Groningen, Paris, & Amsterdam Too !

Guess who came to visit?

If you guessed Shane’s family, then you guessed Wright!

My almost in-laws and nephew (6 more weeks! – not that anyone is counting) made the trek from southwest Virginia to spend 10 days in Europe with Shane, Meatball and me.

Two planes and a train ride later put them here in Groningen for the first portion of the trip. This was their first time to Europe, and I think Groningen was the Wright place to start! They were able to relax a little, recover some from the jet lag, and see our stomping grounds!

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Night 1 and Alex was asleep before dark. In his defense, dark is at 11pm…
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Linnaeusborg at the Zernike campus – Shane’s work.

On the last day in Groningen, we rented a car and hit the road! We drove about 45 min northeast to the village Pieterburen. Groningen, the province, is bordered by the Wadden Sea and the North Sea which are home to Harbor seals and Grey seals, respectively. Pieterburen is most known for it’s ‘Zeehondencentrum’ – translated ‘Sea dogs center’ – aka Seal Rescue Center!

Go ahead, mentally prepare for the cuteness….

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Ohhh Emmmm Geeeee! Told you!

Meet Alice the Harbor seal. Darn adorable Wright? Unfortunately, she made it to the rescue center because she was trapped in a fishing net. She, and the other seals at the facility, are rehabed and then eventually released back into the wild. You can actually sign up to go on a ‘seal release’ expedition, and travel with the rescue center staff to the Wadden Sea (in this case) and watch/help with their release. I’m 100% sure we will take part in this sometime before we leave The Netherlands!

After 4 days in Groningen we packed up and headed for

The City of Light… Paris!

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4 Wrights and a wrong Crosson at the Arc de Triomphe!

Heading to Paris I had three goals:

  1. Macaroons.
  2. Crêpes.
  3. Escargot.

Priorities, am I Wright?

Goal #1 – Macaroons: Check!

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So pretty, so delicious, so expensive!

Goal #2 –  Crêpes: Double Check! 

Goal #3 – Escargot: Fail

…but that’s OK because we ate dinner ON the Eiffel Tower!

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I must give Marsha all the credit here, because she was the one who first told us about this. We spent our first night in Paris on the first floor of the Eiffel Tower, enjoying a beautiful sunset view and a delicious dinner. This is something that Shane and I would have seen, and talked ourselves out of doing  had it been just the two of us so thank you Marsha for requesting it! It was definitley the Wright choice!

After dinner we spent some time enjoying the view. Because of dinner, we were too late to go to the summit. Maybe next time.

Oh, and this perfect (completely coincidental) picture happened.

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The next day we headed to the Sacré-Cœur, or the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris. It’s located on the highest point in the city, and therefore you have quite a view from the front steps.

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As one might imagine, to get to the highest point in the city you have to climb some steps. By the end of the day we had tallied 65 flights of stairs. There were reasons I needed so many crêpes…

And because we’re a glutton for punishment (OK, I was – Shane and Alex were just drug along for the ride) we hiked up some more steps and into the dome of the basilica! Worth the stairs in my opinion.

In keeping with the church theme, we made a pit stop by Notre Dame on the way back home (and no, we didn’t see the hunchback… unless you count the creatively dressed begger out font). And we ended the day at the Catacombs! These were REALLY cool! I think everyone thoroughly enjoyed this.

The catacombs started out as a limestone mine, but after extensive unregulated mining they ran into the problem of cave-ins. Long story short, in the 19th century the mines were reinforced and turned into an ossuary – aka: Bone house – for approximately 6 million Parisians. The femur bones and skulls were arranged throughout and turned into a public attraction for the privileged and eventually the public. It’s so crazy to walk these passageways and know you’re looking at ACTUAL HUMAN BONES!!! Super cool & I guess kind of creepy?

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Notre Dame!

We started our last day in Paris with a lovely walking tour! (Be proud Aunt Ann!). This one was called ‘Paris Landmarks’. We started at the original Opera House and then worked our way through the Place Vendôme (where the Ritz, Chanel, and other way way fancy stores are), the Tuileries Gardens, and ended in The Place de la Concorde.

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We added to our walking tour with a stroll through the Luxembourg Gardens after lunch.

