20 Reasons to Travel in Your 20’s

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Original photo taken by Gabi Zerafa.

Your 20’s can be some of the best years of your life. You may be approaching your final year of college and you’re clueless with what you want to do for the rest of your life (hello!), or you could just be an adrenaline junkie looking for your next fix. Either way, traveling is a great way to meet new people, make new memories and open yourself up to new ideas and possibilities.

Here’s a list of reasons why I think you should book your next plane ticket now:

1. You gain practical experience that will always be beneficial.

I learned how to live with people from all over the world, share my space and ask for help when I really needed it. I can say I have shared a one bedroom apartment with three other girls and survived! I learned how to communicate my needs effectively and also compromise when I needed to. All of the experiences I had while traveling have taught me something that I can take back with me when I finally return to my “normal” life.

2. Traveling helps you remember the history lessons you forgot about during your freshman year of college.

Like the fact that England colonized the entire planet.

3. THE FOOD.

Oh man, don’t even get me started about the food. I strongly despised pizza in America but that’s because I was sheltered from the pure cheesy goodness that is an Italian pizza. The day an Italian man in Malta whipped me up a traditional pizza my life was forever changed. I feel bad for my old self.

I also fell in love with Dutch fries dipped in mayonnaise and peanut sauce and the unforgettable deep fried gravy known as bitterballen. Sounds weird but don’t hate!

4. You will meet new people that will impact your life forever.

Although you’ll probably run into the occasional a-hole, you’re also guaranteed to meet a ton of great people. Whether they’re locals or fellow travelers, these people will impact your life in ways you couldn’t imagine.

5. You will challenge yourself.

6. You will learn how to take care of yourself, mentally and physically.

I previously mentioned my episode of culture shock in this post, but I think it deserves to be brought up again. I was depressed, scared to be in unknown surroundings and I felt helpless. I wasn’t used to being so far away from home and I didn’t think I could manage the distance for such a long period of time (approximately 7 months). Luckily, with the help of my mom’s pep talk, I pulled through and learned how to enjoy myself. I learned how to handle the homesick feelings and I learned that it’s okay to not always feel okay.

7. You will gain confidence.

When my mom came to visit me in the Netherlands after I had been living there for three months I realized how much I knew about my new home, how well I could navigate the city, and all of the best places to see in Utrecht. It made me feel so great to be able to share all of that with her. I started to feel like a local and I gained so much confidence because of it.

8. You could learn a new hobby.

Okay, so I didn’t exactly learn a new hobby but I did learn that riding a bike wasn’t so bad. That still counts, right?

9. You’ll learn how to live out of a backpack/suitcase.

I was the idiot who arrived in the Netherlands with two suitcases, a backpack and a carry-on bag. Why? What could I possibly have brought with me that was so important? Nothing.

I left the Netherlands with one suitcase and my backpack but to be honest, I wish I could have left with less.

10. You’ll appreciate your hometown more.

Talking about Michigan and Detroit made me realize how great it truly is. I am fortunate enough to live in a state that is known for the Great Lakes, beautiful wildlife, the Motor City and Vernors.

Yeah, I had to mention Vernors because it’s the first thing I’m buying once I get home.

11. You’ll experience another culture.

Other cultures can look pretty weird from an outside perspective, but once you start living like a local you begin to understand the customs and traditions.

12. You might find out something about yourself that you didn’t know before. Bonus if it’s something really cool.

13. Traveling can open up new doors for you.

14. …it may also close a few.

Before leaving for the Netherlands, I never would have known that I was going to be spending my summer in Malta. Traveling sometimes does the unexpected and presents things in front of you that you would just be silly to not take advantage of.

Because I decided to spend six weeks in Malta, I had to cut back on my car budget for when I return back home. In the long run I’m pretty sure I’ll look back and know that I made the right decision.

15. You might learn a language.

I didn’t, but there’s no stopping you!

16. Cheap accommodation!

Hostels are a backpacker’s haven and really popular in Europe. Or if you’re really up for an adventure, there’s always CouchSurfing.

