Dubai: because there is culture everywhere…..

DSC_0064

In late February for Crocus break, the boys and I traveled to Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. I love the name “Crocus Break”, and here in Holland with our more-than-mild winter this year, the name rang true– there were crocuses up all over our yard. They came up right after the ‘sneeuwklokjes’, with their dainty white bell-shaped flowers. My Dutch teacher told me they are the true harbingers of spring in the Netherlands:photo-37–a picture for my Mom(s) and sister, my gardening buddies.

So anyway, back to Dubai, and our trip for some fun in the sun. Many ISA families had recommended this perpetually sunny destination as a break from the (usually) cold and rainy Holland winters, and Chris would be in Canada for meetings. With the boys and I flying solo I was looking for something ‘easier’… and then I found out a good friend from ISA with two boys would also be there. Perfect!…. maybe. The boys were very excited about this trip, and I was……well…….I was …’conflicted’??….for lack of a better word.

I tend to be a person who processes/analyzes/reflects about things… (no shocker there), but as we headed to Dubai, I was being just down-right ridiculous. Dubai represented too much for me, and I had many questions and criticisms for this place to which I had never been….: my environmentally-conscious side was having a hard time,  as the UAE is an oil/petroleum-based mecca; my “we need to experience CULTURE (damn it)” side was also having a hard time…. What would the boys gain there? How can they get ‘culture’ in a place that has been built primarily in the last 43 years? 43 YEARS! That’s my life span!! With our adventure as expats in Europe being time limited, were we ‘wasting’ a trip if we went? Finally, instead of being a defensive mess every time someone asked us where we were going for break, I just thought: “Shut up, Laura, and get on the plane”. I am pleased to report it proved to not only be a great trip, but a fantastic cultural learning experience. (but, I guess, so is everything…..)

Flights into Dubai are at strange times, so we arrived very late. Going through customs the boys immediately noticed the men and women dressed in traditional Arab clothing, which they don’t see as often in NL or the USA. Everyone was very quiet and serious in the customs line, and it took a LONG time to process our passports. Jack asked if he could take a picture of his passport stamp that said United Arab Emirates…I recommended he wait until we were OUT of the official screening area ….(?!)
It was midnight as we traveled by taxi to our Airbnb condo, but we could already get a sense of the enormous development in Dubai. Modern buildings and new roads, alongside many, many cranes and construction barriers…..an indication that still more newer roads and buildings were to come.

Heading to bed, we told each other it didn’t matter what time we got up in the morning, and it felt great to have no plans. The next day we caught up with Carolyn and her boys –William and George– at the pool, and had a pretty lazy day.

DSC_0031 DSC_0032 DSC_0033The grounds surrounding the pool and cabana were immaculate, and downright beautiful. No doubt, this is what people rave about in a place like Dubai: they do ‘man made’ very well.

Carolyn and I’s biggest achievement that day was a cab ride to the grocery store to stock up the pantry. It didn’t take us long to realize we were a bit of an ‘oddity’ for this country’s culture….: not only were we women traveling alone with children, but our questions about costs (like the odd cab fares) could’ve been viewed as ‘assertive’, and we carried our own groceries. The bellhop (is that word still used?) at the door looked at me strangely when I hefted two bags in one hand. “I’ve got it”, I assured him, but thanked him for holding the door. Independent women, hmm…. Despite our attention to modest clothing recommendations from Dubai travel guides, we probably stood out a bit. Regardless, mission accomplished: we had some food for the week.

The next day was one we were all looking forward to: a trip to Atlantis, the famed all-inclusive water park at the tip of the ‘palm’.(**)11 DSC_0137 DSC_0121It was an impressive place. Very clean, well-maintained, and well-run (we had waterproof wrist bands to access our lockers). The smiling lifeguards in their matching rash guards looked more-than-capable –in fact they were running test drills while we were there. Because it wasn’t crowded, we also had access to sun loungers and inner tubes whenever we wanted them. Fantastic!  DSC_0120 DSC_0119 DSC_0128   Speaking of inner tubes, you really never had to get out of one if you were so inclined. A ‘river’ system connected the whole park, and you could be pushed along from one ride to another all day long. There were more daring rides on bigger rafts (with bigger drops), and those involved hiking up stairs,…. slitherinebut we spent a good chunk of the day exploring the different inter-connected runs together. Thankfully even though George was in Kindergarten, he was tall enough for the big stuff, which he was eager to try out with his older brother and new buddies.10 shark tunnels This one is called ‘Shark Attack’, where you finish the run literally inside a tank full of marine life. I loved it, but my boys said it wasn’t ‘fast enough’….(the family expression became: “The Bonds are going big!!”)…. There was one big ride that they didn’t do –the 9 story “Leap of Faith” drop leap of faith, but we had already decided we were coming back later in the week, so that was put on the list for next time. (**please excuse the stock photos in this section. Since I was riding in a tube all day, I didn’t have my camera with me!!)

The Schweitzers and Bonds went hard all day, and were two of the last families in the locker room showers. It was a fantastic day.DSC_0009 Long-time swimmers often acknowledge that there is something about being in water that triggers hunger, and all of the kids were starving (and tired) as we explored the options at the Atlantis Hotel…. Dubai reminded Carolyn and I of Las Vegas, so we weren’t surprised at the high-end shopping and restaurants available. However, since we were weren’t dressed ‘high end’ enough, we decided on a small Asian place, which turned out to be delicious. Our younger sons were almost sleeping at the table in between devouring wanton soup and spring rolls. Carolyn and I ordered a glass of wine, and I savored mine like a hot commodity….(the UAE doesn’t sell alcohol in stores).

After dinner we caught a bit of a second wind and headed to Cold Stone Creamery. This particular establishment had a following for incorporating ‘tricks’ into their sundae-making,  and ice cream was being thrown across the room like fish at Seattle’s Pike’s Place market  DSC_0025Fun, yet difficult to catch on film…. George was hit at one point by a flying ice cream scoop (without injury–).

We found a minivan-type cab back to our condo, and then hung out that night together –playing cards, talking, checking Facebook and mine’crafting’. I could go on and on about how great it was to have Carolyn and her kids there with us, but I will simply say it is fantastic when you travel with someone that is flexible, understanding and genuine. Someone that is willing to say, ‘my kids/family can’t do that’, and then understand completely when you need to say the same– without offense, and without guilt. This made the entire week so much more enjoyable, and relaxing.

The next morning we slept in a bit, hung out by the pool and then headed to the Dubai Mall to tackle the Burj Khalifa, which at 828 meters, is the tallest building in the world. photo 2(1)The Dubai Mall itself is colossal: I was told it is about a mile long, and people at times will take a cab to get from one end to the other to retrieve their car. We used maps and asked at information counters, and then finally found the entrance for “At the Top”– the entrance to the Burj Khalifa tower. (Side story here: while we were in line at one of the information counters, a young girl in front of us asked: “If I ride by bike to the mall, is there a place I can park it?”. The woman at the counter looked a little befuddled, and then said, “No, we don’t have that”… meaning bike racks…!?! Being that our entire crowd resides in the Netherlands, we laughed for a quite a while about that contrast in culture…!).

Back to the record-breaking tower…like Atlantis, everything was new, clean, and ran like a well-oiled machine (pun intended)….. We printed the tickets we had booked ahead at kiosks, and got in line around a beautiful, sparkling model of the building.DSC_0042 DSC_0045 

The exhibit was extensive and very well designed–providing information on the vision of the project, the construction, and of course all of the records/superlatives the tower owns…: tallest structure, highest outside observation deck, and so on….DSC_0050 There were several interactive videos that the boys enjoyed, and we really didn’t feel like we were waiting in line as we moved through security, past displays, and onto escalators that took us to the elevators up…the part that I (we?) were a little nervous about.

A pleasant man in uniform briefed us about the elevator experience before we got on, explaining that the ride is very smooth but very fast (fastest in the world, of course): “You will travel 10 meters per second in your vertical ascent”. Wow. He also told us to pop our ears, and to relax. OK then. The inside of the elevator was dark, but as we moved there was a laser light show with relaxing music– IMG_0787 The only visible evidence that we were going ‘up’ were the small numbers changing by the door (look closely for the 77)IMG_0786

The ride was exactly as he said, smooth and fast. I did pop my ears, but it didn’t feel like I was going anywhere. No jolting, no swaying, no ‘dropping’ feeling when you settle at the top floor. Surreal, actually.

The observation deck was equally impressive. Inside, yet outside, with no wind, and no perceivable movement, even though we were several hundred meters above the ground. DSC_0059 DSC_0087

The boys enjoyed the interactive ‘telescope-screens’ that provided information about the surrounding area on a touch screen. DSC_0070 DSC_0068 DSC_0082Jack seemed amused about the warning that dropping a phone, (or a shoe?) is possible through the open spaces.DSC_0058 DSC_0052

Lots of opportunities for photos:DSC_0056 DSC_0064 DSC_0054

With my ever-present ‘cultural norms radar’, I noticed this couple:DSC_0085It is unusual for Arab men to show affection in public, (in fact it is forbidden to kiss, it says so in the Dubai Mall guide!). This, I guess, was an affection exception.

Some views from  “At The Top”:

DSC_0051 DSC_0071  Lots of development. Not a lot of green….Getting bothered…. OK! Moving on….

We headed back down, through the gift shop (where we purchased a deck of Burj Khalifa playing cards, a most appropriate souvenir for our euchre-obsessed children) and into the mall….a crazy place even without the tallest building in the world. Anything and everything you every wanted is in this mall, including an aquarium and an ice hockey rink….DSC_0115 DSC_0117DSC_0097 kind of nuts…. DSC_0113 DSC_0110

We visited an enormous toy store, and enjoyed some well-made shakes. DSC_0092 DSC_0093 DSC_0090 Then we made our way outside for the music and light show in the fountain (again, the largest in the world….). It was difficult to take photographs of the show, but Cooper has a video if you would like to see it.

