A (re) Introduction to The Expat Chronicles

I’m sure some of you are wondering, “why in the world is she reintroducing her blog?”, especially after 7 years of writing.  It’s simple really. I’m taking a blogging course and each day I’m given an assignment to refine and update my skill set when it comes to blogging. Today’s assignment – introduce yourself and your blog.  It’s harder than it seems!  So here goes!   Continue reading

The One Foot Syndrome

Not long ago (ok, it was back in March but I’m only getting around to writing about it now), I had a revelation.  I have One Foot Syndrome.  Alright, that doesn’t really exist. But it should.  It was about truly living our lives here and not being able to let go of what was in Barcelona. I’ve had one foot here and one foot there for the last 2 years. What’s sad is that I did the same thing when we first moved to Barcelona over 6 years ago, only then I was keeping that foot in the US. Continue reading

The Middle Ground

In just a 10 day span back in March, we were back to both Boston and Barcelona. It’s the first time we’ve been to both places in such close proximity to each other (unless we were living in one of them). And it’s only recently that I started to think about them in a new and different light.  But what’s most interesting to me is that I’ve now started to incorporate the Netherlands into that playbook. Continue reading

Weekend in Barcelona

Last weekend, over Easter, we were off on our third and final trip for the month of March – this time to Barcelona. What a busy month!  Essentially we had 2 weekends at “home”, home being a relative term – one in Boston and one in Barcelona.  It was fun getting to be in both places that we once called home within 10 days of each other and recalling the things that make each of them special in our hearts. Continue reading

6 Years Ago We Left For A 2 Year Adventure

Six years ago this week we left the US for a 2 year adventure in Barcelona. Doesn’t make a lot of sense does it – 2 years is now 6?  I look back at the whole 2 year thing now and laugh.  If only I could have known what an adventure it was really going to be.  Clearly what happened went way beyond our expectations and our plans. I’m not the same person as I was then.  How could I be?  So much has happened in 6  years. Continue reading

A Quick Escape “Home” to Barcelona

We’ve been missing Barcelona.  The sun, the sand… and of course, our friends. With one of Aidan’s best friend’s here in the Netherlands having moved to Qatar in September, I figured it was the perfect time to make a quick escape back “home” and remind the kids that it’s ok when we move or friends move – the distance is irrelevant.  Not to mention a healthy dose of sunshine is always welcome!! Continue reading

Things I Never Thought I Would Miss… in Barcelona

We left Barcelona just over 8 months ago.  At the time, I was ready.  Beyond ready.  It’s not that I didn’t love it there, but most of my friends had long since left and with our lives in a state of limbo for close to 9 months, I was just ready for a change.  But now that we’ve been here in the Netherlands for 7 months and we are settling into our lives, the reality has hit that there are things about Barcelona that will forever be a part of me now as well as things that I just miss about living there, most of which, I never would have expected.  Here’s a few in no particular order…

  • Going to the market. At first I hated having to go to like 50 different stores (ok, perhaps 50 is an exaggeration) for all of my specialty food.  And by specialty I mean cheese, meat, deli meats, fruits and vegetables, and of course, my American store.  Our regular grocery store had a poor selection of the aforementioned items and the best bet was to go with a specialty shop.  This drove me crazy – I felt like I spent the better part of my day doing the grocery shopping. Fast forward a few years and doing that shopping was like second nature to me.  And I miss it.  Not that it isn’t nice to have the convenience of everything in my Albert Heijn but there is something to be said for going someplace that focuses on one type of food only and knows everything there is to know about it.
  • Seasonal only food.  Kind of related to the item above, I never thought I would miss having seasonal food.  While some things were imported into Spain, most of the food we ate was local.  And that meant that we couldn’t get things like strawberries or raspberries out of season.  Or even sweet potatoes (who knew sweet potatoes had a season?).  However, not always being able to get something, meant that we were super excited about it when we could get it for that short season.
  • Meeting friends for lunch, dinner, drinks anywhere, anytime easily. The beauty of living in a city, having a great network of friends and a long school day meant getting to meet up for lunch and/or drinks, a long walk, shopping, or just a coffee, pretty easily.  I missed being in the suburbs so much when we first moved to Barcelona and the easiness of our lives in Attleboro and yet, when we left Barcelona to go back to the suburbs, I realized that unless you have a gem of a neighborhood like we had in the US, the ‘burbs aren’t all they are cracked up to be.  In a word… BORING.  No network of friends.  No easy public transportation (I have to drive or bike to the train station – it’s 5km away).  And no one to meet up with to do all those fun things.
  • Festivals all the time.  Seriously. All.The.Time.  Just walking down the street on a given Wed and you’ll come across a festival.  And most festivals involve at least one of these things:  castellers (human towers), fire, more fire, bastoners, batucada, horses, firecrackers, gegantes, costumes, calçots (or other foods) and so much more.  Some of our favorites – Sant Joan, Festa de Gracia, Sant Jordi, Carnaval, Sant Medir, Tres Reyes and La Merce.
  • Long weekends.  Many festivals were accompanied by long weekends.  Practically monthly.  It’s been strange being back in a land where holidays are few and far between and school vacations are week long rather than spread out over many long weekends.
  • Easy (and cheap) travel. With those long weekends, we travelled almost every month.  And with Barcelona being a more central location in southern Europe, it was a great hub to fly out of.  Flights were cheap, lots of airlines were available, the airport wasn’t overwhelmingly big and we were within a 2 hour flight of a multitude of great destinations.  That’s not to say Amsterdam isn’t a great gateway to amazing places that we still haven’t explored… but most within a 2 hour flight are not so toasty warm!!  Not to mention the flights are much more costly flying out of here.
  • Living in a city.  Being a suburban girl my whole life, I never thought I would take to city life.  But like I mentioned above, I really miss the accessibility of living in a city.  And never did I ever expect that my kids would become city kids, but they have and they miss the hustle and bustle of city life as well.
  • Walking.  Living in a city means walking. A lot.  At first it was weird walking everywhere.  But then it just became a normal way of life.  We would walk to dinner in the evenings and walk it off on the way home.  We would walk home from school some days (in addition to taking the train part of the way).  We would walk along the beach boardwalk.  We walked to the grocery store (and all the other stores).  We didn’t even have a car for the first three years.  I attribute about 50% of my weight gain since our move to not walking and spending way too much time in the car again.
  • Being outside every day.  When you have to walk everywhere, it means you are outside.  With 300 days of sunshine, this is not an unreasonable thing.  Don’t get me wrong, these Dutch are hearty people who don’t let the weather get them down.  But even being from New England does not encourage me to be outside on cold, windy and rainy days which happen more often than not.  I miss my daily dose of Vitamin D.
  • Not having a car.  We ended up getting a car eventually in Barcelona, but not until we’d had about 3 years under our belts without one.  Yes, it had it’s challenges and it was tougher to explore outside the city spontaneously, but at the same time, it was really nice not having to rely on a car to get us from point A to point B every day.  And once we did get a car, we didn’t use it a whole lot.  In fact, by the time we turned it in, after 20 months, we’d only put about 12,000 km (approx 7500 miles) on it.  We’ve had our car here in the Netherlands for less than 6 months and I’m actually just shy of that 12,000 km mark now.  Let’s also state that cars are infinitely more expensive here in the Netherlands than they were in Spain (and those were more expensive than the US!).
  • Mild winters.  Again being from New England, I have to say, the winters here in the Netherlands are a piece of cake. We had about 2″ of snow the whole winter and temps rarely went below freezing for more than a few days with most temps ranging in the early to mid 30s (F) for most of the winter, if not even the lower 40s.  However, compared to Barcelona, it was shit.  I’m considering it to be my intermediary country – not as bad as home but not nearly as nice as Barcelona.  Not only did it rain, a lot, it was windy.  And it was dark.  Like sun coming up at 9 and going down at 4:30 and since it was cloudy and gray anyways, it just always felt dark and gloomy.  Five beautiful, mild winters with temps around 50-55 (F), if not higher and 300 days of sunshine are most definitely missed.
  • Speaking Spanish.  Yeah, I definitely didn’t think I would ever miss that one.  But sometimes I do.  I don’t think I realized how far I had come until I had to start over again with learning Dutch.  Thankfully, I still get to use it at school where I’m friendly with some Spanish speaking parents and the kids are still being tutored in Spanish so they don’t forget it!!  Aidan actually talks in Spanish at school with his Spanish friends at times.
  • Living in a small, walkable city with awesome public transportation.  Amsterdam isn’t massive, but nor is it as small as Barcelona either.  And to be honest, I don’t know a whole lot about it’s public transportation at this point as I haven’t spent a lot of time in the city (yet), but I do know that the transportation system in Barcelona was fabulous.  The metro alone was not only easy to navigate and inexpensive, but could get you pretty much anywhere in the city quickly.  And if you didn’t want to take the metro, you could take the bus… or you could … walk!   Not to mention the very reliable public transportation – unless, of course, they were striking.  But at least they would let you know in advance 😉
  • Our friends.  You didn’t think we’d forget you on this list did you?  It’s not that I never thought I would miss you.  But I think that when we moved to Barcelona, I thought that like our time there, our friends would be temporary.  And yes, some were of a more temporary nature.  However, most were not and lifelong friendships were forged that I never expected.  And not just for myself, but for Josh and especially the kids.  And while, like us, some have also left Barcelona, that bond is still strong.  But what I wouldn’t do to recreate year #3 when all felt “perfect” for us all.
  • My American kids.  That’s a strange one, I know.  Because technically my kids are American.  But I miss them because they no longer identify themselves with the US.  It’s a weird feeling to have kids who have now lived in 3 countries in the lifetimes but don’t define home as the same place that we do.  In fact, now that they’ve left have decided they are more comfortable in Spain and that Barcelona is truly home, not the US!
  • Three hour lunch.   God that siesta drove me CRAZY!   I always had to get my errands done before siesta or else suffer the wrath of taking the kids with me.  That part of siesta I hated.  But what I miss and loved was the long, leisurely lunch times. Whether at home or at a restaurant, siesta is a time for family and lunch is not meant to be rushed.  Never will you be pressured in a restaurant to finish quickly (and since it will take an hour to get your food you won’t finish all that fast anyways) so they can turn over the tables.
  • Cured meats.  I hated cured meats with a passion when we first got to Barcelona.  The smell of the meats when you would walk into a xucutteria or the grocery store was enough to make me gag for the longest time.  In time, the smell stopped bothering me and I grew to appreciate the quality of the meats available in Barcelona.  In the Netherlands, the meats are second rate by comparison and you’ll be hard pressed to find an Iberian ham leg with it’s black hoof and a butcher shaving the jamon slice by slice.  It wasn’t til I left Barcelona that I really started to crave it.  And we filled up on it when we were back in February!!
  • The healthcare system.  I understand no system is perfect and that we held private insurance (I know the medical system is different for those on the free government healthcare), but I miss living in a society that does not require constant referrals and just gets the job done.  If you need an appointment with a specialist you make one.  I’m tired of having to go to my huisarts (GP) here for things as simple as an eye doctor or a gynecologist.  Time is wasted, money is wasted and it just makes me annoyed.
  • Faster internet.  I have to say it, the internet is crap here compared to Spain.  Is it still decent?  Yes, it is.  But Spain was better.