Okay, so this one isn’t just for people in their 20’s but both options are typically used by younger people.

17. Your Instagram will look ~fabulous.~

My iPhone currently houses over 2,000 pictures. That’s about 20 years worth of Instagram worthy footage.

18. You’ll feel freer than ever.

No bedtime, ice cream for dinner, no one to tell you what you should/shouldn’t be doing. What more can a 20 year old ask for?

19. There’s always a possibility for a new, exciting adventure that wouldn’t be available to you at home.

Buying my first plane ticket was one of the most terrifying, exciting things to happen in my life. It was the first time I was traveling on my own and I had no idea what to expect.

When I was in the Netherlands, I learned about a website called srprs.me. Although this website is only useful to people in the Netherlands, it sounds really freakin’ cool.

You basically decide on what your budget would be for a little vacation, decide if you want to take this little vacation with a friend or go solo, and choose your dates. Then, the website does the rest and they literally surprise you with a vacation. You have no idea where you’re going until you get to the airport. It has awesome reviews and I wish I would have done it.

There’s always next time.

20. Why not?

Why aren’t you traveling?

Are you waiting for the “perfect time?”

There will never be a “perfect time” because we always make excuses for ourselves. I mean, I did that for three years. Finally, I shut up and decided the time was now and it was.

Are you waiting to save up enough money?

Traveling on a budget has never been easier with all of the resources you have online. You can do a Workaway (like me!), CouchSurf, or even hitchhike. If you want it bad enough, $500 can be enough to get you somewhere.

Do you want to travel with another person but you kind of hate all of your friends?

Bad idea. Don’t rely on others because you’ll be waiting for years. Solo travel can be scary but hey, ya gotta do what ya gotta do.

Do yourself a favor by visiting Skyscanner, typing in your local airport as the starting point, and “everywhere” as the destination.

You might be traveling sooner than you think.

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21st Birthday Celebrations

I am so happy to say that my 21st birthday exceeded my expectations.

Although my birthday was last Friday, the celebrations began Tuesday evening when Gabi and I attended the Isle of MTV.

The Isle of MTV is a free concert held in Malta every year. There’s always a few big headliners and this year Jess Glynne, Wiz Khalifa and Steve Aoki were performing. I am familiar with most of their music, so I was pretty excited to go.

Tuesday morning Gabi received a text from her uncle, who works for the Malta Tourism Authority, and he offered us two VIP front stage passes.

We did a little happy dance around her kitchen before responding with YES PLEASE!!!

Not only were we going to attend such a huge concert for free, but we were also going to be front and center, provided with all of the beer we could handle.

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Gabi and I freaking out when we realized how close we were to the stage.

Gabi and I danced along to Jess Glynne’s “Hold My Hand,” sang along to Wiz Khalifa’s “Young, Wild & Free” and got a lot of cake all over myself during Steve Aoki’s “Cake Face.”

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It was the best Tuesday night of my life.

On Thursday we headed back to Gozo after picking up Ciara’s dad from the airport.

That night, we celebrated Ciara’s dad arriving to Malta and my 21st birthday at midnight.

We all went out for drinks and pizza at one of the seaside bars in Marsalforn. After being there for about 10 minutes everyone realized it was my 21st birthday. I had free shots coming at me from every direction, free slices of pizza, and more drinks on top of that.

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I couldn’t have asked for a better way to celebrate.

The days following my birthday included spending hours at the beach snorkeling, spending the evening watching sunsets, having barbecues on the beach, and watching the Euro Cup.

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Note to self: Don’t try balancing a bottle of wine, glass of wine and yourself on the steepest rock next to the sea.

 

 

My First Week in Malta

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I made it to Malta!

My first week in Malta has been equal parts relaxing and crazy – or “mental” as Gabi and Ciara would say.

When I arrived to Malta with Sion and Jimena, I was greeted by Gabi, Russel, Zee, Aled and a warm breeze. We discussed dropping our belongings off at Aled’s house and going for a late night swim in the Mediterranean Sea. So that’s exactly what we did!

