Updated: Mar 1, 2018
My experience of my first international conference and tips for visiting the Netherlands.
With the sense of spring in the air, I went to the Netherlands for the first time, for the Families in Global Transition Conference in The Hague. You can find out more about what FIGT is all about here. This was my first international conference and the thought of talking about RelocateGuru to people who were best placed to judge whether it is a good idea or not, was quite daunting. As I was unsure what to expect I decided to test the waters with just one day. But instead of the usual corporate type events at home, I was accepted like a long lost relative.
I felt instantly welcomed and was surprised to connect with people I had met with on social media and able to chat as though we were old friends. I left wishing I could stay for the whole 3 days!
Everyone I met made me feel like I belonged, no matter how varied our experiences were. I loved hearing about everyone’s stories about what brought them here. My biggest take away from the conference were the discussions on how we find and keep that sense of belonging wherever we move to and that we have more things in common than separate us. This is the feeling I want RelocateGuru to help people feel wherever they move to!
One theme that kept coming up was the importance of finding or creating a community or tribe that you can resonate with, which from personal experience makes a huge difference to feeling like you belong. Other ways people find that sense of feeling at home were in finding something familiar or consistent in their lives. For example for my husband it was going back to his Grandparent’s home in the summer holidays and sleeping in their caravan in the garden. For me it's watching Disney movies because it reminds me of spending time with my Grandfather.
The conversations and inspirational talks during the conference has helped confirm to me how much I want RelocateGuru to be a place that makes it easier for people to feel like they belong as we move further and more often. Whether this is through sharing insider tips and favourite places or finding contacts to help you create a tribe before you get there.
This trip was also a fantastic opportunity to have a mini reunion with friends from my old uni tribe, which felt like we only saw each other last week rather than 2 years ago. Two grew up here and one who is an expat. It was great to get their local tips and showing me around during my stay like
a personal tour guide, complete with singing Disney songs on the canal tour! So I wanted to share the things I learnt from them with you so you feel a little more at home if you visit or move here.
While Dutch is the native language, English is commonly spoken so much so that the Mayor of The Hague told us in his opening that if you plan to live here for less than 3 years, don’t worry about learning Dutch (shh don't tell anyone!). This comes particularly in handy when you’re stuck at a train station when your train has been cancelled and running out of battery on your phone stops you checking Google maps! The announcements are usually in Dutch and English in major cities and the locals will be able to help you find an alternative route. The Dutch are very friendly approachable and helpful so don’t feel intimidated to ask for help.
If you ever had to deal with the public transport services in the UK, you’ll find the experience in the Netherlands like reaching travel nirvana in comparison! From the ease of getting through the airport to the train station, relatively cheap train tickets, free Wi-Fi, frequent, clean and fast trains. No stress with getting your suitcase stuck in the barriers like in London, just tap in and out with your ticket (except for the cancellations on the way back to the airport which nearly made me miss my flight, eek!).
What I noticed very soon after getting off the train was that it was very hard to distinguish between what are roads and what are pavements. Trams, bikes, cars and pedestrians seemed to harmoniously mingle with minimal coordination. You pay for the tram by either paying the driver, or using the coin operated machine in the central carriage. This took me awhile to figure out, as there were no barriers and no obvious place to pay. Make sure you’re careful crossing the street by checking behind you as bikes are virtually silent and can go incredibly fast. Bikes certainly have right of way, and most people use bikes instead of cars, which is unsurprising when I found out that road tax can cost around €800! But you can see where the money is spent as the road system is brilliant as a result with wide motorways and not a pothole in sight.
Amsterdam Schiphol Airport I think has been the best airport I've been too, ever! The immigration queue was nonexisitent, the easiest I have ever been through and a better than trying to get back into my own country! Sadly I didn't get to browse what appeared to be a good range of shops as I was running from the train all the way to the departure gate. My mum would have been freaking out as she has to be at the airport 3 hours before the flight! The airport was well organised and the layout was really easy allowing me to run from getting off at the train platform at 8.54 and getting to boarding the plane at 9.15 and a massive thank you goes to the very kind people who let me skip the queue at security! It must be a record!
I didn’t experience much typically Dutch cuisine because there were so many great international restaurants that my friends wanted to take me to. This is a country that is very welcoming to different cultures. What I did notice was their love for MacDonalds! There seemed to be more signs on lamp posts directing you to the nearest Macy D’s then actual road signs! The best I had was the Bird Thai restaurant my friend to me to in Amsterdam’s China Town, closely followed by Sumo in Rotterdam which is a chain of Sushi bars. The sushi bar had a ordering system which was new to me, where you can order up to 5 items of the menu in 5 rounds, so up to 25 items per person for €28. We could only make it to round 3 before admitting defeat! I also loved the café culture throughout the Netherlands, where you can sit outside under a heater by a canal and enjoy a drink watching the world go by. Bliss.
Things To Do
• The Hague: I would recommend the lovely boutique shops near Grote Market. Luckily my credit card was safe this time because I did not have time to spare, but I’ll be back! Head to the beach at Scheveningen, which reminded me of the seaside resorts of England like Bournemouth with its pier, but with much trendier beachfront restaurants and bars. We went to Bora Bora and had tasty BBQ food with large portions.
• Amsterdam: a canal tour is a great way to get a quick over view of the city and see it from the perspective of the water and I couldn’t miss the Rijksmuseum, I just wish I had more time to explore! You need more than 1 day in this city.
• Rotterdam: With over 100 international market stalls with everything from spices to donuts, the large Market Hall in the Blaak area of Rotterdam was great to explore with its huge panels of tropical flowers. Because of the Blitz in WW2 there are only a handful of pre war buildings left, so today there is a wide range of modern architecture as the city rebuilt.
3 things I wish I had more time for
• I wished I could have seen the Keukenhof gardens especially this time of year with over 7 million tulips, daffodils and hyacinths blooming.
• The windmills at Kinderdijk. Nineteen beautiful windmills, built around 1740 are a part of a larger water management system to prevent floods and in 1997 they were declared to be UNESCO World Heritage
• I studied art at school so I wish I had time to see the Van Gogh Museum which is near the Rijksmuseum and has the largest collection of his original artworks in the world.
This year I am so excited to be going back and this time I will be a sponsor of the FIGT conference! If you are going to be there it would be great to meet you in real life!
Do you have any other tips about the Netherlands? Download the RelocateGuru App today to add your insider tips to help others feel like a local.
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