How To Have A Cheap And Amazing Holiday

After nine months of being in the Netherlands, it was now time to explore the country with my friends. In the cheapest way possible, of course.

The plan:

  • A – Tuesday 22nd May – The end of finals week and hence the final party at UCU (The Beach Party)
  • B – Wednesday – A night camping on Texel (one of the Dutch islands)
  • C – Thursday – A night at Myrte’s house in Alphen aan den Rijn
  • D – Friday – A night at Anton’s in Wezep
  • E – Saturday – A night at Gerrianne’s in Aalten so we could join her for her confirmation
  • F – Sunday – A night at Sofie’s in Apledoorn
  • G – The day in Apeldoorn and back to Utrecht
The route

The Route

This was a great plan as we would get to visit lots of people and get to camp on the islands, which we had wanted to do for a long time. Plus staying at people’s houses means free accommodation and potentially free food. As ever it is great to know locals.

Tuesday

I had finished my last exam the day before but everyone (except Gerrianne) still had deadlines and other exams to do. I thought they would have been done by lunch time but they actually continued long into the day. Whilst they were working hard I laid on the Quad and read Dave Gorman’s Unchained America.

The beach party in the evening was a big deal and something that is looked forwarded to all year. However, the name threw me a little bit as I assumed it would be in the beach party area (a room in dining hall), but my logic was apparently wrong and it is held in a different location every year. Last year it was in a swimming pool and this year it would be in the football stadium near our campus. I was already unexcited by this as I guessed that once you were in the stadium it would be the same as just being in the bar. I was to be correct in my assumptions.

First, however, there is the pre-beach party hosted by one of the fraternities – Primus. It started at 5pm and ran to 11pm when the beach party started, and after this was the after party starting at 3am in the bar. I was pretty sure there was no way I would make the whole thing. I loved the pre-party – it was for charity, the sun was shining and we were listening to students singing and playing music whilst we had a few (drink as much as you want) beers. It’s pretty much my favourite thing to do. We had a great time even though the pump for the beer was broken meaning the beer had even more foam than usual (about half and half). It started off with only Sofie, Myrte and I, as Myrte was to be playing at 7.30pm with her band. But as the night continued more people joined us and we celebrated our new-found freedom.

However, when the switch to the actual beach party came around, things didn’t go so smoothly, with difficulties getting the group  ready to leave at the same time. Eventually we gathered everyone and walked the short distance to the stadium. When we were in it was just a room with the bad “boom boom” bar music that we don’t enjoy. We sat down in another room. My feet hurt so everyone went to dance while I stayed sitting. Long story short, I laid around on a bean bag and people didn’t come back for a long time so I ended up talking to Life. He is one of our unit mates and this was really nice as he is part of the unit we don’t talk to at all. The other guys came back and we ate some snacks. Everyone then went back to try the dance floor again, but after the stories of what it was like I wasn’t keen on that, and instead had a little nap.

We then left having a little sit in the middle of the road on the way back. When we reached the after-party people were too tired to even go up the stairs to check it out, so we all went to bed. Such party animals!

Wednesday

We woke up early for the last brunch and hence last meal ever in dining hall, as in the summer term it would be closed. We called all the stragglers who were not there on time and discussed our excitement for the plans ahead. The aim was to get to the campsite in Texel before five, and so after brunch we packed the car. The task looked impossible but in the end we could fit everyone’s luggage in, plus three people. As Dutch students get free public transport they were going to go by train to Texel and the rest would go in the car with Myrte. At the end of the week we would split all petrol and any extra train ticket costs. Simple.

We nearly killed Klementina on the way as she became very travel sick, but we made it. We waited for Veerle, Anton and Gerrianne to arrive and then we boarded the ferry. It was the calmest piece of sea I had ever been on. It hardly even felt like we were moving. At the other side the car continued to the campsite while the public transport people took a route via the shops to get some snacks for the evening.

An Anton imposter

The campsite was not what I was expecting. It was actually on the sand dunes and you got to camp amongst them!  This was a little weird as other times I had been to some Dutch dunes they had been protected – meaning that you couldn’t even walk on the them, let alone camp. But I wasn’t complaining. We found a nice pitch and had just started setting up when the others arrived. We made camp and then walked back to the entrance to get some pizza.

We grabbed the bag of drink and snacks on the way back and walked the two minutes from our campsite to the beach. The weather was glorious and we enjoyed the late sun and ate. We played a bit of ultimate frisbee, flew a kite and some even had a swim in the sea. Our night was cut short though as there was a huge lightning storm on the horizon so being in the sea and on the beach was very dangerous. Unfortunately a very sad thing had also happened and my camera had broken so I am not able to provide you with footage of this storm, but it was incredible. It never rained on us and we couldn’t hear any loud cracks of thunder, but the lightning was beautiful with lots of fork lightning lighting up the dark sky. We watched, chatted and went to bed.

Thursday

We had to wake up early again as had to be off the pitch by 11am, but this wasn’t so bad as we could still park the car on the site until 4pm. This meant we had a whole day to spend on the beach. It was another day of blue skies and heat. We played more frisbee, sang, sun-bathed and went paddling in the sea. It was very relaxing and crazy that two days ago we were all stressing over exams and deadlines. The sun turned out to be a bit too hot for some and as it approached 4pm Veerle and I were under our towels with Myrte sitting in the shadow of the chair. The aftermath of this day would last the whole week – Tina’s feet are still burnt now. Myrte also had problems as she burnt the back of her legs. So, a lot more red than before, we departed for Myrte’s house.

Here everyone met Myrte’s dog James and Myrte’s parents who kindly bought us Chinese for dinner which we really enjoyed. Sofie joined us afterwards. We all put our bedding down and got attacked by James who thought it was all a very fun game.

Friday

Klementina and Gerrianne had another early morning as they had to return to Utrecht for a SIFE competition. Veerle was to join them and Myrte needed to drive them to the station. So sadly Anton, Sofie and I had to sleep-in longer!  We awoke at 11 and had a late breakfast. We then played Jack Straws (Mikado) and Cluedo. I chanced it and decided to guess – even though I wasn’t sure of the item – as Anton was very confident. It back fired, though I had the other two correct, and many turns went by where I could’ve discovered the item easily. The game ended with Anton winning. Sad times.

Anton and Sofie then left to get the train to Anton’s where Gerrianne would join them. Myrte and I were first going to go to town to try to rescue my camera, and if not to get a replacement. The shop said it would be €65  just to look at the camera, and then more on top to get a new lens if that was causing the ‘zoom error’. So, with that being a ridiculous amount, and with the fact I would be missing a lot if I didn’t have one, I got a shiny new one!  Expect many pictures from now on…

Today was the weekend before Pentecost, which is a holiday in the Netherlands so people have the Monday off work. Hence this is a time for everyone to go on holiday and thus we sat in a massive traffic jam for three hours on what was supposed to be an hour’s journey, plus we had to make a detour to campus to collect Klementina and Linda who had decided to join us for this part of the trip.

Anton’s house was beautiful and the garden vast. We were treated to a BBQ even though we had missed eating with the family, like we were supposed to. We spent the evening in the garden, swinging in the hammocks and sitting by the candlelight.  We said “hi” to the miniature ponies next door and, when we went inside, played with Anton’s very cute bunny. Sofie, Myrte, Anton and Klementina played a game about trading animals that was very long and got very serious, which was quite dull in the end for Gerrianne and I. We then retired to our respective sleeping places.

Saturday

When I arrived downstairs Linda and Klementina were doing work and I was offered a nice breakfast. We then got into a game of DVD Cluedo which was interesting. In this version, you also had to work out what time of day it was and you could do things like ask the butler for a clue and look up a secret message in the rule book. In the end I thought it ran too long and preferred the original.

