The Siberian Bear

IT HAPPENED!

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The canals (and ponds) froze!

We’ve heard rumor of this, but it hasn’t been cold enough for long enough to make it a reality. I don’t think the canals in Amsterdam have been frozen enough to skate/walk on since 2012, so I imagine it’s safe to say that for Groningen as well. But, thanks to the “Siberian Bear” (as the Dutch are calling it) it’s been cold (and I mean COLD) enough to cause a deep freeze and pull out the skates!

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One of the largest canals in the city, the Verbindingskanaal.

The cold weather has been fun for freezing things over, but not so fun to commute in when your commute includes a 20 min. walk (or bike ride in Shane’s case). In weather like this we always think of our friend, Alicia (yes… Alicia – you lol). When she was visiting over the summer a few years ago she made the comment “Biking here isn’t so bad.” Peak summer. Beautiful weather. When the wind chill is -18°C (-1°F) and blowing so hard that you’re simultaneously sweating profusely and turning into a popsicle; it’s those moments that we look at each other through squinty eyes, head turned to the side so you can actually hear each other, and say “Yeah Alicia! Biking here is NOT THAT BAD!”

It’s OK, Alicia – we get a good laugh out of it. (Love ya!)

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This was definitely a lifetime first for us – walking on natural ice. We both compared it to walking on those glass floors at tourist destinations, except you know the glass floor isn’t going to break. No guarantees for the ice I suppose.

Shane was a little more nervous that I was. “Did you hear that crack?!”

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Alas, as of today the bear has officially moved on. We are back to normal, up to 6°C (43F°). It was fun while it lasted, it’s just too bad it didn’t last long enough to make the Elfstedentocht possible.

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Tot ziens,

Whitney

Groningen Round-Up 3 (Plus Some Extra)

So, remember that time we went home for Christmas?

…probably not, because I never actually blogged about it! (facepalm)

In short:

We flew home – we had Christmas with our families – we celebrated New Year’s Eve – I turned 32 (not too keen on seeing that in writing) – we saw as many friends as we could – Shane got to see some of his nephew’s swim meets – time went way too fast – we came back to the Netherlands!

I’ll let the pictures show the details. Presented in chronological order.

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Shane was a mattress shopping assistant.
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Star Wars.
curious kitten. Muffin wouldn't let me get any pictures this trip.
Curious kitten, Abby.
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Birthday!
Birthday, again!

Since we’ve been back, we’ve been laying low. Shane is officially in the final stretch of Ph.D. so there is a lot of writing going on in our house at the moment. There have been a few new developments though.

1. We booked our next trip! We will be heading to Livigno, Italy for a week of snowboarding in March.

2. We checked something off our Groningen bucket list! We FINALLY made it to an FC Groningen match. The best part? The tickets were free (thanks to our insurance ‘healthy points’ rewards program) and we ended up being 4 rows from the field! The match ended in a tie, but it was so nice to go to a live sporting event.

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3. I started a Dutch course! For two hours every Tuesday and Thursday night, I’ll be in class. The group is 16 people, and the people are from all over. Mexico, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, India, Poland, Bosnia and America (me), to be exact. I think it’s so cool for such a diverse group of people to be united over a common goal of learning Dutch. Supposedly, when I complete the course I’ll be halfway to ‘B2’ level, which would be advanced-intermediate. I should be able to have conversations and more clearly express opinions in Dutch without problems. I’ll report back on how it goes.

4. We are fully on the climbing train. Right now, we’ve been going to the climbing gym about twice a week. Our gym does mostly top-rope climbing and has a very small (indoor) bouldering room. We recently found out about a fairly new bouldering gym here in Groningen, so we decided to check it out. Lots of fun!

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5. And most importantly, Meatball got a house for Christmas (had to get the XL version…). Toooooo cute!

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So, I think that’s about all! More to come after snowboarding. 🙂

Tot ziens,

Whitney

Groningen Round-Up 2

Hi blog readers!

We head to Berlin in about two weeks for the Christmas markets, but I thought it might be nice to do a little round-up of what has been going on here.

First off, it’s my FAVORITE time of year again!

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All the lights are back in city center! One positive thing about my new commute to work is that I walk home from the train station in the afternoon. Right now, the sun sets about 4:30pm. I’m back in Groningen about 5pm, so the walk home is super gezellig!

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And speaking of festive things, Sinterklaas has officially arrived in Groningen!

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Tradition (aka: me) dictates that we must go stand in the rain and watch a boat parade. Holland did not let us down this year. It definitely rained, but luckily enough most of it passed by the time Shane, Danielle and I were waiting for good ole Sint.

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Shane and I have also started a new hobby – indoor climbing!

We have a nice indoor climbing gym here in Groningen with a pretty renowned 37m (121ft) outdoor tower called Excalibur. We have not (and will not for a while) braved Excalibur, but we did take the beginner climbing course with some friends. It was great and now we’re hooked!

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Out climbing class crew.

And this was just in time for Shane’s 32nd birthday!

Extra lucky for him, our friend has recently started a cake business!

(If you happen to read this and you live in the Groningen area – if you need a speciality cake check out Sarah at Thema Taart Groningen!)

And lastly, we’ve checked something off our Groningen bucket list. We finally made it to the Groninger Museum.

Confession.

We may or may not have ended up there due to a poor translation on my part.

I pass the museum every day when I walk home from the train station, and in the windows they advertised for an exhibit called “Rijks in Groningen”. Now, in Amsterdam, the main art and antiquities museum is called the Rijksmuseum. I thought ‘Cool! Some things from the Rijksmuseum are temporarily in Groningen!’. What I forgot was that the word ‘rijk’ translates to ‘rich’. The exhibit advertisement I walked past for weeks was not borrowed items from the Rijksmuseum, but about the ‘rich’ of the province of Groningen.

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Whoops.

Regardless, the exhibit turned out to be nice, and I saw this chicken on the beach.

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So yeah, that’s about it! Oh, and Meatball says hi.

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More to come after Berlin!

Tot ziens,

Whitney

The Best Darn Mom & Sis Trip Ever: Part 1

You know when you anticipate something for so long and then when it’s over you feel like ‘wait…how did that happen?!’ ?  

That’s how this trip felt. Mom & Sis were always going to come visit but we needed to wait until the fall of 2017 (more on that later), so to think we’ve all been waiting for 3 years is kind of crazy!

They packed their bags and came Crosson over the Atlantic for ~2.5 weeks of family fun!

First stop – The Netherlands!

They just COULD NOT wait to get their hands on Meatball!

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She obviously felt the same. 😉

We spent the first few nights in Leiden, which is a city about 40min south of Amsterdam by train. This was perfect because Amsterdam was still accessible, but they were also able to see a city with fewer tourists. Holland was also extremely kind, and gave us sunshine and summer-like temperatures!

Leiden city center

We did, of course, spend time in Amsterdam. We visited the Anne Frank house, the Rijksmuseum, got mom in a clog…

Sidenote: if you ever find yourself visiting the Rijksmuseum I would highly recommend the ‘Highlights of the Rijksmuseum’ guided tour which can be booked through the museum itself. It’s only 5 euros and an hour long, but if you’re like me and tend to look at art and go ‘ooohh…. cooooool’ and move on, it’s nice to have someone explain some of the main pieces.

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Hanging out with Rembrandt and the Night Watch.
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After a few days in the south, we made our way to Winterfell (Groningen) via Bitburg, Germany. I’m not gonna lie. I was not excited about an ~8h car ride versus ~3h but my mom was born in Bitburg and wanted to go back so back we went!

And look how happy that lady is drinking her Bitburger beer in Bitburg!

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She’s giving Dany a run for her money…

After our detour, we spent the remaining days in Groningen showing off our adopted hometown. Most importantly, they braved the crazy and toured around town on bikes! With the average household owning 3 bikes, and the city nicked named “The World’s Cycling City” it’s easy to understand why biking here might be viewed as intimidating.

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Last, but most certainly not least, I couldn’t let them come to The Netherlands without having some proper Dutch food things. This is an area in which I feel that I’ve shorted our previous visitors, and I sincerely apologize.

Dutch food things such as…

Bitterballen!

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Frietjes!

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Hagelslag!

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& Stroopwafels!

And that, in a nutshell, was our week in The Netherlands! Next up, Part 2: London & Scotland for a Harry Potter & Outlander adventure!

Stay tuned…

Tot ziens,

Whitney

New Bike, New Job !

Since this is supposed to be a blog about our life here in The Netherlands, and everything is official now, I think it’s only fitting that I take a moment to acknowledge a pretty major change in my day-to-day life here in Groningen.

I am officially on bike #4.

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My poor poor ‘grandma bike’ – Helen – met her end due to rust. Pieces were literally falling off while I was riding it. And you know it’s bad when you take it to a bike shop for repair, and the shop owner tells you to just buy a new one.

Ok Ok, so that’s not the big news.

The big news is that I am unemployed.

But don’t worry too much, luckily it’s only temporary!

Quick recap, when we moved to Groningen it took me about three months to find a job. I ended up working for a small biotechnology company, Mucosis, who was developing a nasal spray vaccine for RSV. When I joined, the company was expanding to prepare for entering Phase 1 clinical trials.

Fast forward ~2.5 years, and a lot of hard work later, we met all the necessary criteria, and our vaccine went to Phase 1 clinical trials! This in itself is quite an accomplishment for a team of ~15 people.

Fast forward another 6 months, and Mucosis is bankrupt.

