A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
Perhaps it’s a stereotype, but the Dutch seem to have made getting a good deal into an art form. Boekenweek, a week-long festival celebrating Dutch literature took place two weeks ago. As part of the festival, if you spend €12.50 on Dutch-language books, you receive a free book with a barcode on the back which allows you to travel anywhere in the Netherlands on Sunday 18th March for absolutely free.
The first leg of our journey, to Leeuwarden, took two-and-a-half hours, which gave us plenty of time to read the free book, Gezien de Feiten (Given the Facts). I couldn’t possibly count this book among my favourites, but I did enjoy the opportunity to practise reading in Dutch, and to read something that was written in Flemish for the first time. The train was full of people reading the book and the couple opposite us sparked up a conversation as soon as my Dutch companion had left for the loo. The whole carriage went quiet to hear the girl with the weird accent attempting to pronounce words with ‘g’ in them.
In Leeuwarden, we strolled around the town and visited an art installation celebrating languages. Leeuwarden is situated in Friesland, which has its own language: Frisian. According to some sources, Frisian is the language most closely related to English outside of Britain. But don’t worry, monolingual English-speakers who are worried about accidentally learning another language, they are not mutually intelligible.
Leeuwarden is this year’s European Capital of Culture, which means that cultural events will be taking place in the city over the course of the year. Most of the exhibitions and installations were still being set up when we visited, but it looks like it will be worth a visit.
After freezing rather thoroughly in Leeuwarden, we caught a train to Zwolle to freeze rather thoroughly there. It was late afternoon on a Sunday, so things were starting to close. We looked around and took lots of photos, and almost accidentally interrupted a church service. It wasn’t quite dinner time and it was getting very chilly, so we found a nice bar and sat down for an Affligem Blonde and borrelhapjes.
Our final stop was Utrecht, a city I had never visited. It was similar to Leiden: lots of students, old buildings and canals. However, the UB could learn a lot from Utrecht University’s library, as it looked very gezellig. Finding dinner with a Dutch person was an exercise in ‘shopping around’ – we found ourselves at a Greek restaurant that inexplicably sold pizza for five euros each. Although the restaurant was empty and smelt like petrol, the food was pretty tasty, and only five euros!
Although I have heard people refer to Dutch people as ‘stingy,’ I would rather refer to it as ‘thrifty.’ You might feel a little ridiculous saving up old receipts to receive a free bag of paprika pom bears, for example, but it’s worth it. Free stuff, after all, is good stuff. If I’m still in the Netherlands next year, I will definitely be buying €12.50 worth of books for free travel and an excellent day of exploring.