The best study spots in Utrecht

During the holidays, studying is probably one of the last things you want to think of. Unfortunately, the upcoming Christmas break won’t last forever, and you have to go back to your books sometime. Besides the sad prospect of reading all day, you’re probably not looking forward to getting up early for a spot in the University Library. Especially during exam time, the library is packed with busy students. To make your hard study days a little easier, I made a list of alternative study spots. Hopefully, now you can sleep in a little bit before you start.

Café de Zaak
You can find Café de Zaak at the Korte Minrebroerstraat. If you’re someone who has to study in complete silence, this place won’t be perfect for you. However, if you don’t mind a little bit of background noise while you plough through your books, you should definitely check it out! What makes this café so great? You can eat your own food there! You don’t have to spend your money on way too expensive sandwiches to be allowed to stay there for a few hours. Maybe this is my Dutch state of mind, but I love this concept!

Openbare Bibliotheek Utrecht
If you prefer a more quiet environment the Openbare Bibliotheek (Public Library) might be a good spot for you. It’s not as popular as the University Library, which means there are more spots available. There is free WiFi and if you’re a member, you can use one of the library computers.

Het Gegeven Paard
Het Gegeven Paard is a café in TivoliVredenburg. It is a great place to meet up with some study buddies. The tables, especially the long one in the middle, are suitable for meetings. Especially, when you have to work on a group project. There are enough power sockets and the WiFi is free (and pretty fast). Also, it’s open until midnight or later, so you can stay and work for a long time.

Studyspot
As I said earlier, the University Library is often packed with students. However, there are a lot of other study spots in university buildings throughout the city. With ‘Studyspot’ you can check which places are free. In addition, it’s possible to rent a study room for you and your study buddies. Most rooms are available for four hours.

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5 TIPS TO CURE HOMESICKNESS

Moving anywhere on your own is always daunting, especially if it’s your first time. If this is you, you probably have many unanswered questions. Can I live on microwave meals? Will I make friends in my new town? Will I survive on the roads between the cars and bleeping cyclists? The answer is yes! If you’ve just moved to Utrecht, you’ll soon find it is an amazing place to live, study and play. Just take a walk along canals, check out international student nights at Club Poema or tuck into a fresh stroopwafel- you’ll see what I mean. But there’s a chance you won’t be immune to homesickness and you won’t be alone. Luckily, there are multiple ways to cure the home blues.

TIP #1- Make your place your own

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Now that you’ve arrived at your dorm, you’re probably wishing you were back in the comfort of your own home. Oh, how I miss not having to line up for the shower in the morning. Never take small luxuries for granted! Anyway, the good news is you can bring home to your new home. Hang photos, posters or art of your liking on your wall or anything reminding you that you are indeed still you, no matter where you live. Buy some cheap supermarket flowers to brighten your room, some candles of familiar scent and a bed cover that will make you jump on it after a long day. Make it YOUR space. After all, it is yours for a few months at least. Write yourself corny self-love letters and stick them on your mirror so you wake up to some lovin’ every morning (this sounds crazy but don’t diss it until you try it). Not only will this little enterprise keep you busy but by the end of it, you’ll have a nice slice of home in your new home.

TIP#2- Stay in touch

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There’s no denying it- we live in a tech world and in your case, that’s good news! You can keep in touch with your friends and family virtually for free. There are several apps you can download so you can make calls and send messages free of charge. Whatsapp, Viber, Skype and Messenger are most popular. Keeping in touch with everyone can be time consuming and tricky if you come from a far-flung place with a different zone, but luckily social media keeps people around the world connected 24/7. Tag your friends in memes, posts and old photos just as you did back home and keep the banter alive. When it comes to keeping in touch with family, nothing replaces a good old-fashioned phone call or facetime with your mum, dad, sister or brother. Hey, even your dog might get in on it! Whichever way you want to do it is up to you, but remember that consistency is key when keeping in touch.

