Looking for a Few Good Words

Lights and Lancets
Last week I entered a writing contest sponsored by Expats Blog. The theme for the contest was top things about your new home, with a lot of room for creativity. I went with the topic of five ways Utrecht combines cultural events with its historic settings.

The top articles will be chosen by Expats Blog, but they will also be awarding prizes for blogs with the most Tweets, Likes/Shares on Facebook, and the best comment on the article. I’m pretty sure I don’t stand a chance with the Twitter/Facebook prizes, considering some of the numbers I’ve seen, but a really great comment on the article is something attainable, especially with awesome readers such as yourselves. Plus, the comments are the most satisfying. So, if you feel like putting in a good word for me, go here, give my article a read through and leave a comment at the end. If I win best comment, I’ll send the commenter a little something from Utrecht.

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The Search for Expats and Their Pets

No Lolas Allowed
As we prepared for our move here to the Netherlands, I spent most of the time worrying about getting our pets into the country safe and sound. Two cats and a big dog required their own crates and their own multiple copies of paperwork, as well as a drive to another state so that we could avoid having a layover.

It was all worth it, though, as there was no way we would have left any of them behind. In fact, I was always shocked when people asked us if we were taking our pets when we moved overseas. Of course! If we had human children, would you ask that question? To us, our pets are our children.

We’re not the only ones who can’t imagine leaving a pet behind. Although there are times when expats do have to leave a pet behind, it’s usually with a trusted family member and it’s a difficult decision. But many expats do take their pets with them. I’ve come across quite a few, and now I’m looking for more.

You see, I’m fortunate enough to have been asked to participate on a project about expats here in the Netherlands and the pets — expets — that they brought with them. Dutch photographer and journalist Robert van Willigenburg had the idea for this project and I’m going to be helping out, interviewing my fellow expats about their expets. He will be photographing everyone. He has already written, photographed, and produced the book Kat in de Stad (Cat in the City), a look at some of the well-known shop and neighborhood cats of Utrecht. Our very own neighborhood Sheriff is included!

So, we’re now looking for other expats and their pets here in the Netherlands who would be interested in participating. Your pet needs to have made the move with you, rather than having been adopted here, and still needs to be alive, of course. If you now have a mix of expets and native pets, that’s fine. We’re also interested in Dutch nationals who were expats themselves and adopted a pet while abroad before returning back to the Netherlands (with pet in tow).

If you are an expat with an expet or know of any, please get in touch with me or Robert. We have a number of people interested in participating so far, but we’d love to find more. You can share this post on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and any other places where you think you can reach expats in the Netherlands. Please help us spread the word!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Foreign

alberti
A surprisingly hard theme this week to choose a photo for, since my whole blog is about learning about a foreign city that has now become my home. As an American living in the Netherlands, I’m gradually finding it harder to pinpoint what is foreign any more, as I get more used to the country.

Italy is both foreign and familiar to me. I studied its art at university and I’ve shared my life with an Italian for 11 years, but there’s enough that is still foreign and fascinating. I have a number of photos from my trips to Italy, but the first batches are actual photos and negatives. The last batch is saved on a disc, but my laptop won’t read it. Fortunately, I had one photo already saved on my laptop, so this is my last-minute foreign photo submission.

The architecture of Italy isn’t foreign to me. In fact, when I stumbled across this church (Sant’Andrea by Leon Battista Alberti) on a trip to Mantova (Mantua), it was like running into an old friend in an unexpected place. I had gone to Mantova to see the Palazzo Té, completely forgetting that this church was also in the city. You can read more about it (and see the full facade) here. My photo is just a detail of the central arch of the facade.

Another expat recently wrote about her own visit to Mantova, which is something of a hidden jewel.

You can see other interpretations of “foreign” at the week’s weekly photo challenge page.

The “Baaaaa” Beer Festival

Bock Bier
Saturday afternoon, we headed down to the southern tip of the old city center to take part in the annual Bock Beer Festival. Held at Ledig Erf each year, the three-day festival is a great opportunity to try a variety of mostly local bock beers, the traditional autumn beers. In all, there were 22 beers from which to choose and each one was surprisingly different. All of the ones we tried were lekker!

Ledig Erf Bock Bier Festival

Last year we met up with Amy in NL and her husband, and this year our group expanded to also include A Georgia Peach Abroad. The more the merrier! Just as our group expanded this year, it seemed like everyone else’s group expanded, as well. Despite the overcast weather — although fortunately there was no rain — the crowd on Saturday afternoon was bigger than we remembered it being last year.

When you’ve got 22 beers to choose from, it can be difficult to decide on which ones to try, since we certainly weren’t going to be trying them all. Our initial plan for the day was to start with the ones with the oddest names. As a result, we tried the Lipreader (Butcher’s Tears), the Slobberbock, and considered the Maximus Bock, but got sidetracked instead by the Steenbrugge Abdijbok.

One thing I did remember from last year were the horned creatures wandering through the crowds. Last year, they were a bit more “woodsy“; this year they had a steampunk vibe. When I first spotted them this year, one was having a baaaaaaa-off with a young boy. However, when they spotted me and my camera, they seemed a bit startled. You know how woodland creatures can be skittish.

They Startle Easily

Still, after a few tentative sniffs, they soon realized I was friendly and then it was all smiles! I didn’t even have to lure them in with a tasty Slobberbock!

Friendly Creatures

Hopping Over Obstacles

It’s Expat Blog Hop time again! I missed the last one or two, but thought I’d give it a go again this week.

This week’s topic is:

What was the hardest thing for you to adjust to when you moved to your new country? What tips would you give for new people arriving?

I’ve yet to have any major breakdowns over moving here, but despite being generally even keeled, there are the occasional moments of frustration for me. I mean, what’s a Southern girl going to do when she thinks she’s not going to be able to have okra again!
Okra!
Yeah, fortunately I found a couple of sources. It’s not as convenient as it was in the US, but it is available. Then there was the search for baking soda. Who would have thought that finding good ol’ Arm & Hammer Baking Soda would be so difficult! Fortunately, I found it at the same toko where I can usually get my okra. For the record I go to Toko Centraal over by Vredenburg/Hoog Catharijne. It’s a good source for harder to find items at reasonable prices.

In other words, it’s those little items that you took for granted at home that suddenly become a major issue when you realize you have no idea where to find them or if they’re even available. When you move to a new country, suddenly everything is that little bit harder. Where do you buy an iron? Where do you buy drain declogger? Where do you buy cold medicine? What do you mean they don’t sell antihistamines in Europe!!!

You soon learn that stores like Blokker are good for cheap household items, and that Kruidvat is a good Walgreens alternative (including a place to get drain declogger), but that Etos is nicer if you just need personal care items. As for antihistamines, get your family and friends back home to put some in every package they send you or pack extra any time they visit you. Otherwise, learn to love the nose sprays and paracetamol that will be your only option here.

Honestly, though, you soon learn and if you ask, someone’s bound to point you in the right direction. Plus, it’s half the fun of exploring and discovering new things!

Now that I’ve been here a while, the thing I find most difficult to adjust to is not being able to speak easily and almost dreading having anyone speak to me. The reality, living here in a city center, is that usually the person speaks enough English if I get stuck, but I miss being able to chat easily, even with strangers, or just make small-talk with shop workers or fellow dog owners. That’s the obstacle I’m trying to overcome now and I think once I’m more comfortable with the language, the worst of the adjustment period will be over.

America Where You Least Expect It

American Bear
Yes, more talk of the carnival from last week. It has served me well with fodder, especially considering the rain we’ve had this week that has kept us indoors. I was surprised to see the American flag popping up in spots I least expected it. There were a lot of very nice stuffed animal toys to be won at the games, and many were more typically Dutch, such as the cows and of course, Nijntje. But I also saw these teddy bears sporting an American flag on their shirt.
International
Later in the day, we saw this pink caravan flying both the Dutch and American flags. It was a candy van of sorts, although the only American treat seemed to be popcorn. Still, I did hear one little boy catch sight of the caravan and exclaim, “Popcorn!”, so I guess there’s some demand for it.

The US wasn’t the only foreign nation represented. We also saw a couple of stands offering verse Spaanse Churros (fresh Spanish churros). I was tempted by the churros, but in the end decided to make the most of the olibollenkraam to get a mid-year olibollen treat. They’re usually only available around the winter holidays, and they’ve become one of my favorite Dutch treats.
Spanish Churros ... in Utrecht
Keeping with the foreigners in the Netherlands theme, I headed out yesterday to meet up with a large group of expat ladies. In all, there were 12 or 13 of us, with some coming and going at different times. The US was represented by a few of us, but Canada, the UK, Australia and Peru were all represented, as well. It was a truly fun day spent indoors at the Muntkelder pannenkoek restaurant on the Oudegracht. The frequent rain and the friendly staff that didn’t seem to mind us taking up the back room meant we spent four hours talking and laughing and having a good time.

Mix and Match

This is a grab bag of a posting; random things that have crossed my mind but most aren’t enough for a whole post to themselves. So, in no particular order …
House Made of Boat
Kiwidutch has an interesting post up about house boats (woonboten) in Amsterdam, so I thought I’d post a photo of one of the house boats near us here in Utrecht. They’re not as common here as in Amsterdam, but there are a couple of them around.

Irish Pub
Today is St. Patrick’s Day. Not being Irish, it’s not a big deal to me, but I figured it was worth a posting on Trippist, since we’ve got two Irish pubs here in town. Hopefully, they don’t turn their beer green, though. That’s always seemed like an abomination to me. I knew I had taken a photo of Mick O’Connells in the past, but it turns out I hadn’t uploaded it to Flickr, so I spent a lot of time digging through my photo files to find it. I could have sworn I’d also taken a photo of O’Leary’s Pub at some point, but damned if I can find it. So, since I spent so much time finding this photo, I figured I’d share it here, too. Happy St. Patrick’s Day to any of you with Irish connections.

Finally, if you have any interest in the Netherlands, you really should read the blog Amy in NL. She always comes up with really fascinating topics. One of the most recent ones is on the Dutch connection with Japan, a surprisingly old connection. It turns out the Japanese word for coffee is derived from the Dutch word koffe as a result of this long-standing connection. She also includes some links to relief sites to help after the horrible disaster that continues to unfold.

I would also like to recommend that you stop by the Handmade Europe shop on Etsy right now, since they have a Europe for Charity shop set up with all proceeds going to Japan via Architecture for Humanity.

Awards and Nostalgia


The lovely Aledys Ver from the blog From Argentina to the Netherlands, For Love!, kindly mentioned me in a loyal followers posting. The award accompanies a few simple questions that I found interesting, since I’ve been meaning to check the answer to one of them anyway, so here goes:

1. Why did you start your blog? Did you expect it to become popular?
I started it mainly as a way to keep my family and friends up to date with my new life here in the Netherlands. Of course, I’m not sure how many of them actually read it that often. 😉 Fortunately, a number of other expats, as well as Dutch natives, and others as well, do seem to read my blog. I don’t know if it’s particularly popular, but I enjoy it and have been fortunate to have met some people through it. I was a bit shy about meeting people when I first started, but I’m getting much more comfortable with it now. I’m even meeting a few more people this upcoming weekend! I think blogging can help you adjust to a big move like this, because you find others going through similar things and you get a chance to track your own development and adjustment.

2. When exactly did you start your blog?

This is the question I’ve also been curious about recently. I knew my blog’s two-year anniversary must have been recently, since my two-year anniversary of living here has just passed. It turns out my first blog entry was June 1, 2008. Such a boring entry, but as I said, I really did start my blog as a way for family and friends to know what I was up to, and see photos of my new city. That Utrecht set of photos on Flickr has grown exponentially!

3. Who are three of your most loyal followers?
I’m sure there are plenty of loyal followers whose names I don’t know, since they read, but don’t leave comments. I notice certain repeat visits from various cities and countries in my Feedjit feed over on the right. I always get such a thrill to see some of the far-flung places from which people arrive! As for followers who comment, I’ve gotten a nice little group whose regular comments are always appreciated!

I’ve recently had the pleasure of meeting Kerryanne from 3continentfamily and I’m so glad I can now count her among the expats I’ve gotten to know in person. She’s a joy to know and the conversations and comments are always interesting.

In about a month I get to finally meet Ken of My Dutch Fairytale. His writing has had me wiping away tears of laughter, while also making me want to bow down in reverence for some of the things he has experienced and accomplished. I always enjoy his comments, be they here, in e-mail or on Facebook.

This weekend, I get to meet Tammy from CanaDutch. I’m really looking forward to finally meeting her, since I love her blog and the sense of humor she brings to things. I love her photos, too, and may have camera envy. 😉

There are many others and I hate to leave anyone out, since I truly appreciate everyone who both comments or simply reads my blog. Thanks for sticking around! If you want to do this too, feel free! I figure if you read my blog regularly, you deserve this award!

Nog Twee

Orlando and the wit biertje
Two years ago today I came to the Netherlands for the very first time — and haven’t left yet!

Our plane arrived early in the morning on May 28, 2008, and after a bit of confusion with the car rental and a short soak in the morning rain, we left Schipol and headed down to Utrecht. I had never been to The Netherlands before that day, other than a layover flying back from Italy to the US, and that time I never left Schipol. A bit mad, perhaps, to move to a country you’ve never even visited, but I do have my moments of madness. I trusted G, who had been here quite a few times for business and to find us a house. I’ve found that I’m generally pretty happy wherever I live, so I figured this wouldn’t be much different. Fortunately, I was right. I’ve been very happy here these past two years and don’t regret the move at all.

This photo of Orlando, my flamingo, was taken later that first afternoon when we went to the Café de Potdeksel for an afternoon drink on the terrace. G had learned about the café from the couple who sold us the house; they had taken him there after the house closing to celebrate and introduce him to the family that owns it. We were incredibly lucky to buy the house from such a kind and friendly couple; their friendship and help has made our transition here much smoother and happier. They’ve also introduced us to some of their other friends, helping to expand our little social network. We’ll be seeing some of them tonight at the Potdeksel and I’m looking forward to it as always.

Thanks to this blog, I’ve also made some friends of my own this past year, as I’ve gotten to know some other fellow expats. I’m even meeting up with a few tomorrow night for drinks; keep your fingers crossed that the rain holds off tomorrow night!

Have the past two years been nothing but sunshine and roses? Of course not, but that’s just life. Nowhere is perfect, but in general the good has outweighed the bad and I’m very happy here, content to stay for many more years.