Dear Holland: a love letter

If you’re reading this, then we are officially no longer residence of the Netherlands.

I started to write this post a few days ago, but something just didn’t feel right about it. Last week, we finished watching the Michael Jordan documentary on Netflix, and it made me realize that we’re having our own version of ‘the last dance’ – our Last Dutch Dance! Naturally, I started wandering around the house muttering things to Meatball like “This is the last week of squeaky floors! 🙌” and “This is the last week you can sleep in a king-sized bed! 😣”. It made me realize what was missing from my original post was a little bit of heart. Yes, I can tell you all the standard reasons why the Netherlands is a great country to live in (work/life balance, universal healthcare, pragmatic attitudes) – if you’re interested in specifics I’d love to talk about it in detail one-on-one. Instead, I’d rather tell you all the personal reasons we loved living in Holland.


Our Apartment.

I first want to pay homage to our little apartment over the flower shop. Actually, for Dutch standards, it’s not so little, but when we first moved here in 2014 from a 2 bedroom + living + diving + sunroom apartment in Pittsburgh, it sure felt small. Despite all the apartment frustrations (squeaky floors, mice, bees, perpetually cold, terrible wifi) it’s been a great apartment. It came furnished, we can walk to the city center in ~5 min, we have some great views and a really cool landlord.

Over the years we’ve learned to deal with all the quirks: Meatball can catch mice, I can catch bees, Shane bought a space heater, and well – the wifi is still shit. Suddenly, the furnished apartment we found on the internet from across an ocean turned into a home.

View from the living room window.

Bikes!

Biking just outside Groningen city (May 2019).

Now, I realize that this one is quintessentially Dutch, but it’s true! Bikes. are. life. The average number of bikes per person in the Netherlands is 1.3 (and 1.4 in Groningen), and it makes sense. The majority of trips are made on the bike. To the grocery store, to the city center, to work, for leisure activities. And you can’t just have one bike. If you have space, then one should always consider keeping a guest bike, or a crappier bike to take to the city center where the risk of being stolen is higher.

Shane and I bought bikes the first week we arrived. Miraculously, Shane has managed to keep the same bike all 6 years. I may or may not be on bike #4 (2 stolen, 1 rusted apart). Regardless, I will never forget that first week re-learning how to be comfortable on a bike. Over the years, I would say we fit right in. We’ve mastered the art of biking with your hands in your pockets, transporting crates of beer (or a cat, or Christmas tree), staying up-right after a few too many drinks, and navigating the mayhem of a four-way-free-for-all-bike-intersection unscathed.

Biking isn’t always fun though. We’ve both had our run-ins – with cars, buses, scooters, and other people. One time the side mirror of a car caught Shane’s bike handle and just pulled him along… only slightly scary. We’ve also had our fair share of weather. We don’t have a car, so rain or shine, wind or heavy wind, if you need to get from A to B then it’s to the bike, Batman! Sometimes it would be nice to have a car, but the ease and accessibility of using the bike outweigh the occasional inconvenience. Plus, bike maintenance is much cheaper than car maintenance…

We sold our bikes just before we left Groningen. Shane spent €60 on his bike the first week, and sold it for €25, making his net bike cost per year (excluding maintenance) €5.80. Over the years, I spent €270 and had to give the damn thing away for free because no one would buy it, bringing my bike cost per year to €45. I personally think I won this contest, but I’ll let you decide for yourself.

The Market.

Our first Saturday market trip (June 2014).

This is not a secret. We love our market!

Het beste markt van Nederland 2016! 🥇 *humble brag*

It’s the best market in the Netherlands every year in my book! This will be, hands down, the number one thing we miss in Groningen. We have shopped at the market every Saturday from the moment we arrived. Why? It’s cheaper than the grocery store, there is more variety, you can find local produce (or at least national produce), and it has a great atmosphere. Plus, it’s just fun to have a ‘spice lady’, a ‘dried beans guy’, and a ‘THE veggie stand’.

