Bryar: Day Trip to Shimokita

When you’re an exchange student in a city like Tokyo it seems like the number of things to do and see are endless. However, once you’ve been to Shibuya, Harajuku and Akihabara multiple times each and checked out other major recommended tourist spots, it takes a little more imagination to find new places to spend a day in. Often these places are little known by the tourist blogs, and It’ll be your Japanese or other exchange student friends who show you the gems that Tokyo has to offer.

Shimokitazawa is Tokyo’s hub of everything vintage, bohemian and/or second-hand, along with a collection of quirky coffee shops. You won’t see many tourist faces here, but it’s still a bustling and lively district popular among the youth of Tokyo. I spent a day here recently with a couple of university friends, and this is what we discovered:

The Food

We started the day off with a late-morning coffee (well, my friends did) at one of the small coffee shops tucked away on the narrow streets. The coffee was served vintage-style in a jar and was, according to my friend, exquisite.

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As we meandered around the streets afterwards we passed a corner store that had multiple layers of customers queueing up outside its doors; the aforementioned friend (and guide) explained to us that it’s a pancake shop, and that he line can sometimes reach up to two hours long (!!). I asked who on earth would wait that long for pancakes, but he said that he’d tried them and apparently they merited the wait.

We took a break mid-afternoon for some lunch; we found a quaint little Italian restaurant that felt (to someone who has admittedly never been to Italy) like stepping right into the real deal – the pizza was delicious, and surprisingly affordable seeing as it came with a salad and drink.

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We ended our day trip with some home-made gelato from a store that had pastel pink walls and a chandelier hanging from the ceiling but still somehow managed to feel vintage. How?

The Shopping

Shimokitazawa is packed full of little stores selling everything that someone riding the bohemian trend could ever wish for. Clothes, accessories, knick knacks – even the stores themselves give a boho vibe with the uneven wooden floors and artistically peeling wall paint.

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This district is also a haven for those who love everything second-hand. Everything from little upcycled boutiques, to entire warehouses with rack upon rack of second hand clothes. We could have been lost these places for the entire day.

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The day that we visited Shimokitazawa, it also featured a small market of hand-made goods set up near the exit off the station. An array of different kinds of jewellery, trinkets, leatherwork and even jackets for handbag dogs were on sale; it made for a lively and up-beat atmosphere and complimented the overall vibe of the district.

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If you ever find yourself in Tokyo as an exchange student or a tourist, I would definitely recommend taking a day out of your schedule to visit this treasure trove and discover everything that it has to offer!

 

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Accommodation Awards: Courtney

When deciding where I wanted to study abroad, I knew I wanted to choose a big city to live in. However, the main drawbacks of choosing a city as opposed to a smaller town or a University town is that things can get a little more expensive – especially accommodation-wise. I would personally recommend staying in University accommodation over finding somewhere yourself, as it usually tends to be cheaper and more central. Along with this, it usually includes all bills, so all you need to worry about is buying food for yourself, and paying rent – no extra costs included. It also provides a great way to meet other students, both those local and other study abroad.
 
In saying that university accommodation is cheaper than most private rentals, London is still expensive. Fortunately, most residences at King’s are in Zones 1-2, which means an easy commute into Uni each morning. The location on each though, does depend. I personally live in accommodation situated about a half hour bus ride into the city – although I know some that consist of a 20 minute tube ride, 10 minute bus ride  and 20 minute walks. It all depends on your location and what public transport is available to you. Obviously, you’ll be paying more the closer you are to the centre of the city (and therefore closer to the University). I don’t mind travelling into the city, particularly as much of the time I am travelling with friends.
 
Now I can only speak for King’s residences, and of that I have obviously only lived at one. I have visited (and heard of) a few others due to friends living there, so I will give a rundown of these the best I can. So as follows, here are the Accommodation Awards for KCL Residences 2017:
 
Furthest Away, Most Modern and Highest Concentration of Woodland Creatures: Champion Hill
My residence, and arguably the furthest away is Champion Hill. Located in the suburb of Denmark Hill, it is connected by the Overground, National Rail services and buses. While the bus takes longer in London due to traffic, it has the advantage of being the cheapest. £1.50 will get you as far as you need to go – no zone charges, unlike the tube or rail. The absence of an underground does mean sometimes it takes slightly longer to get somewhere, but in a city as large as London, almost everyone has a long trip at some point.
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Because the residence is quite far out (although in London terms, its as close to the city as Mount Eden or Parnell), it has quite a suburban feel. I love this about the area, as you feel like you can get away from the hustle and bustle of it all and relax. Even better – the amount of squirrels and even a few foxes living in the area! Much to the amusement of my American and British friends, who are used to seeing these, I find it very exciting every time I see one! Now that we’re fully in Spring here in London, they seem to be out and about more, to help me get my fix of woodland creatures.
 
