Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Our first year... Happy Anniversary to us...

What an amazing ride the last year has been! Having a baby, moving house, packing our bags, leaving Australia and arriving in the Netherlands with a 4 week old lamb and a 2 ½ year old lion. It’s time to do a year in review and travel down memory lane...

August 09

The Dutchman wisely decided to make his great escape from Oz in advance and in a moment of madness my brother (let’s call him JB) and sister in law (let’s call her the baby whisperer) very kindly agreed to accompany the lion, lamb and I on a 23 hour 35 minute flight abroad. The highlights of this exceptionally long and tedious trip were the baby whisperer soothing the lamb, and finally coercing the lion into sleep after almost 20 hours without it, being deliriously tired and laughing hysterically out loud while watching The Hangover, and finally watching JB collecting all the crazy bags off the baggage carousel in Amsterdam.

In our first month...
• Succeeded in not being run over by any bikes
• Adjusted to living in an inner city (Rotterdam) apartment 
• Freaked out sitting in the driver’s seat but not driving the car
• Wondered where the proper ‘big’ supermarket was 
• Fell in love with Delft
• Discovered a passion for fresh stroopwafels AND lekker kibbeling AND patat and fritte saus

September 09
We found a house to rent. When I say ‘we’ I really do mean the royal ‘we’, I was chief researcher, but due to fear and language barriers I let the Dutchman do all of the negotiating and contract signing with the Real Estate Agent. I found it a real surprise to have to put a rental application in with the agency BEFORE even seeing any properties. Then ONCE we were approved we could go and look at vacant properties and choose which one we liked. Fortunately we found a house we loved and still do. We didn’t pay a deposit or a bond and there are no rent inspections (how fantastic is that?).

Our second month...
• ‘We’ (the royal we) renovated a house that we don’t own
• Became frequent flyers at IKEA 
• Ventured further afield in the Netherlands
• Felt incredibly frustrated at my lost independence
• Met new friends and little playmates 

October 09

By October it was already time to pull out the scarves and beanies. People started talking about wearing their summer or winter jacket (no such thing exists in Oz you have a jacket in winter that would probably translate to a summer jacket here). We went to our first birthday party and I learnt how to say gefeliciteerd (congratulations) to everyone and shake hands with all present, and eat cake before eating anything else (great idea). Was quite enamoured by the Dutch custom of introducing yourself rather than waiting to be introduced, and think it’s particularly helpful when you can’t remember someone’s name.

Our third month...
• Felt more at ease with life in the Netherlands
• Requested emergency care packages of Ugg Boots & Vegemite
• Discovered crème mergpijpjes and big battenbergs (delicious cream and chocolate or marzipan and chocolate biscuits)

November 09

Two life changing events happened in November that made our lives in the Netherlands far more enjoyable. The first was the lion started Peuterspeelzal (like 3 year old kinder from ages 2 ½ to 4, three times per week).  Being the social butterfly the lion is, she adjusted beautifully and these lessons really helped her to settle into life here and also learn Dutch. Within three months from starting school (as we call it) the lion was speaking fluent Nederlands (and much to her Oma and Opa’s delight high Nederlands – apparently they speak posh in Zoetermeer).

The second life changing event was starting Nederland’s lessons. Commenced lessons at Piezo, a voluntary organisation in Zoetermeer offering free lessons for migrants and free child minding at the same time. These lessons are questionable in how effective they are in teaching you Dutch (there is no set course, just show up each week and the teacher will teach you whatever they feel like on the day) they have been absolutely invaluable in helping me to assimilate and meet fabulous women from all over the world. It has also been great for the lamb as he has been adored by the caring child minders and learnt to have a little time away from his mum.

In our fourth month...
• Settled in to a routine and began really enjoying life abroad
• Pulled out the winter woollies and didn’t question if we needed to wear a jacket
• Experienced vandalism NL style

December 09

Enjoyed our first Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas) celebration and the festivities this included. The lion became officially Dutch with a celebration ceremony at the Gemeente (council) where she demonstrated some of her lioness behaviour (I’m surprised they didn’t revoke her citizenship on the spot). The lamb experienced his first Christmas and the lion and I our first white Christmas. We celebrated the First Christmas and Second Christmas Day (it’s such a wonderful idea to over indulge on two days in a row). Loved the fireworks and people going out in the snow to risk blowing off their fingers and toes on New Year’s Eve.

In our fifth month...
• Loved celebrating Sinterklaas, Christmas and New Year
• Laughed at the Dutchman riding his bike to collect the Christmas tree
• Felt like we were living in Afghanistan with fireworks being set off nightly
• Ate many delicacies including... kerstbrood (Stollen), olliebollen (fried donut like delights) and pepernoten (round spicey cookies)
• Enjoyed the snow

January 10

The New Year brought new beginnings and the birth of this blog. It felt strange to go back to school in January so close to Christmas, and not to enjoy our summer holidays that we normally have in January. The love and fascination with the snow started to wear off, and realised you just have to go outside every day, regardless of the conditions.

