Moving to Holland is not easy, but it's worth the effort. This blog tells the story of shifting from American life in Pittsburgh to Expat life in the Netherlands,
and all of our European adventures that follow.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Christmas in Norway - December 23-28, 2008

Spending Christmas in Norway with Christy, Vegar and his family

We felt very fortunate this Christmas. Not only did we get to see Christy and Vegar, but we had the extraordinary opportunity to travel to Norway to visit Vegar's family and share the holidays with them. Naturally, we did miss the rest of our families. Though, fortunately, we were able to Skype with both. This was the first year that I was not in Morgantown at all for Christmas, and I think the same goes for Chad with Wheeling. But, if we couldn't be home with our families, this was the next best thing. Meeting our new extended family, and seeing the beautiful country of Norway.

I can't say enough about Vegar's family. His mom and two sisters, Siri and Marte, were very gracious hosts. They have a lovely, comfortable home that was decorated beautifully for Christmas. They went out of their way to make us feel welcome and at home, and we really did. There was never-ending, delicious food; Christmas cookies, rice porridge, beautiful spreads of cheese, meat and fish (very Norwegian) for breakfast, and even reindeer meat for Christmas dinner. It was delicious! I'm not sure I'll describe it correctly, but I believe the meat had been dried and salted, and then to cook it they slowly steamed the meat to get the salt out. It was really tender and had a wonderful flavor.

Vegar drove us (his dad, Christy, Chad & I) up the coast to a beach that had old Viking graves. Shiva, their beautiful dog, came along as well.

She had a cute habit of resting her head on the back of the seat right behind you. Her eyes would just move around following the people who were talking. The graves were interesting. They were essentially piles of rocks on the beach (which was a rocky beach). There were a couple very large piles, but most were smaller, in a row. I am really fascinated by the history of the Vikings, so it was neat to see these graves and to imagine what lies underneath.

The next day, we went down to the port of Larvik and met up with some of Vegar's HS friends. There is a park area where you can walk out on huge rocks, or boulders, that run out into the water. It is a beautiful view from on top of these rocks. Since we were so far north, and it was the middle of winter, the sun was only up for about 4-4.5 hours a day. This meant that it did not rise very high in the sky, but rather slowly crept from one side of the horizon to the other. The light always made it feel like it was dawn or dusk, when really it was 3 PM. But, the sunlight from this angle made a beautiful reflection on the sea and the rocks.

For lunch on Christmas eve, it is tradition in Vegar's family (and maybe others, I'm not sure) to eat rice porridge. In the porridge is one white almond, and whomever finds the almond in their bowl wins a prize. Christy found it this year, and she got a marzipan pig! We sliced it up for everyone to share. Really tasty. Vegar swears that one time when he was younger, he had the almond in his bowl, but he accidentally swallowed it before realizing what it was. Nobody would believe him, and they wouldn't give him the prize. Though I don't think anybody else found the almond, so maybe he was telling the truth. ;)

Another Norwegian custom is to exchange gifts on the evening of Christmas eve. This was a really wonderful experience. We all sat in the living room--Christy, Vegar, his parents & two sisters, and Chad and I--and Sori handed out gifts one by one. We took time to watch each person open their gift. It was nice to make the process slow and thoughtful, instead of a mad rush to rip open everything as fast as possible. Dinner that night was, as always, extremely delicious. That night Chad and I were laying in bed and talking about how thankful we felt to be there. It is really humbling and heart warming to have another family welcome you with such open arms. We were also happy to be learning about the Norwegian culture, and where Vegar came from.

We then went to Oslo for two days. Chad and I stayed in a Hostel, and Christy and Vegar stayed in a friend's apartment. The first night the four of us walked around the city for a bit, and went to a huge sculpture park. An artist had made dozens of large marble and bronze statues of people in their most primal emotions. All of the statues were unclothes, and had a different facial expression or body position. It was incredibly moving.