I was a little hesitant jumping into the sea after dark because I am not accustomed to swimming in seas and oceans. I think my first thought was something like, “how many sharks could be swimming in this water? I’ve seen too many scary movies for this sh*t.” Which is an understandable first thought to have when you grew up in a state known for The Great Lakes…with no sharks.

Luckily, the water was clear enough for me to see the bottom and Gabi assured me that the water is too warm for sharks. So we all jumped in!

I think we took turns jumping in and swimming in this spot for about 30 minutes before we realized we were in jellyfish infested waters…and then we got the hell out.

The next day, we took a walk to the beach and I realized all of my surroundings looked vaguely familiar.

To me, Malta looks similar to what I imagined the Middle East to look like from what I’ve seen in movies. Then I realized, that’s because the movies that take place in the Middle East were filmed in Malta!

Walking through the streets of Gzira, I felt like I was an extra in the movie 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi – which is understandable since most of it was filmed here!

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Other movies/tv shows that were filmed in Malta include Captain Philips, World War Z, and Game of Thrones! I’m secretly hoping another Hollywood Blockbuster is filmed in Malta this summer so I can meet my future husband.

After spending two nights in Malta we headed for the ferry to take us to Gozo, where we would meet our second host, Ciara.

Ciara is Gabi’s best friend from Scotland, and she was generous enough to host six people in her apartment for over a week!

My days in Gozo have mostly been spent swimming in the sea, eating delicious pizza and seafood, drinking wine, visiting the Azure Window, shopping in Victoria and enjoying my summer.

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Most of my friends are leaving this week, so by next week Gabi and I are hoping to find our own apartment and get off Ciara’s couch. Although it is a pretty comfy couch. 😉

Stay tuned!

 

A Midnight Walk

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On a houseboat with Polina and Gabi.

I know I said that my previous blog post was my last post from the Netherlands, but I lied.

Something so amazing happened to me tonight and I had to share it with you all – even if that means writing this to you after a few glasses (or a bottle) of wine later, at 1 in the morning.

Let me set the scene.

My night started out at around 9 p.m. when my roommates and I decided to crack open a few beers and a bottle of wine to enjoy our last night together in Utrecht. Gabi, Zee, Polina and I sang a few songs in our garden (a tradition of ours) and decided to take one last walk along the canals together.

We packed a backpack with 6 beers and the rest of the bottle of Cabernet, and headed out for the closest canal to our apartment.

This canal happens to have a few bridges that are beautifully lit with Christmas lights and lined with houseboats.

In my previous blog post, A Tour of Utrecht, you may remember me mentioning Gabi’s plan to visit one of these spectacular houseboats.

Well folks, we finally did it!

As we were walking along this canal with the houseboats, we started hearing music in the distance. Since we just finished our karaoke session not too long ago, we figured we would follow the music. After all, we were still in a singing/dancing mood.

When we walked to the end of the canal, we pin-pointed the music to a houseboat and saw two people dancing in the living room.

We stood across the canal from this houseboat, dancing to the music and singing along with these strangers across from us. If you were around to witness this scene, you would have thought we looked crazy.

During a pause between songs, we shouted to the couple, “Hey! Do you mind if we join the party?” They invited us right in.

After running across the bridge and knocking on their door, we were greeted with open arms and loud music.

The two people who greeted us were a couple, Mieke and Herricke, in their late 40s. They reminded me of a young couple, carefree and in love.

We shared a dance, a few drinks, and Mieke shared some words of wisdom with all of us that I will never forget.

She said, “Go for [whatever you want out of life] totally. Don’t ever go for something half way.”

She also said a lot of other inspirational things, but my wine brain cannot remember them right now.

We shared an amazing 30 minutes together, sitting on their dock next to the lit up bridge, enjoying the beautiful view and each other’s company.

The four of us ended up leaving Mieke and Herricke’s houseboat after exchanging contact information and kind words. They were the sweetest Dutch people I have ever met and I will never forget this night.