In our sixth month
• Left the Netherlands and ventured across the border into Germany
• Was impressed by a man riding his bike through snow while holding an umbrella
• Started to wonder if we would ever need our thongs (flip flops, double pluggers, jandals) again

February 10

By February we were well accustomed to walking on ice, and when the weather warmed and reached the whopping heights of four degrees, we celebrated and went to Amsterdam. Gained hope that the snow was clearing and decided it was high time I purchased a bike to travel in Dutch style.

In our seventh month...
• Loved the Rijksmuseum and the scenic delights Amsterdam has to offer
• Reconciled ourselves to 4 degree weather as being acceptable
• Took possession of my new freedom machine read about it here

March 10

In Maart roots and starts (if you know this whole rhyme can you send it to me?) and Lente (or spring) sprung. We enjoyed the company of Meema and Opa (the Oz grandparents) and were surprised when they kept banging on about how cold it was (it was a perfectly acceptable 8 degrees). Opa kept asking whether he needed to wear a jacket (of course – maybe gloves and scarves were becoming optional). They shared in our delight when the temperature topped double figures for the first time.

In our eighth month...
• Fell in love with Brugge
• Enjoyed overindulgence and catching up with my parents
• Ate lots of Paasbrood (Stollen dressed up as Easter bread and just as delicious)
• A stork landed on our garden shed and shared his company for awhile

April 10

In April the sun came out and spring became alive. We marvelled at the blooms on the trees and visited the Keukenhoff. I discovered how wonderful the beach/beach experience is at Scheveningen. We were astounded that the gardens after being dormant for six months just started growing like it was on steriods.

In our ninth month...
• We enjoyed a trip to Amsterdam minus the kids, read about it here
• Found out the stork left more than we were expecting
• Started Nederlands lessons at Taal Taal

May 10

In May I taught Opa how to make a pavlova and he can now produce one of these delicious Australian desserts (Kiwis might debate this). We finally admitted our Huisart (doctor) was a moron (I’d previously excused behaviour due to language barriers). He told the Dutchman that the lion had a stomach virus and disputed her being sick with asthma!  Within two hours of seeing him the lion was admitted to Hospital for asthma where she spent the next three days.

In our tenth month...
• Gained confidence in the hospital system
• Started to speak and understand more Dutch
• The lamb learnt to walk
• Marvelled at how beautiful Spring is in this country

June 10

In June summer came at long last and we enjoyed the heat, put away our winter AND summer jackets and bared our white arms and legs to the world. In June we left the country for a lazy 15 hour car trip to the South of France and Spain (in Australia you don’t drive fifteen hours anywhere, you fly – I once had to talk the Dutchman out of driving from Melbourne to Sydney for a half hour appointment). The lion and lamb delighted in swimming regularly and living an outdoors lifestyle. The lamb spent the best part of a month with bruises on his forehead from campground accidents and falling out our back door step on a regular basis (at last he now gets it).

In our eleventh month...
• Fell in love with Argeles Sur Mer
• Ate way too many baguettes with brie and strawberries
• Went on holidays Dutch style and loved every minute

July 10

School holidays started and the weather got even better. Our neighbourhood cleared out and the streets became deserted as people loaded their cars, caravans and campervans and headed off on their three week vacation in the sun. World cup fever hit the Netherlands, and houses, streets, cars and shops were decorated with Orange. It was hard not to become enthusiastic about twenty two men running around a soccer pitch when the country of patriotic nationals were overflowing with exuberance for the game. After the Uruguay/Dutch match we had about three hundred people milling around a local roundabout dancing in the streets, blowing horns and letting off fireworks and flares, even I felt patriotic, it was a great experience.

In our twelfth month...
• Worshiped the sun like true Dutchmen
• Celebrated the lamb’s first birthday
• Visited every playground in Zoetermeer
• Got on board the World Cup bandwagon

And now it’s August and we’ve clocked up one year in this green, flat, scenic land of windmills, pastures and waterways. I feel really grateful for the opportunity to live abroad and get to know the Dutchman’s family and understand his Dutch life. I have felt free and alive pedalling my bike through the parks and streets with the lion and the lamb on board. We have laughed a million laughs and we have cried many tears (well not the Dutchman, but the rest of us have). Our journey down the road less travelled has allowed us many new experiences and we have stored away many memories which in years to come, we will look back fondly on. Entering a new situation and way of life has helped me to challenge my identity, question what is important and learn to live in the day and the moment. Most of all I think it has helped me develop more patience, be more laid back and be more compassionate towards migrants. I feel proud that we have immersed ourselves in our Dutch life and while there are still things I long for from home (namely a lamb roast with roasted pumpkin, sweet potato, carrot, beetroot and rosemary potatoes covered in mint sauce and a delicious red wine gravy), I have learnt many of the things we long for are not important and it becomes easier to live without them.

Next holiday destination is Prague, I’ll keep you posted.