The tower is so enormous that it is also problematic to get a photo ‘in front’ of it (especially in the dark: DSC_0106(I am pretty much on the ground with a wide-angle lens for this one– not the most optimal conditions, but still fun to say we were there :-)

We were all exhausted, and even passed on cards this evening. Carolyn and I agreed to meet for coffee in the morning (which became a fantastic routine!), and we went to bed.

More poolside fun the next day. IMG_0795 IMG_2522 The boys realized the shallower, ‘jacuzzi’-type pool was warmer, and spent most of the time playing dodge ball and Marco Polo in that area.DSC_0036 DSC_0034DSC_0038

I took the boys for lunch at the hotel next door, and we spent some time observing the stark contrast between women fully-covered in black burqas, alongside women in string bikinis. This made for some interesting discussion about modesty, roles of men and women, commerce through tourism, and other things….. (all of course, during a milkshake)IMG_0790

That night we played more cards, spent some time on the screens, IMG_2532and booked tickets to visit Atlantis the next day. We even headed to bed (relatively) early.

Next day, being already familiar with the Atlantis ‘system’, the boys knew what they wanted to accomplish. Lots of tubing, a few bigger drop rides, and some hide and go seek in the massive childrens’ play area with George. And the big task: both Bond kids were determined to do the “Leap of Faith”. A 9 story solo drop from the Tower of Neptune into the shark tank. Here we go! William was my ‘spotter on the bridge’, so I could get the camera ready when the boys were in the shoot. The whole descent takes only a second, so I knew I had to be quick. Jack went first….DSC_0129

I will add the close-up of his facial expression for understanding, if not amusement:DSC_0130 He said ‘it wasn’t that scary’….and I truly believe hindsight is 20/20….!

Cooper went next. He said later, “It was harder to wait in line and think about it than to go down”….DSC_0133

His expression reflects more of a ‘zen’ attitude about the whole experience: DSC_0134 I love our boys! They had such a blast the whole time, and I was excited they could have this experience.DSC_0138 DSC_0153

DSC_0003DSC_0136 DSC_0135 (snow cones were also on Cooper’s ‘To Do’ list)

While doing some people-watching, I spotted these two girls looking for their mom to come through the ‘shark’ tunnel on her inner tube– the incorporation of marine life into the park was amazing. DSC_0125

The next day was our last day, so we decided to be mellow–pool, beach, and then a trip to the other enormous mall (The Mall of the Emirates) to see the Lego Movie in 3D.

IMG_0803There was an indoor skiing facility at this mall. I tried not to be too negative/critical….. but really?– a ski resort in a mall in the middle of the desert? Can you say “carbon footprint”? IMG_0805IMG_0806 Alright, I guess I was ready to go home. Home to some green, to some natural landscape that you can ride a bike through, and to pull a few weeds that were probably growing around the crocuses in my garden. The movie was fun, by the way…..(especially for kids that have been “Lego-crazy” a good chunk of their lives.

IMG_0802 Carolyn and I both agreed that Dubai looks prettier at night. The lights make everything sparkle, and you are less aware of the construction, and the concrete/asphalt everywhere. At this point, I don’t have to be defensive though, I can truly say I thought Dubai was fantastic. Of course it didn’t have the history of a place like Rome, or the natural beauty and landscape of Austria, but it was an experience. One that involved culture, learning, and a ton of fun.

And that is what this whole adventure is about. What a gift (again).

Dag!

 

 

Has it been 6 months already?

Mid-January marked our 6th month anniversary of being in the Netherlands. Perspective on time can be a strange thing, but I can honestly say this past 6 months has felt like at least 6 months, if not more. Very full. Very different. I have learned so much about myself from this move…(and will continue to, I’m sure).

We started off the new year with opening our “Good Things” jar from 2013… (I got the idea off Pinterest last year)IMG_0654 It was great to hear the boys read their contributions remembering the ‘good’ things from their time in the US, and their time in NL. I tried not to cry too much, but it is hard when you are reflecting on all the experiences and gifts we have as a family. We emptied it out, and began a new one for 2014.

Before the boys went back to school, we did a few local trips, taking advantage of our mild winter weather. We biked to Huizen (literally translated as “houses”), which is a nice community on the water in our area, Het Gooi: IMG_0621 DSC_0060 DSC_0058 DSC_0057 DSC_0064 Despite Chris using the GPS on his phone, we struggled with finding the route from there to Naarden Vesting, where we were trying to go for lunch. At one point we were out by the motorway and Jack declared, “I’m just done“  IMG_0629 IMG_0626 If you look closely, Chris is pushing him along as they ride in front of Cooper, who at this point is on my bike (…there were a few ‘issues’….) We ended up with two hungry, tired boys who very much appreciated a slice of apple cake when we finally found our way……IMG_0631 I love that we ordered in Dutch. This is ‘appletart met slagroom’ (applecake with cream). In their case, they were having the same thing, so after Cooper ordered, Jack said, “Ik, ook!” (me, too)

Also in early January, the boys and I finally got around to making bullar (being that it is a Christmas tradition, we were a little late!!).IMG_0633

Bullar is a Swedish coffeecake, and we use my Mom’s (from her Mom’s) recipe. I love the fact that Cooper and Jack enjoy this tradition, and will actually ask me, “When are we going to make the bullar this year?”. Who wouldn’t enjoy playing with flour and dough?…..IMG_0634 IMG_0635 IMG_0639 IMG_0642 IMG_0645 The final result was quite tasty. We brought some to our Dutch neighbors as a thank you for having us for New Years’ Eve. Note to self: next year, make a double recipe! Small footnote of thanks to our friend Naomi for the use of her Kitchen Aid mixer (I don’t bake enough to justify buying one here with the correct plug….)

A trip into Amsterdam involved an evening canal tour and dinner at a fantastic Indian restaurant. Pictures at night are a bit tough, but you get the idea:DSC_0050 DSC_0030 DSC_0044 DSC_0031 DSC_0023 We always enjoy the chance to walk through Amsterdam, and in the Christmas season, everything is ‘dressed up’….DSC_0013 …including Museumplein and the Rijks Museum, in front of which they build an ice skating rink every year. DSC_0004 DSC_0006

The boys tried out stationary bikes inside the tunnel of Rijks….they powered colored lights that changed from blue to red depending on how fast you were pedaling.DSC_0010 DSC_0008 Nice way to keep warm.

Chris and I were invited to our first Dutch wedding in early February. Our neighbors Karlien and Jeroen, who have been together for over 10 years and have two young children, decided to finally make things ‘official’.  Karlien is an artist who paints (and teaches painting) locally. She designed the invitations, which I thought were very pretty.DSC_0067 DSC_0068 Being new to the Netherlands, I appreciated their ‘orange’ theme…..(this is the car they used to drive to the ceremony) DSC_0069Chris was not able to go since he was traveling, so I accepted the generous offer to go with our other neighbors Liz and Aryan. I love learning about traditions and culture, so I enjoyed observing the festivities at the reception. (My Dutch isn’t very good, so I tend to do a lot of observing anyway….:-). When the bride and groom arrived, family and friends performed a song for them that told a story about how Karlien and Jeroen met. Aryan told me this is very typical at a wedding, and the song/performance can be based on the alphabet, a timeline, or whatever the special guests choose. Here they are thanking the crowd:DSC_0071 Karlien and Jeroen met on ‘wintersport holiday’ (aka: going skiing) so there was also a themed photo booth where you could take pictures in ski gear in front of an Austrian mountain backdrop. Here are my fantastic neighbors Liz and Aryan trying it out:DSC_0072

Anything else? I guess the last thing we took care of early in the year was Jack’s 10th Birthday party. (Yes, his birthday is 3 December, but we couldn’t find a date that worked with everyone traveling for break….).

Jack invited his good friends from school to “Bounz”, a place full of trampolines …..DSC_0115 DSC_0091 DSC_0086 DSC_0083Cooper also brought along a few ‘big’ guys (literally and figuratively) from his grade.DSC_0122 DSC_0127

Dodge ball, jumping and cake– some things are very similar from one culture to the next   DSC_0133 DSC_0107

It was fun celebrating double digits with some new friends…(the guests’ countries of origin included Australia, Japan, Korea, England, the Netherlands, and the good ole’ USofA).  I love that part….

More soon! Tot ziens!

“Home” for the holidays….part 2 (Christmas, Bruges, and ringing in the New Year ‘Dutch style’!)

IMG_0402 After we visited Austria, we came home to Laren for Christmas.  Chris and I decided a while back that we weren’t going to fly to the US to see our families, and even though I questioned that decision a few million times, we ended up with a very nice ‘blended’ holiday: we incorporated the majority of our old family traditions, but also experienced some new things here in our Dutch world….

We put up our tree before we left for Austria (it was a little dry when we got back…). DSC_0135 This year it was Jack’s turn to put the star on–Cooper will do 2014. I had packed our ‘important’ ornaments, which is not an easy task….Chris and I both grew up in families where the children received annual ornaments. Then of course we started the tradition for our children, so needless to say our tree gets pretty crowded. I usually try to give the boys an ornament that symbolizes something significant from that year. When Jack was 5 for example, he received a pewter bicycle because he learned to ride that year….(putting it on the tree this year I felt like it could have symbolized our move to Amsterdam). This year, however, a “sledder” was the choice, from the Salzburg Christmas market and our memories of Austria  DSC_0124 We also brought out our Jultomten….Swedish Christmas Elves. My Mom has Swedish heritage, and Chris’ Mom pretty much has always wanted to be Scandinavian, so we have lots of these little guys to line our mantel and sit upon our tables DSC_0098 On Christmas Eve, the stockings were hung, literally ‘with care’….because our mantel was tricky……DSC_0095 DSC_0097  and then we read “Twas the Night Before Christmas”, which we do every year. Cooper shared with us that “Donder” means “Thunder” in Dutch, and “Blitzen” means “Lightning”…. (an “aha!” moment for us…)

Christmas morning came early (at least for Chris and I)….and the boys and Rooney dug into their packages. Another tradition, from my father, is to put clues on the gift tags, so the recipient has to guess what is inside. I think I only stumped Jack once this year, with his Skylanders game DSC_0110 DSC_0109 (it doesn’t help that Lego boxes SOUND like Legos from the outside when you shake them…not fair!?).

