As I ventured into the cold, overcast Dutch afternoon upon arrival at Maastricht Centraal, waiting for a taxi to my apartment, I was inundated by certain sounds and smells that just didn’t exist at home in the States–and ones which I will now always associate with this city. Depending on where you are, most of the smells stay the same, yet others change. The combinations were intense; so, I decided to write a quick post about these observations alone.
- High– and flat-heeled shoes clicking on the cobblestone streets
February 2014 — The river Maas
- The revving of moped engines
- Bicycle bells
- The bicycles themselves (chains, chain guards [mine never stops rattling when going over cobblestones])
- The engines of German performance cars bolting down the streets (which often have manual transmissions, by the way)
- Seagulls hovering over the river Maas
- Low-pitched horns of cargo ships
- Street violinists in the Markt and the Vrijthof (two large, public squares in Maastricht), and the Sint Servaasbrug–a bridge which dates back to Roman times
- Perfume and cologne
- Freshly-made Belgian waffles
- Tobacco smoke
- Flowers sold in small, local markets
- Friet - Dutch French fries
My three-hour flight from Reykjavik-Keflavik Airport landed safely. I made my way to the baggage hall, and then to the main train station located directly underneath the airport. This is where my journey began.
I stepped onto the train from Amsterdam, which would take me to Utrecht Centraal Station. Once I changed trains, I was headed for Eindhoven Centraal, followed by quick stops in the cities of Weert, Roermond, and Sittard.
On the train from Amsterdam to Maastricht and everything in between, here is what unfolded: flat, green countryside; narrow, reddish-brown, brick houses; and canals which grazed the landscape. Icons like these are what are often expected when in the Netherlands, and I could not have been more in awe and excited that I was actually in this beautiful country. It wasn’t only the landscape which impressed me–it was the people. I had the chance to observe Dutch life as it was. From teenagers on their iPhones, to parents listening to their children about their day at school, it was all real.
When traveling to the Netherlands, ask people questions. They are generally more than happy to help a visitor. And, do so in Dutch–their language. It’s very common for the Dutch to speak multiple languages (Dutch, English, German, and/or French) as a result of early language education beginning in elementary school and continuing until the end of secondary school or beyond. I think that Dutch is underestimated and under-learned. In fact, leaving Amsterdam, I struck up a conversation in Dutch with a woman and her sons who were about my age. The family gave me hints on which cities and areas should be visited in the Netherlands, and which ones should be avoided. I also spoke with two gentlemen before we arrived at Utrecht Centraal. As we stepped off the train and went in our own directions, the two friends offered some helpful advice on how the Dutch train network works, as well as a useful smartphone app which maps out your route for you.
It’s these small experiences which add a second, more-refined dimension to travel: living the life that the locals live and speaking their language, even when you know you’re somewhat of a tourist.
Blog by Matthew Rice, Study Abroad–Netherlands
It’s really happening.
As the past few months have flown by, I’ve continually had to convince myself that on the morning of January 19, 2014, I will have arrived in the Netherlands; convince myself that although I have been accepted to the University College Maastricht and my residence visa has been approved (after a somewhat long and tedious process, I’ll admit), there is no chance that the trip is going to fall through the cracks. It’s for real, and after nearly seven years of studying the Dutch language and culture in light of this journey someday coming to fruition, I have never felt more prepared or excited.
My plane takes off 48 hours from when I write this, and it’s extremely empowering knowing that I was raised in such a great community: Snohomish, Washington.
Snohomish (often called “Snoho” by the locals) is the kind of town where news among old friends will spread like wildfire in the Fred Meyer produce section, and the weather just doesn’t please anyone for any amount of time. Yet, it is the most closely-knit, caring, and generous community I can think of. It’s this community that has ultimately helped me step aboard this eastbound plane to the Netherlands for a true journey.
New people, another language, and a much different pace. I can deal with that. There is so much about the Netherlands that I would like to share with the UW Bothell community in this post, but I’ll save that for when it all begins.
First stop from Sea-Tac Airport: Keflavik International Airport near Reykjavik, Iceland (7 hr 15 min); next: Amsterdam Schiphol Airport (3 hrs); and finally, a cross-country train ride southeast to Maastricht (2 hr 40 min).
Ik spreek jullie later.
Met vriendelijke groeten,
Matthew Ryan Rice