After the game Linda headed home and we continued onto Gerrianne’s. Here we met her dog Jackie, her chickens and her many cows as she lives on a farm. It reminded me a lot of my Grandma’s house with the sounds and the atmosphere, though she doesn’t have a herd of cows to milk every day. We were introduced to the family and had some drinks whilst we waited for the public transport people to arrive as they had missed their train.

We stopped on the way for ice-cream and I introduced people to the amazing Wich

We made pancakes for dinner and set up the tent as this is where we would be sleeping tonight.

Jackie Gerriane’s dog


The professional pancake makers


I then sat in the living room as Eurovision was to be starting soon.

I like Eurovision and was looking forward to it coming along all year as I thought it would be fun to watch with other nationalities. However, I have gathered that the Netherlands are into it even less than people in Britain are. I also learned they have boring, optimistic, serious commentators and not funny ones like us. As a nation they also do not take the competition seriously, and have not made the final in the eight years that there has been a semi-final.

Klementina was also not that interested which left me being the only one who thought that it was fun. Myrte and Sofie watched a lot with me, but it was not the same atmosphere as normal, even though I appreciate their effort. I was in fact a little torn as those who weren’t watching Eurovision were doing my other favourite thing sitting around a fire.

For those who are interested the UK entry was as terrible as to be expected (but we didn’t lose, coming second to last to Norway!). My favourites were Sweden, Germany, Iceland and Denmark. Sweden was obviously going to do very well and indeed did win, thankfully beating the grannies of Russia, and Serbia – who I do not remember at all. My lasting favourite, though, is Denmark as I still have their song in my head now – even though they did badly, for some unknown reason, in the results. Politics!

Germany

Iceland

Sweden

Denmark

Sunday

Breakfast was freshly baked rolls with strawberries and spread. After this we then left for church where Gerrianne was to have her confirmation. Attending church – which is something I don’t do – and in another language, is a very interesting experience. Even with some translations from Sofie I didn’t entirely follow what was happening, but Gerrianne enjoyed it which was the main thing. We returned to the house where we were joined by some of Gerrianne’s friends and family. We ate some very nice home-made soup and salad.

We were also in for a treat. One of the cows was giving birth! It was her first calf, and after a few hours she needed to be assisted. This involved quite a scary device that cranked the calf out of the mother. Thankfully it was attached to the calf’s hooves and wasn’t used to crank something else, as others first thought. It looked scary at first, but soon the calf was breathing. It was a boy and so was named after Anton, which we all found amusing.

After this we left Anton and Gerrianne behind, whilst the rest continued to Sofie’s where we would be joined by Christina and Linda. Here we felt very relaxed as we didn’t have to feel so awkward about not speaking Dutch as Sofie’s mum is an English translator, so it was easy. We were treated to Maltesers and ice cream and watched Calendar Girls and Alice, now that the boy of the group was no longer with us. The Alice series was on too late for me (hence I fell asleep) but everyone else enjoyed it and talked about it over breakfast in the morning.

Monday

After breakfast we had a tour by car of Sofie’s beautiful town Apeldoorn where we dropped Linda at the station. We then continued to Paleis Het Loo where William III, who was one of the few to conquer England (so people like to tell me a lot) had his summer house, but now the Dutch royal family only occasionally has parties there.

It was very beautiful, though to my eyes was just like another big stately home, or similar building, like at home. The gardens were very impressive and as the sun was shinning all day like it had been for the whole of the week, we happily dipped our feet in the fountain – something that Sofie said she had never seen any of the times she had been there before. We were true trend setters! After this we laid around on the grass admiring the trees around us.

The Paleis closed at 5pm so we headed to the outer grounds to try to find the maze. It was a terrible maze, as you enter there are 4 paths, one leads to a dead-end, two lead in 30 seconds to the centre and the last actually gets you to do the maze. Tina took the last and as a consequence took some short cuts through the hedges to reach the centre. A big disappointment.

Back at Sofie’s house we had the first proper meal of our week (as in the meat potatoes and vegetables kind) and a huge slice of Vienetta.   We were then to take a detour on the way back to campus to the Veluwe. Driving through it was very pretty with lots of thick forest on each side and small roads. We eventually got to the place Sofie wanted, even with a turn into a dead-end in a field. It was 7.5km of sand to the coast with heather growing amongst it. We are told to return there in August where everything will be transformed to purple thanks to the heather. It was truly gorgeous and definitely a secret place to visit that I’m sure many foreigners don’t know about.

This was the end for us as we arrived back at UCU to close with a trip after-party, where we chatted and looked at photos of the trip. It was a great week.

Now to some conclusions I have drawn from this. It might be the houses that I visited here, or it might be the houses that I have visited at home, but Dutch houses are much more modern and families keep them much more organised. Lots of things match, Ikea is a favourite, and open plan is preferred. People are very proud of their homes. Of course they are all of a different style to our own, with big sloping roofs making them look like toy houses. A sentiment that is mutual as Sofie says the same about the houses in England.

A typical Dutch House

And if you are wondering how cheap this cheap holiday is, €40! All-inclusive. Definitely worth it!!

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“Glowing Embers Lie Across The Sky”

With all my classes now over and only two exams left, I thought I would write a post about this last term and my year abroad so far.

Everyone around me is currently studying very hard, which makes it even more odd that this is my most freest time of the semester. I’m glad to say that this semester has been easier – but not by much as there was still reading and other work to do every day so I again haven’t done that much. I have no idea how other exchanges manage to go on trips all the time – for instance, Tina’s roommate Amy is often away at the weekend doing some awesome trip, as well as all the people in my Dutch class (which is only for exchange people). In this respect I feel that my time here has not been used to the fullest as when I look back I will probably not remember the huge work load I had and just think “why didn’t I ever go anywhere?”

However, I do think Tina and I have made up for this during the breaks, and my (non-existent) “places visited in Europe map” has come on leaps and bounds. Before I had only visited Western Europe and now I have far out-reached that, going to Central and also Eastern Europe – even making it as far as GMT+2! I’m sure this isn’t as exciting compared to some globetrotters, but I think it’s quite reasonable when your family has only been outside the UK to visit the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Plus visiting 13 countries (Belgium, France, Spain, Germany, Austria, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Sweden) isn’t bad!

Saying this I also haven’t visited that much of the Netherlands, which I hope to change soon. I did the most travelling to Gronigen, Leeuwarden and the Keukenhof while my dad was visiting. You see, the Dutch may be hospitable and invite you to your house but they then don’t get round to actually taking you – unless you invite yourself over (minus Gerrianne!).

My list of Dutch places I have been to includes Amsterdam (not the first time, but the first Queens Day), Rotterdam, Breda and Alphen an der Rijn. However, in the academic void (or the break between spring and summer term), I have managed to organise a trip round the Netherlands which includes staying at people’s houses along the way. The advantage of knowing locals! So after that I can add Texal, Apledoorn and Aalten to the list. In other words, as I have mentioned before, if you plan to go travelling on your year abroad don’t choose the best University College of the best University in a country that has the 4th best higher education in the world, as you won’t be doing a lot of it!

Many of the little differences between the nations I have now got over or around, and now actually find it quite hard to remember what they were. The problem of not taking my bank cards is okay as I know people with Euro accounts who I can give cash too and I just generally live a cash life, except you forget sometimes and then have to make a long walk from the place you are at to get cash. The reading of these ‘text book’ things I have got used to, and I am more on top of it than most people, hence why I can write this even though it’s Finals Week. The bike riding is obviously fine as I used to bike to school except everyone else’s bikes are now falling apart leaving mine the only one working in my unit, even though it now only has one brake thanks to Tina. At least it now looks awesome though:p

For this term Tina and my plan of cooking every Friday went astray after four weeks. It was good while it lasted though she insisted that all the food I made was incredibly unhealthy even when it was mostly vegetables and she also specifically stated that pasta was unhealthy :/ This, I think, helped towards the demise of our plans. I believe we have gone to the bar and parties just as much as before, but the waiting around for everyone to be done and working to ‘Linda and Tina time’ means we don’t get many pre-drinks in. Myrte will have some even more dull Friday evening’s when I am not around. Sofie made a big step the other day, and we are all very proud, as she danced in the bar on a party night! She says that this time was enough for a year, but we hope to see her again there soon.

For my courses, Discovering the Dutch was interesting and I enjoyed taking it as it was easy, but also dull at points when the classes were on medieval Utrecht and Golden Age art. However it’s opened my eyes up to things in the Netherlands I wouldn’t have learned otherwise – such as their schooling system is the same as our old Grammar school one, which I only realised from the class even though we’ve had many discussions about it as friends.

Psycholinguistics was fun and mostly like cognitive psychology with a bit of clinical as we learned about people with language disorders. It was the closest to psychology out of my four courses so I was happy with it.

Evolution, Culture and Human Nature was also good, and despite being a level 3, was also relatively easy as when you’re taking something from an interdisciplinary perspective details are going to be simpler. I am very proud of my essay on Emotion vs Rationality for this class as rationality really interests me and I made some insights I hadn’t thought of before, like emotions are a signal for you to make a decision (see my paper for more details, Birch, 2012). I am also happy with the whole class presentation we had to give on it as I got told I was a good presenter. I am very pleased with this as I had never done a presentation before coming here and now I have done many I feel a lot easier with them, though I am still not relaxed about it.

Sociology is the big disappointment of the semester. I do not advise people to take it. I do not believe what these great minds are telling me about society is true and anything I think is reasonable they have just taken from psychology and then renamed everything and pretended it’s their own – such as the analogy that everyone is on a stage and has many different front stages that they use depending on who is in the audience and therefore not many people know their back stage. This sounds a lot like ingroups, outgroups, group norms and group behaviour to me. Essentially if it is not psychology then it is philosophy as even though they say they’d like their work to be scientific it often isn’t based on anything empirical and this annoys me a lot. Sociology is no ‘queen of the sciences’ and certainly wasn’t the easy subject that I hoped it would be.

I don’t really know how I can go back to Exeter at this stage as it is hard to even recall that I went to somewhere so totally different in size, ethos and attitude. Especially as when I go back I won’t really know anyone as all the third years I was with will have graduated. I have set up some things for my return though – I will be a global buddy (helping international students find their way around and adapting to university in Exeter), a student life mentor (helping first years with all their daily life issues living in halls and with general university), SSAGO rep (Student Scouts And Guides Organisation) and Scout Rep for SAGE ( Scouts And Guides Exeter), as well as helping out with 10th Exeter Scout troop, who I was with the year before this. It sounds a bit hectic when I put it like this, perhaps I will be the new Tina and run off my feet all the time with constant committee meetings. We will see.

The sad part about University College is that I have not really joined any societies/committees. With the college being small it doesn’t offer the more quirky societies that I am a member of in Exeter such as Frisbee, Surfing, Aerobics, Amnesty International, Scouts and Guides etc. and has the more mundane football, hockey, newspaper, dancing, drama that I am not that intrigued about. I would also not be able to fit it around my studies and have no idea how anyone else manages to do any committee work as well as get good grades. I couldn’t. However what these committees do manage to do is amazing – with us winning the trophy an inter-UC – and I enjoyed very much the open mic night, the musical (Rent), the dance show, improv and Super Sticky Surfaces (the college’s soap drama which is really funny – Exeter should think about making one). There certainly are very many talented people at UC.

At Exeter, as it is so big (16,000 students versus UCU’s 600), I feel like I do not get to see everything Exeter has to offer, such as the drama and sports groups. Exeter is a lot more cliquey and closed and does not have the same community that it does here. I hope to change this next year and attend a lot more on-campus events as I really enjoyed seeing them here. This might be easier than previous years as I will be living on campus next year for the first time! It’s still 20 minutes from central campus though, which UCUers would not understand. In fact they really don’t understand, often saying “why don’t you bike?”  Hello! Exeter University is one big hill! A hard thing for a Dutch mind to contemplate!

However we can hold those tears back for a while as even though my studies are over it is not the end of year abroad as I will be staying around for the summer courses (which I am not taking) and so won’t be leaving till the end of June (with a short intermission to Lancaster for the Queen’s Jubilee weekend)! Yet I know this is not going to be the same as there will be no dining hall, so we’ll have to cook for ourselves (we’ll see how much they complain about dining hall after this) and I guess the Dutchies, in their confusing way, will be at home a lot. Hence I think this term will be a lot of highs of doing fun stuff as I don’t have work and others are free, and lows of severe boredom while those that do have courses are studying hard (but I can try to sneak home with those that leave, so all is not lost). I can’t contemplate what the weeks after this term will be like, but I will use them to the fullest as my time in Utrecht is nearly up. T -50 days and counting 😦

The inspiration for the title and the anthem for the rest of my time at UCU – Lostprophets – Last Summer

Koninginnedag (Queen’s Day)

In my opinion the best holiday of the year! I will do a little explaining for those who don’t know.

Koninginnedag is a special day in the Dutch calendar (May 30th) where the Dutch go a little bit crazy. They all wear orange and start to disregard many well established rules (i.e. that bikes go in the bike path and people go on the pavement, so you end up riding into everyone). The reason for this is it is a day of patriotism where they celebrate their beloved Queen Beatrix (or rather her mum’s birthday – Juliana – as Beatrix’s birthday is in January, which is too cold for proper celebrations). This is why they wear Orange, the national colour, as the royal family is the house of Orange – the name originating from France with William of Orange (the first King after the Dutch stopped being a republic). “Discovering the Dutch” class is handy sometimes! Mostly, though, it is an excuse for everyone to get together and have a big party, as unlike for us when it’s our Queen’s birthday, everyone gets the day off!

Queen Beatrix

Another aspect to this day is the Vrijmark (or “free market” for direct translation). Most of the time bureaucracy is very strict and people are not allowed to play music in the street or sell their things without a permit. However this day is different which means everyone saves up their unwanted things for a year and, on this day, sell it in the city centre. Utrecht is particularly special for this as it’s Vrijmarkt is open 24 hours, from 6pm on May 29th to 6pm May 30th.

Map of Utrecht for Koninginnedag and Nacht, Vrijmarkt area in light orange

Now, I knew before I arrived in the Netherlands that this day was a big deal as a person who had visited UCU before from Exeter had gone on about it when we had a meeting with him. So I was already planning on going to Amsterdam this day. Tina was also very keen as she’d been here as long as I have now (nearly a year) and hadn’t visited Amsterdam yet. Hence we could easily kill two birds with one stone on this one. A plan was vaguely coming together a week beforehand. The 29th is also a day to be celebrated, Koninginnenacht, where music plays in the street and everyone grabs a beer and has a good time. So our plan was to go to Utrecht for Koninginnenacht and Amsterdam for Koninginnedag. Crazily, though, many of the Dutchies did not have a clue what to do on this day. There were many debates between me and Myrte about if it would be best to go to Amsterdam. Even her friends that lived in Amsterdam had no idea! I don’t see how you couldn’t know as even if you haven’t been, which sounds ludicrous, then it must be on the News and things. Crazy.

