Friday, January 29, 2010

Brussels

We arrived in Brussels Friday evening and had made a reservation at a hostel beforehand so at least the lot of us didn't have to worry about actually finding a place to stay in Brussels.  While walking from the train station to our hostel we met these three Dutch guys trying to find their way around as well.  I'm excited to, while travling, just meet up with all these random people and make friends along the way.

After getting dinner and hanging out in our hostel for a while most people were pretty tired but Nick, Ashley, Jennica, Jared and I decided to go out and see the nightlife.  We walked into the first bar we found which seemed like a lot of fun.  There were rows and rows of tables in the bar and that's what people used as a dancefloor.  Everyone would get up on the tables to dance, and then walk around and/or socialize down below.  It was an interesting concept and worked pretty well.

The five of us stayed at that same bar until around 5am when we decided to go home.  The way home was the actual adventure though.  We knew we were going in the right direction but everyone  (except Jared who wandered off on his own)was following Ashley who happened to take a wrong turn somewhere and led us walking down this busy road with a very narrow sidewalk on the side.  We should have known it wasn't the right way when a few cars passing honked at us.  Eventually we came up to a tunnel which led to who-knows-where and the sidewalk even stopped.  At this point we had the choice of turning around and starting over, or climbing the fence to our left into a city-garden.  We of course climbed the fence and then walked toward the exit.  As expected, the gate was closed and was a gate about 15 ft high which we (especially the girls) weren't about to climb.  The only solution was to climb up onto the sidewalk above the tunnel.  After I got up and over, I had to pull Jennica and Ashley from above while Nick supported their feet from below.  In retrospect that decision was really dumb because of the 30 foot drop below to the road, but it worked out in the end.

Saturday was our only full day in Brussels so we wanted to make the most of it.  Ashely, Elisa and I got an earlier start than the rest of the group so we were on our own to explore Brussels.  We went to the art, chocolate and beer museums and just walked around the city in general.  There was a really nice park we walked through and the town square was beautiful, but very touristic.  We met up with the other UC kids in the town square but it soon started raining so we went back to the hostel to take a naps and rest.

Everyone in our group went out on Saturday night.  We went to a few bars around town square and had a lot of trouble getting into places.  This is the first time I've experienced a strong anti-American bias, but some bouncers flat-out said that we couldn't come in because we were Americans.  We eventually went to another bar and danced for a while.  There were very few girls there and a lot of the guys were gay so it might have been a hot-spot for that.  We did, however, run into a large group of American military guys who work security at the Embassy which was a nice connection because the Belgians don't speak nearly as much English as the Dutch.

The way home (after the 5am McDonalds run) was uneventful for everyone except Jared, who got lost, couldn't find his way back and ended up sleeping on the metro all night.  He unfortunately lost his phone and wallet in the process :(

Sunday morning we didn't do much except get breakfast/lunch and walk to the train station.  The entire city was dead though... it seems like a big trend in Europe that nothing is open on Sundays.

Most people had to be back in the Netherlands for orientation the next day, so everyone else went back right then but Nick and I made an on-the-spot decision to buy a ticket to Paris and keep traveling for a few days until our orientation....

Thursday, January 28, 2010

End of DLC

***I haven't updated this in a while because I've been traveling and without a computer***

The last Tuesday of the DLC was fun; most of the kids in our program all went out to a club (a new one this time) which was really big and is supposed to get some good DJs every now and then.  There weren't any eventful stories from that night though.

The Wednesday and Thursday were just studying for, and taking our final exams for the DLC.  The test was pretty easy and I'm sure I did well in the course.  Our last Culture lecture in the DLC was given to us by the Dean of University College Utrecht.  Someone in the class asked if there was an issue at all with biking under the influence (because you can get a ticket for that in the 'States).  The Dean responded that everyone does it and it's not an issue at all.  He included a story about how he woke up one time in a hedge on the side of the road still 1/2 way on his bike.  Hopefully the professors in Maastricht will be as cool.

Thursday night was the Great American Challenge.  We had slightly varied rules because Europe has everything in different quantities.  It was tons of fun but we didn't finish the puzzles (or even really put a dent in them).  By the time all of the other parts were done we just decided to go out to the bars.