The irony of this list is that if you had asked me things that annoyed the hell out of me about life in Barcelona, I would have named most of these.  Oh how the mighty have fallen right?  Maybe someday I’ll have a list of all the things I miss from the Netherlands?  One can only hope…

Knuffels en kussen,

Julie

When Days Become Normal

Today we went bowling. It’s not the first time we’ve done something “normal” but after 6 months, I’m finding days like today are starting to happen more frequently. I don’t remember exactly when that moment was in Spain but I’ve been thinking back on our last days there a lot recently and the routine that had become our lives. Barcelona had become our “normal”. 

The every day (and I mean EVERY day) challenges became a part of normal life. Speaking Spanish became normal. While it wasn’t completely natural, it was to a point where I instinctively spoke Spanish rather than fumbling as I do now when someone asks me a question in Dutch. Taking the kids to play dates, after school activities and sports all became normal. Our favorite restaurants to frequent. And the things we would do to fill our free time all, in time, became routine and “normal”. And so on…

From an expat standpoint, the word normal doesn’t often enter our vocabulary. But at some point, even the most unique of places can take on a sense of normalcy. And this is not a bad thing, at least I don’t think so. The days become routine again. School, sports, activities. Paying taxes. Working. Relaxing over the weekend. It begins to feel… Natural. 

Does that mean that I’m happy here yet?  No. But to me it signifies a contentment with our lives and a happiness, and even a sense of relief, that the hardest parts of transitioning to another new country are over and that we can now do our best to truly settle in and enjoy this opportunity we’ve been given. After all, our lives abroad are really anything but normal… But it still feels good on those rare days when today is just a good, normal day at “home”. 

Knuffels en kussen,

Julie