Day Trip: Kasteel De Haar

As we enter this weekend with the prospect of cold temperatures and gloomy skies, it’s reassuring to know that spring is just around the corner. When I first came to The Netherlands in August, I was enchanted by the crowds of people lapping up the evening sun on every green space available; sharing a meal or some drinks and jumping in the canals. After all this time indoors, I’ve built up a list of things I cannot wait to do when warmer days and the sun finally come knocking.

One of those activities is spending a day with friends riding out to Utrecht’s very own Disney castle: Kasteel De Haar. Along the way, you will ride through some of Utrecht’s gorgeous canal-lined suburbs, and past farms and country-side you thought couldn’t be so close to a city. Pack a picnic blanket so that when you get there you can sit in the countryside and bask under the sun with sandwiches, cheese and fruit. I can’t recommend it enough.


Kasteel De Haar has a history that dates back to 1391, at which point the property was transferred to the De Haar family as a fiefdom. Over the years, the castle has been destroyed and restored as it passed through many hands. Today’s buildings date back to the late 19th century and are the work of the same architect behind Amsterdam’s Central Station and the Rijksmuseum (if you haven’t seen them, you should).

Castle Above.jpg

The Castle

Since 2000, the castle and its grounds have been under the management of a foundation which opened the property to the public. As you ride out to the castle, you might think the countryside is reason enough to visit but wait until you get there! From the outside, the castle looks like it has been taken right out of a fairy-tale. The main buildings, made of red brick, rise out of a wide moat. Too many turrets and towers pepper the castle for them to be genuinely useful: I am convinced they are just there to mystify visitors (which they do).


For €16 (free if you have a museum card), you can enter the inside of the castle. Although I didn’t do this, I expect it to feel like stepping back into the 19th century. The interior is as extravagant as the exterior, kept in pristine condition for visitors to marvel at the excess of old barons. You can explore the original kitchens, appreciate the ornate wood carvings and view items of the Rothschilds’ collection which reside in the castle. In each room there are guides to answer any of your questions. An additional 55 hectares of park space is available to paying visitors, which sounds especially nice on a sunny day! Be sure to book as there are limited places available each day.

Where is it and how to get there?

The castle’s address is, funnily enough, Kasteellaan 1. I’ve included a map below for you, but that’s west of Utrecht. From Neude it’s about 14 kilometres or 40 minutes by bike through Vleuten, a gorgeous suburb where it seems that every house has its own canal moat. You would be best off using Google Maps to plan a route from your own place.

If cycling isn’t your cup of tea, bus number 9 from Utrecht Central Station will take you to the castle. Alternatively, if you go on a weekday, there is a sprinter train that goes to Vleuten station from which you can take busses 111 (towards Kasteel De Haar; get off at Kasteel De Haar) or 127 (towards Breukelen; get off at Brink in Haarzuilens and walk 15 minutes). For those of you with a car, parking costs €5.

Google Maps Castle De Haar.png

What can’t you wait to do this Spring? Share your ideas for activities on sunny days in the comments below!


The municipal elections: use your right to vote!


I’m talking about the elections for the municipal councils in the Netherlands. They take place every four years and the next elections will be on Wednesday the 21st of March. On this day, people will vote for there favourite political party. We have quite an amount of parties. Each of these has their own general viewpoint and most can be labelled as right or left. Some parties are focused particularly on students, others vouch to work for the interests of senior citizens and there’s also a party that focusses mostly on the environment and animal wellbeing. There’s a lot to choose from!

The parties and people who eventually end up in the council will represent the residents of Utrecht. They’ll decide about local issues.


In Utrecht, sixteen political parties are participating in the elections. These are listed below (in alphabetical order). One party is called ‘Blanco lijst’, which means ‘blank list’. This is a party without an official name. It doesn’t happen often that parties without an official name participate.