And to wrap up our time in Paris, The Louvre!

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One thing to note about the Louvre. We heard it was huge. No one anticipated just how HUGE this place is! I think the hardest part was finding the Wright entrance once you were inside, and then navigating to where you wanted to go. You literally needed the map. We heard stories of people getting lost in The Louvre, and I can absolutely see why! It took us about 20 min to find the exit once we decided we were ready to leave.

Attention spans and museum opening times only allowed for a few hours here, so we hit some highlights. The Mona Lisa (of course!), Nike, Napoleon III apartments, and the statue room (don’t know what it’s really called).

Last up, Amsterdam!

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Shane and I were so curious for the fam to see Amsterdam and hear their impression. It’s just such a different city than Paris, and even Groningen. Compared to Groningen it’s much busier, more tourists, and a little dirtier (because of the tourists). Amsterdam’s size though can’t really compare to Paris, it’s definitely smaller, and I think it feels more friendly and welcoming. Perhaps that’s just the nature of the Dutch. Anyway, the first two days we hit some major spots.

Dam Square, The Royal Palace, Anne Frank House and THE letters. We even caught a canal cruise! Which was a fantastic decision! I know you can’t catch my oozing sarcasm in that statement but it was a total bust. The heat wave + no breeze + cheesy pre-recorded commentary made for a not so pleasant experience. I mean, Alex fell asleep.

Ya win some, ya lose some, Wright?

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The final day we took a little side trip to Zaanse Schans which is about 30 minutes by bus from Amsterdam. It’s a small town that has kept the same 18-19th century feel, and they have 9 traditional windmills that are still functioning today!

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So! I think that about sums up our trip! I think we picked all the Wright stuff to see for our mini-European vacation!

All in all, this really was a fantastic trip and we were happy to play hosts and tour-guide! I asked the Wrights, which of the three cities they saw was their favorite? To my surprise, it was Groningen! I think I can speak for Butch, Marsha and Alex when I say that they seemed to really enjoy the the ‘city-but-a-small-town’ feel that Groningen has, as well as the variety in the buildings – the old historic houses mixed in with the new.

Like we say after any visitors… who’s next?! The door is always open, and Meatball is waiting!

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Oh, and sorry for the extra long post…

Tot ziens,

Whitney

Almost Christmas….and home !

That’s right! We are in the final days now!

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By the time this posts, it will officially be 9 days until Whitney and I are heading home. Crazy right?! It’s hard to believe it has already been 18 months since we moved (and 18 months since we have been home!). Details of our upcoming trip would fill a post itself so I’ll just quickly highlight it at the end.  First, I’ll cover what we’ve been up to lately:


Thanksgiving! – only a bit delayed

This will be the case for us the entire time we live outside of the United States and, more specifically, while we live in Groningen.  Not only do we have to work on Thanksgiving (go figure, other countries don’t want to celebrate U.S. holidays), but I also have to attend a conference that takes place yearly during the last week of November.  This means that, without fail, for the next 2 years (not counting the 2 previous) I have to be away on Thanksgiving.  So, we just adjusted a bit and had Thanksgiving the following Saturday.  Luckily, we were able to find a turkey (not so easy to do) and somehow managed to get the thing cooked.  See, the problem was that we have only a small, counter-top oven and ended up with a 6.1 kg (~13 lbs) turkey.  That same 6.1 kg (~13 lbs) turkey also did not fit into our slow cooker.  However, after a bit of limb removal, it eventually fit and cooked to perfection! It may have been a few days late but Thanksgiving was a success!

Kerststad (Christmas city)

Last year we went into Germany for a Christmas Market and loved it! So we figured we would keep the tradition alive and visit a Dutch market in the south of the Netherlands.  Valkenburg is about as far south in the Netherlands as you can get (more on this in a minute) and during the holidays is aptly known as Kerststad or Christmas city.  The city has multiple markets, some of which are in caves, lots of decorations, and a Christmas parade.  In summary, Whitney read about this market last year and I haven’t heard the end of it since.  So off to Kerststad we go!

