Behind the scenes – spring covershoot

It’s the 6th of March. We are lucky because spring is in the air! We chose a perfect day: a blue sky with a few clouds, a beautiful garden with lovely purple flowers and the sun that shone regularly. We are shooting our new cover for the spring edition of the ABROAD magazine! The shoot is located in ‘De Oude Hortus’, the garden in the University Museum. From 1723 till 1920 it was the Botanic Garden of the University of Utrecht. The garden is located through the Lange Nieuwstraat and the Nieuwegracht.

Our team of today consists of 4 of our JoCo members and two models. The models arrive exactly on time at the location and we start casually with a coffee to discuss our plans. Today we’re working with Anshul and Elvira, two internationals that are studying in Utrecht. It’s amazing how these two have appeared as thought they areas professional models. A big thanks to the both of you!

Trough a photo diary we would like to give you an inclination of this great day!

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Before our models have arrived Maaike and Evelijn have been searching for the perfect spots for our shoot. Aren’t these spots looking amazing??

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Inside or outside?                              This doesn’t look really Dutch!

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Strike a pose Evelijn!

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Ready to take off!                               Okay not yet… 😉

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First location!

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Our second location! It is amazing to see how comfortable our models are together. Posing if they do this every day  🙂

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Single shoot of the models

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Third location, such a spring feeling right?!

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Annalise is working on the final picture!

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Amazing reflection effect in the water

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The team of the spring covershoot!

We still need to find models for our last ABROAD of the year! Do you enjoy posing for the camera and do you want to help us out? If that’s a yes come and send us an email. @ 🙂


From Utrecht to Cologne at high-speed

Counting the days before Christmas and looking for some distraction? Dig up the adventurer in yourself and hop on a last minute train to Cologne! Easy as it is you enter the train at Utrecht Central station and before you know it you’re in the city centre of one of Germany’s oldest cities: Cologne.

Travel at high speed with the ICE

A white train works one’s way through the landscape towards the eastern border of the Netherlands. That’s the Intercity-Express (ICE) train, which brings you comfortably and at high-speed to the most beautiful cities of Germany. NS International sells tickets for a very friendly price, for only 19 euros you can book a ticket to Cologne!


What to see in Cologne?

This question will immediately be answered as soon as you get off the train at Köln Hauptbahnhof. The imposing Cologne Cathedral is the first thing you’ll see when you set foot in the city centre of Cologne. This medieval cathedral breaks all records: it’s Germany’s most visited landmark, the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe and its façade is the largest of any church in the world. But don’t be afraid, besides old churches and lots of cute cobbled stoned streets the city also offers new architecture at hip districts such as Ehrenfield and Belgisches Viertel.

photo credits to Thanh Tâm

What to do in Cologne?

Okay, in this time of year there’s one clear answer: Christmas shopping! The old streets of Cologne are packed with people strolling the festively decorated city. Once you enter the city you will be greeted by the aroma of baked apples, cinnamon biscuits and glühwein. But also when you want to escape the packed Christmas market, there are plenty of opportunities. Flee to the über cool Belgisches Viertel to see colourful street art and drink ice cocktails. Or immortalize your love or friendship by placing a love lock on Cologne’s Hohenzollern Bridge.

So where are you waiting for? Book that train ticket and spend your next weekend accompanied by Cologne’s Christmas lights!

Writer on Location: A Perfect Last Week

Time flies when you’re having fun! But everything comes to an end, also studying abroad. For me it seemed in the beginning that I had heaps of time and endless possibilities, but suddenly the tide turned and I’m running out of time. At the moment I’ve only got nine days left in Russia, so how to turn this last week into a decent goodbye and make it a last-week worthy week?

Happiness is never far away + every time is Russian selfie time

Finishing the to do list

Before I went to Russia I had the intention to go on a weekend trip to a dacha (a Russian cottage on the countryside) and to finish a great part of the Trans-Siberian Express. Well … these intentions were maybe a bit over presumptuous, still I made up for quite some things on my list. For instance I did experience a Russian barbecue, saw more military vehicles than I can count and had my share of vodka. But still there are some things left I’m trying to stuff into my last few days here now. Today I can already check off going to a traditional Russian banya. And yes, that’s the kind of sauna where they hit you with birch twigs and where you should wear a silly little hat. Nevertheless I came back feeling totally zen with the skin of a new born baby. Perfect to relax and prepare for the rest of my week. Because I still want to go and eat blinis (Russian pancakes) at my teachers home, have a traditional Russian dinner with friends and go to see Moscow. Oh, and pack my bags.

