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.

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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.’ 

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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!

 

New home, new problems

is what Ive put on my whiteboard in my kitchen and it is incredibly apt. I generally adore my home but equally there are sometimes where I wonder if its purposely testing what tiny amount of patience I have.  I can laugh at a lot of experiences Ive had with the house.

In the Netherlands, houses really dont come with lights, you buy a house and you literally bring your own lightbulbs and light fittings. I have to say Ive done really well picking up electrics as part of the move! So far zero for being electrocuted and I’ve changed practically every light fitting and electrical outlet in the house but I am still stuck on a proper 3 way light. For 2 months, it was summer and I was able to not need a ceiling light in my living room. Winter is coming and with it, much shorter days. I bought a light fitting and attempted to fit it. It did not go well, at all. All patience was utterly lost and a completely new light bought. This was all around 8pm on a Saturday, I was absolutely determined to fit and have light in my living room. I get home with my new light and it was getting dark. Im very safe when it comes to these things and always turn off the main power, however, that meant I was then in the dark. I used the flashlight on my mobile to light the ceiling, so that I could fit the light (I would also like to add this is the first time Ive ever used this feature! I kind of thing that having a mobile is taking cat pics and sending memes and thats basically it). What this really meant is that I needed my hands free and ended up sticking my phone in my mouth so that I could fit the light, whilst up a ladder, swearing quite a lot, 1 hand holding the light fixture whilst the other hand had the screw driver. This was naturally not straight forward either, so add quite a lot of drool coming down the side of my mouth as I had the phone in my mouth for no less than 45 minutes (Id like to add that my phone is still not quite over this drooling incident).  Eventually the light was fitted and I’m delighted to be able to turn on a light. It was kind of weird getting back into the habit of being able to turn on a light.  I even giggle with excitement at being to turn on the light…yes this is how truly exciting my life has become!

 

I have two parts of the house that are covered in movie posters, it came this way and was one of the features that I adore about the house. The stairway that goes to my bedroom has some ok posters (and Chuck Norris) but the downstairs cupboard has Jaws, Alfred Hitchcock etc and a friend came by and had a quick look at the cupboard and was like ‘what I like most about your house, this cupboard’. Even now it makes me laugh for quite literally the 100s of hours of work put into the house for people to find a 1.5 metre cupboard the best feature of my house.

Ive been trying to toilet train the cats (think Mr Jinx from Meet the Parents). According to the shiney all singing kit I got, its a quick and easy 30 day process. I really wanted them toilet trained before the move but unfortunately due to multiple issues, it didn’t happen and kind of started before the move. I shouldn’t have started it before the move. I should have just waited for one solid smooth process. My female Maine Coon is most certainly me, in the cat form. Shes stubborn, ornery and hates any form of change. What really did not go in my favour when getting to step 3, me being absolutely delighted and her not realising they had been upgraded to step 3 and then promptly falling in the toilet when she went to use the tray.

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30 day process it is not and if I get them fully trained in under 3 months, I will accept it as a win. Potty training has had to restart all the way back at back at step 1 (as a direct result of her unfortunate nose drive into the loo), we’re now on step 2 (above) and she still has ‘accidents’ roughly every other day, so not great and my downstairs toilet has been completely sacrificed but if I can pull it off (quite literally God willing at this point), I would like to think it will be worth it. Ill never forget the Ikea delivery man who tried to use the toilet and them came and got me and was like ‘I dont understand THIS.’, whilst pointing at the toilet. Oddly enough my male is great with it and has no issues and uses whatever is there. If only his sister were are open and accommodating to change.

I cant believe its November already! This year has truly been nuts balls crazy, has gone so quickly and its also a year I’m ready to see the back of.  Im taking two weeks off at Christmas to literally sit my pyjamas and do nothing and I dont think Ive ever quite looked forward to doing nothing as much as I am this.