Without going into too much detail, I’ll just say that we found Kerststad to be underwhelming.  The city itself was beautiful and it was great to see some elevation change (the south of the Netherlands is so different from the north). However, the markets left a lot to be desired.  Not only did we have to wait in line and pay entry, but once getting inside we found nothing of interest.  In fact, most of the things in the market could be found at any big box store around the world (been to Wal-mart during Christmas time? You know what I mean then…). On top of that, the environment was just not, as Whitney put it, “jolly”. Food choices we extremely limited, there was no Christmas music playing, and there were way too many people crammed into tight spaces.  You would think that by saying this I would be inferring that I was disappointed in our trip but that’s not actually the case.  Which brings me to the next item…

Drielandenpunt (The three borders)

As I mentioned earlier, Valkenburg is about as far south as you can go in the Netherlands.  Because of this, we were close to the borders of Belgium and Germany, which also happens to be the highest point in the Netherlands.  Being that we got back early from the markets the night before, we decided Sunday morning would be an ideal time to visit the drielandenpunt. All in all, it was cool – definitely a place we would love to visit again in the summer.

Düsseldorf Christmas market

Since we were so close to the border and we had such a good experience with the German Christmas market last year, we figured it was worth a shot again this year.  We hadn’t planned to spend Sunday driving into Germany (this was supposed to be a quick trip) but the Kerststad experience left was wanting more. So, a quick 1.5 hour drive from the highest point in the Netherlands and we were in Düsseldorf, Germany. From the very beginning, we were impressed.  First off, what little we were able to see of the city was great. It’s definitely a place we want to visit again. As for the Christmas markets, they were just what we were looking for.  Lots of handmade, quality items, Christmas music everywhere, any food option you can think of (and many you can’t!), and gluhwein at every turn (which probably contributes to the jolly atmosphere).  We also never waited in line and paid only to park our car.  If you ask me, German Christmas markets are the way to go.  We will definitely be going back next year.

It’s comically hard to take a picture without people taking center stage…

And…home!

I’m going to need everyone to click here before proceeding. Just let in play in the background…

So that’s it! We are officially out of stories/pictures/experiences. All that is left is for us to work a few more days then we are on our way! We will officially be in the United States December 20 – January 17.  However, our exact location in the U.S. is a bit complicated. We have a packed schedule and will be in numerous different states and often not together.  However, we still want to see as many of you as possible, if only for a quick bite to eat or cup of coffee. Have all your smiling faces ready because everyone we see will be featured in a January recap of the trip home!

I normally say “Until next time”, however I don’t feel that is appropriate this time.  So instead, I’ll end with:

America, we’re coming!

Shane

Duiken in het Nederland

…and I’m back! Apparently I like to plan all my major activities close together.

This weekend Shane and I drove to the village Scharendijke in Zeeland, which is a province in the south of the Netherlands. Here, we completed our PADI Advanced Open Water certification!

The drive down was only 3 hours and 15 min, or as a co-worker put it… “You’re driving ALL THE WAY there tonight?!” I suppose it’s all a matter of perspective. So we hopped in our snazzy rental car and hit the road!

We stayed in a bed & breakfast that I found online which ended up being (as expected) an elderly couple who rent out three rooms in their house, I would assume, mainly to divers. They were actually completely full when we were there. We weren’t quite sure what to expect as neither one of us have every really stayed in a bed and breakfast type of place before, but after the initial awkward arrival (we couldn’t find the house) it couldn’t have been better. The house was only a 2 min. drive from the dive center, we had our own large room with a sink (shower and toilet were shared), cable/wifi, and breakfast included! The best part, only 80 euro for the whole weekend.

I did have to laugh though because breakfast was SO Dutch. I’m not sure if we’ve mentioned hagelslag before. Hagelslag = sprinkles. Like ice cream sprinkles. And a typical Dutch breakfast (usually for children) will consist of bread with hagelslag. Our breakfast options include 18 DIFFERENT KINDS of hagelslag! I was so impressed. So, naturally, I had to do as the Dutch do. Hagelslag for breakfast it is!

Really though, this place was fantastic and if we dive in Zeeland again we know where we’re staying.

Ok, Ok, enough with the sprinkles and on to the diving!

The course was 5 adventure dives over 2 days. We were required to complete a navigation dive and a deep dive (below 20m/65ft) and the other three are left up to you. We ended up doing peak performance buoyancy, wreck diving, and Nitrox (increased oxygen).

