Although I no longer think of myself as an expat, I am surrounded by them; surrounded by them on a daily basis, both at work and in my social life. You see, I work at an International school and this week is our final week of the school year. It is a crazy, busy and emotional week, full of goodbyes. As another school year comes to an end, it once again means having to say goodbye to students, parents, and staff; many of whom have become good friends.
In international schools, you are surrounded by what I like to call ‘stayers’ and ‘drifters’. My kids and I are stayers at our school. I married a Dutch man and we moved to the Nethelands long term. Sometimes it is tough being at a school with such a high student/teacher turnover. I am grateful for all of the other stayers, as they are a welcomed consistency in both my life and more importantly, the lives of my children. But, as with all international schools, there are many families who must move on after just a year, or maybe three if we are lucky. That’s the painful part of expat life, both for expats themselves and for those around them. We build up such wonderful friendships and then enivitable have to part ways. However, I must admit, that I feel honoured and awfully lucky to have had the opportunity to meet these wonderful people from all over the world! They have enriched our lives, by showing us their cultures and traditions, and for well, just letting us get to know them.
So as I walk into work tomorrow, for the final day of classes, I will remind myself not to get bitter about all of the goodbyes, but to be grateful for those that have come in (and out of) our lives. The world is smaller thanks to technology and we will stay in touch; they have all left their footprints on our hearts. After all, as they say, ‘friends come and go like the waves of the ocean, but the true ones stick like an octopus on your face’.
So I am thankful for all the friendships, and thankful for all the smiles, and thankful that they came into our lives, if only for a while. Stay in touch my friends! Xx
This is a personal post about how I finally found my style. A style that I love and a style that suits me. It took a long time to get there, but I found it and here is my story.
As a kid, my parents were farmers and, as all farmers do, they did it real tough. We typically received just one new outfit each year at Christmas and I grew up mostly in second hand clothes. But I didn’t mind at all. Actually, when the neighbours brought over a big bag of clothes (from their kids who were a few years older than us) it was exciting! I pretty much lived in shorts and tshirts and wore whatever I was given. I really wasn’t fussed about what I wore at all.
When I reached Secondary School, everything changed. My close friends from Elementary School went of to a different school than me, pubity hit, and the kids at school got meaner. I was teased for wearing second hand, non-brand named clothing and for wearing braces on my teeth; I really struggled to just fit in overall. These years of school were hard. There was so much pressure to be cool and fashionable. Everything had to be either Billabong, Ripcurl, or Quicksilver and for us, these items was overpriced and unaffordable. I was ever so thankful that we could wear the school uniform to school each day and I almost had an anxiety attack each time a casual day (no uniform required) was announced at school. I had no style. Outside of school, I mostly wore either jeans or sporty clothes (shorts, t-shirt, runners) as I played netball and tennis on a weekly basis.
At the age of 19, I left Australia and flew to London to begin my training to work on cruise ships. At this point, I had never really experimented with fashion or makeup. It was in London that I was taught about applying makeup, styling my hair, and how to dress nicely. My English room mate was a complete fashionista and arrived with a huge suitcase full of amazing outfits; this was a real eye-opener for me. During my first ship contract, my wonderful spa colleagues highlighted my hair for the first time and gave me my first beauty treatments. I went shopping throughout North and Central America and began to realise that the rest of the world wasn’t completely surf-wear-obsessed like Australia seemed to be during my teenage years. My confidence was growing and my sense of style began to develop. I began wearing brighter colours and some basic makeup on a daily basis.
In my mid-twenties, I became a student again, studying a business administration course. After graduating, I obtained my first administration position at a high profile private school in Sydney. At this point my style changed again and I began to dress more corporate-like on a daily basis. Making this extra effort made me feel more professional and presentable at work. My style was mostly skirts or suit trousers with a nice top and heels. Always heels. My makeup and hair was always done, with accessories to match.