Rooms here are pretty spacious – similar to that of Carlaw Park Student Village/University Hall at UoA, although slightly narrower. The best part about these rooms is whilst it is classed as a non-ensuite, you still get your own shower and hand basin, sharing a toilet with around 4 others on your floor – which is great. Champion Hill does offer rooms with their own toilet as well, although these are slightly more expensive. Like the other residences, they come with a shared kitchen which you share with some of your flatmates.
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I cannot speak for the other residences, but I will say that there are very few events put on by the halls, so it can be difficult to meet others in your hall. Apparently this is due to the fact of my arrival time – I have heard they have lots of events in O week in September, and I arrived for the second semester in January. So if you are relying on those kind of events to meet people, I might suggest choosing to go for the Fall semester. However I will say that it is not impossible – as long as you put yourself out there, you will definitely be able to meet some people. Remember – your hall experience is what you make of it!
 
Highest Percentage of Study Abroad Students: Great Dover St
Located very near to London Bridge, this is a really nice centrally located hall. I have friends who reside at this dorm, and have visited it a few times. Mostly first year students live here, although a large majority of study abroad students are placed here – making it a great community to meet other like-minded study abroad students. However, it might be slightly harder as a result to meet British students, as they tend to put all the study abroad students together. The rooms are slightly smaller than that of Champion Hill, but they have full ensuites in all of the rooms. The rooms are organised into groups of about 8, which all share a communal kitchen. The location means its about a 20-30 minute walk to the Waterloo Campus, and slightly further to the Strand Campus. However if you’re placed at Guy’s campus – it is very close by!
 
Best Suburb Name: Julian Markham
This first year dorm also hosts other study abroad students in a similar set-up to Great Dover. It is located in a zone one suburb of Elephant and Castle, which arguably has the coolest name of an area I’ve found so far in London. It’s a 20 minute walk again to Waterloo campus or a very short bus ride if you’re running late! The rooms are similar size to that of Great Dover with a similar layout – ensuites with a shared kitchen.
 
Laziest Commute: Stamford St Apartments
You can imagine my envy, when on the first day of classes after a busy 40 minute bus ride into the Waterloo campus for class, I look directly across the street and see a KCL residence. Students that live there and have classes at the Waterloo Campus literally have to roll out of bed and they’re already at class – which I was beyond jealous of! Although – no excuse for missing class! While it’s a great timesaver and very convenient, the apartments cost an extra£40 per week (around $80NZD) and being that central means they are probably pretty used to lots of noise. Definitely something to weigh up though if you like your sleep!
 
From the Residences that I have seen, most seem to offer a good way of living, all in similar circumstances. However, the nicest ones are arguably Angel Lane in Stratford and Champion Hill – some of the furthest out, but recently renovated so they offer a few more modern additions.  While London is expensive, it is an amazing hub of culture, art, history and business. It is incredible to be living and studying in the heart of such a city, you barely notice the transport times or accommodation costs. If you’re an urbanite like me – I can definitely recommend living in London while studying abroad. 
 
More perks of living in London – it is such a great hub to get to other places in Europe! I’ve currently visited Scotland, Denmark and Sweden. I’m then off in a week to visit a friend in the Netherlands, followed by a trip to Cologne and Berlin, Germany with some study abroad friends! 
 
Until next time,
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Food, glorious food: Elizabeth

Food is perhaps my best part of life. Going on exchange it’s even better – using ‘well I won’t be here in six months’ as an excuse to buy excessive amounts of food is my favourite thing.

The hard part about living in a new city is not knowing straight off the bat where the best places to get food are. Although through trial and error (and lots of other people’s recommendations), I’ve done all the work so you guys have some top quality food to try if you’re ever in Nottingham!