The 29th finally came around. Myrte, Tina and I were going to go to the Vrijmarkt ay 7pm to check it out (we couldn’t go at 6 as this is when dining hall opens so we may have missed some of the best bargains), come back, change and head into town again for some partying. However Tina and her computer had other ideas, after a hugely unproductive Saturday by Tina – where she spent the whole day watching Tim Minchin videos, organizing and making her photos better and skyping – she had an article to write for the Boomerang (UCUs student newspaper) to do. But she was to prove to me she could be super productive this Sunday. Her computer and Word, however, had decide to crash at 5pm and not save all her work. She now had to do all her work again which meant she couldn’t go to dinner or to the market. She would be done later though, and so me and Myrte biked away to town.

The Vrijmarkt was huuge and seemed never-ending. A whole big area of town was sectioned off for it and as we walked around it we realised we now had no idea where we were. Unfortunately I didn’t take my camera for this part so excuse the lack of photos. I really enjoyed looking round though. In the end we didn’t buy anything, just some doughnuts from a stall. I saw some pokemon DVDs and books that I encouraged Myrte to buy, but they were in Dutch so it wouldn’t have been fun to watch them. I was also on the look out for Miffy, my favourite cartoon character who happens to be from Utrecht. I spotted her on a blanket and picked her up. Myrte told me to buy it but then the owner said something “Oh you can have it for free”, “Seriously?!”. I was not going to turn that offer down and I feel it was a very good purchase, even though she may be naked, but I think it’s supposed to be like that.

We decided to start getting back as the sun was starting to set, but first we had to deal with a huge people-jam. Whilst we were amongst it all, we thought we would never get out. I was very convinced it was a dead-end as there could be no other reason for all these people also struggling to move in the opposite direction to us. 15 minutes of my life wasted later and we were out. I felt successful. On the way back to the bikes I saw a scout stall selling t-shirts which I regret not buying. They said “I crown(in picture form) NL”. I don’t have a t-shirt to signify my stay in the Netherlands, and this one seemed very nice in comparison to the ones we would see the next day in Amsterdam. I also want the one in town that says “I rain cloud (in picture form) NL”. However they only stock this in XL and man size. The burden of being a women.

We got back at exactly the right time. Tina had just finished her article and Linda was also round telling us about all the goings on around campus. “It’s such a nice atmosphere, everyone wants to do stuff together and off-campus. We’ve already been invited to three parties”. It sounded like we were in for a good night. Tina needed to shower and change and Linda went back to her unit so Sofie and I introduced Myrte to some Tim Minchin videos and we all got flagged up.

When we were set to leave it turned out that Linda had fallen asleep and so her and her orange trousers would not be joining us on our Koninngenach escapades. We decided to meet some people on pub golf, but in the end they were just drinking outside kromhout, but we had bigger issues as one of our friend was a bit too drunk and so had to be looked after. It was all fine in the end and we set off for town.

Two bottles Tina

I taught Myrte the art of stealing peoples drinks and hats. She was a good pupil. But then as we reached the centre the inevitable “big group thing” happened and we lost everyone we had come with. Oh well we would be fine by ourselves. We walked around the music stage and checked out beer prices. They were €2.50 here where as on the way in they were €1.50 so we decided to walk back. On the way Tina was hungry and we started eyeing up New York Pizza. We decide to buy some. Whilst they were waiting I went down the street and grabbed some beers. I came back and enjoyed the Pizza. It was very good. However something odd was happening, it appeared the pizza place was turning into some kind of dance off. It was very spontaneous and weird and Tina and Myrte decided to join in. I filmed the scene for your pleasure, but we decided to leave when some of the guys got a bit touchy feely.

http://www.facebook.com/v/10151576252505696 – video of New York Pizza

We then walked around some more, I’m not quite sure what we did as we didn’t watch any music but we had a good time. We talked to some locals who were amused by our inability to speak Dutch. We then decided to walk home playing “kiss, marry, push off a cliff” on the way back.

Myrte stealing hats from locals

The Dom in the background

We waved off Myrte and I then proceeded to have a half hour conversation across the hallway to Tina about how it was not an option not to go to Queens day tomorrow. She said she wasn’t able to after her unproductiveness on Saturday and only managing the Boomerang article today. I was saying that it was planned for so long and it is the thing to do when your living in the Netherlands, especially as it combined with going to Amsterdam, which she also wanted to do. She eventually left, I would have to try again in the morning.

We were to leave campus at 9.30am as Amsterdam was supposed to crowded and hence we wanted to not get caught up in a packed train. Myrte however was late (the stereotype of Dutch punctuality does not hold at UC). I had already tried to get Tina up that morning and even with Myrte and as much guilt tripping as I could reasonably give we had to leave without. We flagged up once again and headed for the train station. Myrte commented on my not orange but actually pink shirt which I was very sad about. It’s definitely tie-dye orange though I agree it wasn’t as orange as I remembered. Myrte was wearing a blue stripy top so she could hardly talk anyway.

The station was not as full as expected, but the train was and me and Myrte enjoyed the train to Amsterdam sitting on the stairs (the trains are double deckerd so they have stairs!). Some people got off at an earlier station whilst we got off at Centraal. A sea of orange awaited us, we got a map from a lady and walked towards Dam Square.

On the way were many stalls with orange t-shirts where Myrte and I looked for a suitable purchase. Unfortunately none were that great and so we remained less orange than most other people. We didn’t know where to go so we just walked around where the crowds were. The scene is like how Rhythms of the World used to be (a music festival in the town over from me). Where there are many stages set up all over town and you can just wonder between them, listen to the music and enjoy a beverage. With the added bonus of looking out for a bargain. However with the differences that the music being played not being varied, they were all DJs, and the few grassy parts we found were not near a stage. Apparently they had changed it this year as Radio 538 used to do a festival on Museumplein, but now they had decided to split up all the venues more. This didn’t really bother me I was still really enjoying myself.

We got some ice-cream, had a chat on the grass, drank some Queen’s Day themed beer, ate some noodles, listened to an awesome guitarist play in Rembrandt Square and walked across Amsterdam trying to find the Vrijmarkt and getting lost in the process. We found the children’s vrijmarkt and a local showed us how to get there on the map. Though his response to our question was the “free market is everywhere”, so by that I would guess the section on the map would not be as impressive as in Utrecht. I said we should go to another park as the local said it was nice there as there was a lot of children their playing violins and stuff.

Here we learned even more that Amsterdam is a big place as, after walking down a quiet street which suddenly turned into a DJ set, we stumbled across Museumplein. We decided to stop here as it was very beautiful and there was a huge picture of the Queen on the Rijksmuseum. We chilled here for a bit and got attacked by footballs, frisbees and lions (a cuddly toy from a small child). It was nice to see all different types of people and families joining together on an immaculate day. We should have days like this in the UK.

We walked back to the station again, as Myrte had to get back to practice a presentation for 9am tomorrow. It was 2.6km away, as the sign told us. On the way we had to walk through the crowds of two DJ stages including a really cool one where someone was playing saxophone along with the track by the DJ. We made it back and it hadn’t taken that long, we checked over the stalls for a good t-shirt again, but no joy.

The I amsterdam sign with orange embellishment

We got on the train and received a text from Lujain saying sorry she couldn’t come but to have a nice time. We had texted her at 10am and it was now 6pm. We chatted about how it didn’t make sense for people to miss this day and especially to bail at the last-minute. What will Myrte do without me next year?

Amsterdam Centraal station

Overall I really loved Queens Day and wish we had something similar – the Jubilee is not going to be remotely the same! How could you not love just wondering around a city where everyone is happy, there is such a great atmosphere and there is music to listen to while you chill with those around you. I can hardly think of anything better. Well maybe if there was a bonfire..