By my 30th birthday, I was suddenly the mother of a one year old daughter and a two week old son. I had put on about 15kgs and my whole body shape had changed. Suddenly, I had this belly, my hips were wider, and due to the overall weight gain, I no longer felt comfortable in my cute little work outfits (plus as I was on maternity leave, I had no where to wear them to!). It hurt to wear high heels, so flats it was. I also breastfed both of our children for 12 months each, so this also meant my boobs were constantly changing. As my pre-baby clothes no longer fit, I wore maternity clothes and ugly nursing bras for three years straight. My whole image changed and although I was eternally grateful to be a mother of two beautiful babies, I was no longer happy with how I looked. The self-confidence that I had managed to build up during my 20s had vanished.
With a little exercise, I was able to loose some of the baby weight, but ultimately I had to accept the fact that my body shape had changed permanently. It was also around this time that we moved to the Netherlands. Due to both the fact that I owned no non-maternity clothes that fit, plus the extreme weather and style differences in Europe, I needed a new wardrobe and my style needed to change. I went out and bought a few pairs of new jeans and a couple of new tops. I remember that the shift from maternity pants to new jeans that fit was a big step for me at that time, but I still wasn’t all that happy with how they looked on me. I had somehow lost my sense of self and didn’t know which direction to go next.
After taking two years off and wearing jeans daily (an easy option when you are a busy mum of two kids under two!), I then began working again. Once again my style needed to shift from casual to business. I bought a few pairs of neat trousers and some nice tops. However, soon I began to realise that I felt and looked better in dresses, rather than trousers/jeans. In the Summer on weekends, I began wearing structured summer dresses and maxi dresses. These dresses hid the areas I was self-conscious about and accentuated the areas I was still happy with. I loved wearing dresses and began investing in dresses that were more professional looking so that I could also wear them to work. Wrap dresses were a fave of mine as they were so comfortable and easy. Then i realised that I could continue to wear some of my dresses throughout the Winter if I added thermal leggings, warm boots and a cardigan or blazer. By my mid-thirties, I was pretty much wearing dresses all year round.
I then discovered vintage inspired dresses! In 2015, I fell completely in love with one particular blue swing dress that I had spotted on TopVintage.nl. I ordered it for a wedding that I was about to attend and this was the beginning of my love for this style. The dress was so comfortable and fitted me in all the right places (this is the dress I am wearing in my ‘Kristen in Clogland’ profile photo taken by the talented Katinka Tromp in Rotterdam!). I was completely hooked. This first order from TopVintage and all the subsequent ones (not to mention the photo shoot!) were what helped me take the final step to find both a style I love and most importantly, my confidence from within.
Over the past two years, I have invested in more 1940s-50s vintage-inspired dresses and I wear them daily; to work and on the weekends. When my friends or colleagues tell me that I have inspired them to wear dresses more often, it makes my heart sing! I am finally at a place where I can say that I have found my style.
Now I know that what you wear shouldn’t matter all that much and I am certainly not one to judge (after being teased myself as a kid for what I wore), But I must say that if you wear things that you adore, you will look and feel better overall! The positive and approachable energy you give off when you smile and feel comfortable with the image you are presenting is so valuable. There is a dress out there for every occasion, shape and size ladies, so go for it! Take the plunge, find a dress you love, and buy it for yourself. You will instantly feel better the moment you put it on.
Today was Heemelvaartsdag (the Ascension public holiday) and it also just so happened to be a lovely 25+ degrees Celsius; the sun was shining and not a single cloud was to be seen. Rather than head to the beach, we decided to head to our boat.
Today we pushed the boundaries as far as distance is concerned. We travelled further than we have ever travelled in the boat, in one day, with the kids. Our goal was to reach de Kaag, a large lake area about 30 minutes North of Leiden. We left our marina at 10am and didn’t return back until 10pm!! 12 hours on the water!
