4 Weeks Left.. 3 Weeks.. 2 Weeks.. Oh I’m Home.

In the last four weeks I managed to do what I had been wanting to do for a while, visiting more places in the Netherlands and ticking off the ‘things you need to do in Utrecht’ list I had been making since I moved in. These kind of things are always left until the end when you are living in a new place.

Firstly, however, I will explain ‘summer term’ at UCU. This part of the year is scheduled in the annual term timetable, but it is not a compulsory time for taking classes. This is the time for taking extra courses such as Chinese (for those going on exchange to China mostly), Methods and statistics II, etc. The courses last the full four weeks and are equal to one course taken in the Autumn and Spring terms i.e. if you take Methods and Statistics II for the 15 weeks in Autumn it is the same as the 4 weeks in the summer (obviously you study more hours per week in the summer).

Other courses you can take are lab courses – mostly for science majors who have to take three lab courses as part of their requirements. Each one of these only lasts two weeks, so quite a lot of people do two of these in this term. I am not allowed to take these lab courses, though, as I am an exchange student – which is a shame as they had some interesting ones such as a psychology lab course. and ones about using fMRI and EEG (techniques used in psychological research). This is even more of a shame as at Exeter we are not allowed to use these techniques until you are post-graduate.

Overall I didn’t fancy taking any of the courses offered in Summer, but many of my friends did, leaving Sofie and I as the only people who were totally free for these four weeks.

The word “free” is used lightly above, . To those taking courses we were “free”, however because of this we took over other duties. UCU caters for all its students and we pay accordingly for this (a lot of money in fact that my dad will never let me forget), yet in the summer Dining Hall is closed for normal service. Hence Sofie and I were the new “housewives” of our group with Sofie as “Mum” (though she dislikes this) and myself as “Chef”.

An average day goes like this; wake up at about 11 or 12 and walk next door where we all met to have lunch in Sofie’s room. She had brought a sandwich toaster from home so lunch consisted mostly of cheese toasties. We also had the occasional crackers and peanut butter too. After everyone had to return to classes after their lunch break I would start thinking about dinner.

[Chef Nichola]

Now here is where a big rant comes in and I introduce something that is the bane of everyone’s life at UCU especially at this time of year. As we are catered out kitchens are not that well equipped. They differ a bit between units, but in our unit in G, nine people share two hot plates and one fridge. This is reasonable when the University is providing us with food, but when they expect us to cook for ourselves for a month it is not enough. There is not enough space in the fridge to store all your stuff, let alone necessities for cooking like a freezer or oven. Plus the hot plates are poor at the best of times (expect at least 20 minutes till you get your water boiling, even when you pour boiling water into the pan to start with). It is something the college definitely needs to sort out. It is even more of an issue now as the company that runs dining hall is changing next year and because of this it will no longer be serving breakfast or Saturday dinner.

What this meant was that basically every day we had to go to the shop to buy the ingredients for that evening’s meal. When you come back from this it’s about 4.00 – 4.30, so you start cooking and then everyone comes over for dinner. Afterwards it is obviously time for evening activities with everyone, so it’s not that “free” in the end!

[Clitheroe ready for the Jubilee]

Still I had a great time in these weeks and most of the time I didn’t mind the cooking. Other people also cooked on some days so I had a little break.

At the weekend though I took full advantage of people having days off and we went on adventures.

The first weekend I wasn’t actually in the Netherlands but in the UK as it was the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, which as it is a celebration of a monarch on the throne for 60 years I didn’t think I would get to celebrate again, so I thought it was a legitimate reason to break from my Erasmus year.

A shop overdoing it a bit

[Celebrating with obligatory Pimms (now “by appointment to Her Majesty the Queen”)]

[Batavia the VOC ship]

The second weekend Myrte and I took a round trip in the car; visiting Batavia which is a replica VOC (Dutch East India Company) ship, going over the dam between the Markermeer and the IJselmeer to Volendam. This is the touristy town to go to, in Dutch eyes. It is where you can get your picture taken in traditional dress.

However Myrte and I were really surprised by it, if you minus the touristy shops it is actually a really cute fishing town. It reminded me a lot of Padstow in Cornwall as there is a little harbour which the town surrounds and there was also people paddling in the water and eating ice cream which made me think of the seaside.

[People sailing whilst going over the dam]

[Volendam]

[The remains of dipping my feet in the water]

[Looking like the seaside…]

[..but still in the Netherlands]

[Gouda market and cheese weigh house]

The next weekend on the Saturday I went to Christine’s home town Gouda (yes, the cheese town) with her and Sari. It was a pretty standard Dutch town, though much bigger than I thought it would be. It had some beautiful buildings, though, such as the Town Hall and the Cheese Weigh House.