Best cafés

My best advice to any exchange student looking to move to England (but outside of London) is to give up coffee now. You don’t want a caffeine headache when a burnt coffee from Starbucks is likely to be your best option. New Zealanders love good coffee, supposedly the Brits do too but I am yet to find much evidence of it – I would like take this opportunity to thank to the Uni Bookshop Costa for the worst flat white of my life.

The upside to the normally terrible coffee: bonding with other New Zealanders and Australians about it. I’m not saying that I’m friends with one of the Australians because of mutual complaining about rubbish coffee, but it definitely helped! That being said, there are a few hidden gem in among the very below average quality coffee.

Greenhood, Beeston
This is my local café – if local means a 15 minute walk away – and an absolute star. The people who work here are lovely, the locals are friendly, and the coffee is decent. What more could a girl ask for? I’ve spent many an afternoon here studying (or talking to friends while I should be studying) over a coffee or several. They also always have a small selection of homemade cakes which are always incredible – I can definitely recommend their Elderflower and cream cake.

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This was the first decent flat white I’d had in Nottingham and I had already been there for four weeks!
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Greenhood – appropriately named, because – if you remember from my other blog – everything is Robin Hood themed here

200 Degrees, Nottingham City

While Greenhood is my local, 200 Degrees is my favourite. The coffee is superb, the sign outside is always hilarious, and it’s just all around spectacular. There’s also a branch by the train station that I haven’t been to yet but I’m sure it’s just as good.  I always make an excuse to go when I’m in the city.

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Unfortunately, the Brits don’t do brunch like New Zealanders do. This is the worst thing about the country as far as I’m concerned. I have no recommendations in Nottingham and it kills me a little bit inside – especially since my friends in Auckland keep going to cute new brunch places at home. So please get your brunch fill while you’re still in Auckland!

Restaurants
Being a broke uni student doesn’t change while you’re on exchange (in fact, it usually gets worse), so I can’t say I’ve made it out to that many restaurants (the exchange rate kills me a little bit sometimes).

One place I can recommend is Annie’s Burgers in the centre of Nottingham. They have about 30 different burgers on the menu, from classic to weird and wonderful. My friend had the Elvis which is PB&J flavoured – just incredible.

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My burger, can’t remember what it was called but it had cheese, bacon, and a hashbrown – marvellous!

The best hot chocolates I’ve had: a series
In my attempt to get rid of my caffeine addiction (with varying levels of success), and because chocolate is amazing, I tried to switch from coffee to hot chocolate when I went to cafes. This has resulted in some incredible drinks, even if coffee is still number one in my heart.

 

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Mum’s Great Comfort Food – Edinburgh, Scotland. You should go here not only for the deluxe hot chocolates, but also because the menu has the best comfort food in the world. My friends and I went three times while we in Edinburgh over New Years, and I took my other friends here when I went back during Easter

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The Breakfast Club – Soho, London. I waited for 45 minutes in line to get into this brunch place and can confirm it was 10/10 worth the wait. Look at those mini marshmellows!!
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Northpoint – St Andrew’s, Scotland. Not only was this malteasers hot chocolate life changing, but this was the café where Will + Kate had their very first date. If you’re as royals-obsessed as me, this café is a must
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York’s Chocolate Story – York, England. I paid £10.50 to go through a chocolate museum and it was not wasted. The chilli hot chocolate at the café afterwards was pretty good too

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 Cooking food yourself
Since I live in a self-catered apartment, it means I have to cook for myself. I’m honestly cooking on exchange because a) you’re not studying as hard as you would at home so there’s more time and b) FRESH PRODUCE IS SO MUCH CHEAPER HERE! Honestly, berries at tesco are the same price (if not cheaper) off-season in England than they are in-season in New Zealand. I’ve been able to cook with loads more veges and delicious things than I can at home because it’s just way more affordable. Also they seem to always have Ben&Jerry’s on sale for £2.50 which is equally amazing and dangerous.

The range of food is also much wider than at home! Although there are still some things missing though. I searched the whole supermarket but couldn’t find fresh pesto. Plus, there’s no Wattie’s Tomato sauce here which breaks my lil kiwi heart (and annoys my flatmates to no end because I never shut up about it and they’re all from other countries and don’t understand).  My best advice for the stuff you miss is to make friends with a New Zealander or Australian whose parents send them a care package! I managed to sneak two tim tams and half a packed of chicken crimpy shapes off one of my friends and it was beautiful.