A few months ago, when Gabi mentioned visiting a houseboat randomly with biscuits and tea, I kind of thought she was crazy. Yet here I was, with a six pack of beer and a bottle of wine, dancing on a houseboat with two strangers and my roommates, living life the way it was meant to be lived.

I love my crazy, beautiful life.

 

 

A Letter to Everyone I Love – Part 2

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Less than one week from now, I will be trading cobble stoned streets, canals and Dutch fries for sandy beaches, margaritas and the Maltese heat.

Although I cannot wait to arrive in Malta, I’m also feeling very bittersweet about my departure. I’ve fallen in love with Utrecht and can’t imagine leaving this beautiful city and all of the beautiful people I’ve met here.

Before leaving Michigan I wrote A Letter to Everyone I Love, and I figured I wouldn’t be able to leave the Netherlands without writing another.

The words from my first post, “I’m mostly afraid of how much I’ll want to return back to my second home. I haven’t even arrived, and yet I already don’t want to leave,” have never rang more true.

If I didn’t book a flight to Malta for Tuesday, I would be going home this Saturday. TWO DAYS AWAY! I just can’t comprehend that I almost threw away a European summer for a Michigan one – no offense to my fellow Michiganders! 😉

I may not want to leave Utrecht, but I am definitely ready to open new doors and see what waits for me behind them.

Although I am sad to leave behind all of the amazing people I have met here, I find comfort in knowing I will see these people again one day.

To Gabi, Zee, Polina, Andrew, Sion, Jimena, Jacob, Sharon, Joram, Wim, Lola, and the hundreds of guests I’ve met: I will remember all of you forever and cherish the countless memories we’ve made.

I believe these people were put into my life for a reason and have all taught me something very valuable. I have learned what it means to establish maintain a strong friendship with others, how to fully love myself, how to always search for the good in others, and how to live life to the fullest. After all, we only get one shot.

I am so thankful for my time in the Netherlands and I wouldn’t trade one second of it. This country hasn’t seen the last of me!

Until we meet again, Utrecht.

 

 

 

 

5 Ways to Cut Down on Money While Traveling

There are many ways you can travel or study abroad and not break the bank. By being in the Netherlands for 6 months, I am actually saving money.

I came here with a budget of $6,000 USD, or  ‎€5,300 after being converted from dollars to euros. Five months ago that didn’t seem like much and I was right. That budget would have left me with a little under a thousand per month to afford rent, food, travel and extra expenses for six months. Despite knowing this, I was determined to make it work.

Since arriving back in January, I have been able to afford traveling to England, Wales, Germany, Belgium, Ireland and soon to be added to the list: Malta.

I have also been able to treat myself to the occasional dinner out with friends, movie tickets, concerts and day trips around the Netherlands.

Even with all of these nice extras, I’m going home with money in my savings!

I couldn’t believe it either, and I wouldn’t have been able to if it wasn’t for these money saving tips and tricks:

1. Workaway.info

I will forever be grateful for stumbling across workaway.info. More information about this useful website can be found in my previous blog post here, but this website has been my key to saving thousands of dollars.

In short, you pay approximately $30 for a two year membership on workaway.info, and with that membership comes endless opportunities around the world.

Whether you’re traveling for two weeks, two months, or two years, there’s a workaway position that’s perfect for you. Most of the volunteer options listed on the website are working in hostels (what I’m doing), working on a farm, or teaching English to a family and living in their home. While all of the positions vary slightly, they all promise free accommodation and food in exchange for your volunteer work!

Since room and board is the biggest expense in any trip, this website was a huge help and probably the only reason I was actually able to study abroad. Living in the Netherlands can be expensive!

2. Cheap airfare

Flying from the United States to anywhere in Europe is way overpriced.

Luckily for myself, being from Detroit means I’m really close to Canada, and flying from Canada to Europe means saving $500 on airfare. I wish I was kidding!

For a round trip ticket from Detroit to Amsterdam, I was looking at spending $1300 or more for the dates I was searching. When I purchased my ticket from Windsor to Amsterdam, I only paid $850. It’s still disgustingly expensive, but I’ve seen worse.

If you’re able to fly from Canada, seriously consider it.

