The power of a smile

Growing up in a small town (with a population of approximately 2000), where everyone knew everyone, it was common courtesy to give a friendly smile and a wave as you passed by a fellow member of the community, whether walking down the street or driving by in your car. We always acknowledged each other.

Moving from a small country town to a city can change you and also the way you go about simple gestures, such as greeting those you pass on the street. Suddenly you are surrounded by unfamiliar faces. In addition, moving to another country can also contribute, as the initial language barrier can put a dint in your confidence to speak up. I suddenly found myself in both situations. I had moved from a small country town in Australia to the busy, bustling city of Rotterdam in The Netherlands. Not only Rotterdam, but the dodgiest area of Rotterdam South, where giving an innocent smile to the wrong kind of person could be perceived as an invitation for an uncomfortable and inappropriate conversation. I quickly learned to walk the streets with my eyes glued to the ground.

Over the years, I eventually lost my confidence to look people in the eye and to greet them with a polite gesture as I walked by; whether it be a slight tilt of the head, a smile, a verbal greeting of some sort, or a full wave. My confidence to complete this simple friendly gesture, particularly towards those I had not yet become acquainted with, seemed to have faded away over the years.

We now live in a smaller city of the Netherlands, where I feel safe and comfortable, yet I still find myself fixing my eyes to the ground as I pass those around me. Recently I visited a friend of mine who was born in Australia, and moved to the Netherlands many years ago. I noticed as we walked to the local playground that she still made a concerted effort to greet every single person that she passed, even if she didn’t know them. I noticed that everyone she smiled at and said good morning to, was a little taken aback at first, but was pleasantly surprised and enthusiastically smiled and greeted her in return. It was as though she had made their day and this was so refreshing to see. A smile can be so contagious!

I have decided that I am going to change my ways. I want to get back to that place where I do not hesitate to greet strangers. I have no problem greeting friends, colleagues, neighbours or acquaintances, it’s greeting strangers that is the challenge. Rather than seek the comfort of the ground with my eyes, I am going to seek out their eyes and make contact. They may be staring at the ground, but if their eyes do eventually meet mine, I will smile back with confidence and wish them a good morning/afternoon. Just as I did back in my home town fifteen years ago.. only now the greeting will take place in Dutch of course.

“A smile confuses an approaching frown”. ~Author Unknown.

It has been proven that along with the brain, your face also plays a big part in your emotions, reinforcing the feelings that we are having. Our outwards signs of emotion seem to intensify our actual inner emotions. Psychologists recently discovered that people who have botox treatments are actually less anxious in general than people who are able to frown! (You can read more on that here). On the opposite end of the scale, I would also think that if they are unable to smile as well as they could without the treatment, this could also affect their positive emotions.

Simply put, smiling is something that I love to do. We all love to do it right? Smiling not only makes us happy, but also those around us happy. Plus, it is so simple to do, and it takes no effort at all when true and meant. Actually, most people are turned off by the appearance of a smile that takes effort, because this usually means that it’s fake. It’s not hard to detect a fake smile as it often involves only the mouth, not the eyes. It’s the true, heart-felt smiles that everyone loves to see and we should do it more often. Even for strangers.

It’s not going to be easy, thats for sure. Over the years, I have developed a habit that will be hard to crack. But I think it will be appreciated. Who knows, I may even make someone’s day with a simple smile.

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Kristen

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A View from the Water

Spring; that magical time of the year where millions of flowers are in bloom, baby animals roam the lands… and best of all, our boat is placed back in the water after being in ‘dry dock’ during the Winter months!

One of our most favourite things to do as a family is to go out on our sloep (canal boat), explore this beautiful country, and view it from a completely different perspective. From the water, the Netherlands is at it’s finest.

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Due to the vast amount of canals, rivers and lakes, you can pretty much get anywhere you want to go in Holland via the waterways. There are more than 4,400 Kilometers of navigable waterways in this little country, not to mention the coastlines, but most people stick to the sheltered inland waters where there are around 600 marinas. If you do not own a boat, no need to despair, renting various types of boats is possible in many locations throughout the country. It is also interesting to know that you do not need a boat license to drive a boat under 15m.

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My favourite time to go out on the water is during late Spring when the weather is warmer and there are hundreds of newly hatched baby ducks, swans, geese and other water birds swimming throughout the canals.

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We usually always go out on the boat for a full day. I’ll pack a picnic lunch, snacks and plenty of drinks to take with us. There are so many great open waters to visit in the Netherlands, with the closest lake to us being the Foppenplas near Maasland in the Midden-Delfland region. From here you can explore Schipluiden, Maasland and its charming yacht house cafe and Maassluis.

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If you would like to be more adventurous, from the Foppenplas you can also take a trip via the many canals into the beautiful city of Delft, passing picturesque houses, windmills and the historic East gate along the way. Round trip, this usually takes a full day.

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We also enjoy going through the old locks in Vlaardingen (dating back to 1653), out onto the Nieuwe Waterweg and into the city of Rotterdam, approximately 10 kms away. The total length of the port from the entrance at Hoek van Holland to Rotterdam is more than 40 km, making the Rotterdam harbour the largest port in Europe. Approximately 30,000 seagoing vessels and 110,000 inland vessels visit the port of Rotterdam every year, so it’s a very busy waterway, but this is what we enjoy so much about it!

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After a few hours on the boat the kids usually begin to get a little bored, so I always make sure to pack a bag full of activities to keep them busy and of course, plenty of snacks.

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Most trips, the kids become so relaxed that they end up having a good, long nap.

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It can be costly to own a boat (due to initial purchasing costs, docking fees and maintenance). However, if you use it often enough, we believe it is worth every penny. Not to mention we enjoy every minute of it. It is so peaceful and relaxing. After just one day on the water, we feel like we have had a week long vacation. No tv, no computer, just the sound of the water and the birds. Most importantly, the quality family time we have together whilst on the boat is priceless.

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Of course I have not forgotten Amsterdam! One of the best ways to see this city is from a boat. You can book a boat tour or hire a boat. Many people even celebrate their birthdays, baby showers, bachelorette parties etc. on a boat. The famous gay pride Canal Parade is also on the waterways of Amsterdam. Where most parades use trucks, Amsterdam has boats of couse! Over seventy spectacularly decorated boats sail through the Prinsengracht and Amstel river each year, usually in early August, which is watched by around 300.000 spectators!

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With so many wonderful waterways in the Netherlands, our family have really only scratched the surface of the countless possibilities during the three years since buying our own boat. In the future, we would also love to discover the following Dutch locations via the waterways..

