I have news. On the last Thursday of September, I boarded a train in The Hague with a backpack over my shoulder and headed north. Guess why?
Visiting a friend?
You done guessing?
Okay. I moved out of The Hague.
With just a backpack over your shoulder? Where to and why and all that stuff?
Long story short, my husband was offered a great position in a little Dutch city called Schagen, and he accepted.
But let’s step back a few months to this past summer. When it became apparent that my husband had made the short list, and then the shorter list for this position, I began to wonder about this little city called Schagen. I started virtually visiting the area via Google Maps. I discovered that Schagen was a little dot of city in the midst of vast stretches of farmland, interspersed with other building clusters that represented surrounding villages and cities.
Google street view of downtown Schagen presented old-world European charm of brick buildings with gabled roofs, a central church with a grand tower, and stylish restaurants. Yet one could apparently walk through the old center in the scope of ten minutes.
When I mentioned Schagen to friends (Dutch and expat alike), many of them said they’d have to look up on the map. Others said, “Schagen? Oh yeah. It’s surrounded by cabbage fields.
It wasn’t a major Dutch city, it had a reputation for cabbage and if half of my Dutch friends hadn’t even heard of it, what was I getting myself into?
Was I moving to an isolated village? A tiny, rural outpost? A place where everyone knew everyone else and outsiders were greeted with slit-eyed stares of distrust? Was there a single restaurant that would have a vegan option on the menu? A bakery that was gluten-free savvy? And most importantly, could I get a good cup of espresso in Schagen? There was nothing to do but get on the train and find out.
My very first visit to Schagen put a great deal of my fears to rest. As my son and I walked from the train station along the little city streets, the sun shining off of the gorgeous Dutch architecture, the birds chirping, I felt like I was entering a little slice of heaven in the North. People who passed us smiled warmly, nodding at us in greeting. Those open, friendly smiles worked like sunshine on snow–melting my anxieties away.
The friendly chime of the church tower greeted us as we reached the city center not ten minutes later. During that first visit, I discovered that Schagen might be relatively small (about 40,000), but it has a picturesque city center even more beautiful than in the photos, quality, upscale restaurants and shops and some activity going on almost every weekend. The residents were friendly and there was nary a slit-eyed glance cast in my direction. Shop keepers actually seemed to enjoy helping customers and were consistently friendly. Based on this first impression, the most difficult thing about Schagen for an expat would be trying to pronounce the name.
The job position was not yet confirmed when we headed to California for vacation, but suddenly, things started moving quickly. They most definitely wanted him over all of the other candidates and they wanted him to start as soon as possible.
Due to the convenience of living in the 21st century, he printed out the Dutch contract, signed it under an orange tree in the California sunshine, and scanned and returned it minutes later.
When we got back from vacation, we had two weeks to pack up our entire house, for the movers were coming, ready or not. My family moved ahead of me to start important things like new jobs and a new school, while I stayed behind in The Hague to finish out my job.
Finally, a month later, we arrive at the beginning of this blog post with me hopping on a train, only a backpack over my shoulder. That was seven weeks ago and this American girl has gone from a Hagenaresse to a Schagenaresse.
I will miss The Hague for many reasons, but for every reason I can list, there is another reason I prefer living in this quaint little city of Schagen.
Good thing this blog is titled Kristin in Holland. It still has a place as I discover a new area of this lovely country. Cheers to the next phase!
5 thoughts on “Heading North”
I come from that aera of the Netherlands. Although it is in the province of North Holland, the region is called West Friesland (West Frisia). For centuries this region has been the home of a proud, hard working, free- and open minded population. The people who sailed out to unknown regions of the world to discover and wonder about other cultures and people. The still do travel wide and far.
The Schagenaars will be very curious about your origins and the differences you see between Dutch and American culture.
I hope you’ll get used to the directness of people in West Friesland. If someone doesn’t like something you say or do, they’ll tell it to you right away. Don’t get upset by that, it doesn’t mean they don’t like you.
I’m looking forward to your new adventures in this beautiful (but a little unknown) part of the Netherlands.
Thank you for your comment. I truly love it here! Yes. I know it is west Friesland, but it is of course North of The Hague. Glad to get your tips about the west-Fries mentality. I’ve had a few direct comments that I’m doing my best not to take personally:)
As soon as I’ve had a chance to really settle in and find my footing, I will dive back into the environmental movement. I believe you said there are plenty of people in this region who are environmentally friendly. Already found an organic farm and friends from church with whom I hitch a ride every other week.
What a lovely new adventure for you and your family, Kristin. I hope you will be very happy in your new home. Rural life has something completely different to offer, and I’m sure your adventurous spirit will lead you to all the interesting corners of Schagen. Hope you find a good espresso and restaurants with vegan options.
Thank you Jolandi! I am really enjoying it so far! Happy holidays to you :0)
So glad to hear that, Kristin. Happy holidays to you and your family too. I hope 2019 will be a wonderful year for you.