Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg are often grouped together as “BeNeLux.” The three small, bordering countries have overlapping languages, policies and vibes, and as a resident of Belgium, I feel a personal duty to be adequately acquainted with all before returning to the States.
Last weekend proved to be a perfect opportunity when one of my classes was canceled, and I was able to enjoy four days in the land of bikes and windmills.
My first two days were spent in Utrecht, an adorable city about 30 minutes from Amsterdam by train. It’s one of Holland’s oldest yet liveliest — a student city home to one of the country’s most respected universities.
Between the spread of canals and cobbled alleys, it’s impossible not to be charmed by Utrecht. I spent a lot of time drawing comparisons to other cities — it’s like a smaller Amsterdam, but with the young energy it feels a lot like Ghent too. And while I biked alongside other students through the outskirts of downtown, I felt like I was back at the University of California, Davis.
The slight nostalgia continued in Rotterdam. The city center was destroyed during World War II thanks to some German bombing sprees, so the rebuilt Rotterdam is essentially a new city.
When I got off my train Friday night, I was amazed at how much I felt like I was in America. I was walking alongside tall office buildings and modern window displays, overwhelmed by consumerism for the first time since I’ve been in Europe.
I still find it a bit amusing that Rotterdam and Amsterdam have a fierce rivalry. Given how incredibly different the two cities look — “skyscrapers” and funky 1970’s “modern” architecture compared to the classic Dutch brick upon brick — it’s hard to see where comparisons are made. But there are similarities. The two biggest cities in the country are both hotspots for culture and art, boasting loads of museums and special events. Coffeeshops are prevalent in both, although made into far more of a tourist spectacle in Amsterdam, while Rotterdam hosts a more well renowned nightlife. Rotterdam’s skyline reflects its more cutting-edge offerings.
I’ll be rounding out my impressions of The Netherlands with an ISA-led excursion to The Hague and Delft in May, and in a few weeks I’m planning a weekend in Luxembourg. I think by the time I leave BeNeLux, I’ll have a pretty decent understanding of this second home of mine.