 

[Anywhere in the Netherlands]

[Cheese in a canal, must be Gouda]

[A windmill inside a windmill]

We also managed to go inside an old Dutch windmill, while the blades were turning, for free, which was really cool.

[The blades turning]

[The windmill from the outside]

[Sailing in Dordrecht]

On the Sunday Myrte and Kelmentina joined me to go sailing with the DomStam Student Scouts and Guides. There was a huge lack of wind which meant taking the boats back took a very long time, but it was a really relaxing afternoon and the others enjoyed it.

On the last weekend there was big couch-surfing event going on in Utrecht so Klementina and I joined for the Scavenger Hunt. It was a lot of fun and as we were walking around town our group of six progressively became bigger turning into a group of nine. We had challenges, like take a picture in a police car, and make a picture for the phrase “my spare bed and couch are taken but you can stay with me as long as you don’t mind sleeping here”. After we had done everything on the list minus one item we returned to a park in town where we ate some lunch, learned how to hula hoop and threw a frisbee around. To top the whole day off – we won! I don’t quite know how we did win as our team didn’t receive any of the bonus points, but we won’t talk about that..

[“How did you fit in there”]

[Photo with buskers instruments]

The final week which finished on Thursday at UCU was filled with lots of goodbye things. Mine was on the Sunday where we played reverse hide and seek, where one person hides and everyone has to find them, and when you do find them you also hide with them until one person is left wondering around. It was a good game and made our tiny campus seem really big. It also made us see lots of parts of campus that I would never have seen otherwise which is a good thing to do in your final week. Over some cake everyone gave me a farewell present which was awesome. It was a white hoody with messages written all over it and I really loved it. After this we attempted our scheduled hour-long group hug. It lasted about two minutes but it was still great.

[Receiving my farewell present]

[..and modelling it]

Monday was Klementina’s where we went for some hot chocolate in town. We never go to town as a group so this was another thing ticked off the list. I also persuaded everyone to go to the Maria Minor bar (though apparently it’s actually called Olivier), which I always wanted to go to as it’s really cool inside as it used to be an old church and still has the old organ and pews.

[hot chocolates]

[moustaches]

[Maria Minor (Olivier)]

Klementina left the next morning to fly to America and in the afternoon Veerle, Myrte and I climbed the Dom tower. It is essentially the landmark of Utrecht, and they climbed it even though there is some silly superstition that if you study at Utrecht and climb the tower before you graduate then you will do badly in your exams. I thank them for risking their university degrees so I wouldn’t have to walk up the tallest tower in the Netherlands by myself. It was worth the long walk up the stairs and the view from the top was amazing. The tour guide said on a clear day you could see Amsterdam from the top. With this, and having had a picnic in Wilhemina Park days before, my list of things to do in Utrecht was complete.

[The Dom at ground level]

[The view]

[Me looking over to campus]

[Picnic at Whilemina Park]

Wednesday was moving out day where Sofie and mine’s belongings got moved to her house to wait collection by my Dad on Saturday/Sunday. Sofie’s mum had hired a van, but even with this Sofie was optimistic about the idea of fitting both our stuff into one and in the end it took two trips to get all the stuff to Apeldoorn. Sofie stayed at home that evening and so it was just Veerle, Myrte, Linda and I left on campus. Over these weeks Linda had been running for a position on the ASC (Academic Student Council) and this evening the results were released. She had won and we were all very proud of her. As Myrte and I were part of her campaign team and so had her Facebook password we did what we had to do and fraped her at midnight when the voting was closed, saying she had got her dream job at KFC over the summer. It was successful with people believing it was true, Linda not knowing and gaining 22 likes overall. Klementina even believed it was true four days afterwards.

[All my things]

[Linda’s new display picture to fit her new job]

Thursday was a bit stressful and dull as I had to finish cleaning the unit bathroom and then waited around for everyone else to be done so we could go into town for the last time. Linda couldn’t come with as she was moving room on campus at the time we were all supposed to be leaving. Myrte, Veerle and I had a nice lunch it town and Myrte and I then did some people watching. It was really nice. I then got the train to Apeldoorn (for free even though the ticket I was using had actually expired) where Sofie and her mum collected me and took me back to their’s.

[Lunch]

Friday Myrte and Veerle came over to Sofie’s where I cooked them all a roast dinner, including Yorkshire Puddings. It took a very long time as their oven only really had an off and on function, as it was old. However it tasted really good and I was very proud of it. Everyone even enjoyed the Yorkshires and now think it’s less weird to use the same thing you use for pancakes and to put it in the oven instead and then eat it savoury with gravy.