Relatedly, another thing I am going to miss is making people happy with exact change. The Netherlands doesn’t use the one and two-cent euro coins. Instead, if you’re paying in cash, then your purchase will be rounded to the nearest 5 cents.

For instance, at the grocery store, you weigh your own fruit and print a sticker with the final price. If I wanted a single banana, then smart-me would find the banana that costs €0.17, because when I pay in cash I’ll only pay €0.15! But, if my banana is too heavy and comes out to be €0.18 cents, well then I’m overpaying for that banana (by a whole €0.02)! Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything.

At the market, vendors LOVE exact change and with the rounding system, it makes it easy! I would LIVE for those Saturday “ooh mooie!” (ooh, great!) moments. Unfortunately for me, making people happy with exact change has become a casualty of coronavirus.

Our last Saturday market trip (May 2020).

Food.

Clockwise from top-left: brokkelkaas, stroopwafels, Groninger droogeworst, and puur pinda rotjes.

If I’m being honest, Dutch food isn’t all that exciting. I’m stereotyping a little, but a typical day would be bread (with butter, jelly, or hagelslag) for breakfast, bread (with cheese or a savory spread) + a boiled egg for lunch, and some form of meat and potatoes (and maybe veggie) for dinner.

The Dutch only eat “warm” at dinner, so when Miss Americana here showed up on day 1 of my new job asking for a microwave to re-heat my leftovers I was met with some confused looks. Another food faux-pas: mixing peanut butter and hagelslag (sprinkles) on the same piece of bread. This makes no sense to me, as hagelslag is typically chocolate flavored, and who doesn’t love peanut butter + chocolate combo?!

There are a few things we will miss though, like droogeworst (dried meats, spiced regionally), stroopwafels, zuurkoolschotel (sourkraut casserole), stamppot (potatoes + endive or kale mashed together), and Groninger mustard.

The two things I will miss the most? Gevulde spekulaas, which I’ve raved about before, and cheese. I am unabashedly a cheese snob now. Brokkelkaas anyone? 😋 Shane’s top choice? Droogeworst with cheese accompaniment.

Terrace Culture.

First sunny day [pre-coronavirus] (March 2020).

Of all the restrictions we’ve faced during the coronavirus lockdown, I think this is the one that hurts the Dutch the most. Especially since the weather has started to turn warmer. Terrace culture is no joke here – if the sun is out, then the terraces are packed. I like to lovingly refer to the Dutch as ‘anti-vampires’, a group in which I now include myself, because if the sun is out then people are in it. It’s also comparable to cats when they find that one sliver of sunlight…

Sun-kitty.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not judging. Over the years we have come to worship the sun like the Dutch. It’s almost like you’re brainwashed to think “Sun. Must sit. Terrace. Beer. Now!”. Don’t want to pay for beers at a restaurant? No worries, generally speaking, there are no ‘open-container laws’ here. We just pop some beers in a backpack and head out. One of our favorite spots was the Oosterhaven (East Port) just down the street from us.

The Oosterport (March 2020).

The Weather.

Beautiful Dutch day on top of the Forum in Groningen (December 2019).

If you don’t complain about the weather, are you even Dutch? I’m pretty sure NOT complaining is a reason to fail the integration exam… So, I would be remiss not to bring it up.

Long story short? It’s a love-hate relationship.

Love: The sunshine! When it’s beautiful outside, it’s really beautiful. Even if its cold, a sunny day changes everyone’s attitude. When it’s warm and sunny the city has a certain inspiring energy to it.

The Witte Molen on a sunny day (March 2020).

Hate: The lack of sunshine. Sometimes, it will go literally weeks without seeing the sun. This can be particularly uninspiring in the winter when it’s grey all day and dark at 16:30. And, in Groningen at least, there are always a few weeks of thick fog that add to the gloom.

