My First Week in the Netherlands

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One year later and I’m back in Europe. I never imaged it would be so soon and I thought for certain I’d go back to Prague before anywhere else. But when an opportunity to live in the Netherlands for a month came up, I couldn’t say no. My little sister, a first year at Loyola New Orleans, was accepted into a summer history program through the University of Groningen. As an experienced traveler with no pressing post-grad plans, I offered to help her get to the program and adapt to European life. It would be a sister trip for the first few days and then a solo graduation trip for me after her classes started.

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After a few months of planning, we flew from Seattle to Amsterdam and then boarded a train to Groningen. Groningen is a city in northern Netherlands with a bustling student population. Over a quarter of its 200,000 inhabitants attend the local universities. With such a young demographic,  it's a surprisingly hip place and perfect for a solo traveler of my age. For the next three weeks, I’ll be staying by myself in Groningen while my sister attends classes in Zwolle and travels around the Netherlands and Germany with her program. 

I found the cutest little Airbnb right in the city center. At the top of two very steep and treacherous flights of stairs is a one bedroom loft with a kitchenette, espresso machine, a couch, and a small dining table. It’s the perfect size and has everything I could need. But the best part is the private rooftop balcony, only accessible by a ladder and trap door. The view is incredible, and I’ve been enjoying breakfast and afternoon espressos up there every day since arriving. The loft is also right around the corner from a selection of vegan cafes, the canal, and a massive park — I’m living my dream. 

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For the first few days, I got to explore the local scene with my sister. One of my favourite stops was the Groningen Museum, which features local artists and currently has an exhibit on Dutch Women’s Suffrage. We also saw the Martinitoren, the highest church steeple in the city, and the Prinsentuin renaissance gardens. 

It also wouldn’t be a trip without walking miles around the city and finding some amazing vegan food. Groningen has a lot of vegan options and oat milk is everywhere. Plus, since my sister is old enough to drink here, I got to take her out for her first legal drink. Apparently the drink of choice in the Netherlands is gin & tonic so we went to a bar, Mr. Mofongo, with a whole G&T menu. 

After a fun few days, it was time to say goodbye and drop my sister off with her program. She took the train to Zwolle and I set out to explore on my own. I’ve never traveled alone before. I’ve always been with family, friends, or a program. This is the first time I’ll be completely alone abroad. It’s kind of scary but also exciting. It’ll be my own little Eat Pray Love adventure, just with a quarter-life graduation crisis instead of a mid-life divorce. It’ll probably be more along the lines of Eat Walk Sleep, but that honestly sounds pretty great right now. 

travelBrelynn Hess