6 Things I Didn’t Expect in The Netherlands

One of the best things about travelling is experiencing and learning about new cultures. By choosing to study abroad this semester in The Netherlands, I’ve already encountered many surprises and differences between my life in Victoria. Here are my first 6 things I didn’t expect in The Netherlands:

1. The wind!

I knew that The Netherlands is famous for its windmills and flat land, but for some reason I didn’t really think about the fact that this means it must be an extremely windy country! When biking around the city, there are no hills to climb, but the wind can make it feel like you’re biking up one!

2. The bikes

Again, I knew that The Netherlands is famous for cycling and sustainable cities, but nothing prepared me for the insane amount of bikes absolutely everywhere. Where I’m studying, in the city of Utrecht, you can find the world’s largest bike parkade with 12,500 spaces to park your bike.

Rainbow cycling road on the Utrecht University campus.

Above: Rainbow cycling road on the Utrecht University campus.

Below: Bike parking where I live on campus, surrounded by my residence building.

university of utrecht residences

3. Mopeds in the bike lanes 

The amazing bike lanes are one of my favourite parts of Utrecht. Wide, well separated from the regular vehicle traffic by a curb, and found almost everywhere in the city, the great bike lanes make cycling the easiest way to get around.

However, one thing that I definitely didn’t think about or expect is the Vespa style mopeds that are allowed to travel in the bike lanes if they are travelling under 40km/hr. They rip right by you sometimes, so you have to be very careful.

4. Food packaging

As a country generally known for their sustainable planning and environmentalism, I was quite shocked by the amount of plastic packaging present on groceries.

Although you can usually find vegetables and fruits in the grocery store without plastic on them, I have found it very common for individual vegetables such as broccoli to be packaged in a layer of plastic wrap, which I was surprised by.

Another difference with the grocery stores here: you always have to scan your receipt to open the gate to  leave the store.

5. Banking system

The Dutch have their own system of secure banking called iDeal, and many places (including some major grocery stores) do not accept credit cards like Visa or Mastercard.

To get a Dutch bank account with iDeal, you need to be a resident of The Netherlands and have a social security number. It can be a bit of a process with lots of bureaucracy to get this set up, but once you have a Dutch bank account it is very easy to pay for things with this system.

6. No cash.

Cash is often not accepted (such as on public transport) or you might have to use a different checkout line in the store, and so a debit card is the best way to go when paying. Banking and finances here seem to be very much virtual and online, even more so than in Victoria.

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