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The Biesbosch
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Giethorn, ‘the Venice of Holland’
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Fort Bourtange in the province of Groningen, built in 1593

Owning a boat in the Netherlands can be a reality for many people. Boat ownership in Holland is high, with more than half a million boats currently on the water. That’s about one boat for every 32 people.

When looking for a new or used boat, also pay attention to its future maintenance, insurance, and general ownership costs. The larger and more luxurious the boat, the more it will cost both upfront and throughout its lifetime to maintain. Consider cost-effective alternatives such as purchasing a used boat, a boat that requires less maintenance, or a boat the can remain in the water throughout the entire year (as there are additional costs involved if your boat needs to be taken out of the water for winter).

Boat ownership is a great way to get out and explore the Netherlands with your friends and family. So if you love the idea of combining exploration and relaxation on the water, then purchasing your own boat, no matter how big or small, may be the best decision you ever made!

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If you have any other suggestions of beautiful areas in the Netherlands, best explored via the water, I’d love to hear them from you!

Kristen

My fascination with the Dutch skies

I grew up in an area of Australia were blue skies were a given. They were expected. Then I moved to the Netherlands, where the weather and therefore the cloud formations were constantly changing. This became a fascination of mine. I was constantly looking up and admiring the clouds above me. Never before had I seen such wonderful and interesting clouds and I found myself constantly taking photos of the sky and the clouds that quickly changed before my eyes.

Holland may not be known for its beautiful weather, but it is known for its beautiful skies. I can see how these clouds were the inspiration for many Dutch painters in the past. Suddenly I was noticing that there were so many different types of clouds; the low lying, flat clouds, the fluffy, cauliflower look-a-like clouds, the high, wispy clouds, and of course the dark stormy clouds that promised rain. Due to the gusty coastal winds, the amazing storm clouds disappear just as quickly as they arrive.

This forever changing backdrop seems to make the already stunning Dutch landscape that much more interesting.

Someone who shares my fascination of the Dutch skies and landscapes is Rich Theemling from Holland Photography. He always manages to capture the beauty in this wonderful little country that we now call home.

Here are a few examples;

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So next time you are out and about discovering the Netherlands and all it has to offer, don’t forget to look up and admire the view, for it is constantly changing and always interesting.

Kristen

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Not a bad spot to relax and watch the clouds roll by @ De Haar Castle

 

Special thanks to Rich Theemling from Holland Photography for allowing me to share his wonderful images of the Netherlands. Rich captures the best of Holland in his photos and will make you fall in love with this country all over again. More of his photography work can be found on his Facebook page, Holland Photography.

Mexico – The Aztec Empire

Mexico is a unique country located between North and Central America, known for it’s beaches, diverse landscape of mountains, deserts, jungles, tequila, cactuses, mariachi singers and salsa. The country’s East coast is bordering the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, and Mexico’s West Coast, known as the ‘Mexican Riviera’meets the Pacific Ocean. During my time onboard ships as a crew member between the years of 2000 and 2006, I spent the majority of my time along the stunning West coast of Mexico (and Alaska – See My Great Alaskan Adventures). However, I was fortunate enough to travel both the West and East coasts of Mexico and I will talk about both within this post.

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Tourists flock to Mexico not only for it’s idyllic beaches, but also because it is rich in history. Impressive ancient ruins such as Teotihuacan (Aztec) and Chichen Itza (Mayan) are scattered throughout the country. Mexico was the site of several civilizations such as the Olmec, Toltec, Teotihuacan, Zapotec, Maya, and Aztec. The Aztecs were a civilization with a rich mythology and cultural heritage located in central Mexico in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries. They called themselves ‘Mexica’. Their capital was Tenochtitlan on the shore of Lake Texcoco, which is now the site of Mexico City. The repuplic of Mexico and Mexico City actually derived their names from the Mexica people.

Some of the best food I have ever eaten was in Mexico. From their amazing huge servings of nachos with homemade chunky salsa, to their sizzling fajitas and mouth watering burritos, I was in heaven. Thanks to the country’s perfection of tequila, their cocktails are also pretty amazing. I may, or may not have tried all of them.

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Mexican West Coast – Mexican Riviera

Again, I may be biased, but I still believe that the best way to see this coast of Mexico is via a cruise ship, particularly due to the long distances between the west coast cities of Mexico. Ships will usually depart from San Diego, CA and head down the west coast of Mexico and around the Baja California Peninsula in Northwestern Mexico, stopping at Cabo San Lucas, located at the tip of this peninsula. The Baja California Peninsula’s land mass separates the Pacific Ocean from the Gulf of California and it is one of the largest peninsulas found in the world. The ship will then usually head further down the west coast as far south as either Acapulco or Zihuatanejo.

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This was my first ever port in Mexico and I will always remember it fondly. Us crew members enjoyed visiting the large silver markets ashore and then taking a water taxi out past El Arco ‘the Arch’ to ‘Lovers Beach’, only accessible via boat, where we would relax for the day.

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I was also able to join a tour onboard an old pirate ship. I helped steer the ship, hoisted the sails, and of course just sat back and relaxed as we sailed to a beautiful spot in the marine park to enjoy the amazing sun-drenched climate of Mexico.

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Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta is a resort town which lays in the heart of the Banderas Bay and offers the best of two worlds: tradition and top notch, state-of-the-art resorts. Along the Malecon boardwalk, you can find an endless supply of contemporary sculptures, lounges, nightclubs, restaurants and bars, guaranteeing a great night out.

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Puerto Vallarta’s historic, cobblestoned center is also home to the beautiful church, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe.

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Just a month or so after my now-husband and I began dating, his parents came onboard for a Mexican Riveria cruise. They took us out for dinner along the boardwalk to get to know me better and my father in law secretly arranged for a live Mariachis band to play for me. Before dinner that night we visited the most amazing tequila tasting distillery, where we were able to taste various rare and flavoured tequila. We discovered years later that this experience cost my poor father in law an absolute fortune! But we will never forget it.

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The amazing beaches and sun also meant that a relaxing day was always guaranteed. Beaches such as Las Caletas and Yelapa are the ones you do not want to miss and of course, don’t forget to order a cocktail on the beach!

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El Eden Eco Park is the location where some of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Predator” was filmed in the jungle, just outside of Puerto Vallarta. The movie set was turned into a restaurant and bar, and from here you can take a Canopy tour or a trekking tour into the jungle to visit some of the recognisable areas where the Predator movie was filmed, including the Misalamoya river. I’d recommend you wear insect repellant as the sand flies were VERY friendly. My husband found out the hard way.

