Gaasperplas Park and Wild Camping

Amsterdan, Netherlands- Once we got our van legs (and officially became house-less) we started our journey into the unknown.  We had to part with some of our fav items.  To think everything I owned was going to fit in the van was quite freeing.  My materialistic nature was hit hard. But once I started living for the day instead of acquiring merch for my apartment, I was launched into a more self reliant, carefree state.

 

The first few nights we didn’t go far, but we did go wild!  Wild camping is simple…kinda. Find a place, park your van or pop your tent and sleep there.   Amsterdam is full of parks and green space that isn’t necessarily meant for wild camping but also not especially banning it…yet  Part of this experience was learning a bit of civil disobedience.  That night, hanging out in the same clothes I had worn the day before, I ate my veggies and for the first time in my life I didn’t have a plan.GaasperplasAfter a lifetime of being told what to do, where to go, how to be etc. by friends, family, the government and society as a whole, I began to manage myself. Sometimes we follow the rules so blindly, without questioning why or how they came to be or who is proclaiming them.   Although uncomfortable, putting myself in a position of unknown outcomes helped build my confidence and acquire new strategies for accepting the world as it is, while simultaneously striving for positive change and real freedom.

 

I discovered some awesome aspects of my life that I was too busy to notice before.  Being a good caretaker for Rolfie and providing him with more exercise and a better quality of life was something that gave me so much joy!  I rediscovered oil painting, crochet and writing.  I began to renegotiate the idea of waiting for “The Golden Years” to pursue interests.  Put off living a full life now so you live your dream when your arthritic episodes are almost as frequent as your hemorrhoid flares!

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Prior to this, my pursuit of happiness had devolved into the pursuit of cash, buying “experiences” or things and showing them off.  Sounds dumb, but even after 30 years, I had yet to realize this was happening to me apart from relating to song lyrics and being drawn to some shitty wall art I thought about buying from TJ Maxx.  IMG_6011

Shortly after noticing the odometer was in kilometers per hour and not miles, I  began to let go of the idea that having money equates to an ability to navigate life.  It is hard to describe the excitement and anxiety, isolation and connectedness I felt with each night’s new destination.  I was finally humbled by life, on the beach, with a beer and my best friend.

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It’s a Campervan! Well, sort of?!?

Ganzenhof, Amsterdam- When I first set out to live in the van,  I had to practice a bit first.  Well, driving for one.  Not really knowing how to drive a manual, I kept stalling out in 1st gear.  I texted my dad about the horrors.  He revealed a secret…start in 2nd.  I employed this new tactic I was quickly on my way to campervan freedom, well, “unassuming work van” freedom.  Secondly, how does one find a suitable place in the words of Harry the Cat, (my wild and recently deceased grandfather) to “shit, shower and shave?”  We had a lot of work to do on this baby.

While still paying rent and having a safe place to go back to in case something happened, which it did- we were able to “practice” our camping skillz both in the city and in the true gems of Holland (outside of Amsterdam).  We also wanted to try storing food, cooking and generally being in a van with a large dog for many hours.  Rolfie also had to learn some manners.  IMG_5267.JPG

We took the van for a spin.  “Let’s see how far we can go!” before I have a anxiety attack.  The first place we went was De Hoge Veluwe National Park.  We arrived and these people wanted €20 to enter.  First rule of living in a van, STOP.SPENDING.MONEY.  We didn’t really need to see the park, we just needed to feel detached from city life.   The Dutch are infamous for their BBQs!  BBQ in the park, BBQ in the street, BBQ on a boat.  So that is just what we did.

We drove out of the parking lot and down the road to a smaller lot with good scenery.  We started up the BBQ.  Being vegetarian or vegan was ideal for us because cooking meat is messy and storage can turn ugly if you don’t have the luxury of a fridge. We ate, drank a beer, smoked a jonje and walked down the many paths throughout the village.  I was also crocheting scoodies at the time so we had a photoshoot.

We made it back to Ganzenhof just in time to find some awesome van furniture in the “rest” or garbage as the Yanks say!  If you ever need fine 18th century bujairs or an antique, totally perfect, unbroken mirror just peruse the sidewalks of The Jordaan on Sunday night.  These people’s garbage is any normal person’s diamond in the fucking rough and it is perfectly err, normal to go garbage diving.  Now, living in Ireland, I dream of the day of my return to Amsterdam to load up the van with loot on a Sunday night!