The rest of the morning was spent building Legos, trying out new games, and relaxing in our PJs……DSC_0115DSC_0120 IMG_0541DSC_0118

I ordered my Christmas ham from Rotterdam (we liked the rhyme), and despite a few issues with a new oven, an unfamiliar cut of meat, and lack of knowledge about ingredients/cooking times, it was one of the best hams we have ever eaten! IMG_0546 …go figure.

I think everyone’s favorite part of Christmas was ‘being’ with family via Face Time. In the course of two days, we were on the line with the Clarks/Shipmans in South Carolina, the Bonds/Ruperts in Portland, as well as our other ‘families’ in Oregon– the Priests and the Evans. I didn’t cry that much, so I thought of that as an accomplishment.

The day after Christmas we packed the car and headed to Belgium. One of our priorities for our second trip was not boarding Rooney again……IMG_0540(yup, we’re a dog-centered family), so a road trip with a dog friendly accommodation was a must.

Bruges was our destination, and it proved to be the beautiful ‘outdoor museum’ everyone told us it would be. IMG_0571DSC_0189

As we headed into another place with incredible historic and cultural significance (the entire city of Bruges is an UNESCO World Heritage Site)….I was determined to find a way for the boys to appreciate (some of?) it. In the last 6 months of traveling, it has been evident that their priority isn’t racing from museum to museum to absorb every last piece of art or musical history….hmph.. So, I got a little creative and gave them a project: create a photo journal of our time in Bruges, and include some of the things for which the city is famous: diamonds, hand-made lace, swans, chocolate, and a legend about a bear being the first resident of the city. We read about all of these during heavy traffic through Antwerp.

After we checked in at the Hotel Prinsenhof, we took Rooney for a walk around, and then thought about dinner. It makes Chris and I laugh that in our 4 days in Belgium, we ate at a Chinese Restaurant, an Irish Pub, and an Argentinian ‘asado’ (grill). Cooper was the only one who had a traditional Belgian stew…which was delicious, I might add. I don’t think we were consciously rejecting Belgian food, it just seemed to end up that way. Speaking of food from Belgium, the boys enjoyed Belgian waffles with chocolate sauce our first night at the Christmas market. Beautifully lit up in the Belfry square, it also had an ice skating rink. IMG_0549IMG_0554 yum!

The next day we got in line early for a canal tour. DSC_0139 DSC_0133 DSC_0173 DSC_0187We thought sitting at the back of the boat would be a good idea for pictures (and it was), but it wasn’t so great for hearing the guide over the boat motor. So much for taking in history/culture…..DSC_0180 DSC_0142

But look! Some pictures of swans and lace for the photo journal…..DSC_0156 DSC_0163

It was chilly, but sunny, so we walked the city …..and sampled chocolates along the way. In one shop, we watched truffles being made, and then purchased one to go. DSC_0196 DSC_0197 DSC_0199

We had heard of the famous ‘Dumon’ Chocolatier, so we also went there. DSC_0205 DSC_0203 Is it a surprise that Cooper had a sore tooth on day #2?– probably not.

DSC_0129 Jack found a depiction of the Bruges ‘bear’ legend  DSC_0131 as they continued the search for their journals…This shop made chocolate swans,…….. double bonus!  DSC_0198

Despite Jack and I buying hats at the Christmas market to cover our ears, the boys got tired of walking in the cold, so they headed back to the hotel. Chris and I took the pup for a walk to Minnewater: “the Lake of Love”. DSC_0209 DSC_0214 DSC_0207 We also walked the grounds of a Beguinage, (or “begijnhof” in Dutch). First set up in the 12th century, these were a series of small buildings around a courtyard, used to house Beguines –predominantly Roman Catholic women– that wanted to serve God but also not be completely cut off from their community. Historians say there was a surplus of women due to war/violence at this time, and they needed to unite and acquire the support of benefactors in order to survive. DSC_0212 DSC_0211 It was a beautiful, quiet place. I walked briefly into the chapel, and there were about 25 women, in habits, doing a reading together.

That night we went to Delaney’s, an Irish pub, for dinner. The boys had become a little obsessed with playing euchre since we taught them over Christmas, so we played a couple of hands while we were there, and also back at the hotel. Jack’s minion hat from the market proved to be his ‘lucky hat’, and he wore it the rest of the trip (despite our objections). I think he even wore it to bed. IMG_0565 Nice game face.

After the boys went to bed next door –(it is uncommon to find two double beds in one room in Europe)–Chris and I watched: “In Bruges”. It is film about two hired killers that have to hide out in the titled city after completing a ‘job’ in London. The movie is moderately violent and a little troubling, but is filmed entirely in Bruges—the location was not only beautiful, but now familiar! We knew we wouldn’t ever look at the Belfry tower the same way again…..

Early the next morning, I got up with Rooney for a walk. I enjoyed the sunrise, he enjoyed the ducks in the canals IMG_0562 IMG_0560 IMG_0555No need for details, but poor Rooney was having a few stomach issues, so he went on a lot of walks in the short time we were in Bruges….

We (again) enjoyed the buffet breakfast at the hotel ….salmon, fruit and hot chocolate? no complaints there! As we ventured out, we first checked the line to climb the Belfry. Since it was ridiculously long, we opted for Jack’s request to visit the Diamond Museum. On our way there, we passed beautiful courtyards and churches. DSC_0222 DSC_0221 DSC_0220DSC_0219 Spotted a bagpiper on a canal bridge….the pic is for you, Dad.

The Diamond Museum was small, but interesting. In addition to learning about the history of the “world’s leading Diamond country”, we watched a demonstration of diamond polishing. (Jack has the full video from the front row, if you are interested….:)DSC_0244 DSC_0239

To the future partners of my sons, I am pleased to report they now know the difference between a ‘brilliant’ and an ‘emerald’ cut diamond….  (you’re welcome).

We had lunch at De Halve Maan (Half Moon) Brewery, and although we didn’t take a tour, we sampled their product.IMG_0577 DSC_0231 DSC_0230

We browsed a few shops– DSC_0232 DSC_0233 .. DSC_0234and walked by a candy shop making lollipops.DSC_0226 DSC_0227 Jack became easy to spot in that hat….

There were an incredible amount of chocolatiers, and no way we were going to sample all of them. But we did stop at quite a few just to check out the fantastic window displays. The figures made out of chocolate were amazing. DSC_0247 DSC_0249 A worker at the “Chocolate Line”, another famous shop: DSC_0248

We had an Argentinian dinner at El Churrasco Steak House– lots of grilled meats and spicy sauces. It was delicious, and Chris got to use his Spanish a bit.

The next day was our last day, and our last chance to climb the Belfry tower. DSC_0287Because of the narrow stairs and the limited space at the top/along the climb, only 40-50 people are allowed into the tower at a time. There was some family discussion about ‘giving up’ when we saw the line, (particularly since it was REALLY cold), but we decided to stick it out with 700 of our closest friends.DSC_0258 For about an hour (Cooper timed the wait on his phone-),the boys kept warm by jumping benches, creating obstacle courses, and just being sillyDSC_0253 DSC_0251 DSC_0259

We also admired the work of a painter who was doing watercolor, and ended up buying some very inexpensive postcards from him.DSC_0255.

Finally we were in (just in time– the wind picked up and it started to rain), and began the 366 stairs to the top. This pic was taken about 1/3 of the way up, looking down on the square: DSC_0263 There was a bit of history provided on the way up, and we learned that the tower was built first in 1240, but rebuilt several times due to fire. It was used as a kind of ‘town hall’, and at one time housed municipal archives and the treasury. It was also used as a watchtower, which isn’t surprising at 83 meters.

The carillon was impressive, its gears clicking away mechanically, timing the chimes…. DSC_0269 But then of course there were the bells themselves. 47 Bells in all, they weigh a total of 27.5 tons. DSC_0274 DSC_0271There was one bell that weighed close to 12,000 pounds (which is interesting to think about when they are mounted above your head…)

The 360 degree view from the top–DSC_0273 DSC_0272 It was VERY windy, so we didn’t stay long before we headed back down.DSC_0277 DSC_0275 You can see why they don’t let a lot of people in at the same time– very narrow, very steep.

We got some hot chocolate and lunch to try to warm up, but the weather was definitely turning, so we decided to walk back to the hotel.

DSC_0288 DSC_0281DSC_0286

Nap and postcard-writing time..DSC_0290Rooney loved the company (and he was feeling a lot better!)

We had one last dinner at Delaneys, the Irish Pub, and after a few more rounds of euchre,IMG_0573 we went home, packed, and got ready to get on the road the next day. We were all ready to get home, and that is a good thing!IMG_0592IMG_0591

Our highlight to end the year was an invitation by our neighbors to join them in celebrating “Oudejaarsavond”, or Dutch New Year’s Eve. I had heard stories about the craziness in the Netherlands, because fireworks (even the larger kind) are legal, and people young and old set them off ….everywhere…..
I know living in Amsterdam would’ve been a much more extensive light and sound show, but our little village put on quite a display in her own right. IMG_0615 IMG_0613 IMG_0604

It was a great night, and fantastic to celebrate with our Dutch friends. We ate olliebollen– (fried dough with powdered sugar), ..” IMG_0600 IMG_0598IMG_0610 drank champagne and lit fireworks. Jack took a video of one that exploded right above our heads, and his commentary is funny: “wow, big fireworks….OK, that’s right there….and big….” It was one of those nights that you didn’t realize what time it was until you got home at 2.30. What a fun way to start 2014!

IMG_0619Gelukkig Nieuwejaar! Tot ziens!

 

 

 

.

“Home” for the holidays…(part one)

IMG_0529 The end of 2013 was a busy time for the Bonds, and a little bit emotional as well. For us, like many people, the holidays are filled with traditions….and historically, these have been spent with people we love. Heading into this time, we all knew this year would be very different. Deep breath…..

