One of the first things about Europe that is striking for an Australian student, is the easy manoeuvrability about the European continent! Within only a short bus, train or plane journey you can find yourself in a different country with an entirely new culture! Arriving in the Netherlands, in January this year, it was refreshing to meet so many students from all around the world that had come to study in the multicultural and heavily student-populated city of Maastricht. I had come to the Netherlands to study International Environmental Law, but along the way I found a deep appreciation for European culture. From experiencing snow, making waffles, museums galore, getting lost down cobblestone alleyways and standing in three countries at once, I was mesmerised by the diversity and vibrancy of the places that I visited.
One of the many canals of Amsterdam
On a whim, in my first week in the Netherlands, myself and some friends decided to take two buses to ‘Het Drielandenpunt’, the point at which the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany converge. Living on a continent where it is logistically impossible to stand in three countries at once, this was quite surreal. So naturally, we spread ourselves out in acrobatic (though graceful) positions, trying to ensure that we successfully had at least one limb in each country. That same day, without any real planning, we ventured into the city of Aachen, Germany, for the afternoon. We found ourselves blown away by the UNESCO World Heritage Aachen Cathedral, beautiful patisseries and the welcoming German people, for whom it was often hard to believe English was their second language.
Het Drielandenpunt (Three Country Point)
One part of travelling for the purpose of study that can be distinguished from travel for leisure, is the opportunity you are presented with to live as locals do. Whilst living in Maastricht, I went to weekly community cooking classes at a derelict warehouse, turned active community-hub, Landbouwbelang. In between cooking classes, I was able to find the best local cafes and hang-out spots during the day, including a cat café with some of the best cake in town! I also did not pass up the opportunity to try the local wines at the Apostelhoeve Winery in Maastricht.
Wine tasting at the Apostlehoeve
Whilst in Amsterdam, I had the opportunity to share the Dutch passion for tulips! Queueing for over hour around the Royal Palace for Tulpendag (Tulip Day), I was victorious in picking a bouquet of tulips to celebrate the revered flower! I was also lucky enough to see the canals of Amsterdam light up as a winter wonderland in the Festival of Lights!
Celebrating Tulpendag (National Tulip Day) at Dam Square, Amsterdam
"Spiders" at the Festival of Lights, Amsterdam
It was fascinating to gain insight into the operation of the European Union, through visits to the European Parliament and the European Commission in Brussels. Especially to learn that the European Union, is the biggest translation project in the world, with over twenty different languages spoken across the Union. I also thoroughly enjoyed visiting the International Court of Justice in the Hague.
European Parliament, Brussels
The International Court of Justice in the Hague, the Netherlands
Whilst in Brussels, I learnt how to make my own waffles (and about some of the popular varieties of waffles sold in Belgium), ate real Belgian chocolate, visited a jazz bar, numerous museums and the famed Delirium Café, with the world record for the most varieties of beer!
My cultural experiences were also eye-opening in many ways. Visiting the Anne Frank Huis, the Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Bonnefantenmuseum and the Natural History Museum in Maastricht and the heritage-listed village of Zaanse Schans, gave me great insight into the Dutch past and artistic acclaim. At Zaanse Schans traditional Dutch ways of life are still practised including, windmill use and clog production.
Most of all, I gained the deepest appreciation for Dutch culture and the Limburgish charm in Maastricht. Maastricht is reminiscent of other parts of Europe in ways that the rest of the Netherlands is not, especially due to its situation on the border of both Germany and Belgium. Still retaining its classic architecture, Roman-built structures, cathedrals and cobblestones, Maastricht can be described as the cornerstone of much of Dutch culture. I learned in the Netherlands that anything can be reused with a will to do so, with abandoned churches and cathedrals being converted into bookstores, bike shops and even nightclubs. Maastricht University itself was situated in reclaimed buildings scattered across the city.
If you want to travel Europe whilst completing your degree, Maastricht is definitely a great place to start!
Hi there! My name is Annabelle and I am in my third year of a Bachelor of Laws (Honours) and Science at Monash University. I am an avid traveller with a love of music! I am also a passionate environmentalist and so, I particularly love to visit beautiful natural places and to go hiking and snorkelling!