Exploring the Netherlands: Amsterdam

Two weekends ago I headed to Amsterdam on a little solo adventure. I had been to this fabulous city before (as well as many hours logged at the Airport) but this was the first time since living here that I boarded a train alone for a mini-vacation.

As an Expat and writer who spends most of my time at home alone, I was really longing to make some new friends. One day I stumbled upon this blog written by another American living in the Netherlands.  Along with her friend, she started an Expat Bloggers Brunch- a group that meets once a month to exchange ideas and generally muss about Expat life in the Netherlands. I got bold and emailed her and invited myself to the gathering.

I am SO glad that I went! It was an amazing experience to meet other Expats who were writers, living in Holland (usually with Dutch boyfriends or husbands) and realize I am not alone.  It was such an inspiring experience, and I truly look forward to cultivating friendships with these fabulous ladies. If you are interested, listed below are their blogs:

Lily Wanderlust, A Georgia Peach, Poppies and Ice Cream, Dutch Tales, HollanDaze, Christa Cordova, Pick the Wild Card, and Awesome Amsterdam.

Canal in Amsterdam, May 2013.

Canal in Amsterdam, May 2013.

Expat Bloggers Brunch in Amsterdam

Expat Bloggers Brunch in Amsterdam

Cheese Shop in Amsterdam.

Cheese Shop in Amsterdam.

Flowers in Amsterdam.

Flowers in Amsterdam.

Exploring the Netherlands: Keukenhof

Last week we ventured off on a little road trip to the Keukenhof. This majestic garden features the most glorious flowers ever. Seriously. In every color of the rainbow, the garden showcased flowers ranging from tulips to lilies to narcissus and even somehow managed to make carnations seem alluring. 

I live in the Northern part of Holland so it was about a 2 and a half hour drive to Lisse all along the way we past fields and fields of colorful tulips in rows as far as the eye can see. I had seen these images featured on postcards but to see it in person was truly something.

We stayed the night on the North Sea (about 15 miles from Lisse) at a beautiful old Hotel- Hotel van Oranje. It was truly a charming little getaway!

(**Please Note that the below photos have not been retouched or enhanced at all, these are actually the colors! Amazing, I know!)

If only my home garden was this fabulous!

If only my home garden was this fabulous!

My favorite colour of tulips.

My favorite colour of tulips.

Me, in a field of tulips.

Me, in a field of tulips.

More glorious flowers...

More glorious flowers...

Queen's Day and an Afternoon in Germany

A few days ago was Queen’s Day and the crowning of the new King. At first I was really excited to be here for the festivities as not everyday you live in a Country where there’s a changing of the guard and a new King (and Queen) is crowned. Especially as an American.  But, we live quite far from Amsterdam where the main festivities were taking place and the idea of hanging out with a million people all day to catch a glimpse of something that you could easily see on TV in the end, didn’t sound very enticing to me. So, instead, we decided to eschew the goings on and head to Germany for the day.

Now you may be thinking why would I give up a once in a lifetime opportunity to party with the masses and celebrate the Royal event? I’m not really sure except that I live really close to the German border and having never been in Germany before I took this opportunity to add another country visited to my list. Plus, I had always wanted     “ to have a beer in Germany” on my bucket list and this gave me a chance to cross it off.

We spent the day in Leer on the River Ems- a really quaint little town about 30 minutes from our house. While walking in the main shopping district I stumbled upon an Asian market. There this American girl in Germany for the Dutch Queen’s Day managed to secure her favorite Miami childhood snack of plantain chips made in Ecuador. How positively International.

And, I got to have my beer in Germany ironically at an American themed restaurant called Hollywood’s.

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New Friend and the Food of Dutch Language

I have my very own friend in the Village- one that I met myself. I actually had met her a few years ago in Alaska of all places and turned out she lives about 2 blocks from my boyfriend. Though my life is ripe with these sorts of magical occurrences- still, what are the chances? And to make things even sweeter- she’s also crafty. I hit the craft lottery so to speak when I found out that in addition to owning several sewing machines, she also has an overlock serger machine, a walking-foot sewing machine and a knitting machine- all of which I can borrow. I’m in a bit of crafty heaven right about now. And like me, she also loves to cook.

The other day she picked me up and we drove to Groningen (the Big city here). It’s a beautiful old town with a University and great shopping. It was positively freezing though and that made strolling through the Friday Market near Arctic. She took me to a stall that sold nothing but spices. Absolutely glorious spices of every color, type and dimension. As a girl who loves to cook, I was just about blown away!

Early on, I decided to focus my Dutch language learning for the time being on food. I read Dutch cookbooks and all the Grocery Store advertisements to learn words. Funny, that I learned to say “Bieslook” (Chives) before I learned to say “Hoe gaat het?” (How are you?) But it makes sense for now as I can not yet go to school until I start the Immigration process and get a residency number. I figure I will master the language of food, then move on to fashion in this self-study. Perhaps this mode of learning will amuse my teachers once I finally can enroll in Dutch school. At least, for now my homework is delicious.