Shane’s work building in fog (Nov 2015)

Love: How fast the light changes. Sunrise and sunset change so quickly that it’s noticeable from week to week which gives you hope during those dark winter months. We are currently coming into peak light season, where the sun will come up at ~05:00 and set at ~23:00.

Hate: Trying to sleep during peak light season. Blackout curtains required! 😆

~23:00 June 21, 2019.

Love: The weather is consistent. When in doubt plan for windy, cold and rainy. Plus side, I have a lot of jackets now!

Hate: The weather is consistent. I miss having true seasons. I don’t necessarily miss those stiflingly hot & humid North Carolina summers, but inevitably I reach a point in the spring (right about now actually) when I’m just sick and tired of being cold all the damn time. When it’s June and I still have to wear a jacket… 😑

We have had some heatwaves (last summer) and were lucky enough to see the canals freeze, so temperature swings do happen. Just don’t expect to wear shorts all summer, or see snow in the winter.

Frozen canals during the ‘Siberian Bear’ (March 2018)

Despite my love-hate relationship with the weather, I can say without a doubt that moving to the Netherlands was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. We’ve had a lot of personal milestones over these past 6 years: we got married, traveled to 17 new countries, learned a new language (sort of), Shane got a PhD, and I’ve found 2 jobs. But I think, more importantly, moving to another country has completely changed our perspective on life. When the scripts are flipped and your the outsider, the immigrant, the person who doesn’t understand the language – it changes you. Personally, I think it’s made me bolder, more patient, more compassionate, and instilled a sense of personal responsibility to understand others’ cultures.

A bucket-list item – the pyramids! Cairo, Egypt (April 2017).

We’ve also grown as a couple. Moving across an ocean with another person can go one of two ways. Thankfully, for us, it’s only brought us closer together. We’ve both moved out of our comfort zone in one way or another, and had the benefit of the others’ support to get through it. And, thanks to that Dutch work/life balance, we’ve had the financial means to enjoy living in Europe and the time to establish life priorities as a couple. Quarantine ain’t got nothin’ on us!

So, to the Netherlands, and to Groningen in particular, we are forever grateful! And to all the people we’ve met along the way:

Dutch, Canadian, Chinese, Finnish, German, Indian, Indonesian, Irish, Italian, Luxembourgish, Mexican, Portuguese, Serbian, Spanish, Syrian, Swiss, and Turkish

Thank you for welcoming us and making our expat life complete. 💛

And with that, we’re off to the next chapter – Germany!

Tot ziens,

Whitney

Spring has Sprung !

I would just like to start by saying {please dont let me jinx it!} we’re heading for spring folks!

Proof you say? I took this picture at 7:15pm. It’s daylight, there is actual visible blue sky, and the wind isn’t blowing (you’ll just have to trust me on that last part). That’s spring in the north of The Netherlands!

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Anyway, not much has been going on since our trip to Prague. Mostly a lot of wedding planning, which leads to a lot of budgeting, which leads to a lot of quality time with Meatball. …I don’t think she minds the extra attention.

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That being said, we haaaave managed to not be completeeee hermits the past few months.

Non-hermit Activity #1: A Dog Show!

Maybe you remember the friend who has a Great Dane? He made his first blog appearance a while back when he decided Shane’s lap was a perfect place to sit. Anyway, in his free time, he likes to show off his gentlemanly side at dog shows. He happened to be participating in one here in Groningen so we went! Neither Shane nor I have ever been to a dog show, and it was great! Not only did we get to watch this handsome guy compete, but we saw some other cool dudes too.

To top it off, the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever was there, and in the ring right next to us! A litte backstory. Just before we found out we were moving to The Netherlands Shane and I were seriously considering getting a dog. I took a bunch… a BUNCH! of online “what type of dog is right for you quizzes” and came up with the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, or a ‘Toller’ for short. Online quiz = I neeeeeeeeeeded this dog! Then we moved, and that was that. Long story short, I was super excited to see them not on the internet.

