List complete, mudwalk done!

Ive had 2 tick boxes this year, sky diving and Wadlopen, Ive now completed both! Im 100% for the year, which I think makes my 2020 much better than many others.

What is Wadlopen?

During specific times of the year, groups walk across mudflats located in the Wadden Sea. You can only enter the mudflats during low tide and with a licensed guide. Mudflat walking in the Wadden Sea takes place on the shallow parts of the mudflats. You walk through the mud, sandbanks and along mussel beds, which are partly under water (it can go from ankle height up to your neck you choose to go into deeper areas). The wind can also affect the walk, as it can make the water deeper or shallower depending on the direction.

The Wadden Sea

The Wadden Sea is on the Unesco World Heritage List. It is a large continuous system of sand and mud plains, it is relatively dry during low tide allowing hikers to walk across it. It consists of tidal channels, sandbars, salt marshes, gullies, beaches and dunes. Mudflat walking on the Wadden Sea is a unique experience in a unusual nature reserve.

Why Wadlopen?

I was an exchange student in the NLs in 1999-2000 and as a 20 year anniversary, I wanted to redo Wadlopen. I decided to invite friends along to relive the memory and to make more memories. I arranged for a private guide, I would advise booking a private guide for Wadlopen, as you go in a much smaller group (no more than 12) where as organised tours can have up to 50 people and stay in the quite shallow areas of the Wad, rather than properly exploring it. Originally five friends were joining me but it was three on the day, a mix of Dutch and expats. It was such a fun experience, we laughed most of the time, which helped, we were covered in mud and the last kilometre was most certainly the hardest. We were quite literally yawning over dinner and debating who would fall asleep the fastest. Everyone else has said that their box is ticked and that never need to do it again but much like sky diving, Id happily do it annually or every 20 years, as the current timeline seems to be.

Random Modern Art

I enjoy doing exceptionally touristy things and things that are off the beaten path. I came across a list of more unusual things to do and see in the Netherlands and found a few things that I thought, ‘I must visit this attraction’, with one of them being a place called the Dutch Kremlin. A man has taken his passion of welding and art and created a truly unique garden. I insisted that we add it onto our road trip back from the North and everyone agreed, so we added 90 minutes onto the journey and ended up in a small village called Winkle. It was a great stop if you don’t take art seriously and are truly not expecting the Kremlin. Whilst we only spent about 30 minutes, many people spend an much longer taking it in and talking to the creator/owner.

Almost October

I can’t believe it’s almost October, it’s been a unique year, in more ways than one. I’m preparing to start working back in my office a few days a week, discovering what the new normal is going to be going forward. It’s been unique working from home for 6 months and having to get out of bed 05:30 does not feel with me with delight in any way. Ive enjoyed my 3 minute commute down my stairs to my kitchen table and not having to wear professional clothing of any form. Ah well, all good things must come to an end…

Corona-Cation!

It’s crazy to think we are 4 months from Christmas and basically 2021! What a year!

I realised that in August, I celebrated one year of being a single homeowner. It’s amazing and yet truly scary. My house and I have a true love hate relationship, I love it but it hates me and likes to constantly challenge me. In the last year I’ve done a lot (new heating system, electrics, ceiling fans, oven, etc…) and still have more to go (painting and no doubt new surprises). Next week I shall install a new shower thermostat bar… I still refuse to use my office as an office, which is ironic given that Ive been working from home for over five months. It’s just not as close to the kettle as the kitchen table is.

I regularly getting emails from HR telling me it’s important to take a holiday. I’ve been thinking about a holiday for a while (since my original holiday to Egypt was cancelled in March) and looking at different options, I really wanted either Egypt (still considered a no go zone as it’s not in the EU), Cyprus (yeah, no real issues but flights aren’t that frequent) or Spain (I go roughly ever year to Mallorca). I didn’t want to stay in the Netherlands, I need sun, sea and all inclusive, whilst reading at least a book a day. In the end, Spain was the best and easiest choice…