We had to return our room keys by 11am the next morning at our final farewell party.  I wasn't nearly finished packing by the time that came around so it was lucky that Mario (the Portuguese guy in our suite) was there to let us back in after).

On that Friday afternoon we went down to Maastricht to drop our bags off at the Guesthouse (the I-House type building which I'll be staying at all semester) and then 7 of us (Mario was to meet us there) all left for our first international trip to Brussels.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Leiden

Saturday January 16:  As part of the DLC program we all had to split up into groups and go to a museum in a different city in The Netherlands.  I picked Leiden because I knew Aaron (Goldberg) was there and he could show us around.  It's also been way too long since I've seen him!

Although the majority of us guys were all going to Leiden, Evan and I got an earlier start than the others so we went on our own.  We had lunch at the train station in Utrecht and took the 30 minute ride to Leiden.  Aaron met us at the train station and we walked to the Antiquity museum.  They had a bunch of exhibits on ancient Egypt and Rome.  It was relatively interesting but nothing I hadn't necessarily seen before at other museums.

After we just walked around Leiden for 30-45 minutes.  It's a pretty small town and we covered the majority of their main-street.  Definitely "cute" with a bunch of different stores and eateries.  There were tons of people out shopping and there was a farmer's market.

As we were coordinating with all the other kids in different cities on going to Amsterdam for the evening/night it started raining.  That just killed the mood and nobody really wanted to stay out later than needed, so we all ended up going home.  Saturday night was another night of pregaming at my place with the other Americans and then going out to clubs/bars.  I decided to not "go out" afterward and took it easy for the night.

Today, Sunday, was just a very relaxing day of catching up on sleep, talking with people back home, and some homework/reading for the DLC.

We're watching a movie at school tomorrow after class and then have to make a powerpoint presentation of our trip to Leiden.  Then our final test is on Thursday so it's going to be a busy week.

The plan right now though, is "Great American Challenge" on Thursday night, which we all can look forward to.

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One thing I wanted to talk about was biking in The Netherlands.  I understand that the Dutch, of course, have a reputation of riding their bikes everywhere (they have the highest bike/population ratio in the world) but this reputation is greatly understated.  The Dutch bike EVERYWHERE.  Pedestrians have no right away because whenever there aren't cars driving on the street you'll be sure to find bikers around.  There are bike paths everywhere and huge bike parking lots at all the train stations.  People bike to bars late at night... in the snow... in the rain... commuting to work.  It's truly amazing.

I'm definitely going to get a bike but not until I go down to Maastricht.

Field Trip

On Friday we went to The Hague, which is essentially International Capital of the world.  The International Criminal Court, the United Nations, and the Primary Court of Arbitration are all there.

We took the train there and started off at the Peace Palace which was a really pretty building and is the center of a few different international organizations and is where all the ambassadors to The Netherlands were meeting that day.

We walked from there to the Binnenhof (the house of parliament in The Netherlands). 

Other than the palaces and parliament being there, the city itself wasn't much different from Utrecht.  Probably a bit more upscale but that very well could have just been the neighborhoods we walked through.

After lunch (where I ate a lovely Subway sandwich) we went to an art museum called the Mauritshuis in Utrecht where we saw some Rembrant, Vermeer and a bunch of other religious paintings.  We were all so tired from walking around and a long week that by the time 3pm rolled around it seemed more like 7.  That's also due to the fact that it gets dark so early around here.

Our exhaustion, of course, didn't keep us from the usual late-night activity of drinking and going out to bars.  The schedule is so much later here than back home; we won't even go out until past 11pm (sometimes 1am) and won't come home until 4-7am.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The DLC

*Sorry I haven't posted in a while... I've been busy and got distracted.  Please note that this post was written at different times so my tenses might seem a little off*

On Monday we started classes.  The structure is 1.5 hours of language, 1.5 hours of culture discussion, then a 2 hour lecture on culture after lunch.

Dutch as a language is actually very similar to English, as far as the sounds go.  Many words have different spellings but sound similar to their respective English words.  The pronunciation is very funny and hard to learn though.  All "g" and "ch" is pronounced chaahhhh (as if you're hawking a loogie from the back of your throat.  It's a very difficult language but we're learning slowly.  I'm glad to just be able to introduce myself or say something when buying things at a store.