Tooooooo cuteeeeee! Maybe one day.

Non-hermit Activity #2: Nerd Night!

So, back in February, it was announed that gravitational waves were detected for the first time ever. Not sure what I’m talking about? Here is an article about it. I would attempt to explain it, but let’s be real I’ll do a terrible job.

Back to Nerd Night. I am engaged to a closet physics and space lover. That sounds weird, but he just finished reading Stephen Hawking so I think you get my point. He found out that David Reitze, the director for Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) which made the discovery, was speaking at the university.

Bribed with free coffee and a pack of gummy bears, we ventured out on a THURSDAY NIGHT to see the seminar, and I must say, I am THOUROUGHLY glad I am engaged to a nerd! I can’t really begin to explain the lecture. I can say that he was very inspiring, as he is someone who is clearly so passionate about his work. He did an excellent job at presenting a topic that generally pretty mind blowing (at least for me) and putting it in such a way I actually understood and enjoyed my time there!

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Non-hermit Activity #3: Jumbo Kitty

Ok, so this isn’t an activity at all, but there is a kitty who just hangs out at the grocery store (Jumbo). He’s too darn cute to pass up. He just sits there in his produce boxes waiting for the pets and for all the suckers to go in, buy cat treats, and feed him on the way out.

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Non-hermit Activity #4: Suprise, America! 

I went home for Easter! Ok, I really went home for a work trip to Baltimore, but they were kind enough to let me do a stopover at home for the Easter holiday. 2 surprise days at home are better than none! And yes, we still get Easter baskets.

I packed a lot into those few days home. Did a little wedding dress shopping, saw Sissy’s new apartment, & got some quality front porch time. Ironically, it was cold and rainy at home. Shane reported “beautiful” weather… sunshine and 65F (18C) degrees.

The Monday after Easter, I headed up to Baltimore for work & I was able to see Vanessa since I missed her at Christmas, and finally meet Solomon!

So, that’s life right now! We’re heading to London in about a month & counting down the days!

Until then, tot ziens!

Whitney

The Final Countdown!

It’s official!

In less than a month we’ll be making our way home for the holidays! To kick it off, this weekend was a weekend of celebrations! Shane turned 30, Sinterklaas arrived, and we took a little stroll through the Groningen countryside. So, the last part really isn’t a celebration but we did it, and it was cool.

First things first, Friday. Shane’s Birthday!

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We kept it pretty low key, but we did go out for dinner & may or may not have eaten the entire cookie cake by the next morning.

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We also took the long way home through the city. It’s that time of year when all the lights have gone up, and the city itself just feels so cozy despite the dark and cold. The Dutch word for this would be ‘gezellig’. Just that happy, warm, cozy feeling you can’t really describe, but you know it when you feel it. There was also a festival to celebrate and encourage new, city wide innovations. Part of this was a musical swing set in city center! I’m not entirely sure what the meaning behind the swings were, but they were fun to play on!

Saturday we* woke up bright and early like a kid on Sinterklaas morning! OH WAIT! It WAS Sinterklaas morning!

*we actually equals me.

Anyway, maybe you don’t know this about me, but I LOVE parades. Sinterklaas is a double whammy of awesome because it’s two parades in one! First, good ole Sint arrives from his long journey by boat from Spain. Then, he hops off and parades through town on his white horse until he meets up with the mayor to officially kick everything off. If you want a little recap on Sinterklass history I talked a little about it, here, last year.

I was particularly excited because Shane was in Switzerland last year during this time. This was his first Sinterklaas experience.

Naturally, it rained.

Did we bring an umbrella? …I’ll let you answer that.

We did manage to find a tree next to the canal which provided enough cover to not get 100% soaked. We also met up with Shane’s lab mate (the one with the giant dog!) who was also a Sinterklaas newbie.