As you might imagine, diving in The Netherlands is much different than diving in Egypt.

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First, visibility was, at best, 3-4 meters versus the 7-10 meters in Egypt. Honestly, visibility, especially when we were above 10 meters (33 feet), was a lot better than I anticipated. A lot of people warned us about low visibility, and I think because of that I was expecting a lot worse.

Second, you had to walk a lot further to the dive site! You have to go up and over the current dyke to get to the dock so you can dive over the old dyke, at this particular location at least. There were also way more divers than I ever anticipated! The whole parking lot was full of people diving, or hanging out and watching their friends and family dive. Diving also seems to be one of those activities where everyone is instantly friends with everyone. It was a really fun to be in the middle of it.

The first two dives of the day were the peak buoyancy, which I was happy to have since I felt like I struggled with that before, and navigation. Aka: using a compass underwater. Aka: teach Whitney how to use a damn compass. I mean for real DAD (I blame you!) where was this life lesson when I was little?! Ok, so in all reality he probably did teach me how to use a compass but I forgot. After a 15 min explanation about getting my “boat back into the harbor then swim straight” (the simplest way Shane and the instructor could explain it) I did manage to successfully swim a straight line navigating on my own, and Shane and I together managed to navigate a full square! My friends, I call that a win!

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Shane being a good little navigator!

I must say though, Shane and I have very different natural instincts. We had to do an initial navigation test where we had to attempt to swim a straight line underwater without a compass. I veered us towards land. Shane went towards the sea. Here I am trying to get us to land…to AIR!… and Shane is trying to go swim with the big fish. In the future, if we are compass-less, we’re going with my instincts.

The afternoon dive on day 1 was our deep dive. For this to count we had to go below 20 meters, and we made it to 23 (75ft)! Really there wasn’t much point in going deeper. After about 10 meters you couldn’t see anything unless your flashlight was pointing directly at it. It was definitely an eerie experience, and not one I wanted to repeat this weekend. I will definitely do it again, but hopefully somewhere with better visibility. Our instructor did get a few pictures on the way down. I think these only amplified Shane’s lust for a GoPro.

The deep dive was the last of the day, so Shane and I had a little time to explore Scharendijke.

The view from the dyke
The view from the dyke.

Day 2 was our wreck dive and our Nitrox dive. All the “hard” stuff was over so these two dives were basically just guided fun dives. Our wreck dive ended up being kind of a bust. We went to the Scharendijke port where there are two man-made wrecks at about 10 meters, plus some man-made reef balls. These are actually pretty cool. They are large, half sphere balls with large holes in them. They were placed all around and then just let nature take over! They now house lobsters & crabs and sea squirts and other fun things. I digress. The wreck dive was a bust because the visibility was so bad you could barely see your hand stretched out in front of you. Shane took this picture as an example.

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Needless to say, we didn’t stay at this particular site long. We ended up moving closer to to the reef balls where it was shallower & we could see more cool things… like starfish! They were everywhere!

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The last dive of the day was actually on our own. This dive we planned together with our instructor, and he sent his baby fish on their way into the water to dive alone! We were back at the original dive site from day 1, so we were diving over the old dyke. We learned that in 1953 this dyke broke, Zeeland flooded, and thousands of people died. You can dive over the old dyke which is now home to a ton of sea creatures. Shane and I spent this dive just creepin over the dyke (and some more reef balls). It’s really amazing the things you see when you go slowly and just watch.

So! Long story short we are now certified advanced divers! A big thank you to our main instructor Teun, and to Wil who took us on our deep dive and sent the pictures.

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Tot Ziens,

Whitney

Look Who We Found !

The Sufrinkos! 😊

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And they were here for 9 days of Shwitastic European fun!

The trip was split into three parts. We started in Groningen, jetted off to Rome for a few days in the middle, and ended in Amsterdam. I’m going to take The Netherlands portion of our adventure. Shane will continue with Rome in another post.