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The Netherlands classes EU countries by colour and risk: Green (no special security risks), Yellow (caution, security risks), Orange (only necessary travel, serious security risks in this country or region can create dangerous situations for travellers and vacation trips are not “necessary”) and Red (do not travel, very serious safety risks can create a life-threatening situation for travellers). When I booked my trip, Spain was yellow and then a week before I travelled it was categorised as orange. My travel agent panicked and suggested I cancel… I said ‘thanks but no, Im going’ and opted to travel. I was then told that if anything went wrong on my holiday it would be at my ‘own risk’ and I’d be personally financially responsible for any costs/issues. The Netherlands is considered a orange country to our neighbours/other EU countries, so going from one orange country to another didn’t seem like a risk to me. I could also feel the change in my mood and realised that I really needed a break, to get away from work and my stresses.

spain

It’s interesting to think how much everything has changed since Corona, airports are functioning well under capacity, as are airlines. I was surprised when I had less than 30 people on my flights. I wasn’t expecting a popular tourist destination of Spain to have no tourist or people and to be a ghost town of itself. It creates a lot of questions around what the future holds for travel and aviation, tourism, social distancing and the ‘new normal.’ 

holiday

Spain has a rule that you must wear face mask when in public or generally out of your home (something the Dutch refuse to do). They also enforced a new rule of no smoking in public areas (outside of your home) when I arrived, given my anti-smoking stance, this delighted me. I have to say it is odd wearing a mask constantly, not great for make up either but for me its most difficult not being able to see facial gestures. A world without facial gestures is so odd, I think my functioning autism doesn’t help this but so many queues are missed with masks. 

I spent a week in the sun, by the pool, on a sun lounger reading, it was amazing! I got through 11 books in 8 days, I was aiming for 10-14 books, reading target hit! I liked the fact that my books ranged from sci-fi fantasy to psychology to the civil war to the Holocaust. I even had a bit of a personal break through, which was funny, it was a pure  light bulb moment reading the psychology book and I wanted to dance with excitement but instead I just looked around at the other 2 people by the pool and thought, ‘best not interrupt their naps’. This was a break that I really needed. Normally I get bored on holiday and want to spend a day doing something and on this holiday, I wasn’t bored at all, which is amazing for me, given my small attention span. Or as I would say, I missed another opportunity to scuba dive, theres always the next holiday! 

The resort I stayed at had less than 50 guests, which was truly amazing. There were never more than 10 adults at the adult pool and never more than 20 people at the family pool. It was one of the nicest, quietest holidays Ive ever had, which was fantastic, I can’t say it enough but it was also surreal that it was so quiet. It was weird to see what should have been a tourist destination with no tourists and 9 out of 10 stores/bars/restaurants closed. It’s obvious that the majority of businesses are affected and will likely not make it past the year due to a lack income and missing what is the most profitable part of the year. Also with Corona numbers continuing to spike and governments putting in different restrictions, theres no guarantee that tourists will return this year. 

And with all good things, they come to and end. It was an amazing week, that I needed and Im now looking at sunny destinations to visit in October, as I feel like I need more sun and dont want the tan to fade, maybe this time Ill even go scuba diving… Now to self-isolate for 10 days and adapt to my 5am alarm clock again!

 

1 box ticked, 50% done for 2020

Can you believe it’s already half way through 2020? Blink again a few times and it will definitely be Christmas!

Over 3 months in quarantine and now coming out of it (maybe not for the first or last time), whilst it was quarantine for me, it did feel at times as though I was the only one taking it seriously in my neighbourhood/area. I’m certain I didn’t my house for the first 6 to 8 weeks. I have to say it has been interesting. I’ve completed all of my DIY tasks, my DIY skills have definitely improved and now sit somewhere between ok to really good, depending on the day and if I get it first time right. I have a proper she-shed now, I absolutely adore my shed. If I could just get all my tools covered in Hello Kitty, I’d never leave! I completed the cat wall and made bug screens for all of my windows from scratch. Sadly, this doesn’t mean that I’ve completed all of the tasks for the house, I’ve just completed the ones which require power tools (ie, the fun jobs).

window screens

I have to admit that having a garden and shed has provided me a bit of sanity during lockdown. Having the space for fresh air without having to ‘leave’ my house has been fantastic. I had moments where I just went to the garden to gather my thoughts and have a few deep breaths. I thought I was doing really well and was ‘not affected’ until I had two break outs of cold sores (fever blisters) within a month and one of the break outs was the worst Ive ever had. It forced me to realise that I was stressed and not coping as well as I wanted to pretend that I was. I even had a few days of pure exhaustion where I just slept 18 hours straight a few days in a row. Mental health has been incredibly important during the pandemic to staying healthy. I used the lock down time to try new things, reconsider some opinions and surprise friends with my new approach on a few topics, it worked!