Moving house and adulting

This year,  has been crazy busy… thats my excuse for not blogging. I have had a few messages of disappointment at my distinct lack of blogging. I can always trust my friends to harass me and put me back on the right path!  Having said that, so much has happened in the last 5 months that my head is still spinning. I cant say it enough, I knew it was going to be a crazy year but it seems to be the year that just keeps giving.

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I was dating a nice Dutch guy but unfortunately neither of us was prepared to compromise on what we both considered a deal breaker and it truly turned out to be the deal breaker (it was, of course, more complicated than this, as these things are but thats the shortest version of the break up). However, I discovered the best way to get over a break up is to buy a house. It meant that I simply didn’t have time to wallow or self indulge and my priority really hasn’t been to date. As with most things in life, I think if something is meant to be, it will and never say never.

I found a house that I fell in love with in the suburbs Amsterdam (I’m an Amsterdamer now!), that ticked the boxes for my cats and everything fell into place and I’m now a home-owner. It felt bitter sweet, as I thought it would be a home I would create with my partner but that was just not meant to be. However, I still truly love the house (for the most part). However, I wont lie, it has been incredibly stressful and reiterated that the only way I’m leaving this house will be in a coffin. I really dont do moving well at all, Im too autistic, routine oriented and dont deal with chaos at all. The house has been series of unfortunate events and literally everything that could go wrong, has gone wrong. I bought the house thinking that it needed nothing at all and planned to redecorate one room. Every room has now been painted from floor to ceiling, along a new fridge and a variety of other things. I’ve had a number of sense of humour failures with it and even suggested that burning it down and starting from scratch might be an easier. I’m still surrounded by boxes in every room (over a month in), have a list of things to do that is a long as I am but it’s slowly getting there. The best part for me is that I’m now actually closer to work. My previous commute to work at 35 minutes door to door and now if everything goes smoothly its like 15, it tends to be more like 20 but at least my alarm clock is no longer set for 04:50 each morning!

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I’m incredibly lucky in as much as I managed to get truly fantastically amazing neighbours. The sellers did tell me that I would be getting great neighbours but I wasn’t sure if this was sarcasm or honesty. Turned out it was true honesty.  They have two very large dogs, which my cats take great pleasure in antagonising and the neighbours were beyond kind enough to cat-proof both sides of the fence to stop my cats going into their garden, without me asking! My first meeting with them did make me laugh as it was like they had google searched me or something similiar. ‘We’ve heard about you, you’re a brit but not a brit, on your own with two maine coons, which we’ve already googled to understand what they are and you’ve lived in the NLs for 2 years, welcome to the street!’. It was quite sweet. My neighbour thinks its great that I do everything myself and occasionally ask to borrow his power tools, something about women normally preferring the men to do ‘such jobs’. I always just laugh and say if I dont do it, then no one will. They are also new members of my weekly cake club and we’ve swapped grape recipes.

Just a brief overview of several very crazy months. I do look forward to going back to the quiet boring life and having time and the energy to blog again!

 

1 Year in the Netherlands

It’s officially been 365 days, an entire year, since I moved to the Netherlands. What a year, its had it’s up and downs and I can say unreservedly that its been an adventure.

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Brexit: This is the gift that just keeps giving, much like an STD. I literally have no idea what my future holds or what will happen with Brexit. I moved from England as I didn’t want to live in a country that isn’t a member of the EU, my opinion on this has not changed. I can see that the UK has changed as a result of Brexit and most certainly not for the better. I can only hope that I will continue to have EU freedom of movement and live in Netherlands or wherever the wind takes me.