Our big day out took us to Schipluiden, Delft, through the Leidschendam lock, Voorschoten, Leiden, Leiderdorp and finally, we arrived at the beautiful Kaag lakes (Kagerplassen). The Kaag Lakes are a popular area for boating, watersports, fishing, camping and walking. Windmills, waterfront pasture land with grazing animals, beaches, boats and flower fields are all part of the charm of boating in this area. Once we arrived, the kids had a swim, we all had an ice cream, and then we cruised around the lakes for an hour or so, just taking it all in. We then began the five hour picturesque journey back home again.
What a day it was! We enjoyed every minute of it. In this case, I think pictures may say more than words, so here are a few photos from our journey to de Kaag and back!
Every time I approach an airport, my stomach flips and then fills with butterflies. Big ones. It’s that kind of feeling you get when you are sitting on a roller coaster that’s about to begin. It doesn’t matter which airport, if I am coming or going, or if I am dropping someone off or picking them up. I always have the same feeling deep down in the pit of my stomach as soon as an airport comes into sight.
I’m not afraid of flying, actually I love it, and surprisingly over the past 20+ years of frequent flying, I have never missed a flight. So I cannot say that this is the cause for my airport anxiety. There is something else that is sparking this automatic response every time I am in the vicinity of an airport.
I began to notice this feeling about fifteen years ago when I took my husband (then boyfriend) to the Melbourne International airport. He was about to begin a contract onboard a cruise ship and, for the first time, I would not be going with him. I had recently begun a business administration course and fully intended to complete it. Which in turn, also meant that we would be apart for almost six months. Six months! That feeling of pure dread as we approached the airport was so strong. I had felt nerves when heading to the airport before, but nothing like this. My stomach was flipping, I felt sick to my stomach, my heart was pounding and the tears were overflowing at the thought of saying goodbye. We parked the car in the short term parking and went inside the terminal with him to check in his luggage. We knew that we needed to head to the departure gate and security, but that also meant having to say goodbye, so we delayed and avoided heading in that general direction for as long as possible. This hour or so was torturous. From this point onwards, I would always have a feeling of dread when driving into an airport.
I began to associate airports with saying goodbye to someone I loved. Being Australian and having a Dutch partner meant that we have often had to say goodbye to each other at one airport or another over the years. Not to mention the countless times I have had to say goodbye to my family when flying out of Australia. This now means that even when flying together with my husband and children for a family holiday, or picking someone up that I am excited to see, I still have that same feeling in my stomach! So it seems that this response has been imprinted and no matter the reason for being at the airport, my stomach always flips and the nerves set in as soon as I see the signs for Arrivals and Departures.
The Emotional Turmoil of Terminals
Airports are simply oozing with emotions. Whether it be couples waiting for each other at the arrival gates, or families separating at departures. Wherever you are in any airport, you will always see both happy and sad tears all around you. I am convinced that this is the cause of my airport anxiety. It’s the anticipation of the emotions that come with being there, at the airport, in the first place. Over the years, I have found a couple of simple tricks that seem to help with my airport anxiety.
Drops Offs – Make them Quick
We have since realised that a quick drop and go works much better for us. We don’t even park the car in the airport parking garage anymore. If we ever need to drop each other off at the airport, we simply drive up to departures, stop the car where we can (keeping the ignition on), unload the luggage, give a quick kiss and cuddle goodbye, then leave. Short and sweet is the key to an easier goodbye.
Taking a few deep breaths can make all the difference. I know, it sounds so simple, but it’s often the simplest things that are the most effective. As soon as I begin to feel anxious, a few deep breaths really do wonders. Once you’ve arrived at the airport on time, have gone through security and found your gate, take the time to find a seat, put your phone away, close your eyes and breathe. Breathing deeply can slow down your heart rate, relax your body, and ease you out of anxiety mode.
Recognise Your Trigger
So I have figured out the root to my airport anxiety. However, there are many other reasons why people suffer from airport anxiety – which is an actual thing by the way. A few examples of other triggers can be getting there on time, the crowds, security, the queues, finding your gate, taking off and landing, and finding your bags at the other end. Once you recognise what your trigger is, you may be able to discover a way to minimise the anxiety associated with it; arriving early with plenty of time to spare, or traveling with hand luggage only when possible for example.