Yesterday evening we had to come back to school after dinner for a movie called "Simon".  It was actually really good and definitely covered a bunch of Dutch stereotypes (good and bad).

One of the girls in our group is a little obsessed with Power Hour and that's apparently all they do in Davis.  To please her though, we promised that we'd play (it's not really a game) it last night.  Because we didn't have shot glasses we just did it with sips of beer, which quickly just turned into casually drinking whenever you wanted.  We left soon after to go to an Irish pub and met up with some locals we had met from a previous night going out.

Then came Club Poema (pronounced Puma); a Portuguese guy living in my suite here (Mario) told us about "student night" on Tuesdays and insisted we go out to it.  The club was big and a lot of fun.  I think most everyone stayed out past 3:30.  A few of the guys didn't get back until 7am.  It's a good thing class today doesn't start until 2pm.

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Classes on Wednesday and Thursday continued as usual.  We're definitely learning more Dutch words but it's still hard to use in everyday life.  I would definitely be struggling if everyone didn't know English here.

Thursday night was another night of "going out".  We went back to one of the previous clubs from last weekend.  I find the pregaming usually more fun here sometimes than actually going out to bars; it's much cheaper to drink and it's much more relaxed as we play different drinking games and hang out with all us Americans.  Mario thinks we're crazy because of all the different drinking games we've played and have taught him.

On Friday we're going on a field trip and leaving pretty early in the morning to The Hague.  I'll update on that in my next post.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Computer Trouble

So I don't know why I didn't write about this two days ago but I dropped my computer as I was walking around with it and completely broke it.  I went to a repair shop and they said it would cost much less to get a new one than actually fix, so now I need to shop for a new computer.  Luckily I had insurance on it so I won't lose too much money.  And I backed all my stuff before leaving so at least I won't lose any data.  It's just been a hassle so far to have to borrow my roommate's computer when writing all these blogs.

Yesterday was the most relaxing since arriving in the Netherlands.  We all slept in, had a late lunch.... I did some reading and watched tv before dinner, and watched a movie late at night.

Our first official day of note-taking class starts in about an hour so I'm definitely not looking forward to that.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

First Bar


Last night a bunch of kids from our program came over to my dorm. Even though around 15 people live together on the other side of town, my room is much more centrally located and has a lounge (as seen in picture). We played a few drinking games and got to know everyone a bit better.

After a while of that we decided to go out to a local bar but stopped at a floor party some other Americans were hosting in my building. I met two people who went to UCSB, another Australian and a few Germans as we socialized there for a bit.

Eventually we made it to the bar in the freezing cold and had a lot of fun there. I definitely met a bunch of locals and just talked about life and what there is to to in Utrecht. Everyone there was very friendly and I'm sure they were rather amused to see a huge group of ignorant Americans who don't know any Dutch at their local bar. Two people bought me drinks and refused payment in return. I exchanged phone numbers with a few (girls and guys) and hopefully will get to meet up with these locals some more before leaving for Maastricht. A few of the guys who live in the other housing (Bologna) stayed over at my place because it's so much closer.

Overall a very good night and we're definitely closer as a group from it. Some fun stories too.

Today we were planning to go to Amsterdam but there was a bit of snow this morning, which means the trains might not all be working. We were just all very tired and decided to save it for another time.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Start of Classes

Today we had the start of our Dutch Culture class. The main professor in charge of the DLC actually studied abroad in Berkeley for a year when he was a student. He just talked to us about the basics behind Dutch culture and mannerisms. It was very question & answer focused and was nice to just be able to talk about things instead of actually have to take notes and study. Hopefully the rest of this program will be like that. We do have reading to do this weekend though.

Last night's dinner was a lot of fun; we made a great pasta & sausage dinner for a small group of us and got drunk in my common room. Tonight we're planning to do something similar for dinner and go out to a local bar with more people from our program.

