This summer, I am focusing on topics related to moving to, living in and working in The Netherlands.
Why? To celebrate the release of FactCards.nl! On this website, you can find all information you need as a foreigner coming to do research in The Netherlands. And even for me, coming from neighbour country Belgium and speaking the same language (well, sort of...), those FactCards would have been really useful and could have saved me from a few headaches...
In this post, I share with you the 20 things I enjoyed most about my time in The Netherlands, and things that I still enjoy when I come back for my research stay during the summer.
Who needs a car if you can bike your commute? When you live in The Netherlands, one of the first things you need to look for is a decent bike. Your bike doesn't need to be a shining new one, but you do want to have a bike that is right in size for you, and that has some gears to help you bike up hills/bridges. Get yourself some bike bags to transport your groceries on your bike, and you're ready to go!
If you are in The Netherlands during spring when the tulips are in bloom, you just need to go and visit Keukenhof. The wealth of flowers in and around the Bollenstreek is simply overwhelming. I just wish I'd gone more often during the years I was in The Netherlands (I did go 2 out of the 4 years I lived in Delft).
The iconic capital of The Netherlands has much more to offer than drugs and the red light district. It's a stunning city with beautiful architecture and charming canals. The museums are world class, there are plenty of great places for dining, sipping coffee and hanging out, and of course you need to enjoy the presence of the water everywhere.
The Netherlands is very well-connected to its neighboring countries. You can take the train right into Belgium, France or Germany, or take the boat to the United Kingdom (or connect in Brussels to the Eurostar train) (keep in mind that you might need an additional visa for visiting the UK!). Snatch a cheap flight on Ryanair or EasyJet and go explore another city somewhere in Europe. Enjoy it where you are there, in the center of Europe!
Flowers are cheap in The Netherlands, so indulge and get yourself some flowers every now and then to freshen up your house. Tulips in spring, roses in the early summer - you might want to buy them from your city's market to get a great deal.
pAh, the North Sea - there is not a sea or ocean in the world that smells like the North Sea. It's not the beautiful Mediterranean sea, but there is nothing like walking on the empty beach in November or swimming in the very salty water of the North Sea. Enjoy a day at the beach, and enjoy all the attractions of the beach towns.
Rotterdam is the melting pot of the Netherlands. While Rotterdam might not have come out of the wars of the 20th century without wounds, it is arguably the city with the most modern feel of The Netherlands. Marvel at the highrises, then go sample some international cuisine - Rotterdam caters to all tastes.
The Veluwe feels far away from everything else in The Netherlands, and it makes for a perfect weekend getaway. Stay close to the national park, bike around the park and visit the Kröller-Müller Museum. Watch the wildlife and hills that are so distinctly different from the flat and mostly urban landscape of the rest of the Netherlands.
Head to Frisia, hit the lakes and sail - or learn to sail. Water sports are the most popular sports in The Netherlands during the summer. Head out for a day and sail the waters, feel the sun on your skin and the wind in your hair - sailing might be one of the most relaxing activities you can do.
Europe and summer festivals - it's a match made in heaven. Chose a summer festival according to the style of music you like best, camp out and feel the unity in music while rocking out to one of your favorite bands.
While making friends in The Netherlands might take a little more time than in other parts of the world, you can help your luck a little bit by joining a sports team, a music group or by singing up for evening classes.
The Dutch go crazy when their national team plays - especially in the world cup or Eurocup. If it's a sunny game day, don't miss the atmosphere and go watch the game on a big screen. Have a beer and enjoy the orange madness.
The Netherlands are an excellent location for slow travel. Towns and cities are close to each other, so you don't need to worry about long stretches without shops or restaurants when you travel slowly. Travel by bike along the excellent biking facilities of The Netherlands, or travel by boat along the rivers and canals.
Just because we need to throw in a little cliche here too: go for nostalgia and get yourself a pair of wooden shoes and walk around in them, reminiscing the old days.
Now that we're talking about the typical Dutch cliches, we can't miss the windmills of Kinderdijk. Maybe a little bit too much of a touristic location, but hey, you just need your picture with the windmills to show your family back home that you really are in The Netherlands.
When the sun's out, you gotta join the locals and sit on the terrace of a pub with a beer or soft drink. It's called "terrasje doen" (doing a terrace), and we even talk about "terrasjesweer" (terrace weather - when the weather is good enough to sit outside).
The days are dark and short during winter, so it's the perfect time of the year to cuddle up on the couch under a blanket or spend evenings playing board games and indoor grilling with friends - all of it at a slow pace, with smell of comfort food around. "Gezellig" we call it in Dutch, ad it loosely translates to "cosy", but it's much more than that - you need to experience it.
The Southern parts of the Netherlands are closer to the Burgundian Belgians, so they know more about good food and fine dining (not saying this because I am Belgian...). Maastricht is a lovely city in Dutch Limburg, close to Germany and Belgium, where food is plenty and delicious. The same goes for Brabant, famous for baked goods, such as Bossche Bollen, and more extensive meals than the rest of the country.
How does lunch look like in The Netherlands (and often Belgium too)? Well, you take a loaf of bread, take at least 4 slices of them, and put something between two slices. You can for example put cheese between two slices of bread and you have one "dubbele boterham" (a sandwich). Jam is a popular choice for breakfast (yes, you can just do the same for breakfast).
Did you know we call a spa a spa because of the city Spa in Belgium, a famous bathing place for the rich and famous? Spas in this part of the world a luscious experience, with pools and saunas to enjoy (absolutely something I miss when I am in Ecuador). Perfect for a cold winter days, to rejuvenate and heat up in a Finnish sauna.