Freezer cookies, Im obsessed! The concept is that you make an entire batch of cookie dough and then freeze it. You bake the cookie dough from frozen, so that you always have freshly baked cookies on the fly. It also means that as a single person, when I make a batch of cookies, I no longer need eat all 30 in one go or throw away the majority. As I mentioned, Im obsessed. One of my friends recently told me that her husband misses my baking (awww, sweet!), Ive also been splitting every batch of cookie dough I make and freeze it for them. However, this means that I now have an entire drawer in my freezer that is nothing but freezer cookies! It’s also shows despite doing a good bit of exercise Ive been doing in lock down, how I’m not coming out skinnier…. I’m blaming the cookies!

freezer

Corona has ruined a lot, it cancelled Eurovision (I’m still very upset at this), cancelled my sun holiday and delayed my sky dive. Delayed is the magic word. When I heard lockdown was easing, it was one of the first things I looked into booking. Whilst I had a few friends who initially were keen to join me, in the end, it was just me. Luckily, a friend and I turned it into a girls trip, withs lots of horrific car karaoke and laughing. She watched firmly from the ground as I was thrown 13,000 feet from a plane strapped to the front of a man. I had tried to go sky diving 12 years ago in England and she was there with me but unfortunately, do to bad weather, the jump cancelled, so it does feel as though we’ve come full circle now.  I opted for tandem sky diving, as I really don’t trust myself with my own life, it felt a much safer bet to put my life in someone elses hands! Corona rules did it make it slightly odd, as you have to wear a mask and then a piece of cloth over that, to ensure the mask stays on and then gloves, which are an absolute nightmare to try to keep on when you’re falling from the sky.

sky diving

Two things have been on my list this year to do, sky diving (tick, tick) and Wadlopen (I was able to see the area from my sky dive, which was amazing). I’m now 3/4 of the way to ticking all my boxes! I’m excited, as 5 friends have agreed to join me for Wadlopen and a weekend away in September. I thought it was an excellent idea to make it a group thing, make memories and have tons of fun…. Invites were sent out and then I realised that I never mix my friends (something I’ve very consciously never done), so panic set in that now I’m literally mixing all my friends and people are accepting the invites but dates dont work for them and now I need to host a preweekend evening for everyone to be introduced before the weekend away… What initially felt like a fun idea, has really turned into quite a lot of effort and work on my behalf. I laugh and cringe at the same time when I think about it but it will be fine. I managed to find hotels next to each other for all the rooms, transport is still a bit of an issue but yeah, I’m looking forward to it, almost as much as I’m looking forward to being done with it.

dates copy

Dating and Corona, two things which are completely incompatible and rightly so. I took the lockdown seriously but my experience is that many Dutch people didn’t. One of my friends offered to be my Corona buddy, which I still find funny. My attitude is if we’re not compatible in ‘normal’ times, I think its unlikely we’ll be compatible during a world pandemic locked in a house together. I gave video dating a go, which was unique. I think video dating works quite well for a first date, you know if you have a connection, if you have enough stuff to talk about and most importantly if you’re compatible. Ultimately if you dont have a connection, video chat or face to face, it makes no difference, theres no future.

Over 3 months in lockdown, Ive survived it, so far and am looking forward to coming out of it. Ive achieved a good bit, still have my sense of humour and ticked a few boxes along the way. Im looking forward to creating more memories and having more fun with whatever the rest of the year holds.

First two weeks in my dutch life

Day of moving

7am flights are so cruel, as it means you really need to be at the airport by 5am, as there is always some new security alert which means security really clamp down on how many travel sized items and contact lenses you take in your carry on. Thus you end up leaving your house at 4am just to make sure you get through it all in time for your flight. I had a terrible breakfast with even worse coffee, so decided like everyone else at 6am, I was absolutely desperate for a Starbucks, so I got in the exceptionally long line and then showed up very late at a almost closed gate.

