Travel

Journey from Holland to Belgium

Here we are at the last post in my series of European cities I visited solo during my student exchange days. I’ve enjoyed reminiscing about my time of great independence and highly adventurous spirit immensely. Today, I’m taking you back to February 2009, when I was travelling into The Hague from Amsterdam and then continuing my trip across the border into Belgium.

Walking to ScheveningenWhen I arrived by train into The Hague, this small Dutch city was just waking up. I asked for directions to find my hostel in the seaside resort of Scheveningen and decided to walk there. The streets were so empty and it was really cold, but there was something so appealing to me about walking in an unknown city I’d never been to before. I didn’t even have a map so I just observed how the tram carried on in the distance and followed its lead. The reason I decided to go the The Hague was because I had been deprived of seeing the beach for a long few months living in landlocked Germany. There were plenty of lakes and rivers around me but for any true blue Australian, nothing beats the beach.

I checked into my hostel and what do you know, an Australian expat was working there! He helped me find my room and offered lots of helpful advice, one of which was how to ride their trams so I wouldn’t have to walk back and forth between Scheveningen and The Hague! Within a few minutes I rushed to the beach down the road and it was such a great feeling to hear the waves crashing in and smell the salty air. I didn’t take my shoes off because it was freezing cold, but the sand was fine and soft as it passed through my fingers. I spent only one night in that cosy hostel by the sea and only half a day exploring the sights of The Hague, but that was more than enough time to get a feel for beautiful, serene Holland.


Grand-PlaceThe next morning I journeyed into Brussels by train. This capital of Belgium immediately captivated me with its charming streets, picturesque squares and quirky shops. Brussels is a bilingual city where both Dutch and French are spoken and street names appear in both languages. Without any trouble I located my hotel and stepped out to explore. My first stop was the main square, known as Grand Place, where I started to feel like I stepped into a fairytale. Each building facade was so beautifully decorated with gold trimmings and embellishments that it made me so happy just to stand in the centre of the square and admire all four sides of the buildings surrounding me. The shopping arcades nearby all had a distinct European flavour, and the chocolate shops dotted all around the city were just heavenly. I took the 2-day Hop-On-Hop-Off bus tour around all the major attractions in the city, making it super simple to explore and very convenient for a young tourist who didn’t do her research on public transport options in the city!

Manneken PisOne of the other main tourist attractions in Brussels is the “Manneken Pis” otherwise known as the pissing boy! All the tourists and I were armed with our cameras, which were directed at this tiny sculpture in the corner of a road intersection. It’s just so funny to think about it. He was actually being undressed from a Valentine’s Day costume when I was there!

All in all, I spent five days exploring three different European gems (Amsterdam blog post here), each with their own languages, architecture and traditions. Even though it was a short trip in duration, it was a rich and eventful journey I will never forget because it convinced me that a young and inexperienced solo traveller can do anything she sets her mind to, especially when she’s miles from home.

Travel

European Stories

I find myself reminiscing about the past more and more these days. Maybe it’s because I keep seeing beautiful photos on Instagram that remind me of my own travels or maybe it’s the millions of various other channels of information such as TV travel shows, websites, newsletters and social media that keep taking me back to the time when I was young and free in Europe. Either way, I felt like writing a series of blog posts to tell my story. A story about a 19-year-old ambitious, Australian girl with a dream; to travel and discover who she is.

When I was a teenager I lived in Germany as an exchange student for 6 months. I never thought this experience would help define my life, but it has in ways that I continue to discover every day. It allowed me to experience how people in many different countries in Europe worked, played, loved and lived. As a 19-year-old visitor, I saw with my own eyes just how many bicycles there truly are in Amsterdam, felt just how cold a European winter in Munich can be, believed in fairytales again in Prague and got lost in the most narrow, beautiful streets of Florence. I enjoyed delicious Belgian chocolates in Brussels, felt the presence of Mozart over the city of Salzburg, crossed canals of picture-perfect Strasbourg in France and held up the Leaning Tower in the mandatory photo everyone simply must take in Pisa.

Travelling opened my eyes to the beauty of the world around me. I boarded overnight buses to the Czech Republic all on my own and climbed towers for picturesque views of cities from above. I engaged in the art of photography and learned about the importance of money by paying rent for the very first time in my life. Sometimes I was joined by my dad on travelling expeditions, sometimes it was just me and the wide, open road. I felt the friendliness of complete strangers when I was totally lost and saw the hardships of locals just scraping by with the clothes on their backs. It sure was an eye-opening experience.

In many ways travelling helped me find myself and grow to become an independent, mature human-being. I was forced to make my own decisions, whether it be leisurely, academic or financial. I’ll never forget the night when my friends and I were working on a group assignment until 1 am and I had the sudden urge to call my mum and tell her not to be worried about me, that I’d be home soon and that I’m safe. Then it dawned on me that I was responsible for finding my own way home in the middle of the night and apart from the people around me, I had no family to immediately rely upon. One of my team-mates fortunately lived in the same apartment block as I did so we caught the bus home together. I’m extremely close to my family and found it the hardest not having them immediately next to me, especially in moments when I’d usually rely upon them.

It would bring me so much joy to be able to re-live some of the most precious moments of my youth again by writing about them here. The human mind can only retain a certain amount of information until slowly but surely pieces of the story become blurry. I didn’t keep a diary of my time as a solo traveller, I simply didn’t have the time but I’d like to write about my solo travels in the cities of Prague, Munich, Salzburg, Strasbourg, Amsterdam and Brussels so that some day I could look back on those days and know that I TRULY lived when I was younger.

I got to experience all these places for different lengths of time and while I can’t go back to any of them unless I board a 20-something-hour flight from Melbourne, I’d love to travel to each of them again through my memories, photographs and stories on this blog and I hope you’ll join me.

Europe Intro