So, like I mentioned we started the trip in Groningen. They got to experience a particularly fun train ride up. First, they started some weekend construction on the route we usually take. Our 2h 15min non-stop train was discontinued for the weekend, and instead we had 2 trains with almost a three hour total travel time. To top it off, we were later than expected because someone cough:shane:cough left for the bathroom then came back on a different escalator. Naturally, he didn’t see us and assumed we were on the train. Do you see where this is going? He watched us standing on the platform through the window of the train as he left for Groningen.

It is beside the point that another someone forgets that they have a functioning phone here in The Netherlands and missed 4 calls and 2 texts.

So, he got off one stop later & caught the train back to us, all before our next train to Groningen arrived!

Here are a few things we did!

(Public Service Announcement: I’m attempting to get fancy with this post. Groups with 4 or more pictures you should be able to click on to view larger and scroll through all at once. Fingers crossed this actually works!)

Gave Brian a Welcome Package

All we’ve heard about for months is how we better have a large stock of Kinder eggs waiting. I think 30 was sufficient. And no, he didn’t make it through all 30.

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Rented Bikes

Shane and I decided renting bikes here in Groningen was better than in Amsterdam. Here, people actually know how to bike as opposed to Amsterdam where (at least where we would have been biking) it would have been mostly tourists and a complete mess.

Ate Pannenkoekens on a Schip!

Obviously they needed a Dutch pancake, and where else better than on a ship! It did come as an unfortunate surprise to Alicia that the ‘Dutch Baby’ pancake she loves at home is absolutely nothing like actual Dutch pancakes.

Drank Fancy Coffee

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Climbed the Martini Tower

Shane and I were pretty excited to take them to this since we had been saving it for their visit! The tower has been in the city center for more than 500 years, but the one we have today is actually the third version. We learned that the first collapsed, and the 2nd was struck by lightning. 311 steps later we made it to the top!

The Martini Toren from the ground.

Now, hop in your time machine and hold on tight. We’re traveling three days in the future….

…to Amsterdam!

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We stayed in the same hotel that Shane and I stayed in during our trip in January, and so we were about a 15 min walk from everything. We…

 Ate Delicious Brunch!

at Bakers and Roasters.

Saw Some Famous Paintings at the Rijksmuseum

Got the Full Heineken Experience

Kind of surprisingly, this was awesome! I guess we assumed that it was going to just be a brewery tour, which it kind of was, but there was a ton of things to do! You start out learning the history of the Heineken brand, then you see an example of the brewery, taste the various parts of the brewing process, and go on a 3D “Be the Brew” ride! Towards the end there were at least 3 different rooms full of ‘Heineken themed’ games or activities.

Alicia Wore Cloggs

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Got Sherlocked!

This was seriously awesome. It’s an escape game called “Sherlocked“. It’s set in Amsterdam’s old stock exchange building. After you’re briefed on the history of the building & the story you’re locked in a room set up with a series of clues and puzzles. The goal? To escape in an hour! Which we did by the way. Well… sort of. We made it to the point where we had the exit key, but none of us thought to put that key in the door marked ‘Exit’. It still counted though.

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Walked (a lot)

A trip to Amsterdam wouldn’t have been complete without a little canal walking. This was actually really enjoyable because the weather was fantastic after 5 days of non-stop greater than 100°F/40°C heat. I know, I know, if you’re in the U.S. reading this then you’re rolling your eyes at me right now. I can’t help it! I’ve adjusted to cooler temperatures!

Overall, this was a fantastic trip! We were excited to finally show off Groningen and get some quality friend time! We’ve been here by ourselves so long you forget nice it is to be with old friends.

Stay tuned for Rome!

Tot Ziens,

Whitney

Happy New Year !

  We Went to Amsterdam!

The view from central station.

Well, not for New Year’s Eve. We stayed here in Groningen for that which was an experience in itself. Fireworks are legal here for only three days (Dec 30 – Jan 1) and during that time you can expect to hear them non-stop. The legal fireworks aren’t so huge but they make a lot of noise. To top that off you can easily drive over the boarder to Germany and buy the giant ones we are accustomed to. The difference is they aren’t set off in a controlled situation. They are set off in the middle of the streets and in between buildings resulting in the city sounding like its being bombed. Granted, I’ve (fortunately) never been in an actual bombing so I realize it’s not the same, but the point is it’s non stop fireworks for 24 hours. Enough to scare the sh*t out of the cat and make her needier than usual. Top that off with bonfires (that included bikes) in the streets and ya got yourself a Dutch New Year’s Eve party!

