Valpo Voyager

Student Stories from Around the World

Category: Netherlands

Twelve Hours in Rotterdam

Author: Dakota Kampmeier

Location: Rotterdam, Netherlands

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Rotterdam is a city in the Netherlands full of funky architecture and packed food courts. I was told before visiting that the buildings are so unique because Rotterdam “got super bombed” during the war by the Germans. As it turns out, this bombing was a complete accident and the result of delayed communication. Leave it to the Dutch to find the silver lining, though, because they took their destroyed city as an opportunity to rebuild the infrastructure of Rotterdam. Only two buildings survived the bombings, a rectangular-looking building where the Germans held office and the fifteenth-century Grote of Sint-Laurenskerk church, which the Germans used as a lookout tower. Rotterdam is an alluring mix of old and new, skyscrapers that tower over cobblestone roads and traditional Turkish foods inside a modern all-glass food court. Exploring the city for a day with a local added an appreciation for the atmosphere.

My buddy Sam played tour guide for me and my friend Maddy, another American girl, and showed us all the good spots in his hometown. We ate fries in a cone called “Patatje Oorlog” and wandered the streets in a drizzle as Sam explained what the many statues that peppered the city represented (spoiler alert: they almost all serve as reminders of that time the Germans bombed the city in the forties). We wandered around the infamous cube houses, another testament to the architecture of the city. While they look tiled from the outside, apparently inside the homes are completely level. That sort of thing boggles my mind because I’ve never heard of someone living in a lopsided cube before, but they were cute and just enough of a tourist trap that I ended up buying a postcard with a photograph of the houses. As the rain came down a little harder, we ducked inside the Market Hall, a food court of sorts on the first floor of an apartment building. This building, too, was shaped oddly enough that if you looked straight up through the mural on the inside, you could see the window of someone’s bathroom about a hundred feet above your head. After purchasing some sought-after frozen yogurt, we wandered back outside and stood on the steps of the bustling market, seemingly ignorant to the fat rain drops that fell into my spoon.

Once all the yogurt was consumed, Sam pointed out a small bookstore beyond the market and we headed over to check it out. Inside was the most obscure collection of books I had ever seen. From two five-hundred page volumes about Belgium transport to a comic-type book series called “The Book of Bunny Suicides: Little Fluffy Rabbits Who Just Don’t Want to Live Anymore”, I can assure you that you’ve never read a single book in the store. Without meaning to, we spent almost an hour pouring over the strange titles and bending over in laughter at “The Hypnotic Power of Crop Circles”. By the time one of us checked our watch, it was time for us to catch the movie “1917” in an attempt to wait out the rain, which we did. The streets were slick with water when we exited the theater and the rest of our evening, though chilly, was dry.

The evening consisted mostly of finding a place to eat. 7pm is dinner rush hour, and every place Sam suggested had a line out the door. We finally found a German-chain Italian restaurant (do with that what you will) and ordered personal pizzas and glasses of wine to recap the day and get to know each other even better. After dinner, we took a half-hour stroll to the other side of town, passing through a forest of flags by the river, and we guessed (poorly) which countries they belonged to. Just over an industrial-looking bridge we found Hotel New York, a sweet building nestled along the water that used to be the harbor where ships would set off for America, carrying immigrants and all the hopes and dreams one could manage. We sat at the bar of the hotel and enjoyed drinks and good company before catching the metro back to the station for a late-night train ride into Utrecht.

Exploring Rotterdam, even just for twelve hours, was a pleasant surprise. Even though it was only a thirty-five minute train ride from Utrecht, it was unique in a way that made it feel like a completely different world. There was so much that we didn’t see, but still I returned to school with sore feet and a full camera roll. Sooner or later I’ll venture outside of the Netherlands and see the rest of Europe, but I can’t forget how much this tiny country has to offer, either.

A “Great” Experience

Author: Elisabeth Walters

Location: Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

When traveling anywhere the most stressful time is often the beginning and the end of one’s travels. For instance, when traveling to Amsterdam, our group of three girls faced a few situations in the beginning of our travels that we were not prepared for; however, we were able to work through the situations and still enjoy our time in Amsterdam.

