(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.

I visited Amsterdam in April last year, it was my first trip outside of England and I fell ever-so-slightly in love, so the prospect of going back to the Netherlands and visiting other towns and cities, was very appealing.

For just €39 I was able to travel one-way to The Hague via coach, including luggage.

This seemed like a fantastic idea, after all, for me, the prospect of being catapulted through the sky at five-hundred plus miles per hour in a metal tube for forty-five minutes was so alarming, that opting to spend twelve, long hours, crammed inside an equally horrendous metal tube, to travel forty miles under not only the ground, but also under the sea, then drive from Calais, up through France, Belgium and eventually reach my destination in the Netherlands at approximately 9am the following morning, seemed almost heavenly.

I suppose you could say that hindsight is 20/20.

I reached London Victoria coach station with ten minutes to spare, a welcome relief as I had practically sprinted from the main station so not to miss my departure, and was in dire need of a sit-down to settle the stabbing pains that were slowly occupying the right-hand side of my chest.

Through short, painful breaths, I examined the people surrounding me: A group of teenagers, arranging their luggage like garden furniture, each sat on a bag and speaking in a language that may as well been martian for all I could understand of it, next to them; a man in a business suit, whom I felt may soon regret such attire in a barely air-conditioned vessel, although admired his effort to preserve a respectable demeanor when about to enter a vehicle that would crush him against a window and have him breathing the bacteria-infested, reprocessed air of thirty other passengers for longer than any weekday office hour he had ever endured.

If for every human year, a dog experiences seven, then travelling by coach is a fuck-off pack of wolves, chasing you into an entirely different time zone; one where fun, comfort and personal space had completely ceased to exist. 

If you want to experience every human emotion possible (and some that didn’t feel human at all) take a lengthy trip by coach, if you want to guarantee absolutely no rest; take it overnight. 


I arrived at the hostel where I was due to volunteer the next morning, after spending a night in a hotel with hope to rid myself of the cold and cough plaguing my body, I was greeted by a friendly face and shown to the dorm where I would be staying with eight other volunteers. 

I don't really know what my expectations were, but as I threw my bags down into the centre of a small, dingy room, that just about squeezed three sets of three-tier bunkbeds against dark blue, windowless walls; decor that was created with the intention of reflecting the room’s theme: Bellevue vodka, supposedly because the only way you could survive long periods of time in there, was to drink yourself into semi-comfortable oblivion, I started to wonder if perhaps I had been slightly stitched up. 

My first 'basic housekeeping' shift started at 11am the next morning. Housekeeping - changing bedding, cleaning toilets, hoovering a bit, making sure everything is spotless for the next guests to move into the room. Oh, no. 

Yes, the dorms were cleaned, but then also the stairwells, the shared bathrooms, the shared toilets, the shared kitchen, the reception area and the bar, not to mention lugging countless heavy bags of linen up and down four flights of stairs. I'm no princess, I am happy to get my hands dirty, but I felt that somehow quite a lot of details about the actual workload had been missed out, and so, after spending an evening drinking tequila and weighing up all the elements; the fact I was still really ill, incredibly homesick, anxious as hell, and completely unable to get a proper night's sleep due to sharing such a small space with so many people - I made the, incredibly stupid, decision to leave the hostel, and look into booking a flight back to England - I had failed. 


I soon found myself walking around the streets of Den Haag, stopping off at numerous bars to keep myself warm and to come up with a bit of a game plan, after all, I was alone in a foreign country with limited money and nowhere to stay. I knew the most sensible thing would be to just call my Mum and tell her I was coming home, and as supportive as she would have been, I didn't want to give other people the satisfaction of seeing me fall at the first hurdle.

By this point, I had developed a particular soft spot for an Irish/English bar called 'The Fiddler' it had become a bit of a sanctuary for me during my bouts of homesickness, somewhere I could grab a pint of Strongbow, and have a good old cry into a plate of bangers and mash. 

It was a complete stroke of luck that I managed to find a last minute volunteer placement at a Dutch house, advertising for help in the kitchen, animal care and just general home maintenance, in exchange for a private room. 

After the experiences I had currently endured throughout the three days I had been in the country, I was a little apprehensive about taking on another volunteer placement, but kept the hope that this one might work out a little better.

Thank god I did. 

I met the host that evening, and I haven't left since! I know now that I made the right decision in leaving the hostel, and even in leaving England. I have had the opportunity to be welcomed into someone's home, have space to do my writing and independent projects, whilst also cooking (which I love doing!) and take care of the five-month husky living in the house, meaning I'm getting out and walking three times a day, discovering hidden parks and nature reserves of The Hague that I otherwise, perhaps, wouldn't have visited. 

Plus, I have a new furry best friend who won't leave my side. 

 I feel very happy and comfortable. If someone had told me this time last year, as I was peeling the plastic from a microwave meal for one, after coming out of a very messy break-up, battling depression, anxiety and a million other things, that 365 days later I would be living in another country, cooking fresh meals for other people, confidently catching public transportation, enthusiastically meeting new people and making new friends, all on my own, I would have never believed them, already this journey has taught me a lot about the strength I didn't realise I had, and ignited some real determination, and although I'm not sure what my plans are after this placement, even the chaos of the past seven days has been entirely worth it, if for no other reason than to prove to myself that I am capable of more than I allow myself to believe. 

I look forward to writing more travel-related posts, after all, that was sort of the aim of being here in the first place, and I'm super excited to share those adventures with family and friends - so keep an eye out for more posts!

I'll update soon.

Tot Ziens! 

1 comment

  1. Elly you are the new Bill Bryson - I laughed until I couldn't read anymore, can't want for the next chapter


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