Observations of an Australian in Europe #1

Although I’m Indian and have grown up in Australia, I had never actually experienced the “culture clash” that so many people talk about…

…that is, not until I arrived in Europe.

It is a completely different world.  It’s also the first time I’ve truly felt like an “outsider”; obviously Sydney is home, and visiting India also feels like going home – I act so local and feel so comfortable when I’m in India that most people assume I live there.   But this is totally new, and there are heaps of things I observed in the past week, some of which I’ve already probably forgotten, knowing my memory…

1. Okay.  First of all – the public transport. Oh. My. God. If ever perfection existed, this is close to it.  It is SO easy to catch public transport around Amsterdam that by my second day I knew which trains and which bus lines took me to the airport and back to my cousin’s flat.  I barely have to wait, and the Dutch use a card called an “OV-Chipkaart” where you just tap on and tap off when you travel around and it automatically deducts money.  So convenient and SO cheap.  And SO reliable.  You can set your watch by the trains or buses – if the board says it’s arriving at a certain time, it damn well will come at that time.  The buses all have FREE WI-FI (I know, amazing right?!) and they have electronic boards both inside the bus and at the bus stops which tell you when the bus is arriving and, once you get in, what the next stop is and what time it’ll be reaching.  For a newbie like me, it makes things SO much easier. It poops on Sydney’s transport system big time, I feel so backward in comparison.

2. Amsterdam Schiphol Airport is ENORMOUS.  It’s the second biggest airport in Europe I think, after Frankfurt, and when we landed, taxi-ing down the runway took at least 20 minutes. I kid you not, that’s how big it is.  It’s almost 20km in length, which is even more amazing when you realise that the actual city of Amsterdam is probably around the same length as well, if not only a little bigger.  It stretches out endlessly, and the runway goes over the road as well, with cars driving underneath.

3. Speaking of cars, everyone drives so fast here! The maximum speed in Sydney is something like 110kmh – I think that’s probably the average driving speed here and apparently that’s slow compared to German roads because the Netherlands supposedly has restrictions on speed.  Even in the rain the cars and trucks zoom past and I’ve flinched so many times whilst watching, thinking that a collision is imminent.

4. Everything here is flat.  There are no mountains.  There are no hills.  Everything is evened out.  This is because the Netherlands is actually below sea level, so dykes were built to keep out the water and stop flooding, and artificial land has been created in several areas.  The roads are all planned and straight and just so very FLAT.  It’s a huge change to Sydney where a flat road is a novelty!

5. Smoking is everywhere.  I loathe smoking, to put it mildly, and I feel that I spend half my days coughing and avoiding smokers when I’m walking around on the streets.  In this respect, I really admire Australia’s anti-smoking campaign and the ban on packaging and advertising and in comparison, Europe seems very backward.  I see people smoking here all the time, and the brands are all plastered in the window of shops! There are barely any signs warning of the dangers of smoking and it frustrates me so much that I feel like making those signs myself and putting them up everywhere.  I think this is common in Europe – I went to Cologne in Germany for a one day trip and actually saw an advertisement poster for cigarettes at a bus stop! It was really sad. And disgusting. The Australian anti-smoking ad has been so effective that India has actually adopted it and made the advertisement mandatory to screen before every film.  People here should really check that out too.  Might help with the coughing….just a tip.

6. I took the warmest clothes I had with me, but even they are not enough.  While the cold isn’t as severe as I thought, Australia still has no idea what “warm clothing” really means.  I have one thick overcoat that I’ve been relying upon, but I need to get myself a thick jacket that everyone here wears to keep out the cold and the wind.  It is ALWAYS raining in the Netherlands.  In fact the weather in London (and we’ll get to London later) was actually more tolerable!

7. People here are far more posh and formal than they are back at home, and that casual openness of Sydney is something that I really miss.  This is not to say that Dutch people are not friendly – they are – but it’s more crisp.  Obviously I can’t expect the “yeaaaah no worries maaaaate” that I’m used to, but it’s still something I need to get used to.  That being said, everything is SO EFFICIENT. The entire place just screams efficiency.  So much order, so much organisation…I need some chaos to feel at home.  (Again, London helps with this.) Everything runs on time (see number 1) and it feels like nobody has a bad day or runs late and misses a train or anything like that.

8. Need. To. Learn. Dutch. ASAP. I can’t go grocery shopping properly because I have no idea what half the things are >< Although most people speak English anyway, but I want to try and get a Dutch handbook so I can learn the language and feel more local.  My knowledge of German helps but Dutch sounds so strange, I still haven’t gotten used to it.