We started our journey to Amsterdam from Hamburg, Germany at four in the morning on Friday to ensure seats on our train. Our first train ride went smoothly; however, our second train ride, that was supposed to go directly to the station Amsterdam Centraal, did not. During the beginning of our second train ride, we had snagged excellent seats in what we call the “fishbowl”, or the seats within a separate compartment. However, we did not get to enjoy these seats due to the train needing to stop and everyone needing to exit. Although we asked several people what was happening with the train, we received no answers. Thus, we waited for around 40 minutes confused and starting to get hungry. After the seemingly long wait, we got word that we were going to board another train that would take us across the border to the Netherlands. This train would then take us directly to our desired station.

Once we arrived at Amsterdam Centraal Station, we then had to figure out how to exit the station. We observed from a distance how everybody was scanning their tickets and then leaving; however, we did not have normal tickets. Our tickets were German Rail Passes and they did not scan like a normal ticket. Thus, we had to ask the lady at the service desk how to go about leaving the station. The service lady then directed us to speak to one of the men in the red hats by the exit. From there, we did as the lady suggested and were able to exit the station.

After exiting the station, we then had to find transportation to get to our camping hostel because walking two hours with luggage was not an option we wanted to endure. In our attempts to avoid the walking, we were able to get an Uber; however, a few minutes after saying goodbye to the Uber driver we noticed that we were not at the correct destination. Our destination was still over an hour walk away and there was no public transit due to us being dropped off by a forest trail. With no other options for transportation, we began our long walk, with our luggage, to our hostel.

During our walk, we tried joking about how our easy day of travel had turned out to be a “great” experience that we could retell for years to come. Although our attempts at joking were feeble due to our tiredness and irritation with how the day went, they helped pass the time as we walked both through forest area and city streets. Thus, when arriving at our hostel after more than five miles of walking with our luggage, we were able to truly laugh.

This picture was taken once arriving at our hostel after we walked several miles.

After that first day of travel we still experienced some issues with transportation within Amsterdam. However, we were still able to visit places such as the Van Gogh Museum and the Anne Frank House, as well as enjoy what the city had to offer. Thus, I learned that our “great” experience was truly a great experience that I can relay and now laugh at for years to come. Also, that it was not the city of Amsterdam that made the experience worthwhile, but the challenges that our group conquered together.

Our group walking the beautiful streets of Amsterdam

Exploring and Experiencing the Netherlands!

Author: Emily Neuharth

Location: The Netherlands

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

A couple of weeks ago I went on a trip to exploring the Netherlands with two other cohort members and dear friends: Liz and Nolan. Similar to many other students here, England’s close proximity to mainland Europe was one of the reasons that led me to choosing Valpo’s Cambridge program. Europe’s airfare system is way more advanced and accessible than what we’re used to in the States— sometimes it’s been cheaper to take a plane than a bus! And without the time-demanding extracurricular and social commitments that we’ve all grown accustomed to at Valpo, it is actually been possible for us to take long-weekend trips.

Nolan, Liz, and I at the Keukenhof tulip gardens

Day 1:
(Cambridge > London > Eindhoven > Rotterdam > Kinderdijk > Den Haag)

None of us have class on Fridays so we started our journey very early (like 3AM early)— traveling through Europe can’t be glamorous all the time. We’re still poor college students so we’ll walk a mile to the bus station and take the 6am flight if that’s our cheapest option. Fueled by the adrenaline of traveling, we walked through Cambridge in the witching hour with our stuffed backpacks, talking about which parts of the trip we were looking forward to the most. We landed in Eindhoven, Netherlands, and immediately that instinctual difference between countries could be felt. Relying heavily on our offline translator app, and the good fortune of often finding kind, Dutch people who spoke English, we embarked upon the next leg of our journey: taking public transport to Kinderdijk. We had a hostel booked for that night in Den Haag, but the plan for our first day was to visit the small town of Kinderdijk to see the famous Dutch windmills.

Liz posing with a windmill at Kinderdijk

Compared to other countries’ public transport, the Dutch systems were very straightforward and accessible. We took a train to Rotterdam where we decided to explore and get lunch. As it often seems to happen, this spontaneous detour ended up being one of my favorite towns we visited! The sun was shining and there was a lot of beautiful public art.