Queens Day – I will certainly be coming back to join you again though I don’t think it will be next year as I’m sure I will have exams 😦

01/05/2012

Today was also a fun day and I will add a little on the end of this post. This afternoon ArtsCo did “Pimp My Bike”. Obviously in the Netherlands you are very attached to your bike, and if you live in the city then generally your bike is old and looking very sorry for itself. Hence people sometimes decorate their bikes and give them a new look. I had been very excited about this event too as my bike is brown. But not anymore. Now it’s super pretty and I am very pleased with the outcome 😀

Before


After

And safely home

The Dutch Education System: A Licence To Cheat?

Sometimes the Dutch live up to their stereotypes and perhaps they are far too relaxed when it comes to examinations. It is currently mid-way through midterms and thankfully I had my two midterms this morning, but my workload is still hell. I may come back to this later. However, ever since a discussion at the beginning of the week about high school exams, I feel that I have to make this fact about the Dutch system more publicly known.

UCU, and it’s mother university Universiteit Utrecht, is ranked in the top 50 universities in the world. But perhaps they are not in the top 50 in the way they carry out their exam procedures. Here I will list a few points that may give the students of UCU an unfair advantage when it comes to what grades they obtain.

1. Anonymity. You’d think that this was an obvious thing to have when handling exams wouldn’t you? I mean that is the only real use for our student numbers at Exeter and we have those here too so it makes sense to use that rather than your name. It doesn’t take a genius to see (and there are many experiments that show) that markers can easily be biased when they know who’s writing a paper (even when they think they are not). They don’t even have to know you personally to be biased – and at UCU (with maximum class size of 28) it’s pretty likely they will know everyone’s name in the class. Just knowledge of gender can influence marking. When it has even been shown that such superficial things as your handwriting can sway the mark awarded for a piece of work, openly telling an examiner who you are makes bias (intentional or unintentional) almost impossible to avoid.

2. Examination layout. When you sit your GCSEs, A levels or most exams in the UK you generally get taken to a new room that isn’t your classroom and are sat on a single desk. Yet UCU does not believe in this simple way to prevent cheating. Most of the time your exam is in the same room as your class with the seats in the same layout i.e. a horseshoe shape facing the board. This means even quite an unsubtle person can look at their neighbour to copy their notes and I’m sure most people actually do. If you are stuck on a question and the person next to you is scribbling away happily then most people will be tempted to at least try to see what they have written. I don’t see how you couldn’t.

3. Examination procedure. Now some of the things in the UK I think are a bit over the top in the examination world, such as taking the labels off of your water bottle in case there are notes on it, and the absurd (even I don’t understand why) rule about having to take you hat off while at Exeter. But being allowed to have your bag by your desk, being allowed to leave the exam room and come back, and what’s more having the teacher leave the room during the exam – making the room unsupervised – is just a little too lax. I am quite unsure why people get to leave and come back so if someone could enlighten me on this fact it would be appreciated.

My view on this point had been strengthened when people came back from their stats exam which was held in the educatorium (what a silly name for a building) off-campus at the Uithof. Here the procedure was much more like the exams at Exeter and to hear people complain about it was odd. The main complaint was on the subject of ID cards. The examiners at the Uithof expected everyone to have their ID cards on the desk when they were writing their exam – a standard procedure at Exeter. But being UCU (where most people don’t even have a picture of themselves on their student card – though strangely mine does have a picture) people hadn’t brought them. In my eyes it makes sense to do this, to make sure the person who claims to be Sarah is actually Sarah. Perhaps UCU is okay as the class room size is so small it would be much harder for someone to write your exam for you, but it is something I had forgotten happened at home.

The deception went deeper as for the stats exam they were obviously allowed calculators. However they were allowed to use graphical calculators – something that every Dutch student has – rather than in the UK, where I’m sure most people haven’t even seen one. Basically they are big chunky things which have many functions, including being able to draw graphs – which is handy. However they also have a huge memory in which you can input all your notes for an exam. For maths at Exeter we are not allowed these – full stop. Our scientific ones have to be on a list of approved calculators and before we sit the exam we have to go to the exams office and get a little gold sticker put on it to show it is approved. However no approval of calculators was needed for this exam and even though the examiners said they would check all calculators I’m sure most can still sneak them through. Plus the graphical calculators even have a statistics mode which I’m sure people could have made great use of.

As the confessions came out over the lunch table I learned that this graphical calculator business had been going on for years with everyone confessing to having notes in there for their secondary school exams. I further learned that teachers at their schools even knew this was the case and did nothing about it. I continued learning that they all had their own elaborate schemes for telling each other the answers by hand gestures and leg placements. Shame on you Dutchies!

4. Assignments. The main problems here, not including lack of anonymity which I have already mentioned, is word count and hand-in time. The first is not true of all classes here, as in social psychology I was explicitly told that you had to put your word count on the piece of paper and were not allowed to be over it. However in most classes students do not adhere to this rule.

In psychology at Exeter I am told at least once every year the word limit, is the limit. Many students have the idea of the “10% rule”, which means you can go over the word count by 10% – but I am also being repeatedly told this is not the case. Yet here they don’t seem to mind even that much and people hand in work that is over by much greater then 10%.

For instance, my group evolution paper was meant to be 1000 words…

“By the way guys, it’s quite over the word count”
“10% rule”
“It’s more than 10%”
“It’s fine – they’re lenient on word count here”.

And how lenient! My friend, who had an essay of 500 words, said one student handed in the same assignment with over 700 words. “It’s just an extra paragraph”, they said, “without that end paragraph it wouldn’t make sense”. But the task is to do it in so many words, then the challenge is to do it in so many words. It is definitely an unfair advantage to go over the word count by 40%!

Concerning hand-in time, the rule at Exeter is very precise – you have to give your work in electronically and if your work is late by one second then you get a zero for that assignment. It’s clear cut. It seems crazily unfair, but everyone knows the rule and that’s how it works. However I am astonished to hear that people are able to hand in work hours, days and sometimes weeks after the hand-in date and still have it accepted. Another part of the challenge of an essay is time management, so why should other people in your class be allowed to spend extra time on their work than you? People are even proud when they have done this “I managed to hand my work in only an hour past the deadline this time”. To my ears there should be some king of a penalty for this or the rules should be made more explicit.

So what do I think about this? Personally I am unaware that I have suffered from poorer grades because of this system, but then again I wouldn’t really know as favouritism by teachers is not likely to come out (especially as they’d be adamant they were not biased – but, as I said above, unconscious bias is possible, even probable) and when people get extensions on their work the class is not made aware of that fact, so I would not be able to compare given grades. I also haven’t received my evolution paper back to know if  it has been penalised or not for being over the word count.

However I would suggest that some people do fall foul of this system and furthermore are probably unaware of it. Maybe UCU is too trusting of it students not too cheat (I am very tempted to do this given that it appears to be so easy and the teacher doesn’t pay that much attention to the class!) and perhaps they are too trusting of their staff not to be biased?  Perhaps UCU should consider changing their ways of being laid-back and tighten up their act.

Maybe it’s the case that the Dutch are more trusting of people and the UK we are more distrusting? It might be similar to the fact that the Dutch (even a big institution like UU and UCU) seem much less aware of credit card fraud and do not take the precautions we routinely do in the UK.

The Mad World of Dutch Banks and Credit Cards

There’s something you’ll realise when you first come to the Netherlands that you would never have thought of. Suddenly all your bank cards don’t work. Sure you see all the Dutch happily put their cards into the chip and pin machines and – yes – their card is accepted. Something is up? What? You don’t accept Visa? The biggest credit card company in the world and this small land has decided it’s having none of it?

Unfortunately if all your cards are Visa you’re going to have to go back to the old school days where you carry cash all the time. Or you could get a Dutch bank account.

That sounds easy right, I mean if you live here how hard can it be?

Previously me and my dad learnt that it can be quite hard. It appears the global banking network is a fallacy and no country is actually connected to another. You call up your home bank and say “Hi, I’m going to study abroad for a year what do you recommend I do with my bank account? If I keep the current one I’ll be charged all the time for changing money into Euros” Turns out they have no clue and they can’t make you a bank account in Euros.