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Acapulco

Acapulco is a resort city set on a large bay backed by high rise buildings and the Sierra Madre del Sur mountains. Made famous by the jet set in the 1950s and ’60s, Acapulco is known for its high-energy nightlife and beaches.

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The cliff divers  of La Quebrada are a group of professional divers who dive off the face of a cliff, 35m into the sea below. Timing is crucial as the depth of the water can vary from 6-16 feet, depending on the waves! The divers perform daily shows for the public.

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There is a restaurant at the top of the cliffs overlooking the cliff divers. This is where my husband and I had our first dinner date together in November 2000. We had a prime view as we watched the night show. The divers threw themselves forwards and backwards from various heights off the cliff with the grand finale being a dive from the highest part of the cliff holding a flaming torch (shown in the video below at around the 3:20 mark).

Every time we visited Acapulco, we would go out for dinner and try another one of the great restaurants along the main strip. We found some great ones indeed and it was always nice to eat something other than cruise ship food for a change. Eventually, us crew members would usually always ended up at Carlos n’ Charlies, a restaurant/bar where the atmosphere was always enjoyable. We had many fun nights here, trying out more of those amazing cocktails.

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Acapulco was also where I enjoyed a crazy fun crew booze cruise through the bay with a great group of fellow crew members. Good times.

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We also frequently visited the CiCi Water Park in the city of Acapulco, where I had the opportunity to swim with dolphins, which was amazing!

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The Shot Over Jet Boat in Acapulco, Mexico was also an experience to get the adrenaline pumping. The boat shot through the shallow waters and mangroves of the Puerto Marques Lagoon, the stunning backdrop from the early Tarzan movies (there’s me in the back screaming.. hehe).

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Mazatlan

To get a better feel of all this town has to offer, don’t linger too long in the Zona Dorada (Golden Zone), Mazatlán’s touristy area. Instead head straight for the city’s character filled old town and its gloriously unrefurbished malecón (one of the longest seasfront walkways of the world). Here you can view magic sunsets from the various bars and restaurants.
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Zihuatanejo

Zihuatanejo is somewhere I have wanted to visit since watching the movie, Shawshank Redemption. Andy, was an innocent man who was wrongly imprisoned for many years. He manages to escape and fled to Zihuatanejo.

Andy Dufresne: [in a letter to Red] “Dear Red. If you’re reading this, you’ve gotten out. And if you’ve come this far, maybe you’re willing to come a little further. You remember the name of the town, don’t you?”

Red: “Zihuatanejo.”

Unfortunately I had to work on the one and only day we visited. Here you can see me in my lovely uniform (not!) with beautiful Zihuatanejo in the background…

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Copper Canyon, Chihuahua

Copper Canyon, in northern Mexico, is a series of massive canyons in the Sierra Madre Occidental mountains. Popular for hiking, it gets its name from the copper-green hue of the canyon walls. The famous Chepe train connects the region via over 80 tunnels and nearly 40 bridges. I spent all day on this rickety train travelling from the South to the North of Mexico to visit this amazing canyon and it is an experience I will never forget.

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Mexican East Coast – Caribbean

Mexico’s Caribbean coast is full of treasures, from spectacular white sandy beaches and offshore reefs to some of the most beautiful Mayan ruins. Unsurprisingly, much of the region is also full of tourists, who come from around the world to soak up the sun and unique Mayan-Mexican culture.

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The pier on which the cruise ships dock here leads directly into a picturesque resort. Crew were able to use these facilities free of charge. At that time, the closest town to where we docked was Mahahual, about three kilometeres away. A small fishing village with soft sandy beaches, grass thatched palapas, and a coral reef a short distance off-shore. However, now a new development is being created directly inland from the port named New Mahahual, which is now bustling with cruise ship passengers when ships are in.

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My parents in law also came onboard for another cruise to discover the East coast of Mexico. Here in Costa Maya, I went ashore with them to discover the amazing Chacchoben Mayan ruins. Settlement by the Mayan people at this site is estimated at 200 BC, and the structures located there date from 700 AD. Unbelievable isn’t it? Especially when my home country of Australia was not even discovered until 1700 odd years later!!

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Veracruz

Veracruz is a large port city. Although I was unable to go ashore here as I was working, my husband was able to enjoy all this city had to offer, including a large carnival during new years day. This city is known for it’s carnivals and parades particularly during February when the Veracruz Carnival festival is held. This carnival is one of the largest in Mexico, filled with parade floats, intricate and colorful masks, music, and dancing.

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Cancun

One of the most popular vacation destinations in all of Mexico (and the world), Cancun attracts troves of tourists, particularly spring breakers, every year.

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Just 200km from Cancun lies the amazing Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza. Chichen Itza was one of the largest Maya cities of it’s time and today it is probably the most well known of all mayan ruins.

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Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen is a resort city located about an hour south of Cancun. Playa del Carmen offers access to the same azure waters of the Caribbean, but without the crowded party scene. And if you’re looking for a once-in-a-lifetime underwater experience, Playa del Carmen is the spot for you; a number of agencies offer scuba diving and snorkeling tours of the nearby Great Mayan Reef (the world’s second-largest reef system) and a variety of local underground freshwater caves.

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Cozumel

The island of Cozumel is located in the Caribbean Sea, directly out to the East from Playa del Carmen. This is a very popular cruise ship port of call and famous for it’s diving possibilities due to the reef, lagoons and submerged sculptures. This is one of the most popular vacation destinations in the world. You come here to relax, dive and eat lobster (or in my case, more nachos!). But when the ships arrive, it’s a busy place to be!

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My time spent in Mexico was extremely enjoyable. The food alone warrants another visit!

However, the past ten years have been hard on Mexico. Mexico’s powerful drug trafficking organisations have escalated in their violent drug related crimes since 2007 and the global financial crisis in late 2008 caused a massive economic downturn in Mexico. Unfortunately due to these reasons, cruise lines have now cut various ports such as Mazatlan and/or Acapulco from their itineraries.

The country is slowly recovering, but it may not be the same. Certainly not as safe. I think I may have seen it in it’s glory days, and I can only hope that it still remains to be just as glorious as I remember it to be.

Salud!

Kristen

Orange Fever

Before moving to the Netherlands, the colour orange was never really found in my wardrobe. It just wasn’t my colour of choice. However, when you marry a Dutch man, you soon learn to love this particular colour. For in the Netherlands, the colour orange is literally royal and loved by all.

Oranjegekte (Orange craze) or Oranjekoorts (Orange fever) is a phenomenon in the Netherlands that occurs during major sporting events, especially international football championships, and during Koningsdag (Kings Day), an annual national holiday celebrating the King’s birthday on the 27th of April. During these particular days, the country and everyone in it is drowned in orange. You wear it, eat it, and see it everywhere. Entire towns and cities are decorated in orange. Orange is the traditional color of the Dutch royal family. The lineage of the current dynasty — the House of Oranje-Nassau — dates back to Willem van Oranje (William of Orange), born in 1533, he led the Dutch to several successes in the fight against the Spanish. He was then assassinated at the age of 51 in Delft after being declared an outlaw by the Spanish King.

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The lion from the Dutch coat of arms
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The beautiful Queen Maxima in orange and the King to her right.

With this year’s Kings Day approaching, I thought this would be a great opportunity to explain what Kings Day is like here in the Netherlands. Everyone is in good spirits, ensuring an enjoyable atmosphere for all, and the whole day is full of joyful open-air festivities such as street carnivals, markets, singing, dancing, boat parades, concerts and fireworks.

There are also certain things that the majority of people in the Netherlands will do, without fail, every year on Kings Day.

Firstly, dress in orange…

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Then, hang out your Dutch flag (with an orange pennant above it) in honour of the royal family, particularly the King on his birthday…

Eat delicious orange treats with your coffee or tea in the afternoon. In our home town, the locals will queue up outside the bakery at the crack of dawn in order to get their hands on some of their award winning tompoezen (custard pastries)…

Buy orange flowers….

and of course, visit the local flea markets to find some great bargains…

The vrijmarkt (literally ‘free market’) is a nation wide flea market where all the locals have an opportunity to sell their used goods. Koningsdag is the one and only day of the year that the Dutch government permits sales on the street without a permit and without the payment of value added tax. Early in the morning, you can secure your piece of pavement with a picnic rug of some sort. Then you can lay out all of your second hand items you would like to sell that day on your rug and wait for the parades of people to begin walking by. Its a nice way for the local children to make a little money and a great excuse to get rid of any unused or unwanted clothes, books or toys etc.

Then last but not least…. Party!  Kings Day in the Netherlands is certainly one big party, particularly in Amsterdam, where the party is also on the water!

The Dutch can be heard to sing, “Oranje boven, Oranje boven, Leve de koning én Maxima!” (Orange on top, Orange on top, Long Live the King and Maxima!)

Actually, even my Bachelorette Party (Hens Night) in Australia in 2007 was themed with the colour orange in honor of my soon-to-be Dutch husband! My bridesmaids surprised me with orange shoes, an orange boa, orange clothes, an orange veil and ummm..as you see below..please excuse my certain large friend which I had to carry around all night…

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If you live in the Netherlands, there is no avoiding the colour orange, you are encouraged to simply embrace it. Furthermore, it does not take long before you find great pride in wearing it.

If you ever get the opportunity to visit the Netherlands during Kings Day on April 27, you will surely be in for a treat!

Kristen – ‘Proud wearer of orange’

Dads and Motorcycles – A Risky Combination

In January 2011, our little family was faced with what would be the beginning of a three month long challenging period of our lives.  Let me start at the beginning..

It was a typical week-day evening at our family home in Sydney, Australia. I was preparing dinner whilst simultaneously trying to manage our two young children (then 6 months and 2 years of age) who wanted my constant attention, particular at that time of the day. My husband was at work and usually arrived back home for dinner each night between 6-6:30pm. If he ever ran late at work, he always called to let me know. We lived about an hour’s drive out of the city centre and the traffic was awful. He hated depending on the set train times, so he obtained his motorbike license and bought a motorbike a few years prior. He enjoyed the freedom of commuting to work each day on his bike.

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Helping daddy work on his motorbike

On that particular day, 6:30pm came and went. I started to get a little shitty that he hadn’t called. Dinner was ready! I decided to feed the kids, but waited to have my meal together with him once he arrived home. 7pm arrived, then 7:30pm. By that stage I was fuming. I knew he was flat out at work, but I was angry that he hadn’t thought to call me to let me know that he wouldn’t be home for dinner. I decided to put the kids to bed, as they could not wait up any longer. By 8pm, I began to worry. I had called him several times, but he was not answering his phone. I had assumed that he must be therefore on his way home and driving; thats why he couldn’t pick up. I was mentally preparing the lecture that I was going to give him once he got home. Then the doorbell rang.

I opened the door and my heart sank as two policeman came into view. After confirming my identity, they then went on to inform me that my husband had been in a motorbike accident. They quickly assured me that he was alive, but in a bad way. He had been taken to the North Shore Private Hospital in North Sydney. I was in shock and terrified. The policeman left after making sure I was ok. I wanted to race to the hospital immediately, but then I remembered that I had two babies sleeping in their beds. My mind raced. What to do? We had no family living close by. Thankfully, we had the most amazing group of friends in Sydney that anyone could ever hope for. I called two of them and without any hesitation, they immediately came to my rescue; one stayed at our house with the kids while they slept, and the other drove me into the hospital 45 minutes away (as I was in no state to be driving).

We arrived at the emergency department around 9:30pm and they escorted me to a private room for waiting families. I was informed to wait there and someone would be by shortly to update me on my husbands current state. At that time I had no idea of what had happened exactly or of what injuries he had suffered. It may have been just 15 minutes, but that wait felt like more than an hour. Finally, an ambulance officer came into our room. She sat beside me and said matter-of-factly, “You are here for your husband? I nodded. Well we did manage to get a pulse back and he is now stable“. I looked at her in shock and disbelief. What?! Did you just tell me that his heart had stopped beating?!  She then went on to say, “You are Mrs Smith, are you not?” I replied with a broken and angry, yet relieved, “No, I am not!!!!!”.

She knew she had made a dreadful mistake. She shy’ed away sheepishly back into the emergency treatment rooms, quickly saying that she would go back in to check on my actual husband. She didn’t come back out. We waiting another long period of time before a different nurse came out to tell me that I could come in and see my husband now. I stood up quickly and shakily, still recovering from the shock of the news I had previously been given, and followed her into the rooms. Seeing him for the first time was heart breaking. His left leg was broken and in a splint, his left shoulder had been shattered into many pieces, a spinal collar supported his neck, multiple cords were attached to him, and he was so dosed up on morphine for the pain that he didn’t even know I was standing next to him. His cut up motorbike clothing were in a bag beside the bed (the ambulance officers had to cut his jacket and pants off him in order to assess his injuries). We stayed with him until around 1am, then headed back home to try and get some sleep. The next day would be a big day as he would go into surgery.

Again, I relied on friends to help me. I dropped my two year old daughter off at a good friend’s house first thing in the morning, then I headed into the hospital with my 6 month old son (as I was still breastfeeding him, so I could not leave him for a full day). We got to the hospital by 8am and my husband was alert and in a lot of pain. We went over the events of the previous day and he informed me that he had not collided with a car as I had assumed; His chain had come off as he was making a turn, jamming up and locking his rear wheel which sent him flying. He landed on the road shattering his shoulder, then his heavy bike landed on top of him, breaking both his tibia and fibula. As he was laying on the road, unable to move, it took a long time before someone stopped to help him. Many cars actually drove around him, tooting their horns! This make me feel incredibly angry and disappointed. All of those commuters only cared about one thing and that was getting home themselves. I couldn’t comprehend how they could not spare a few moments to stop and help someone in trouble. Eventually, two lovely people stopped to help him and called the ambulance, which I was extremely grateful for.

They began prepping him for surgery. They told us that the two operations to repair both his shoulder and leg would take approximately three to four hours in total. Ollie and I gently hugged him and we all shed our tears of concern, then they wheeled his bed away into the operating room. They informed me that they would call my mobile once the surgeries were complete.  Three hours went by, then four hours went by, then five. My mum flew up to Sydney and arrived at that stage. It was comforting to have her there waiting with us. Six hours went by, then seven. Just as I was thinking the worst and about to panic, my phone finally rang to say that the operations had been more complex than expected, but successful; he was in recovery and I would be able to visit once he had woken up. We waited another couple of long hours before the nurse finally came out to the waiting room to tell us that we could see him at last.

He was drugged up on morphine, his left shoulder was in a sling and and his left leg was plastered. We were eventually shown the before and after x-rays and were shocked with what we were seeing. He now resembled robocop. Many long screws were required to repair the shoulder joint and a large titanium rod now held his leg bones together.

The following day, my father-in-law arrived at the hospital. He had spent the previous thirty hours flying from the Netherlands to Australia to be there for his son. My husband remained in hospital for two weeks. For the first few days, mum was able to help watch my daughter as my father in law and I (with a baby strapped to my chest) sat by my husband’s bed. After mum had returned home I relied heavily on my friends to help with babysitting, and my father in law was also a huge help.

We then began preparing our house for him to come home. As both of the injuries were on his left side, our home thefore needed to become ‘wheelchair friendly’. I rented a ramp for the front door, a narrow wheelchair that had a right arm joystick/drive, a shower chair, ‘elephant feet’ to raise our bed, a high backed chair and mobile commode. He came home and suddenly, I had three dependents to care for (in addition to working part time and organising an upcoming international move).  He remained in that wheelchair for almost three months.

Meanwhile, I could not shake the day of his accident from my mind. I wanted to thank the two caring people who helped my husband. As I had no idea of their identity, I wrote a thank you message (below) which was published in our local newspaper. I was able to track down one of them and eventually thanked her in person.

“My husband had a motorbike accident on Monday night around 7pm (24.01) in Berowra near the traffic lights coming off the F3. The motorbike landed heavily on top of him. As he was lying badly injured on the road, cars passed around him honking their horns! We would like to thank the gentleman who stopped and called the ambulance, reassuring my husband, and the lady who also stopped to help him. We don’t know their names, but the lady was a registered nurse and she sat by him, keeping him stable until the Ambulance personnel arrived. Thank you both so much for all your support whilst he was lying helpless on the road with terrible injuries to his shoulder and leg. After 7 hours of surgery at RNS, he is now doing well and on the long road to recovery.”

Five years have passed, yet that moment of dread as I opened the door to see those two police officers standing there remains strongly in my memory – as though it were yesterday. I also look back on my amazing group of friends that were such a wonderful support system for us during that time and I am forever thankful.

Much to my husband’s disappointment, as soon as he had recovered, I practically begged him to sell his bike and never ride a motorbike again. He is a father of two and has a responsibility to stay safe – to them, to me and to himself. Maybe with more time, the fear will fade and I may feel comfortable enough for him to ride again for recreational purposes on weekends, as I know how much he enjoyed it. However, I’m sure that I will never again be comfortable with the idea of him commuting that way to work every day. The risk is just too high. Every time I look at the long scar across his shoulder, I am reminded of the day I almost lost him.

Kristen

 

The emotional challenges of living abroad

Sure, living abroad certainly has it’s many perks. But it is also has it’s challenges. Rarely do we hear or see about these though, as people tend to share only the great moments in life on social networking sites. For most of us who choose to live abroad, the hardest part about being away from home is the separation from family.

We moved from Australia to the Netherlands, literally the other side of world. So just popping back over to my parents’ for the weekend is no longer possible. I really do envy those who can go home to visit family whenever they like. Hell, I envy those who can see their family once a year.

As Australia is so far away, and the flights are so expensive, we can only get back every 2-3 years; Even then it’s pushing it. We own our own house which needs to be maintained and we also like to enjoy the occasional european family holiday during the summer break to relax and recharge after working hard throughout the year. Therefore, saving for four return flight tickets to the southern hemisphere is challenging.

I have a large family who all live back in Australia. My two sisters have eight children between them. My parents have ten grandchildren. I also have fourteen first cousins who now have children of their own. I have missed many milestones, birthdays, weddings and births. My Nanna passed away recently and I was unable to attend the funeral, or to be there to support dad as he lost his last parent. I have a niece in Australia who is turning two this week and, not only am I unable to attend her birthday celebrations, I am yet to actually meet her in person. Thank god for Skype or she wouldn’t even know who I was. I long to see my children play with their Aussie cousins.

When we do finally get to see my family members, saying goodbye is always difficult. From day one of each visit, we are already dreading the pending goodbyes. As it is not just goodbye and see you soon, its always, goodbye and see you in a couple of years. Children grow so quickly, and in those couple of years, so much changes.

But the thing that really tugs on my heart strings, is the fact that my parents are separated from two of their grandchildren. Telling my parents that our family were moving to the other side of the world was, without a doubt, the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life. My parents are wonderful people with very strong family values. They are also the most amazing parents and grandparents, yet they now only get to see two of their grandchildren every three years. My parents are unable to witness important milestones and events such as birthdays, school concerts and Christmases. More importantly, my children miss out on having their nanna and poppa there to hug them and tell them in person how proud they are of them. We are however, lucky to have one set of parents (grandparents) living close by who are able to be very active grandparents. This doesn’t make it any easier though. I feel as though I have deprived my parents of somthing very special and I still experience a lot of guilt, particularly on special days such as Christmas.

I apologise that this has been quite a depressing post. I just wanted you, the reader, to know that living abroad is not always ‘peaches and cream’. It can be extremely emotionally challenging, particularly when children come into the picture. I’m sure many of you who are living far from home can understand the pain I am describing.

I often wonder, as someone who values family as much as I do and loves my home country as much as I do, how is it that I could have made the decision to leave? Then I realise that I still have those same family values. It’s just that I have a family of my own now and they are my priority.  We chose to move in order to make a better life for us, for our little family.

Thankfully, due to advancements in technology, the world has in a way become smaller.  I keep in regular contact with my parents, sisters, nieces and nephews via Facebook, WhatsApp, Skype and the good ol’ land-line telephone (international calls have become much more affordable). I also began writing for this blog, which helps me feel more connected to them, even though we are worlds apart.

So to those of you out there who are struggling, those of you who are terribly homesick and wondering what on earth you are doing away from home, just know you are not alone. There are so many of us struggling on that same emotional roller coaster, which can at any moment unexpectedly drop from a high to a low, then climb back up again. But I have faith that the roller coaster will become easier with time.

Try to re-focus on the reasons why you chose to leave in the first place and the opportunities that your new home offers.

Kristen

Sinterklaas, Santa Claus and why our children celebrate both.

Until I reached about the age of ten, the pending visit from Santa Claus each Christmas was an exciting and treasured part of my childhood. The anticipation during the (several) weeks leading up to Christmas was almost unbearable! I wrote letters to Santa, drew pictures of him, sang songs about him, counted down the days until his arrival with an advent calendar, and imagined him flying through the starry night sky in his sleigh. As each day drew closer to Christmas eve, the atmosphere and my excitement built up to a point that was, well ..magic.

I believed in, and still believe in, the magic of Christmas. Where a child’s imagination can run wild! Santa, his flying reindeers and cute little elves, it’s all so wonderful! So naturally, I would like our children to also experience the excitement of Christmas, just as I did as a child. Keeping the magic alive for as long as possible is a challenge every parent faces each year as our children grow older and more inquisitive. For our family, the challenge is even greater. We now live in a country where the main holiday is December 5 and the majority of children do not anticipate a visit from Santa Claus (referred to as the Kerstman in Dutch) and they certainly do not expect gifts from him. Instead, they are given presents by another figure named, Sinterklaas on December 5th (and the weeks leading up to this date).

The Sinterklaas celebrations in the Netherlands mostly take place on December 5 and usually wind down on December 6 when Sinterklaas departs. Sinterklaas, also known as Sint-Nicolaas (Saint Nicholas), was the patron saint of children and stories of this figure date back to the Middle Ages. Celebrating December 25 is now becoming more popular in the Netherlands. However, for most families this particular date is no big deal; usually involving a low key family dinner and that’s about it. So it is up to my husband and I to make Christmas as exciting as possible for our two children.

My husband is Dutch, so it is just as important to him that our family celebrates Sinterklaas, as it is to me that we celebrate Christmas and Santa. So we decided that each year we would celebrate both. However, gifts for both occasions are on a smaller scale than they would be if were celebrating one of them only.

So we, as Dutch-Australian parents, are doing the best we can each year to keep the magic alive for two very different individuals, Santa AND Sinterklaas. These two figures have a long list of differences but are both wonderful in their own individual ways. Here is a summary of some the main differences that I have noticed..

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As the two names sound so similar (Sinterklaas and Santa Claus) it was at times, difficult for the kids to distinguish the two figures, especially when they were younger. So to make it easier for the kids to realise that they are indeed two separate individuals, we tell the kids that Santa and Sinterklaas are cousins. A little white lie, but it works. In addition, as most other children in this country do not expect a visit from dear old Santa, this can make it a little less straight forward for our family. We get questions from our children such as, “why does Santa come to us, but not the other kids?”. So far, we have been able to simply answer with “Because you were born in Australia, so Santa visits you as well as Sinterklaas. You guys are just lucky!”. But their suspicions are increasing each year.

It is suggested that the figure of Santa Claus actually derived from the Dutch Sinterklaas. Much of what we think of as distinctly American, is actually Dutch in origin. The Dutch were the first large, permanent European group of settlers in New Amsterdam (later renamed New York in 1664). It seems the cultural and social traditions of these Dutch families rubbed off.  Towards the end of the 18th century, the inhabitants of New York City reinvented the Sinterklaas tradition. In 1773 the New York Gazetteer first made reference to “a celebration of ‘St. A Claus’ by the descendants of the ancient Dutch families”. This figure evolved into who we know today as Santa Claus.

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This image of St Nicholas was set in an American Dutch colonial town (later known as “New York”). Here you can see Sinterklaas is beginning to look more like Santa.

Sinterklaas is a big deal here in the Netherlands. The hype and excitement begins early in September already when stores begin to fill up with delicious Sinterklaas foods such as kruidnoten, pepernoten, marzipan, speculaas, taai-taai and chocolate letters. The big man arrives each year in mid-November on a steam boat from Spain filled with gifts, with tens of thousands of excited children in zwarte piet or sinterklaas costumes watching on (plus the millions of Dutch families watching via the live broadcast on television). For children, the arrival of Sinterklaas in Holland means that they can put their shoe next to the chimney or back door before they go to bed. The children sing Dutch Sinterklaas liedjes (songs) into the fireplace for Sinterklaas to hear. Then at night while they are asleep, Sinterklaas rides across the rooftops on his white horse Amerigo, and places little treats or gifts in the children’s shoes, assisted by his helpers, the Petes. The main holiday itself is then celebrated in 5 December. Children sing the traditional songs to Sinterklaas at the top of their lungs until they hear a loud knock on the door. If they have been good, they will find a bag filled with gifts just outside the door (we have a very friendly neighbour who helps us with this each year). The kids are always completely hyped up from the pure excitement of it all and it is so great to see!

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Sinterklaas and his helpers arriving in our home town on his steam boat.
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Our beautiful daughter dressed as a piet, watching the arrival of Sinterklaas
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Our son, at just 18 months old, ran up to this zwarte piet for a big cuddle
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Our children singing Dutch Sinterklaas songs into the chimney before they went to bed in the hope that he will hear them and leave a small gift in their shoes (the carrots are for his horse).

Here in the Netherlands, keeping the magic of Sinterklaas alive for our children is not difficult. Keeping the magic of Christmas alive on the other hand, takes a little more effort. There is an unwritten rule in the Netherlands; no Christmas decorations are to be put up until Sinterklaas celebrations are over. Up until December 5, it is all about Sinterklaas. Which therefore leaves us with less than twenty days to build up the excitement of Christmas day.

As soon we have celebrated Sinterklaas, our family then moves into Christmas mode. We go out and buy a real Christmas tree and decorate it together as a family. Christmas decorations go up all through the living room. I play christmas carols (the traditional english versions) in the car and at home, and the kids and I sing along with enthusiasm at the top of our voices. We have an advent calendar and count down the days until Santa arrives. We bake little Christmas tree cookies. We watch Christmas movies such as “The Polar Express”. We read Christmas bed time stories (I have a nice collection of hilarious Aussie Christmas books). Then on Christmas eve, we hang up our stockings by the fire place and in the morning, the kids wake up early and run downstairs to see what Santa has left them.

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I soon realised after moving to the Netherlands, that roast turkey on Christmas day was not the norm. To ensure that our family can experience the traditional Christmas dinner I have learned to enjoy and inevitably expect each year on Christmas day, I realised that I would need to host and cook Christmas dinner myself. So, every year I invite my husband’s family members over to our house for Christmas day and I cook up a big traditional Christmas dinner with turkey, all the trimmings, Christmas crackers and plum pudding with custard. They have come to love this tradition on Christmas day. My family in law even go to the extent of wearing those silly paper crowns from the crackers during dinner, just to make me happy (as they know that my family always did this, so they do it for me, even though they feel silly wearing them). We do our best to make the whole experience of Christmas day as great for our kids as I remember it being for me as a child.

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The magic of Christmas.. I have witnessed it’s awesome power over the young and not-so-young alike, and I desperately want to extend it’s stay in my home for as long as I can.

This year in particular will be extra special; we will be celebrating Sinterklaas in the Netherlands, and then Christmas in Australia! I am also well aware, that as my daughter will be eight years of age by this December, this could very well be her last year believing in both Sinterklaas and Santa Claus (I hope not, but it is certainly possible). So we are going to make the most of the magic while is lasts.

Kristen

Did you know?….

December 6 is not the birthday of Sinterklaas, but the anniversary of his death. He probably died in the year 340 AD. It is quite normal to commemorate Catholic saints on their anniversary. No one knows when Sinterklaas’ actual birthday is.

Many people do not realise that Sinterklaas used to be celebrated on the December 6, rather than the 5th. In the past, children would put their shoe out on the night of the 5th, and a gift would arrive in the shoe on the 6th. Over the years, the 5th became the main ‘pakjesavond’. 

 De landelijke intocht van Sinterklaas is dit jaar op zaterdag 12 november 2016 en dat zal zijn in de stad Maassluis (The arrival of the offical Sinterklaas is a huge event which will be held in our home town of Maassluis this year on November 12th!) It will also be broadcasted on television nation wide.  So whether you plan to attend this event, or perhaps watch it on tv, enjoy!

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I would like to wish you all a Prettig Sinterklaasfeest and a very Merry Christmas!

My Great Alaskan Adventures

During my several years onboard cruise ships, Alaska is the area where I have cruised most frequently. I have spent at least four cruising seasons in Alaska. At that time I was a hard working crew member in my early twenties who would have much preferred to have been in a sunnier destination, such as the Mediterranean etc., spending my day off each week lazing on a beach. However, when I look back on that period of my life, I now realise just how fortunate I was to be able to spend so much time in beautiful Alaska.

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During one particular season, I had just switched from working in the spa to working in the Shore Excursions office. This is where we would sell shore excursions (land tours) to passengers for each of the upcoming ports of call that our ship would visit. My manager informed me that in order for me to be able to sell the tours well, I would need to experience as many of them as I could. This would then enable me to answer any passenger questions and/or make appropriate suggestions when they needed advice. From then on in every port, I was sent off to join one of the tours we offered, free of charge! So began my incredible Alaskan adventures!

During my time onboard, we visited the following ports and I was lucky enough to experience these once in a lifetime tour experiences…

Ketchikan

Misty Fjords & Wilderness Explorer
This was one of my favourite tours in Alaska. We boarded a fast, sightseeing boat in Ketchikan harbour and went out to explore the Misty Fjords National Monument, one of nature’s most spectacular creations. Absolutely magnificent!

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The Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show
An entertaining show just a short walk from the pier, where the world’s best lumberjacks go head-to-head in more than a dozen exciting events such as chopping, sawing, relay races, axe throwing, log rolling and a 50-foot speed climb.

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Wilderness Exploration & Crab Feast
During this Alaskan experience, we first pulled Dungeness crab pots from a wilderness estuary and I was able to pick one up and look at it closely. We then went to the George Inlet Lodge (a historic cannery building converted to an elegant oceanside lodge) for lunch. After a quick lesson in the art of crab cracking, I enjoyed an all-you-can-eat crab feast, followed by cheesecake smothered in Alaskan blueberries whilst watching the cute little humming birds just outside my window.

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Sitka

Sea Otter & Wildlife Quest
During this boat tour we observed sea otters, whales, sea lions, porpoise, harbor seals, brown bears, black-tail deer, bald eagles and a variety of marine birds.
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Sitka National Historic Totem Park
A visit to this magical forest is a must when in Sitka, and as it is just a short walk from the town centre, I visited often. I really enjoyed walking along the trails through this forest, littered with historical totem poles, with amazing views over the harbour and mountainside.

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Juneau

Alaskan Salmon Bake
During this tour we enjoyed an all-you-can-eat salmon bake feast. The Alaskan wild salmon was barbecued to perfection over an open fire.  We then went for a stroll through the nearby woods and along Salmon Creek, then roasted marshmallows over the campfire for dessert.

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Five Glacier Seaplane Exploration
What an unforgettable experience! Boarding a floatplane for the first time, knowing that we would need to land back down on water was a little nerve wracking. My adrenaline was pumping as we flew over the five distinctly different, absolutely majestic glaciers making up a section of the 1,500-square-mile Juneau Ice Field. Seeing these glaciers from the air was such an amazing experience!!
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Mendenhall River Trip
At the edge of the beautiful Mendenhall Lake, we hopped into a large canoe and took off on an unforgettable adventure where we got up close and personal with nature, the glacier, icebergs, waterfalls and wildlife. The Mendenhall glacier is a half-mile wide and more than one hundred feet tall at the face.

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Mount Roberts Tramway
This was a crew member favourite, along with a visit to the good old Viking bar! From the centre of town, you can board the Mount Roberts Tramway, which takes you to the top of Mount Roberts overlooking the beautiful town of Juneau, Alaska’s capital. Here you can take in the beautiful views with the Chilkat Mountains to the north, Stephens Passage to the south, Douglas Island to the west and, in the east, Silver Bow Basin. Watch for wildlife and birds on your way to the bear-viewing platforms. I spotted a bear on my way up the mountain on multiple occasions. At the top you will find many amazing walking tracks, a gallery and a restaurant.
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Whale Watching & Wildlife Quest
This sightseeing cruise guaranteed whale watching. I boarded a catamaran and cruised through the picturesque waters of Stephens Passage. This area is world-renowned as a favoured summer feeding ground for humpback whales. We were able to get up very close to humpback whales, killer whales, sea lions, otters, seals and bald eagles.