If you’re flying from Europe to the U.S., consider flying into Boston and then to your final destination. For some reason Boston is really cheap and I’ve found tickets from Amsterdam to Boston for $250, depending on the dates. Although this means you won’t be flying direct, it can save you so much money in the long run.

One tip I wish I knew before arriving: do not book a return flight for such a long trip.

Plans change and I’m a walking example of that.

Instead of getting on my return flight June 11th, I am now getting on a flight to Malta instead!

Obviously when I booked my flights back in December, I had no idea I’d end up living in Malta. I would have saved myself some money by booking a one-way flight, but those things can’t be predicted and I was better safe than sorry.

I’ve learned my lesson, and I won’t be booking my flight back to the U.S. until I’ve arrived in Malta. Who knows what I’ll want to do once I’m there?

Also, when you’re flying from country to country across Europe, your best bet for cheap airfare is Ryanair or Aerlingus, depending on your destination.

3. Pack basic clothes and don’t bring accessories!

Clothes in Europe can be expensive – so expensive it hurts not only my wallet, but my heart as well.

My first month here I made the mistake of buying all of these fancy European clothes because I wanted to “fit into” this new European culture I was exposed to.

Except here’s the thing: most of these people wear basic colors (black, white, brown) and make their outfits unique through accessories. And the accessories can be cheap!

The H&M accessory section has become my new best friend. Whether I’m looking for jewelry, a scarf, or some shoes, I know I can go to H&M and find something that will be in my budget. This has proved to be helpful on more than one occasion, but specifically when I wear the same black shirt five days in a row and try to make it look like a new outfit every time. Not kidding, wish I was!

4. Cook your own food

As a part of my workaway agreement, I am able to order practically everything from the supermarket, apart from meat, and it’s all covered by my employers. Even wine!

Because of this, there is almost no reason for me to eat at restaurants or order take-out (although sometimes I have to splurge).

Food at the restaurants in the Netherlands can get really expensive, really fast. A simple burger and fries for €16 can turn into a $20 meal after the exchange rate and fees. No thanks!

5. Do as many free or discounted activities as possible

 

If the local bar offers drink specials on a Tuesday, don’t go there on a Thursday and pay double the price. That’s just silly.

If it’s a nice sunny day, go for a walk, ride a bike, or have a picnic in the park. Some of my best memories in the Netherlands have been on days where I didn’t spend more than €5, and that money went toward having beers on the canal.

When you’re surrounded by good company, you don’t need to spend a lot of money to have a great time. Sometimes all you need is each other.

Too cheesy? I think so.

 

 

 

On an Island in the Sun

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Original photo of Malta found here.

This has been a very exciting week for me!

Last Monday my mom and her friend Catherine arrived in the Netherlands to visit me for a week. We managed to get a lot in during the week, such as two canal boat rides, a day trip to Amsterdam, a weekend trip to Ireland, and more!

It was the best feeling ever to have some visitors from home with me. Especially my mom for mother’s day.

On the plane ride back from Dublin to Amsterdam, my mom asked me “do you think you’re ready to come home in a month?”

A month? 

Not a chance.

The question made me realize how in love I am with Utrecht and Europe in its entirety, and I realized there was no way I could go home in June.

But if I’ve learned one thing since I’ve been here, it’s that the universe always works the way it should –  usually in your favor.

After returning home from dropping my mom off at the airport, I discussed my disappointment returning home to Michigan with my roommate Gabi and a few of our friends. I said there must be a way I could stay in Europe, I just didn’t know how.

And then Gabi did what she always does best – she came up with a great solution.

She invited me to live in Malta with her for two months, and I’m going to!

Now you might be thinking to yourself, what? How is she going to afford that? What about her return flight home?

Well ladies and gentlemen, the beauty of being in Europe is that I can travel almost anywhere in Europe for under $100. My ticket to Malta just happened to be $25.

Yes, you read that right. I was just as shocked as you are.

I also found a return flight to Detroit in August for $350, so this trip is definitely going to be manageable.

And my return flight home in June? Losing out on that doesn’t even matter to me.