TIP#3- Join local social clubs

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It sounds corny, but you’ll feel less homesick if you surround yourself with good, fun and interesting people. And there’s no better way to do that than by joining local social clubs. ESN (Erasmus Student Network Utrecht) is obviously the best in town! Call it what you want, shameless self-promotion or genuine advice, but ESN does hold various student open days, events, day trips and social gatherings for international students all year round. Signing up is free and super easy. If you came here for the real Dutch experience, then BuddyGoDutch is for you. At the beginning of each semester you will be matched with an international or Dutch student with similar interests and hobbies. Think of it as speed dating for friends without the awkward small talk about what you like to do in your spare time. Yarn! In no time, you’ll have a new friend to run amuck with and who knows where this friendship will take you! Your university probably also has several student committees and groups that are worth checking out.

TIP#4- Keep busy

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I’m not going to lie; the weather in Utrecht can be woeful. There will be days you’ll be tempted to hibernate and binge watch series on Netflix all day, and there’s nothing wrong in indulging in a little guilty pleasure. Shout out to fellow Games of Thrones fans! But there’s a fine line between enjoying some “me time” and avoiding reality. After all, you came here to live the Dutch experience and for that, you’ll need to actually go out of the house. If you have a day off, read a book at a café, go to a museum, take a walk by the canals or take a quick train to Amsterdam for the day. If you can afford it, go out to eat once a week even if it’s just you. There’s something therapeutic about enjoying a nice meal out and food always tastes better when someone else makes it. Whatever you do, don’t self loathe and keep busy, homesickness is always temporary.

TIP#5- Talk to someone

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You must think well duh?! But the best medicine for homesickness is simply to talk about it. Honesty is the best policy here- with yourself and others. If you’re at university, talk about it with other students in your class, at your social club, with your roommates. Most likely, you’ll find you are not alone and that many other international students miss home as much as you do. They also moved to Utrecht, they have family and friends back home just like you and just like you, they at times feel nostalgic. These are the commonalities people really bond over and in time, real friendships blossom. You’re probably wondering how will this cure homesickness? It won’t. But it will help you manage it, knowing that what you are feeling is utterly natural and that at the end of the day- we’re all on this crazy journey together!

By Megan

Mysteries of Utrecht #2: who is graffiti hero KBTR?

When I’m leaving Utrecht by train I always look around (well, only when I’m not looking at my phone) and I notice the graffiti on the walls. Every time, there is one image that caught my eye and I always wonder what it means – an image of a sort of gnome. And it’s not just one artwork, there are a lot more of them. I found out that this ‘graffiti hero’ is called KBTR and that it’s part of Utrecht, just like the Dom.

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KBTR in the streets of Utrecht. Photo: Instagram @dekbtr

Who is KBTR?

Ok, maybe a bit different than the Dom, but it seems like KBTR is an initiative of an artist from Utrecht and that there’s a whole history to it. The name of the cartoon is KBTR, which stands for the Dutch word ‘kabouter’, but then only the consonants. On the website of KBTR (yes, there’s a whole website!) they explain the name: “KBTR is based on a type of gnome typical for the Netherlands that looks like garden gnomes.” Just a typical gnome, but then, eh, a bit different.

It was around 2004 when KBTR appeared on the streets of Utrecht. First, the gnome was only part of graffiti artworks, but later he also appeared solo. That didn’t go unnoticed. People took pictures of the graffiti hero and posted them on the internet. His appearance has also changed through the years. In the beginning, it was just a simple drawing, but the gnome became more complex and also expresses a certain thought or message.

Now, KBTR has its own Facebook page and Instagram account where you can see all sorts of artworks of the gnome: from artistic to political, and from a bit weird (sorry, my opinion) to really explicit and sexual.

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KBTR as Donald Trump. Photo: Facebook KBTR

Not only in Utrecht

KBTR became so famous that he didn’t stay within the borders of our beautiful Utrecht. You can also spot him in different cities, such as Rotterdam, The Hague and Leiden. In 2012, there even appeared a book about the graffiti gnome, a collaboration between the anonymous artist of KBTR and Dutch visual artist Remko Koopman.