Anyway, that’s all for now, there are still so many things I’ve experienced but writing them all down will take way too long! More soon.


Posted by on January 29, 2014 in Uncategorized


“I’m Going On An Adventure!”

When it comes to blogging, I am notoriously unreliable for two reasons: firstly because I have so many things I want to talk or rant about, and secondly, because I am so incredibly lazy that even when I want to write about something, I’ll either forget or not be bothered to go through with it.  HOWEVER! I do want to document and be able to remember every single one of my experiences in Europe this year, so I am going to attempt to throw off my indolence and actually make a proper travel blog and as it’s been a week since I landed, I thought it would be a good time to start.  Giving this a witty title is also going to be a challenge, so for now, let us call it –

There and Back Again: A Hobbit’s Tale.

So, to start from the very beginning (a very good place to start, for those who, like me, have watched the Sound of Music innumerable times):

As most will know, I’m studying at Leiden Universiteit in the Netherlands for 6 months – Leiden is a small town south west of Amsterdam and a fifteen minute train ride away.  I didn’t know this when I applied, but apparently the Dutch royal family studied at Leiden, and the uni is twinned with Oxford in the UK. Not a bad choice at all!

I left Sydney on the 21st of January, headed to Amsterdam via Kuala Lumpur and packed with as much luggage as humanly possible without going too much over the baggage weight limit.  I was accompanied by my dad who came to help me set up my apartment (and also so I could use most of his baggage allowance too).  ). I’ll admit that when the flight took off and we soared over the Sydney landscape, I started blubbering like a child, but I guess the salted peanuts that the airhostesses handed out calmed me down a little – after all, sampling the food is half the reason aeroplane flights are enjoyable and it was rather pleasant to see that Malaysia Airlines had learned that just because I’m vegetarian, it does not automatically make me vegan! (Apologies to all my vegan friends – I just love my dairy too much).  I always wanted to go on exchange but the prospect of moving halfway across the world for six months to a country where I didn’t know the language was pretty challenging, not to mention the fact that my housekeeping skills are rather minimal.   The week beforehand especially was particularly hard to deal with, with a couple of things that made me seriously question my decision to go overseas for six months.

But there’s something to be said for the phrase “it’s too late now” and before I knew it I was on the flight to Amsterdam! I was feeling pretty gloomy during the flight, feeling intensely patriotic as we flew over Australia.  The stopover at Kuala Lumpur was quite boring too, I’d never been overseas to any country apart from India (the stopovers at Singapore and Malaysia don’t count), and as we approached the boarding gate for our marathon 13-hour flight to Amsterdam, I kept thinking:

This is it. If I take one more step, it’ll be the farthest away from ‘ome I’ve ever been.”

^^ those who recognise that line will get brownie points from me by the way.

I love aeroplanes, but that 13 hour journey really sucked the life out of me.  I’m by nature a rather restless, fidgety person and can’t keep still for long periods of time, and after a few hours, flying entirely in the dark, I was so bored and restless that I was about ready to jump out of the window.  I don’t sleep well on planes either, so I spent most of the time looking at the flight plan, counting down the hours and kilometres until we finally landed, and trying to identify which country we were flying over.

Luckily, time does fly, quite literally in this case, and I had quite a heartening encounter with a friendly airhostess who came by to collect our headphones and told me she and the other airhostesses and stewards had been discussing how polite and quiet I was on the flight, with no fuss at all.  It was a brief, almost mundane conversation, but it really cheered me up and lifted me out of my dullness, and was perhaps the highlight of my entire journey. Honestly, apart from the time when I was 14 and an airhostess spilled orange juice over me during turbulence, that was the longest conversation I’d ever had with one, but it brightened up my mood considerably.

We finally landed in Amsterdam in the early morning (local time), and were greeted by my cousin and his wife, who both live in a suburb nearby, and relaxed in their apartment for a bit.  Getting used to the right-hand side driving was a challenge! I also expected the weather to be way colder but I’m told the winter has been delayed this year and is probably going to get colder in February…not particularly looking forward to that.

Anyway, this first post has been way too long, so I shall end here and post again soon about what a week in Europe has been like so far! I’ve been missing Sydney heaps, but hopefully things will start to settle down a bit more.

.    IMG_2118<– That’s basically what flying over Australia for 6 hours looks like.  Desert, desert and more desert.

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Posted by on January 26, 2014 in Uncategorized