Cat’s opinion on the fireworks… Not. Cool.

Anyway, back to Amsterdam!

For my birthday Shane surprised me with an overnight trip to….. somewhere! All he told me was to pack a bookbag because on Saturday we were catching a train at 10am. We had to change trains about 30 min away, but until then I had no idea where we were going. We arrived around noon, and started walking to find our hotel.

Unbeknownst to him, the hotel Shane booked is a historic landmark!

We stayed in the Hotel Amstelzicht, on the Amstel Canal, and is one of the “Dancing Houses”. Apparently, when it was built in 1659 (whoa) it was built on wooden stilts. It’s location next to the canal and the sandy/swampy land caused the houses to shift and “dance”. They have been fully restored so you don’t feel it, but you can see the obvious tilt in the house!

After checking in and dropping our stuff we headed out to wander. First stop was Dam Square, which is the historic center of the city. On one side of the square is the Royal Palace which was first constructed as the City Hall during the 17th century. Later it became the Royal Palace, home to King Louis Napoleon, and now is used for Royal events amongst other things. Across from the Royal Palace is the National Monument dedicated to World War II. Dam Square is also home to the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) which we forgot to get a picture of.

From Dam Square you could wander straight into the Red Light District. We sort of knew what to expect since Groningen also has a Red Light District, but Amsterdam’s was much larger, and looked to be… aahem… of higher quality. If you catch my drift. One thing we didn’t anticipate was the number of families walking through with their children. I mean, I realize that we as Americans are very conservative as compared to Eurpoeans with this stuff, but I just can’t ever picture saying ‘Hey! Family stroll through the Red Light District?…. Sure!’.

We spent the rest of the afternoon in Rembrandt Square people watching and playing around.  Oh, and we found a hole in the wall (yes, sounds sketchy) sushi place which ended up not only being delicious, but our table overlooked the canal.

In the evening we headed back towards Central Station for Shane’s surprise birthday activity. A canal tour! Amsterdam is currently holding it’s third annual Light Festival, and Shane booked a tour specifically to see the various art displays. Needless to say, I was excited!

It was hard to get good pictures in the dark on a boat….but it was fun! Each piece of art was representative of the city in some way, and a lot of them were interactive with the public. For example, the tulips are originally under the water, but as pedestrians pass by they can pedal certain bike pedals on the bridge. This causes the flowers to rise up out of the water and light up. They stopped pedaling, and the flower went back into the water. We both agree we would like to do another canal tour, but one that is more focused on sightseeing or history of the city.

Day 2: Woke up to SUNSHINE!

This is kind of rare this time of year so we were up early to take advantage of it!

First stop, the I amsterdam sign at the Rijksmuseum! We unfortunately didn’t have enough time to go in this museum because we THOUGHT we were going to see the Anne Frank house (more on that soon), but its a must see when we come back.

Next stop, Anne Frank House!

Just Kidding! Yeah, if you look closely across the canal you will notice the line to get in. It turns the corner and goes all the way to the next block. We heard it was this crazy during peak season, but we thought we would be ok this time of year. Didn’t take into consideration it was a holiday weekend. Oh well. Note to self: buy tickets ahead of time. I guess technically we did seeeeeeeee the Anne Frank house. (1st house on the left in the picture above).

Since that was a fail, we decided to get breakfast then check out the Amsterdam Museum. This was nice since we were both wanting a little history after the canal cruise the night before. Wrap your mind around this: Amsterdam was an established city 789 years before the United States had it’s first president. It’s crazy to think about it like that!

After that, we headed home. For only 28 hours I think we really packed in a lot. We certainly walked a ton, and we didn’t even get close to seeing everything there is. Hurry and come visit so we have an excuse to go back!

Tot Ziens!

Whitney

The first few days…

Well, it’s been a few days now and I think we have started to get the hang of the Groningen/Dutch lifestyle. To keep things a little more straightforward, I’ll just break it up into days. This may turn out to be a long post, as we have a fair amount to share.