Unfortunately, the vaccine did not meet the criteria to progress to Phase 2. The goal of a Phase 1 trial is safety, and because we are testing a vaccine, you are also able to get preliminary data in how effective the product is. Very generally speaking, vaccines should stimulate an immune response, which should then allow the body to remember the pathogen & protect against it in the future. Our vaccine was safe, but it also gave no indication that it was going to be effective.

And when you’re a small company with no product for sale, you rely on investors for funding. I think it goes without saying, but the investors decided to pull out leaving Mucosis bankrupt.

Honestly, we knew this was always a possibility. It’s the nature of working for a small company, but it was also one of those ‘that will never happen to us’ kind of scenarios.

Now, I’m going to get a little bit mushy, because of course I’m bummed to not have an income, but I’m more bummed to leave this team of fantastic people. Our small team felt like family, and that was invaluable considering all my friends and family are a literal ocean away. Here, I was able to be my actual self, and still learn a hell of a lot career wise.

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Each and every person in this company taught me something that I will take with me.

Some science-related (ELISA troubleshooting… amiright?!)

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Some personal (‘zin van vandaag’)

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Regardless, words can’t express my gratitude for Mucosis, and the impact it had on my life. So, to my Mucos-was colleagues should you ever see this, THANK YOU for being mentors & friends.

Ok, enough with the mush. On to the good news!

I got a new job!

Starting mid-September, I will be a Senior Analyst in the bioanalytical lab of PRA Healthcare (which oddly enough, is headquartered in Raleigh, NC).

This will be a promotion for me. I will be moving into more of a leadership role in the lab, which is exactly what I want. And, to Shane’s delight, I will actually have to commute in Dutch weather to work each day. The company is located in Assen, which is about a 20 minute bus ride from Groningen Central train station.

And, as tradition dictates, I was rewarded for said new job with a trip to the Pannekoekschip! Gah, I love pancakes.

(Shane did say this better be my last celebratory trip to the ship while we live in Groningen… I guess he has a point)

So, that’s the update! I’ve got a lot of free time right now, which some might think ‘oh! how nice, the summer off!’. Well, my friends, it’s been about 17-20°C (62-68°F) since I’ve officially taken on my housewife role, so if you could tell real summer to head my way that would be much appreciated.

I’ll be heading to the U.S. in a couple of weeks for a family visit but until then…

Tot ziens!

Whitney

Good Times Happen For Those Who Visit

First, I’d like to apologize to my Auntie R for my blog posting slackness. My only excuse is that the weather has been perfect.

Two weekends ago (already?!), Shane and I were thrilled to host 2 new visitors, my Aunt Rebecca and her friend, Marlee!

These two were at the end of ~2 week trip through Slovenia and Croatia and were able to extend their layover in Amsterdam on the way home. Shane and I met them in Amsterdam for the day and then brought them up to Groningen for the weekend.

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We always forget how nice it is to have familiar faces around. 🙂

Our main goal of this trip was the Van Gogh museum.

I’m not gonna lie… Shane and I aren’t exactly the best at art museums. We both like to go, but generally, we move through pretty quickly. This museum was an exception, and I highly recommend it to anyone visiting Amsterdam!

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 After our day in Amsterdam, we headed north to play tourist in Groningen!

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The Martini Kerk & Martini Toren (church & tower)

As I mentioned before, we have had exceptional weather this year. For the first time since we’ve moved, we were not wearing jackets on June 1st. We even wore SHORTS over the weekend. Trust me, it’s a big deal.

So, taking advantage of this beautiful weather, the four of us spent Saturday walking around Groningen. I must say, it was so much fun to watch Rebecca & Marlee in the market here! The two of them are seasoned travelers and, unlike us when we first started market shopping, were not intimidated at all. Lucky for them, Saturday market generally has a lot of free samples too! 🙂 We also checked out the Prinsenhof Gardens, and, of course, the cheese shops!

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On Sunday, we rented a car and headed about 40 minutes outside of Groningen to the Vesting (Fort) Bourtange. In case your not familiar, it’s a fortified village near the German border and known for its unique shape.

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Arial view of Bourtange. (not my photo, you can thank google images)

Bourtange was first built in 1593. Its original purpose was to protect the only road between Germany and Groningen (which is the province, not only the city), and was controlled by Spain during the 80 years war (1568-1648). It remained in use as a fortress until the late 1800s, when it was converted into a village. Eventually, it was left to deteriorate, but in the 1970’s it was restored to its former glory.

(read this next part dramatically)

Now you can step back in time, to 1742!

And step back in time we did! Rebecca and Marlee happened to be visiting on the annual “Battle of Bourtange” weekend, which is a 400 person reenactment of some of the battles between the Spaniards (who controlled the fort) and the Dutch (who were trying to reclaim it).

