Clogs, Cheese & Windmills

Monday, 26 March 2018

It is, undoubtedly, a bizarre experience waking up somewhere that isn't the town or city you are used to.

I have spent so long living in one place that I've grown depressingly accustomed to the same old sights and sounds; cars speeding, seagulls, drunkards staggering home after last orders, bin-men, cats fighting, women fighting - after twenty-three years, it all sort of blends into a plethora of gloomy white-noise.

Although the Netherlands isn't a lot different from England, it has taken a little while to adjust to all the new commotion; trams darting past my bedroom window in the early hours, people in the street shouting at each other in a peculiar language, even the police cars and ambulances screech differently over here.

However, the morning of my birthday I was awoken by a familiar, comforting occurrence: birds happily chirping from blossoming trees, and the sun beaming boldly through partly-drawn curtains, joyfully greeting the first day of Spring.

I was glad the sun had made an appearance for two reasons; the first being that my wardrobe has become very limited and I am more or less completely out of warm clothes, the second being that I had a ticket for the 'Dutch Countryside and Windmills Tour,' which I imagine would have been slightly shit if it was raining.

This tour promised a day 'off the beaten track' adventure, visiting the villages of Zaanse Schans and Marken, before heading on a boat trip across the IJsselmeer lake to the village of Volendam.

I was already pretty impressed with the itinerary, so when I discovered it also included cheese tasting at a cheese factory, a demonstration by a traditional clog maker and the opportunity to go inside one of the antique working windmills, I was totally sold...After all, it was the Dutch cliché that travel writing dreams are made of.

(Almost) Homeless in Holland

Friday, 16 March 2018

It's seven days since I arrived at Den Haag Centraal, slightly lost and bewildered, weighed down by a backpack stuffed mostly full of English treats, and a rickety suitcase that threatened to burst open and spill my Bridget Jones undergarments across the platform at any given moment.

 What a week it has been.

So, if you weren't aware of the events leading up to my relatively insane decision to travel Europe on my own, let me enlighten you...

It was around January time this year, after fucking up the last of my new year's resolutions, taking drags from a cigarette that I had promised myself only a fortnight previously would never touch my lips again (a tragic symbol of the monotonous cycle of my existence which mostly involves making promises to myself, and instantaneously breaking them) that I decided I needed to stop relying on the world to fix things for me, and do something about my deep-rooted unhappiness myself.

So, that evening I clambered onto the top bunk in the room I was staying in at my parents house and (between countless episodes of Coronation Street) researched the cheapest, and quickest way to make a clean escape. I sort of decided if I was going to be running away from my problems, I may as well do it in an entirely different country.

My sister compared my planned departure to Shaun of the Dead, and suggested that all I was doing was looking for the geographical equivalent of 'The Winchester' where I could sit, have a nice cold pint, and wait for it all to blow over.

She wasn't entirely mistaken.

It was after a few hours that I stumbled across an advertisement for a volunteer placement at a hostel based in The Hague, South Holland, the third largest city in the Netherlands, after Amsterdam and Rotterdam, located on the coast of the North Sea, and approximately 260 miles away from everybody’s bullshit.

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