*Warning: Don’t expect posts of this length for the entire 4 years we will be here. We’ll stick to big adventures and stories as time goes. I’ll pick up where Whitney left off:

Thursday:

Ascension Day, the 40th day of Easter. This means that everything in the city is closed. Although our apartment did come fully furnished, there were still numerous things we needed (mostly for personal comfort). So knowing that everyone is home from work today, we made the smart decision to go to IKEA. Although only a 15-minute walk from our apartment, IKEA was a bad idea. The entire population of Groningen had the same idea that we did and they were in no hurry to move through the store. These two, fast-paced Americans are certainly going to have to adjust to a slower paced lifestyle. Aside from the mass of slow-moving humanity, IKEA was interesting for other reasons. First off, as most of you that have visited an IKEA know, all of the product names are in Swedish and therefore a little complicated to read. Try adding Dutch descriptions to those Swedish names and things get really interesting. As with everything else thus far, we shopped by pictures and looks. The other interesting IKEA factor here? We don’t have a car. Therefore, everything you buy has to be carried 1.3km home. The solution to this problem? Rent a bakfiets (bike with giant basket/cart on the front) or pay to have it delivered. We chose the second option.

Following IKEA, we met briefly with my new P.I. and chatted about life in Groningen (for clarity: P.I. means principal investigator and I will likely use it frequently in future posts. It’s typically how graduate students refer to their boss, at least in the US. I’ll have to figure out how it is here).

Friday:

Today was a big day in our Dutch lives! We bought bikes! Not having a bike in Groningen is like not having a car in the United States. Walking is not an issue at all, as most places are only 10-15 minutes from us. However, once you jump on a bike and make that same 15-minute trip in 5, you gain a new perspective. The bike buying process was fairly easy (I think we had both secretly dreaded taking that step as we didn’t really know what to expect). There is a bike shop a few minutes from our apartment so on one of our many trips into the city center; we decided to just go for it. Half an hour later, we walked out with two used bikes. Whitney was able to get a very nice bike, complete with lights and a bell (both of which are required here or you get a sizeable fine, ~80 euros). Mine is a little more ‘used’ but it was cheaper and still works fine. I have a bit more bike riding experience than Whitney so we figured it better for her to have a good one so she can focus on the riding part. Bike theft here is a big issue, so we each had to get heavy-duty chain locks. Basically, from what we have been told, if you leave your bike unattended and unlocked, it will certainly get stolen. Those chain locks will get plenty of use…

After getting our bikes, we made the trip out to IKEA again (because you never get everything you need in one trip) and it was a breeze. I have to admit, I spent most of the ride laughing at Whitney but we made it with no issues. Let’s just saying that she is improving every time we ride.

One final story for the day: As Whitney mentioned in her last post, we live above a flower shop. The owner of the flower shop is our landlord so we stopped in to meet him. His name is Wally and he is very cool. He told us about the Chevrolet trucks that he and his son drive and how he recently made a trip to Pennsylvania, complete with trips to the junkyard for parts. We certainly made an impression on him. I say this because as we were leaving, Whitney (ever graceful) stepped in a puddle of water, slipped, and nearly took out an entire wall of flowers. As we went out the door, we heard Wally and his daughter saying “oh….”.

‘Welcome to Groningen’ flowers from Wally

Saturday:

For those of you that know us, food & cooking are a major part of our lives. You have probably even heard us tell stores about our butcher in Pittsburgh and how Saturday mornings were our ‘butchin’ days. Well being that it is Saturday, we had to find a way to butch!

We started out by heading to a local, organic butcher shop. It’s about 5 minutes from our apartment and it wasn’t bad. Ordering cuts of meat, like everything else, is an adventure. First off, we can’t read the signs so we just have to go by looks. Secondly, we use the metric system here (thanks America for being different) so we have to order by grams/kilograms. This will take some getting used too.

Saturday tradition: butcher then coffee

Following the butcher, we visited De Vismarkt (the fish market) and it was amazing! It is a huge open-air market that has everything. And when I say everything, I mean everything! All types of meat and fish, any fruit or vegetable you can imagine, nut/seeds, eggs (chicken/duck/something we couldn’t figure out), spices, bread, cheeses, and too many other things to name. The best part of it all? It was cheap! Spices were certainly the highlight of the trip as they were only 1-2 euros for a very large bag. Another highlight involved Whitney getting very excited over fresh spinach and ordering a ‘kilo’ of it. Know how much a kilogram is? 2.2 pounds. We have 2.2 pounds of spinach and only paid €1,50. I reiterate; the market is amazingly cheap. We will be shopping there from now on.