Did you already spotted one of the graffiti gnomes?

 

Sinterklaas has something to say to all the internationals!!

Sinterklaas

My lovely internationals, great to meet all you guys.
listen to me closely, for I am old and very wise

Last Saturday I once again stepped foot on Dutch ground
I am very famous in the Netherlands, heroic and profound

My name is Sinterklaas aka the good Saint.
I’ve came with a steamboat from the country called Spain
To spend three weeks in the land of cheese, grass and rain

You might have already seen me, in the stores or on the street
Probably with my helpers, they are all called “Pete”

At night we roam the rooftops, and go down every chimney
and bring presents and sweets, I’ll have all those with me

Now don’t mistake me for that amateur Santa Claus
Just so you know it: I am the real boss

If you haven’t behaved, you better do it quick
Or else you won’t get any presents and Pete will beat you with a stick

And when you’ve been really bad, Pete will put you in his bag.
We’ll take you back to Spain, and it won’t be relaxed

Cause Spain is very nice but you will never see
You’ll be stuck in a factory, wrapping gifts for me

Besides sweets & presents, I’m the bearer of gossip
The next three weeks, You’re all the hottest topic

I know all you’re secrets and if you’re naughty or nice
I know if you’ve been studying or have been drunk during the nights

I know who is dating and I know who hustles
I have my eye out on you, even when you’re in Brussels.

I have done this for centuries, and am still going strong
Believe me when I say that I know what is going on

We are everywhere and we’ll definitely take notes
And share it with the public, all your secrets and quotes

Now go live your life but be sure to remember
That the secrets will come out on the 5th of December!!

Sint en piet

 

 

Christmas in Utrecht: the most festive agenda!

Ahh, Christmas!! It’s that time of the year when you start looking forward to that warm feeling inside, to all the presents that you are going to offer and receive and to all that unbelievable amount of food made by your grandmother!!

Maybe you’ll go back to your home town, but before that you can enjoy some Christmas feeling here in Utrecht! Going around, you might have noticed the Christmas lights on the streets, some proudly announcing the neighbourhood at which you just arrived. If you are looking for some events, here are some awesome suggestions!

  • Knus.

This is the best Christmas event in town! For two full days, the city center becomes a winter wonderland. On Mariaplaats there is a traditional Christmas market, where you can find locally handmade gifts for you and your family, and on Streekmart you can eat like a local. Through the city there will be several street performances; maybe you will find yourself listening to a poetry reading! Come with your friends and join around the log fire, with a hot chocolate or a mulled wine to warm your cold hands. Pro tip: there will also be ice skating! Knus. 16 and 17 December, several locations in Utrecht , free.

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  • Country and Christmas Fair

If you feel like going to the beautiful Kasteel de Haar, I suggest that you go there around the time of their Christmas market. There you will be transported into a magical land of Christmas! Besides being able to visit the castle and its lovely gardens, you will find in the market exclusive homemade Christmas gifts, local products and home decorations. There will also be a lounge terrace and a choir singing, to help spread the Christmas cheer! Country & Christmas Fair 21 to 26 November, Kasteel de Haar (Haarzuilens), 16€ (online purchase)

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  • Fonteyn Festival

Are you fond of wine? In Janskerkhof you will come across this wine festival, with 60 different types of wine to choose from! Also several restaurants take part in the festival, providing food during the festival, so you can go on drinking! Good music, provided by live band shows and DJ’s, will guarantee that you will have a very Christmas-y evening! Fonteyn Festival 15 to 17 December, Janskerkhof, 4€ (mandatory wine glass purchase)

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  • Ice Skating

And for the star of this list… Ice skating!! If your Christmas doesn’t mean the same to you without it, you are in luck! In the Railway Museum, there will be a skating ring for you to enjoy, and you can rent your ice skates over there! To warm up in the end, you can also get hot chocolate and mulled wine. If you have some extra time, you can also take a tour in the museum. Winter Station 23 December to 7 January, Spoorweg Museum, 16€ (museum ticket)