Finally a visit to the beautiful botanical gardens

Saying goodbye to the friends

The last few days here probably also mean the last few days with the people who made this whole experience unforgettable. It’s incredible how easily you meet new people whilst living abroad. If I would have been a good and experienced traveller I would have thought of this when I was still in the Netherlands. And I would have brought little cute clogs key rings which I could give to my friends as a keepsake to our good times together. Anyhow, since I did not I’ll have to try to colour their memories with one last good evening. And no one ever said no to a good old farewell drink, especially not the Russians! So with no doubt this is going to be a wonderful last evening in my favourite bar in Perm which was like my second living room the time I’ve stayed here.

Last-minute weekend to the suprisingly nice Jekaterinenburg

Buying proper souvenirs

I thought I might learn from the fact that I didn’t brought Dutch souvenirs for my Russian friends by bringing Russian souvenirs for my Dutch friends and family. And this time not try to forget about it all. They did regularly listen to my stories whilst I was living abroad. Stories which were sometimes just one big complaint about my poor living conditions or bureaucratic nightmares. So they deserve better than a sad souvenir bought at Sheremetyevo Airport. Therefore my mission will be to collect the last few souvenirs in my remaining days in Perm.  And after that my mission will be to pack my suitcase including souvenirs without overreaching the 23kg limit. Wish me good luck 😉

By Evelijn Hillebrand



Writer on Location: Pretty, pretty Peter

Last week it was finally time to escape the rural province of Russia and to visit the lovely St. Petersburg. For months I’d been looking forward to being once again in a real city; a city where they might sell English books and maybe even serve that white beer I’ve been longing for ever since I’m in Russia. Well, I can already tell you that St Petersburg made all my dreams come true and even more!


A Russian friend of mine once described St Petersburg as a poor aristocrat, and ever since I’m back from this trip I realise how well-chosen this expression was. Good old Peter has a certain kind of class which cannot be obtained by all the money in the world. This beautiful spring week the old buildings along the canals were bathing in the golden light of the sun. The sun shone her light on the soft-pink, yellow and green facades and highlighted the cracks in the buildings. The cracks however made me fall in love even more. They were charming in a way you love the wrinkles on the smiling face of the person you love. Those little imperfections are what makes St Petersburg beautiful.

One of those little imperfections might be the fact that although St Petersburg is described as the most Western city in Russia, hardly anyone speaks English. St Petersburg is a city visited by many tourists, but most of them are Russian. Despite the rumours that the St Peterburgians are grumpy, I experienced something else. Maybe because of the small amount of international tourists the St Peterburgians are willing to show you their beautiful city. Never before have I met such an involved Airbnb host, and the Russians which I spoke to were happy to practice their English or to listen to my broken Russian.


I believe it’s safe to say that St Petersburg is Russia’s cultural capital; it’s not only home to the Hermitage, but also to the famous Mariinksky Theater and to many great Russian writers such as Pushkin and Gogol. The Hermitage is a museum which is way too big, one in the category of the Louvre, but absolutely worth a visit. They’ve got an incredible collection of the old Dutch masters and the former chambers of the tsars will blind you in their golden splendour.

To be honest, I didn’t visit as many museums as I could have done. Therefore I was too busy exploring another splendid side of the city: the gastro bars. When you do some research and ask for tips from a local, you will find out that you can have an absolutely fabulous dinner at very stylish places for very little money. And that gives you the opportunity to experiment! From eating brains till oxtail: I’ve tried them all for the first time in St Petersburg.  


I absolutely loved my time in St Petersburg, and it certainly won’t be the last time I paid Peter a visit. St. Petersburg showed me another beautiful shade in Russia’s interesting palette of colours; I found out that also pastels exists in Russia.

By Evelijn Hillebrand

Writer on Location – Hong Kong: fish balls and macarons

I’ve finally done it.. I set my first step outside Europe! And not just in any place..


From the 10th till the 18th of April I got the chance to discover Hong Kong as part of a research exchange with students from Hong Kong University. Visiting China had been on my wish list since I was a little girl in primary school when I fell in love with those fairylike landscapes and gorgeous kimono’s. (Little did I know that those geisha’s I had in mind actually originated from Japan, nor did I even realize the difference between Japan and China..) Well, it all didn’t matter, I just wanted to go to Asia! And there I finally went.

