Thursday, 9 June 2016

Welcome To Nijmegen

Nijmegen is a small city, pop. 160,000, in the east of the Netherlands. You're unlikely to have ever heard of it - I certainly hadn't until I met Thomas - but it's now one of my favourite places on earth.

I've been visiting Nijmegen regularly for the last three-and-a-half years, because this is where Thomas was living when we first met. For nine months we conducted a long distance relationship, and I got well acquainted with the Luton-Schiphol Easyjet route. And since Thomas moved to Leicester permanently we have continued to visit regularly to see friends. Yet until now I've never properly blogged about it.

Last week we went to visit again and I was determined to finally share my love for Nijmegen. So, camera in hand, I snapped my way around the city. Get ready for some grade-A, heavy-duty, travel brochure-worthy gushing, because I really do think it's that good.
The Netherlands is a pretty awesome place generally - friendly people, almost all of whom speak perfect English, great public transport, public spaces all clean and well-maintained in a way which makes you realise how crappy and broken the UK is - and Nijmegen is no exception to the rule.

The city centre isn't as devastatingly beautiful as some other Dutch cities, as much of the Medieval core was destroyed by Allied bombs during WWII (it's within miles of the border with Germany and the theory goes that the pilots either didn't know or didn't care that they weren't flying over a German city but a Dutch one). You also won't find the 'typical' Dutch landscape: the city is pretty hilly rather than pancake-flat, and doesn't have any canals. But, in my totally biased opinion, what remains, such as the main market square and the narrow alleys around the church, is full of character and charm.

Nijmegen has a vibrant arts and music scene, with festivals and events taking place near-daily (especially throughout summer - when we were there this past weekend, we had no fewer than four festivals to choose from, including a rock music festival and a festival of organ music, showing that the offerings are nothing if not varied). When it comes to food and drink I can recommend the Mexican food at Popocatepetl, the veggie/vegan cafe at De Klinker (part of the social centre and co-housing space that Thomas used to live in), the beautiful outdoor terrace at micro-brewery De Hemel, and the bars, independent businesses and street art of the HonigComplex. It's also only a 30 minute train ride to s'-Hertogenbosch (known colloquially as Den Bos), a picture-perfect Dutch city and the home of artist Hieronymus Bosch, which is well worth a trip.


However, the beautiful architecture, outdoor terraces and Mexican food can't completely explain why first Thomas, and then I, lost our hearts to Nijmegen. The key to that is in the thriving counter-culture of street art, bands, squat bars and activist groups. It's renowned for being one of the most left-wing cities in the Netherlands and, since the refugee crisis began, has mobilised to welcome Syrian and Eritrean refugees. You can't walk 100ft in the city without seeing one of these Migrants Welcome, Racism Not stickers, which make my heart sing.

Our trip last week was one of the best we've had. We stayed with a couple of wonderfully welcoming friends and were able to catch up with almost everyone else for lunches, picnics, or drinks.

On Saturday we walked a short way out of town to visit the SMKMRKT, taking place in an ex-industrial area overlooked by a decommissioned power plant and abandoned factory buildings. In this somewhat dystopian landscape an entire festival had sprung up. Bars, food trucks, an artist's market, live music... it felt like a tiny slice of East London (but without the hipster attitude) transplanted to this small city on the edge of Holland. Happily sipping cider and eating wood-fired pizza, we watched Het Brandt, the band Thomas used to play with and still some of his best friends.

As June 23rd creeps nearer, and with it the very real risk of Britain leaving the EU (and exposing itself as the kind of xenophobic, jingoistic, racist country I'm ashamed to call myself a citizen of), I become ever more keen to move elsewhere. And for me, Nijmegen remains top of the list of alternatives. I lost my heart to the place and the people the very first time I visited on New Year's Eve 2012, and would move there without a second thought. TLDR, I 💕 Nijmegen!

19 comments:

  1. Sounds an interesting and positive place.Good to hear about dutch towns and cities,other than Amsterdam.:)

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    1. It's such a lovely country and, as great as Amsterdam is, it's a shame that most visitors only see it and not any other towns or cities.

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  2. Ooh it's so pretty, I love the shots of the ducks and the scallop edge building. I did not love the doll head pic so much...

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    1. The doll heads are absolutely terrifying, but the ducks are ace. One of the main streets has a stream running down the middle and they spend most of the day hanging around it.

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  3. Ok, you've made me want to go there. Or possibly live there. If Brexit (shudder) happens let's mass exodus, ok?

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    1. It's a deal. Nijmegen has a big vegan scene so you'll be well catered for!

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  4. Next time rent a bike on central station and visit us at Sprokbeach. I think you like it. You can find us on fb Sprokbeach see ya 🤘

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  5. Sounds awesome! I had never heard of it, but now I wanna go.

    Liz x

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    1. Well, when we've moved there thanks to Brexit - just seen the latest polls :(((( - you can come and visit us!

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  6. Nijmegen is somewhere that Jonny has taken Air Cadets on a trip before but he didn't report back on how pretty it is! I might request to tag along next time!

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    1. Ah, that's funny! I'm just pleased that someone else has heard of it - that makes you and someone I'm friends with on Facebook, whose brother lives nearby.

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  7. Any city with black bear cub street art is after my own heart, how beautiful! I did not know you were long distance for 9 months, so was I, precisely! Weird! What a lovely city, I admit I went to and loved Amsterdam, and will ocasionally read about other Dutch towns and think "Eh, but it's no Amsterdam", which is totally lazy and boring of me. Nijmegan sounds really special and charming, though, thanks for sharing it!

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    1. Isn't that mural incredible! Considering Thomas is almost 6'5" and is TINY in the picture, it gives you an idea of the scale.

      I mean, nothing compares to Amsterdam, lets face it, but there's something so nice about getting to know a town that 'normal' people live and work in, rather than a capital city (I know, Amsterdam's not actually the capital but eh, culturally speaking it is) full of tourists.

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  8. It sounds wonderful!!! I'd love to go there and frankly, more than some of the more famous towns like the one you mention in your reply above!!! The artwork is brilliant!!
    The whole Brexit is really scary- whyyyyyyyyyyy leave people, whyyyyyyy?????????

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    1. It's really terrifying to realise the extent to which most people are gullible and/or racist enough to believe the lies fed to them. This whole 'Great' Britain myth that people cling on to is just delusional, we will have so little influence if we leave.

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  9. I can totally see why you love the place. I *really* hope we vote remain. So much. I think I would love to visit that place. It looks like it has a lovely atmosphere/vibe and places I might like to visit.

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    1. I really hope there's a last minute swing back to Remain, but I fear even if that happens the Leave camp will have reasonable cause to call for another referendum sometime soon. The blind willfullness to belie that every crappy thing in this country is the fault of immigrants instead of the fault of successive Tory-led governments is terrifying.

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  10. Added to my travel wishlist! Funnily enough last night, husband and I were talking about how broken the UK is and opening up the discussion about uprooting somewhere which isn't as depressing.

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