2013-12-23 Winter Station (27)

  • Light seeing

If want to know what Utrecht looks like at night, you have a chance to do just that from the highest tower in Utrecht: the one and only Dom Tower! In December, you can buy a special guided tour, where you  will be treated to the breath-taking view of the Christmas street lights, shining brightly in the streets and canals of Utrecht! In the end, a warming cup of hot chocolate is included. The tours take 90 minutes and start at 20:30. Lichtjes Kijken 13 December to 5 January (scattered days in this period), Dom Toren, 12,5€ (reservation online)

utrecht

A bucketlist for international students in Utrecht

Utrecht is a beautiful city. It is cosy and lively at the same time. There is so much to see and do that even locals get overwhelmed sometimes. That’s why we decided to make it a little bit easier for you. We made you a bucket list with five things you should have done by the end of your abroad period!

 

  1. Enjoy the view from the Dom Tower

This first bucket list item is kind of an obvious one, we know. But it’s the proud of Utrecht, so it would be weird not to mention it in this list. The Dom Tower is several centuries old and 112 meters high. If you manage to climb the 465 stairs to the top, you will be able to enjoy the beautiful view over the city. Don’t worry, you don’t have to do it in one go. During the climb, your guide will take a break on several floors, to tell something about the history of the Dom Tower (and so you can catch your breath).

 

  1. Eat ‘Domtorentjes’

After the climb, you’ll probably think you deserve something sweet. Thankfully, you’re not the only one who thinks that. At Theo Blom’s bakery, you can buy chocolates that are named after the Dom Tower: Domtorentjes. They don’t exist as long as the Dom Tower itself, but they’re definitely legendary in Utrecht!

 

  1. Boat trip

The Netherlands is famous for its canals. Utrecht is one of the cities that’s characterized by them. The canals give the city a cosy look. Instead of looking at the city while you’re walking or riding your bike through it, you should definitely go and see what the city looks like from the canals. There are several places where you can rent a boat or book boat trip with a guide. Especially when the weather is good, it’s lovely to spend a few hours in a boat with your friends.

 

  1. ‘Broodje Ben’

There are a lot of nice places in Utrecht to get a good lunch, but there’s one place locals are particularly fond of: Broodje Ben. This is a stand at the Oudegracht where you can buy fresh, delicious buns with a range of several different fillings. Do you fancy a nice lunch but are you too lazy to get out of your house? No problem, Broodje Ben also delivers!

 

  1. The Black Slope

Last but not least, the Black Slope. This is a nickname for a pub crawl in the pubs along the Nobelstraat. In the Nobelstraat, there are a few pubs next to each other, which makes it a really fun place to go out. When you’re not really enjoying yourself in one bar, you can walk to the next one in less than a minute!

How Utrecht became my city

People ask me sometimes what my connection is to the city I’m currently writing about. Not a totally weird question, since I don’t really live in Utrecht. But we do have history together. So, dear reader, let me tell you my story once and for all.

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The city of Utrecht came into my life when I was in the last year of my high school. Since I had to redo my last year, all my ‘old’ friends already flew the nest. I grew up in Leiden, and if you compare it to Utrecht it feels like a small village. For an teenager as myself Utrecht was the place to escape to in the weekends.

Hoog Catherijne was still under construction, but luckily my common end-station was the always picturesque Utrecht-Zuilen. Once in a few weeks, when the sun was shining and the wind was in the good direction, I made the trip over there on my bicycle. The first was, in every possible way, different from all the times that would follow. My main motivation to make the trip was to impress a girl. Furthermore I was convinced to do so because my dad said I could not make it. In exchange he offered me a crate of beer; which was the perfect way to get a 18-year old teenager sporting. Unfortunately the girl thought this was such a good idea that she offered me, instead of her unconditional love, the same reward. After eight hours of splattering through the snow on my granny bike, without a map and two broken spokes as collateral damage, I finally arrived at my studying friends in Utrecht. I can still remember the feeling of relief, when the Douwe Egberts factory at the edge of the city warmly welcomed me with the smell of roasted coffee beans.

