A Tour of Utrecht

 

As a way to mark this significant milestone of my trip (the halfway point!), I figured I would share my favorite spots around Utrecht and maybe a memory or two from each of the places.

  • Utrecht has a lot of hidden gems, but I’ll start off with what Utrecht is most well known for: The Dom Tower.

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As the largest church tower in the Netherlands, you can see the Dom Tower from almost anywhere in the city center.

The Dom holds a special place in my heart because it helped me navigate around during my first few weeks in Utrecht. Whenever I was lost, I would come to the exact spot where I took this picture, and I instantly knew how to find my way home.

You can also take the opportunity to climb the Dom Tower for € 9 and the views will be breathtaking. Literally. You climb 465 steps and you’re so exhausted from the hike up there, you are actually out of breath. Unless if you’re in better shape than I am, which the chances of that are pretty likely.

Throughout the tour there are stops in the different levels, where a tour guide will provide you with some history on the church (or what remains of it). Once you reach the top, you can enjoy the views and admire the entire city of Utrecht.

  • Another one of my favorites: The Disco Tunnel.

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I have no idea if this tunnel is actually called the Disco Tunnel, but my roommate Gabi referred to it as that once and the name just kind of stuck.

This tunnel leads to absolutely no where but just connects one of the streets to a canal, but how cool does this place look?!

The colors in the tunnel change constantly (the green and yellow are my favorite) so it always looks like a rave is happening from the street. Sadly, every time I venture down here a rave is not taking place. Better luck next time.

  • Something you’ll find all over the Netherlands: The Canals.

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I am fortunate enough to live in a place that is surrounded by beautiful canals.

Every time I walk to work, I pass at least five canals. If I take “the pretty way home,” I walk along a canal that practically leads to my front door.

Right now it’s too cold to rent a boat, but on the first warm, sunny day I have off, I plan to grab a 6-pack and see where the canals take me.

As you can see in the picture above, there are also canals with houseboats. Whenever I walk past houseboats with Gabi, she tells me about her plans to buy some biscuits and knock on a few of the doors to ask for a cup of tea. Gabi is a very curious person. She has no idea how it will go, or if anyone will let her in, but I think I want to join her on that little adventure. The least it could do is give me something to write about, eh?

  • One of the coolest bars in Utrecht: ‘t Oude Pothuys.

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‘t Oude Pothyus is unique because it is situated in a cellar off of a canal. It’s the definition of a hidden gem.

Every night starting at 10 p.m. you can come here to listen to live music and have a drink. Before that, you can come here to enjoy great food at a decent price. I’ve only been here for the music, but from the little Dutch I know, that’s what I gathered from the menu.

Some nights the music is really intimate, so you can just sit at a table and play cards; other nights are more upbeat and draw in a large crowd.

  • The best bitterballen in town: Mick O’Connells Irish Pub.

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First off, excuse me for this unflattering picture. It was the only one I had that truly captured my favorite night at Mick O’Connells.

Let me set the scene for you:

I had just arrived back at the apartment from working a morning shift, and I was informed by my roommates that we would be going to Mick O’Connells to watch the Wales vs. Scotland rugby game. I was told to put on something red, because I’d be cheering on Wales, and that they had good beer and bitterballen. I was sold.

Once we arrived at Mick O’Connells, we soon realized we were the only people cheering for Wales. Everyone else was in blue and stared at us the second we walked in. We ordered beers, burgers and 16 pieces of bitterballen. We had a feast.

Wales ended up winning and we celebrated by having more beers and laughing with all of the Scotland fans. It was the first time I ever really paid attention to rugby, and I now have a new appreciation for it.

I was also surprised to realize the only Irish Pub in town served the best bitterballen (a Dutch specialty), but I was thankful that we ordered 16 pieces because I could not stop eating them.

Forget about stroopwaffel, raw herring, Dutch fries with mayonnaise, etc. If you come all the way to the Netherlands and don’t try savory bitterballen, something is seriously wrong with you.

Other places that deserve a mention:

  1. Stone Hostel & Hotel – my home away from home and also where I’m doing my workaway.
  2. Belgisch Bier Café Olivier – another great bar in town. It used to be an old church!
  3. The petting zoo – an angry peacock guards the animals, but if you can get past him there’s so many cute sheep to see! Plus it’s free.
  4. The Culture Boat – when I first heard that there was a coffeeshop on a boat, I was a little skeptical, but the decor and atmosphere really make this place great. It’s a little more touristy because of how cool it is, but for good reason.
  5. The Kebab Factory – The Kebab Factory has bailed me out on numerous occasions. From curing a hangover to an easy dinner when I’m feeling lazy, the doner box (fries, garlic sauce and sliced beef) will always be there to save the day, for only €3.90!
  6. The infamous teapot – keep a lookout for my next blog post about a recent night at the teapot! Preview: my night ended at the hospital.