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The Emotional Roller Coaster of Expat Life

Truth be told, every since I was a little girl, I’ve wanted to be an Expat. I always dreamed of moving to Paris, throwing up my hat Mary Tyler Moore style and being whisked off my feet by some adorable French man.

The Netherlands quite simply was never even on my radar but yet, here I am. I read countless books on moving abroad and settling in European style for a glorious adventure-filled life. But nowhere in my reading was I prepared for the deep emotional roller coaster ride that Expat life brings on. I’ve been here roughly 3 weeks and my breakdowns have been plentiful. I find myself watching some stupid American Sitcom like the Big Bang Theory- something I would have never watched back home- and suddenly I’m in tears longing for a Starbucks.

While my boyfriend can walk a few blocks to visit with family, I have to set an appointment- a predetermined Skype visit for some family time. While his daughters can just pop over for dinner, I’m reduced to having a glass of wine with my brother over the Internet while he sips his morning Latte. I know it will get easier and yes, I know I chose this life but for now it can be hard.

Although I was grateful for the time I spent with my family in Seattle I took our proximity deeply for granted. I wish I could just head to my Dad’s house for a drink and hear in person his glorious old stories. Or meet my brother for Happy Hour or a day of wandering Downtown. I have to keep reminding myself that it will get easier and that if I had never taken this leap then I would have probably always regretted it. I may not be in Seattle or in Paris for that matter, but I’m someplace even better. Despite all the ups and downs, I’m finally with my man and I’m home.

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Not Quite Dutch

One of my favorite Expat books is called “Almost French”. It’s the story of an Australian girl who meets and marries a French man and moves to Paris. She writes about the culture differences and oh, there are a-plenty! My favorite is when she goes to a cocktail party and all the guests are standing around amongst these closed bottles of champagne, yet no one is opening them or pouring. Finally she can not take it anymore and opens one of the bottles and starts filling glasses. Quelle Horreur! Ah, things are just not done like that in Paris.

I keep having these same sorts of moments- nothing major or a deal breaker sort of occurrence but minor things. Like a stupid for instance- my boyfriend and I talked about getting his Mom flowers. So we were in a supermarket the other day and I pointed out these beautiful tulips. They were small bouquets but in my mind, we could buy two of them, I could take them apart, make a nice bouquet, tie them with ribbon, etc. (after all as part of my ship life, I taught flower arranging!) But he said No, that those types of bouquets are only if you buy them for yourself and NOT to give as a present. Come again? In America, flowers are flowers. But the Dutch have this way of putting bouquets together and apparently that is the only form of flowers that are acceptable to bring to someone. Really?

I know our rules are way more relaxed in America, but a gift is a gift, no? I mean if someone came to my house with a box of Saltines and a can of Cheez Whiz and offered it up as a present, I’d be pleased as pie. I can only assume though that if I did the same here, that just would not be acceptable!

**Update and Revision**

Language barriers and Cultural misunderstandings abound. Later, I was speaking about this topic with my boyfriend and I realized that to my fault that I had never really pleaded my case or made my intentions known about what I was planning to do with the 2 bouquets and creating my own arrangement. Turns out this would have made a great gift and have been completely acceptable. But that is such as it is with Expat Life- you just never fully know where you stand or if you are perceiving something correctly or are just blinded by your own experiences. Some things get lost in translations and others get buried in Cultural misunderstandings. I guess I also have to better learn to communicate. Well, no one said this journey of mine would be easy.

Going Dutch

Today is the 6th day of my new life. On March 1st of this year, I boarded a plane in Seattle after packing or purging all my worldly possessions and moved to the Netherlands. I had been thinking about doing this ever since I met my Dutch boyfriend but the thinking and the doing are 2 very different species. My reality is that I am now a girl in a new Country and can truly make this adventure into anything I want. Now, only if I felt so brave.

I was working on board a cruise ship for Holland America. I had the fun-filled position of Party Planner in which I got to travel around the world teaching cooking, hosting events and crafting at sea. It was incredibly fabulous for awhile until the rigors of sea life started to catch up with me and then I met my boyfriend in Antarctica.

It was just another cruise for me but interestingly enough, a few days before he boarded as a passenger I asked the Universe for a new relationship. My only requests were that it be passionate, incredibly honest and authentic and that we would have great sex. Little did I know then that my wishes would be granted tri-fold and that two years later, I would be sitting at his kitchen table in the tiny village he was born in, writing my first blog post.

My background is incredibly varied. I have been (in no particular order) a showgirl, a clothing designer, an aspiring TV host, worked for a famous boxing trainer, a cook, a seamstress, manager of an art gallery amongst a slew of other career stops. Though through it all I have always wrote and writing has been one of my primary passions for as long as I can remember. I would love to chronicle my new life here, this crazy huge journey that I have just undertook. I live in the Northern part of the Netherlands, I do not yet speak Dutch, I can barely ride a bicycle and the idea of driving stick-shift scares the beejezus outta me- let alone trying to navigate the world on ice skates. But here I am, Going Dutch.