We went to the Viking Museum just outside of Oslo. They had two full size Viking ships that had been excavated and preserved. How cool! It was interesting to see the details of the woodwork, and to read about how the vikings built these ships and what they were used for. You could even walk up some stairs and look down inside the ship. At night, Vegar took us to an area of town with a little plaza that had several restaurants and bars. We went to a pub that had some really nice local micro-brew beers. Chad was in heaven, as we can't these in NL. On the way home that night, Vegar took us to a place in the city where the small river, or creek, had a big waterfall. There were lights shining on it, which gave it a neat atmosphere. It was so cold (probably 20 degrees F) that all of the water that splashed out of the waterfall was freezing on the tinly little tree branches and bushes along the side.

The next night we took the ferry across the inlet to Vegar's Aunt's house. We met more of his family, and they were just as nice and welcoming. We had a delicious dinner with the reindeer meet (yum!). For desert, they had the usual spread of sweets on the table. One cool thing was a cookie tree made of cookies shaped into round circles. The circles were large on the bottom and got smaller and smaller, stacked on top of each other.

We really loved our time in Norway. It is a beautiful country, and it was nice to have a local "tour guide" to show us some of the neatest areas. But, our time spent with Vegar's family was really the most memorable part. It will be nice to see them all again in August for the wedding! Hopefully we can go to Norway again, when it is Warm, and go further north to see the mountains and fjords. Will have to add that one to the list.


More pictures from Norway:

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Glasgow, Scotland - November 25-30, 2008

Thanksgiving in Glasgow with the Pittsburgh Expat crew

As most of you know, the same time we moved to The Netherlands, our good friends Kyle and Karen moved to Glasgow, Scotland. They had an added adventure with their move, which was that they had a baby in August, after they arrived. A beautiful, healthy girl, named Brennan. Ever since she was born, we had been eager to make a trip up to Glasgow to meet her for the first time. We finally got our chance in November, for Thanksgiving! To make things even better, Joel & Jill were also able to make the trip up from Cambridge, where they now live. So it was really a Pittsburgher-Expat reunion. For starters… Oh Man!... Brennan really is such a cutie! Even at only a couple months old, she had such a little personality (no idea where she gets it!). She was also making a lot of faces already, and smiling quite a bit. We even got to hear some of her first giggles. How cool!

OK, I could spend this whole post writing about Brennan, but, we did really enjoy seeing Scotland, too. It's such a beautiful country. Very different than Holland because everything is green, with rolling hills and even mountains in the distance. It reminded me a lot of WV, actually. Our first day there, Karen took us around to see the University buildings, and some other interesting areas of town. There were some really nice buildings in Glasgow. The architecture is very old, and sort of midievil/gothic. Karen did a good job navigating the stroller (or pram, as they call it in the UK) up and down the hills & cobblestone streets.

We also went to a really neat museum in Glasgow, and had dinner across the street at a fabulous Scottish restaurant, where Chad and I tried haggus for the first time. It wasn't as bad as everyone says it is. We tried it a couple times during our trip, and some are better than others, depending on how they serve it, and the sauce that it comes with. Another day we walked around the main shopping area, and got to see a different side of the city, including a festival they had set up for Christmas time. It was a cool atmosphere with all of the holiday lights and decorations. It was also freeezing out, so we couldn't spend too much time outside. We did see a really cool Scottish Highlands band performing on the street, though. They had kilts, bag pipes, drums, the works. We liked them so much we bought their CD.

The last day we were there, we took the train to Edinburgh (pronounced Ed'nbura). This city is sometimes described as the "pretty sister" to Glasgow. It really is a beautiful city, and I would like to spend more time exploring it (but maybe in the summer!). At the top of the main hill is the Edinburgh Castle, which is impossible to miss. We lucked out and happened to be in town on a holiday, so entrance to the castle was free. Once you are inside the outer walls, you realize that it's not so much one castle, but rather a whole tiny village. There were several different buildings you could go in, and a display of the crown jewels, but the best part was the view of city. You could look out on the city from all sides of the castle, and it was beautiful, especially at sunset.

The Crew at Edinburgh Castle (can you tell it was cold!)