I think the thing Shane was most impressed with was the size of Sinterklaas’ boat. Seriously, this thing was massive and it moved flawlessly (to us at least) through the canals.

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Quick coffee break to dry off and warm up…

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…and it’s time for part 2!

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Sinterklaas’ helpers, the Zwarte Pieten, hand out fruit and pepernoten (small spice cookies) to the kids. They also collect the letters that have been written to Sinterklaas. There were some kids across the street from us are dressed up, letters in hand, screaming “Zwarte Pieeeeeeetttttt!!!”, waiting for someone to collect their letters.

Note to self: Next year, write a letter.

Sunday morning, it randomly snowed.

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But then it cleared up, and we went on a little drive through the countryside with some friends. They took us to Fraeylemaborg, which is a castle in the village of Schlocteren.

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They call it a castle. We called it more of a plantation style house. Although, it did have a mote which is a very castle like characteristic.

Regardless, the house itself dates back to the 1300’s, and the interior reflects the mid 20th century. We were pretty amazed at how similar this was to the old, colonial style houses you would see at home. I mean really, this shouldn’t come as a surprise, but it was a new perspective for us. The house was built on about 80 acres of land, and behind the house were walking trails through mud gardens.

Now if this doesn’t make you think Pride & Prejudice then I don’t know what will. I’m pretty sure Mr. Darcey will be walking up momentarily…

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To all our friends and family at home, happy early Thanksgiving! We will be having a belated Friendsgiving on Saturday, so at least the holiday won’t be completely lost this year.

I’ll see you in a month, America!

Tot ziens,

Whitney

We’ve been here a year !?

It’s hard to believe but we have officially been in the Netherlands for a year!

To say time has gone quickly would be an understatement. It seems like just the other day we were packing up to leave….

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

….now, a year later, here we are:

In honor of one year, I think it’s necessary to do the typical “reflection” post. However, instead of just simply re-posting a bunch of pictures, I thought I’d take a different approach. So allow me to present:

YEAR ONE: the numbers (in dutch!)

vierentwintig (24) – the number of hours we spent traveling here on our initial move.  No, it does not take that long to get here.  We decided to be cheap and have multiple long layovers.  You always convince yourself it won’t be that bad…but it is.

nul (0) – the number of full-size kitchen appliances in our kitchen. In fact, our kitchen does not have an oven or dishwasher and the refrigerator is what we would typically refer to as “dorm-room” sized. While this was a huge shock in the beginning, it is oddly normal now. We have since upgraded to a toaster oven.

kitchen

vier (4) – the number of bikes we have owned in a year.  If you are keeping count, that’s 3 for Whitney and 1 for me. They all have names but I’ve lost track at this point.

tweeduizend (2,000) – since we are on the topic of bikes, the estimated number of kilometers I have biked in the past year.  It is 4km to work, so that’s 8km a day, 5 days a week, for roughly 40 weeks, plus any additional biking we do on the weekends.  Even though Whitney is able to walk to work, it is still safe to say we have both biked a lot in the past year.

acht (8) – the number of combined bike ‘incidents’ we have had. I have had 2 fairly rough encounters with fellow bikers and 1 small meeting with a car. Whitney has had incidents with bikes, cars, and scooters.  It happens to everyone. You just dust yourself off and go on.

tien (10) – the number of times we have gone to Ikea and I have subsequently refused to ever go back. Think the crowds are the worst part? Try lugging all those over-sized boxes of furniture home on your bike. Somehow, Whitney always manages to get by with carrying only a pillow or picture frame.*

*she’ll read this, concede that it is true, and then somehow convince me to go again next week

vijf (5) – the number of ‘new’ countries I have visited in the past year – the Netherlands (duh), Germany, Switzerland, Egypt, Tanzania. Whitney hasn’t been to Switzerland or Tanzania yet but we are hoping to change that soon. Not too shabby for one year.

