By Valtteri Manninen | Feb 24, 2019
It has been exactly one month since I first arrived in Maastricht. I have been putting off writing this first entry so that I would have more to talk about—but now I find that so much has happened in this first month that I don’t quite know where to begin.
To give you a little bit of background, I am a 23-year-old Business and Management student, born and raised in Finland but doing my undergraduate degree at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. I had never been to the Netherlands before moving to Maastricht for my exchange semester. (Exciting!) In these blog posts I will be writing about what it is like living in the Netherlands and studying at SBE in Maastricht, looking at life here through both a Nordic and a UK lens.
I am looking forward to exploring new places in Europe and will try to carry my camera around as much as possible—since arriving here I have already taken too many travel pics that I now need to go through—so travel stories and tips are likely to ensue. I will make a separate post about my travels so far; for now, I hope you enjoy these pictures of beautiful Maastricht taken on a cloudy February afternoon. (Side note: it’s been crazy sunny here since I took these photos. My weather app tells me it will be 18 degrees tomorrow. And it’s February.)
I have been making a list of interesting, funny, and awesome things that I have noticed about Maastricht and the Netherlands during my first month of living here. Some of these are more profound and others absolutely trivial. Here are some of the things I have learned, in no particular order:
The bicycle is the undisputed king of the traffic jungle in Maastricht. Coming from Finland, I thought we had good infrastructure for biking, but the Netherlands takes it to another level—virtually everything is accessible by bike, and biking is often the quickest and easiest means of transport given Maastricht’s short distances.
Traffic here seems to flow very nicely. There are roundabouts everywhere, and if you’re biking, you rarely have to stop: cars usually need to watch out for cyclists, rather than the other way around.
Many exchange students here opt for a Swapfiets rental bike. I personally bought my bicycle off one of my flatmates as he cut me a good deal, but renting is certainly a very easy and care-free option.
I use my bike to go everywhere, and it takes seven-ish minutes to get to school in the morning. The only downside of the ease of biking here is that you become complacent, and when you do need to walk somewhere when, for example, you have left your bike in the city centre after a night out, the journey feels endless on foot.
Paying for stuff
I knew taxis in the Netherlands would be more expensive than in Scotland, so when I first came to Maastricht I had decided to take the bus from the railway station to the UM Guesthouse where I am staying. I made sure that I had all kinds of change in my wallet, just in case (What if they don’t accept banknotes? What if the driver doesn’t give change?) but this turned out to be an unnecessary precaution. The driver informed me that they don’t accept cash on buses at all. I was thrilled by how modern this all seemed and paid for my ride with one tap of my contactless Visa.
Later I discovered said Visa was useless in many shops and restaurants. The Dutch, I found out, do not use credit cards very much, opting for the Maestro and V Pay debit card systems instead. Many of my friends have opened a Dutch bank account in order to get a Dutch debit card; I am still undecided as my nearby supermarket does accept my card and I can withdraw cash at ATMs without any fees, so paying for stuff has overall been easy and straightforward. However, bus travel aside, carrying cash is still a good idea if you come to the Netherlands from abroad.
Stuffing your face
I think I am becoming a convert to sweet foods. The Dutch are known for hagelslag, chocolate sprinkles which are often eaten on toast. Other national treasures include pancakes and different kinds of waffles, which are ubiquitous, as my waistline will tell you by the end of my exchange.
Also: sandwich bread is sold in half-loafs in addition to whole ones. This means that, if you’re just one person, like me, you won’t have to worry about your bread going off. And for each bag you only get one of those end bits that nobody ever eats anyway. Brilliant!
A waffle I ate in Volendam. Look at it.
This is all from me now—please check back later for new posts! I intend to write about the differences between the student experience within the UK and the Dutch system as well as share stories and pictures of my travels both in and outside the Netherlands. Stay tuned!
Over and out,