Do you suffer form airport anxiety and, if so, what do you think the main trigger is for you?
Did you know that the Rotterdam harbour is actually the largest port in Europe, stretching over a distance of 40 kilometres? From 1962 until 2004 it was also the world’s busiest port, now overtaken by Singapore and then Shanghai.
Not only is it one of the busiest and biggest container ports, but the port of Rotterdam is also a very popular cruising destination, with several ships visiting on a regular basis throughout the cruising season.
Between April and October 2017, you will regularly see ships such as the Aida Prima (the one with the giant red lips), the MS Rotterdam from Holland American Line, and the Queen Elizabeth from Cunard cruising in and out of Rotterdam, plus many more!
Love to travel, but hate to fly? Cruising could be the perfect solution and here are a few examples of the possibilities from Rotterdam in 2017!
-This Summer, the city of Rotterdam can look forward to the arrival of the Queen Elizabeth from Cunard. The Queen Elizabeth will make several 14 day cruises from Rotterdam to the British Isles, then back to Rotterdam.
-HAL offer various 7, 14 and 21 day cruises on the MS Rotterdam, that include ports of call in Norway, Iceland, Greenland and Scotland. Most of the itineraries for the MS Rotterdam this spring and summer begin and end in Rotterdam.
-The AIDA prima runs 7 day cruises from and two Rotterdam, visiting Hamburg, Brussels, Paris and Southampton.
However, you do not necessarily need to go on a cruise to enjoy the ships coming in and out of Rotterdam. Just as we love to do, find a nice spot along side the nieuwe waterweg and simply enjoy the view. You can check out the anticipated arrival and departure dates and times here on Rotterdam’s Cruise Calendar:
When you speak more than one language, you tend to have slightly different personalities when speaking each one. For example, in English, I am usually quite an outgoing, social person. However, when speaking Dutch, I can be quite reserved and lack confidence. Last Saturday night, once again my Dutch was put to the test….
One of my neighbours invited me over to celebrate her birthday. I walked in to a room full of Dutch woman, all sitting around the living room and I soon realised that this was going to be a 100% dutch language kinda night.
The first hour, I was a little reserved. I just enjoyed sitting back and listening to the conversations around me. You see, listening to Dutch being spoken is no problem, I can understand almost everything. Speaking on the other hand, is a whole other ball game. Plus, it can be quite intimidating in a group setting. As I took my first sip of wine, I slowly began working up the courage to speak out loud in front of these ten or so Dutch woman, most of whom I’d never met. Occasionally I would add a few words to the conversation here and there, but I intentionally avoided long sentences or long stories. I needed more wine for that.
As I sat there in the circle, sipping on my second glass of wine for some more dutch courage, I slowly began speaking more openly. Telling them who I was and answering questions about how on earth an Aussie can end up in the Netherlands. I told them my story, but the whole time I was secretly imagining them internally critiquing my bad grammar or choice of words.
With each sip of wine, my confidence was slowly growing. But still, before speaking, I would go over each sentence in my mind, fix it where I thought may be necessary, and then finally speak it out loud. After my third glass of wine, I began to care less about what they might be thinking of my language skills, and became more like my normal chatty self. Less withdrawn, and more impulsive.
After my fourth glass, all restraints had gone out the window. My mouth began chatting away before my brain had even had a chance to evaluate a plan of action (which is how I typically function in English, getting myself into trouble sometimes). When this happens, it can sometimes mean that my Dutch is actually better. But it also means that I can sometimes talk myself into a corner.. I begin my sentence with full enthusiasm, only to realise half way in, that I actually have no idea how to say what I wanted to say! But it’s too late, I had already started talking and end up, stuck for words, with twenty eyes on me, waiting for the rest of my sentence that either did not eventuate, or came out eventually – completely wrong. But it’s all good. Thanks to the lovely wine I’d been drinking, frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn, and I laugh it off. Temporary brain fart. It’s ok, I’ve got this, my Dutch is fabulous!…. onto the next conversation!…. thank you lovely wine.