[Roast Dinner with Yorkshire Pudding]

Sunday came around too quickly and wasn’t long before the car was packed, I was hugging Sofie goodbye and then watching the Netherlands fade away into the distance on the ferry. It is all very surreal at the moment and it feels a bit like I’m not sure if I went to the Netherlands or not. It’s the same feeling we had after the fall and spring break when we came back from the hitchhikes. Did this really happen? It must have done I have photos to prove it. It all seems so strange. It is especially strange that I will be going back to Exeter, as when I was at UCU Exeter seemed like it was something I went to years ago and not something I would be going back to. Nevertheless life keeps moving forward and I will be returning to Exeter in September. However I will not be leaving UCU in the past and will definitely be returning there to see all the great people I met. They will also be visiting me at Exeter in October too. My Erasmus year is officially over, but all the friendships I made will continue.

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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

Utrecht to Venice? 16 hours? Hitchhiking? No problem.

9am and similar to the last hitchhike I had to wake Klementina as we had to go buy all our snacks from town. Before we’d both had a busy midterms and so had no time to prepare anything. But it was ok we were professionals now.

However the 10am plan to leave for town as usual went out the window as Tina still had two laundries to do as well as email people and pack! At least I had done that.

10.30 am and with Tina having put a load of laundry on we were in town grabbing some sandwiches for lunch. It was open day on campus which means we got a packed lunch rather than the usual brunch. Thus we decided to have lunch in town and take brunch with us for dinner. Genius.

Whilst cycling around we were very happy to see the first emerging daffodils and other flowers. Spring was on its way and we were very glad of it too. We did the usual UCU thing of breaking unspoken language barriers and discussed the English names for flowers, snow drop (Tina’s favourite), daisy, bluebells and daffodils (with the extra fun factoid of being the national flower of Wales – so international!)

We got some things in Hema and I had to go to the V&D to get some super cool sunglasses that I had wanted to get for the prom but then they were an impulse buy and now, as I’d been thinking about them since then, it wasn’t. They will feature heavily in the upcoming photos. Realising we might miss the end of brunch, which dining hall are insanely mean about if you do i.e. no food for you if you’re one minute late, we had to rush through Albert Heijn. We made it. Dining hall guy locking the door when it was time to close so you couldn’t get in even if you wanted too. Meanies.

At 1pm, departure time, we were all ready to go. No. Obviously not. Tina still had lots to do so we met for the group photo and got our destination, but unfortunately it would be 2pm before we left. Our chances were high as we set off on the hitchhiking competition an hour behind everyone else…

Our plan was to go to Bunnik and walk to a service station on the A12 near there towards Koln. This was an adventure in itself as I had no idea where this place was and only information from google maps and hitckwiki to go on. It was especially difficult when the bus driver gets confused when you ask him if he was going near a petrol station. Luckily a kind lady on the bus understood we were planning to hitchhike and told the bus driver where to drop us and how to get to the highway. It was a bit of a trek but we eventually made it to the Texaco petrol station. We had to cross a train track on the way which was a little dangerous but we survived. Now to start the hitchhike. We prepared ourselves and approached the first car.

Tina did most of the talking and then suggested I should have a go too. “Hi, are you..”, I started to say. “We’re going to Arnhem, do you want to come?” he said. A little stunned by not having to negotiate, I said of course and called Tina over. Lifts secured Nichola: 1 Tina:0. Lift 1 – 3 Dutch Guys, Shooters (as Tina put them in our book, but I think they’d prefer to be cameramen). They were really cool and were filming an advert for some Dutch construction company. It was in the style of “Kids say the Darndest Things” which sounds really fun to film. We gave them the website for this so hopefully they will read this sometime – hey guys, thanks for lift, read on to see how we did ;). They dropped us outside Arnhem and on a road towards Germany. Confusing the sign to Koln also pointed to Utrecht, but this was because there was a roundabout ahead.

There were fewer people at this station, but we had the advantage of knowing which cars were German by their license plates. We decided to split, me with the Koln sign out by the road and Tina talking to the people who stopped. It didn’t take that long, probably 15 minutes. Tina called me over. She had found Lift 2 – German old couple who could take us to Koln. Nichola: 1 Tina: 1.

Here Tina decided to prove her excellent German skills she was raving about when we went to San Sebastian. Unfortunately her Spanish on the French/ Spain border was better. We weren’t that skilled at German and even couldn’t remember useful words like petrol station, as learning from previous mistakes, people have to drop you off at one before the town you’re getting to. After a fumble of language exchange we had been told Tankstelle and our message was clear.