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Life in the Van- Amsterdam

Amsterdam, Netherlands- I have been hesitant to write about living in the van.  I envy the awesome Instagram travel posts #vanlife and the like.  My expectations were that picturesque pimped out Westfalia with all the mod cons and the interior designs of an Anthropologie store.  Being a novice and in a foreign country I wanted to take the approach like we do in nursing for medicating old people with opioids, “start low and go slow.”

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What van life dreams are made of.

While still living in a flat in Ganzenhof,  I scoured Markplaats (Dutch Craigslist) for a suitable vehicle that I could convert into a proper sleeping mobile. I found a super nice Volkswagen for €3500 in the Jordaan.  The biggest turn off here was that the dude had named it something horrible.  I can’t remember but it was Bess or Sissy…is was Sus, yep Sus. He had taken it for a quick spin to Spain and it had higher mileage than what I wanted.  It was also my first “newsflash!” that I would have to learn how to drive a manual transmission, I needed more time to think.  I also didn’t want to be driving a bright green van around the city, sleeping and working until I got my bearings and deciding where to go next.  I needed something stealthy and not a RV.

Although the culture of campervans and aires is quite common in Europe, it is harder in The Netherlands, especially in/around Amsterdam.  This is common sense really.  I don’t think the Geemente wants a bunch of people like myself living in vans, making shanty towns and going for wild plassens, despite the general tolerance for prostitution, soft drugs etc.  I will say my experience(s) with the Politie and Eurocops in general has been quite friendly.  But, go to France and you can sleep in hundreds of aires for free, Spain, just park wherever you want and carry on.

I didn’t know a lot about cars except that German ones have intricate engines and are expensive to repair.  Solution, go with a Ford.  This sounds very American, but hey! I needed cup holders damn it.    I found the Transit for €1600 and it came with three free driving lessons! No, not exactly but once I admitted to not knowing how drive a manual, Jan (the owner) thought it necessary to make sure I wouldn’t kill people, especially cyclists.

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Who I am

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Who I wanna be

After the first driving lesson in Zaandam, Jan dropped me off at the train station.  Before that he asked me to make the money transfer.  I whipped out my iPhone and transferred the money straight away as HE drove away…in my van.  My heart sank.  I called him hysterical and crying.  Useless shitty wimpy girl I was.  He was totally helping me out with the driving lessons and registering the car.  He said, “Uh well you know where I live.”  Which I did, but I had NEVER bought a car myself, like without a parent or significant other to say “Yes, good job Haley!” typical, I know.  I will credit my mother with giving me the confidence to drive a large van.  In high school I had to drive her van.  We called it the party-bus, it was dank.  I picked up the van after two more lessons, barely knowing how to reverse.  I’ll never forget the back and butt sweat on the way home, stalling out on an uphill, stopped on a bridge letting a barge through or something.  Terror on wheels-it was.   I made it back to Ganzenhof and promptly took a three hour nap.

We (my companions to be described at a later date) started making some renos on the van.  In The Netherlands you need a few specs to register it as a campervan, one being a certain height requirement that I didn’t have.  Instead I insured it as a business van, Haley Wool ftw! which earned me the name “Haley Lawless,” along with making U-turns every chance I got. Alas, transforming the van- we needed a place to cook, storage and a bed.  Now, some campers get a portable toilet.  I have made a career out of cleaning up other people’s feces (sometimes really joyous patients throw it around the place) so I chose to forgo a toilet sloshing around every round-about.  The goal was to make the van sleepable with a bed, insulation, buy a stove and give up all belongings unless they fit snugly in the van.  Plans to install an aux battery were and still are alive, but winter came quickly so we had to move fast.

I bought the van in July and by August we were camping every night.  It was lovely but as the weather changed and I realized I was in Northern Europe, I began to unravel by Halloween.  Planning is key here and a big misstep on my part was that I started way late in the season.  However, if you find an opportunity to live in a van and a willing partner to travel alongside you, I suggest you go for it no matter what the length of time.  As the spring is warming me up now, I am certainly thinking about getting back out of the road.

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The Vanje and the best lil’ camper ever, Rolfie!!