What matters to me is the fact that I get an extra 60 days to make more memories, try new things, live in a new country, and surround myself with the best people I’ve ever met in my life.

In 35 days, I’ll be drinking tequila on a secluded beach in Malta, soaking up the sun and living life the way it should be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Reasons Everyone Should Work at a Hostel

I can now officially add “working at a hostel” to my resumé!

As mentioned in my previous post here, I managed to land a reception job at a hostel through a nice little website called workaway.info.

I had no idea what to expect when my boss, Joram, picked me up from the train station on my first day back in January. Three months later, I can tell you this is one of the best experiences of my life.

Although I’m sure other hostel workers aren’t as fortunate as I am with my Stone family, there’s still plenty of reasons why everyone should work at a hostel at least once.

1. You meet the most interesting people while you’re at work.

Every hostel comes with a substantial amount of fascinating people. Whether these characters are my fellow co-workers, guests who stay for a night, guests who stay for a few weeks, or Andrew (who sort of lives there), the memories I have with these people are memories I’ll cherish forever.

When I first arrived in January, there was a man named Peter staying at the hostel. Every single day you could find Peter sitting in the common room, rolling cigarettes and playing a game on his iPad. Peter always had the best stories to share, and I often found myself slacking on the job from talking with him for 30 minutes about his time spent in the Arizona dessert.

Peter left the hostel suddenly, without much of a reason, but I hope I run into him again soon.

Andrew is another one of my favorite guests. Actually, he is my favorite guest.

Andrew is from Long Island, NY, but often prides himself on not having a New York accent. He can talk to you for hours about anything from spirituality to food, but you can’t be surprised if he realizes he has to be somewhere in the middle of your conversation and leaves without explanation.

I have so many great memories with Andrew it’s actually hard to pick just one, so I won’t even try.

He’s quirky, hilarious, smart and unpredictable most days, but that’s what makes him Andrew.

2. The hours are pretty flexible, giving you an ample amount of time to travel.

Each week I’m only required to work approximately 20 hours. Those 20 hours include two reception shifts and one cleaning shift.

That gives you four full days a week to travel!

Although I am also going to school part-time, it usually works out for me to have a few days off in a row. Because of this, I’ve been able to go on trips to Wales, England, Germany and Belgium. Plus I still have trips planned to Ireland and Croatia!

3. It’s the easiest job you could ever have.

I don’t think I’ll ever have another job that requires me to hangout with guests on the job, take them to the best places around town, or just always make sure I’m having a good time.

Of course there’s the real work, such as checking guests into their rooms, answering e-mails, and making sure the place is always tidy, but the fun times make up for all of that.

Most of my coworkers and I actually choose to hangout at the hostel while we’re not working, because you always have someone to talk to or hangout with.

4. The bosses are some of the best in the world.

Okay, so while I can’t guarantee that every hostel will have exceptional bosses, I have to brag about mine for a minute.

I know I’m speaking for all of my coworkers when I say this, but we truly do have some of the best bosses in the world.

Joram, Sharon and Wim are all great in their own way. They all care about the hostel and the business so much, which you can easily tell by all of the time and effort that has been put into making Stone the great hostel it is today.

Plus, they give all of us workers free food and rent in exchange for showing up three days a week! Who could hate that?

5. You never know what to expect, which always keeps things interesting.

There have been days that I showed up, did my job, and left without anything too exciting happening. Those days are rare.

Most of my shifts are so different, my weeks go by faster than I thought possible.

One shift, I could be singing along to the Spice Girls with my coworkers and guests while cooking a huge dinner, and on another shift I could end the night by taking a few Irish guests to all of my favorite spots in Utrecht!

You never know what kind of day you’ll have when you show up to work, but I can guarantee you that 99% of the time, it will be a day you won’t forget.

I’m so happy I took the chance on working in a business I had never even considered before. My entire experience at Stone has inspired me to never stop traveling, always stay in hostels, and take chances (even when they’re kind of scary).

Have you ever worked in a hostel? Or considered it? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

 

 

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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