Expat Life: I have now been a dirty foreigner living abroad for over 18 years, officially, Ive lived abroad longer than I lived in my birth country. I think it makes it easier to adapt but equally I will always feel like a foreigner no matter where I live. Being an expat means I tend to attract other expats, we have common ground. It’s great to be able to share experiences that natives/locals can’t relate to or haven’t experienced themselves. I’ve met some amazing expats living here in the Netherlands and I’m proud to be able to call them friends. I created a social group in Amstelveen, I’ve never hosted so many dinner parties, given baking lessons, or responded to so many Whatsapp/Facebook messages in my life. I’m not so proud to admit that I’m occasionally so busy that I have to book people in my diary weeks in advance, like a true Dutch person.

Art and Culture: There is more to the Netherlands than tulips and wood shoes. I love the fact that every weekend I have the opportunity to do things. At least two weekends in every four, I am taking advantage of my museum card and exploring. I’ve seen some amazing exhibits, museums, castles, things that left me in tears with laughter and I’ve equally seen things that were less than impressive. The Stedelijks in Amsterdam is by far my favourite modern art museum and if ever I have a spare hour in the city, this is where you’ll find me. Despite visiting a number of the large cities, Amsterdam is still my favourite. Forgetting the tourist, drugs and the Red Light District (I understand it can be hard to overlook these), it’s a city with history, heritage and so much to see and do.

Dating: This has truly been interesting for me. As with most things in my life, its been comically funny, not all good but most certainly funny. There are a number of blogs about dating in the Netherlands and how its a challenge for expats. Having personally experienced it, I agree. I’ve decided to do a separate blog dedicated to being single and my dating experiences rather than take up paragraphs here – watch this space.

Working with Dutchies: This has been an experience! I have to admit that I’m incredibly lucky to work with the people that I do, my wider team are fantastic. We all laugh, a lot, occasionally even being told off for laughing too loudly or worse, having too much fun in the office. They say I’ve corrupted them, I think this could be true.

There are three things that stick out to me the most about Dutch office life, the elevator, the coffee machine and sandwiches.

  • The Elevator – Being British means I’m reserved, no eye contact is generally made (ok, this could be my functioning autism coming out too) but you most certainly don’t talk to people in the elevator, oh sweet Jesus, no! Ideal British elevator interaction, THERE IS NONE, we all ignore each other listening to our headphones, happy days! I also like to think having my headphones in is a sign that I’m not approachable but NO, this does not deter the Dutch. Apparently stranger danger isn’t applicable in a Dutch elevator and strangers talk to each other, in EVERY elevator. I’ve now become the kind of person that if I see someone getting in the elevator, I walk that little bit slower to avoid having to get in the elevator with them and have any form of conversation. Honestly, its kind of nice that people talk to each other, on the other hand, it’s really weird (het is echt vreemd, hoor!) and goes against all my British instincts. What I also love, quite adore in fact, is watching the Dutchies completely checking themselves out in the elevator mirrors, you can see it in their face and then all of the personal adjustments that follow suit. I would honestly say my experience is like 8 out of 10 people will do it. I take the attitude that if I don’t know what I look like by the time I get in the office elevator, there’s no hope left for me or point in looking in the mirror, it’s just too late.
  • The Coffee Machine – this is the mecca for office chat, its like a beacon that draws people in. I’ve never quite seen anything like it. Apparently chatting at your desks isn’t the done thing, no, you save it, you wait, you hold it all in until you go to the coffee machine. This makes me grateful that my first coffee of the day is hours before anyone gets in and then 10am caffeine fix is provided by Starbucks. I break all the rules and force people to talk to me at my desk or theirs and then completely ignore them if I’m walking by the coffee machine. Sometimes you have the be cruel to be kind. Yet somehow, despite this, people in my office seem to really like me and go out of their way to chat to me, away from the coffee machine.
  • Sandwiches – a serious dutch lunch. Never get between a Dutch person and their sandwich (or play hide and seek with them, lesson learnt for me!). Everyone arrives at the office with their homemade sandwiches in a plastic bag and consumes them throughout the day. Breakfast, snack, and lunch, all sandwiches. My colleagues don’t understand how I can eat a homemade chicken salad most days and look at me, look at my salad and then back to me and just shake their heads. The irony being I do the same at their sandwiches. I also eat a yogurt every morning for breakfast in the office, which also breaks the above sandwich rule.

