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Sunday, 4 December 2011

First letter: Finding a place to live in the Netherlands

16th of November 2011
Hi *******,
I’ve finally given up asking or expecting you to use Facebook or email. In desperation I’ve taken it one step further - I’ve created a blog.
If you want to read about my many failures (and I know how you like my failures J) of living in the Netherlands and the odd success you’ll need to overcome your technophobia, borrow the laptop from your new husband and search for your letters, try to imagine it as a treasure hunt.
First things first.  Sorry I emigrated without speaking to you first.  I guess you’ve heard by now? It all happened so quickly. One minute we were lazing around on the island of Cephalonia, then one quiet evening Andy checked his email and we were both dumbfounded to see an invitation from the university here in Breda asking Andy for a meeting. The rest is history, he came out three weeks later for a chat and left with a job. We had six weeks to settle our affairs in the UK and find a place to live in the Netherlands.

It’s a long and in parts an embarrassing story of how we found our apartment but I think you’ll enjoy it so I’ll share. We arrived in the Nederland’s in July for a flying visit and gave ourselves three days to find a home. Easy I thought. We had opted to make life easier for ourselves by renting an apartment with carpets and white goods, however as soon as we’d arranged to view something it would be rented out and in the end we only managed to view three apartments:
1, The cheapest (for a reason) was 15 minutes out of town, on the seventh floor and reached by an outside staircase. (Picture the New York in the 80’s) All the walls painted black or red, with strange plasterboard partitions and a shower in the kitchen. I thought it had promise and Andy suggested we separate.
2, We called the next one Dreamlands. It was on the fourth floor of a handsome apartment block, the public hallways lined in marble and mahogany. The apartment itself, beautifully decorated with an open plan massive living space and brand new kitchen, two bedrooms and two bathrooms (unheard of in the Nederland’s). On the down side it was above a very popular Wok Chinese restaurant, attached to a cinema complex and so expensive it would mean not eating two days a week.
3, Dead Grandma’s apartment was the last(Andy’s name not mine, but it stuck). It appeared to be above a deserted dental surgery and accessed by a strange well like staircase. The fittings all belonged in the late 1970’s and the dusky pink carpet pitted with what I suspected and hoped were only urine stains. On a plus side: it had an electric fire above the bath which made me feel nostalgic and would come in handy if I became too depressed. We could afford it!
On the last day we were becoming desperate, I choose to throw caution to the wind and walk into an estate agency not recommended for expats. I had by this point memorise one sentence which I used infrequently if accosted by any of the natives, roughly translated my sentence was this : It spites me, I speak Nederland’s not so good, speak you English? Impressive no?  Well the natives thought so, in fact as I had mastered the language well enough to put a sentence together, they always responded in Dutch, complimenting me on my accent(or so I like to believe) at which point I would repeat the sentence adding the word baby (means the same in both countries) and pointing to my mouth until they understood my limits.
Fortunately the only agency I was brave enough to try had a great sense of humour and one apartment available. We viewed it an hour later.  It had a concrete floor, antique bathroom and no kitchen to speak off but we fell in love. We fell for the parking space in the underground car park, the extra storage unit, the huge living space and separate kitchen and almost floor length windows. Within 60 minutes we signed the contract, that’s left us three hours to find a taxi to take us to an out of town shopping centre, buy and arrange fitting for the carpets, cooker, fridge, freezer, washing machine and joy of joys a dishwasher.

29th of November 2011 (Sorry for the break, had a week or so of self-pity and a bit of a cold)