Of course I said we went there for Thanksgiving, and no Thanksgiving would be complete without a big feast. Kyle and Karen had prepared an awesome menu for Thanksgiving, that Thursday. We all chipped in to help with the preparation and cooking. It was fun to have everyone together, and the food was excellent. We even managed to make some pumpkin pies with the pumpkin filling we found at the American food store. Yum! The best part was really just being able to hang out with our old friends from back home. There never is enough time when you are visiting good friends. I feel like our trip was so short, even though we were there for 4-5 days. It was great to be able to see Brennan when she was so small. When we see her next time I'm sure she'll be crawling or walking around. At least we can keep in touch via Skype. Thank goodness for technology!


Pics from our fabulous trip to Scotland:

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Viva Ikea!

Nothing gets a European's blood pumping like saying the word Ikea (pronounced e-Kay-a in Holland).

Seriously, they are not shy about their love affair with the cheap semi-disposable Swedish furniture. If you go on a Sunday, expect there to be a long line of cars on the highway next to the Ikea exit. I don't know if it's because it is one of the only stores open on a Sunday, or because they sell 75 cent ice cream cones, or because it is just a great place for a family outing, but they flock here by the thousands. And if the weather is bad, forget about it. You can wait for up to an hour to get into the parking lot (unless you are smart and take the tram).

No matter how you look at it, this store has revolutionized home design in Europe. Almost every 'modern' apartment and home now has the sleek, designer lines of a space ship.  Personally, it is not my taste. Give me an antique oak cabinet over a white square box any day. However, I am forever grateful to this mamouth size store for furnishing our Dutch apartment for 3 years for less than 1000 euro. So, I guess they have a little something to meet everyone's needs.

When I am able to assemble almost all of the furniture myself, that tells you something. ;)

And, I don't think it looked half bad in the end (although the couch leaves a bit to be desired when it comes to comfy movie watching).

I'm waiting for the monster-truck rally-style show down of Ikea versus Wal-Mart. My money is on Ikea, because Wal-Mart will be so distracted trying to pronounce the names of the furniture in Ikea that it won't even see the fork lift until it's too late. Those sneaky Sweeds. ;)


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Kanick Parents Visit Holland

October 17-27, 2008

Steve and Sharon made the long trip overseas to visit us!  We had fun showing them around, and having family visit us overseas really made it feel like more of a home to us.  We walked all over Rotterdam, showing them Het Park, and the bridges and canals. 

We went into the Cube Houses, and to our favorite restaurant, Bazar.  One of the things that I think was the most shocking to them was how we were able to walk up (and carry groceries up) those steep stairs every day! (second to that, maybe the 'coffee shops' on every corner) ;)

They really enjoyed one of our favorite little towns, Delft.  It's character is so well preserved, it feels like you're stepping back 300 years.  They liked the large "New Church" in the town square, which had tons of shops where you can find tons of the blue and white pottery and souvenirs.

We spent a day exploring Amsterdam.  We took Steve and Sharon to our favorite Dutch pancake house, where we sat outside along the canal.  They like the Dutch coffee!
We toured the old church, which had an interesting photography exhibit.  We took the touristy, but actually really informative, boat tour, to see all of the various parts of the city.  And, last but not least, no trip to Amsterdam would be complete without a trip to Wynand Fockink to sample the liquors.

One day while I was at work, Chad took his parents to Antwerp, in Belgium.  There are tons of cute pictures of them, but I just love this one. ;)

Then we were off to France. We spent a couple nights in Paris, then rented a car (which is quite an experience) and drove up to Normandy.  Paris was amazing, as always. We walked for miles and miles, to see the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Arc, and the Eiffel Tour.

We also explored The Cimetière de Passy for the first time, which is a beautiful cemetery up on the hill that has views of the Eiffel Tour in the background.  There they go again... I love it.

We rented a car and drove up to see Normandy.  Steve's uncle is buried in the American Cemetery there, having died during the early days of the D-Day invasions.  We stayed in a lovely little town called Bayeux, at a beautiful bed and breakfast.  We went to a museum, to brush up on our history, then drove to Omaha Beach.  It was stunning to see the steep cliffs that flank the shoreline, and to imagine the task of all of those men trying to get up the hill to overtake the foxholes.  Really sobering.

