It struck me the other day how much easier it is to put down roots in a place when one has young children. We have been in Oegstgeest now for six months, but only last month did the children start at a local school - and finally I am starting to see familiar faces at the shops, notice classmates living in nearby streets and generally start to feel I am Really Settling In.
Conversely, it isn't necessarily a basket of roses when you arrive in a strange place without small children as a way to make contact; how does one begin to find one's feet in a new area?
This was all brought on by a chance meeting I had when rowing the other evening and my friend and sculling partner capsized. Two friendly dog-walkers stopped to offer help, and after my friend had dripped her way back into her boat, I found that one of the helpers was English and turned out to have moved here with her teenage children only two weeks ago. I hope she remembered the internet address I bawled across the water towards her, and if so: Dear English dog-owner in Voorschoten, welcome to the area and I hope you enjoy looking around HomeinLeiden!
It can be tricky trying to shoehorn one's way into society in a new place, where it seems that everybody already has a full network of family and friends (often dating from primary school.) and no apparent desire to make any new acquaintances. I know; I've been there - so this homepage has a few non-small-child-focused ideas which I hope might be useful to newcomers seeking a way in to Leiden life .
Most of you will know of Kunstroute (www.kunstrouteleiden.nl), this year held on 24 and 25 September , when all the artists in Leiden have their studios open to the public. HomeinLeiden's very own Harriet Impey www.thetulipandthebutterfly.com is opening her studio in the basement of Haagweg 4 this weekend. Not only that, but she says:
I have lots of space and have been painting a lot of butterflies recently - so I thought it would be fun to have an exhibition of children's work there. So... if you have a little artist who would like to contribute to an exhibition entitled BEETLES, BEES AND BUTTERFLIES let me know! Ideally fairly small and in a frame. I think it would make them very proud to be able to see their work hanging during kunstroute... Contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org if you'd like to be involved.
Start learning Dutch - bit of a no-brainer, this one, but it bears repeating: although nearly all people here speak some English, and many indeed very well, it is so helpful in so very many ways to have enough Dutch to give it a shot yourself. Look at the Learning Dutch section for ideas on this one.
Do some volunteering; there is a whole 'shop' devoted to this on the Breestraat, called IDoe. Although a lot of what they have is for Dutch-speakers, they will in many cases be very happy with the linguistically challenged! See www.i-doe.nl for more information.
Get your wellies out ; If you like gardening, why not volunteer to help with school gardens? Many Leiden primary schools offer gardening to 8-10 year-olds in special schooltuinen in parks on various locations through a central organisation which will welcome your help, either behind the scenes or helping the children when they're actually working in the gardens. Have a look at the schooltuinen website. Or if you are itching to dig your own acres, why not sign up for a volkstuin , an allotment garden? Demand can be high for these and you may have a wait, but it's worth it to be able get away from the over-urbanised feeling that living in the Randstad can give you. The central organisation for this is the LBA (Leidse Bond van Amateur Tuinders), on whose site you'll find a map of their seven locations in the city. Oegstgeest has its own site for its one set of allotments.
Dig out that sports gear and start up your old sport again in a local club. The area is simply stiff with sports clubs and most make it pretty easy to join if you can already do whatever sport is involved (ie. there's a waiting list for classes but membership is often relatively open). Apart from being able to take up your hobby again, you will find that membership of a club here generally involves a bit of volunteering ( tegenprestatie ) to help keep the club going in return for use of the facilities, and thus a way into the social life. Just turn up and ask!
Try an evening class in whatever your enthusiasm is (music ... pottery ... photography ... history ...). BplusC has loads, as does the VKC ; also see the Classes and Sports section of this site, and you'll (re)discover an interest and - with luck - a group of fellow-enthusiasts to talk to.
Join a gym with childcare (sorry, a small-child-y thing sneaked in there) and you'll find that other mothers tend to go at regular times, just like you, and it's easy to start chatting. Sportcity on the Fokkerlaan (behind the Golden Tulip by the station) is friendly and well-equipped (and serves excellent coffee) and has a branch on Steenschuur (without childcare) as well. The Vlietlijn also has childcare; Vrouwfit, strangely, although 'by women and for women', doesn't seem to offer it.
I hope you find something of interest among that lot, and if you do - or even if you don't - please get in touch with us about it and us know what it was like, or what you parents-of-teenagers would like to see on the site. I've still got a few years to go before falling into that category . And I look forward to meeting people at the Pub Night!
Our Pregnancy and Birth section has recently been expanded, with a section on Miscarriage. Not a cheerful topic and probably not one you'll be hurrying to read, but undeniably a part of family life. We give an account of how you can expect it to be handled in this country, and we hope that it will be helpful to any of you who have to cope with it.