December began with Jack celebrating his 10th birthday on the 3rd…..”Hartelijk Gefeliciteerd!” was the mouthful we wished him, as he opened some gifts and talked to family on the phone. Along with a few more Legos to add to his collection, he isDSC_0109 DSC_0122 DSC_0132 also now officially the “drummer” in the family. DSC_0095

In mid-December at ISA, there was a winter market project for Jack’s class. All of the fourth graders were given the task of marketing and selling a product, as well as analyzing costs/benefits, etc. of the process. He and his friend Sam, (after much deliberation about elaborate comic books), decided to sell bookmarks and popcorn. (Don’t ask about the connection, there really isn’t one….). With their popcorn being voted ‘the best in the market’, they ended up raising over 70 euros for victims in the Philippines. Jack, Cooper and I had a blast making it…..(and taste-testing, of course!)IMG_0383 IMG_0381 IMG_0378 Here are a few pictures of the ‘sales’….IMG_0398 IMG_0390 IMG_0389

The International School has almost a month off for the winter break. We broke up our 3 weeks, spending the first one in Filzmoos, Austria, the second one in Laren for Christmas, and part of the third one in Brugge, Belgium. We planned to be back in the Netherlands for New Years’ Eve, because we heard it was pretty crazy…

DSC_0173 Filzmoos is a quiet little village about 40 minutes south of Salzburg. When I Googled, “family friendly places to ski” it was on the top of the list….. and I have an understanding now of why it was perfect for our family. Cooper and Jack had been cross-country, or “nordic” skiing with us in Oregon, but they had never been downhill. Despite many efforts from Uncle Patrick (goggles for Christmas, money for ski lift tickets, etc….) we never seemed to get them on the slopes of Mt Hood or Mt Bachelor. I think part of this was selfish for Chris and I–we have always enjoyed the backcountry nature of XC, as opposed to the ‘amusement park’ of the downhill scene. When our kids and our dogs loved to join us….why would we fight it?

But, since we were in Europe and had the Alps in close proximity, we gave it a shot. Filzmoos was the perfect place to do it, because it was very small. Because we were there the week before the Christmas holiday, it was very quiet. And I mean really quiet….they actually opened the lift for us one day, (I’m not kidding). Note the pony in the pen next to the lift operator…… IMG_0530 DSC_0100

The lodging I found through airbnb was perfect…. and very inexpensive. We had the 3rd floor in a chalet that was one of two houses on a small working dairy farm (we could smell the cows). It took about 5 minutes to get to the center of town, but we truly felt like we were out there by ourselves…..and we tend to like this when it comes to accommodations.

DSC_0160 DSC_0148 The boys enjoyed sledding on the hill and on the road. They had races when we got back from skiing at night..DSC_0143DSC_0167 DSC_0165

Skiing was great. The boys and I had a lesson the first day with “Bas” (from Holland!), and then we all hit the slopes at our own pace. Chris took on some of the bigger stuff right away, so we took the gondola up to meet him for lunch. IMG_0452IMG_0456 IMG_0455Not a bad view for a bowl of soup, hot chocolate and a beer! IMG_0525(There were also sleds at this restaurant…..bonus!)

IMG_0453 My favorite gondola pic.

Mid week we took a break from skiing and explored Salzburg.DSC_0095 We toured the Hohensalzburg Fortress, and the views of the city from the top were absolutely incredible DSC_0106 DSC_0110 DSC_0108 DSC_0107Chris and Cooper are our ‘panoramic’ guys, and I frequently steal Cooper’s photos for use in my albums later…..

We had a piece of cake at the fortress restaurant,  DSC_0112 DSC_0113 played a game that seemed to be a cross between shuffleboard and curlingDSC_0101,

and purchased souvenir pressed coins. DSC_0117This has become a bit of a tradition wherever we travel. For example, the boys have pressed coins from Crater Lake, but also from Manchester United’s Old Trafford. Chris would say I’m the one that encourages this low-cost, memory-making purchase, and I think it’s probably connected to my childhood obsession with souvenirs, but who knows. Hopefully someday they’ll appreciate their box of pressed coins from all over the planet…. (?!) DSC_0115

After the castle, we visited the Salzburg Christmas market, which was a priority for me.  DSC_0129The boys were pretty patient about walking around in the cold while we browsed the treats, wooden ornaments and booths with other goodies…..Holy Pretzels: (!)  DSC_0126DSC_0131Of course, warm Gluhwein and chocolate always help…..mulled wine at the market

DSC_0132 We headed back home to be welcomed by the farm’s resident cats, and then did some late-night sledding.IMG_0436IMG_0486 IMG_0490 IMG_0513

The rest of the week included a lot more skiing, and many wonderful opportunities to relax as a family. After Chris’ travel schedule this fall, this was a very welcome change! A few pics for Uncle Patrick (we made very good use of the goggles, thanks!!):

IMG_0523 Chris handling the steep stuff…DSC_0122

Look carefully…it’s Cooper and Chris heading up on the lift.DSC_0102

DSC_0110 Jack stuck mostly to the beginner hills, but improved a lot as the week went on.DSC_0105 Headed through the gates….DSC_0104

By the end of the week Cooper opted for the steeper hills with his Dad and I, and although he wasn’t super-fast, he was very comfortable.

DSC_0118 DSC_0096Brotherly love

Cooper and I got stuck during one run, because the mountain wasn’t really groomed/ready entirely, and there wasn’t a ton of natural snow. We ended up having to take our skis off and hike for about 20-30 minutes back up to the place we split off the marked trail….ugh! Even though he doesn’t look like it in this picture, he was a trooper about it…..IMG_0531

While off the slopes, we tried some traditional Austrian (German-influenced) food,IMG_0446 and also cooked quite a bit at the house. This worked out well, because we were usually exhausted from skiing, and didn’t feel like sitting in a restaurant. We also taught the boys how to play cribbage and euchre, and had family match ups every night.IMG_0520 (and sometimes even early-morning training, like you see here….)

The area around our house was a winter wonderland, and I couldn’t resist heading out for a hike with my camera. I particularly liked the 300 year old hut that was at a bend in the road about 200 meters from our house.DSC_0175 DSC_0137 DSC_0142 DSC_0146 DSC_0149

When it was time to head home, we checked out and headed into Salzburg. We passed this castle for the 4th time, (which we kept trying to photograph from the car….)DSC_0100 We had a late flight, so we spent the day exploring the city on foot a bit more. We visited the Mozart house/museum, and Jack was very impressed with the antique pianos and violins, as well as the sheet music from Mozart’s time. The visit didn’t convince Cooper to start practicing an instrument, but we’re still working on that…..

This is The Getreidegasse, a famous shopping street in Old Town Salzburg.DSC_0104DSC_0105Many merchants still use the old signs that were hung hundreds of years ago, before people could read. DSC_0128 DSC_0126  DSC_0110DSC_0112 DSC_0108  Mozart rubber duckies…OK, I guess I have a small problem with souvenirs…..

DSC_0113 Here, street artists are playing “Silent Night’, for which Salzburg is famous for,– and also happens to be my VERY favorite hymn at Christmas. “Silent Night,” was performed for the first time in the chapel in Oberndorf near Salzburg on Christmas Eve in 1818. The lyrics were written by the Salzburg pastor, Joseph Mohr. We didn’t visit the chapel, but we learned a little bit about the song’s origin:  Salzburg was extremely destitute in the early 1800′s, the salt trade had practically broken down during the Napoleonic War. Apparently, there was not even enough money in Oberndorf to replace the bellows on the organ damaged by mice. Joseph Mohr and Franz Xaver Gruber composed a song to be accompanied by guitar and sang “Silent Night” on Christmas Eve. Two hundred years later, the song has been translated into over 170 languages and is one of the most well-known songs of all time. (And no, I did not break into the alto harmony on the street and embarrass my boys,…..although I was singing it in my head….)

There was an incredible amount of fog, so we didn’t have the best view of the Salzach River or its banks… DSC_0123 But we did get a close look at the ‘love locks’ attached to the railing on the pedestrian bridge. DSC_0122 DSC_0120 DSC_0116I looked up this ritual of affixing padlocks to bridges as a symbol of a couple’s love: Some people say it began in Rome (the bridge Ponte Milvio) and can be attributed to the 1992 book Three meters above the sky by Italian author Frederico Moccia. Cooper and Chris weren’t very interested in the locks, but Jack and I tried to read some of the inscriptions — checking out the different languages, the countries the couples came from, and the year the lock was attached.

The fog that kept us from seeing the city almost grounded us at the Salzburg Airport that night, but we managed to get out and get home to NL (thankfullly). It was a great trip on so many levels.family ski(3)

Because I really have to do some Dutch homework (part of a New Year’s Resolution for 2014), I am going to close for now, and check in about our “Christmas ham from Rotterdam”, as well as Brugge and “Oudejaarsavond” (New Year’s Eve) in Part II of this post…..

Dag!

 

 

 

A month in pictures…

IMG_0297The seasons are changing, school is busy, and the holidays are upon us ….bottom line is: I don’t always have the time– (clarification: ‘make’ the time)– to write… This time I am using the ‘quick and dirty’ method: lots of photos with brief descriptions. (Because we all like that part the best anyway, right?)

As I write this, it is December 1st….here that would be 1 December. When I looked back through my pictures from the last month, I realized how full (busy?) life has been. Our day to day has focused much less on transitioning, and much more on enjoying our day to day life, the friends we have made, and the traditions, people and places around us (including visitors!!). Here is a sampling of what we’ve been up to since the end of October:

Unbeknownst to me, people celebrate Halloween in Amsterdam. In particular, a group of expats work with local Dutch families, and help the American kids with maintaining their tradition of trick or treating. From the pictures, you can tell our costumes were kind of ‘thrown together’ (because we decided to do this the DAY of Halloween…)halloween pic DSC_0009 DSC_0005Jack borrowed a baseball costume from his friends from San Francisco (it was a little tight), and Cooper threw a wig on, borrowed a friend’s shirt and called himself the ‘crazy dentist’. OK! (I am piggy-backing Jack at the end because this was his first day out of his cast…too much walking).