Disclaimer: This is not intended to be an advertisement or promotion for any of the businesses mentioned above. 

 

 

 

Culture Shock: The Ugly Truth

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Photo was taken during my most recent weekend excursion at Castell Coch in Cardiff, Wales.

 

If you haven’t noticed by now, I’m kind of bad at blogging. I forget to check my e-mail daily, so I’m having a hard time keeping up with this thing. Apologies.

Since my last post about Belgium I have traveled to The Hague, Germany, England, and Wales. I had so much fun in all of these cities/countries, and they each deserve their own blog post, but I have more important things to talk about.

I’ve started this post a handful of times, trying to figure out the best way to put my thoughts into words. I’m finding it hard to be honest with you all, but I started this blog to document my journey and it would be unfair if I didn’t paint the correct picture for you.

I’m dealing with serious culture shock.

While I briefly mentioned the culture shock I was feeling during my first few weeks in Utrecht in this post, the full effects didn’t sink in until two weeks ago.

If you have me on Facebook, you might have gotten the idea that I’m having the time of my life. And while that’s mostly true, I’ve also been dealing with the not so picturesque side of study abroad.

I was having a very hard time settling into my new home. I cannot read or speak in Dutch, most of the time I have no idea where I’m going, and people in the city can be less than pleasant on an average day (but that’s anywhere).

I also felt very trapped. Since I’m from America, the average one way ticket to go home would cost me approximately $700. It would also take a full day of traveling and a new time zone to get used to, so I wouldn’t be able to swing a weekend trip like most of my fellow European study-abroaders (new word, Webster?).

Two weeks ago, I was crying to my mom over the phone about how much I missed home. I didn’t think I could make until July in the Netherlands. I was googling cheap tickets home and panicking when I saw the prices. Thankfully, she convinced me to not be impulsive and to sleep on it before making any rash decisions. And I’m so happy she did, because staying is what’s best for me.

Throughout the past two months of this experience I have learned so much about myself:

I learned that it’s okay to be really uncomfortable in a new place. 

I went through a lot of changes by coming here and they all happened to me at once. From starting my job at the hostel to starting classes at Hogeschool, I was bound to feel extreme emotions of excitement, shock and anxiety. It’s okay to not always feel okay.

I learned that home is not necessarily a place, but a feeling.

I feel at home every time I talk to my mom on the phone. She tells me stories about her coworkers, my family members, and even the crazy Michigan weather. Talking to her reminds me that living in the Netherlands is only temporary and I cannot take this experience for granted.

I felt at home when I visited my friends Taylor and Jens in Kleve, Germany. Taylor was my roommate for six months when I was at Ferris last semester, so being around her always feels normal. It also helped that Jens’ mom made us dinner one night, because obviously a home cooked meal is comforting.

But I’m also learning to accept Utrecht as my home. I have three amazing roommates and a handful of coworkers that always bring a smile to my face. We often have karaoke and jam sessions in the living room, and they always make me the happiest. My apartment is surrounded by green grass, canals, tulips, and millions of Dutchies riding endless amounts of bikes – which is so great I almost take it for granted.

And lastly, I’m learning to try new things.

In the middle of writing this sentence, my roommate offered me to try Turkish pita bread topped with a “liver spread” and a funky smelling cheese. I loved it so much I am now eating it for dinner.

But on a more serious note, I work, live and interact with people from different cultures on a daily basis. When someone asks me to go somewhere with them, or even try a new food that’s unusual for me (raw herring thanks to Andrew), I have learned to always say yes. It could be the best raw herring in the world (it was), or it could have been the worst. But I never would have known if I didn’t try.

It has taken me so long to write this (much needed) blog post because I feared my readers would think I was crazy for not always enjoying myself during my study abroad. I don’t want you all to think I’m ungrateful for this experience, because I most certainly am not. I worked very hard to get to where I am, and I wouldn’t change a thing. But I want you to all understand that there can be other sides to studying abroad that aren’t always noticeable through smiling photos on Facebook.

Below you can see a few pictures from the trips I’ve taken since Belgium!

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