Participating parties:

  • Blanco lijst
  • CDA
  • ChristenUnie
  • D66
  • DENK Utrecht
  • Evenwicht
  • GroenLinks
  • Partij voor de Dieren
  • Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV)
  • Piratenpartij
  • PvdA
  • SP
  • Seniorenpartij Utrecht
  • Stadsbelang Utrecht
  • Student & Starter
  • VVD

If you decide which party you want to vote for, you also have to vote for an individual person. All political parties have a list of candidates, who’ll represent the citizens if they get hold of a place in the council. The ideas of these individual candidates correspond with the general ideas of their party, of course, but they also have their own ideas about the most important topics.

You might be eligible to vote as well! If you’re eighteen or older, live in Utrecht since the 5th of February (or earlier) and you are coming from one of the EU countries, you can vote! If you’re not an EU resident, you’re only allowed to vote if you’ve lived in the Netherlands for the past 5 years. If you’re eligible to vote, you should have gotten your poll card (or in Dutch: stempas) already. You should bring this and an ID card or passport with you to the polling station.

A lot of parties also present their election programme in English. In addition, there are so called ‘Kieswijzers’ or ‘Stemwijzers’, which can help you to decide which party suits you best. Unfortunately, most of them are in Dutch, but maybe you can ask a Dutch friend to translate it for you!


It’s a waste if you don’t use your vote. With your vote, you can try to influence your (our!) city. It doesn’t take a lot of time and effort to read the election programmes and bring out your vote. There used to be people who had to fight for their right to vote in the Netherlands, and there are still people who have to do this all around the world.

Do you want more information about the municipal elections? Check out the Kiesraad website (in English)!

Housing Situation in Utrecht

When I arrived in Utrecht in 2015, I must say that I was very lucky with my housing situation. I was able to nail a “reserved accommodation” room from SSH, which is part of a limited amount of furnished rooms that the University books for their international students. I booked it in April, to start my studies in September. And it was one of the last ones. My good fortune came at a price, though: 500€ per month, and leaving after 1 year, for the next round of international students, despite the fact that my programme lasts for a minimum of 2 years.

The fact that I consider myself lucky represents the extent of the low expectations about housing. People just cross their fingers and hope to be able to find anything, wherever, at whatever cost, for however short term.

This problem does not exist only in Utrecht, of course, but it is becoming increasingly hard to find a decent place to live in here. So let’s look at some of the aspects of the problem in Utrecht and figure out what we might be able to do about it.

1. Increasing the number of internationals increases the pressure in housing

The dutch students definitely feel how hard it is to find a place to live, but it isn’t any easier for internationals. The universities in Utrecht host more and more international students, and they must have a place to live. Contrary to their Dutch counterparts, international students can’t travel home at the end of their classes. This increases the amount of people looking for rooms, which is high already in any given time. The university does warn students that it is really hard to find rooms, and they have a deal with a hostel in case you haven’t found anything by the time you come to town, but, given that they actively recruit students, that doesn’t solve the systematic problem.

2. Internationals have a harder time in “hospiteers”

If you apply directly for a room, as opposed to applying through a real estate agency, you will likely have to “hospiteer”, meaning that you have to go in for a small interview with the other roommates to see if you are a good fit in the house. This is all fine, because after all we all want to get along with the people that we live with, but it is especially challenging for internationals. If the add doesn’t say already “No internationals”, it is very hard to be picked at a hospiteer, because the people in the house might think that having someone that doesn’t speak Dutch in their home will not create a very “gezellig” atmosphere.

I would know. After my first 1-year contract was about to be over, I had to find a place through the regular channels. I went to a lot of hospiteeravonds, and in some I was told that yeah, they liked me, but they wouldn’t choose me because I didn’t speak Dutch. Eventually some kind souls saw past that and offered me a roof, and the same story came to be when I moved again. I was always able to find a place, but this particular aspect can make you grow some thick skin. It also gives you confidence that you end up in a place where people welcome you with your differences.

3. As long as you can find a place, it is ok to move

Just as my first contract had the maximum duration of 1 year (if it was longer they couldn’t terminate it anymore), it is very normal that the average time of rental is very short. In fact, people have incentives to sublet their room when they go away for some months, because the rents are so high. On a first glance, you can think this is great, you are not using your room and someone is looking for one, and indeed this is better than nothing. But if you look more closely, this perpetuates the very low expectations that I was talking about in the beginning.