Fun Fact: “Dutch courage” is basically alcohol induced self-confidence. To have an alcoholic drink right before a task you are dreading. This term originates from a time when England was fighting a war alongside the Dutch. The English soldiers noticed that Dutch sailors took their alcohol allowance just before battle, whereas the English Royal Navy men drunk throughout the whole day.
*By no means do I condone the excessive intake of alcohol for the sole use of increasing one’s abilities to speak Dutch – but it sure does help 🙂
Yesterday we celebrated our ten year wedding anniversary in Vienna! We usually celebrate our anniversary each year with a child-free weekend away, but this year we decided to take the kids along. We were able to find flights with Transavia for just 33 euros from the Rotterdam airport to Vienna, so we thought..why not!?
Vienna, Austria’s capital, is surprisingly child friendly; making this very formal European city a nice choice for families. Even though the kids insisted upon climbing up onto every single art sculpture and fountain we passed, overall, they were pretty good. We spent an enjoyable two nights and two days in this city and this is how we explored it.. kids in tow.
Upon our Arrival..
We arrived in Vienna in the evening around 20:00, and a taxi from the airport into the city centre cost us €35 (an alternative option is the train for €7-11 p.p). The idea of the four of us bunking into one hotel room together did not appeal to us at all. We have tried and tested this several times before and every time it’s a total disaster. For the same price as a hotel room, we were able to find a fabulous two bedroom apartment in a beautiful historical building in the centre of Vienna; an easy ten minute stroll into the inner city centre, and just around the corner from the university, closest bus stop and metro station!
Knowing very well that the kids would not be up for too much walking, we bought a 48 hour pass for the city’s hop-on-hop-off bus service. This allowed us easier access to all of the main sights in and around the city. You may also opt for the city ring tram, which is more affordable than the bus; however, it is a non stop 25 minute tour giving you a quick overview of the city without the flexibility of the hop-on-hop-off bus. There is also the metro of course, which is super easy to use but then you see nothing on route from A to B.
Beware: the bus stops are a single pole, which can be easily overlooked. The first morning, we misread the map and accidentally went on an hour long walkabout trying to find the closest bus stop, which ended up being just around the corner from our apartment! Whoops! My bad. But we definitely walked off those croissants! On the bus there is free wifi and you can listen to an audio in your choice of several languages (a new kids channel is also available). Even though we still did a lot of walking during our time in Vienna, the bus passes were fantastic and I was very grateful for them. It is also worthwhile looking into the Vienna Pass, which not only includes access to the hop-on-hop-off bus, but also free entry to over 60 top attractions.
The city of Vienna is full of so much history. It’s artistic and intellectual legacy was shaped by residents including Mozart, Beethoven and Sigmund Freud. More famous composers have lived in Vienna than in any other city – music is literally in the air. Waltzes, musicals and operettas have their home here. The Vienna Philharmonic orchestra for one, acts as ambassador of Viennese music around the globe – at concerts such as the New Year’s Concert and the Summer Night Concert. The Summer Night Concert is an open-air event for 100,000 visitors, with free admission and set against the fabulous backdrop of Schönbrunn Palace. Which then brings me to the first stop of our adventure…
Day 1: Palaces and Animals
On the morning of our first day in Vienna, we did a full round trip on the bus, which gave us a good overview of the city. From there, we could decide what we would like to discover first! There was one particular building that really caught our attention. Our first stop was at the impressive Schönbrunn Palace.
More commonly referred to as “Sisi’s palace”, as this was Empress Sisi’s former summer residence. The 1500-odd room palace has a 300 year history as a former imperial summer residence and is one of the most important architectural, cultural, and historical monuments in Austria. The palace is quite a way out of the city centre, but completely worth the trip out!
