While biking to university on my “brand new” €45 second-hand dutch bike along one of the many canals which cross the city of Utrecht, I was trying to realise where I actually am and what I am actually doing. I have been here in The Netherlands for just four days and am starting to realise just now that I am actually living here. The first days were a bit confusing. Am I in Holland? Who would have ever thought, even merely ten months ago, that I would end up here, on a great Journalism course together with other sixteen people from across the world, living in Utrecht.
Although the title of this post does not require any explanation, I just wanted to start this post by underling how biking is an extremely relevant part of Dutch culture and its different aspects I have so far discovered. While biking through the “traffic jam” of cyclists all on their way to the De Uithof campus of Utrecht’s university (which includes more than one institution and faculty), I noticed how some Dutch can master biking extremely well. This morning, a tall dutch guy in front of me was normally cycling to University and probably thought it was too hot to wear his jacket; so, as he would normally do, while biking at a pretty fast and steady phase he decided to take his jacket off, put it nicely and tidy in his backpack, take out his phone, send a couple of texts and eventually, when he was done with all his personal business, put his hands back on the bike’s handlebars. Truly impressive! Personally all I have managed to do so far (this morning, to be precise) was to listen to some music while biking on my way to University. I wonder whether by the end of my stay here, or at the end of the programme in Denmark (where they bike quite a lot too), I will be mastering my bike as professionally as an average Dutch.
Also, very interestingly, I read that one of the reasons why the countries in the north are considered among the happiest in the world (Denmark was ranked first this year and and The Netherlands fourth – http://unsdsn.org/resources/publications/world-happiness-report-2013/), is because biking, as all sport activities do, triggers endorphins which are known for generating feelings of happiness in your body. Therefore, since this sport is a very big part of almost everyone’s daily life here, this could somehow explain why they are considered so happy on a world basis.
However, apart from the cycling tradition and the happiness of this country, this place is absolutely wonderful and it has by far exceeded my expectations. I was convinced that I would have been living in a “big town” for the next six months, but when I got off the train and on the bus to my apartment, by crossing the city I actually realised how big this place is.
It is also extremely cozy and architecturally beautiful. I believe that there is no place in the world which is similar to Holland, or at least not that I have been to so far in my life.
While countries like Denmark, Sweden and Norway tend to look alike and other countries like Spain or France are so big that you do not really think of other places that could be similar to them, when you come to a tiny country like Holland (which measures max 315km from north to south) you do not expect to see so many unique places all at once and so concentrated. Personally speaking, this is the feel I got when coming here, although it was not my first time. I had briefly visited both Amsterdam and Utrecht during an InterRail around northern Europe in 2012, but I did not get the chance to visit the country properly.
Also, in my experience, when people talk about Holland, the legal use and sale of marijuana is what would typically come in before everything else as the primary reason for visiting this country.
I still remember back in High School someone asking me “why would you go to Holland if you won’t smoke weed?”. Well, travel here and you will understand that there is a lot more than that.
Here is a photo of the living room in my apartment, which is beautiful and extremely spacious. I have met my two flatmates and they are extremely nice and friendly.
I will now be starting my journalistic work, and writing an article on my first impressions of Holland and Dutch culture is my first assignment of the week. So I better get starting as soon as possible.
From Holland, doai! (goodbye!)