Traditional English Food
As far as traditional English food goes, it’s not that different from New Zealand most of the time. At the start of semester my flatmates and I tried sampling as many British chocolates and crisps as we could, but apart from that I haven’t noticed much difference (but that might be because Mum’s English). My favourites that you can’t get in NZ are quavers, cheese and onion Walker’s crisps, hot vimto, and Cadbury’s caramel chocolate (the caramel is WAY better than our caramellos, although it’s the same idea). Plus they have way more variety in popcorn at the supermarket which is fantastic – I’m partial to tesco branded salty & sweet popcorn for £1 a bag.

Mulled wine and cider are both big in Europe as well over winter. I tried mulled wine for the first time at Winter Wonderland in London, and although it’s not my favourite drink in the world, it was definitely nice to sip on while walking around Christmas markets.

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I was also lucky enough to stay with my mum’s family in England over Christmas and had myself a proper English Christmas dinner (complete with Yorkshire pudding, of course)! I maintain it was the best meal I’ve had on exchange. So if you’re coming over Christmas definitely try to get yourself invited to someone’s place for food!

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That’s all I’ve got to tell you for food! As always let me know if you have any questions about Nottingham or exchange in general.

As a side note, I just wanted to add to my Accommodation Awards post from last time, but the rubbish bins at Broadgate Park (where I’m living) recently featured in a meme (https://www.facebook.com/StudentProblems/videos/1235920199868044/) and so if you ever wanted to live somewhere #famous then Nottingham is your place!

Hope you’re all well – please enjoy a good flat white for me,

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Food, glorious food: Freya

Food! Cuisine is at heart of any culture, and often how we best identify a nation. The Netherlands, much like New Zealand, does not really have a distinctively ‘Dutch’ food tradition. Instead, as the centre of a former colonial empire, Amsterdam has drawn its food culture from the influences of its former colonies and its widely multicultural immigrant population. The diversity in the restaurant scene is massive – from Ethiopian to Catalan, Brazilian to Belgian. The most common eateries are from from the colonies; Surinamese, Indonesian and Vietnamese eateries on every block in the city centre. But despite the density of food joints in the area, the overall quality is somewhat lacking (at least in my experience). The city centre of Amsterdam is very touristy, and often the food is either very tasty and very expensive, or moderately priced and rather average. The Asian cuisines to which the Netherlands has a historical connection to are often unauthentic, catering to a Dutch palette. This means that any Vietnamese or Indonesian snacks on offer are almost always fried and very mild.

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FEBO is an Amsterdam institution operates like a vending machine for tasty fried snacks

If there is any distinctly Dutch cuisine, fried and mild is by far the distinctive characteristic. Dutch snacks include bitterballen (fried balls of breaded ragu), croquettes (fried rolls of breaded ragu), cheese soufflé (fried cheese wrapped in pastry), and most importantly, fries. Belgian chips (Vlaams frites) are everywhere, and given that I am cursed with the dreaded 21st century inability to consume gluten, fries are really my only entry point into Dutch food culture. Not that this is any hardship. The Dutch know how to do chips well. The most common way to receive chips is in a paper cone smothered in mayonnaise, but other common toppings are curry sauce, satay sauce, or my favourite, oorlog: half mayonaise, half satay sauce topped with diced raw onions. Don’t judge it until you’ve tried it. The city centre is dotted with hole-in-the-wall chip shops claiming to offer the best fries in Amsterdam, but it’s all false advertising. The best chips by far are found in Grillroom “Twins” in the Jordaan district. The chips are ‘verse’ (fresh), and the sauces are top notch.

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Patats oorlog courtesy of Grillroom “Twins”

Given that eating out is either hard on the wallet or the waistline, it’s no surprise that Dutch students most frequently cook at home. ‘Dammers get most of their daily nutrition at the popular supermarket chain, Albert Heijn. After the bikes, I’d say it’s one of the key aspects of Amsterdam life that the locals are most proud of. And it’s easy to see why. Albert Heijn is no ordinary supermarket. Every store contains around three  different cheese sections, surpassing any variety you’ll find in the hyper-touristy ‘cheese shops’. There will also always be a DIY fresh orange juice press present, as well as an impressive selection of cured meats and spreads. And the gluten free section is better than even New Zealand! Price-wise, Amsterdam is typically a bit cheaper than Auckland, but not by a significant margin.