On to November, and our back to back weekends in Koln (Cologne) and Manchester.DSC_0039 DSC_0143 DSC_0156 I already blogged about this, so no need for details. Both were fantastic– ticking countries off as we go….

As the seasons change here, it is getting wetter, colder, and darker on a daily basis. We are used to this coming from Portland, but it seems even more extreme here. My walks with Rooney have been beautiful in the park. Some mornings we even get frost.IMG_0294 IMG_0310 IMG_0339A lot of the hedges here aren’t evergreen bushes, so even the sides of the road change color. It’s beautiful as you drive.

Colder weather also means more indoor activities….These pics are from a trip we took on an in-service day/ day off from school (there are less of those here than in Oregon, but they still occur). We traveled to the Natural History Museum in Leiden with a few of Jack’s friends and their siblings.DSC_0106 DSC_0107DSC_0120 DSC_0115 DSC_0110 DSC_0104 DSC_0100

In the past 2 months, Jack has also started drum lessons… if I knew how to download a video I would include one, but here he is composing some rhythms to practice. IMG_0312 He loves his teacher, who is VERY supportive and upbeat. I love having a musician in the house!

Late November brought the arrival of Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet, a new tradition for us. I encourage you to read about this tradition if you are curious. It is very different than Santa, and is not related to Christmas Day at all. Briefly, Sinterklaas arrives by steamboat from Spain with his helpers– Zwarte Piets–, and his horse. He intermittently provides gifts in childrens’ shoes at night– from late November through December 5th. In the shop windows, there are a lot of representations of the characters involvedIMG_0343 DSC_0129

ALL over the Netherlands there are parades and celebrations as he ‘comes into town’ (it is even covered on TV and in the news). Sometimes he’ll come across the water in a boat. In Laren, there was a parade, and our mayor greeted him on the front steps of the Prinsemarij in the center of town. DSC_0105 There were lots of songs, and many children dressed in the likeness of the “Piet” and Sinterklaas. The whole presentation was in Dutch of course (a chance to practice listening…) but despite the language barrier it was a lot of fun to experience the town enjoying this annual event together.DSC_0098 DSC_0110 DSC_0117

Our boys gave up their ‘belief in magical things’ in the last few years, but decided they’d try their luck with putting their shoes out anyway. I told them that since they used to leave notes for Santa every year, perhaps Sinterklaas would like a note as well. I love that they wrote their notes in Dutch….IMG_0305

And guess what? Sinterklaas did come! Only a few times….and he wrote back!. He brought some treatsDSC_0097as well as some non-traditional gifts, like Barcelona socks. IMG_0314 Looks like Sinterklaas has an employee discount.

And speaking of Barcelona…..Chris got tickets to the Barcelona v. Ajax match last week. I gave up my ticket so Jack could invite a friend for an early birthday present. The match was incredible…Ajax was not expected to win, and did 2-1. The boys and Jack’s friend, Julian, were routing for Barca, but Chris encouraged them to keep their jackets on over their jerseys. Chris had trouble taking pictures because the crowd was nuts, but managed to capture this one… I LOVE Julian’s face. IMG_0330 That’s a ‘football-crazy’ kid….(Nike term for the target consumer)….

Just yesterday we had our first ‘friends from home’ visit as the Klarp family came through Amsterdam on a European vacation. They stayed in Amsterdam for a few nights, and then came out to Laren yesterday to see what village life was like in the Netherlands. It was a lot of fun walking them around town (the weather cooperated, which was nice!), and sharing our day to day life/experiences with them. We brought them to the deer park in the center of town DSC_0124 horses withthe klarps and visited the horses around the corner. There were some ‘must dos’….like getting a family picture in front of our windmill DSC_0122; trying the traditional “olliebollen” -deep fried dough covered in powdered-sugar-DSC_0127 (not so easy to eat, but VERY tasty…..); and a visit to our town ice skating rink and poffertjes stand that is built in the center of town annually for the winter season.DSC_0130
It was really great to see them. We caught up on life in Oak Hills, we were able to hear about their trip through Paris and London, and also share about our life as (now official) residents in the Netherlands. DSC_0138

The dark and cold can definitely get you down, but as December begins and we head into the Christmas season here….IMG_0344 IMG_0346 I can honestly say that we are really enjoying all that this experience has had to offer. I look forward to the coming weeks and days, as we celebrate Jack’s 10th birthday, travel to Austria to ski, and experience our first Christmas here in Europe. Missing family, friends and the familiarity of home is a given, but remembering what we have in the bigger picture is always the key…..(reflecting on the pictures I just posted, it is easier to do that!!)

Thank you for sharing it with me.

DSC_0007 Tot ziens!

 

 

 

Travel in the name of Sport….Cologne and Manchester

DSC_0040Sometime in early October Cooper came home and said he wished he had joined the soccer team at school– (The International School of Amsterdam, or ISA). He was playing for the local club in Laren, but since he had met more people at school, he was interested in checking out the team. After a few e-mails and a lot of learning as a ‘new parent’, Cooper ended up being added on to the team for the last part of the season. We were excited for a few reasons: …because we lived farther away from school, our boys didn’t always have a chance to connect with peers from school, and being on the team would definitely provide that. Being involved also could potentially be a way for Cooper to feel confident in his school setting, which is always a bonus when you’re ‘new’. But being part of the team provided another unique experience for which Chris and I were thankful: as part of the NECIS conference, ISA student athletes traveled to other international schools to compete. In the span of a season, they could have a match as close as Den Haag (The Hague), or as far away as Luxembourg. While visiting other schools, the players were housed with students from the opposing international school. When teams travel to Amsterdam, ISA families take a turn hosting. Great system, and an opportunity to see even more of Europe. For the families too….? I believe so!

Because of his late start, Cooper would only take one trip with the team, but he was excited for the opportunity. The last weekend in October, he traveled to Bonn, Germany. He played a game on Friday afternoon, stayed over with a family who had a player on the Bonn team, and then played another match Saturday morning. After hearing stories from ‘veteran’ team moms at ISA, I had the idea to follow the team to Germany and use it as an opportunity to explore nearby Cologne. So Rooney was dropped off at the ‘dierenpension’/kennel, and Jack and I hopped in the car Friday after school. Weekend traffic was very slow in the Netherlands, but at some point I crossed over into Germany…..no traffic, no speed limit, with dry, clear roads. Let’s just say we made good time. (zoooom!)

I’m glad I asked our Bonn hotel owner for a dinner recommendation, because it was very quiet by the time we pulled into town. We went to a traditional German restaurant, and Jack had his first ‘schnitzel’. IMG_0239He loved it so much he didn’t want his french fries (and that is saying something). It was fun to watch the locals interact at the bar, and Jack noticed right away how much German sounds like Dutch. We retired to our little hotel room down the road, quickly checked in with Cooper via text, and then read a bit before heading to bed. The next morning we had a fantastic breakfast provided by the hotel, and headed over to Bonn International School. DSC_0010 DSC_0021 Situated right on the river in a beautiful location.

The field was a muddy mess, and Bonn was a tough team. DSC_0018 DSC_0019

ISA lost 4-2. Cooper played tough, and had a couple good runs down the left side….his favorite. DSC_0025 DSC_0024

Jack enjoyed the playground equipment and over-sized chess setDSC_0026 DSC_0032

We had a family learning experience following the match, as Cooper realized he was the only student not heading back to Amsterdam on the bus. My heart hurt for him, as I realized how important this new experience was for him. Thankfully Cooper is a LOT like his father, …. (never holds ‘grudges’, or stays angry for long). With the idea of a chocolate factory at the other end of the road, we piled into the car and headed to Cologne.

Parking the car took a ridiculous amount of time, but we finally checked into our AirBnB apartment and settled in. Jack was still in a soft cast/walking boot, so I knew we couldn’t venture too far, but there was a lot we could see within a short walk of our apartment. DSC_0040 DSC_0036 DSC_0033DSC_0039

More than the Chocolate Factory, I wanted to see the Cologne Cathedral, so we went there first. DSC_0041 DSC_0042 DSC_0043 DSC_0060 DSC_0055 DSC_0048 Having just been to Rome, you might think that the boys were not easy to impress when it comes to cathedrals, but it would be impossible not to be impressed by this massive structure. And it was very interesting/different than what we saw in Rome, with its Gothic influence.

We explored the city for the bulk of the afternoon, but made sure we stopped for lots of treats to rest our legs…and there were LOTS of treats….DSC_0065 DSC_0070No, they didn’t finish these dishes of ice cream.
While walking off the calories, we found a Lego store, which was a nice bonus for Cooper and Jack.  With euros they had saved, they both purchased kits (as ….’souvenirs’?)DSC_0074 DSC_0072 The boys exhibited a nice amount of patience as I browsed a few more shops on the way back home, accomplishing a little Christmas shopping. We were definitely not hungry for dinner yet (extra-large ice cream portions will do that!), so I dropped the boys at the apartment to build Legos while I explored a bit more on my own. DSC_0091 DSC_0086I snapped this photo quickly as I passed a puppeteer’s workshop…I didn’t want him to think I was being nosy, but his work was incredible.

The boys and I went out later and had fantastic German brats and fries, two doors down from our apartment. Cooper laughed at the size of the brat (which was 3 times the size of its bun), and then took a picture to post on Instagram. We realized looking across the river that there was some kind of fair or carnival going on…but none of us seemed to think we were missing anything. I like having a family like that.DSC_0083

This nutcracker shop wasn’t open when I passed by, but I wouldn’t mind checking it out if I ever make it back to Koln…. DSC_0092

The next morning we headed back to Laren to pick up Rooney and start our week. The boys were very impressed with how fast people drove on the autobahn, and I shared that people that love cars (and driving) often dream of driving here, so they can actually experience the speed a car can travel (legally…-). I stuck to 130 or 140 km/hour….. and believe me, I was getting passed. Pretty crazy! It was a bit disappointing to have to slow down crossing the border back IMG_0256into The Netherlands…..
Other funny things we will remember about our trip:
The clock in our rental apartment was broken. (Cooper took a video of the minute hand moving forward, and then backwards, it was like something out of a creepy movie). We arrived in Cologne around 3.00, and left at 6.42 — IMG_0244We laughed, saying we knew we had a short trip, but we were there more than 4 hours!!
Also,the boys got a kick out of the “Ja!” brand juice, milk, and bread products:

….”Do you want juice?” IMG_0242

“Ja!”

