My mom always says to me that if you aren’t happy in life and change isn’t happening on it’s own (or in the way that you hope), sometimes you need to “change the dance”. I obviously complain a lot as she’s said it many times to me. But I don’t think I really “got” what she meant until recently. Mainly because I hadn’t been applying it to my life. Continue reading
Our last few weeks have been pretty busy. We had a visitor, lots of last bits of school stuff and getting ourselves ready for our trip to the US. So while I’m actually in the US at the moment, I wrote this entry a few weeks ago and just hadn’t had the chance to post it before we left.
We’ve been in the Netherlands for almost a year now. And during this year, I have felt a vast loneliness like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. Even in Spain, our first time living not just abroad, but outside of Massachusetts, I never felt as lonely or isolated than I have here. Continue reading
I’ve read a lot of articles over the years about defining home. It’s a big deal in the expat world as it’s a part of our identity. And yet it’s an issue I have struggled with since the moment we left the US 5 1/2 years ago. People ask – where are you from?? Where is home? Well, we’re American and we are from Boston. Or is it? That’s who we are, but is that where we call home? When I speak of going “home” – where am I talking about? Is it Boston, Barcelona, or even here in the Netherlands? Some days it’s none. Others, it’s all three. Continue reading
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,
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,
When we left Massachusetts almost 5 1/2 years ago, it was for just 2 years. At the time, those two years seemed like they would be the longest years of our lives. It was our first time living outside Massachusetts, much less outside of the US! With our plan to come back “soon” we held on to many of our American ties, not ready to fully immerse ourselves in European life – food, tv, clothing brands, medicine and… our house. Continue reading
This week we “celebrated” 6 months since the kids and I arrived in the Netherlands. Josh, having been commuting for the 9 months prior was obviously more at home by the time we arrived. But as a family, the Netherlands has been our home for 6 months now. It feels like more. I can’t decide if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Good in the sense that I feel comfortable and that we are getting into a “normal” kind of groove and routine that one can only have when you are home. Bad because I think, god, it’s only been 6 months????? Continue reading
Yesterday was rough. It wasn’t any one particular thing but one small thing after another that culminated with a puking child that had been fine just this morning. It was such a weird crappy day that I actually had to laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. I whatsapped my mom towards the end of the day, who responded “it’s a bad day, not a bad life”.
This weekend I remembered what it means to be happy and seeing it through my children’s eyes made me realize that it’s not something all that complicated and really not all that hard to achieve. All you need is really great friends and you’ll be amazed at how happy you can be. A touch of beautiful weather doesn’t hurt either 😉 While we were in Barcelona, our pace was relaxed. We the majority of our time with friends. My friends did everything to try to help make things easier for us – helping to shuttle the kids to and from playdates and sleepovers and helping to organize lunches, etc. Without them, I couldn’t have done it – we had to be in too many places at once. And for that, I thank each and every one of you. Continue reading
In the few days that we’ve been back in Barcelona, I’ve noticed a few things and as a result, I’m remembering a few things. Things that I’m hoping will help me when we get back to Amsterdam Sunday night. First off, we’ve been seeing Barcelona through rose colored glasses – we are remembering it as it was when we left, not for the hard times we had in the beginning. It’s about remembering that things here weren’t always all that great. I have to remember that we didn’t always love it here in Barcelona either, especially in the beginning. Things were tough, really tough. But we persevered and made it through and in the end, we fell in love with Barcelona. But it wasn’t until we were visiting school that these thoughts really hit home. Continue reading