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Sled Dog Discovery & Musher’s Camp
A visit to Alaska is not complete without a ride on a dog sled, a visit to a musher’s camp, or ideally both!. This is how you will experience a true Alaskan adventure whilst supporting the state sport of dog mushing. We drove deep into the Tongass National Rain Forest to visit this musher camp. Here we had a blast on an authentic dog sled ride, we met knowledgeable mushers and dog handlers, and playing with the husky puppies.

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Haines

Eagle Preserve Float Adventure
The world-famous Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve boasts the largest gathering of bald eagles anywhere. It is also home to moose, bears, wolves, and a host of other animals. We boarded an 18-foot inflatable raft and 7,000-foot peaks towered above us as we floated down the river, spotting many impressively large bald eagles perched on branches right alongside the river.
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Skagway


The Red Onion Saloon
A visit to Skagway would not be complete without a stop at the Historic Red Onion Saloon. Once a brothel, the Red Onion was a favorite amongst the miners (for obvious reasons) in the gold rush days. It still remains a favourite of passengers, crew and locals alike, although it is no longer a working brothel. Built in 1897, the Red Onion Saloon operated as one the finest bordellos in Skagway and though times have changed, the spirit has not. It is now a bar worth visiting for a couple of drinks and also to see their Red Onion Brothel Museum.
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White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad
Riding the train along the antique White Pass & Yukon narrow-gauge railway was such a great experience. The White Pass & Yukon Route itself is unlike any other railroad. Against all odds, the iron trail was carved through some of the North’s most rugged terrain in 1898. Built during the Klondike Gold Rush, this engineering wonder is an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark — an honor shared with the Eiffel Tower, the Panama Canal and the Statue of Liberty. This vintage train climbs up the mountain and around cliff-hanging turns offering breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding mountains, glaciers, gorges, waterfalls, tunnels, trestles and historic sites from the Gold Rush era.

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Icy Strait Point


Icy Strait Point adorns the north end of Chichagof Island and Glacier Bay is just across Icy Strait to the north. Icy Strait Point gives you the perfect chance to explore old forests, or kayak along rich coastal waters. If your adrenaline stores are low, you can take a ride on the world’s longest zip line. A very picturesque area where simply going for a walk was breathtaking enough.
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Glacier Bay


Cruise ships typically spend a full day (9-10 hours) cruising through Glacier Bay, including a stop at a major glacier. For most passengers, this day will be the highlight of their Alaskian Inside Passage Cruise. From the decks of the ship, you can view several glaciers and breathtaking mountains. The ship will then get up as close as possible to a glacier so that you can see enormous chunks of ice splitting off and thundering into the sea below. This impact then causes large waves of water, which can rock even the largest of cruise ships. Very impressive! If you are lucky enough, you can catch the moment on film; however at that time, i did not own a video camera (or a mobile phone). So my photos do not do this whole experience justice. However, you can see and hear the “white thunder” on YouTube!  Another great video I found which really captures the beauty of sailing into Glacier Bay is this one.

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Harvard Glacier

College Fjord

The best way to see these glaciers is from a ship. From the desks of the ship in College Fjord, there is a spot where you can see eight glaciers all at once. It is the only place in Alaska that surrounds you on three sides with glaciers. Harvard Glacier is the biggest and most impressive. You can watch a cruise ship tour of College Fjord here.
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Traditional Crew Tug-of-War Challenge

Although this is not a tour, I wanted to mention it. Every season in Alaska, it is tradition that crew members from each department challenge each other to a tug-of-war competition. On the front of the ship, with a backdrop to die for, us spa girls had no chance again the big, strong engineers (who won every time), but we still gave it our best every year! Fun times.
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As you can see by the above photos, Alaska is simply stunning. Nature at it’s best. So next time you are looking for a unique holiday destination, don’t dismiss this amazing wilderness, bursting with outdoor adventure.

Kristen xx

Life as a ‘GOB’

For those of you who are not familiar with the term, GOB stands for ‘Girlfriend On Board’. As I have mentioned before, my husband and I met whilst working on cruise ships. For a few years, we were both able to arrange to complete our contracts on the same ship, at the same times (roughly). However, as we each had a different employer, this became difficult. My husband (then boyfriend) was a maritime engineer onboard and officers have certain privileges that other crew members do not. These privileges were free of charge, such as room service, dry cleaning, their own private cabin (crew members usually have to share a room), and best of all, officers can bring their partner onboard for six months per year. When it got to the point where I was unable to arrange my next contract on the same ship, we decided to take advantage of this unique opportunity.

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As a GOB, I was able to enjoy the best of both worlds onboard; you have access to both passenger and crew areas, you are not required to work or wear a crew uniform, and you are able to join all of the passenger entertainment onboard. I was able to attend the theatre shows every night, watch movies in the cinema, sun bathe on the decks, enjoy great food every day in the passenger restaurants, attend fantastic parties in the crew bar each night, and then sleep in the next day while my poor husband had to get up early and go to work.

Each day the cabin steward would come and clean our cabin, make our bed and replace our towels with fresh ones. It really was the life! On sea days, I’d go to the library and read or study Dutch language books. I also did some casual work every now and then for various departments onboard, such as selling tours at the Shore Excursions desk, working in the duty free shops on board, or assisting the art auctioneer.

The ultimate part of being a GOB was that every day, whilst all the other crew members were working, I could go ashore and discover what ever port we were in on that particular day. For two years, I was able to thoroughly explore amazing destinations such as Alaska, the Caribbean and Mexico. One particular cruise, however, was an experience I will never forget. In 2006, I was onboard as a GOB for a relocation cruise from South America to Australia. Below are the ports that we visited during that unforgettable cruise, and I will treasure the memories I have of them for the rest of my life.

Lima, Peru

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Bora Bora, Tahiti

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Pago Pago, Samoa

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Bay of Islands, NZ

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Aukland, NZ

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Taurunga, NZ

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Napier, NZ

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Wellington, NZ

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Picton, NZ

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Christchurch, NZ

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Dunedin, NZ

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Milford Sound, NZ

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Burnie, Tasmania

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Melbourne, Vic

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Sydney, NSW

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This was also our last cruise. We disembarked in Australia at the end of this relocation cruise, were married two months later, and then moved to Sydney where we both began working..on land this time.

Kristen x