Nikki Leigh (aka Rraven) is this month's interviewee for the Talking Travel series. Nikki is one of the many active members on our travel forums, with more than 5,000 posts to date. Irish-born and living in the Netherlands with her boyfriend, Arjan, I sent Nikki some questions to find out more about what got her into travel and how she ended up in little old Holland.
You mention that you first got really excited about travel when you backpacked around South America in 2007. What inspired you to take that trip?
What inspired me was escape really, originally my boyfriend and I had been talking about taking various trips for a few years and started to save money just in case. Life in Dublin where we lived at the time was becoming so focused on work and crazy hours that it was easy to forget who we were so it was time to shake it up... The hardest part was choosing where to go. Previously he had set off on a six month trip (pre us) and stayed away for two years so he'd covered quite a bit of ground. While my longest trip before that was for 4 weeks to Egypt in 2004, it was while researching that trip that I originally ended up on TP , that and avoiding work... With the South American trip, well we eventually threw a coin on a map of the world and it landed on Argentina. This all happened around the same time as the Motorcycle Diaries came out, the ban on the Irish entering Colombia was being lifted, the voting for the new/updated seven wonders of the world. Everything together just seemed right and being superstitious and Irish, well it seemed there was no other choice.
What do you think it was about that trip that most inspired you?
The freedom, besides the flights and the first three days accommodation it was all loosely planned so we could be very flexible, if we liked somewhere we could spend longer or vice versa... Previously with work I was a bit of a control freak so it was really refershing just to go with the flow... Also, I know it's completely cheesy but it made our relationship stronger and as an individual I like to think I became less shallow... No straightener or hair dryer for eight months was unthinkable before the trip...
But really the most inspirational part was the people. We met some of the friendliest people in the world. While in Paraguay we took a transportation riverboat, being unprepared we had hammocks but nowhere to hang them, nowhere to sit or sleep, five litres of water between two of us which was half evaporated before dinner... But we got talking to some locals with a priest and doctor translating to local dialect for us, they kept asking why we were visiting their town in the middle of nowhere, why their country... And our answer: well, why not, the scenery, the people and the history is interesting, and also because we're stubborn (I know, hard to believe, huh?). Most people told us not to bother... But the people on the boat took pity on us, they made space for us, shared their food and drink with us and went out of their way to show us a good time. That's only one example of many amazing people we met.
You've been living in the Netherlands since 2008. What brought you to that fine country?
Hehe you would say fine country. Well my boyfriend is Dutch and after the 2007 trip we returned to the same job in the same town back in Dublin and nothing seemed to change, after a few weeks we could already feel the old life sinking in and we weren't ready for that... As I don't have other languages (not unless discussing football in bars counts) or a university education, we decided that I should apply for jobs first as it would probably be harder for me. We still weren't sure which country to move to so I applied for work in London, Glasgow, and West Ireland.
One night I saw an advert for a job based near Utrecht that sounded similar to what I did previously and applied on a whim. I never expected to get it so didn't tell my boyfriend, the description stressed about the need of a higher level of education but I had nearly 10 years of finance experience so it was up to me to sell it. Arjan never spoke about going back to Nederland previously. In the end I got the job and asked if he wanted to go back... As he went to uni in Utrecht, knew the place and has a lot of friends here it was an easy choice to make initially.
Of course the initial move was strange, the difference in culture was more than we both expected, after all Arjan had been out of the country for nearly 8-10 years at that stage. But 2.5 years on and well now it's home , though I still have a lot of work to do on the taal, the hard g's and k's play havoc on the throat.
What would be your number one recommendation for an off-the-beaten-track highlight in Holland?
That's something I'm still looking for, I spend most weekends cycling around Utrecht to the park in Bunnik (there is a stayok hostel there) to rent boats, to wander around the forts nearby (http://www.fortvechten.nl/), visiting a donkey farm in Epe, it's my brother in law's tourist business... But my favourite place is De Hoge Veluwe National Park with the Kröller-Müller Museum, not quite off the beaten track, but I love cycling around the park and half stumbling over works of art... I really haven't gotten off the tourist trail yet...
Do you have any trips planned for the near future?
Always. There are a few short vacations coming up but the next big trip is the honeymoon next year... But as always we haven't decided where to and for how long -- it changes from six month to two years nearly every second day, roughly the original plan was overland from Russia to China, then it changed to South East Asia, then it changes to taking in other countries... I have a feeling it'll be another game of "let's throw the coin on the map" and see what happens...
Check out these past interviews in the Talking Travel series: