Repatriation – part 1

Repatriation is defined as “the return of someone to their own country,” but it’s more than that. It’s this whole complicated readjustment to one’s own culture and once familiar surroundings. It’s this weird state of being where the environment that used to be everything you knew is now strange and uncomfortable. I find myself wanting to reach back for everything I loved about NL, transport it to this present place and mix it with what I love about home. That would be perfect!

We find ourselves critiquing America a lot and it’s probably unfair. The cost of living is ridiculous, the traffic is horrendous, people are rude, the landscape is marred with overdevelopment, obnoxious politics is in our face . . . and the list goes on. Okay, it’s a little unfair. I’m not ready to analyze it that closely right now, though. Right now, I just want to figure out how to stay emotionally balanced — let go of what I can’t change and stay positive.

Step one – spend time with family. This is what we missed the most and why we’re here. Alan and Natasha (brother and sister-in-law) have graciously given us a temporary place to stay. We’ve been able to restart regular time with Kathryn and it’s been so good to hang out with Jenna and Jamie. This week we will visit Smid family and hope to provide some help to mom & dad. Then we will meet up with Jasmine, Matt, Jared, Michelle and EMMA!!! I can’t wait to smooch those chubby cheeks! I’m so excited to see them all!

Step two – get the jobs nailed down. It will help to have a work routine and we pray that we will be in jobs that are fulfilling. We’re just into our second week back and Dick already has some promising leads. I had an interview, but it’s not the right fit for me right now. I’m exploring other possibilities.

Step three – find a home. This is a big one for me. I’ve been looking forward to finding a cozy home where we can entertain family, friends and visitors. I really want to put down roots in a place where we can get involved in the community. I guess that’s Step four – get involved and give back.

More to come on this journey . . .

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Farewell Tour: Wassenaar & The Hague

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On our way to Wassenaar, we stopped at Muiderslot, a medieval castle. One more castle! There was a really cool exhibit there about women and power called Armed with Beauty. The castle tour didn’t take too long — cause medieval castles are all about defense not fancy living. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Our last accommodation was at a farm bed & breakfast in Wassenaar. Dick’s mother has stayed at this B&B twice during her visits because it’s close to an assisted living home where Tante Nel lives. Lucia, the host, is vivacious and we really enjoyed chatting with her. She gave us a full tour of their house, barn and event facility. She is very clever and creative and has accomplished a lot in their agritourism ventures. Its a working modern dairy farm and horse stable, but they have a beautiful B&B suite in the front of their house and a converted carriage house as an event venue. We were able to see a robotic milking machine in action, which was fascinating to me as a former farm girl! ๐Ÿฎ

The first night, we biked to a pannenkoeken house and had some delicious Dutch pancakes one more time. It was a nice long bike ride past gorgeous mansions and parks. Wassenaar is where some rich and famous people live (though I have no idea who they are).

I decided that I really needed to get my hair done before our flight because salons at home would be closed Sunday – Monday and I had an interview scheduled for Tuesday morning. I did a little research and found a salon in The Hague that catered to expats (i.e. they promised to speak English). Dick dropped me off at the salon on Friday morning and I’m happy to report that I got great service. ๐Ÿ’‡โ€โ™€๏ธ Whew!

Rain was threatening in the afternoon as we drove into the center of The Hague. We went to the Mauritshuis, an art museum that houses some famous Dutch paintings. We saw The Girl With the Pearl Earring, The Goldfinch, some Rembrandt’s and one of my favorite Dutch painters, Salomon van Ruysdael.

Later after the rain stopped, we drove to Sheveningen Beach. It was cloudy and windy — not a great day to be at the beach, but we walked the length of the pier and perused the restaurants along the shore. I realized that I hadn’t checked into our flight, so we went back to the car to hotspot the laptop and take care of it. Dick was not able to check into the second leg of our trip and was put on hold for at least a half hour to try to resolve it. We finally got to a restaurant at 9pm, but neither of us had much of an appetite.