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A trick I’ve picked up to further cut down on costs is to buy all my fresh produce at one of the various local markets. My favourite, the Ten Kate market, is a 10 minute bike ride from home and I can get all my fruit, vege and eggs for the week for under €6, or 9 NZD! And if you feel like treating yourself, there are always beautiful fresh cheese stalls, or Turkish stalls selling a wide variety of hummus and other spreads, or any other fresh and authentic offerings to indulge in.

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As a final note, I would like to make a brief lament to my lost love: New Zealand coffee. The Auckland food scene is something I took for granted, and while I can live without weekend brunches and the occasional dinner out, the absence of decent coffee took some real adjustment. It turns out a great deal of Europe simply don’t know how to do coffee. It’s a broad statement, but as an ex-Auckland waitress and barista, I’m standing by it. Most cafes in Amsterdam only offer coffee made entirely by an automatic machine, and if it is made by hand you really have two options (regardless of how many options are displayed): weak black coffee or huge milky coffee with piles of foam. That being said, it is often cheaper than New Zealand coffee, and after converting from my regular order of flat white (very difficult to find in Amsterdam) to ‘koffie’ (Americano), I’ve become accustomed to the Dutch approach to coffee. And if coffee lovers are heading out to Amsterdam, there are certainly great places if you’re willing to hunt them out. My favourite spots to head to if I’m in need of a decent coffee are White Label, Lottie’s, Coffee Company (pretty good chain cafe), and Toki.

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Filter coffee at Lottie’s

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Accommodation Awards: Freya

The Traumatised Auckland Tenant’s Association Award for best value for location!

The advice I was given when figuring out accomodation options for Amsterdam was to not expect a central location without forking out big money. As an Auckland renter, this is a situation I am acutely aware of. The way student accomodation works for UvA is that you pick one of four options (shared room, shared facilities; single room shared facilities; double room, shared facilities; and double room, personal facilities), and UvA offers you a selection of possible rooms which you must quickly choose from in order to guarantee your place. I opted for the second cheapest option, and was extremely surprised to be offered two very central locations. For €422 a month (roughly 160 NZD a week), I have a room to myself right in the beautiful city centre. My accommodation borders Centrum, the famous and vibrant central district, and Jordaan, an extremely cool and sophisticated district full of beautiful houses and homes, and very non-touristy bars and eateries. In my room I have my own fridge, freezer, microwave and stove top. In the morning, I wake up to the sound of church bells, the same bells heard by Anne Frank during WWII. On the other side of the canal is a famous farmer’s market every Saturday, and I’m a 5-10 minute cycle to campus, the library and most museums and galleries. This is all for less than the price of my previous small, windowless room in Epsom.

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The Karl Pilkington Award for ugliest building on the street

In the classic TV series, An Idiot Abroad, host and modern-day philosopher Karl Pilkington mused on the Petra Palace of Jordan that, given the choice, he would “rather live in a cave with a view of a palace than live in a palace with a view of a cave.”

The De Key student accomodation on Prinsengracht is that cave. Prinsengracht is one of three famous canals bordering the central city of Amsterdam. Outside my bedroom window is a constant stream of canal cruises, whose passengers all marvel at the rows of quintessential Amsterdam architecture lining the banks. And amongst them, the De Key building. Instead of beautiful facades and colourful brickwork, my home is a remnant of the sixties’ love of pragmatism over personal expression. Which means that, as its inhabitant, I get a full view of all the best Prinsengracht has to offer, blissfully ignorant of its lesser offerings.