The American Cemetery was one of the most beautiful cemeteries I have every seen. It is so pristine, and so peacefully quiet, overlooking the ocean. It was strange to see a white cross with the name Kanick on it.  We were all silent, and crying.  It was a really meaningful and memorable.  Chad's Great Uncle Walter has a beautiful view of the ocean.

We are so happy that the Kanick parents got the chance to make the big trip overseas.  It was probably a once-in-a-lifetime trip for them, and it meant a lot to us to have family visit us so far away.

Pictures from their visit:
Omaha Beach:

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Football Game - Netherlands vs. Iceland

October 11, 2008

One of the advantages of working with a lot of Expats, is that everyone is always eager to organize a party or activity. Most people are away from home, and they don’t have families or friends nearby, so it is fun to hang out with each other. This is how we landed tickets to the Netherlands vs. Iceland football game (a.k.a. soccer for us Americans). About 15-20 people from Maersk (Simo, Marianna, Saif, Rusa, Perry, etc) got tickets to the game. We met up at Cabrinus (the "office" pub) for a couple drinks before the game, then hopped on the tram to go to Feynord Stadium, home to Rotterdam's local football team. We wore our orange shirts and orange Holland scarves that someone had given us at a pub during the Euro Cup that summer. It was very funny riding the tram to the game because everyone had crazy orange hats on, their faces were painted, and people would spontaneously burst into a chant or team song.

We had a really good time at the game. It was nice to be in that sort of atmosphere again, since we weren't able to go to any American Football games this year. :( But, I liked seeing everyone get excited for their team, and cheer when they scored. People took their game programs and tore them up into tiny pieces, and when their team scored, they would throw the paper in the air like confetti. They also had some chants/songs that the whole stadium would start singing. The Netherlands won the game 2-0. It was good to go to a game with other people who knew where they were going. Now, if we go again, we'll at least have a slight idea about what is going on. Hopefully we get to see another game while we are here.


Some pics & a video from other football fun in Rotterdam watching the Euro Cup:

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Ray's visit

By the time Raymond came out to visit, we had discovered a few more cool places to go in Rotterdam than we had known about when Feet and Jarod were here. Raymond was going to Italy to work on the startup for a new Shell plant, so he flew in to see us for a couple days before heading down there. We spent the days strolling around Rotteram, Delft, & Amsterdam, getting a personal tour of the Pelgrim brewery in Delfshaven, and biking around the city & Kralingen lake.

Of course, Ray is an amazing photographer. One of the benefits of having a friend like this is that he took some great shots while he was here, such as this one that he snapped of Chad and I in Amsterdam.


PS: for more pics from Ray's trip, check out the Flickr folder:

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Ahh... weekends in Europe

Thought I would take a minute to describe what a weekend might be like when you live in Europe (that is when you are not traveling to another country or city). To start things off, on Friday evening my department at Maersk had a "team building event." Normally in the States, this can be a bland and possibly "safe" but slightly boring event, but in Europe, it is quite the opposite. We started by going to a go-cart race track in Rotterdam. It was an indoor track that spanned 3 floors. The cars went quite fast, and it actually hurt when you hit a wall, or cut a corner too short, or if another car hit you. I found, just 12 hrs later, that I am covered in deep blue and purple bruises all over my body. But, I'm considering them battle scars, and I had good lap times, so it's all worth it. ;)

After the go-carts, the entire department (and their sig. others) went to "Steen's" house for dinner. Steen is our supervisor, from Denmark, who is normally a very mild mannered, soft spoken guy. But, get a couple beers in him (the Danish LOVE to drink), and he is absolutely hilarious, and an entertaining guy to talk to about any subject. Also, keep in mind that our group is extremely diverse, and we have people from not only Holland, but Poland, Denmark, Germany, Georgia (the country, not the state, of course), China, India, Finland, Canada, and of course us from the US. Everyone has such a different perspective, and different opinions of other countries, so it makes for some really funny & interesting conversations. So, while we weren't sure what to expect, we had a great time that evening.

