll even spot bats every now and then. The best part is that the tour guide switches off the lamp leaving everyone in complete darkness for a few minutes. I’ve done that before but it’s always a surreal experience. I met some really awesome people on the tour too that I’m sure I’ll see again!

Amsterdam/Rotterdam/The Hague/Delft 

Okay. So normally a ticket to Amsterdam is around 25 euros from Maastricht. BUT, fear no more. You can buy group tickets that take it down to 7 euros. There are so many different groups on Facebook you can join to buy tickets i.e. https://www.facebook.com/groups/665446850230280/. It takes some getting use to but give it some time to read through the descriptions and threads, and you’ll get the hang of it. Bam, you’re welcome. This is where I would also highly recommend getting a dutch bank account! Many places only accept Maestro and it just makes some things a lot easier. The train ride to the capital was also super easy. You can get a direct train where you can easily kill the time sleeping, reading or listening to music. Rotterdam, Delft and the Hague is literally also 30mins away so definitely give those cities a visit. I had such an amazing time because I caught up with some great friends I made 8 months ago in London and had not seen them since! Most of them are from different parts in Europe and what I absolutely love about being here is that in such a short amount of time you can visit a completely different country or city. Places where the culture and atmosphere can be starkly different and unique. Usually back home it can take me 30 minutes to an hour to get anywhere, even just for brunch. But here, I can run to Belgium in 15 minutes! Haha.

The travelling possibilities are endless!

Anyways. That’s it for now. Until next time 🙂

P.S How can I have not mentioned the weather? It’s getting really good.

Not just a small town.

It has only been a month of living in this quaint little town and it has removed all doubts about my choice of exchange destination. At first, I was worried about the notorious gloomy weather and how fun the city would be. But, despite it’s small size, Maastricht truly has so much to offer.

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Firstly, you get used to the weather. Really. Although coming from Sydney, where sandy beaches, blue skies and a beaming sun are well acquainted friends, Netherlands did come as a shock to me at first. I would look out my bedroom window at 10am, see absolutely no sun and wonder whether my jet-lag was so bad that I slept until the evening of the next day.Before I left for Europe I even stocked up on some vitamin D in fear of seasonal affective disorder. But like I said, you get use to it. You learn very quickly to invest in a handy pair of gloves, beanie and raincoat. Riding your bike around warms you up quite nicely too – speaking of bikes, it is mandatory that you buy one. You literally can’t get around this town easy enough without one. The roads are so bike friendly that you always, I think, get the right of way. I managed to get a great second hand bike for just 35 euros! Anyways – back to weather chat. Every now and then, even in winter, the weather deities will grant you with a sunny day and a mild temperature. This is when you must visit Sint Pietersberg – the only hill in the area of this pancake country – and watch the sunset overlooking the city with a liquor of your choice, some damn good cheese and new friends.

One thing that I’ve learnt in my first few weeks here is that it’s not about where you are, but who you’re with. You could be in the most amazing city in the world but it just might not be that great unless you’re surrounded by great people to share those experiences with. I’ve already met some incredibly open-minded and interesting people here. I’m lucky to live in the Guesthouse which is accomodation specifically catered for exchange/international students. I love the international atmosphere and learning so much from talking to people from all walks of life. You end up meeting so many people I don’t even get offended if they’ve forgotten my name because the chances are I’ve probably forgotten theirs too. Also, the university and societies make a huge effort in organising events for new students to settle in. Just don’t be too cool for school and skip out on all the events. In terms of the nightlife, there is pretty much only one club/bar you can go to after a certain morning hour for those non-sleepers and even though it is a questionable atmosphere, you’ll still have an awesome (maybe even a little weird) time with the crew.

 

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Another great thing about Maastricht is that the amount of cafes/bars offered are friggin amazing. There are so so many places to try, it will definitely not be financially viable for my student budget but hey – anything is possible when it comes to food. There is one cafe where my friends and I waited for TWO AND A HALF HOURS inside the restaurant to be seated and oh my lawd it is so good that thinking about it makes my mouth water right now. The place is called Cafe Sjiek and the leg-numbing-wine-consuming wait was completely worth it.

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(Another cafe recommendation is tea-zone, amazing coffee/tea/cakes and a dedicated study area for students)

Lastly, I’m really glad to have been placed at Maastricht University for exchange. It almost sounds like I’m sponsored to say that but I’m really not. The problem based learning style really forces you to interact with the content that you are learning. I genuinely wish it was introduced at my home university, especially for all the social science subjects! Instead of cramming a semesters worth of content in one week and then forgetting it all after the exam, the information is actually retaining in my brain which I guess is a much better use of time haha.

Maastricht is a tiny town with so much to offer. This will be a 5 month love affair with a destined heartbreak when it due time to leave.