[Our lovely German driver]

Arriving we were in for a surprise. A fellow UCUer who told us the grand news that this was a terrible petrol station and people had been stuck here before us for all of 30 minutes! Tina and I realised he was new to this – 30 minutes is nothing – you should try 6 hours whilst having to try and sleep in the freezing cold on a roundabout while you are only 10km from your destination, that is “stuck”!  We weren’t pessimistic though. The UCUer had already secured their lift and so it was just us and the station.

I asked someone if they’re going to Frankfurt? No. I saw a guy who looked a bit dodgy, but I thought I would ask anyway as he’d probably say No. Oh dear, he’s not saying no. But he’s not saying yes either? What is he saying? I eventually say its okay as I am understanding he can take us, I just don’t understand the finer details. I call Tina over. Are we really going with this guy? Apparently we are. We get in the car and he comes back with two drinks for us. Are they poison? We say “thank you” and start to talk map to him. Map is an international language everyone understands. He says he is going to Limburg which is a city between Koln and Frankfurt. That’s fine and we set off. Lift 3 – Rap Loving Nice Guy, Nichola:2 Tina:1. 

[After this I was told not to take any more sneaky pictures of drivers as I could tell he was a bit annoyed]

He does love the rap, and he also loves to drive a bit fast, but we are not fussed. We’re a little concerned about the juice, but when we see him drink his we are reassured and it’s good. I feel bad for thinking he was dodgy, but Tina enlightens me she thought similar so I don’t feel so bad. We get to Limburg and start trying to find our next lift to Frankfurt. We are happy as we know we are not an hour behind everyone anymore. We’re doing well. We ask a few people going into the shop, then Tina approaches some guys in broken German: “Entchuldigung, fahren sie vieleicht nach Frankfurt?”

They look confused and say something to each other in not-German. Tina perks up and switches languages. Turns out they said they didn’t speak German in Bosnian, but now they understand her. She persuades them with her Balkan charm to take us to Frankfurt. Lift 4 – epic Bosnian Guys. Nichola: 2 Tina:2.

Unfortunately I am not blessed with a Slavic tongue so do not follow what was being said, but I did know we were progressing well through Germany.  Tina talked to them and learned they were working in Germany and were now headed to Frankfurt to have fun on their day-off. They knew lots of people driving home to Bosnia for the weekend who could easily drop us off in Innsbruck – unfortunately they had all gone on Friday and not Saturday. Ah well, Frankfurt is not bad wither. We get out at Frankfurt and survey the area. I consider using the toilet when another surprise happens. The people who left before us at Koln were just arriving. We’re awesome. “How long have you been here?”. “5 minutes” we reply. We ask them where they were heading. Munich they say. We were heading to Wurzburg. I ask a lady filling up her car. She speaks to me in English, yay we can converse. She says she’s going that way but is not sure if it’s good for us so Tina brings over the map. They chat for a while. “Shall I ask these other people?” I ask Tina. There’s no reply so I go for it anyway. “Entschuldigung, fahren Sie nach Wurzburg?”, “Ja”. “Tina she’s going to Wurzburg!”. We thank the other lady and say our commiseration to the others. “It’s fine”, they say, “we have a better chance when you’re gone”.

We hit the road with Lift 5 – German Lady (we’re not very creative with names as we couldn’t talk to them to gain any other information..). Nichola: 3 Tina:2. We have the Tankstelle conversation, but then we see that it’s only 8pm and her sat nav is saying 11pm. Wurzburg isn’t that far away. Where is she going? I recognize that the hanging doll in her car looks like what my grandma brought me from Austria – hey, she might even be going to Innsbruck! We ask. “Munich”. A light bulb flashes above my head. I went to Munich on a trip round Lichtenstein and we came from Innsbruck, Austria, so it’s not that far between the two. We see the map and Tina gets the same brain wave too. “Can we go with you?”, “Ja”. Amazing. We feel a little bad as this is the exact lift the other team needed and they could have got it so easily as we we’re talking to the other lady. But it’s their loss. I try to have a little sleep, though we have been progressing at such speed through Germany that we have hardly had time to eat or go to the toilet. Part way through Tina asks if we can stop for the toilet. “5km” she says. Tina is in doubt: Did she say fünf (5), fünfzehn (15) or fünfzig (50). She sincerely hopes for the first. Turns out she actually said 50km so when we got to the McCafe Tina was bursting. We were very grateful for this stop and ate our pack lunch sandwiches as we set off again. Munchen bound.

During this time we receive the text from TripCo giving our current positions. We are winning!! We were gobsmacked, how could we be winning?! We looked at the map and saw the others must be at Nuremberg. We are quite ahead. We celebrate, but we are remain focused and with our eyes on the game keep driving along the A3.