Contrary to what I thought before, Europeans do have a very strong opinion about "other" countries. They have the same stereotypes of countries here as we in America may have of people from certain states in the US. It's funny to listen to them go on about this type of thing, though, because I guess I naively thought that they would be very "diplomatic" or understanding of other people or cultures. But, the truth is that people are the same no matter where you go. They are critical of people and places that are different than where they come from and what they are used to, and they want to let you know that they feel that their traditions are really the best, or make the most sense.
Relaxing on the terrace at the Witte Aap

But... I digress with all of this international dialog. Back to our great weekend. Today, we slept in (yes!), woke up and cooked ourselves an "American" breakfast of French Toast, with a European flare (Nutella and banana's for toppings... Yum!). A little while later we went to the gym, for a quick workout, since we are now trying to burn enough calories to compensate for our intake of calories in the form of Belgium beer and chocolate. After a couple more hours of relaxing, we decide to bike over to Delfshaven to enjoy the beautiful sunny day while it lasted. It's the quaint little historic area beside Rotterdam that I've described before, complete with canals and a wind mil. We went to our favorite Rotterdam Brewery (yes, that's right, a Rotterdam micro brew), Pelgrim, and sat outside at a table on the sidewalk and drank some coffee and beer, read our books, and soaked up the sun. This may be some of the last sunny days we have before our rainy fall/winter kicks in, so we are trying to savor it as much as possible.

There are so many things that are easy to take for granted here in Europe. Such as being able to ride your bike to so many interesting places, and being able to sit outside at a cafe or restaurant. We try to remember to appreciate these things, but it so easily becomes part of your everyday routine. This is nice for us, as it is a pleasant way of life, but it also makes us wonder... what will we do when we move back to the States?


Monday, August 25, 2008

Cambridge & London, UK

August 13-19, 2008

My first trip to the UK was to visit Joel and Jill in Cambridge. Cambridge is a quaint little town full of winding roads and beautiful old buildings & colleges. We really enjoyed walking around the campuses and seeing all of the buildings. I felt like I was in the middle of a Harry Potter story (well, I did find platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross station in London!).

We went "punting," which is when you get in a little boat in the river and the punter has a long stick pole which they use to push and steer the boat. Joel and Chad took turns punting while Jill and I "helped" with the tiny oars. It was nice, relaxing, and a great way to see some of the back lawn areas of the colleges. Beautiful! Later on we went to a nice park near town, Chad and Joel bought an American football to toss around. They were like two boys with a new toy. ;)

Chad and I took the train into London a couple times to romp around the city, since it's only about an hour and a half away. It was my first time there, Chad's second. He loved London the first time he visited, so I enjoyed having him show me around (as I am usually the leader/organizer when we visit a new city). We saw Big Ben and Parliament, London Tower and Tower Bridge, & Buckingham Palace. The parks and gardens were all very well maintained. We also found a great market in Covent Gardens. They had unique art and jewelry vendors, and we even found a booth in the market that sold oysters and champagne! Mmmmm!

One day, Joel and Jill joined us in London, and we all met up with my friend Dennis, an old FedEx'er from Pittsburgh. We went to see Avenue Q, Chad's favorite play, basically an R-rated puppet show. Haha. It was hilarious. We walked around SoHo, and found a fabulous Indian restaurant for dinner. The food was delicious. It was a fun night, and nice to meet up with an old friend from home. We can't wait to come back to London, and hopefully Cambridge again!


Pics from Cambridge & London:

Monday, August 4, 2008

Bombs over Rotterdam

There are interesting reminders every now and then about the history of our fair city. Some are subtle, and some, not so much... like the bomb sirens that just went off all over the city. Huh? You heard me right, folks. It starts with just one soft siren in the distance, and grows increasingly intense and loud as others join in across the city. Don't worry, the War on Terror has not extended into The Netherlands, yet. Some group of cloggies somewhere decided that it was important to keep the old bomb warnings in tact, and in order to do so it requires that they test the system every month or so. It was a bit strange, and eerie, but at least "this is only a test."