 

Two wheels: I really enjoy cycling. Words, I would have never thought I’d ever say. Being knocked off my bike by a car was an experience I hope to never re-experience but sadly is a common occurrence in a country full of bikes and cars. I have an app that I create routes and explore the local area with. I enjoy being able to cycle the days frustrations out or attempt to anyway. I still think Dutch people who take a leisurely 40-60 ride are nuts ball crazy though, that’s not leisurely at all.

Even after a year, these things still do not seem normal to me.

  • I find this more funny than rude but its the way that men in the elevator will not make eye contact but rather you see their eyes going from my red lipstick to my chest and then back and forth at least two times. My colleague and I laugh about this most days, it’s a common occurrence and so obvious. Honestly, I do have to stop myself from bending down and staring at their crotch as a ‘return the look’.
  • Customer service – This country literally has none. I think I’m more surprised whenever I actually come across any.
  • Paracetamol does not solve the worlds illnesses, unless you’re in the Netherlands.
  • Rain! ZOMGs! So much rain! Having lived in England, I thought I knew rain but no, just no! I think on average it rains something like 30 minutes everyday, that’s a lot of rain.
  • Dog excrement. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not pro-dog but seriously, its disgusting that people just don’t clean up after their dogs, at all. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone with a dog bag. It’s just a thousand levels of  laziness and grossness.
  • Sleeping badly – this seems to be a problem experienced by many expats living here. I can honestly say that I’ve had maybe 3 seriously decent nights of sleep since moving here. My nightly routine now includes taking melatonin before bed.
  • Brown shoes – brown shoes are everywhere, it’s almost like everyone is colour blind to any colour except brown. The silver lining of getting into a busy elevator is then looking at everyones shoes and 9 out of 10 will be brown.
  • Dutch fashion – this is a wide and varied topic and something that brings me amusement every day but the Dutch most certainly have their own sense of style and fashion. I hope that I never lose my sense of non-Dutch style and fashion.
  • ‘Ah-zo’! – this is a noise that Dutch people make. Generally it takes one person to say it and then the domino effect happens and then everyone is saying it. I guess I can only describe it as what they say when they are trying to fill a silence.  It’s just so weird to me and I don’t get it but it does make me laugh.
  • Compliments – Dutch people don’t give compliments. I give loads! If you look nice, smell nice, or anything nice, I’ll let you know. Turns out that my colleagues LOVE this about me. My cleaner and I were having a discussion about compliments and she says compliments just aren’t Dutch, she never gives any and finds it awkward if she feels she needs to or if people give them to her.

 

My version of the Dutch language has most certainly improved over the year. To be fair, it really couldn’t have gotten much worse. As standard with a second language, I understand more than I speak. I know that I speak Dutchlish (mixing Dutch and English) and that I speak it with such a thick English accent that people look either confused or laugh. I had an experience in Utrecht at a museum, where the lady asked if I wanted her to speak in Dutch or English and I did my usual, ‘it doesnt mater, either is fine’ in Dutch, so she proceeded in Dutch, awesome. I responded to her questions in Dutch, she then stopped me mid-sentence with a look of seeing either a pig that had grown wings and was flying or seeing a genuine unicorn riding over a magical rainbow and said , ‘Wow, you are a real British person aren’t you?’. This made me laugh, mostly because British people arent rare (entire country of them) and proved the point that my Dutch really is Dutchlish!

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This year I’ve experienced more snow than Ive seen in 25 years (the blizzard of 1993!), Ive become more social than Ive ever been and Ive laughed so much. I wont lie, it has also been tough, Ive come across challenges I didn’t expect and I still have no idea what or where my future lies. Its been a very interesting 365 days and it will be more interesting to see what the next 365 hold in store for me.