So there it is: way too much detail for our first few days in Groningen. As I said at the beginning, we won’t be doing every post like this. I just wanted to share our first couple days here since a lot of you have been asking and it has certainly been exciting for us. Work will be starting next week, along with interviews for Whitney (fingers crossed!), so things will be settling down significantly. All in all, life in Groningen is good. We have bikes, we found a place to grocery shop, and assuming we can adjust to the time/daylight (it is daylight from 5am to after 10pm here, ridiculous), we will be just fine.

Until next time,

Shane

P.S. Vegetables from the market are much larger than we are used to. Take this carrot as an example. This is 100%, unedited, straight from the market (we didn’t realize it until we got home and unpacked).  Sorry mom…..you have to admit, it’s pretty funny.

A Netherlands riddle for you

What’s black and blue and has 16 legs?

Give up?

My suitcase! …with ALL my pants. …that the airline lost.

Awesome.

Well, we are finally here! Three flights, two long layovers, and a two-hour train ride later we are finally in the city we will call home for the next four years. Considering we checked six pieces of luggage and only lost one, things aren’t so bad. The airline has already found it, and it should be delivered by Friday.

I let Shane navigate “the board”. The train schedule in Amsterdam probably wouldn’t be that complicated if we could read Dutch…
Getting all of our luggage on and off the train was the worst part (i.e. I struggled with one bag which kept getting caught on a seat while Shane managed to load the other four in the same period of time….)
Breakfast of Champions! When in Ireland…Do as the Irish do. Drink a Guinness!

Groningen (pronounced with a hard ‘H’ at the beginning, in a harsh German kind of way) greeted us with “below normal temperatures” and steady rain, but we live above the CUTEST flower shop and that makes me happy! Our apartment is about a 10 minute walk to city center which has all the shops and restaurants, and when the listing said ‘fully furnished’ they meant it. We expected the couches, desk, and coffee table, but we didn’t expect a high efficiency washer and dryer, a king sized bed, and full set of dishes/kitchen utensils. Did I mention it’s above a flower shop?

Our new home

Today, our first full day here, we took care of all the boring stuff: bank accounts, cell phones, etc. We did find a neat little breakfast place with great iced coffee! That’s one thing we will never be without here. Coffee. Strong coffee. I’m not complaining.

Tomorrow is Ascension Day (the 40th day of Easter?) so everything is closed. However, it’s supposed to be warm and sunny so we plan on just walking the city and exploring a little. City pictures to come soon!

Tot ziens! (Goodbye, in Dutch!)

Whitney

Netherlands Bound!

It’s crazy. You all always hear about this kind of thing on TV or in the movies, but we are actually doing it!

Well, it’s official: we are on our way to The Netherlands! After months of preparation and a seemingly endless string of paperwork and forms, it’s hard to believe that it’s finally happening. By this time tomorrow, we will be settling into our new apartment in Groningen. We have a pretty long trip to get there, with 4-hour layovers in both New York and Dublin. Add to that, the flights and the train ride from Amsterdam to Groningen and we are looking at about 24 hours worth of travel. Certainly not the ideal travel plan but I guess that’s what we get for moving on Memorial Day weekend…

In related news, the third member of our clan, Meatball, will not be joining us right away. We had some issues with the Vet and she will be coming next month (we’ll save that story for another post).   We know a lot of you are curious to hear how that whole process will go so we will be sure to update once she makes it over. For now, she is living the good life with Whitney’s mom.

So with that being said, we bid everyone farewell! We will certainly do our best to keep this up to date with our adventures and we hope to hear from you all. Facebook, Skype, Google +/Hangouts, iMessage, and email are all viable options to keep in touch with us. In the mean time, if you haven’t already done so, get your passports! We want EVERYONE to come visit! What’s the point of living in Europe if you can’t have friends and family to experience it with?

See you all soon!