A Children’s Museum is also located on the ground floor of the palace, where you can learn more about the everyday life of the imperial family. Children can also try on imperial clothing and play with imperial toys. But there is so much more. The gardens and forests surrounding the palace are massive. The kids would have loved running through the “labyrinth” but unfortunately the maze was closed for the winter. Also located on the palace grounds, is the worlds oldest zoo, Tiergarten Schönbrunn. Although it was a beautiful zoo, many of the animal pens seemed to be empty for the winter. The young panda twins were definitely a highlight though!!
Really, you could spend a whole day here on the palace grounds. But as we only had two days in Vienna, we continued on with our exploration of this beautiful city. You can find out more about the Schönbrunn Palace, including ticket prices here. You can also buy tickets combining entrance to the palace and the zoo.
Located along the same bus line as the Schönbrunn Palace is the impressive Belvedeere Complex. Composed of two Baroque palaces and surrounded by stunning gardens; once again, one could spend an entire day at Belvedeere and still not absorb all of it’s magnificence. Prince Eugene of Savoy (1663-1736), successful general and art connoisseur, had Belvedere palace built as his summer residence, which now houses Austrian art from the Middle Ages to the present day.
State Opera Theatre
Our next stop was the Vienna State Opera Theatre, which is considered one of the most important opera houses in the world; in particular, it is the house with the largest repertoire. We decided not to see a concert during this trip – our children are not quite at the age where they would fully appreciate it.
Purchasing the bus passes also enables you to join a short guided walking tour free of charge (which begins and ends at the State Opera Theatre each day). However, by this stage we had already walked quite a lot, the kids were tired and so we decided not to skip it and sit down for a nice dinner instead.
Day 2: Prater and City Centre
For our second day in Vienna, we wanted to explore more of the city centre. However, first we had promised our kids something that they were really looking forward to…So after breakfast, we hopped back onto the bus, and our next stop was of course.. the iconic Vienna Ferris Wheel.
The Giant Vienna Ferris Wheel
Located in the area of Prate, this giant ferris wheel marks the entrance to the Prater amusement park, heaven on earth for children. The ferris wheel was originally built more than 100 years ago! During the war, it was burned down, but luckily in 1945 it was rebuilt (at the same time as St. Stephen’s Cathedral, State Opera House and the Burgtheater). I knew very well that a ride on this iconic ferris wheel would be inevitable for our family, so I had pre-purchased tickets online to save time at the register. The views over the city were breathtaking!
Entry to this huge amusement park is free, and then you pay a small fortune for each ride you go on. We discovered upon our arrival that most of the rides do not open until March 20! Which for our kids, felt like going into a candy store and not being able to have any candy. Luckily one or two other rides were open to keep the kids happy.
Once we got that out of our system and the kids were satisfied, we then headed back into the centre to explore some more historical buildings.
From the bus stop, it was a short walk through the pedestrian zone, the Kärntner Strasse, to the famous St. Stephan’s Cathedral. Vienna was badly damaged during WWII. Many of the old buildings were bombed to the ground and were later rebuilt. You can see this clearly as you stroll the streets; old and new buildings almost alternate. Vienna is a very impressive and wealthy city, full of beautiful buildings and beautiful people. The streets are lined with the kind of high-end stores of which you do not dare to enter with kids (Prada, Louis Vuitton etc.).
St. Stephen’s Cathedral
St. Stephen’s Cathedral is the symbol of Vienna and also where Mozart was married. Construction commenced in the 12th century and today it is one of the most important Gothic structures in Austria. While heavily damaged in WWII, the church survived. Entrance to the cathedral is free, and for a fee (if you are feeling up to it), you can climb the 343 steps up to the tower and enjoy a breathtaking view of the city. On the roof of St. Stephen’s Cathedral, colorful roof tiles were laid to create the Royal and Imperial double-headed eagle and the coat of arms of the city of Vienna. A visit to the very impressive St. Stephen’s Cathedral is a must for every visitor to Vienna.