The human loss of this scheme of things is immense. The mental strain of looking for several rooms and moving while trying to study can be unbearable, and it should not be normalized not to have a fixed roof over your head. You also loose the ability of creating small geographic communities, of getting to know your neighbors, or sometimes even your housemates properly.

4. Rent will certainly be high

Because there is so much demand and so little offer, it is normal that the price of rent will be extremely high. Normal, hein? Well, at least it is what we are used to, but it shouldn’t be like this. There is unused office space that could be turned into room space, and there are laws that allow only two adults to live in a house with more than two rooms. Though this might benefit other sects of the population, for example the new couples that want to settle down, it sends a message that you can’t just rent a place because you have the money to do so, and you will behave; it puts extra demographic strains where there needn’t be any. Rents are a bit lower and availability is a bit higher  when you move out of the city center, which ends up being the solution found by many internationals, but which translates in added transportation costs.

The big elephant in the room is, of course, that there are political and entrepreneurial interests to keep the prices high. What this will create in the future, however, is that only students that can afford the living costs will be able to come study in Utrecht. And I don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty bad to me.

What can you do to change something?

The first thing that you can do is realize that this is not a personal problem. This is a widespread problem, and if you can’t find a place to live it is not your fault directly.

What you can do next is try to connect with people who have been through similar situations, and see for yourself that you are not alone. With this in mind, the movement We Want Woonruimte was created by Dutch and international students fed up with having to move all the time! The aim is to create a platform to discuss ideas about how too bring people together so that our politicians and institutions can see the dimension of the problem. On the 15th of March there will be a symbolic camping in Janskerkhof, and if you participate you are already making your voice heard.

Finally, none of this is possible if the political power is not aligned with your interests. The elections for the Utrecht city council will be on 21st of March, and if you are a registered EU citizen you can vote! A “voting pass” will arrive by mail and you should bring it with you on the election day, together with your nationals ID. Get informed about what the parties stand for, and get out to vote!!

If you haven’t yourself had problems with the housing in Utrecht, I’m sure you know someone that has. And that is not OK. It is also not just bad luck.

What have been your experience with housing in Utrecht? What do you think should be changed? Share your stories and suggestions in the comments! 

American TV series that gave you a total wrong impression of the Netherlands

When you arrived in our wonderful country you maybe wondered if all the clichés were true. You know what I’m talking about: the mills, clogs, tulips, cheese. Because we have to admit it, that’s the image the world has of our small country. It’s mainly the media who create this image and sometimes that could lead to false assumptions and a wrong impression of the Netherlands. Time to fix the damage. And where to start? Exactly, with all the (great!) American TV shows we watch on a regular basis.

TV series that gave you the wrong impression of the Netherlands

So which TV series are responsible for your misjudgment? We made a list:

1. Designated Survivor

I have to say, as a Dutchie I really enjoy this series. It has all the dramatic aspects and complications I want from a show. The first season was very impressing. But then, in the second season, I was… stupefied. The first episode made me… laugh? Not a very common reaction to this show.

So what created this moment of laughter? FBI agent Hannah Wells went to Amsterdam, that’s what happened. And it started in a bar. It was supposed to be a Dutch bar – okay, I could live with that. But when the bartender opened his mouth to the other Dutchie in the room, it sounded like a weird Google Translate kind of language with a lot of G-sounds.

But it wasn’t only the language that made me cry tears of joy. The licence plates of cars, the addresses (Antwaldnorrer 53040, seriously?) and the streets are so badly chosen that it’s too obvious the makers didn’t do any research at all.

On the left is the real street in Amsterdam and on the right the version of it in Designated Survivor. Looks nice, though!

Schermafbeelding 2018-02-10 om 18.36.26
Image: Google streetview / Netflix

Maybe the funniest thing is the address of a random place in Amsterdam. When you search for ‘Dutch address format’ on Google, you come across a webpage with this address (on the right). Doesn’t it look a bit similar to the one on the left?