twee (2) – a number strongly associated with Meatball.  It is the number of weeks we had to wait to be able to ship her here, the number of weeks she lived comfortably in our new apartment, and the number of weeks she was lost outside after falling from our window. It is also the number of seconds we will currently leave an open window unattended.

drie (3) – the number of months it took Whitney to find a job.  This is exceptional considering she spoke no Dutch at the time and everyone assured us it would take her at least 6 months.  To make things even better, this is a job she still enjoys and we’re hopeful she can continue it for the duration of our living here.

zeven (7) – the number of cafe’s we’ve visited for Saturday morning coffee (“coffee shop” means something completely different in the Netherlands). This number is probably higher but you get the idea.  Coffee is a huge part of Dutch culture and we are doing our best to experience as much of it as we can.

twee (2) – a repeat but non-Meatball related number. The number of fish that Whitney has named in my aquarium at work.  I work with hundreds of fish and for whatever reason, she choose and named two of them. Seriously, she keeps close tabs on these fish (sadly, only Mrs. Buttersworth remains as Francis has moved on to a better place).

zes (6) – the number of new holidays we have experienced since moving. In no particular order: Liberation Day, King’s Day, Sinterklaas, Pentecost, Boxing Day, Ascension Day. There are probably many more that I am forgetting at the moment.

zesentachtig (86) – the number of times people have mistakenly assumed I speak Dutch while speaking only English to Whitney. Ok, obviously this is a completely made up number but it does happen all the time.  It seems the harder she tries, the more they switch to English.  Meanwhile, I say nothing and get only Dutch. On the plus, we are slowly but surely improving our language skills.

achttien (18) – the number of meters we are now able to dive under water (we’ll up this with advanced certifications soon).  We are super excited about our new scuba hobby and future trips will certainly be centered around this activity.

één (1) – the number of visitors we have had in the last year (hint hint).

ok ok, I guess we have technically had two visitors…

And last by certainly not least…

tweehonderdtien (210) – the number of days before we are home to visit! That’s right, we are finally coming home in December! By that point, it will have been 18 months since we were last home.  I speak for the both of us when I say we are VERY excited about it.  In the meantime, stay tuned.  We have a few more adventures planned in the coming months.

Until next time,

Shane

Happy 2 Monthiversary !

Hello!

As of today we have officially been here two months! Half of me thinks ‘I can’t believe we’ve been here 2 months!’ and then the other half thinks ‘I can’t believe we’ve ONLY been here 2 months!’. I think it’s safe to say we’re settled, and therefore life has just been… life? I suppose is the best way to describe it. Since July is ‘vakantie’ (vacation) month there is no news on the job front, and since we’re short on disposable income until then there is nothing terribly exciting happening.Here is what we’ve been up to the past couple of weeks…

1 Loving on the cat.

A lot. Shane takes a ‘hands-off’ approach while I just dive right on in for the love. I think she appreciates his way better.

2 Shane started his first round of experiments! 

Good side: He’s really excited about it, and happy to be working in the aquarium again instead of reading papers all day. Bad side: He’s been having to set up fish for trials on Sunday. Good side: He bribes me to help him with free cappuccinos and deluxe hot chocolates at work!

 3 We got our first care package!!

HUGE thank you to Kaitlin, Andrew, Mike, Michelle & Heather for the kind words and entertainment.

4 We’ve been spending some time exploring the city parks. 

There are 2 main parks, but lots of smaller ones scattered throughout. We spent the majority of one particularly hot Saturday lounging in the park and feeding the ducks.

5 We’re on the hunt for our favorite cafe. 

In Pittsburgh, Saturday mornings meant coffee with the Sufrinko’s. We’re keeping the tradition alive… just 6 hours ahead of them. So far our front-runners are De Kostery & Doppio. Not that those names really matter to anyone else reading this.

I think that about sums it up! And #sorryimnotsorry if the next couple of posts are all about cat. She’s our main form of entertainment these days.

Tot Ziens!

Whitney