The Dutch Courage Award for best transportation

Buying a bike is an inevitable initiation into Dutch life, and cycling through Amsterdam’s roads is a very sharp learning curve. Like a baby bird leaving the nest for the first time, there’s not much you can do but pedal out onto the busy streets and hope for the best. Amsterdam cyclists have little regard for road rules. Apparently, if any car hits a cyclists, the driver is fully liable no matter the circumstances, and Dutch cyclists take full advantage of this fact. Biking around the city often feels like you’re in competition with all other cyclists as to who can take the biggest risk at intersections, or who can overtake the most riders in a single journey. However, for all the stress and confusion, it’s easy to grow fond of this way of life. There’s a real feeling of belonging to this city the first time you internally curse the tourists on the streets, or when you first successfully manage to cycle the route the clubs with your friends while already a bottle of wine into the evening. The city is designed so that it’s quicker to get from A to B by bike than by car or public transport, so it’s a quick, convenient and healthy way to get around town while at the same time getting a renewed appreciation of your own mortality.

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A sign of a ‘Dammer in the making: confidently operate one’s phone to take blog photos mid-cycle
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Dutch dominos witnessed outside the university library

The BBQ Association’s Award for best backyard

The Dutch sun is quite elusive, but as the days have been heating up there has been more and more call to soak up some vitamin D. Amsterdam has many parks well worth visiting, but usually when the sun makes an appearance, all of Europe (and a great deal of America) make a collective decision to visit Amsterdam’s parks. With big groups it can make for a fun and lively atmosphere, but for days when I have wanted some sun and solitude, my own accomodation has been perfectly sufficient. Hidden behind the Prinsengracht rooms is a idyllic grassy backyard and concrete court. Surrounding it is the backs of many of the buildings on the block, providing a vastly different sight to the ornate street-side façades. It’s a vague enough setting that you could be anywhere, and residential enough that there is a constant supply of neighbourhood cats to play with. In a city as lively and active as Amsterdam, where there is always something to do and places to be, it can be nice to duck away from it all – while remaining in Wifi access. It’s also been a great setting for some social building-wide BBQ parties (during one of which a few of us were invited by our beautifully creative RA to make the vege garden sign below, which remains a source of great personal pride) and many lazy morning-after hangouts.

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My O-Week Experience: Freya

UvA had orientation week sorted. We were advised to plan our flights to arrive on Wednesday 1st February, as that would be the only day they would provide free transportation and orientation services. As soon as we landed we were able to quickly find our way to the UvA desk set up in the Amsterdam Schipol Airport, where we were greeted with a traditional dutch snack called stroopwafel, and boarded a bus to the university’s welcome-expo. Here I was able to book a meeting with the leading dutch bank, get information on certain bike-rental companies, and pick up my room key. Once we were sufficiently overwhelmed with appointments and promotional freebies, we boarded a shuttle to our various accommodations. Pretty quickly we were driving through the city, getting our first taste of the architecture and bustle of our new home.

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On my first venture out in the city I stumbled on the bizarre but beautiful floating Flower Market

My building holds just over 150 students and is run by three RAs. On our first night we all got to meet our new neighbours over drinks in the common room and received a few insider’s tips to the city from our helpful RAs. Amsterdam is a huge city, with many different districts and sights to explore. Having a local on hand to tell you where to go was so useful in that first week – I didn’t know where to begin!

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The orientation week activities were an optional extra run by the International Student Network (ISN) that we were encouraged to sign up for. For €40 (around 60 NZD) we could participate a three day program designed to help international students make friends and get to know the city. This program began the day after arrival, so there was no time for jet-lag or sleep-ins. We were divided into groups of around 15 which were each led by two Dutch university students. The first day consisted of a scavenger hunt around the city, a welcome seminar and a dinner at a local club. On the second day we all met for lunch at the university, participated in a Dutch language ‘crash-course’ and a friendship-orientated ‘speed dating’ activity. We then jumped on a canal cruise before dinner and a pub crawl. On the final day we all went ice skating in the afternoon, followed by the final ISN party.

 

All in all it was an intense but greatly rewarding experience. A common theme of the introduction week was disorganization.  Every meal was way behind schedule and our group leaders were sometimes just as lost as we were in terms of what was going on. Activities like the scavenger hunt simply ended up being a wander through the city, and  the speed dating was so loosely organised that it quickly descended into one big hangout. However, none of this affected our fun. In fact, the collective confusion was often a nice bonding exercise itself. As such it was a great experience and well worth the €40. I got to get to know the city with local guides and after only three days I was beginning to feel like a resident of Amsterdam. I was able to make connections with other international students and started university with a degree of confidence in my sense of direction.