OK, we were a little punchy at that point.

Our next trip was one we had planned for quite a while, because it involved Cooper and Jack’s biggest ‘bucket list’ item of our stay in Europe: attending a Manchester United match in England. One incredible benefit of working in football at Nike is Chris’ ability to get tickets to matches like these, and the one we were headed to was a ‘biggie’– Arsenal vs. Man United at Old Trafford. The boys (all 3) were VERY excited. Truth be told, we were all excited. I have become quite the football fan since meeting Chris and watching our  boys play, and the MLS (go Timbers!), and Premier League, and other competition on TV. As with most things, once you understand a sport, it becomes more interesting. It’s also very special to watch your family enjoy something together. Chris has always loved ‘growing’ Cooper and Jack in soccer/football– coaching, watching matches together, discussing players, etc. So for many reasons, this ‘pin in our map’– (as we traveled to our 3rd country in a month) –was a special one, and I think we all knew that heading in.

Our “Rooney”, named after Wayne Rooney from Manchester United, would not be attending the match, but instead went to his home-away-from-home at Naarden Dierenpension. At this point, I was thinking Rooney could actually understand more Dutch than anyone in our family, because the people at the kennel spoke exclusively in Dutch to him. He loves the place, and bounds in the doorway to get his treat from Marianne, or whomever is checking the pups in that day. That makes us feel good, of course, because it is tough to not share our adventures with him.

We flew to Manchester Saturday morning– I think the flight time was an hour and 35 minutes. (I LOVE how close everything is here…). Chris and I spent most of the time on the plane catching up, because he had been traveling so much. (Funny side story here: when we were passing through security at Schipol, the flight attendant from the Amsterdam-Portland flight recognized Chris in the line. Being that he had JUST flown in the day prior from the US, she said, “Chris, you’re back already??”. Yup, you know you travel a lot when you are recognized by a flight crew by name….)

We checked in at our ‘ApartHotel’ –strange name, to match our slightly strange accommodations– and explored the city a bit.IMG_0271 DSC_0096 DSC_0095Our plan was to tour Old Trafford, the Manchester United museum and the “Mega Store” in the afternoon. Jack enjoyed spotting double decker buses and black taxis as we walked along. I made a mental note to make sure we took a tour in London on one of the infamous red double decker buses….(so much to see…..will we have enough time??……)

Chris had been to Manchester many times, so he knew where to eat, and how to get around. We met up with his co-worker to collect the tickets for the match the next day…. (Raf is an Arsenal fan, but we tried not to give him too much grief for that until after the tickets were in OUR hands….ha!). After lunch– where the kids enjoyed reading and ordering from a menu that was printed in English– we headed over to the stadium. The place was buzzing with tourists, and street vendors selling scarves and other Man U trinkets.DSC_0099 DSC_0101 We booked a stadium tour for a few hours later, and headed to the “Mega Store”. I thought it was pretty impressive, and I guess it’s good our boys like the color red…..DSC_0109 DSC_0104 DSC_0102We all decided on a few things (no problems with finding souvenirs on THIS trip….:-), and headed to the museum.

DSC_0110 DSC_0111Plenty of ‘silverware’ in this club’s history…..

The boys and I learned about some of the history associated with football (Chris knew a lot of this already). I like the “caps” tradition, in which every time a player from a club played for his national team, he received a cap from his country. DSC_0113 The old uniforms were kind of fun to see as well. The term ‘boots’ that refers to a player’s cleats on the pitch, comes from the fact that they actually wore boots when the game first began….leather, laced up over the ankle boots. I can imagine that the pace of the game was a little different… DSC_0114 DSC_0115 Funny, I just added this picture, and looking at Cooper standing next to Chris, I noticed he is getting really tall… I don’t know why I am continually surprised by this.

We had a bit of time to kill before our tour so we hung out in the cafe, and also played a quick game of foos … (Jack is already wearing his new jacket, as you can see….)DSC_0120 DSC_0123

Our tour of Old Trafford was excellent. Our guide was a typical Brit, with a dry wit and a great smile, never missing an opportunity to include a Liverpool joke as he ‘brought us round’…DSC_0124 We were able to see the locker room, and where the players changed and prepped for matches. Our guide invited us to sit in our favorite player’s “spot” if we wanted to grab a picture.DSC_0136 DSC_0133 DSC_0135 We saw the field from many different angles, and got very close to the pitch (but were not allowed to walk on it). I think Cooper and Jack really enjoyed sitting in the players’ seats…. a chance to experience the vantage point of Rooney, van Persie,.DSC_0140….

It was a special experience to be that close to where the action happens, for sure.DSC_0142

That night we had dinner at a great Indian restaurant on the ‘Curry Mile’ which was recommended by a co-worker of Chris’. Then we headed back to the apartment/hotel for the night. Mental note: next time we travel to the UK, remember to bring the outlet adapter. We had to fight over the two chargers that the hotel desk provided for us, because we forgot that the UK uses different plugs than the rest of Europe (and different currency, and drives on the left, and……yes, that is England!)

Next day: MATCH DAY! But, it didn’t start until the evening, so we had a bit of a lazy morning (I had my first Starbucks’ coffee in months….) and walked around the city a little bit more. I saw this interesting mural, and thought of my friend Jin….IMG_0275 Chris stopped in the Nike store and ‘talked shop’ with a salesperson about what was selling well, and other product information. Then we ate a quick lunch/dinner(?) at Hard Rock Cafe and headed over to the stadium in a taxi. The energy around Old Trafford was fantastic, and we could hear people singing outside even before we got out of the car. We had a drink in the lounge area, and then found our seats. DSC_0145Big place!

Watching warm up:DSC_0147 DSC_0146 I pointed out the increased security in the area of the stadium designated for away (Arsenal) fans. You can see pretty clearly how many bright yellow jackets are present to keep the crowd where it’s supposed to be…DSC_0150 They had a minute of silence for the veterans, and then they began.DSC_0152

I don’t think we wanted to say it out loud in our family, but we were a little nervous about the outcome of this match. After several years of dominating, Man U had struggled a bit early in this season. We knew Arsenal was looking strong coming in, so we just hoped for the best. DSC_0156 DSC_0157 DSC_0155

So a little bit before half, we were VERY excited when this corner kick from Rooney ended up being a beautiful goal by VP. (I didn’t get a picture of the goal…I was a little distracted :-)

DSC_0161 1-0. Looking good!

And perhaps many of you know this already, but the final score ended up being just that….1-0 Man U. Fantastic!DSC_0179 DSC_0181 DSC_0180 The crowd was very pleased….

The boys had a little bit to talk about when they returned to school that week….and they were wearing quite a bit of red.

DSC_0143

More soon…..dag!

 

 

 

 

A different kind of ‘holiday’

DSC_0060

One accurate assumption that can be made by anyone that is reading my blog is that it is intended to share our family’s ‘adventure’ in the Netherlands. I guess what I was reminded of in the last two weeks is that all of life’s adventures are not picture-postcards, trips to historical landmarks, and/or poses by a windmill…. Instead– life, is LIFE, whatever way it chooses to come at you.

About two weeks ago, Chris’ family (Mom, Dad, and brother, Patrick)..arrived from Portland, OR. We were excited to show them the sites, (and experience a few of them ourselves) for the first time. I had a day trip planned to Den Haag, and a few museum tours mixed in with some picturesque drives to Kinderdijk and through Loodstrecht. Well…. not two days after they arrived, Chris’ Dad took a bad fall down our stairs. Thankfully he is OK, but obviously we ended up shelving those ‘guided’ tours, and spent time navigating the medical system in the Netherlands.  We were reminded of the value of having each other during tough and unexpected circumstances, and that patience prevails.

I had heard a few horror stories about medical care in the Netherlands from other expats. I suppose that people most often share the scary experiences (versus the ones that were fine), because they serve as a warning of sorts, or many times a way to vent their fears.

I am relieved to report that Bob had fantastic medical care. From the ambulance drivers that came to get him at our house to the last person that checked him out at his (2nd) hospital, -his experience was positive. The Dutch have a reputation of being direct, and oftentimes this is seen as rude. I didn’t have a lot of time to worry, but I guess I could have pictured our family fighting the staff to get pain medication, or having to uncomfortably demand to see a doctor to request a test. Instead, I found the hospital personnel to be not only friendly, but sensitive, and genuinely concerned about our whole family. We felt Bob received all of the tests and treatment he would have in the US (albeit a little differently at times…) , and overall the care was fantastic. I like when stereotypes are challenged. I like those kinds of surprises.

If you know Chris’ Dad, you’d know that as he was sitting in his hospital bed recovering, the last thing he wanted was to ‘mess up’ any plans his family had to experience Holland. He kept urging Chris’ Mom, (Sue) and Patrick to tour the city, and to (ever so politely….:-)…Get OUT there . So with some balancing, we did just that.