Sounds cheesy, but it was actually really fun. The fort/village itself is also really nice and worth a day trip on a sunny day.

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…people were really keen on getting a good view of the reenactment.

(If Shane wasn’t careful, he would have also gotten a good view.

Personal space? naahhh.)

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Come Monday morning, they were on the train heading home.

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It was a quick, but fantastic weekend, and we are so happy you came to visit!

…particularly Meatball. (hah)

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This weekend we are heading to Venice, Italy to meet up with our friends Michelle and Steve! More on that soon.

Tot ziens,

Whitney

Groningen Round-Up

It’s been a while, and Meatball is disappointed in us for not updating the blog lately.

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I mean look at her. Judging us. Not cool cat.

Since the wedding, we’ve taken a little travel hiatus, so I thought I would do a round-up of the things that have been going on here in Groningen.

First.

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I see all the beautiful fall leaves at home on Facebook and Instagram, and think ‘aw, that’s cute’. We’ve blown past fall and are into full winter mode. Wet, cold, and dark at 4:45. Plus side, the city center has all their Christmas lights up.

I WAS able to fit in a 4-mile race before winter took up permanent residence. Each year Groningen hosts the ‘4 mijl van Groningen!’ – aka: The 4 mile of Groningen (tough translation right?). A few coworkers and I ran together this year. It is actually quite a large race with over 23,000 participants! I finished in 33:32 (8:20min/mile) which I was happy with.

And of course, it’s that time of year again. The arrival of Sinterklaas! All the way from Spain with his Zwarte Pieten.

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This year we were lucky and had actual SUNSHINE during the parades!

This was actually an exciting weekend. Sinterklaas came on Saturday, and then Sunday was my main squeeze’s 31st birthday! In lieu of birthday presents,  we took a day trip to Amsterdam for brunch and a few museums.

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The birthday boy with his birthday omelette!

The first museum we went to was called Micropia. It’s all about….. microbes! Hah, which sounds really nerdy and but it was pretty cool. Very interactive, and makes you feel like you should immediately wash your hands – and change your toothbrush head.

After Micropia we headed to Dam square to pick up some cupcakes and noticed two things.

  1. The square was completly empty! Every time we’ve been there an event of some sort has been set up in Dam square, so you were never able to get the full effect. Not today folks!
  2. We found a Marilyn Monroe exhibit in honor of her 90th birthday! So, we gave it a  shot and it was pretty neat. Lots of her old scripts and costumes, and information about  her personal and professional life. Definitley worth the impromptu visit.

And finally, on a completely different note, they are replacing the gas lines on our street. They are currently in front of our apartment, which I rather abruptly found out about one morning on my way to work.

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Yeah….

‘at least we have a bridge!’ – Shane

Always looking on the bright side.

We have a few trips coming up. In a few weeks we’re headed to Cologne, Germany for the Christmas market, and then over New Year’s Eve we are meeting the Sufrinkos in Innsbruck, Austria for a snowboarding adventure!

Until then, Meatball and I will be resting up.

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Tot Ziens,

Whitney

(p.s.- still no Croatia wedding pictures. We’re impatiently waiting!)

Happy 2 Year Netherversary !

Hi all!

Just a quick post to say Happy 2 year Netherlands anniversary to us! This past Friday marked the occasion, and what a better way to celebrate than to do a little exploring in Groningen.

My aunt and uncle, who we visited in London, were in town this weekend so we finally got around to checking off some of those “we really should do that” kind of things.

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First stop, back to Humphrey’s where we went for our one year Netherversary! Unfortunatley for Humphrey’s (because I know they are concerned), I think it’s officially lost its Netherversary restaurant status. It was shown up on Saturday night by this Italian restaurant, Gustatio. Shane and I aren’t huge pasta eaters, but this place made me want to eat pasta all the time. We won’t wait a year to go back!

Anyway, Saturday we took my aunt and uncle around Groningen. They were able to see things like our awesome Saturday market, the 400 year old university buildings in city center, and their completly opposite counterparts out at the Zernike campus where Shane works. Also, we FINALLY went in the Martini Church!

We’ve talked about the Martini Toren (tower) before, which is the main tower in city center. Behind this is the Martini Kerk (church). We were able to pop in and finally see it, and it was well worth the quick trip. We literally walk by this church once a week if not more, so I’m proud we finally did it!

We also made a stop in the Prinsenhof Gardens. This garden is connected to probably the nicest hotel in the city. The gardens are open to the public, and something else we walk past all the time, so we took a stroll.

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Overall, the weather was great, the company was fantastic, and we couldn’t have asked for a nicer visit! We had a lot of fun showing off our little city.

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Shane heads to Switzerland in June for a week long course. Until then, we will be enjoying the long days, sunshine and warm weather while we’ve got it!

Tot ziens,

Whitney