Rotterdam, Netherlands

Getting to Kinderdijk was less straightforward than getting to Rotterdam; we ended up only spending a little bit of time at the windmills since we got there shortly before the site closed. But we were all still content with our adventuring for the day. Exhausted (remember, we started the day at 3am), we finally made it to Den Haag where we checked into our hostel.

We finally made it to Kinderdijk!

Day 2:(Den Haag > Keukenhof > Lisse > Delft > Den Haag)

We left Den Haag around 9am to start our journey towards Keukenhof, an incredible and trademark tulip garden. This was definitely one of the trip’s highlights for me. The garden was massive, and while there were a lot of tourists there, the atmosphere was light-hearted and jovial— it’s hard not to feel this way when you are surrounded by so much natural beauty!

(In addition to hundreds of flowers) There were food trucks, flower crown making stations, and
women painted like flowers and dancing on stilts!

It’s really hard for me to choose a favorite between making my own flower crown and the names of the different kind of tulips. Just to name a few: Aphrodite, Energy4All, Update, Destination, Endurance, Mistress Hot Pink, Paul McCartney, Beauty Trend, Blue Wow, Zoe, Desirelle, Pebble, Light and Dreamy, Time Out, Drumline, and Apricot Fox.

Keukenhof, Netherlands

After stopping in Lisse to get lunch, we made our way to a small town near Den Haag called Delft. One of the main reasons why I wanted to visit the Netherlands while I was abroad was to meet up again with my very good friend Cato. Cato and I first met in good ol’ Lankenau Hall at the beginning of my freshman year, where she was a Dutch exchange student. During Christmas break that year, Cato had stayed with my family for a few days so when Cato heard that we’d be visiting, she insisted that we spend a night at her family’s home in Den Haag.

Coen, Cato, and I reunited in Delft!

We met Cato and Coen (another Dutch exchange student that I’d met at Valpo) in Delft where they live and go to university. They proudly showed us around Delft; it was a charming, old town that was full of life. We all agreed that it reminded us a lot of Cambridge. After getting dinner, we rode the tram to Den Haag. We got to Cato’s beautiful home where we were welcomed so warmly by her parents and fluffy cat.

Day 3: (Den Haag > Amsterdam > London > Cambridge)

At this point, we were all feeling a bit overwhelmed from all of the traveling and sightseeing, but we rallied ourselves together because we still hadn’t been to Amsterdam! Unfortunately, we hadn’t booked tickets enough in advance to see the sites we had hoped for (like the Anne Frank House and the Van Gogh Museum) but, in retrospect, getting to wander the city with no real plan was probably what was best for our tired state.

The river Amstel, in Amsterdam (if you look very, very closely, can you spot the small orange cat
sitting on a windowsill?)

We took a river canal tour through the city, where we basked in the sunlight and listened to a guide talk about the history of Amsterdam, especially in relation to its river Amstel. After the tour, we explored for a very long time trying to find a restaurant that had a vegan option for Liz. Ironically, the winner was a gourmet burger restaurant.

With happy stomachs, tired feet, and our same overstuffed backpacks, we started the long journey home. We no longer had that rush of adrenaline that had fueled our travel to the Netherlands, but there was a contentedness in our exhaustion. As we walked the mile back from the bus station in Cambridge’s witching hours once more, we talked about how much we had missed the rest of our cohort and were longing for our beds in Cambridge— it’s interesting how it takes going away and coming back again to realize that a place has become home.

Nolan in Amsterdam

As I said, traveling to mainland Europe was one of many dreams I had for my time abroad, and this trip to the Netherlands was my first time traveling outside of the UK since the beginning of the semester; it felt really fulfilling to get to check off a bucket-list goal. Overall, it was an amazing weekend full of new memories and so many flowers. The best part though was definitely getting to see Cato again, and how generously welcoming her family had been to us. I also feel very glad that we were able to experience a less-touristy, and more authentic, varied taste of the Netherlands— I already can’t wait to go back someday to continue exploring.

The paparazzi (Nolan) documenting how much I loved Keukenhof


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