As part of this little project, one of the first things I should do is write an introductory pre-departure post, so that you can all compare me before and after this European experience. However, I must confess that I have cheated. I’ve already been in Europe for a little over a month, and still have about a week before I start going to class. So far I’ve visited the following cities (some more thoroughly than others), in more or less consecutive order: Amsterdam, Utrecht (the Netherlands) – Milan, Venice, Rome (Italy) – Lugano (Switzerland) – Prague (Czech Republic) – Munich, Dresden, Berlin, Wiesbaden, Rudesheim, Frankfurt am Main, Koblenz, Bonn, Cologne (Germany) – Brussels (Belgium). Here are a few of my favorite shots (btw, it breaks my heart how many pictures I’m cutting for the sake of brevity):
Inside the Coliseum in Rome, Italy
View from a gondola in Venice, Italy
Nobody tells you Brussels, Belgium is this beautiful!
Amsterdam, the Netherlands at night
As you can see, I’ve been a bit busy, but there’s still so much more to see! It’s been an absolute blast of an adventure, and I wish I could do this for much longer. I wish I had more time, but I digress… Anyway, for those that don’t already know, I’ll be spending this fall semester studying at Universiteit Utrecht in Utrecht, the Netherlands. I was already there for a couple days when I first arrived in Europe to leave most of my belongings with my good friend Betty who lives there, so I have already seen a little bit of it of the town, and I must say it’s such a pretty place. I know it’s not the same since I’m not giving an on-site, immediate description of my first days in my new temporary home, but here’s one thing I can tell you about my first impression of Utrecht:
Bikes! Bikes everywhere!
One thing everyone will tell you about the Netherlands (or, as some Dutch people will call it, Holland—but I’ve been reprimanded by a couple of Dutch people for saying that, so I’m just going to cover my bases and say it the long way) is that it’s a bike country. Biking is literally the primary mode of transportation within towns and cities, and you will notice this right away. Many streets—traffic lights even—are intended for bikers, and even as a pedestrian you have to watch out for them. People ride them to school, work, parties, bars, and they do it in any weather. In any clothes. (Yup, girls bike in their skirts and dresses—they don’t pay any mind, and neither should you). There are parking lots specifically for bikes, and everyone makes sure to lock theirs in at least two different places, as apparently they get stolen quite often. As you might imagine, finding your own bicycle in a sea of other similar-looking contraptions can be difficult—plus, the more inconspicuous ones, being harder to identify, are commonly stolen. As a result, people like to “pimp out” their bikes quite a bit. Some people cover them in spray-paint, stickers, or even duct tape, and lots of girls like to personalize theirs with special baskets and artificial flowers around the handlebars and other areas. I know I’ll be buying my own bike soon (and yes, I do plan on getting a basket and at least one flower for it), but for now I must say it’s an adjustment. Not being used to biking everywhere, I must say I was left a bit… sore.
Exhibit A: Betty, showing me how to properly park a bike on the second story.
Another thing I’ve enjoyed here is that lots of the food which we consider more luxurious and specialized is a lot more common here, and is hence much cheaper. Whereas people usually just go for pre-sliced loaves of sandwich bread in the US, Europeans seem to prefer getting rolls and baguettes. Actually something I had never seen before which seems perfectly normal here is to buy packages of slightly-undercooked bread and then putting it in the oven for 10-15 minutes. Then you end up with practically freshly baked bread any time you want, which is fantastic. It’s also much cheaper to get fruits and vegetables, berry jams and nut spreads like Nutella, [supposedly] healthier, more natural cereals like Muesli, and “fancy” cheeses like Gouda and Brie. Inversely, I saw a box of American Lucky Charms cereal on sale for 7 euro!
A modest lunchtime picnic with baguettes, Brie cheese, hummus, strawberries, grapes, rose wine, chips, and more.
Anyway, I don’t want to make this post any longer. Since we’re on the topic of food, here are pictures of some of my favorite meals I had from around Europe. ‘Till next time and, as the Dutch say, eet smakelijk! (Translation: bon appetit!)
Pancakes in Utrecht, the Netherlands
My brother-in-law, Carlos, and my first Italian gelato in Milan, Italy. What they say about Italian gelato… it is all true.
Pretzel in Munich, Germany! As you can see, it was as big–if not bigger–than my purse.
Crepes with my friend, Linda, at Museumsurferfest in Frankfurt, Germany!
Kebab with my friend, Laura, in Cologne, Germany!Last but definitely best: Belgian waffles in Brussels, Belgium! My life changed after the first bite.