What about ING? They are a Dutch bank that also exists in the UK, can they help? “We don’t talk to our Dutch branches.” WHAT? How ridiculous, what do business men do when they have to travel the world? People move to different countries constantly and live there for only a short amount of time. The outgoing and influx of exchange students into the UK alone must be enough for the banks to consider a solution.

No.

For people going on a year abroad there are some things you can get to help. Norwich and Peterborugh do a debit card which doesn’t charge for withdrawing money and Halifax does a credit card with the same thing. However, it took all summer asking banks what they can do with no response – and then asking someone else coming to UC what they were doing to find them. Thanks Ben! Slight problem is these are both Visa cards – so it still can’t help you with buying things in shops.

Now to that Dutch bank account. You now live in the country so it must be easy. Wrong. First you have to fill out an online form. This is all fine of course. However you have to wait a month until you’ve visited the municipality to officially register yourself with the city, and then wait another week for the letter saying you have done so, to arrive through the post.

The bank now send you an email saying you have to go see them in person with ID. Previously I had learned (by having to bike to and from the post office twice) that other countries do not like the ID that we would consider to be OK (as in your driving licence). This is very annoying as your only other identification is your passport (as the UK doesn’t want ID cards) and this is a lot more valuable than the driving license. Anyway easy lesson, when they want ID bring your passport. What is more you’d think you could go into any building that said “Rabobank” on the side (which there are quite a lot) and sort it out there. No – you have to go all the way across the city to a slightly scummy Turkish area to sort it out. You get lost on the way but eventually find the place. You sign some forms and your PIN will be with you in a week.

It’s now two months since you’ve arrived, but at least everything is looking up and you’ve dealt with the banking bureaucracy. By this time, though, you’ve been living on cash and so you think, “why change? The account will close when you leave at the end of the year and you get a bonus of a Rabobank souvenir.”

Too bad when in December you get an angry email saying how they tried to take €15 out of your bank for opening it, but there wasn’t anything in there so could you kindly put €15 in there so they could have it. Why do I have to pay these people to open an account? Surely they are in competition with the other banks for my money and slapping some price tag on the account makes me want to use them less. If I can open one for free at home, plus it only takes an hour to chat with a lady to do so, then why can’t they? They also want to look after my money too so they can invest it!

Also, as you haven’t been using the card, you don’t know how to put money into the account. But you figure you can just go to the far away bank again and give them the €15 in cash over the counter and that’ll be done with. You eventually find time in your busy schedule to go there. You wait in a queue and after a while get to talk to someone, but they are about to tell you some shocking news.”We don’t deal with cash here”. You are a bank! How can you not deal with cash, that’s why you exist?! However there is some good in the system, and as you are not using the bank account and can’t remember the PIN he can just close the account and you won’t have to pay. Plus – added bonus – you can keep the card. Win! But if you’ve opened the account and shut it for free then, why did you try to make me pay in the first place?

So you emerge triumphant – but there are minor problems you have to overcome when you don’t have a Dutch bank account;

  1. You can’t get a phone contract so looks like you’ll be on pay-as-you-go
  2. All the printers in academic buildings use ‘chipknip*’ in order to pay for them
  3. The snack machines also use this
  4. You can’t buy train tickets from the machine at the station, which means you have to pay an extra €0.50 to buy one from a person at the desk (which is also always on the other side of the station to the one you are on)

*Chipknip is another stupid Dutch system, as the Dutch agree. Mostly it’s how you pay for parking, but UC also uses it. I’ll explain.

Like other bank cards, Dutch ones have a chip, but this chip also doubles as your “Chipknip”. What this means is you need to go to a machine where you can take money from your account and then put some of it onto the Chipknip. Only then can you use the chip to pay for things. This does not make sense, as it would be easier just to deduct money from your main account and not some weird second account thing. Plus the chip is the same chip you use for paying in the shop. Just take out this silly step, its pointless!

Rant nearly over. Maybe if you are Dutch you don’t notice these things and it’s all roses for you? Not true. Ingeniously Dutch bank cards don’t have a CVC number on the back. This means, unless internet shops use the ‘Ideal’ system, you can’t buy anything. This includes plane tickets on Wizz Air, which means you have to set up a complicated bank transfer, or get your foreign friend to do it. Yay for foreign friends!

You Sunk My BattleShot

Sadly the inevitable has occurred and the first day of term arrived. My courses for this term (after mean administration didn’t let me do organizational psychology, like I really wanted) are Discovering the Dutch (apparently they are a particular rare creature and quite hard to find), Psycholinguistics, Introduction to Sociology and Evolution, Culture and Human Nature.

Minus the coffee, of course

This is what I think of them so far.

Discovering the Dutch will be the fun I expect it to be, with the added bonus I get to learn a little Dutch – yay! This was particularly amusing as I learned the Dutch are quite depressing when they introduce themselves.

  • “Hoe heet je?” (“What’s your name” pronounced similarly too ‘who hates you?’)
  • “Ik heet *[insert name here]*” (i.e. I hate myself).

They really need to get some more self-esteem! What is more, they didn’t even realise that’s what it sounds like so I have since enlightened Dutch society.

Psycholinguistics seems like it will also be fun, though we’ve only had one class so far as it was cancelled on Wednesday. The guy is Russian and funny, so, after we get through the dull neurons and brain structure stuff and onto the language disorders, it’ll be much more my thing.

Evolution, Culture and Human Nature, as we have discovered with a lot of UC courses, is not as inter-departmental as it claims to be. Mostly it will be about biological evolution, to the point where the teacher said “If you have done the human and animal biology course before then, you are welcome in the class, but I don’t think you will learn anything”. So that sucks a bit, but I have done some of the readings and it’s reasonably interesting and they will hopefully get onto the social science perspective sometime.

 

Sociology was not what I was expecting in the first class. I thought it would be similar to psychology – but I was wrong!  It’s a lot of theory and no experiments. The intro is basically a history lesson on the big sociologists who have been – Marx, Weber, Tocqueville. All except Marx I have never heard of. I don’t like history that much and having a lot of theory doesn’t sound very scientific to me, though of course it claims it is a science. I didn’t really learn anything so left disappointed. However in the next class it became a little more interesting as we learned what Tocqueville thought about democracy so I think and hope it will be OK.

Now to more important things, the non academic stuff. On Monday, even though they complained it was so bad Myrte, Sofie and I had a mini Tru Calling marathon so hopefully we can start disc 3 soon and start watching the episodes I haven’t seen many times over. Tuesday I tried to sort out Linda’s life by planning her courses for her, though this turned out to be complicated as she wanted to do so much and hadn’t planned her priorities, e.g. she wanted an Anthropology track at the beginning and near the end we had crossed out quite a few courses.

The next day Gerrianne and I discussed this further and though the liberal arts and sciences syllabus seems so free it’s actually quite restricting. So you take four courses a term:

4 courses x 2 terms per year x 3 years = 24 possible courses.

However there are quite a few requirements you have to factor into this:

  • First you have to take ‘Academic Skills and practice’ (now 23 courses).
  • Do the language requirement – take another language class (22) and when you know no others languages (like me), you will have to take two to get to the UCU standard wanted (21).
  • You also have to do methods and statistics (20) and the follow-up statistics courses in your discipline area, humanities, social science or science (19).
  • You also have to do a breadth requirement – take at least one course in all three departments, so this assumes two are not useful to your overall degree of Science, Humanities or Social Science (17).
  • Now to what you really want to do at university! To gain your degree title you have to take 10 classes in your desired department, which includes at least two tracks – a level 100, 200 and 300 in a subject e.g. psychology, history, physics (7).
  • So you are left with 7 free choices of course that you would like to do for fun – that’s the reason you chose this kind of degree anyway.  Well what if you want to do a semester abroad (and who doesn’t it’s awesome), that’s a semester away (3).
  • Not much to play with anymore! What about your thesis at the end? That takes up two courses (1).
  • Then, with all the clashes, and courses only running in one particular term, this final option may be taken up by your tutor putting you on a course as you didn’t have the priority for other courses you wanted, e.g. me and sociology.