Arrival was smooth in to Schiphol and Amstelveen is a 12 minute bus ride away from the airport, which is awesome. I could have walked it to the house but I had an exact 20 KG suitcase that I didnt fancy it, so thought Id take the 2 minute bus. Really I should have walked it, I got on the right bus, just in the wrong direction. I realised 2 stops in and was able to get off but yes. That was the first of two buses on the day that I got on that was wrong. I did think to myself, if this is the worst thing that happens to me on my day or week, then Im doing ok.

I then had a bank appointment, there are less than 10 banks to choose from but ABNA Amro offer English banking (cash points, online banking, etc), the alternative is to learn dutch VERY quickly to do business banking and given how many issues I already have with online banking (in English), I thought it would be better to be safe and go with the bank who offers English. No more free banking, in the UK, the majority of banking is free, hooray for free.  Sadly, free banking does not exist in the Netherlands, the prices seem to range from €1.60 to €5 per month.

Kitties, no move is complete without my pampered pedigree pussies! It was decided that a pet courier would be used as opposed to flying them, as this isnt considered the safest or kindest form of transport. I picked Tranzpet to transport the cats and it was a success, they were collected at 8am and arrived in Amstelveen at 8pm the same day.  I asked that the Maine Coons were together and that Elka got her own side, she seemed impressed with her own side. A great service!  Kitties are now adapating to their new dutch life.  Elkas dutch diet has most certainly started and Im waiting for Callies to kick in.

Cats

The garden is like a silk route through China and we have at least 6 cats that regularly make their way through the garden. This upsets and amuses the kittens, who insist on sitting in the windows for hours at a time every day on the look out for other cats.  Whilst the garden is completely fenced off, it does have more holes that swiss cheese (hence all the cats using it as a walk through), so it needs to have serious work done to it before any cats will be allowed out.

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In the days since moving

Amazon does not exist in the Netherlands, boo hiss! You can order things from .de or co.uk but Prime no longer exists AT ALL and the shipping times are all over the place, ranging from 2 weeks to 6 weeks.

Free shipping for online shopping is a luxury that few sites offer. (Ive been ruined by Amazon!)

Ikea is much more fun with power tools! There has been close to a week of allen keys, Im over it, that stuff is much heavier than it looks, dragging it up 26 steep stairs makes me wonder if I can do a good Hulk impression. Ikea also charge 10% of your order as a delivery cost, Ive paid a lot in shipping.

Ive relied on Google Translate a LOT, its not quite as magic as I thought it would be but its helped a great deal in a number of different situations.  My dutch is slowly coming back and I think the longer Im here, the better it will get (it will have to, right?).

Important lessons that Ive learnt in my first weeks:

Being on 2 wheels is completely different from being on 4 (no duh), so Ive had to learn how to ensure that my bag doesnt fall off whilst riding. Im also all about pimping my bike and making it as personalised as possible.  If Im not healthy by Christmas from all the riding, then there is something medically wrong with me! 20170818_121341

Elka follows me around the house and helped me figure out how to use the washing machine and dryer.  Not going to lie, Google Translate really didnt help in this situation but pressing a lot of different buttons at different times did make it work.20170818_144143

Not having a car limits the size of items you can purchase, in theory. Ive now learnt how to put big oversized items on the bike and my new accessory is bungee cords, lots of them.
20170818_161957

Free condiments are a thing of the past, its a very European concept to have to pay for all condiments, starting at 50-60 cent a packet. Its a very dutch thing to have ‘fritessaus’ with your fries, this is either a mayonnaise (standard) or something that is a bit like tartar sauce with them. I now carry a small tube of sauce in my bag to avoid having to pay for it every time, now thats being dutch! 20170821_122032-e1504619268654.jpg

Albert Heijn is the most popular grocery store and is the most expensive, there are other stores, however AH is the most recognised. Managed to sign up to their online shopping and get a delivery, you have leave a deposit on the crates and they collect them with the next delivery. Albert Heijn home delivery

The guest bedroom has been finished, 1 room down, it gives me hope for the other rooms and areas I need to unpack!20170827_163455.jpg

When it rains and you realise that the basement is not watertight, at all and that it actually floods. This gives me something to look forward to every time it rains, fingers crossed the management company will make serious attempts at fixing the problem.20170830_103329

Im not going to lie, it has been a manic stressful filled few weeks but Ive survived, everyday is a new adventure and seems to offer up a new dutch problem, which makes it all the more fun.