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On our first day in Amsterdam we were told of three Dutch stereotypes we would have to quickly get accustomed to: a) Dutch people are always on time, b) Dutch people are obsessed with their bikes, and c) Dutch people can sometimes come across as rude, but are simply just direct. The first point became a recurring gag over the introduction week, but the latter two are veritable truths. The first topic of discussions with the RAs, group leaders, ISN officials and even University staff was always bikes; either asking us whether we had bought a bike, how we found cycling around the city, or when reminiscing over the times their bikes got stolen. Bikes are everywhere in Amsterdam. Every bridge is lined with bikes against the railings, and every street, road and alleyway has cyclists whizzing up and down at the peril of pedestrians. And on the last point, all the Dutch people I’ve met so far have been very friendly and keen to help me get to know the city and the Dutch language. However, many interactions had in cafes and supermarkets have made me realise New Zealand language is definitely more geared towards politeness.That’s not to say the Dutch are any less polite, and ultimately I’ve felt nothing but welcomed by Amsterdam and look forward to the rest of my exchange.

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Food, glorious food: Bryar

Food, food, glorious food!

Now, I don’t claim to be a foodie myself (can’t cook for my life either) so I’m not an authority – but believe me when I say that Japanese food is seriously amazing. Maybe because it’s so different to most food you can find in New Zealand, yet still similar enough to be familiar. I think the only thing I look forward to and savour in NZ as much as the food here, is probably a burger from Burger Fuel (I told you, I have pretty simple tastes). So, this blog post is going to be dedicated to convincing you of the same thing! Here we go…

First off, here’s some examples.

It would take me forever to list off all of the Japanese dishes that I love, so I’ll settle for describing a few. Firstly, tonkatsu. Literally ‘pork cutlet’, deep fried in bread crumbs with sweet sauce, rice and salad. It’s simple, but the combination of the tender pork and the crunchy bread crumb is perfection itself. Udon, soba, and ramen…all are noodle dishes of different types, can be eaten hot or cold, and can be made with an infinite array of soups, meats, toppings and seasonings. Sukiyaki is a Japanese classic; beef slices, vegetables and basically anything you like slow cooked in a hot pot at your table. Once it’s cooked, take a slice of beef and dip it in raw egg (my mouth is watering just imagining it).

You can get a feed for next to nothing.

There’s a lot of crazy expensive restaurants in Tokyo, but they’re pretty well balanced out by the number of places you can get a meal for really cheap. Take Yoshinoya for example; a chain restaurant that can be found pretty much anywhere, specialising in gyudon (beef bowl). You can get a medium sized bowl for 380yen (that’s just under five bucks), and don’t go thinking that price indicates quality – this might be one of my favourite dishes of all time.

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And it’s super convenient.

With a convenience store, row of vending machines or fast food chain around almost every corner, one thing Japan could never be accused of is being inconvenient. You never have to worry about getting thirsty when you’re out and about, because I can (almost) guarantee you that no matter where you are, there will be at least one vending machine in sight offering everything from water to iced coffee and occasionally ice cream on a cone. Convenience stores (of which there are a lot) are also your best friend when you’re heading home after your 7pm lecture and really can’t be bothered trying to scrounge something up. A vast array of pre-made meals are on offer, which the person behind the counter will kindly offer to heat up for you, and a complimentary plastic fork is even included in the deal.

The snacks and desserts are to die for.

Last but not least, let’s quickly talk about Japanese desserts and snacks. If you’re a fan of delicate cakes, pastries and cute sweet treats then Japan is the place for you. I personally am in love with the ice creams here, especially yukimi-daifuku; a little ball of vanilla ice cream wrapped in a thin layer of soft mochi (rice cake). I could eat them every day and I don’t think I would ever get sick of them.

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There’s only one let down…

And that’s natto – fermented soy beans. It’s brown, it’s sticky, it smells strange and, well, it’s fermented. Japanese people love it, but I’m yet to meet a foreigner who will say the same. I’m thinking it’s like vegemite or marmite in New Zealand; if you grow up with it then you probably love it, but if you think about it it does taste a little weird. Needless to say, I won’t be converting any time soon.

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That’s all for today guys! I hope you’re not too hungry now (I definitely am).

Until next time, happy food-ing!

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