After high school, during my bachelor-years in Amsterdam, I let the Domstad a bit down. For that reason, when my master-period was about to start,  I decided to give the city of Utrecht a chance again. Now, every day when I commute in a fully-packed bus 12 to the ghastly Uithof, I try to catch up with that first moment. The moment the city had taken me into her arms after my harsh bike ride. The moment that I gave the city a place in my heart. The moment that Utrecht became my city. 

How did Utrecht become your city?

Mysteries of Utrecht #1: The Letters of Utrecht

Once I was making my way down through the Oudegracht in direction to Ledig Erf and I you found some peculiar letters written on the stones of the sidewalk. I was so intrigued that I decided to solve this mistery! Follow me on this journey through The Letters of Utrecht!

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What are The Letters of Utrecht?

These letters on the side walk are part of a project called “De Letters Van Utrecht“, where the goal is to write the longest outdoor poetry piece in the world.

There is a new letter added every Saturday, so the poem grows around the city and with the city. The form of the poem itself is supposed to write the word “Utrecht” across the city as you can see in the map, and, since it takes about three years to publish an average sentence, and every year the poem grows approximately 5 meters, only the collocation of the cobblestones that comprehend the letters “U” and “T” are planned – and that is already until the year 2350! Can you imagine how long it will take to finish?!

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Planned route for the poem in 2012. There were already letters in the red dots. The planned route reads “UT” around the streets.

The inauguration took place in 2012, but, preceding the official start of the project, 648 stones had been previously laid down to pretend that it started in the begging of 2000. The idea is that, since the moment of the inauguration, a new stone is added every week and that this stone is sponsored by someone. The initials of the sponsor can be marked in a non visible part of the stone, so they will forever be part of the cultural identity of Utrecht. This is a way to engage citizens to be part of this social sculpture. It is also a socially conscious project: 10 from the 100 euros that it costs to sponsor a stone go to charity.

The name of the project “The Letters of Utrecht” is also a word-play involving the fact that the letters that are being laid down for the poem will write letters in the big scale too, as seen in the map, and they are the letters of the word “Utrecht”! There is also a reference in the name to the original letters that gave city rights to Utrecht and that date from 1122.

The poems that are featured are written by poets that are originally from Utrecht. They feature themes like the passing of time and our place in it, how it is so everlasting and ephemeral at the same time. So far, this is how the poem goes (each paragraph was written by a different poet):

You have to start somewhere to deal with the past, the present is less and less important. The further you are, the better. Go ahead now,
leave your tracks. Forget the flash in which you may exist, the world is your street map. Was there a time when you were another: it passed.
You are already the other. You are, as you know, the key figure of this story. This is eternity. It lasts. It has time. Go into your story and swell. Tell.
Tell us who you are with each step. In our story we disappear naturally, and only you remain in the long run. You and these letters, which are cut out of stone. Like the letters on our grave.
The cracks in the Dom. Plunged into the sky like an index finger, to indicate the guilty and demand more time. So we can go up straight, like people along the Gracht.
Who stares at their feet. Look up! See Utrecht’s churches protruding above ground level. Raise the hands, begging with the towers to be this privilege: to be, now. The weather is nice.
Keep staring. Life is witness of your gaze on the horizon. Your footsteps
connect the pa(st)… (Note: the word is not finished, but it’s going to say ‘verleden’ which means ‘past’)

Translation by Marjolein van den Brand.

A very interesting feature of this project is that the poem will grow slower than the average pace of evolution of a language, so it will track the evolution of the Dutch language too!

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The goal of “The Letters of Utrecht” is to leave a cultural legacy for future generations which they can be part of, too. It acknowledges the people from the present and it relies on the people of the future to exist. It’s a living and breathing peace of art of which we all can be part of.

If you want to know more information about this project, check out the official webpage: De Letters Van Utrecht.

Have you found other cool art pieces in the streets of Utrecht? Let us know what is your favorite in the comments below!

 

 

 

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