A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
The carnival is an amazing tradition, and an interesting one, since not all cities in the Netherlands celebrate it. It’s fun and energizing, and definitely something worth experiencing, especially for international students. I chose to go on an organized student trip by Yes-Trips since I didn’t want to have to think about getting to and from Maastricht.
Our trip started early on Sunday, the 3rd of March, and when I say early, I really mean it. The group of the students joining the trip met at Leiden central station at 7 AM. I went with a friend, and our first concern (besides getting coffee ASAP) was how to recognize the group. This turned out to be quite simple, since there were only so many onesie-wearing students at the station around that time. So, we joined our fellow travelers and hopped on the bus, or rather dragged ourselves on it, and got ready for the fun three-hour bus drive (Yay!).
Two hours in, and slightly more awake, and our plan for the day was revealed by the guides. As it turns out, that plan involved mainly drinking, partying, and getting more alcohol. It is, after all, carnival tradition. And without further ado, our fellow travelers (ever prepared) took out their pre-packed beer cans, and at around 11 am the drinking began. But the bus ride didn’t only involve drinking. For the rest of us (or those of us who frowned upon day drinking, us endangered species) the bus ride was the perfect time to get festive. Shortly after the announcement, the music was on, and almost every passenger drew out their accessories and makeup.
I wonder, have you ever bonded with strangers over face glitter? If not, I highly recommend it! The props and makeup were passed around the bus, with people applying their own and helping others, in what looked like the backstage room of some very random high school theater production. By that point, we were all pretty excited and energized, and ready to get to our destination and start the celebration.
But of course, the drive was not the best part of the day. And that wasn’t the short city tour, either, for that matter. When we got to Maastricht, in what for me was the first time, we had an hour to grab some food until the parade started. Following the recommendation of a local, we went for Mexican food from a place called “With Love Burrito”, which was probably the best Mexican food I had in the Netherlands (definitely recommended if you’re in the area!).
Full and satisfied, we walked to the main square just in time to join the dozens gathering for the parade. The atmosphere in the city was incredible- everyone was dressed up, there was music playing from speakers and live bands everywhere, and the crowd was surprisingly varied, with families strolling alongside groups of students, with a surprising number of seniors hanging out, drinking. The whole center of the city was filled with dancing stages and areas, and there were beer and food stalls with typical festival food all over the place (fries, burgers, churros and the like).
After admiring the parade for a minimal amount of time before getting bored, we went to Vrijthof Square, one of the main squares in Maastricht, to meet with the members of ISN Maastricht for a drinking game/competition. With missions such as stealing a costume prop from a stranger or doing a plank in the middle of the busy (and dirty) square, it was loads of fun.
To be honest, we spent most of the day dancing to old Dutch folk music (I hope to god I don’t offend anyone by calling it that), which sounds like a challenge at first, but with enough enthusiasm (and with the help of some good, old-fashioned alcohol) ended up being pretty awesome. We met a lot of new people, mostly from the group we came with, and we kept running into them during the day when we walked around the city, switching from scene to scene.
All in all, it was a great day. It’s such a different experience to go somewhere with a group of people you don’t know, without having to worry about transportation or planning. The bus back home left at 11 PM, which meant that we got some sleep on the way home and arrived back in Leiden early Monday morning.
To summarize it all, I’ll say this- go party! You don’t know whether you’ll have the chance again, and you’re already here, so make sure to experience and use all the opportunities you have. And for those of you who have never gone on an organized trip, it’s a fun and unique experience, and definitely one you need to have as a student. So think no more, and go hop on a bus with some fellow students. And remember- its all about having fun!
For more information on these kinds of trips, visit the Yes-Trips website- https://yes-trips.com/carnival. You can also look for upcoming trips in one of the branches of ESN (e.g., ISN Leiden), who organiz several trips a year.