So too bad on choice really, especially if you want to do a minor- a track in another subject – or something else like that.

There are summer courses that run however to ease the burden (one in spring and one in summer per year=6) and not all courses are run in the summer and you have to do a level 100 before you can do the 200 etc. In the end it’s nowhere as flexible as you would’ve liked it to be. Similar to my flexible combine honours degree really…

I also drew an excellent picture of her bedroom with a certain Mr. Right as Mr. Philosophy serenading her, her pet dolphin a pool, Mr. Grizzly the bear protecting her, a whole chicken on the floor for breakfast, the EU flag on the wall and her dreaming of French guy flying round the world and back for her in the love ship. Too bad she didn’t see it that way but it was awesome.

Wednesday, and I went to Student Scouts and Guides Utrecht (StudentenStam Utrecht). Princess Maxima had lost her teddy bear so we had to split up into two teams and follow clues around the city to find out the captors name, which country he fled too and of course the location of the bear. It was quite fun though it wasn’t the evening for being outside as it was super cold.

We ended in Havana, a bar where we had hot chocolate and played a game. It was called ‘Becker’ and the aim was to discover the famous person a player was thinking of. First of all they gave you the first letter of their name. From here on you had to describe a famous person to everyone in the group beginning with the same letter. If a non-describing player knows the answer then they would call “Becker” count to three and both describer and guesser would say who they were thinking of. If you got this right then you earned the next letter of the initial famous person, for which you then have to describe a new famous person starting with those first two letters. However the person who knows the initial famous person can jump in and guess the description without counting. If they get it right you have to describe a new person. If you describe the initial famous person then the knower can’t jump in and you win. It sounds complicated but it’s really fun so I taught it to my unit mates when I got back and we played till 1am!

Thursday was the opening of something really cool, UCU’s very own ice skating rink. The football pitch had been sprayed with water and left to freeze in the cold temperatures. Sadly I, coming from a less skating enthusiastic country, don’t own my own skates but hopefully one of the Dutchies will bring an extra pair back from home at the weekend. I also don’t agree well with the Dutch ideals of skating. If you hear the Dutch say skating you have to learn this means speed skating and not figure skating which comes to mind when heard through English ears. When I skate (which is rarely, twice in my whole life) I like to just have fun by playing tag, pushing people over and crashing into the barrier. I am also not a fan of speed, the same as I wasn’t when skiing in Macedonia. We decided it makes sense though with it being flat everywhere and water abundant!

Myrte and I had other exciting plans, that day, we were going to buy Advocaat from the store and drink this instead of the usual beer before Lujain’s birthday party. This is because it is her favourite alcoholic drink and yet it is not the one she drinks. I was like why not? My friends drink it at home and it’s really cheap, so that was the plan. Unfortunately we thought everyone else was going but it just turned out to be us two and we chatted to Klementina till 12am so had to go straight to the bar. Oddly Lujain wasn’t there but Gerrianne, Linda and Veerle were so we had a dance and went home when Veerle and Linda decided they wanted to watch Vampire Diaries.

Friday was the big day of the week. We were going to cook again and Klementina, Veerle, Reinder and I had decided that evening we were going to play Battleshots. It is similar to battleships except when your boat get’s hit you have to take a shot. It’s quite heavy going with 23 shots per side. Hence we had teamed up, but it was still going to be a lot. We had got some Sambucca and vodka in especially for the occasion. Even better it had been snowing all day so our plan was to play and then have a snowball fight and make snow angels afterwards. This is exactly what we did.

Veerle and Klementina were ahead at the beginning, hitting four of our boats in quick succession,  though in the end we won as they could not find our two boat. Off into the -18 degrees night we went where we fell about in the snow and made some perfect snow angels. However we had decided to finish off the rest of the vodka too and as we still weren’t really feeling the effects added a bottle of beer. This did not agree and one of us had an accident by the bar and had to go to bed where they promptly made more mess as I looked after them. So it was an experience and one I’m not sure we will repeat – if we do perhaps without finishing the vodka and extra beer.

The Sambucca after 20 minutes

In the morning we we’re a little delicate and Klementina’s couch surfer friend was over for the weekend, but I was boring and spent most of the weekend reading – got to love UCU! The chapter on Marx for sociology took a particularly long time to get through, i.e. most of Saturday. Luckily there is still snow on the ground so UCU has been transformed and looks beautiful. Plus the UK only had some yesterday and none fell in Exeter, so well done the Netherlands!

The Return to UCU

Five weeks of holiday and one still to go. On Monday evening I returned to the Netherlands. I am very pleased with this long break as I can finally rub my holiday in people’s faces back home. UK Christmas holiday is only 3/4 weeks and most people have exams when they return in January. However UCU started in August whilst the UK starts in the last week of September, so it felt like a bit of karma to be having fun whilst others were working.

I arrived at Amsterdam Schipol from Manchester where Myrte was there to join me for the trip back to campus. Luckily I had taken my big suitcases back a few weeks before so I only had a weekend bag to deal with. We were excited to see what campus would be like as some of our year had become “Mums” and “Dads” for the new people arriving. It is the winter Introweek, though, and half way through the academic year, which means it will be much smaller, not to mention that a coach load of UCUers would be on the ski trip and so they definitely wouldn’t be on campus.

It was quiet as expected, but almost a little too quiet. It was the evening and so the families should’ve been busy getting ready for their first party, but we couldn’t hear them. I had missed the dinner slot for dining hall and so had grabbed a salad at Utrecht station. We went to my room where I ate and introduced Myrte to Desperate Housewives.

When you start watching one of these American dramas with someone who hasn’t you realise how ridiculous the storyline actually is. Someone had killed a man because he was harassing his wife, but then all the 5 witnesses decided to keep it a secret and bury him in the forest. Surely you could go to the police, plus as he was trespassing in your home, it would only be a crime of passion and not murder. This one isn’t actually too bad, but last season the ending was that a plane crash-landed in the street!

We then checked out the bar even though we were both tired. We learned there were only 60 new people and 6 families, which is a lot less than the 23 families of our Introweek. Myrte thought this made the bar empty, but I thought it was an OK amount. The bigger problem was it was meant to be a “getting to know you” party but the music was too loud to talk to people properly. I was introduced to another English girl and her friends. We all had to do the awkward thing of shaking their hands and pretending to hear what their names were even though there was no way possible you could. We went through the usual “What are you studying?”, “Where are you from?” etc. but any deeper conversation wasn’t going to happen.

We then decided to leave, I headed to Myrte’s for a bit, where we could see a family had had their pre-party in the living room and eventually went to bed.

The next day I was alone as everyone was deciding to come on Wednesday for some strange reason and Myrte had to go home to dog sit. Klementina had a reasonable excuse as only a few flights fly out of Sofia every week, but the Dutch don’t. If you hadn’t seen your friends in five weeks, there were parties happening every night, and there is no work to do – so you can have good social time and go on trips, why would you only choose to come back on Wednesday? So I used this time to sort out my room a bit and finish off the Macedonia blog below.

Sofie arrived late in the evening so it wasn’t so lonely at the end. We watched some shows including introducing Tru Calling, which she liked the plot line of and said we would watch more tomorrow. We made plans for early brunch at 10.30 as Klementina’s flight was getting in at 8.30am to Eindhoven so hopefully her and Myrte would’ve arrived by then.