At Munchen we are now on the lookout for Austrian plates on the way to Innsbruck. We ask a few cars and Tina asks a blonde girl. She is going in that direction, but not to Austria, but can take us to a better petrol station leading to Austria, we are happy with this and make the short trip round the Munchen ring road. Lift 6 – Blonde, Cute German Girl. Nichola:3 Tina:3. Tina comments that German girls are definitely cool. Here, this was our second woman giving us a ride – in France, we were hardly picked up by men, let alone women.

It is now quite late, around midnight, and we consider that this petrol station will be the one we’ll be sleeping at this evening. We eat a few snacks and check out the place. It’s quite big with some petrol pumps and then a car and lorry park to the side. There isn’t much incoming traffic so I decide to go see if any of the trucks could take us. I also saw a car with Dutch plates go over there, so I go after them, but they drive away too quickly. I ask a truck driver coming back from the cafe if he can take us. “Sorry, pause” he says. So no trucks for us then, we really are going to be sleeping here.

I go back and tell Tina the bad news. We are still trying though and Tina asks a few more cars. She calls me over, very excited. “Oh my God, guess where she’s going?”, “Innsbruck?”, “Ljubljana!” . This is ironic as this is where we plan to go in Slovenia after Venice. “Is it on the way?” “She can drop us off here” (Tina points to the map, we follow her finger from Ljubljana to Venice, doesn’t look that long.), “Looks good, let’s go!”.

Lift 7 – Slovenian Girl. Nichola: 3 Tina: 4. They speak in English to start but eventually switch to er… one of the Balkan languages? I decided to spend most of my trip sleeping in the back, so it didn’t matter. She has had a meeting in Munchen and is now driving back home. What a journey to take, especially when she won’t be arriving back till the early hours. For this we are a little glad as we won’t be sleeping outside for this time. They talk. I sleep. Tina learned that they’re lots of amazing places in Slovenia that need to be seen. They discussed how the euro-crisis is felt in Slovenia, why doesn’t Slovenia share the same Balkan mentality as the other ex-Yugoslavian countries and so on. Eventually Tina got sleepy too, but she felt bad to fall asleep while the woman needed the conversation to keep her awake driving in the middle of the night. I am told we’ve just gone through a really long tunnel which had the border in the middle. It was really cool, apparently. I missed it. But we were in Slovenia! So amazing! We never thought we’d be anywhere close to our destination at this time. We were very happy. Near the cross roads where we stop for coffee – poor girl she needed a lot on this journey – and Tina says there is a better junction just outside Ljubljana and on the map it is the direct road to Venice. Looked good to me. Tina makes arrangements and we get another hour of not sleeping outside. The woman decides to drive for us a bit further north of Ljubljana just so that she can drop us off at a petrol station exactly at the motorway for Italy.

We arrive and get out, it was surprisingly warm, we’d be happy to sleep here a few hours till the more likely being picked up time of 6am. But there are some cars here AND one of them has Italian plates! Our victim, an unsuspecting, chubby Italian is filling his car with petrol. While still thanking the Slovenian woman, still dizzy from the trip, we slowly approach him from the side. We ask, “Skuzi, Venzia?”, “Si”, he signals to the car. Unbelievable! We hug. Its 5am. We don’t have to sleep outside this night. We have our final ride to Venice. We will be there in an hour. It had all gone so well. Lift 8 – Italian Guy. Nichola: 3 Tina: 5. (I thought she only won by one, but turns out to be two!). We are excited we enjoy the ride, I sleep and we watch the sun rising. We get into Venice at 6am. The saying of the trip “If we had organized lifts ourselves, it wouldn’t have gone that smoothly”. Average speed for the trip – 90.5km/h (56mph). 16 hours.

But it wasn’t over yet we had to get to the hostel, the official end of the competition. We had to get a boat there from San Marco Square. We just had to find San Marco. We asked the driver and he pointed us in the direction. Unfortunately Venice is a lot bigger than I remember from the school trip I went on. So many streets, are we going the right way? It can’t be that far. Do I recognise anything? No. We ask a nun. She says to take a boat taxi. The guy there says its €6.50 to get to San Marco and we are better off walking there. We go back to where we asked the nun and see a sign for San Marco Square. We follow these for what seems like forever. Venice is a place you definitely need a local or a map for. We eventually get there very hot and sweaty. We don’t like San Marco.

We find the boats and are confused by which to get and how to buy a ticket. We try to ask an old lady. Language barrier. We just decide to wait. A boat arrives and we get on. €6.50 for two stops, a 10 minute journey, a rip-off. We have to go though. An hour after we arrive in Venzia we are at the hostel, 7am. Is there anyone else here? Any UCUers? There isn’t. We’ve WON!!!!