On the more subtle side of the reminders of the past are the quaint, more typically Dutch, towns that line the city center of Rotterdam. Chad and I took a nice bike ride after work today to nearby Delfshaven. It's a small town consisting of only two to three old streets that are split by canals and topped off with a windmill at end of the inlet. The wall-to-wall buildings are marked with old metal signs swinging from hangers over the doors naming the tavern, taylor, or art gallary inside. It's a stark contrast to the modern, industrial city that can literally be seen over the tops of these old buildings. These modern city buildings owe their existence to the bombings in the 40's that leveled the city center, sparing only a few bordering villages to preserve the legacy of the area. This statue on the right represents Rotterdam after the WWII bombings leveled the entire city center. It's called "The City Without a Heart." While change can sometimes bring progress, as it has to the industry in Rotterdam, it's nice to have areas like Delfshaven that preserve a piece of the past.


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Gotta Talk that Dutch

People from home often ask: "How is the language barrier". The stock answer about Holland is: "You will rarely ever NEED to speak Dutch, and most everyone speaks English well". This is true.. but there are subtleties to living around the language that are starting to wear on me. For instance, it is impossible to be polite when asking for something; asking "when you get a chance, could you bring the bill" will be met with a blank look until you say: "I would like to pay, please". More importantly, when you hear people around you talking and they end up laughing, you get that sense that you aren't 'in' on the joke (somewhat of a High School feeling).

They laugh alot, so this has me thinking that I need to put the time and effort into learning some Dutch.


For your viewing enjoyment, I threw in this picture of people repelling off of the Euromast.

Another visitor; McCormick

Our next visitor, ironically, was Feet's old partner in crime, McCormick. Jarod happened to be in Bruges, Belgium, for a conference. So afterwards he hopped on a train up to see us. He was here over the 4th of July weekend. It was nice to be with another fellow countryman on the 4th. ;)

We celebrated in style, by going to the beach at the Hague and sitting outside in a café on the beach, lounging and drinking and eating all afternoon. Jarod decided that he wanted to move to the Hague, so he could live this lifestyle all the time (in the short summer months of course). We also stumbled upon a wonderful tapas restaurant in the city for dinner that night. Once again, it was really nice to have a friend visit to share our new home with.


Pics from Jarod's visit:

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Cyber Frustrations

One of the most frustrating parts of settling in here in Holland was trying to establish an internet connection. It seems like it should be straight forward. You go to the store, and leave with an internet subscription and modem. Not so.

Of course we wanted to get the cheapest option possible that would handle our needs, so we shopped around a bit. There are a few discount internet providers available, and the adds sounds great, so we first looked there. However, they do not provide the high speeds that we needed, especially to use Slingbox or Skype.

Then we looked for a higher speed providers, which took us to UPC or KPN. After taking a trip to each store downtown, we were told that setup took 4 weeks. FOUR WEEKS! That is such an incredibly long time, considering it should only involve them “flipping a switch,” so to speak. Could they not just hand us the modem in the store? I guess our expectations were too high. We were desparate for another option, so we kept looking.

We found that Orange also offered high speeds, but at a cheaper price. So we went to ask them, and they also told us it would take “4-6” weeks, but they expected it would be less than four (which was no consolation to us). After much deliberation, and still in disbelief of the long wait time, we decided to go to the Orange store and buy their setup. They put our information into the computer and “set us up.” We were now to wait a few weeks and then we would receive a modem.

Two weeks later, we received a letter, but not the one we were hoping for. The letter stated that they could not provide internet to our apartment, because we were within a certain postal code in the city limits, and they had already used the allotted number of lines that KPN (the phone company) provides to them. What!? Plus, why did it take them two weeks to come back to us with this information? Couldn't they look this up and tell us in the store? It is too complicated to get into the full explanation of this setup in here, so I’ll leave it at that. But long story short, we couldn’t use them.

I'm fairly certain that the internet setup in Rotterdam looked something like this:

So, we were back to where we started. Basically, our only option then was to go to UPC. It was much more expensive, but we bit the bullet and went ahead. We set up the account, and set in for the long wait. After a few weeks, we had heard nothing, so we went to check up. At this point, they told us they couldn’t create a new account for us because there was already an active account for our 'building.' Our building is split into three apartments, but they only had it as one address in their system. This didn't help us because the setup was not in our apartment.