It turned out they wouldn’t be here so we went ahead to brunch as we were hungry. They got there 15 minutes later and we had a fun reunion. The rest of the day was spent waiting for others to arrive and planning what we would do over the next few days. Lots of ideas were thrown around such as going to Maastricht or Antwerp, but in the end we decided we would go to Groningen. It was expensive, as Dutch trains are, and would cost €30 for us non-OV people. However we found a deal to go for €21 which included going to the museum!

That night I suggested having a chill night in the bar and playing some darts, pool and perhaps beer pong. It was the Introweek off-campus party that day, so if the bar was open it would be quiet. Alas it wasn’t, but luckily Klementina had a friend who was having a CD promotion for his band in town. We were going outside the bubble! We found the place, Ekko, quite easily and when we entered we were very glad we had. It was a very cute, small place with a room for the acts and then another with a bar and some tables for chatting. The band was surprisingly good and actually were my perfect genre for live music. If only it was in a field and sunny it would have been perfect. It was so good Myrte even bought their CD. The venue also brought back memories of festivals as the beer they were serving was Jupiler, the kind a group next to us was handing out to us at Pukkelpop. We rode back happy and agreeing it was a great start to the term and we should defiantly do it again. We set our alarms and went to bed awaiting Groningen tomorrow.

But it was not to happen. I woke Klementina up at 8am like she requested, but she said she was too tried to go and that we should go have fun. I encouraged her to wait for the others to come at 8.30, but 20 minutes later she was in bed again. It’s just as well as at 8.40 Myrte arrived and as for Linda we had to ring her. At which point we discovered she was still in bed. Myrte was also tired and fell asleep on the floor. At this stage I didn’t think Groningen was happening so I started searching for somewhere closer to go. Here I discovered Bourtange a beautiful star-shaped fortress but it was in Groningen province near the German border so we couldn’t go there. I also found Muiderslot, a medieval castle near Amsterdam, but unfortunately it was only open at the weekends in winter. So I said we should go there on Saturday or Sunday. After some debate we decided to go to Leiden and Myrte’s house for a sleepover as was proposed earlier.

Bourtange

At brunch we received remarks about “how comes we weren’t in Groningen?” We asked if they wanted to join us at Myrte’s, but most had other plans or just didn’t want to go at all. Klementina had a tutor meeting at 12 so we decided to leave at two so people could sleep, Linda could write her essay and Klementina could get her courses sorted. When two came Klementina had to wait for her tutor to leave a meeting and then have another chat, but said she would catch us up later.

The closest to Gronigen I got

In the rain, Linda, Myrte and I biked to the station where we decided Leiden was not a good idea in the rain and that we would go straight to Myrte’s instead and do some baking. A trip to the supermarket and we had ingredients for brownies and chicken stir-fry. Myrte and Linda were excited, as UCU is catered, they don’t cook for themselves that often. It was good even though the noodles were a little stuck together and the stir-fry a little dry. When you don’t get much home cooking your friends you are easily impressed.

Linda had forgotten her phone and so had to return to UCU that evening, but I was determined to stay over even if no one else was. Klementina in the end hadn’t arrived, even though Myrte had gone to collect her from the station in the rain and had to return empty-handed. We watched the rest of Crazy, Stupid, Love and I explained the concept of a midnight feast, which apparently they don’t have here.

We awoke at one and had to return to Utrecht, as Myrte had to pick up her driving licence from the Municipality and was then going to drive home with her dad. When I got back to campus I strangely couldn’t find anyone in the unit, but later I found out Klementina was in her room just sleeping and I had neglected to check the bed. We had planned to go to the bar that night as it was Fairytale theme and I had two pairs of wings in my dress up box (another thing students here don’t acquire during university).

Thankfully this plan succeeded and after Klementina and I went on a Beer run. Something I had to also explain meant no running and only meant going to buy some beer from a shop. Here we were surprisingly ID’d for our beer and we couldn’t buy Kreik in the liquor store as Klementina had forgotten hers. This was quite odd as we hadn’t ever been ID’d last term and hence I thought the Dutch were pretty lax. However in Albert Heijn I was ID’d again and so decided the government must have started this scheme over the holidays. We were a little bit offended as the drinking age is 16 here so we look under 16?! Later I saw a poster that said ID if they look under 20, so yay we look under 20, one year less!

Klementina was shocked by this ID thing whereas it is completely normal in the UK for this to happen. She was especially annoyed that we didn’t get served when I only had the ID. “They should trust that you’re old enough”. Then I explained how it was even stricter at home and that in Albert Heijn when I had bought the beer and waited for her outside a security guard would’ve been watching us in the shop and then come outside and taken it off us. I also said that they would never have accepted my university card as ID as it was made of paper and so could be easily faked. So be thankful it isn’t up to that standard yet.

Some beers and shots later we were in the bar and having a great time. Even though I was the only one of the three girls, Me, Linda and Klementina dressed up I didn’t mind. Klementina had in the end not wanted to wear wings and Linda was being Pocahontas, which in reality means she looked like a person. We danced and chatted, the bar had gone up in our estimations, though the music could’ve been better.

Saturday I decided not to push Muiderslot as Linda said she might need to go home that day and we also wanted to go see Zeynep in her new apartment in town. Unfortunately we couldn’t get in touch with her so instead we decided to make dinner. A very exciting prospect for those who think Dining Hall food is terrible and who then order in food all the time. I showed Klementina through the recipes on the Sainsbury’s website – a supermarket at home where I go to when I’m at university. They do recipe cards and things like £20 for five family meals for a week, which is really good. As Klementina is vegetarian meat dishes were off the menu so we decide to adapt a potato bake.

We bought broccoli, carrots, leeks, parsley, dill, and mushrooms for the base which we would also make a cheese sauce for. Then we made mashed potato to go on top so it was also like a Shepherds Pie. Linda, Melanie and Elena came to join, who brought pudding of profiteroles and ice-cream with them. It was really tasty, with the mashed potato being especially good. Seconds went quickly and the bowl was also scrapped clean. “Even without meat it was delicious”.

Zeynep then came round, as we had managed to contact her, who told us her stories of living alone and of her up-coming exams including a 350 word essay English exam! We chatted away and too soon she had to leave again. Linda and I had said that I would teach her darts in the bar that night, but Klementina didn’t want to go as she was tired. We went ahead anyway. We played Round The World (where you have to hit 1 then 2 then 3 etc. on the board and then finish with the centre) and 301 (where you have to get from 301 to 0 exactly by finishing on a double e.g. if you have 15 left you could finish by hitting 5 then double 5). Linda confessed her hand-eye co-ordination wasn’t that good, but she improved a lot and I was pleased. She also enjoyed the game which was good. Happy we returned home.

Muiderslot was not to happen and I am disappointed in everyone. Linda still had her essay to do and Klementina said it was too expensive and that she still wanted to sort her room and other things out. People need to learn it’s all well and good saying you are going to do things and that going X, Y and Z with you would be really fun, but when push comes to shove we should actually go to these places. I feel that people don’t understand that this week we had no class so we could all of gone on some super outings as we don’t have work to worry about. Yet really the only day we could’ve all gone and done something was Thursday as on the Wednesday people were arriving and on the Friday the Dutchies were off home again.

A big list has been made of things we can do and I really hope that we get them done, but in term time it’s going to be so much harder to do. Plus it’s likely to be expensive as we need to travel with a Dutch person who has OV in order to make the trains a reasonable price (40% off). A good thing is that Myrte will now have a car, but as she’s only just passed I don’t think her parents would be keen for her to jump straight into big road trips. In essence I feel there has been a lot of missed opportunity this week.