Squeezed between two tall men and no leg space, I started my twelve hour flight, wondering what I was going to experience and trying not to think about my muscles slowly cramping up.. Luckily the time flew by quicker than expected, and after having slept during most of the flight, I felt pretty good for 4am Dutch time -> 10am Hong Kong time, so time to work!


Work? Yes, it wasn’t just a holiday for me, we actually filled the whole week with a set of collaborative events that we organized in collaboration with the HKU students. Think about debates, conversations with refugee organizations and the Dutch Consulate, film screenings, an architectural city tour and collaborations with the current art festival in Hong Kong. But while hopping from location to location, I still got a pretty good view of this impressive city.

And impressive it was definitely! Never have I ever seen so much diversity in one city. With the view changing from the skyscrapers in the famous skyline to colorful fishing boats, mountains and rainforest, and western and Asian elements alternating in every street, this city managed to truly surprise me.


Being a tall and blonde Dutchie I expected to attract quite some attention. Luckily enough this wasn’t the case at all. This big trade territory appeared to attract a huge international population, wherein I wasn’t even immediately seen as a tourist. Very nice, as I normally hate to be associated with the average embarrassing tourist that walks around with socks in sandals and a huge camera around the neck, ready to be attacked by pickpockets.. This mix of backgrounds also reflected itself in a great amount of contrasts throughout the city. From the cleanest mall I’ve ever seen, filled with all the popular western brands and ‘hipster’ coffee shops (pretty comparable with those in Utrecht), I would walk out in a typical Chinese shopping street with around a thousand signboards. Not to forget the crazy food contrasts in the streets, where typical Hong Kong street food stalls could easily alternate some classy French cake shops. From street to street even the language spoken and written switched from English to Cantonese and back. And then the nightlife… After not having seen a single bar or club in the streets after three days, I started to wonder what the Hong Kong nightlife would be like.. Did they even go out? And would they dance? Well, Wednesday night we found out. We took a cab to a neighborhood called LKF, and found ourselves in the middle of a crazy party district, filled with fancy bars and clubs with techno music blasting through the speakers.


Well, I can say that my first step outside Europe was a very successful one. One with many surprises, some hard work and a lot of fun.

By Melodie Zöllner

Writer on Location: Spring starts with shashliks

Last Saturday a miracle happened: the sun was finally shining and the thermometer hit 18 degrees. Apparently the spring rite of maslenitsa which I attended a month ago did its work; eating the microwaved pancakes and burning the straw puppet paid off! So, what to do with this lovely day? The parks in the city weren’t really appealing, the grass was still trying to recovering from the winter spent under layers of snow and the Russians never have heard of this amazing thing called a terrace in the sun with a good beer.


So I was more than happy when my Russian friend invited me up to a barbecue in the woods. Going to the barbecue not only meant getting involved in some of Russia’s favourite activities: grilling shashliks and drinking vodka, but also to meet a whole bunch of new Russian people.

And sure it was made clear that Russians love their shashliks and a nice bottle of vodka. We weren’t the only group who came up with the idea to go the forest and have a barbecue. At the forest glade multiple families and friends celebrated the first good weather. It was one of the most Russian phenomes I’ve seen so far.

Summer in the city

The guys prepared the fire and the meat and the girls prepared the vegetables. In the meantime the guys opened up a bottle of vodka. And when you open a bottle of vodka in Russia, you need to finish it. 😉 So it didn’t take long before the guitar appeared and the first traditional songs were sung.

Meeting this group of friends and colleagues gave me so many new insights into Russian culture. Their view on relationships is quite traditional, for instance most of the couples in their early twenties were married and there was a clear division of labour, and not only at the barbecue but also back at home.

Another remarkable thing was the fact that every barbecuing group had at least one man dressed in a military costume present. Just because they are proud that they once served in the army, they like to show off their uniform in their free time.

Happy shiny Lenin

This lovely sunny afternoon spend in the forest made me part of the real daily life for a while in a country where I’m just a visitor. Once again another reason why I just love studying abroad!

By Evelijn Hillebrand


Writer on Location: Monks and Drag Queens

Sometimes when studying abroad I need to remind myself of the fact why I actually chose to go to Russia. What were the reasons again that I chose for this isolated city unknown to any foreigners? Well, last Saturday was another day which made me realize that I came here to not only learn about Russia from books but to experience the country to the fullest and see everything through my own eyes. Last Saturday, Russia showed itself from two completely different sides: the Russia which seems to been stuck 50 years ago and a new and progressive side which I didn’t expect to find here. Let me take you on a unexpected side of Russia!