Patrick and Sue and I drove into Amsterdam, and after seeing the line at the Anne Frank House circling around the block (yes, we should have booked ahead….), we walked to the Rijks Museum. Recently it underwent an extensive remodel. We only scratched the surface, but saw some of the ‘biggies’…..: DSC_0013 DSC_0015 DSC_0021

With some creative cropping, I am able to grab a picture of Sue admiring Gabriel’s rendering of a windmill, and other Dutch paintings from the 1800′s DSC_0006 DSC_0007It appears as if she is relatively alone…..but do not be deceived. We were there with what seemed like thousands of our closest friends….:-).DSC_0020 DSC_0018

The weather cooperated, so we braved a walk in and amongst some canals, DSC_0025  We even ate lunch OUTside (yes, we were the only ones…..)DSC_0024

DSC_0004Overall, a beautiful day, and a welcome distraction to the Tergooi Ziekenhuizen (our area hospital).
After Bob was able to come home and finish his recovery at our house, we grabbed Chris away from work and biked to Naarden-Vesting.  I knew Sue would love this place- narrow cobbled-stone streets, antique shops and small restaurants. All enclosed by a moat.DSC_0039 DSC_0033 DSC_0029 The town hall in the center of Naarden- Vesting was busy, because a couple was getting married. I couldn’t resist snapping a few photos.DSC_0054 DSC_0053 Patrick and Sue were becoming experts on their bikes, embracing Dutch culture despite the narrow streets in Laren, and oblivious drivers….DSC_0057  …..fantastic!

Patrick had to return to the states for this obligation called ‘work’, but Bob and Sue delayed their flight for another week to follow the doctor’s orders. Our family had plans to fly to Rome for October Break (see the next blog….), but since we weren’t leaving until Wednesday, we had a few extra days to spend with “Grandmommy” and “Bob Bond”– a silver lining in this crazy cloud of a week.

I stole Sue for a day trip while the boys stayed home with Grandpa and giggled over Coach Ditka jokes. Nothing like Grandpa humor…(or maybe just MALE humor? Go figure).

When Sue and I got in the car, the only thing I told her was , “I don’t know exactly where it is, but I saw this beautiful little house once that had a tiny bridge over a canal. I think it was near Loodstrecht”. As a lover of picturesque European cottages and its environs, she didn’t hesitate for a minute. “Getting lost around here is fantastic”, was her attitude. My ‘other’ Mom loves Europe, almost too much. But I can’t fault her. The week she was here was the week our ‘home’ country struggled to keep itself out of a government shutdown for what seemed like the 40th time. I digress.

Sue and I explored (I think) the areas of Loen, Loodstrecht and Vreeland. DSC_0102I’m glad I took a picture of this sign, because I really don’t know where we went. We basically saw something interesting, stopped the car, got out and walked, and then repeated the process. Taking pictures along the way.DSC_0089 DSC_0083 DSC_0079 DSC_0071

It is kind of a requirement to stop for windmill pictures, and we had two sightings on this day…one in the town of Loen, . DSC_0064 and another out on the road in Vreeland…on our way homeDSC_0094

Overall, it was a great day of exploring the countryside..DSC_0075 DSC_0087 DSC_0092…and the locals that inhabit these beautiful places.

While we traveled to Italy, Bob got to explore our little town of Laren (just a bit), and Sue rode my bike to the grocery store in true Dutch fashion (because she, literally, had no car). As I write this, Pat, Bob and Sue are home in Portland, and Bob is feeling better every day. Was this trip their ideal ‘holiday’? Not so much. But sometimes we don’t dictate these things, and we just make the best of what comes.dinner at blauw

 

I will include this photo for a little foreshadowing of my next blog about touring Rome– IMG_0180Yes, that is Jack in a cast. And no, it isn’t a simple feat to tour Rome’s ancient ruins with a wheelchair and crutches. But hey, we are used to being flexible…. right?!!!

Dag!

Everyday things, in a not so “everyday” place

IMG_0036

 

It has been a bit since I last wrote. Why is this the case? Many moms of two (or more) school-age children that are involved in sports or other activities with a partner that travels for work could tell you: I am simply doing the ‘every day’ stuff. I’m happy to report it feels wonderful to be busy. Comforting to have a routine. I have missed writing, but I haven’t stopped reflecting. And I have to remember (thank you Aunt Jan!) that other people are following this adventure of ours, and they might look forward to hearing how we are doing. (as well, I need to remember that I want to look back at all of this one day, and get a good laugh).

Lately, our day to day is filled with:
1.  Football, aka: soccer. Currently the boys have two trainings a week and a match on the weekends. This is the same schedule as in the U.S., and even a bit easier because the boys ride their bikes to training, which is fantastic. Differences? I use Google translate to decipher team schedules and correspondence, and I don’t always understand sideline ‘chatter’, but for the most part the experience joining a Dutch club has been great, and not so dissimilar to our experience with sports in the U.S.

On training days, the boys are with the hired people from the club, but on the weekends, parents jump in and help. They take turns coaching, providing juice at halftime, and being ‘vlaggers’. (Ask Chris about his buitenspel! (offisdes!) call last week during Cooper’s match…). If it is an away game, parents meet at the home clubhouse, put boys that don’t have a ride in their car, and we all follow ‘in queue’ to the away field. It can be quite an adventure to follow a ‘lead’ car around traffic circles and through local towns–  **Small side note I need to include here: it is very difficult to keep track of specific cars in the NL, because so many look alike. For instance, there are an inordinate number of black station wagons. We have one, and it seems every manufacturer makes one: Audi, Volksawagen, BMW, Ford, and so on. Add to this to the fact that no one marks their car with window stickers, and no one has a personalized plate, and it can get pretty tricky. Just try to find your car in a ‘car park’. It’s quite a task** Anyway, I digress….

This morning our ‘line’ traveled all the way to De Hoef for Jack’s match. This little town was VERY rural (and that’s saying something– because if the wind is right,  I can smell the horses that live around the corner from me; and I have a wheat field 1 kilometer from my house). A photo for proof, here is the team making the short walk from our car park to the field: DSC_0003…..note the sheep on the right side of the road.

Here is Jack tearing it up on the pitch in his black and white stripes of Laren DSC_0006 DSC_0005. After the game, I saw one of Jack’s teammates pointing at Jack — saying excitedly to a boy from the other team, “Hij is Engels!!”. . (“He is/speaks English!”). Jack kind of turned, smiled and waved. He doesn’t mind being the ‘not-so-every day’ guy. :-)

Cooper came home last week and expressed an interest in playing for his school team in addition to playing for our local club in Laren.  This will mean a bit more driving for me, but we are excited he wants to participate, and connect to his school community. Plus, playing for an international school, his away games aren’t in De Hoef, they are in places like Hamburg or Brussels…..!!! Sign me up! .. (speaking of ISA, that would be next on the list for how we fill up our days….)

2. School activities, meetings, and events: Just like in the US, you can spend as much or as little time being part of a school community as you would like. The leaders of the Oak Hillls PTO in Beaverton Oregon are at the school many days a week (you know who you are, Cyndie Pelto. Oh wait, she’s not reading this, she’s organizing the Jog a Thon!!). Well, it’s the same deal here, the moms (and Dads) are just from 45 different nations. I ponder how to get involved in this new place. ….I might join the “Green Team” that works on environmental issues, or lead a ‘Let’s Talk’ class that helps non-native English speakers work on their conversational English. Many of you reading this are laughing: Laura would be running a ‘Let’s Talk’ class!! Go Figure!!….., I know…..I didn’t come up with the name….

Last week I chaperoned a field trip for Jack’s class: your average  “every day” type of school mom/dad experience. This one, however involved 34 4th graders, 8 parents and 3 teachers biking from the school to, and through, the Amsterdam Bos. (Bos means ‘forest’, but whoever named it that has never been to Oregon….it was a gorgeous place with big trees, but not what I would consider a ‘forest’).  The group, together, negotiated traffic circles, motorbikes, pedestrians and other traffic.

DSC_0005 DSC_0026There were a few spills, and a shoelace or two caught in a wheel, but overall the kids did really well. We had fantastic weather as the students explored, observed, and took notes on their surroundings (they are doing a study on plants). DSC_0071 DSC_0074 DSC_0067 DSC_0066 DSC_0046 DSC_0064Man, I would’ve loved to see your pictures Jin! (my good friend and idol when it comes to photo journaling…..:-)

Hmm… what else? Well, of course there’s always the

3. House maintenance: We had leaky tiles in the upstairs bath, electrical and cable wires to be moved (so that our phone wasn’t IN the closet, literally-), and this past week Rooney broke a pane of glass in our door with his BUTT. IMG_0096 IMG_0109

Yup, we should have a ‘no balls in the house’ rule, but please advise me how to do that with a RETRIEVER and THREE footballers. OK. So we needed to get a few things done in the house. Making appointments with service professionals can be a little intimidating with the language and cultural barrier. However, since I am taking Dutch lessons now (yeah!), I can politely ask the person who answers the phone: “Wilt u spreekt Engels, alstublieft?”, instead of panicking when a person is speaking so quickly that I’m not even sure I called the right company. To my request to speak in English, most people answer, ‘This is possible’ (very Dutch response– things are either NOT possible, or possible, there is very little grey area–). I then attempt to schedule an appointment, and usually meet with some success.

The glass fix was an interesting experience. I called the glazer– glass guy– and the woman on the other end of the phone tells me it is ‘not possible’ to fix the glass today– as if I expected it would be??– but “he” will call tomorrow and come and fix the glass. When? I inquire… “He will call”, they assure me. OK then. The next day around 2 pm, I get a call. The glazer says in broken English that is much better than my Dutch– “I come to make the glass. I come in 5 minutes. This is possible, yes?” I’m thinking–you’re kidding, right?–, but of course I say, “Yes, this is possible”– because we have a broken pane of glass in our living room door, and we are RENTING…..

He arrives (in literally 5 minutes). He takes longer dealing with Rooney’s greeting antics at the door than he does working. He quickly assesses the damage and measures the broken area. He then leaves, saying: “I be back. 5 minutes.” He was not far off. About 8 minutes later he returns with a piece of glass. He then glazes the window, asks for a broom (with lots of hand motions, because I don’t know that word yet), and says, “Ja! Alles goed?’. To which I respond, “Ja! Alles goed, Dank u wel” (All good, thanks….). I inquire about a bill, and he just says, “Yes, we send in the mail…. bye bye now, Tot ziens!”.

