One of my favorite things about the Netherlands is the accessibility of public transportation throughout the whole country. To get around you use an OV Chipkaart, a little blue and white plastic card that give access to all public transportation. That's right, you can use this little guy for the trams, subways, buses, and trains throughout the entire country. No more Charlie Card for me! A great thing about this card is that it charges you by distance, not by ride. And because Amsterdam is pretty small you can get to most popular areas of the city from where I live, in Amsterdam Oost (East), for less than two euro. However, I don't really use public transport in Amsterdam becuase I have my bike and that's by far the best way to get around, even with the accessible and easy to navigate tram system. The best part of the Dutch transportation system is that it allows you to take a lot of day trips, and it's not expensive and quite simple! So far I've been to Zaanse Schans (although I rode my bike there), Utrecht, Haarlem, Den Haag, Gouda, and Rotterdam. All of these places took less than an hour to get to by train and when you arrive in the city the respective central stations all use the same layout as in Amsterdam.
I've loved getting to know this country through it's different cities. When I decided to go abroad, Amsterdam being in a central location for travel around Europe was a big factor for me. I know people who have gone to ten or more countries during their study abroad and I assumed that I would be no different. But when I got here (and realized I don't have money for that even if flying is cheap here) I decided that I wanted to make the Netherlands really feel like home. I fell in love with Amsterdam much deeper and harder than I thought I would, and I realized I didn't actually want to leave. So I'm going to travel Europe when I have more money, because right now making this place my home is the priority.
Yesterday I went to Gouda with our incredible IES Abroad leader Rosa (who is from Gouda), and some other IES Abroad students. We got on the train around 9:30 and were in Gouda by 10:15. Now I don't know if you've heard about the mighty Stroopwaffle but basically this delicious cookie is made of two waffles (really one thin waffle sliced in two) stuck together with a giant blob of caramel, and smooshed. We got to make our own Stroopwaffles and eat them, and I don't think I've ever enjoyed a cookie so much in my life. Gouda is very serious about its cheese and Stroops (that's my nickname for them because we're just that close). In fact, two buildings right near central station are designed to look like a Stroop and a piece of cheese.
After stuffing our faces, we went on a walking tour of the city where we found out that cheese has never been made in Gouda. Wow, what a let down. But the cheese is named after Gouda because its made in surrounding farms and sold there. We also learned about Gouda's history which seems to me to be shaped pretty much by water. That's the idea I'm getting from the history of the Netherlands as a whole. Gouda is below sea-level by about a meter. Needless to say, the way the houses are built, the system of canals, and the history of trade in the city is all in response to this position "under the water."
After getting some lunch, my friend Cara and I hopped on a train to Rotterdam, a city that's been referred to as "Amsterdam's hipster sister." About twenty minutes later, we stepped out of Rotterdam's central station and found ourselves amongst skyscrapers for the first time since August. Cara is from Philly and I'm from north of Boston so both of us are used to the traditional east coast type of city and seeing all these tall buildings made us giddy. The city was great to walk around in for a few hours, but we could have definitely stayed for longer if only the sun didn't go down at 5pm. The architecture in Rotterdam is famous for being quirky and having the Dutch modern-practicality flare, and it did not disappoint. Not only that, we saw some of the coolest street art that I've seen since arriving in Europe.
As always, the best part of any trip here is coming home, and that's not meant to be negative. The feeling of coming out of Central Station in Amsterdam and feeling that comfort of being home, is my favorite part of studying abroad. I'm so proud and thankful that I've been able to settle in this city and make it another home. Leaving in eight weeks is going to be one of the hardest things I've had to do.
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<p>I grew up in Ipswich, MA an incredibly beautiful (though much too small) town on the northern coast of Massachusetts. I began college in 2013 at the University of Rochester, planning to major in Brain and Cognitive Science. I ended up having to take some time of of school for health reasons and I was lucky enough to travel to India for three months where I backpacked with a gap year program called Carpe Diem. It was the most incredible experience I've ever had, how could it not be. But to be honest it feels surreal now. I am so excited to get back to living far away from everything familiar to me. When I came back to U of R in the winter of 2015 I decided to major in English and Anthropology and now my dream is to work for NPR. These days I'm usually listening to a podcast or book on tape, reading, or writing.</p>