Feeling at home abroad

I had never been to The Netherlands before, however it was my first choice when I had to choose my Erasmus destination. I’ve always been fascinated by Nordic countries because of their landscapes and sceneries. I have also to say that before leaving I had some prejudices and stereotypes against North-European citizens: I always thought that they were detached, impassive and serious people, always focused on their own. However now I’m extremely happy to admit that I was absolutely wrong! Dutch people are wonderful, nice, fun, friendly and easygoing! I expected to find permanently bad weather and I already knew that Dutch people ride their bikes to go around. However, reality was completely different from what I imagined. There were more bikes than people, and some parking were reserved only to bikes.

I was little worried about the food too! Since I’m Italian and I’m used to eating true delights which the whole world envy us, and I’m talking about my mother’s dishes, I was seriously anxious about what I should have had to eat to keep myself alive. I was already prepared to come back with the body of a Chanel model, that means somebody who breaks if being touched. However, it didn’t actually go that way. I realized that Dutch people eat to survive, they don’t eat a lot and they often go to the restaurant. What the heck! What’s the point of doing that? Furthermore, they have only a few dishes which are really traditional and these few are almost all desserts. Nevertheless they are amazingly delicious, they literally make your taste buds explode. When I smelled their aromas I would start to dribble, a bit like Pavlov’s dog. The Hague, Den Haag, for me it was simply home. I lived in this delightful town for six wonderful months and I have so many things to tell about it! Holland is a magical country, where total freedom reigns supreme. Obviously I am definitely not unbiased and the Erasmus experience is unique, some people think that you live in a sort of a bubble, and this is partly true, let me tell you why. Living as an international student for a limited period of time can detach you from the reality of a country, I’m aware of this, not all that glitters is gold. Maybe I was lucky, because during my stay I only had positive experiences (except for the traumatic START).

The Hague is approximately 60 km away from Amsterdam and it is considered the political capital of the Netherlands, since it is the hub of the national Dutch politic by being the seat of the Court and of the Government, but also of the International Court of Justice, an UN body, founded in 1945 to solve legal disagreements and problems at an international level. The best thing of this city is that it is not that big so everything is quite close and if you want to visit it 3 or 4 days are enough. I was lucky enough to learn by heart squares, streets and alleys and if you arrive at the Amsterdam Schipol airport, or at the Eindhoven one, I suggest you get off at the Den Haag Central stop. Even if it is a small town, you’ll never get bored! It is a city crowded by students from all over the world and there are always plenty of occasions to party. During the first period of my Dutch stay, a festival called the Jazz in de Gracht took place, which means literally Jazz in the canal. The Hague, like any Dutch city, it is structured a bit like Venice, with canals and bridges, and this festival takes place exactly on one of these canals, specifically in the area of Dunne Bierkade and Groenwegje. For the occasion the canal fills with big boats on which real stages are set up and where various artists perform, delighting the strolling public with some wonderful live Jazz music! I was thrilled! Jazz is one of my favorite music genres and to stroll while the sun was setting behind the little Dutch terraced houses, with some Poffertjes in one hand and a Stroopwafel in the other, listening to black melodies… well it was definitely a folkloristic start, exactly as I like! Sightseeing continue, often in a very good company, and it is well known that when the company is good everything feels different.

Den Haag has a lot to offer in terms of museums and buildings too. During a field trip we visited the Historical Museum of The Hague and it was an amazing gig! We visited the prisons, the room of tortures… super cool stuff, don’t you think?! (Thank God I was born in 1993). Another thing that in my opinion is awesome, it’s a kind of long a long laddered bench called “the Step” located near Grondwetbank, where engraved on the marble there are these word:

“All the people in the Netherlands must be treated in the same way in any similar case. Discrimination for religious reasons, personal certainties, for political, racial, sexual or for any other reason of this sort, it is forbidden.”

This sentence perfectly describes the Dutch way of thinking. What I was continuously perceiving, and which was shocking me in a positive way, was exactly this, the fact of not being judged nor being stared at in a bad way for no reason, this mattered to me but also to everybody else! Everyone could express oneself freely and this is exactly what made my Erasmus much better.

As I already said, Den Haag is not a huge city and furthermore it is very well linked by the tram network, but everybody knows that Holland = Bike (mine literally brought me everywhere!).  The squares I hanged around the most were two: Plein and Grote Markt, both main centers of the university life. Here, there was always a party or an event, there was a crawl pub, a quiz pub. Even during the uncoolest Tuesday afternoon, streets got crowded. Any excuse was good to celebrate at Den Haag: Christmas season was starting and illumination were switched on? PARTY! There was even a parade of some graceful inflatable white horses illuminated internally by led lights. I don’t know, every day I was taken aback! Like that time when suddenly, at Grote Markt a real snowboard park was set up (even with snow cannons), on the occasion of the Rock and Rail contest organized by GoPro. Or the electronic music festivals in the huge deconsecrated church (Nieuwe Kerk) in the center, or even the day dedicated to Wiskey tasting. Not to mention the huge celebration for the start of the academic year, Oh Oh Intro, dedicated to all university students. Don’t think about a little party, because in Holland if something is not done on a grand scale, they just don’t bother doing it! Five or six stages are set up beside Princessegracht, a paddock is created to delimit the area where the Food Truck are parked and where there are some stands of gadgets, toys and of any other sort of stuff. The event starts at 3PM and finishes at 11PM., when everybody moves to Paard Van Troje to continue the party with some amazing DJs and Vocalists!

However the place I loved the most is the coffeeshop Cremers. A coffeeshop with an underground style, with suffused lights, where not only could you quietly smoke Marijuana, but also where they serve excellent beers and a fabulous triple chocolate cake called Brownie, served HOT with whisked cream on the side. A true explosion of taste, especially in the middle of the munchies.

The Hague was the best thing I could ask for, and If I went back, I would do everything in the same way.

Once back at home I wanted to leave a lasting mark on my skin which could remind me, even when I’ll be 80, how wonderful and unforgettable was my life in Den Haag, and that’s why I tattooed  the flower-symbol of Holland: the tulip.

If you’re thinking about doing a trip in Amsterdam, go and visit Den Haag too, you won’t regret it!

Giulia

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