Well, I didn't do a very good job of keeping this long story short, but in conclusion, we were able to go into the store with our upstairs neighbor, and purchase the expensive plan (saying we lived 'together'). Then we waited our allotted weeks, and presto... the magic world of the internet was at our fingertips (so long as the service didn't go out, as it often did)!

- C

Monday, June 30, 2008

Our first visitor; Feet!

Our first visitor came only a month after we moved into our new apartment. Feet (Forest), was on his way back home after living in the Middle East for a year, where he worked on establishing and improving a paramedic program.

Feet was very excited about the “cool” summer climates in Holland, after spending so much time in the hot dessert. He was also excited to eat pork again. We showed him around Rotterdam as best we could, with having only limited knowledge of the city ourselves. It was fun to explore the city with a friend from home.

Pics from Feet's visit:

Friday, June 20, 2008

Our First Anniversary; Paris, France

June 6-11, 2008

What can I say about Paris? People have written books trying to capture the character and atmosphere of the city. So I will not attempt to do so in a couple paragraphs, but I will recap what we did. It really is a charming city, a photographers' paradise, and such a romantic place to celebrate our first anniversary. We couldn't believe it had been a whole year, because all of the fun we had at the wedding was still so fresh in our memories. Who knew then that within the next year we would be packing up and moving to Europe, and we'd end up spending our anniversary in Paris.

Despite popular belief, most people in France are incredibly friendly if you give at least a bit of effort to speak French, and don't act like an obnoxious tourist. First of all, thanks to my 5 years of traveling with FedEx and staying in Hilton chain hotels, I had saved up enough points to book the Hilton Arc de Triomphe for 5 nights! Score! We probably could have never afforded to stay in this hotel otherwise. It was only two (long) blocks from the Arc, and they even put little chocolates on your pillow. Yet another thing that made our experience there so cool.

For 5 days we just wondered around the city from one amazing site to the next. We strolled down the Champs-Élysées from the Arc de Triomphe to the Louvre. The size of the Arc is very impressive, especially when you are standing directly under it. It is also neat to see the Eiffel Tower in the distance peaking up over the buildings. Outside the Louvre, there are beautifully landscaped gardens full of Romanesque statues and large water fountains. We found a café and had some wine while we soaked up all of the beautiful things around us. Formerly the residence of royalty, the building of the Louvre is itself a piece of art. It is enormous, encompassing an entire block. Inside the painted ceilings and marble doorways and floors are really something to see. You could easily spend several days in this museum and not see everything, but we were able to see the main things that we wanted to see. Our favorite part by far is the statue gallery in the left wing, which is a huge open area with dozens of large marble and bronze statues.

Some of the best parts of Paris, though, are not the landmarks or tourist spots. One afternoon we bought a bottle of wine and sat in the lounge chairs in the Jardin du Luxembourg, a large garden in the city, talking for hours. It was nice because there were not many people there, so it was quiet and private. Another day we got lost in The Third, and ended up finding a really neat part of town. We stumbled upon a quaint little street with shops and cafes where we stopped to have a glass of white wine to cool off. And, when we walked around the corner, bam, there was Notre Dame! That is the neat thing about this city, you never know what you will encounter around the next corner.

Notre Dame is a beautiful cathedral, inside and out. It still has a medieval feeling to it. We bit the bullet and waited in line to go up in the bell towers. It was well worth the wait, because it provides a beautiful view of the city, including the Eiffel Tower off in the distance. It is also just interesting to see the inside of the towers with their tiny worn down spiral staircases, and gargoyles everywhere. I can't help but think about the Hunchback of Notre Dame when I'm up there. Haha.

The Eiffel Tower is obviously at the top of most peoples' list of things to see in Paris. It is just one more thing that made us say "wow." It is nice to see in the daylight, but you absolutely must visit it at night, too, as it has a completely different atmosphere. The parks and gardens surrounding the tour and nice to lay around in and drink some wine. Then about every half hour they have a light show where the whole tour sparkles. Talk about romantic…Our first anniversary was definitely memorable, and I'm sure we will be just as happy on our 50th. I would highly recommend adding Paris to your must-visit-list. You won't be disappointed.


