Heels on wheels

A Montrealer’s affair with the Dutch bicycle

|||| From Kinia Adamczyk, Montreal

Europe in the World 2007/2008
Arriving in Utrecht was akin to stepping off the Hogwart’s Express into Harry Potter’s wizarding world, except that instead of witches and wizards on brooms, I saw the Dutch whizzing by on their bicycles at (relatively) incredible speeds compared to what my North American eyes were used to. Besides the seamlessness with which they can pair a working suit or short skirt and boots or heels with a bicycle, I still appreciate the Dutch tradition of compromise and a liking for simplicity.

We international students soon discovered the Dutch had little patience for foreigners’  poor city biking skills, were very direct, tall, made delicious „toasties“ (commonly referred to as grilled cheese in North America) and would end up, after four months of befriending them and studying in their country, charming me into loving Utrecht for its little cobblestone streets, Kanaalstraat’s Turkish and Indonesian stores overflowing with good and cheap foods and fresh halal meat and affordable wine, the fact that my bike could take me anywhere my heart desired in a few minutes (something one can only dream of in North America, where one needs a car to go grocery shopping) and Dutch pragmatism and openness.

Utrecht was the beginning of what would turn become the memorable, two-year, once-in-a-lifetime European experience that I had dreamt of from the moment I started university in Montreal. It was something of a passionate affair; blinded by strong emotions and sensations and opinions, one lives every single moment with an intensity and delight that would be too exhausting in „real life“.

Peter Fijbes spices up our trip to the Hague with humorous commentary. From left to right: Sander Zurhake, Ragnhild Lea, me, Joseph Hinterseher, Sabine Stang and Peter Fijbes.

In the tradition of simplicity, we were greeted with sandwiches with cheese and a glass of milk during our 2007/2008 Europe in the World opening ceremony at Hogeschool Utrecht.
There were 15 of us that year. Sander Zurhake, Antonie Van Campen and Peter Fijbes from the Netherlands; Kurt Hickman and Frank Lemke from the United States, Gaëlle Engelberts, Jillian Kestler d’Amours and myself from Montreal, Canada, Ragnhild Lea from Norway, Jurga Krastinaityte from Lithuania, Mikkel Andersen from Denmark, Sabine Stang and Joseph Hinterseher from Germany, Mark Bentley from the UK and Nicolas Van Caillie from Belgium.

It was Europe and I loved it intensively and naively. Everything there, to me, was better than in North America. More culture, more cafés, more history, more everything packed into every square meter of land; cheap flights and train tickets to visit the whole continent. It was an idealist student’s analysis according to the needs and longings of that age.
Although I still love visiting Europe today, I appreciate Canada, where I now live and work as an investigative journalist in Montreal, a lot more. And because I traveled to and wrote about many cities that year (Porto, Paris, Berlin, Sofia, Sarajevo, Prizren, Budva, Kotor, Ljubljana, Warsaw, Dortmund, Konya, Cappadocia and my favourite until this very day – Istanbul …), I am much more comfortable sitting a little bit more still these days.

Enjoying the rare Danish sun on a long-awaited spring day in Aarhus.

We arrived in Aarhus in January. It was cold and dark by 3 p.m. I missed Utrecht intensively. Spring in Denmark was nevertheless beautiful. A few of us took a trip to the beach and visited the deer park nearby. The forest was bursting with greenery and tiny flowers, with rays of sunshine pouring through the foliage and taking us into what seemed like a tale from a H.C. Andersen book.
I grew very fond of the high level of organization in Denmark. Every week of our courses, we were asked to evaluate the pertinence of our classes. Our focus was the environment and we traveled to the Ruhr in Germany to report about local efforts in creating sustainable living environments.

The theme is still extremely relevant today. A year ago, I came back to Denmark to document ecovillages with an international group of filmmakers. With retrospective, it is clear that the people spearheading these initiatives are visionaries who are creating solutions to environmental problems that exist today, but that most people still refuse to see and address.

As I write these few lines during a train ride in Poland, beyond the memories of parties ‘til dawn, friendships, intensive learning and sheer pleasure, what is probably my most memorable moment from Europe in the World is the actual possibility of having such an experience in an open world; an open Europe.

Getting a passport and traveling West to study was usually a mere fantasy for my parents’ generation, who grew up behind the Iron curtain.
After Europe in the World, I ended up pursuing a Master’s in European Studies at the College of Europe in Warsaw, something of a logical continuation after EitW. I did a few international reporting projects in Paris, Istanbul, Baku and around Poland after I founded an online magazine in 2008 that still runs today – cosmopolitanreview.com.

My work mainly focuses on Canada these days, but I also do some business journalism assignments for a company based in Warsaw. A few months ago, I traveled to Brussels, Zambia and Bonn for a project run by Deutsche Welle and the European Commission named East4South, which pairs 10 East and Central European journalists with 10 African journalists to produce documentaries in Africa.

My Europe in the World experience has opened many international possibilities to me and that’s exactly what I was aiming for when I signed up for the program.

And today, as I bike to work in Montreal wearing my heels, Montrealers look at me with astonishment. Biking with heels? What can I say – I took a little piece of the Netherlands with me when I left the Old Continent for the New World, and it is here to stay in my very North American life…

Kinia Adamczyk was born in Warsaw, which she loves and visits regularly. She spent most of her life in Montreal, where she now works as a researcher and reporter at the investigations desk of QMI News Agency. For two years, she traveled and studied in and around Europe and participated in various international projects and conferences which she will gladly recommend to those who are interested.
Contact: kinia.adamczyk (at) gmail (dot) com.