Being an expat in Holland is something of a challenge. Yes, you are only a few hundred miles away from the Uk if you’re British, (or if you’re any other nationality for that matter), but in truth it is a world away from what you’re used to. The cyclist is king, there are no steak pies, there are no types of bitter / real ale in the pubs, (seriously… keg versions of cask ales do not count, especially when infused with nitrogen), and the language? Oh lord the language is something you might hear if drunk, watching Star Trek while has a Klingon speaks, which has then been overdubbed to sound like a hybrid German/Klingon amalgamation! Is it any wonder us native English speakers are confused when the customary greeting is to kiss people on the “wang”, 3 times no less!
So, after having wandered through the winkelcentrum, (no, not a Dutch version of Anne Summers’s “toys for the ladies”, but actually the shop(winkel)ping center! Seriously, what’s with the penis slang people?? Incidentally, in Dutch, “Slang” means “Snake”! Point illustrated!), or in the case of Leiden, the shopping street, where can a person go who feels like all this cultural bombardment is too much?
Well, for myself, I can recommend 2 pubs, and 1 shop, that will at least give you some respite.
Pub 1 is Vi-Kings, the name coming from the old name Kings Bar, having been purchased by a Danish chap, who has turned the place into his own. More TVs than you can shake a stick at, (televisions, not transvestites, probably best clarified, although… this one time…), covering pretty much whatever sports you can think of, or indeed ask for if it’s on, this is a pub that attracts visitors of all nationalities. It is not rare to see people from Bulgaria, Australia, South Africa, USA, Brits, Irish, Danish, Italian, and of course Dutch, all mingling and interacting while having one eye on the football/boxing/superbowl/rugby etc. If a big game is on, it’s regularly packed, but for the casual visitor who is all out of energy after having been assaulted by the smell of cheese / fish at the local market, generally there are enough people floating around to make it not too intimidating, but also to share a conversation with in English, if so desired.
Pub 2 is The Duke of Oz. Situated slap bang in the middle of where everything is, complete with a boat terrace in spring/summer weather permitting, and run by an Aussie chap and a Dutch one, this is again a sports bar, but where Vi-kings gets its personality from being a small, close personal sort of bar, The Duke of Oz is a stereotype city center pub with people passing through while shopping, tourists drawn to the idea of a boat and a beer, or just while the Misses/Mr gets his hair done, to add to its regulars, such as myself. Sky Sports News is usually on somewhere on a big screen, and again much like Vi-kings, if you are after a certain sporting event, if you ask for it, chances are you’ll get it, as there are multiple screens scattered throughout the pub! The owners are good people, Marco, the afore mentioned Dutch member of the duo, being the first person in a bar to make me not feel guilty for not speaking the language, way back in 2006 when I first ventured onto Dutch soil. Add to that, the fact that they now have Newcastle Brown on tap, and you have all the ingredients for a good time to be had by all.
And for the shop, another Australian connection. The Tuckerbox, houses all manner of British and Australian food stuffs, along with beers, teeshirts, and other such memorabilia that might make you feel more like you’re in a place you know. Yes you can buy Tesco pies there, and indeed beers like Spitfire, Hobgoblin, and Pedigree, the only downside is, they’ll seriously sting your pocket. It’s all about how much you really want that beer, but when you consider it’s 5euro for a guinness in some places, and “only” 3.50 for a bottle of tanglefoot, sometimes you just have to bite the bullet. Sure, it’s nearly double the price you’d pay at home, but, you’re not at home! You can even pick up a haggis there, and at this time of year, a roaring trade in Cadbury Creme Eggs is happening!
So there you have it. If you’re just passing through, then the above will give you something of a taste of the familiar, in a world that is otherwise devoid of any similarities in my opinion. And if you’ve moved here, or are going to, these places will at least give you somewhere to retreat to if you need it, where you can feel, if not at home, then at least welcome. All 3 places have helped keep me sane in my 5 years of living in Leiden. As recommendations go, I’m not sure I could give one higher!