What we expected to see … source

On a cold and rainy morning we gathered with a small group of international students to go and visit one of the local highlights of the region: the beautifully breath-taking Belogorksy Monastery. Finally we would go and see this landmark and get a guided tour from a specialist on this field, but first we needed to survive another ride on a Russian bus for two hours. So our tour guide Natalya warned us that drinking big cups of coffee just before getting on the bus might not be such a good idea ‘’because, you know, it might start some processes’’. Against one’s better judgement we entered the bus and survived the bumpy ride meandering around potholes in the road.

We drove through a beautiful, green and hilly landscape and the views couldn’t be bothered by the rain. But as soon as we reached the top of the hill where the monastery was housed we drove into a bank of fog. When we got off the bus Natalya asked us whether we could see the monastery. Well. We couldn’t.

What we saw

All we could see from the monastery were some vague contours, so we decided to enter the church and get a taste from real Russian culture. As Natalya told us the church was and is still a major element in Russian daily life and culture. The many people who entered the church and made the sign of the Cross and devotedly kissed the chest with relics showed the strong bond of Russians with the Orthodox faith.

In the church we listened to, what I believe to be, the most boring guided tour in the history of monasteries. The nun who gave us the tour was quite occupied with her phone. So whilst she reeled off her story, she would interrupt it every now and then to pick up her phone and give a tirade that she was currently working and therefore could not pick up the phone. We decided to leave the church and look for the well with holy water, which was quite a quest due to the mist and huge piles of snow.

On our quest we ran into a Russian monk wearing an Orthodox habit complete with a big golden cross. To make his look somewhat more edgy he completed his outfit with an army jacket. He was so friendly to show us pictures on his smartphone of what the monastery looks in the sunlight. Yes, even technology made its way far into the hinterlands of Russia. And obviously also the internet reached this region, because as soon as the monk noticed that we came from the Netherlands he gave his condolences to us because of the death of Johan Cruijff.


After this slightly disappointing visit to the monastery, we decided it was time to hit the road again and to get ready for the night. With a group of international friends we planned to shake off everything we learned in the church and to have a wild night. So we did.

After the first necessary shots of vodka to start off the night our day took a big turn. We decided to get a cab and to visit a drag queen show which we read about on Instagram. The cab took us to a for me still unknown city district full of grey old Soviet flats. At first sight it didn’t really look like a place to have a good party. I was proven to wrong, because as soon as we entered a yard through a back door we found ourselves in the thriving gay scene of Perm. The show started soon enough and the drag queens were received by the audience with great enthusiasm. The crowd adored the queens and I even got a compliment on my hair from one of the drag queens. I still don’t know whether I should be happy about this compliment or not … 😉 The night was long and we mingled in the crowd and made many new friends whilst enjoying the necessary amount of wodka and tequila.


Well, you know how people say that no good story ever started with a salad. And that’s also how I think that no good story ever started with a book. Travel the world and experience everything with your own eyes!

By Evelijn Hillebrand

Writer on location: Napoli

In my previous blog about how to spend the Easter Weekend, I told you about my plans: going abroad to Napoli (Naples). Did you ever hear about the saying ‘Vedi Napoli e poi muori’, or more understandable, ‘See Napoli and die’? Last weekend I visited Napoli, not to die, but to enjoy the sun and the best food of Italy. Yes, the food; Let’s start with the most important thing right away!

Culinary delights

Napoli is the city where the pizza Margherita was invented. Leastwise, that is the story that is going around. In 1889 the first pizza Margherita was made by Raffaele Esposito for the Italian queen Margherita, because she wanted to taste a local specialty. Esposito imitated the Italian flag by using tomatoes, mozzarella and basil. The queen liked the pizza so much that she wrote a thank-you letter to Esposito. By then, the pizza was named after her. Whether this story is true or not, it is a 100 percent true that the food in Napoli tastes like heaven and I would consider to write a thank-you letter for that. The fresh tomatoes, fresh buffalo mozzarella (this is really something else than the plastic balls Albert Heijn is selling), pizza, pasta, seafood, ice cream: it was too good to be true. Besides the delicious food, you can get your energy boost in the mornings, and every other moment of the day, from the authentic Italian espresso.

napels 1


Although it’s very hard not to write 300 pages about the great food, there is more you should know about this city. Napoli is a vibrant city full of  scooters nearly overriding you in the narrow streets, kindly greeting old Italian men, loudly screaming waiters trying to get you in for a pizza and students chilling together on the different squares. In the city centre, the visit to the Naples Cathedral, the Catacombs of San Gennaro and Castel dell’Ovo, were absolute highlights. A visit to Vomero brought back some peace in my head, escaping from the chaos in the city centre. Vomero is a hill, also called the ‘broccoli hill’ in Napoli. The area is more chic compared to the city centre and it provides a beautiful view over the city.

