A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
Sometimes you love it, sometimes you hate it.
But without it, life is very difficult.
Got the answer to this little riddle?
Ladies and Gentlemen, let me introduce you to Nederlandse Spoorwegen (aka NS) or simply, the Dutch Railways.
Riding the train is a very Dutch thing and a part of people’s everyday life. Usually, it’s one of the first things you do when you get here: straight from your plane in Schiphol to a lovely (most of times) train to take you to Leiden.
The two main specimens you’ll meet are the Intercities (the famous yellow train), which goes faster and only stops in main stations (and sometimes even has free Wi-Fi) and Sprinters (white, simpler ones), which stop in smaller stations all along the route and thus takes a bit more time.
Trains here are a very popular mean of transport, as commuting seems to be a pretty common thing around here (me included, otherwise I’d have to ride a bike to Den Haag twice a week, which, given the distance and current weather conditions would definitely not be a good idea) . So very often, you’ll discover that your colleague actually lives in Rotterdam, your professor in Amsterdam and yet everyone comes to class in the same city and no one seems to make a fuss about it (except me and my South-American amazement to that).
Also, NS is always there for your leisure. Concerts in Amsterdam, tourism in Volendam or Limburg, theater in den Haag or even an escapade to Germany : all this is within your reach with a nice yellow ticket ( to match with the trains of course).
And getting to use it is fairly simple. You can buy your ticket at the station, either at a counter or in a machine (with instructions in English) and check the next train at the signs or screens all around. Online planning is also possible, either through Ns.nl or 9292.nl .
If you’ll be a heavy user or simply want to travel with a nice discount, you can order an OV Chipcard online, with different discount categories. It works as a pre-paid card with a built-in discount, so you only have to fill in your card (either online or at the stations) and voilà, you’re good to go. All you need is to check in when entering the station and out upon arrival in the designated sensors.
So you might think, NS is all love <3.
I can’t deny, I do love it. But sometimes, I do hate it.
Very so often, you face cancelled trains, unforeseen delays and detours (and sure, all announced in Dutch, to the despair of international students and tourists on board). If your destination is in one of these black screens below, beware. Probably you’ll be in for a bit of a headache to get where you want to go.
Also, add to the equation rush hour in trains, cranky controllers and your occasional systemic mess, when trains are all delayed or a route is under maintenance ( in the heat of the morning rush hour) and you have to reconfigure all your logistic.
Besides, unfortunately the NS website does not have all features in English, making it difficult to actually understand the system, ask for your OV Chipcard with discount or even cancel your card later on (a complaint from my fellow colleagues who are now leaving the Netherlands). Oh, and do you need an information on procedures, discounts or any problems? Don’t even bother asking in one of the counters : ‘check our website’ will be the answer you’ll get in 99.99% of times.
So, this is a love story, but with a twist as any other. And the funny thing is that, during my time here, I have come to grasp that this ambiguous feeling is also quite common amongst my fellow Dutch friends (would this be a sign of ‘dutchification’ ? 😀 )
Still, I know I should not be complaining. Compared to the train system back home (which is virtually inexistent), NS is a wonder, a marvel.
I love you NS, this is why I only want you to improve! 🙂
I hate you, I love you, I can’t stop thinking of you.