We packed and repacked our luggage on Saturday morning. Lucia served us another hearty breakfast and then we were off to the airport. We ended up paying โ‚ฌ225 ๐Ÿ˜ต in extra fees for our luggage at check in — probably packed more than we needed, but relying on the speedy arrival of our goods by boat is a gamble. We were seated by the window on the flight out of Amsterdam so we got our final look and shed a few tears. Very difficult to say goodbye to this place we love so much . . . ๐Ÿ˜ข๐Ÿ˜ข๐Ÿ˜ข

Our flight out of Dublin was a bit delayed, but we didn’t know this until we were standing in line ready to board. Dick thought his paper AerClub card would get us priority boarding, but after standing in that line for a half hour (or more?) we were told that wouldn’t work. ๐Ÿ˜ So we headed to the back of the general boarding line. Not a big deal since we were in the back of the plane!

I guess this is the end of our travels for awhile. โ˜น๏ธ What an amazing adventure it has been! ๐Ÿ˜€ We have been incredibly blessed and forever changed!

Farewell Tour: Friesland

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Dick’s cousin Els and her husband Frans graciously offered us a place to stay for three nights while we did some exploring and met up with other cousins. We had a nice Chinese take out dinner with them when we arrived on Monday night. Frans prayed a blessing over us after dinner, which was very special.

Tuesday, we took a ferry to Schiermonnikoog, an island in the North Sea. It was cloudy and cool in the morning, but we sat on the top deck anyway. When we arrived, we rented bikes at the pier and biked into town. We took a short coffee break and then walked around the small town before heading to the beach. The beach was huge and almost completely deserted. Dick walked into the water, but I chose to stay dry. ๐Ÿ˜Œ The sun had come out by this time and made it feel warmer. We continued on by bike to a lighthouse to take some pics.

Back in town we paused so Dick could conduct some business by phone and then we had lunch. We decided that biking around the whole island would take too much time and there wouldn’t be much to see that we hadn’t already seen. So we biked up to a nice sitting spot, relaxed for awhile and did some reading. The ferry ride back was nicer in the sun. We didn’t realize until we got back how sunburned our faces were! ๐Ÿ˜ณ

We drove into Leeuwarden to have dinner and check out some art installations. Leeuwarden is one of this year’s European Culture Capitals. We ended up having a lousy dinner at an Irish Pub (probably the worst restaurant meal we’ve had in Europe) and saw just a couple of art pieces.

Wednesday was a relaxed day. We slept in (yay!) and then took a long walk. We brought some of our food leftovers along and made a picnic out of it. In the afternoon, we went to Giethoorn, a picturesque village with a series of canals and bridges. There is no car traffic allowed inside the village. We rented a boat a took a slow cruise through the main canal, out to a big lake and then back into town. In the evening, we met Dick’s cousin Joke and her husband Coen at their favorite Italian restaurant. We had a table outside along the canal, which was lovely! Our hosts had arranged a three course Sicilian meal, which lasted almost 4 hours. Very Italian! The food was delicious, the service was incredible and we really enjoyed the company of Dick’s cousins.

On Thursday morning as we were getting ready to leave, a street organ pulled up in front of the house. We went out to listen for awhile and give our regards to organ grinders. We won’t see this in America! We said our goodbyes to Els and Frans and packed up for the final leg of our journey.

Farewell Tour: Hoorn & Enkhuizen

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Hoorn and Enkhuizen had been on our want-to-visit list for a long time. We had hoped to do a biking trip along IJsselmeer with stops at Hoorn and Enkhuizen, but that never materialized. So we added them to our farewell journey, along with a stop in Edam and squeezed in a shorter bike ride.

Our Airbnb in Hoorn was gorgeous and I could have easily lived there. One major plus was a big bathtub, of which I took advantage! Hoorn is a lovely seaside village with lots of cute houses and sailboats in the harbor. A replica of the Halve Maen (Half Moon) ship is there and we took a look onboard. This ship was built in NY and sailed the Hudson River for 25 years before coming to Holland. The original was built in Hoorn.

Edam is another cute seaside village most known for its cheese. We went there on Sunday when most things are closed, so it was pretty quiet on the streets. We browsed around and then took a break at a cafe along one of the canals. We thought of renting bikes there, but it was late in the day and my energy was low. I had been fighting some insomnia for several nights. ๐Ÿ˜ฃ

Enkhuizen was also unexpectedly quiet on a Monday. We didn’t realize that most shops would be closed. We had to search for the only bike shop that was open to rent bikes. It turned out to be the best location, though. We could go right up on the dike from the bike shop and were immediately at the shore of the IJsselmeer. It was a cloudy cool day, but we loved being able to finally realize our goal of biking on the dike with a full view of the sea (um, lake). We went out about 11 km before taking a drink break and heading back. Zo mooi!

We finished this segment of our trip with a drive over the Afsluitdijk a dam that created the IJsselmeer and made it a fresh water lake. We were then on our way to Friesland for the next leg.

Farewell Tour: Zeeland

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We packed up our rental car and bid farewell to Oirsbeek on 31 May. In an effort to tick off some ‘wish list’ places to see and gradually remove ourselves from NL, we set up nine days of travel before we fly back to Boston. Ironically, our tour started with a detour to southern Belgium.

We wanted to see the historic Leffe brewery in Dinant where our favorite Belgium beer is brewed. Unfortunately when we arrived there, we were told the daily tours don’t start until the 1st of June. We missed it by one day! It was a beautiful warm day so we found a nice place to drink a Leffe Blond along the river. We then took a gondola ride up to the citadel and did the self guided tour, which was pretty cool.

Time to head to our destination: Zeeland. Our drive took a little longer than expected because the traffic around Brussels and Antwerp is always bad. We finally arrived at our Airbnb in Grijpskerke, but it was a little difficult to find because the little log cabin in the pictures turned out to be hidden behind the owners house. It was literally in their backyard/garden. It was kind of cute, but not terribly scenic since it was surrounded by fence on three sides. The bathroom was also a bit funky, but I won’t go there.

After a not so great night of sleep, we went into the closest coastal town the next morning to rent bikes. The idea was to do a scenic bike ride through some woods, along the North Sea and then through some farm land and small towns. Sounds lovely doesn’t it? The first leg through the forest was nice. We kept looking for a turn to go to the sea along this route. Dick abruptly decided to pull over in Domburg to walk around the town — because he was being spontaneous. This may have caused some irritation to his companion and it may have put a damper on the rest of the afternoon. ๐Ÿ˜ก

Speaking of damp…. when we finally turned toward the sea, it had started to rain. We then proceeded to bike into the rain for over an hour. Jammer! Turning around with the wind at our backs was a big improvement. We passed through some nice fields including a field of daisies — wow! At one point, the strap from my bag got caught in the bike chain and we had to stop to disentangle it. Heel jammer! We stopped for a coffee break shortly after that and had a delicious apple tart. Nerves soothed. ๐Ÿ™‚ The rain let up and the wind dried us off before we got back to our starting point.

We walked around Middelburg in the evening and had some seafood for dinner. I was bummed that mussels are out of season and I won’t get a chance to have Zeeland mussels again before we leave. โ˜น๏ธ

We returned Middelburg the next morning to visit the Zeeuse Archives, which is a very nice modern facility that also houses a genealogy center. We browsed the exhibits and picked up some genealogy information. Some of Dick’s ancestors came from Zeeland. There was a choir festival going on โ€” over 200 choirs were performing all over the city. We could hear some of them as we passed by the various venues and the groups were identifiable by their matching outfits.

Our drive out of Zeeland was scenic. We stopped briefly in Goes to get some lunch and Ouddorp to watch the kite surfers and sail boarders. We would really like to come back to Zeeland for a longer stay!

itโ€™s a little stressful

They say that moving is one of the most stressful life events. Take that and add ‘out processing’ from current job, job searching, repatriation from one country to another — and that equals A LOT of stress! I’ve had to fill out a dozen or more forms this week and most of them multiple times because the form or instructions were unclear. I’ve had to ask many questions and sometimes settle for unsatisfactory answers. NATO just happens to be a tad bureaucratic and the moving companies needed to know everything except which toothpaste I use.

We’re trying to sell the stuff we acquired here, sort out stuff to donate and decide what to pack. There is a handy Facebook group for buying/selling used goods within the local NATO community and Dick has been busy posting items and communicating with buyers. We’re beginning to see things disappear. The difficult part is figuring out the timing so that we can use things as long as we can (like our bikes and coffee maker), but not be stuck with them on the day we leave.

Long distance job searching is challenging and our job situation is totally up in the air. I’ve applied to several jobs and have had one interview that seemed promising. That interview has yet to develop into a second interview, even though I’ve been notified that I’m still a candidate. Dick has applied to over a dozen jobs with not a single response so far. We’re not panicking, but it does weigh heavily on our minds!

We have temporary housing arrangements back in the US, but we can’t make any firm plans beyond that. So much depends on the job search and where we will ultimately be working. So we can’t look for a house to buy, we can’t make firm plans visits to family and we really have no idea what our lives will look like for the next several months.

We hosted some really nice visits with Dutch cousins last weekend and we’re looking forward to a few more visits over the next two weeks. We are also looking forward to a farewell tour of Nederland and having some relaxing down time. This is helping us avoid thinking too much about what we are feeling and will feel about leaving this place we love so much. It’s all there just under the surface.

I know what you’re thinking — we asked for all of this! We knew what was on the other end of this crazy adventure and we took on the gamble of having to find jobs and housing when it was over. Yes, that’s true and we are ever mindful of that. We’re trying to keep it all in perspective and maintain our faith in the ability to clear these hurdles. We prayed so much two years ago for things to fall into place and they did in amazing ways. Now we pray for the next pieces to be arranged. We pray that God will orchestrate over our desires, ambitions and efforts to help us find the open paths to follow. We’re open to a lot of possibility, just limiting ourselves geographically to the Boston area for now.

Stay tuned!

A taste of Iberia: Madrid, Spain

We had a late night flight from Lisbon to Madrid, since we went forward an hour in time. I had found an Airbnb that accepted late check-in and I’m glad our host was so accommodating. It took over an hour by metro to get to the center city and we didn’t arrive until 1am. We were exhausted and crashed right away! The apartment was close to busy parts of the city, but we were on the 5th floor and it was super quiet.

It was good to be able to sleep-in the next morning and grab a late breakfast at McCafe (we really try to avoid McD, but it was close and fast). We then joined a walking tour that focused on the history of Madrid up to the 18th century. The tour guide was a walking encyclopedia and we learned a lot. She gave us the option of having a traditional Spanish lunch with her at a local restaurant after the tour and we opted in. A couple from Australia, a couple from Arizona, a young American expat living in Switzerland and a couple of singles from England also joined in. Fried squid (calamari) is a common dish and often served in a sandwich in Madrid. I chose it for my main dish — it was sooooo tender and yummy! I also had sangria. Dick was a little underwhelmed with his choice, which was some sort of beef cutlet.

Moorish ruins

After our long lunch, instead of taking a nap like the Spaniards do, we took a quick break at the apartment to charge phones and plot out a visit to the Prado Museum. Sometimes detouring from my well researched itinerary is fine and often it’s just swapping activities around anyway, but this time changing things didn’t work so well. ๐Ÿ˜ Dick thought we should wait to go to the Prado when there is free entry from 6-8pm. So we waited and after the 30 min walk to get there, we saw a lot of people waiting around to form a queue to get in. If you consider a 1/2-1 hr wait in line, that leaves just one hour to see this massive museum. Not such a good idea! So scratch that plan and come up with a different one.

We decided we would have enough time to tour the Royal Palace before it closed and maybe even go in the cathedral afterwards. And that’s what we did. We may have lingered a little longer at the palace if we had the time, but it was enough for me. We weren’t allowed to take pictures and I’ve already forgotten most of what I saw — or it’s blurred together with the other palaces we visited. ๐Ÿ˜‘ I do remember that it’s the largest royal palace in Europe. We were able to see the changing of the guard there the next day. It was a fairly simple ceremony, but it was nice. It only happens once a week on Wednesdays and there isn’t a constant guard there like in England or Denmark. King Felipe VI doesn’t live in this palace. Dick was not impressed with the ceremony (not as grand as England), but I reminded him that there is no changing of the guard at all in The Netherlands! ๐Ÿ˜›

Since we had a big lunch, we chose to go to the Mercado to get light eats for dinner. I couldn’t pass up paella, more sangria and then some churros dipped in chocolate. ๐ŸคคIt’s really all about the food and drink! We’ll go back to our healthy diet when we get back home.