It's supposed to snow a lot this weekend so the trains might be closed, but a group of us are planning to go to Amseterdam tomorrow for the day (maybe a night). There's a card in The Netherlands which costs under $30 and gives you free admittance to any museums in the country for the year and EAP reimburses us for that, so we went and got that card today. We'd go to a few museums in Amsterdam, the Heineken factory and then go out at night.

I'm also planning to rent or buy some ice skates and go mess around on the local pond. Should be fun. We saw some school kids going ice skating for their lunch break. We play foursquare and kickball... they get to play ice hockey!

-Ross

Thursday, January 7, 2010


Day Two:

I know I'm overzealous with this blog right now and I'm sure my posts will become less frequent as time goes on and school starts, but until then, here is my 2nd day:

We had a very basic orientation today which covered the basics behind how the program works in terms of academics (grades etc), living arrangements, travel (within the Netherlands and internationally), safety, money and other general living tips.

It seems as if the DLC (Dutch Language and Culture) class we take in these first 3 weeks is going to be much more intensive than everyone thought. There is reading and homework and we have classes for 5 hours a day! That's like high school all over again. Hopefully I'll be able to pick up the language quickly.

After that we went to the city center to explore, shop for necessities and get our discounted train pass.

I ended up buying a new, local phone on t-mobile to connect with my local friends. It's a pay-as-you-go phone and was a huge hassle setting up (I'm sure the people at the electronics store think we Americans are rather dumb) but now it's working fine and at the least I won't get stranded anywhere with no way of contacting anyone.

My dorm/housing is about a 25 minute walk from the university which is kind of a hassle in the cold but we pass a park with a pond in the middle. On our way to campus today the other boys living in my dorm and I cautiously decided to cross the iced-over pond hoping that it wouldn't collapse on us. On the way back in the afternoon though there were tons of people on it ice skating, playing hockey, and messing around on the ice. It looked really fun and I think we're going to rent ice skates this weekend or sometime soon and go out for the day.

My roommate and I just went grocery shopping and I think we're cooking dinner for a few of the others tonight before we drink and head out on the town. As much as it pains me, I think cooking for oneself is the way to go as restaurants are really expensive here.

Hopefully tonight will be fun and I'll get to meet some locals (which I haven't yet).

-Ross

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

First Impressions of Utrecht


So I'm going to be in Utrecht for 3 weeks studying basic Dutch Language and Culture. The language class is supposed to be the equivalent of taking a quarter of a language so it'll actually consist of studying & reading etc. I'm prepared to do school work while I'm here but just hoped that it wasn't going to start until the end of January when I actually get to my host-University.

I'm living in a double here with my roommate being from UCSC (our program is only EAP right now). After getting settled into our room we all went out to a Pancake Dinner. The entire menu was pancakes, omelets and other breakfast foods. But you could order it with plenty of toppings (Sausage, ham, peppers, onion, tomatoes, cheese, anything...)

We walked around the town a tiny bit before finding a grocery store, buying some breakfast items, and heading home.

It's freezing cold here in the Netherlands. According to the taxi driver from the train station: colder than most winters and we're supposed to get some snow in the next few days. In fact, as we were walking around this evening a few flakes started to fall.

It seems like the internet here works just fine.... Other than the grocery store not taking Visa/Mastercard it seems like there aren't too many societal differences that I've noticed.

First day done. 219 to go :)

First day of Travel

My first flights was from Santa Barbara to LAX at 6:30am so I didn't sleep at all the night before...

I had a layover for a few hours in Chicago and my flight was delayed which made it even longer but I made friends with some kids from St. Louis who will be studying in Leiden for the semester. We ended up sitting near each other on the plane and exchanged emails. Hopefully I'll get to visit them (and vise-versa) sometime in the semester. I'm glad it didn't take long to make some friends in this foreign country.

When I got to Amsterdam I met up with the only other kid from Cal who's going to my same city. We took the train to Utrecht (where I'm spending my first 3 weeks) and of course got on the wrong one at first. It took us three trains total to find our way but gave us a chance to see some of the local countryside.

I just arrived at the University in Utrecht not too long ago and met a bunch of the other UC kids who will be studying here. I'll get my room soon and get all settled in.

Time to start the next chapter in my life experiences.

-Ross