Expat in Amstelveen

So boxes are packed, the cats are upset and stress levels are at moderate to high.  First truck of stuff has gone over and keys are obtained on the 1st of August for the house.moving-e1501533308751.jpg

The house is located in central Amstleveen, which is a suburb of Amsterdam. Its just over a 30 minute tram ride to Amsterdam station, whilst going through Amsterdam. Its just under a 15 minute bus ride from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. It a expat location, with 134 different nationalities living in Amstelveen, the two largest nationalities (outside of being dutch) are Indian and Japanese.

The rental Ive chosen is rough a 5 minute walk to the central shopping centre and has public transport links to the bus, tram, and a short distance to the Amsterdam South train station.

Im in love with the rental, the broker had 12 properties lined up on the day and this was the 12th! Sometimes you just enter a property and everything about it feels right and like ‘home’, this was what I felt.

The countdown is officially on and keys are held for the property. In less than 3 weeks time I will be a full time resident in Amstelveen.

Ive been travelling since I was 12, I spent a few summers in Germany living with my Aunt and Uncle who were stationed there with the American military. When I was 16, I was an exchange student in the Netherlands and now speak the language badly but with confidence. Im hoping to pick dutch up again, hopefully accurately and correctly. When I was 18 I moved to England, where I have been ever since.  Im currently at 16 years in England.

Luckily a lot of dutch people speak English, which can make it difficult to learn Dutch, as most Dutch people are trying to improve their English and practise with you.

Im stressed and nervous but ultimately excited for this new adventure. It feels like my life has been on hold in preparations for the move, so a year, Im ready to move on and go and do and see.  Amsterdam has excellent links to the rest of Europe and whilst I have travelled Europe, Im ready to see and experience more.

Moving isn’t easy and Im seriously not the kind of person who can just pack a backpack and call it done. Im rather envious of people who can do that but it will seriously never be me (lets call a spade a spade).  I can totally understand why people only ever move once.

I plan on blogging about the move, all things Dutch and travelling, and naturally cats and baking!

Links providing information on Amstelveen.

Amstelveen city website

Amstelveenweb

I am expat Netherlands

Expat Advice: Living in Amstelveen, Netherlands

Going Dutch

In June last year, Britain voted to leave the EU, this is officially known as Brexit.  I am what is officially known as a ‘remoaner’, this is a person who voted remain (in the EU) and now moans constantly about Brexit (and about all the people who voted to leave).

After the Brexit vote last year, the decision was made to leave to remain.  I am leaving England to move to the Netherlands. ie to remain in the EU. This has been in the planning stage for roughly a year, which really talking about it for about ten months and slow action starting in the 11th month and the 12th month and moving date is close and now panic is on the horizon.

I did a 24 hour jaunt in Amsterdam this week to look at houses.  I have an adorable estate broker who is managing it all, which makes a massive difference and equally means I could just show up for 24 hours and look at 12 houses and make a decision on the day. A house was found on the outskirts of Amsterdam, which to say Im in love with it is a complete understatement. Negotiations have now begun with the landlord to sort out all the details. In a ideal world, the keys will be handed over on or around the 1st of August.

Moving really upsets my inner hoarder, Im getting rid of a LOT. Why have 1 of anything when I can have 12?!?! Its my inner American really but it still makes getting rid of anything a real inner battle.

Why the Netherlands? Ive lived there as an exchange student 1999-2000 and now speak the language very badly, I kid you not but apparently being able to do it with confidence makes the difference.

I often have the itch to move, every five or so years Im determined its time to get up and go, so I think this move is what I need. Given that Ive been in England for over 15 years and have a visa to Australia that has long expired and never used. Am I excited? No, actually Im (not so) silently mortified. I worry about the basics, like finding a job similar to the one I do now and having a similar income.

I recently read Dutched Up!: Rocking the Clogs Expat Style as a primer for moving.  Whilst it made it giggle on several levels, it also worked as a reminder of the issues I am very likely to have as a expat. I am looking forward to it, once I am settled in my ideal dream rental with a job that suits me on a bike doing it all dutch style.  

T minus 1 month to the move. The idea is to be completely moved and settled in the Netherlands by the end of August 2017.