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Vesuvius and Pompeii

Of course, we took our chance to visit the Vesuvius and Pompeii. The day didn’t start very well: it was Easter weekend and a lot of trains didn’t depart. And no, we couldn’t have known that earlier: the Italians see no point in informing people about changed train schedules. Same story with the bus up to the Vesuvius: it didn’t show up at all. In the end, we paid all our last pennies for another bus and it was absolutely worth it: the turbulent trip to the top, the volcano itself and the wonderful view.

Pompeii was once a city with approximately 11.000 inhabitants. The city had a complex
water system, an amphitheatre, a gymnasium, a brothel and a port. In 79 the Vesuvius erupted and the city was flooded with lava destroying the city, killing the inhabitants and burying it under tons of ash. The city was lost for 1500 years, but was rediscovered in 1599. Nowadays, it provides an extraordinarily detailed insight into the life of a city during the Pax Romana (Roman peace). During the excavation, plaster was used to fill in the voids in the ash layers that once held human bodies. This allowed one to see the exact position the person was in when he or she died. Pompeii is a city where you can walk through for hours, wondering how it was back in the days, amazed by what the Romans have build and what happened to it.


Being back from Napoli, I understand the extreme proudness (which sometimes tends to arrogance) of the Italians a little bit better. Italy is, after all, a great country to get fat and enjoy some culture!

By: Anna Verkuijlen

Writer on Location: Gettin’ Around in Russia

Now that I don’t have my beloved bike with me to discover the streets of Perm (which would be quite an adventure due to the big amounts of snow and ice) I had to find other ways to get around. Living in Russia for more than a month now I can say I have tried a quite interesting selection of transport. I have been on cross-country skis for the first time, a night train, the oldest cab ever and oldskool sickening buses. Well … it all adds to the experience, right? 😉



Maybe the ways of transport are not the most interesting, but the Russians do make them a whole other experience. For getting around in daily life you have to turn to the regular buses and trams. When I first saw the trams I was so excited, I just loved the nostalgic little carriages with their sixties design. And when I spotted a tram which was a driving café, I decided the tram was my favourite way of getting around in town.

With their heated seats and regular departures there is only one disadvantage. For some mysterious reason the tram goes randomly to the tram depot and drops you and other disillusioned travellers off in some shithole at the outskirts of town. I can tell you that its quite cold to wait about 20 minutes in the snow before the tram decides to return to the station.



I guess the Russian buses are not high on my list of favourite Russian things. Many buses smell like the exhaust pipe has been fixed on the inside and with the fine Russian roads, especially when there’s a thaw, you kind of feel that the buses aren’t the youngest anymore. One plus point is again the cute retro design of the long distance buses, but in Russia a sixties design doesn’t mean that its retro but that it’s just old.

Still these buses do deserve some respect, I’ve seen them face the toughest weather and icy highways which looked more like ice rinks with giant holes than motor ways. Also kudos to our bus driver who did not seem to be bothered by these circumstances at all, judging from the fact that he was still reading his book whilst driving.


Still one of the most Russian experiences for me so far has been our legendary ride on the Trans-Siberian Express from Perm to Kazan. Which is only a very small part of the route, but still … I can already cross that off my bucket list. The ride took about 18 hours, with a very pleasant transfer in Balezino. That might sound like a very exotic place, but the only exotic thing about this place were the tropical plants trying to give added lustre to the dreary waiting room.  

Being on the train was a whole other story, Russians love their trains and I can see why. The fun of going on a train trip already starts in the supermarket doing groceries for on the train. Part of the standard equipment are boiled eggs and tea of course. Sleeping on the train feels like a sleepover party: food, drinks and stories are shared, also with your until so far unknown neighbours.


Laying in my bed watching the snowy landscape slide past the train window was one of my most pleasant experiences so far in Russia. The long distances and long trips made me realize that sometimes the journey is even more important than the destination. More than enough reason to keep on traveling I think!

By Evelijn Hillebrand

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