Pics from our first anniversary in Paris:

Friday, May 30, 2008

Antwerp, Belgium

May 2008

We took a day trip to Antwerp with Slavka on Saturday in May. It was nice that it is only 1 hour by train, so it's a nice quick trip. Belgium is not too drastically different than the Netherlands, but Antwerp did have a lot of beautiful buildings with intricate scroll work and statues. There is a huge cathedral near the market. The tower is very tall, and you can see it from almost anywhere in the city.

Even the train station is nice with a tall glass ceiling, and marble pillers. The mail street in Antwerp leads from the train station to the market, and is a major shopping area. We were happy (as always) to find an Irish pub where we could grab a Guinness. ;)

The Castle on the riverfront

The Grote Markt (large market) is also nice with a large statue/water fountain & all of the flags of the EU, surrounded by shops and cafes. We were happy to find it because we could sit outside at one of the countless tables and enjoy Belgium's finest (beer, chocolate, and waffles). It's cliché, but it felt "European." haha. Mussels are also very popular in Belgium, and they are cooked in several different sauces including ones made with Belgium beer. I also discovered what is now still one of my favorite beers, Triple Karmeliet (and not just because there is a fleur de lis on the glass, it's a good beer).

Grote Markt, in Antwerp


Pics from Antwerp:

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Every story needs plot development...

To add to Chad's summary of our move to Europe, I can help to give a little glimpse into what it was like moving to Holland, and what life has been like since we've arrived. After the two month wait due to delays with visas, work permits, marriage certificates, etc (in typical Dutch fashion), we were finally packed and ready to go. Our journey here was not easy, but it went as smoothly as can be expected. Think for a minute about trying to fit everything you'll need or want for two years into three bags that you have to carry through an airport, on and off trains, and across a foreign city to your new house at an unknown location. I wouldn't want to do it again, but with the help of family and friends on both sides of the globe we were able to make it happen.
A portion of our luggage that
we were happy to finally unpack.

We settled in quickly, and I think we both did a good job of adjusting to life in Rotterdam. As I write this, we are sitting on our balcony, drinking Belgium beer, and looking at the city; the people sitting at tables outside the cafes, the bikers riding by holding a bag of groceries while on their cell phone at the same time, the trams going down the street, the conversations all around us that we don't understand, the horns of impatient and aggressive Dutch drivers, and all of the other little things that we've become accustomed to so quickly in the last couple months here.

On the top of the Euromast

We are used to seeing all of these things in our daily lives now, and it's sometimes easy to forget where we are. We often have to remind ourselves that we're in Europe. I guess it's good that we have become so comfortable in our new city. It finally feels like home. But, thinking back to when we first arrived, it's easy to forget how many things were new and difficult. The simplest of tasks could take hours or even days to figure out. It can really test your patience. Imagine with me, again, going to the grocery store and not being able to read any of the labels on the food. To start, you can only buy what your recognize through the container or by a picture (milk, bread, salad, chicken, eggs, etc). Slowly, you start to sneak out your Dutch to English dictionary (with your back turned so you don't look like a total tourist), and decipher some of the unrecognizable or packaged food. After a couple trips, you get more and more comfortable with what you like and, more importantly, what to avoid (here's a tip, Filet American is a raw meat spread, don't find out the hard way like we did... ugghhhh).

With every challenge, there's always a positive flip side to keep in mind. The advantage to living in a new city and a new country, is that there are unlimited places to explore. I love walking around the neighborhoods and looking at the buildings and houses overflowing with flowers, and the beautiful canals lined with willow trees and filled with families of ducks and swans. The larger canals and harbors in the city also have some interesting ships and things to look at. Did you know that it is common for people to live on boats here?

The neighborhood in Capella aan Den Ijssel, where we stayed our first month.

At times it's been frustrating trying to deal with things in a foreign language, but we can easily remind ourselves of the advantages of living here. We've already taken advantage of our close location to several cool cities. We'll recap some of our early trips in the upcoming posts, and then get up to date so we can keep things current, because there's always more to come...


Some more pics of Rotterdam:

And of Dick's house that we stayed in for 3 weeks:

And of putting together our apartment: