Thursday, February 21, 2013

Things I Will Miss (and some things I won't!)

I was telling Cameron the other day that I wish I could somehow combine living in the US and living here--I think it would be the perfect place to live.  There's so much I miss about home, but there's so much here that I will miss terribly.

Things I will miss:

  • A big thing I will miss is living somewhere that's so beautiful, old, and so culturally interesting.  I can't get enough of these canal houses and canals. 

  • I will miss living downtown!  Most of me is excited to not live downtown anymore because it's difficult to get around with Andy, but I will surely miss it.  I love having so much to do right outside my door!  I can walk any direction from our apartment and see amazing things.  I will miss the distant chatter of people talking on the street below.  I love that there are a million shops surrounding me, so I never have to go far to find what I need. 
  • Great museums and a museumcard that gets me into all of them for free.
  • Our evening walks along the Prinsengracht.  
  • Walking everywhere! Yes, I'm pretty excited to have a car again, but I really have loved walking and using public transportation.  
  • Being able to grocery shop daily.  And along with that, having fresher food.  
  • I will miss our playgroups and activities I do with Andy: our story times, or music groups, our walks to the park.  
  • I will miss Vondelpark.  Parks in europe are the best.  
  • I will miss our apartment here.  It's big!  It's beautiful and so nice.  I will sorely miss our couch, which is pretty much the greatest couch ever.  
  • This is a silly one--but I love that tax is already included in the prices here.  
  • Of course, I will miss having an endless supply of new things to see and experience every day.  We still haven't gotten through everything we wanted to see and do in the Netherlands!  There's so much here.  
  • One of the biggest things I'll miss is (obviously) being able to travel other places in europe on the weekends.  It's been an incredible opportunity.  Looking back, I still can't believe we were lucky enough to see everything we have.  Especially with a toddler in tow.  
  • The Albert Cuyp Market.  I love outdoor markets.  I love getting our produce there.  
  • Cheap flowers.  Fresh flowers are so much less expensive here.  We got the most amazing fresh tulips at the market on saturday for 3 euro!  They've been brightening up our kitchen all week.   
  • Specialty Shops.  They're a dying art in the US, and I love seeing them everywhere here.  I love buying our bread from an actual bakery.  Shoe repairmen, butchers, cheese shops (best samples ever), appliance stores, etc.  There are the randomest little shops--I pass one that specializes in selling dental supplies.  
  • Food!  I will miss poffertjes (little pancakes with butter and powdered sugar), Stroopwafels, cheap Magnum Bars, Hema 50 cent ice cream cones, cheap delicious dark chocolate, Fries with mayo, Peanut Butter (I think theirs is better than ours), and cheap Nutella.  I'll also miss the little takeout places we have come to love, Wok 2 Walk and our little Indonesian Place. 
  • The thing we'll miss the absolute most are the wonderful people we've met and love here.  Cameron was just telling someone last night that the thing he'll miss most about living here is the people he's gotten to work with at Dell.   He has had such a wonderful experience working with them.  We've become great friends with some americans in our ward that we will miss so much.  Andy and I have made some good friends we play with during the day as well.  I'll post some pictures of a few of them below.  
Stephanie and Ashley have been our great library story-time friends!    
Elder Schulte served in ward almost the whole time we've been here.  He's a great missionary, and we've loved having him over.
Allen has been a great friend!  He's taken us under his wing and helped us get to know Amsterdam better. Not to mention, he's treated us to some delicious meals.  
Ashley and Andrew have lived here for the last three months and have become great friends!  Ashley and I have spent many days together exploring Amsterdam.  
Dave and Abby are great friends from our ward.  It's been so fun to spend time with fellow Americans!  We'll miss them, but they're joining us in Texas soon. 
Claire has been a great friend.  It's been so fun for me to have some girl time with her!   She's the most well-traveled person I've ever met and is just about to begin a year-long trip around the world. 
Here are a few of Cameron's great work colleagues/friends.  Amandine, Sylvia, and Mark.  Cameron took over for Amandine while she was on maternity leave, and she and I got together a few times.  She's been a great friend! 
I won't miss: 
  • The weather.  
  • Not understanding the language around me. 
  • The occasional whiff of pot.  
  • The stairs leading up to our apartment.  When I stop and think that our new place in Texas will be ground level, I get ridiculously excited. 
  • I won't miss not having a phone.  Andy threw my phone in the toilet about a month ago.  It was my "watch,"  so I've seriously been keeping a small alarm clock in my diaper bag so I know what time it is.  Classy, I know.  Not to mention that it makes communicating with people difficult.  (But I've used google to call people most of the time, anyway.)   
  • I will not miss cooking here! But I guess that's only partially true.  Like I've said before, I enjoy how simplified cooking here is.  But I am so excited to know that I can find any ingredient I want in the US.  I feel like I can only make 20% of recipes I look at right now.  I'm so excited to not have to convert everything--farenheit to celcius, tablespoons to grams, etc.  I'm glad to leave this oven because it overcooks everything.  And takes thirty minutes to preheat.  
  • The food!  I can't even express how excited I am to eat out at all my favorite Texas restaurants!  We have not come to love Dutch food.  It's really overpriced and bland.  Just stick some mediocre fries and a few pieces of lettuce with a little slab of bland meat and you have their typical restaurant meal.  And it will be at least 15 euro.  
  • No tap water at restaurants! I don't like paying for water.  
  • Horrible customer service.  A cliche, but completely true.  
  • How do I say this?  Generally, people just aren't as polite here as they are back home.  There's definitely an "every man for himself" kind of attitude.  I won't miss people cutting in front of me in line all the time, pushing ahead of me because I have a stroller, etc.  
  • I will not miss our housing coordinator.  She's been a nightmare to deal with.  And she hates me. It's never fun to feel like someone hates you.  
  • Doing laundry here.  One load takes about five hours.  And the machines are in Andy's room.  And the dryer has slowly ruined all of our clothes because it only dries on a really high heat.  
  • I will definitely not be missing our downstairs neighbor Kees.  I don't think I've met a more anal person, ever.  And I cringe every time Andy throws a block (which is about 1,000x a day), because I know it's so loud for him.  
  • I won't miss church being in Dutch.  They have translator headsets, but Andy doesn't really allow us to use them.  And even when he does, you feel like you're missing about half of what's said.  
  • Yes, I like daily grocery shopping.  But I won't miss a few things about the stores here:  bagging my own groceries, not understanding the labels on anything, everything being so expensive, pushing a stroller down narrow aisles, etc.  
  • Yes, I like the dull chatter on the Kalverstraat below, but I do not love the hideous organ that plays every afternoon!  It will not be missed.  Neither will the very loud street cleaners that drive up and down the street all night.  
  • Yes, I love our apartment, but there are a few things I'm ready to leave behind.  The kitchen has so much storage, but most of it isn't usable because it's low and Andy can reach it.  Also, our table is rustic and beautiful, but is so hard to keep clean since it's a rough surface.  Same with our flooring.   
We fly back to Texas on sunday.  It makes us so sad to leave this beautiful place.  What an adventure to live here for 6 months, to experience a different culture and way of life!  We will miss you Amsterdam!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Amsterdam Everyday Life

The past couple of months I've really looked forward to going back to Texas.  But now that it's here, I'm getting all nostalgic and realizing how much I really will miss it here.  We've taken a lot of fantastic trips, and I think I've been pretty good about recording those.  But--I haven't been nearly as good at documenting some of the things we see and do every day, so this is an attempt to try to remember those things. Obviously Cameron is at work Monday-Friday, while Andy and I try to fill up our time with fun activities.  We try to go out twice a day, weather permitting, from about 10:30-12:30 for a more formal activity (story time, the park, a museum, the market, etc.) and then wander around for an hour so at 4 or 5 after nap time.  I'm sure this will be overly detailed--and I don't expect anyone to read it--but I just want to remember the details of our wonderful 6 months here!

Transportation: We have a great location in the city center.  I can walk to most things.  I can take a tram to everything else, and we're lucky enough to have about 8 different tram lines come through the stops right by us.  Trams are very stroller-friendly; they even have two stroller parking spots that are usually free.  If we lived in one of the bigger cities where I used the metro instead of trams, it would have been tougher with a stroller.  (Though we do take the metro once a month or so, usually to head to Ikea.)  We also take trains to head outside of the city or to go to the airport.  Cameron rides his bike to work--30 minutes each way--and he loves it.  He comments almost daily about how much he'll miss it.  Except for the days when it's pouring rain and he gets to wear his rain gear. :)

In the stroller spot!
Usually they are MUCH more full.
A ride on the metro.
Grocery Shopping: The major chain here is Albert Heijn.  I'm sure there are lots more options outside of the city, but I literally haven't shopped anywhere else.  We're lucky enough to have a small location that is a two minute walk from our house.  It's probably the size of a 7-11 gas station?  I'm amazed that such a small space can fit almost everything we need.  I have to go to a bigger Albert Heijn--as "big" as two 7-11's--once or twice a week for celery, sour cream, baking powder, or other random things.  I stop by the store every day, and I've come to love that.  I love that I don't have to plan meals more than a day in advance.  I pop in and out in five or ten minutes.  All of our food is fresh, and we don't waste anything.   Going to the grocery store in the states is such a long ordeal even if you just need one thing--parking, the store is huge, etc.  I really will miss Albert Heijn.  Some little things I won't miss: pushing a stroller while holding a heavy basket, the narrow aisles that aren't stroller-friendly, the giant lines just before dinner, the more expensive prices, having to remember my own bag(s), having to bag my own groceries, and carrying all my groceries up my forever-long stairs.  Oh and I won't miss the cashiers speaking dutch to me and having to say every single time, "I only speak english."  Although one of the only phrases I've learned is, "Do you want your receipt?" to which I can correctly respond, "Nee."  :)

We also stop by the market to buy veggies and fruits occasionally because they have things that even the biggest Albert Heijn doesn't have.  Like sweet potatoes.  Which are actually really expensive here.

Our standard grocery store purchases: milk, fruit (apples, oranges, or bananas), veggies (broccoli, zucchini, or a bag of spinach), yogurt, cereal, bread made in their bakery, cheese, eggs, peanut butter (they have the best peanut butter here!), nutella/jelly, magnum bars, and stuff for whatever recipe we're having for dinner, which is probably some kind of soup.  We've eaten incredibly basically here, and I think we'll all miss it.  We usually have soup a couple nights a week, fancy eggs once a week (eggs with sweet potatoes or zuchini or something), pasta once or twice a week, then who knows what the rest of the week.  Meat is pretty expensive, so we have it about once a week.  I hope we take some of the simplicity we've learned here back home with us.

"Our" Albert Heijn

From one end to the other-you can see how small it is.
Church: We've loved church here!  It takes us about 25 minutes to get there using the tram.  We've loved our ward.  It's small and diverse.  There's always a lot of missionary work going on, which is fun to see.  We have three sets of missionaries in the ward, and we've had a lot of fun having them over and getting to know them.  There are a good amount of american members in the ward, which has been fun.  There's even an english sunday school class!  We listen to our other meetings using translation headsets.  Well--Andy rarely lets us wear them in sacrament meeting since they're his favorite toys.  They've let Andy go to nursery since he was about 16 months old.  He did great the first month or so.  Then he hated it.  I think he's come around and likes it tolerates it again?  There are usually about three kids in there, but sometimes he's the only one.  He loves his little friend Lucille when she's there. 

Andy with his nursery leader. 
Eating Out: We rarely eat out here because 1) restaurants aren't equipped for Andy-ness, 2) the food is super expensive, and 3) the food isn't very good.  Let's just say we're looking forward to amazing Texas food.  We do usually pick up take out from either Wok to Walk or this really good Indonesian place right by us once a week or so.  We've gone to Va Piano's a few times, this great (cheap!) Italian place we can manage Andy in.  
Indonesian food is big here!

Shopping: As far as clothes go, I actually have bought less here than I ever thought I would.  I do love the styles, but the quality is so low for the price I haven't been able to justify many purchases since I knew I'd be back in the states so soon.  I never thought I'd say it, but I'm tired of H&M.  (Maybe since it's about the only option I can afford here?) I used to browse there a few times a week, but haven't been in as often.  I do make trips to Hema (reminds me of Target) a few times a week for a number of things, since it's practically outside my front door.  

Bouncy Bunch: This is a little music class I've been going to with Andy on monday mornings the past couple of months.  It actually didn't live up to my expectations, but the point was to find us something to get us out of the house and it accomplished that.  I think Andy really started liking it, and he still loves some of the songs we learned.  It's about 20 or so kids who come.  They all sit on their parents laps and we sing songs, dance, play instruments, play with bubbles, etc. for about 45 minutes.  It was tough to wrestle Andy to sit on my lap, but (I think?) I'm glad we did it. 

Library Story Time: In October or November we started taking the tram to a weekly english story time at the library.  The library's a beautiful building right on the dock.  Story reading is every tuesday morning at 10:30 in a little theater in the children's library.  We've really come to look forward to it, especially seeing some of our favorite friends there, Stephanie and Ashley.   If Andy's feeling generous, he even allows us to grab lunch afterwards.  We have a great time reading stories, singing songs, blowing bubbles, and playing with the parachute.  It's definitely my favorite activity we go to because no one minds that Andy runs around most of the time and doesn't actually listen to the stories, which means no chasing/wrestling for me.  :) After story time is over, Andy loves running around the gigantic children's library while I try to keep up.   

You can see how Andy climbs all over everyone. 
Awesome children's library!
Looking at the children's library from above. 
English Bookshop Story Time: We discovered this friday story time in a local bookshop about the same time we found the library's.  It's only about a ten minute walk away.  Andy likes it, some times more than others.  We had to take a break for a couple of months because of persistent tantrums when he wasn't allowed to pull books of the shelves or crawl up the stairs.  Still, it's been a fun little activity for us where we read stories, sing songs, and play instruments.  
The English Bookshop is on a darling little street in the Jordaan.  

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


We just spent the most wonderful weekend in Madrid!  Both Cameron and I agree it was our best trip we've done with the three of us.  I think we've finally figured out a few tricks to make trips with Andy as positive as possible.  And he was exceptionally good all weekend.  (Despite is 5 AM wake up call on saturday.)  One of the reasons we chose Madrid because we wanted to go somewhere "warm."  (Though I still thought it was freezing cold.)  And Cameron wanted to go to Spain, but I'd already been to Barcelona.  So it was a bit of a random choice, but we feel like it as the perfect place for us to visit!  It was nice to visit somewhere where we didn't have a giant list of things we had to see, so we really spent our time just wandering and enjoying the beautiful city.  
In Puerto del Sol, right by our hotel.  

Plaza Oriente
Andy took the most incredible on-the-go naps every day!  We had the best lunch at this restaurant on friday.  We loved it so much, we went back saturday. 

There's this really great little park near the palace we played at both friday and saturday.  

The side of the Palace. It's HUGE.  

The Cathedral de la Almudena, which faces the palace.   

Plaza Espana 

We spent friday evening wandering the Retiro  Park.  Andy loves to run  out of control fast, so I think this is right before one of his many falls of the trip. 

Plaza Mayor Saturday morning.  
Tapas from the Mercado de San Miguel, a really cool indoor market.

Some crazy things like sea urchins and an octopus inside the indoor market!
The front of the Palace, Palacio Real.  I'm going to say it--the most beautiful palace I've ever been inside.  Hands down. I know what you're thinking: yes, even more beautiful that Versailles.  Cam and I were stunned.  We almost didn't go inside, so we were so pleasantly surprised.  
The only picture I got inside before I was told "no pictures!" 

I had to sneak a picture inside the Royal Armory because it was just SO COOL.    Yes, I got yelled at again for snapping a picture; I think I've mastered the "Sorry, I didn't know" innocent look.
A major highlight was wandering around the Palace Gardens , the Sabatini Gardens.  It was basically empty, so we had it mostly to ourselves.  Andy loved running around once he woke up from his nap. 

Waking up from his nap. :) 

This deserves an explanation.  One of the things I printed out before we came was a two-day Madrid Guide from Lonely Planet.  Cameron accurately assessed, "I think this is a guide for single middle-aged drunks in Madrid."  Hot Chocolate and Churros are a big thing to get in Madrid, and this guide told us this place was THE place to get it.  So we take the metro just to get there to a random part of town, ask tons of people where this street is.  No one had ever heard of it, which should have been our first clue.  Anyway, it was horrible!  An empty, dirty bar!  My hot chocolate had paper floating around in it.  And the churros were so gross.  But maybe we just don't like real spanish churros?  We tried them somewhere else and they were about the same.  Just cold fried bread with no sugar or cinnamon or anything.  
In front of Muniz, the "amazing" hot chocolate and churro place described above.   
We went back to the indoor market to get Paella for dinner.  Cam's first time having it! 
It happened to be Carnival when we were there, so we caught an incredible parade on saturday night.