We have an awkward conversation with the receptionist where we say we don’t want to pay yet and wait for the others. We actually plan to couch surf as the place is €20 a night, although we don’t have a host yet. We collapse on a table. We discuss our epic adventure. We cannot believe what just happened. Everyone around us is eating breakfast. I pull out a salad and Tina with only one hours sleep the whole journey (her plan to sleep in cars failed) has a nap on the table. We await the others. We send our morning text and wait for the reply. At 11am we receive where the others are. The next team is 126 km away. We work this out to be Verona. Not that far.

The next team doesn’t arrive till 3pm.

[Our route]

UCU Hitchhike Competition Champions Spring 2012 – Nichola and Klementina. Spongebob 2.0.

UCU Proms in the Castle

Five weeks in, where does the time go?

Last week was very hectic with two tests, a presentation and an assignment. It’s busier than my midterm week! At least we had Prom at the weekend to make up for it.

Prom at UCU is an annual event where the people of UC actually put an effort in when planning a night out. Usually at the bar it is OK to go in the same clothes that you went to class, no one minds. Whilst this is refreshing from the having-to-change-to-your-evening-clothes mentality when heading out in Exeter, it’s nice to dress up sometimes. However this did mean that I was a little disappointed when I saw what others had chosen to wear. Prom has a certain style of dress, the kind you can only wear to a fancy event. These were the kind I was expecting. Yet I guess as UCUers don’t get to wear going out dresses to the bar they wear them to Prom instead. Essentially I felt a lot more shiny than others.

However everyone still looked good and it was exciting to get outside the bubble together. Unfortunately we were not the entire friendship group we would have like to have been. Most of the Dutchies (not including Linda, Myrte you’re awesome (; ) had decided not to go. For these kind of uni events I have the mentality that you should always go to them as if you don’t go you’ll just consider what it would’ve been like if you did and if you do go and it’s not good at least you experienced it and will know what it was like – in essence there is a smaller risk of regret in going than not. I hypothesized it had something to do with the much stronger home life they have as in their mind they see us uni people all the time. When really this isn’t the case and when we are a group it is often only in Dining Hall and at these times we are thinking of other things “Oh no I have class in an hour”, “I have so much reading to do”, “I’m so tired” etc. Not time just going out and having fun, plus this will be the only UCU Prom I can go to so I am sad that now I will never go with everyone.

The theme of Prom was “Once Upon A Time”, but in typical UCU style I did not see any of this reflected in what people had chosen to wear or inside the venue. The venue did appear to fit the theme as it was in a castle, however when we arrived all we could see around us was houses and it turned out to just be in the middle of a housing estate. It was not very castle-like and actually more like a big house. We entered anyway and made our way to the dance floor. The rest of the evening consisted of toing and froing from the bar to the dance floor. We we’re interrupted a few times for the announcements of Prom Kings and Queens, which is to be expected from an Americanised system such as that of UCU. I am not really a fan of this Prom King and Queen stuff. 1. because it dented the atmosphere every time there was an announcement and 2. you had to give your vote in before the Prom, hence it was nothing but a pure popularity contest.

The waltz came on latter which for me detracted a bit too as I remained partner-less. I was hot though so I tried to go outside to cool down, but ridiculously we were being forcibly trapped there. You were not allowed out unless you pleaded with the guy on the door to go get something from your coat at which point you had to return immediately anyway. This was the most ridiculous thing of the prom.

I realise in this I am being quite negative, but that is not what I thought of Prom. It was a fun night out it was just not what you imagine a Prom to be like. It was a good party.

I have concluded since that I am not that big a fan of Prom – I enjoy the pre-Prom part but when actually there I am a little disappointed. I think I will stick to the more creative ones at Exeter such as the Adventure Ball (It is held in a children’s soft play area!).

I also had company in my room for one night this week, “named” Figaro.

Utrecht-San Sebastian hitchhike: Post-Post-Hitchhike

Our initial plan was to go to the beach again, but Urzi and Chris were planning a bike ride so we joined in. It turned out to be a reasonably sized group of nine who came along. This included UCUers who had arrived that very morning and were heading to Barcelona the next day. This made Klementina happy as she now had people to travel with in order to get her flight to Brussels.

The hostel map showed a good bike route and we decided to take this. First stop was the far end of the swimming beach where some sculptures were erected over the sea. We took lots of pictures of us climbing the monuments. The tide was coming in so we could see the spray of the waves hitting the rocks. Klementina and some guys climbed down to play in the spray. They had a good time though at a cost. Klementina soaked her shoes, Chris got hit by a full wave and another guy nearly had his shoes stolen by the sea. Luckily they retrieved them, but the sea had the last laugh, claiming his socks.

We then decided to go up the cliff as the funicular was nearby. Klementina, Chris and I were not fools and got the funicular to the top, while the others cycled up. Funny thing is they still had to spend €1.80, so in the end only saved €0.90. The view was stunning and we took many pictures. Chris and Klementina found a ball and played volleyball while waiting for the others. It only ended up going over the side once!

At this point everyone was hungry so we decided to get food en route, asking locals for advice. We ate at a place with three courses and wine for €10. So it was very good, unless you are vegetarian. Spaniards don’t seem to understand vegetarians. They’re perfectly capable at making a vegetarian dish, but then they put some ham on top for garnish. This meant Klementina’s green salad had tuna in it, so she had to do with lentils. Mine was very nice though.

Klementina and others had to buy their bus tickets as their coach for Barcelona was leaving tonight. It was also en route so it was no problem. Our cycle included going under a cliff in an extraordinarily long tunnel which was very fun. “Maybe China’s at the other end”. Funnily at one point we were supposed to go straight over a roundabout, but we ended up doing 360°, who knows how. At the bus station, I luckily saw my bus company too and confirmed a €6.60 bus was leaving for Biarritz the next morning.

At this point however, Klementina realised she had lost her camera with €50 in the case, probably back at the funicular. So while everyone went to the hostel we went back to check. Luckily the man didn’t charge us for the funicular, but alas it was not there. Our photos from yesterday were lost, but at least we still had the ones from mine. Plus now we could see the palace we missed earlier. Not really a palace, it was more a stately home, but still pretty.

We watched some surf kayaks and decided, even though it was dark, we couldn’t leave without going in the sea. We stripped to our bikinis and stood in the waves. We didn’t swim though as the waves, if they were in Cornwall, you would’ve happily surfed. Another objective achieved, we ate the rest of our bread on the promenade, then headed to the hostel. Here we chilled and packed our bags for the next day. Until Klementina realised that she suddenly had to leave to catch her bus and so, with a hasty goodbye, she did so.

I had to sort out my transport, but luckily some people from my intro week family were taking the same flight to London, in order to fly back to the Netherlands. They decided on a time to get the bus to Biarritz and agreed to meet at reception at 7.30am.

Others along with Chris and Urzi had gone to the beach for drinks and as I now had eight beers (mine plus Klementina’s) from yesterday, I went along. I needed to get rid of them as you aren’t allowed glass in hand luggage. Luckily Ilona was leaving the next morning too so we went together.

We found Urzi and Chris along with a few others sitting in a circle playing ring of fire. Unfortunately we were to be interrupted by a guy shouting at us in French wanting a cigarette. We said we didn’t have one, but that wasn’t the end, he came to the beach and joined in our circle. We ignored him, but he didn’t like that. He picked up one of the bottles and threatened us. We jumped and he ended up stealing a bottle of rum.

Although it was on the beach of course!

This kind of ruined our evening a little. We decided to move to a new place on the beach and continue to play. Instead we watched the same guy steal a blanket from someone else. It was a little ridiculous. As some people were quite drunk we thought we should go back to the hostel. Unfortunately part way we realised we had lost Ralph and so me and Ilona stayed with the drunkards. However Ilona then also realised she had left her bag on the beach that contained her passport. So then I was left with drunkards, who were pretending to be Spanish whilst speaking Dutch. These weren’t the most favourable circumstances for me to be looking after them, when I really had no clue what they were saying.

An awkward ten minutes followed, but Ilona returned saying she couldn’t find it. Hence we went back to the beach to search. We had hidden some bottles in the sand when we saw some police were nearby, so I started by looking for these. I found one; Ilona came over and also discovered her bag. Phew.

We made our way back to the hostel, the drunkards harassing locals on the way and generally being annoying. Eventually we left them as they had run away twice and we had to get up early. A day of constant travel was ahead.

gf

The Travels Commence

Two weeks since I wrote this! Last weekend we didn’t end up going to Sofie’s house as Klementina had too much work to do so instead on Saturday I went on a canal cruise with Alizee and Carol. It was lovely as the sun was shining. This did mean that I didn’t pay a lot of attention to what the tour guide was saying but it didn’t matter. Utrecht is very nice and I learned little things, like underneath each lamppost is a different carving.

The weekend before, on the Sunday, I went to Rotterdam with Klementina which was largely disappointing and very expensive, €20 return! We had a tour of the docks, but it was a bit dull as it was mostly about the different cargo that was being brought in. Plus Rotterdam, being an industrial city, it wasn’t very pretty.

However we went to see the cube houses which were really cool, but I would quite like to know how much one would cost. Rotterdam does have amazing architecture, but it’s still not somewhere I would like to live. The pouring rain didn’t help its cause much either. We did find some cute jumpers knitted for lampposts and trees, so perhaps it is nice if you know what to look for. In hindsight if you plan a spontaneous visit to a city it’s probably worthwhile taking someone who knows their way around.

The train home was a nightmare as it terminated in Worden, for some unknown reason, and as we didn’t understand the Dutch announcement we sat on the train for a while till someone said there was a bus outside. So we ran, but got there just in time to see the bus pull away and the next one wasn’t for an hour. This meant we would miss dinner. So I thought if we have to stand in the car park for an hour we might as well try to hitch a lift. Luckily this pulled off and we even beat the bus back to Utrecht station. I was learning the Dutch seem much keener to pick up strangers than in the UK. Overall if we did get the tickets for Den Hague, like we were supposed to – in order to see the European courts, then the day would’ve been much better.

Unfortunately the Wednesday after that I had to go fetch my bike so I could buy some ingredients to make cakes for our family dinner. However it was stolen!* Joy. So I had a kerfuffle with the police and insurance to maybe get some money for it rather than venturing to the supermarket. This was doubly disappointing as I had just had my first presentation, so baking was going to be a celebration. Instead it was a disaster.

The presentation I think went well though. I am not sure as I don’t really know what is expected from a presentation, no one really gives you any guidelines for anything. It was a poster presentation for psychology and I at least think ours was better than some as theirs was more like a power point and ours was definitely a poster. We’ll see how it goes; I don’t need to think about it anymore.

I did manage to borrow Sofie’s bike and got the ingredients for the cakes. They turned out to be a big success. I made butterfly cakes with chocolate sponge and instead of the normal wings, I used cookies. Even “Auntie” Veerle (who wasn’t at the party) told me she’d heard much about them from my “mum”. They couldn’t stop talking about it. It was nice to have a reunion as I know some families fall apart the day after intro week. But it did feel a bit distant as if our family had a split, but I guess that is to be expected if you just throw thirteen people together in a group. I guess they can’t all be the best of friends. I wonder if we will have another again as I expected it to turn into a party after and for us all to go to the bar. However everyone pretty much left and we helped clear up.

That night was also the meeting for the hitchhike in the break. Myrte, Klementina and I went and it was pretty crowded. It sounded really fun. The day after exams everyone meets on the quad and a picture is taken. Then we are off. We are allowed to take public transport within Utrecht in order to get to the motorway, but after that it is not allowed. At set times you send a text back to the organisers who then send a reply saying which place everyone is in. The winners get a trophy and on the Monday evening everyone has a meal together. San Sebastian is the destination, which didn’t thrill me to start with as Spain isn’t that interesting. However I looked it up and it turns out to be a surfing haven. So this changed my views a little. Klementina and I teamed up and with two hitchhikes under our belts this term; we feel we can do well.

Some things in here are different to the hitchhike in Exeter which I also participated in. It was from Exeter to Amsterdam. Here we had to go in boy-girl teams or boy-boy teams only. Whereas in UCU this is not the case. You can go in groups of two or three and made up of any amount of sexes you wish. I understand why Exeter does this as there is of course a danger in Hitchhiking, which is greater if you’re a girl. However I guess this rule is not enforced as the ratio of boys to girls in UCU is quite high so it would not work and lots of people would not be able to go.

Another thing that UCU could do easily, joined with HumanitarianCo, is do it for charity. With Exeter you pay so much to go – which is donated to charity – and then if you raise that amount of money back then you get to go for free. This has two benefits. One, if you can do something for charity why not, especially when it makes you feel better. Second, if you’re wearing a charity hitchhike t-shirt then I’m pretty sure more people will pick you up. Especially as en-route people would be able to recognise you all as a collective. Hence, as we learn in social psychology, familiarity creates likability, so more lifts. A downside for Exeter, though, is the initial payment is over £100 which is quite hard to pay, so if they met somewhere in the middle, this would be the best hitchhike.

Following the former entry the “Exeter Social” is going ahead tonight which should be fun. Ali has Pimms and I’m going to try to get rid of my bag of wine left over from Pukkelpop. We hope to introduce some Exeter games such as “Fives” and “Ride the Bus”. We also hope to change this trend of calling “Ring of Fire” “King’s cup”, i.e. the American version. Myrte is coming too so I look forward to it.

I can’t think of much else that happened except the joys of studying. I had two exams today maths and linguistics and I think they went okay. I’ve also bought all my tickets for fall break now so I reckon overall it’ll cost €500. It’s expensive – but exciting and so probably worthwhile. San Sebastian – England – Budapest!

*The bike was to turn up again a week later outside the dining hall. It had not been stolen after all – I had forgotten where I had parked it one evening!