We headed back to the Prado after the changing of the guard on Wednesday morning and spent over three hours there. We both really loved this art museum. It’s well laid out and the descriptions were really helpful. We focused on the Spanish art — mostly Velazquez and Goya. We were also interested in the large collection of Rubens, many of which were purchased by King Felipe IV. After we maxed out on art inside, it was time to get outside and enjoy the nice weather. We went to El Retiro Park where there is a “Crystal Palace” and a huge monument to Alfonso XII. It was a nice place to relax a little and have some gelato. Next up was some shopping. I had high hopes of finding some clothes more my size (Spanish women are shorter than Dutch women, right?). I ended up with nothing and Dick ended up with several pairs of shorts. Sigh.

That evening, we did a free tapas tour and it was a blast. Our amazing Spanish guide took our group to four different bars that served four different kinds of tapas. He gave us an education about Madrid culture along the way and he was a lot of fun. At the first place, we had some nice wine and shared (as in dip your spoon in the same bowl) several bowls of potatoes, hummus and something else that I can’t remember. At the second stop, we had pinchos, which are slices of toast with olive oil, meat and sauce on top. The one I chose was cod and it was yummy. The third stop was a place known for it’s cured ham and we paid for the ham by the gram. Slice of ham (cut by a master), little bit of bread and some sauce with a good red wine = delicious. The last stop was at a bar that served Spanish cider with fresh peanuts and a variety of tapas. The cider is poured from an arms length height into a glass (with a bucket to catch what you miss). Dick gave it a try and he managed to get a little in the glass. ๐Ÿ˜ I’m sorry that I didn’t get it on video. We met a some Germans who came from places that we’ve visited and a couple from Brazil on this tour. It’s a good thing we were walking back to our apartment at the end of the night!

So long, Iberian Peninsula. ๐Ÿ‘‹ We need to come back to see more of you some day!

A taste of Iberia: Sintra, Portugal

Sintra is just a 40 min train ride from Lisbon and I planned it as a day trip for us. I wish we had been able to spend more time there. It’s a beautiful city with lots to see. We focused on three sights: Pena Palace, Castle of the Moors and Sintra National Palace. There is a bus that makes a circuit with stops at all three — very helpful since two of the locations are way up hill. We chose to start with Pena Palace — the most spectacular of the three. It’s incredibly beautiful inside with lots of tile and tapestry and outside with colorful buildings and amazing views.

The entrance to the Castle of the Moors is just a short distance downhill from Pena, so we walked there. The castle is really a beautiful ruin on a hillside overlooking Sintra. There are excavated moorish ruins in the surrounding area as well as gardens designed by Ferdinand II (the king who built Pena). We had fortunate timing to be there for a reenactment of the Siege of Lisbon, 1147 (they do it monthly). One of the actors provided the commentary in English and we now know more about 12th century combat. ๐Ÿ™‚

We caught the bus back to center Sintra to see the National Palace, but when we got there our navigation was a little off and we went in the wrong direction initially. We circled back around and up a steep hill to find that the Palace had just closed. I had the correct closing time in my notes, but got it mixed up with another location. Oh well, more time for shopping! We found some really nice handmade tiles in a little shop and bought a couple. I would love to be able to tile a kitchen or bathroom with these tiles, but shipping costs are probably prohibitive. ๐Ÿ˜• The shops were all closed by 7:00 and we ran out of things to do so we went to our dinner reservation a little early. We ended our day at a nice restaurant that was a little fancier than I expected, but not very expensive. Back to Lisbon.

A taste of Iberia: Lisbon, Portugal

We arrived in Lisbon by train from Porto and that part of the journey was very easy. The tricky part was getting from the train station to our Airbnb. I discovered that Uber was the fastest and easiest method of transport. This was our first Uber experience and it worked pretty well (the competition is pretty fierce so drivers want to please). Our Airbnb host was an elderly lady who lived in the apartment next door. She was by far the most talkative and informative host we’ve had! We were grateful for the lunch she left for us because we were very hungry at that point.

Our first destination was the Belรฉm district. We needed to pick up our Lisboa cards at a kiosk there, which was not so easy to find and we quickly discovered that Lisbon is pretty spread out and not all that walkable. We finally found the cards and made good use of them for free bus fare for the rest of our stay. After seeing the sights in Belรฉm (Belรฉm Tower, Jerรณnimos Monastery and Padrรฃo dos Descobrimentos), we headed to a lookout point closer to the city center to watch the sunset. Well, we missed the sunset and there was a big crowd at the lookout — it actually felt like a party. I had this weird sense of feeling old and out of place. I just wanted to get out of there, but that involved walking down narrow streets where people were in a party mood. It felt like late night, but it was only 9pm! We then had to wait a long time for a bus, which ended up being jammed packed. I had made a late dinner reservation in the Airbnb neighborhood and the restaurant was great, so the day ended on a happy note.

Our scheduled walking tour was cancelled on Sunday so we had a relaxing morning and some good food at the big indoor market along the river. Time Out in the Mercado da Ribeira consists of food booths from some of the best restaurants in Lisbon. There was a similar market in Copenhagen, but it was closed for renovations while we were there. We got our first look of the city center of Lisbon when we walked to the Rossio train station. We spent the rest of the day in Sintra, which I’ll write about in a separate post.

On our last day in Lisbon, we grabbed a quick breakfast at this really cute French cafe down the street, checked out of the bnb and took the bus to the train station to store our luggage. We joined a walking tour of Alfama that was guided by a young woman from Italy. There were a lot of breaks on this tour — twice for a shot of the local liquors and twice for scenic overlooks of the city. Alfama is the oldest part of the city that survived the great earthquake of 1755. The architecture isn’t all that interesting to me, but it did have some beautiful tile work and a different feel from the rest of Lisbon.

We can’t really appreciate a world capital without seeing some art (that’s because we like art, I suppose). I chose the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum because it was a personal collection and quite extensive. It’s actually pretty amazing and mind blowing that everything was acquired by Gulbenkian. We took a stroll through the Edward VII park before taking the metro back to the center. We had enough time to see the Carmo Convent and Santa Justa lift before we had to to catch our flight to Madrid.

A taste of Iberia: Porto, Portugal

We have a big map of Europe on the wall of our office/dining room and I’ve pinned a flags on every location we’ve visited during the past two years. There are a couple of large areas of Europe that were blank on this map and we decided (okay, I strongly suggested) to visit one of these for our last trip. We considered a Baltic Sea cruise, but the cost in money and time was too much. The cheapest choice was the Iberian peninsula and I could take advantage of a time period that included two national holidays, which allowed me to use my last ration of vacation time to the best advantage. I planned an itinerary that hopped us to Porto, Lisbon, Sintra and Madrid in seven days. ๐Ÿ˜…

Our stay in Porto was short (1.5 days), but sweet. After a two hour flight and a long crowded metro ride, we checked into an Airbnb close to the city center. We dropped our stuff and headed out to see the sights and find the food. The whole trip kinda revolved around food and drink. ๐Ÿคค We found some Pasteis de Nata in a bakery just up the street and they became a daily treat during our stay in Portugal.

We went to the famous Igreja do Carmo with beautiful tile on the outside and the most depressing baroque interior I’ve ever seen. Seriously . . . it was creepy. The best sight of the day for me was the Livraria Lello, which is the most beautiful bookstore in the world (IMHO!). So many people visit the Lello that they had to start charging a voucher fee to encourage people to buy books and keep the store in business!

We tried another Porto specialty, the Francescinha, for dinner. It’s a good thing we shared it, because this thing sits in the tummy for awhile. I think we walked it off that evening, though. Walking involves a lot of hills in Portugal. We got some good views of the riverside during sunset and saw quite a bit of the old city.

Our full day in Porto was actually spent outside the city. We joined a day long wine tour in the Douro Valley. It was a beautiful sunny day and the views of the vineyards were breathtaking. We visited two small vineyards, tasted lots of port and wine and had a nice relaxing lunch at a Portuguese restaurant in a small quaint village. It was a long ride to/from the valley and the river cruise at the end of the day was a little boring, but all in all it was a great day!

We enjoyed strolling through the streets of Porto in the evening to see some more of the interesting tiled buildings. I wish we had been able to see some of the wine cellars, but we were maxed out on wine that day and off to Lisbon the next morning. I hope we can go back to Porto some day!