Rooney and I just stood there as the man climbed into his work-type minivan (no trucks here, even for mechanics and construction– too big for the streets),, and I thought– now THAT isn’t something I would experience back home. This gentleman scheduled, arrived for, and completed a service call in a total of 30 minutes. And that involved a drive back to his shop!! wow. And in other good ‘house maintenance’ news: the tile has been fixed, and our wifi and phone are out of the closet. Now the next time I talk to friends and family on Viber I don’t have to stand in our front hallway to get a solid connection. Yeah! and to segue into the topic of friendship…. I’m sure the last ‘chunk’ of our time is spent socializing, and fostering connections with the new people in our lives.

4. Friends, neighbors, and community gatherings:  I am very happy to report that we have had a lot of ‘play dates’ lately. Socialization is healthy when you are an extrovert. This week, we met a few of Jack’s friends at a park before school conferences, and we also had dinner in the city last night with an expat family from San Francisco. Sitting there (at a great Italian restaurant), we watched Cooper and Jack pass the ‘voetbal’ back and forth in the round a bout while we waited for our food.  Could’ve occurred at Cornelius Pass Roadhouse in Oregon, but I was sitting at a street corner in Amsterdam. A little crazy, yes. but fantastic. It is too early to tell how close we will become to people here in the Netherlands, but I will say that expats have a special ability to connect, because of the ‘we’re in the same boat’ mentality. In that way, the families from ISA, and from Nike, that have relocated from other places, have been a fantastic system of support.

And in terms of neighbors, I have already mentioned how great Lis and Arjan have been to us here on Lantentijmen 1.  I think Chris and I have always been blessed with great neighbors….. Our closest friends in Pittsburgh were the people we met walking our dog one afternoon. When we bought our first house in Oregon, the Hastreiter family across the street became an invaluable support system as we raised our two boys– providing assurance (and humor) in a ‘we’ve been there’ kind of way. Not long after we moved into our new house on Forestel, Ginny and Murlan began to fill that role– fixing fences when Chris was away, and helping us manage the craziness of an international move, in both a practical and emotional way. So I guess it wouldn’t be surprising that we have met great neighbors here in Laren, or would it? Language and cultural barriers abound, but our neighbors are fantastic. And as I am finishing up this somewhat-long post, I am thankful that Chris has already purchased a bottle of wine to take to their house tonight, because I am running out of time……

A few pictures to close with, because I really have to go.

IMG_0112 sunrise in our backyard….it is dark here in the winter, just like in Oregon!!

Maybe next time I’ll write more about my Dutch lessons, and my other role in our house, TRAVEL AGENT!! I was able to travel to London last weekend to see Julie, a good friend and colleague of mine while she was there studying.  IMG_0091DSC_0004 DSC_0020 DSC_0013 DSC_0001

IMG_0087

notice it says, ‘Cityhopper’– the flight from Schilpol to London was only 40 minutes!

There will be SO many opportunities to explore while we are so ‘close’ to everything……can’t wait!!

Tot ziens!!!

 

First impressions–(a journal entry of sorts…)

Since our house-hunting visit in March, I have been compiling a list (some of it on paper, but most of it in my head) of first impressions, or the things that stood out to me the most about living here… not necessarily good or bad, just different. Please excuse the fact that this is more of a journal entry, but I think it will be amusing to look back at this one day, (and I thought I should write at least part of the list before things don’t seem so ‘different’ anymore…..)

In and around the house: Mlitary time is used here. So your child might start practice (training) at 17:00. This calls for some quick math with the number 12. Dates are listed with the day first, and then the date. Confusing, but just takes a little getting used to, (and actually, I like that one). Keys are used on the outside and inside of the house to lock doors. As a friend from the states pointed out to me (because it happened to her—), it is possible to get locked INSIDE your house. What?!  They use the metric system–weight, temperature, length– . This made for an interesting trip to IKEA the first time, because we wanted a 7 foot couch. When we were having a lot of warm weather as school started, a parent said to me “Did you hear, it’s supposed to be 30 again tomorrow?!”. Oh, right, that’s in Celsius….Our dog sounds like he’s lost some weight, going from 75 (lbs) to 34 (kilos). Outlets and plugs are different, but Nike helped with a fund for that (thank you!). We have a new hair dryer, new coffee maker, new lamps, etc. Our printer from home works well with an adapter. We only had one ‘fail’ in this department when we tried to use an adapter/converter for Chris’ power drill. poof–no more charger (literally “poof”, because a tiny bit of smoke rose out of the unit. Whoops!)

“Everything in America is bigger”: While we are on the subject of appliances, we can discuss size and quantity.. Yes I can agree, things here seem a whole lot smaller. I can only put two to three bath towels in my washing machine at a time, or MAYBE a set of sheets together—? Not to mention, the wash cycle takes 2 hours and 33 minutes to run. Yes, you read that right. 2:33.  If I put two gallons of milk in my fridge (not that I could buy a gallon of milk, because it doesn’t come that big), I couldn’t fit anything else on the bottom shelf.  But, you realize after shopping here that it all makes sense– everything is sold in smaller quantities. You buy less. You shop more. And stores are closer. And food is fresher (yum!) Bread is sold in 1/2 loaves, and I buy four to six cookies at a time, in the bakery department. If you buy more, it spoils. Eggs are not refrigerated (although they are when they get to my house…. :-) Also, you bag your own groceries in a bag that you brought from home.They have some for sale if you forget..

What should we eat?: I am still figuring out the food/cooking thing, and I’m sure it will take me a little while.There are things you can get, and things you can’t. (like Vanilla Creamer :-) Diet Coke, or “Coke Light” as it is called, doesn’t taste the same here. I probably shouldn’t be drinking it anyway, but I found “Nestea Zero Sparkling” which is basically a Diet Snapple with bubbles. Pretty good! We miss our usual snacks in the US, although they import some, like Pringles in a few flavors. Our families’ biggest crack-up was finding “Cool American” Doritos, which are basically Cool Ranch flavor. (No Ranch dressing here, at all). I bought pork belly once thinking it was bacon, and you also heard my story about pudding instead of cream, so it will require a little patience. Even though we ended up ‘losing’ a few things, we also gained a few as well: our favorites? Poffertjes! DSC_0017  (We have a favorite poffertjes house in Laren that makes these wonderful little pancakes, served with butter and confectioners’ sugar). There are other Dutch snacks that we’ve discovered: yummy puff pastries called soesjes, and a kind of ‘assemble your own’ ice cream sandwich with a cookie layer : DSC_0015Speaking of ice cream (one of our favorite things….) The Dutch –in our opinion– have better, creamier ice cream than in the US. I spoke to an Italian the other day that disagreed. ‘You haven’t tried Gelato yet’, she pointed out…..we’ll see! Here is a typical Dutch ice cream shop offering:DSC_0024 Jack would want me to include a side note here. The first few times we had ice cream, it was served with what we started calling ‘mini shovels’. Plastic, brightly-colored shovels, only strong enough to scoop creamy substances. We realized you can’t scoop a (harder to find) Ben & Jerry’s ice cream with the same shovel–DSC_0117 it breaks!. ha!

Out and about: Driving and biking, or just being on the roads is an adventure in itself here, and I could write a whole post about this issue alone. Signs, traffic, the WAY people drive, bikes— EVERYWHERE! It’s a wonder I ever went out of the house at all in the first few weeks, but I am getting used to it. Things you wouldn’t think should be a big deal, are an issue: like the road surface. A lot of the roads here are made of brick or cobblestone. In my mind, brick = walkway, (not something you drive on). Couple that with the ‘road’ being the width of a walkway, and you get VERY hesitant about whether you should drive on it. DSC_0019You get the idea. Very pretty. Very anxiety-provoking. I like riding my bike…. :-)

Signs help a bit once you learn them. My favorite is the blue arrow, which tells you what side of the road you should be on. IMG_0797Self-explanatory, you say? Not so much, particularly when there are tram tracks, bike paths, and VERY few barriers (a guard rail would be nice) with limited marking. My expat friends say, “blue arrows are our friends…” Also pictured in this photo are ‘shark’s teeth’ (the white triangles painted on the road). If the points are towards you, you have to yield. OK! Highway (or “motorway”) driving is quick, close-together, and very simple: get over to the right unless you are passing. People drive very close together, regardless of speed. There is no space cushion (except in front of me…..don’t worry Dad!!!)

People: Stereotypes? Generalizations? I will mention the ones that have been affirmed by other Dutch I have met: Dutch people are tall. On average I feel that people here are a good 4-5 inches taller than in other countries. I know I am small, but I feel extra short here … the mirror in our downstairs bathroom is mounted so high I can’t use it. Dutch people are very ‘direct’. They share what they think openly, and they expect you to do the same. (People sometimes interpret this as rude, but I think it can be refreshing).  Being direct is ‘practical’, and they are practical people. If it makes sense (to them), than it is ‘possible’. Our orientation people told us: “The Dutch have to be practical. We needed to create a mechanism to keep back all of the water in this country or we wouldn’t survive” True. The Dutch are also quite liberal (everyone knows about the other kind of coffee shop) and believe in acceptance. The Dutch like their dogs (yeah!), and dogs are allowed in many places. Hmm. I’m sure there is more to include later for this category….

They love their bikes. I really need to take more pictures, because I love watching people on bikes here in the Netherlands. Everybody bikes: older people, people in full suits going to work, people carrying things. It’s fantastic really.DSC_0007The children learn to ride very young–that’s on the road too, without helmets–, and/or they are carried in seats mounted on the parents’ bike. To them, it is what makes sense. The country is flat, and the weather is temperate. Bikes are practical. Bikes are everywhere.

I need to stop (even though there is more), because I realized what time it is. I will add one little piece of information. My great neighbor Liesbeth does not own a bike. She is native Dutch, but she doesn’t own a bike. She is aware that this is different…but she has her reasons….(something to do with her days at university where she was required to bike 20K back and forth every day). I like to mention her story, because there is something to be learned here: no matter what we notice, or what we think is ‘stereotypical’/common, there is almost ALWAYS an example that can contradict our impressions….. Aah, the beauty of individuality!

Dag!

(I need to start Dutch lessons soon, so hopefully I’ll have more to say!)