Schermafbeelding 2018-02-10 om 18.44.11

2. Friends

If you’re a fan of this series (which I am), then you’ll maybe remember some scenes where there was a Dutch character or there were some spoken Dutch words. The rumor even goes that Gunther, the guy who worked in Central Perk and had a huge crush on Rachel, was originally Dutch? Hm, maybe they meant German?

Well, the most striking scene was in season 3, episode 9. The friends are playing rugby outside and come across the Dutch Marga (well, the name is correct), but she doesn’t look or sounds Dutch at all. See for yourself.

3. Modern Family

The Dutch are very popular in the funniest sitcom of the moment. In all of the seasons there are many small references to this country. Luke did a project about Vincent van Gogh, Claire and Phil talked about their time in Amsterdam, there was a football game between the Netherlands and Colombia (and Gloria was very competitive, of course), Manny talked about ‘Dutch chocolates’ (didn’t he mean Belgian?) and, of course, there was a reference to the red light district in Amsterdam by Jay.

Image: Netflix

4. Homeland

Ok, another one. A tiny, little mistake of the producers of Homeland. Not only Dutch people will find this funny, also Germans will recognize it. In one episode we’re supposed to think it’s set in the Zeeburg District in Amsterdam, but it’s actually… Potsdam, near Berlin. Come on guys, it can’t be that hard to make it look real?

Schermafbeelding 2018-02-11 om 13.50.11
Image: Netflix

So why is it that Americans believe this is what the Netherlands look like and what Dutch people do? We know, we’re not a big country and maybe we don’t really matter for America, but still they chose us in their TV shows and well, that could be something to be proud of. At least YOU know that certain assumptions are not true and hey, that matters the most.

Credits go to Zondag met Lubach for their brilliant research.

How to pronounce the Dutch ‘g’ sound?

Gouda? Gezellig? What is this strange sound that the Dutch use for their letter “g”? I have been intrigued by this for a while now, so I went to talk with Fonetics and Fonology professor Hugo Quéne to figure that out!

“So, first of all, us foneticians, when we talk about sound, we don’t use the alphabet letters, because, as you see, their meanings change across languages and cultures. We use a phonetic alphabet, and you can find the phonetic translation of words in a good dictionary”, explains Hugo. ”This sound also appears in other languages, like the German ‘achtung’, as ‘ch’, or the Hindi ‘khan’, where kh can also be pronounced like that.”

I was interested in learning how to produce the perfect “g” sound to impress all my friends! This is a step-by-step guide:

“So you have to start with the tongue on the top of your mouth, ready to say something that sounds like ‘k’. So for example, let’s start with ‘cow’. You lower the tongue just a little bit but you stay in the same position, and then you go from one sound to the desired ‘g’ sound.” Goed!

The ‘g’ sound in Dutch that we want can have two fonetic translations: /x/, called the voiceless velar fricative, and the /ɣ/, the voiced velar fricative . The what now? “It’s called a velar consonant because it occurs around the velum, towards the back of your mouth. Fricative means that it is created by the friction between the air and your mouth, you need air in turbulence while the sound is produced.” About the voiced and voiceless, the story gets more interesting. The difference between both sounds is that the voiceless is produced a little bit more to the back of the throat compared to the voiced, and the voiceless doesn’t use vocal cord vibration. “Nowadays, almost everyone in the Netherlands is using the voiceless version. For the older generation, there is a clear distinction about words that use the voiced and the voiceless, but it is really hard to say which are which, it is really getting lost. Only if you go the remote areas, like Friesland, you could actually find these differences. And even then, only with the old people.” There is a hint, though. “Long long ago, it used to be that ‘ch’ was the voiceless sound, and the ‘g’ was the voiced, but not anymore”.

Finally, he described a regional variance that is very easy to grasp. “There is an interesting regional variation between the parts that we call ‘north of the rivers’, traditionally protestant regions, and the southerner parts, predominantly roman catholic. The first one uses the ‘g’ that we have described, and that’s why you hear it in Utrecht. The second uses the ‘soft g sound’.” This softer version is called a front velar fricative and it can sometimes sound a little sibilating.

Now you are ready to go out and be a serious speaker Dutch, and also to tell where your friends come from in the Netherlands!

Story time

Once upon a time, the tribe was preparing for winter. The chief sent his people to the forest to get firewood. The men spent hours and hours collecting a good amount to survive the winter. When they arrived home, the chief sent a young boy to the wise man.

The wise man lived on the top of the hill, watching over the tribe. The wise man had great knowledge, and was a trusted adviser to the chief, when it came to leading his people. The young boy was ordered to ask the wise man how strong this winter is going to be. He did so, receiving the answer that this winter will indeed be cold. The boy forwarded the news to the chief, who ordered his people to go back to the forest, to bring more firewood.

The men did accordingly, again, collecting wood for hours and hours. They went back, and this time the chief wanted to be sure they were well prepared for the winter. The boy was sent to the wise man again. The wise man predicted this winter will be very cold. When the chief heard the news, he told every person in the village to go, to collect as much wood as possible.

After many hours, the people came back with carts full of wood, they did not even have enough space to store it. They filled all the tents, no space was left without firewood. For the last time, the chief sent the boy up the hill to ask, if they now have enough to survive the winter.

The boy climbed the hill, asked the wise man, who gave an answer to him for the third time, saying that this winter is going to be the coldest he has ever seen. The boy could not hold his curiosity any longer, eventually he asked the wise man, how he could tell this winter is going to be the coldest. The wise man abruptly pointed at the village:


“Look how much wood they collected, it needs to be the coldest winter I have ever seen”.

Based on who or what do you make your decisions?

Recipe: Traditional Dutch Pancakes

Have you already tried the Dutch pancake? This whole-pan size pancake is much thinner than the traditional American pancakes (but not as thin as the French crepes) and tastes amazing! You can use both sweet and savory toppings to make your Dutch pancakes even more delicious.

Buy the following cheap ingredients for the batter (2-3 persons):

  • 2 eggs
  • 500 ml milk
  • 1 tablespoon of salt
  • 250 grams of flour
  • Butter, for cooking
  • Toppings of your choice

Examples of sweet fillings and toppings:

  • Apple, raisins, and cinnamon
  • Red fruits and mint

Examples of savory fillings and toppings:

  • Cheese, bacon, chorizo

Follow these 4 easy steps to make the perfect Dutch pancakes in only 30 min:

  1. Beat the egg in a large bowl until slightly foamy. Add the milk and salt and mix these ingredients all together. Slowly add the flour and mix again until the batter is smooth.
  2. Heat a 10-inch cooking pan over medium heat. Add a little butter to the pan.
  3. Add 0,5 cup of batter to the pan and swirl it around to coat the pan (now add any filling you like over the batter). Cook the pancake over medium for 3-4 min until it is just getting dry on the top and releases from the pan.
  4. Remove the pancake from the pan and place on a platter. Tip: Keep your pancake warm by placing them in a warm oven.

Welcome to Utrecht: highlights of the Intro Week

A new great semester is about to start, and ESN is there with you every step of the way. The new residents of the beautiful city of Utrecht had a chance to visit it with the help of more other students that already know all the secrets!

Introduction Day

On the introduction day, groups of brand new internationals had a day to explore the city with the guidance of the mentors. There was time to make the highest tower under the tower…

joco (2) intro day

… and to play some fancy pool!

joco (3) intro day

For the brave that still had energy after such an eventful day, the night was also full of excitement at Woolloomooloo!


Intro Week

After the introduction day, a more prolonged introduction to the student life in Utrecht was kickstarted. During the introduction week, smaller groups of internationals and their mentors took part in different activities organized exclusively for them!

Some groups did laser tag…

joco (4) day 2

… while others had the Cantus…

joco (2) day 2
During the Cantus
joco (3) day 2
After the Cantus

… with notorious before and after differences.

The following days had a healthy dose of bowling…
joco (2)

joco (3)

… and, because our internationals are extremely gifted, karaoke!

joco day4

In the name of the JoCo, I wish all of the new internationals in Utrecht a great experience abroad! We are here to help you make the most of your time here, sharing our tips and knowledge. We are also here to give you a voice, so if you think there is something that you would like us to talk about leave us a message in the comments!

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