For everyone who studies abroad during their time at college, they all take away very different things from their very different experiences (even if they’re on the same program, too). To chronicle my adventure, and honestly for the sake of my own terrible memory, I want to share what I have been able to do while abroad in Maastricht.
In an attempt to become more like a Dutchman, one of the first things I did when I arrived was rent a bike. Now first and foremost, not to gush over a European bike or anything but….This bike is so much better than the bikes I have had and seen in the U.S. Yes, I know, a typical American abroad thinking everything there is better during the first few weeks. Well, you know what I have to say in response? You’re damn right it’s better! I mean this bike is incredible. First of all, it has wheel-powered LED lights, which are super bright. When biking at night, they are as powerful as any other headlights. This really makes it easy for bikers not only to bike at all hours but also makes it easier for cars to see you.
Imagine that in Massachusetts! For those fellow bike enthusiasts out there! Imagine not being worried about getting hit by cars when biking? What a foreign thought to our minds! But the real reason as to why I am giving so much time to these bikes is because of the gears on them. Now perhaps I am not as enveloped into the world of biking as others but within my own experience I have never seen gears like these before on a bike. Rather than my seven-speed bike having seven separate gears on the rear tire, from which it switches back and forth, this bike only has two gears—one on the pedals and the other on the rear tire—which at first confused me.
I thought I was being ripped off by the company—that they were making me pay more for a multi-gear bike and only providing me with a single gear bike, but in reality, it is a multi-gear bike. Acting like a continuous variable transmission in a car, this bike artificially simulates different gear sizes in the mechanism on the rear tire. This is a very niche way of saying that it only needs two gears but can act like it has seven. Now why does this matter? Well, it gives the rider tons of feedback from the bike on what gear to be in! It will not let you over shift from fourth gear to seventh if you do not have the speed, and it will pull you into lower gears when needed for inclines! This, when biking in a city that is located in a river valley, is super helpful!
But with my bike I have been able to greatly explore the city of Maastricht! My apartment sits right on the border between the newer part of the city with paved six lane roads and the older part with tight narrow cobblestone roads. So frequently I bike into town for the cafés and for classes down the cobblestone roads. One of the pastries that I have found surprisingly good is the saucijzenbroodjes, which is a sausage wrapped in a thin layer of light pastry bread. It is one of the best savory snacks to have and absolutely balances out the sweet I get from all the stroopwafels I am able to eat. On almost every corner you will never be in short supply of stroopwafels when in the Netherlands, as it is their dessert and they take great pride in it. I was even able to bike to Belgium one night as Maastricht sits right on the border!
The bike is certainly the best tool for local exploring, but the train is what can take you to really different places. For my first journey outside of Maastricht, I traveled to Cologne in Germany. When you step out of the train station, it is impossible to miss the giant cathedral because it is right in front of you. A beautiful Gothic cathedral, you cannot miss it, as it is the tallest building for miles. It also makes a wonderful landmark to help you orient yourself wherever you are in the city. Whether it be up in the old town or down by the Rhine you can always use it to know where you are. Afterwards I followed my nose and went to the museum of chocolate! I think the name is very self-explanatory when it comes to what is inside that museum. But one of the most shocking things inside of it was an exhibit containing the written testimonies of child workers who harvested the cacao and never made it to school. A depressing but truthful reality of the world we live in—motivating myself and those I traveled with to one day work to help end those kinds of conditions.
Overall, my first couple of weeks have been moving along fast with lot’s happening and classes beginning to pick up and soon, I’ll be able to speak the silly language that is Dutch! (For reference on their trains the Wi-Fi is named “Wi-Fi on de trein”).