Rushing back to the apartment first, we took the measurements for carpets then checked out the size of underground storage. Once finished in the underground we searched for an exit door to the street. I found one in the corner with a sheet of A4 paper covered in Dutch stuck to it.
Andy insists he said ‘Perhaps we should translate the poster before we open the door.’
I didn’t hear him or he dreamt he said it, because I opened the door and immediately the building rang with warning bells and flashing lights. Running away seemed like the best option and would have worked if we’d been able to close the rotting, mouldy door. In the end Andy, watch by a semi-circle of silent Dutch managed to close the door with his shoulder, however the bells and lights didn’t stop so we rather dejectedly made our way back to the agent to confess. Once there, they rang and explained the alarms to the pension company who own the building and the fire brigade to prevent any more fire engines chasing to our new building. The owner of the agency seemed amused by the stupid English couple and asked if we understood why the alarms had set off.
‘No.’  We replied sheepishly.
            ‘Dat is soo u not touch the door again.’ He answered with a big grin..
By six O’clock we’d made it, found a home, bought everything, not the choices I’d have made if I hadn’t been rushed, but they are only things after all. As we were flying home the next morning we decided to walk into the city and have a few glasses of wine to relax before dinner, it seemed a reasonable decision at the time.
Dinner was bittenballen, the waitress assured us it was a popular dish in the Netherlands, it’s basically I think, mushroom or spam paste made in to a golf balls and deep fried with mustard on the side. Not to be rude I nibbled around the edges, however by now, a combination of stress and very little food was making me  a bit tipsy. Stress + no food + wine doesn’t work well for me.
The city itself was lovely, very much a café culture, everyone sitting outside drinking coffee or wine. (There are a few specialist ‘coffee shops’ that we avoided, you know the kind, they sell cannabis not cappuccinos or lattes.) We spend the next several hours wandering round the city, stopping for a ‘rest’ whenever we saw a pretty bar and finally arrived back at our hotel about 11pm. Now most sensible people would head straight to bed, not us, we were on such a high that we decided to have one last drink in the bar, that one last drink became a bottle and at midnight far too kool by now to operate the lift, we finally walked the three flights of service stairs to room 303 our bedroom.  My only excuse for what followed is old age curiosity. As we opened the fire door to the corridor of our floor I noticed another door on the other side of the small landing, I was about to open it and peer inside, but the memory of the shrieking alarms early that day pieced the alcohol fog and I walked away, although not without some feeling of disappointment.
Once in bed I’d managed to conjure up an image of a beautiful, exotic spa on the other side of that landing door, a spa complete with fully trained therapist ready to give me an Indian Head Massage and a full length swimming pool heated to 30 degrees. Unrealistic really considering this was the third floor of a cheap hotel next to the train station. (Think Travel Lodge) My last thought as I fell asleep was of wonderful spa treatments I’ve had in the past and disgruntlement that I never get to do want I want these days.
            I woke three hours later, alone, slightly chilled and almost completely naked wandering down the hotel corridor. Confusion, horror then shame hit me like stacked dominoes, the shame came from the once pink sagging knickers, my only item of clothing and horror because I couldn’t remember the number of our room. I tried to remember walking from the lift or staircase to the room, how many steps was it? I couldn’t afford to knock on the wrong door, luckily I had a light bulb moment, it was the second room from the lift. No problem you might think just go knock on the door and wake Andy.
            Andy wears industrial strength earplugs! Apparently I snore! (I’ve yet to be convinced of this) and have apparently done so all the time we’ve been together, not only had he the industrial earplugs, he’d also drank more than his fair share of stress relieving wine, it would take a bomb to wake him.
Getting desperate now and starting to feel a none to warm, so I walked the length of the corridor hoping to find a laundry room, or curtains, failing that, a tea towel left over a tray of food or a table runner from a hall table. I found nothing, absolutely nothing, I now think hotels should leave little stacks of linen in all their corridors (just to be on the safe side). I had no alternative - I had to be the bomb that woke Andy.
What originated as gentle raps on room 303, turned over the 30 minutes or so that I knocked in to one handed hammers. (I needed the other hand to hold my boobs up, as they were aching, having never been upright and unsupported for so long) Finally the door opened and guess what? It wasn’t Andy……………………………………………….. Just kidding it was Andy, he looked me up and down, rolled his eyes and stepped back from the door allowing me in, he never spoke or asked for an explanation, just padded back to bed and pulled a pillow over his head.
Of course I woke up the next day with no memory of the incident, just a mild hangover that I knew would get worse during the day. Andy thoughtfully filled me in on the details over breakfast, luckily for me he doesn’t judge and his only comment was ‘It does a man good to cut loose once in a while.’
Needless to say I felt very sick all the way home via train, plane and ferry, I had arranged to emigrate to a country that I’d made a complete knob of myself in.

So there you have it, my first instalment of the Nederland adventure if you want to hear the rest you have to find it and write back.. hehe


  1. Hi Tracey,
    This is the first Blog that I have ever seen,and I must say how delightful is yours. It was like reading the first chapter of a book. It was thoroughly enjoyable,entertaining and very funny. You certainly have a talent for comic writing and I cannot wait for your next chapter.
    Love from your favourite Uncle? Harry

  2. Dear Favourite Uncle..
    We're almost equal then cos this is the first blog I've ever written and yours is my first comment! So a big thank you for posting such lovely feedback, I'll be smiling all day now.

    Love from your favourite Niece? Tracey x


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