The Hofburg is the former imperial palace. In the photo below you can see some of the old city wall which has been discovered and is over 2000 years old! Inside the Hofburg, you can also find the famous Sisi Museum.
Rathaus (Town Hall)
Built between 1872 and 1883, this neo-Gothic town hall is the seat of Vienna’s municipal administration. The City Information Center offers tours of the State Rooms three times weekly. The square in front hosts year-round events, including the world-famous Christmas Markets. While we visited, a huge ice-skating rink was set up in this area between the Rathaus and the Berg-theater.
We noticed that in Vienna, there did not seem to be very many restaurants or cafés compared to other cities we’ve visited. If you felt like stopping for a drink or something to eat, you really had to go hunting for somewhere to do this. We found this quite unusual. But once we did find a nice place to eat, the kids enjoyed some delicious Austrian foods such as Frankfurter sausages and Kaiserschmarrn pancakes.
After all the walking, if you are tired and need to sit down, it may also be handy for you to know that the only place you will find bench seats to rest on are in the parks. There are no seats in the city centre along the streets or in the shopping district. Luckily there are some lovely parks close by, such as the Wolksgarden, Stadt Park, Rathaus Park or the Donaupark across the river where the kids can play whilst mum and dad sit for a moment of rest.
Overall, we enjoyed our time in Vienna but I think it would be nicer to visit during the warmer months when the parks and gardens are greener, and more cafe terraces and attractions are open.
If you are a lover of classical music, then Vienna should most certainly be added to your bucket list.
When I think back to our time in this city, I will fondly remember sitting with my family at a little table in front of a restaurant, eating a Wiener schnitzel and listening to a woman singing opera music in the music-arts school next door. The window to the room she was singing in was wide open and we were enjoying it…. until our son spontaneously sang back to her in a loud operatic over the top style, and then the window was quickly closed haha! I guess they didn’t appreciate his singing after all.
There is a small Belgium city that has captured my heart. There is just something about the city of Bruges, or Brugge as the Dutchie’s call it, that I love. Maybe it is the canals, cobbled streets and medieval buildings. Or maybe it’s the beer and chocolate. Whatever it may be, I have visited the city twice and want to go back yet again. It is a city that is full of character and cosines, and just seems to be bursting with romance.
Here are my top three tips of what to do when in Bruges…
1. Horse and Carriage Ride and/or Canal Boat Tour
When in Bruges, one must experience either a horse and carriage ride or a canal boat tour. Both are wonderful! Its certainly not a huge city, but doing a tour at the beginning of your visit will give you a good idea of where everything is located. The horse carriage ride is expensive (50 euros) but sharing a carriage with another couple/family and splitting the cost makes it more affordable. The tour will last about thirty minutes, giving you a great overview of the city. A canal boat tour is about 7 euros per person and a wonderful way to see the city from another perspective.
2. Taste the Local Beer
Just off the main town square, set inside the narrowest street of Bruges, visit the De Garre Beer Tasting Cafe. Very cosy and very old! Loved it. They have hundreds of different beers to taste and delicious little snacks to go with them. Be sure to taste their very own beer and also the beer from city of Bruges, the Brugse Sot. This little hidden gem with its charming wooden interior is right in the heart of the historic centre, yet hidden down this quiet and very narrow alleyway, so it’s easy to walk right past without even knowing it. De Garre is one cafe not to miss.
3. Eat and Drink Chocolate
A bit of an obvious tip when visiting Belgium, but I think I may have discovered the best chocolate cafe in Bruges, De Proeverie Tea-Room. Go there and order the hot chocolate with chocolates on the side. Their scones are also a.maze.balls! You will not regret it. Their Belgian chocolate is to die for — my mouth is literally watering just thinking about it — and their ‘hot chocolate on a stick’ is made from some of the highest quality chocolate in Belgium. The tea-room’s sister store, Chocolaterie Sukerbuyc, sits right across the street, and produces the chocolate used in this amazing drink. This store is the oldest chocolate business in Bruges and uses 100% pure cocoa butter.
Bruges is just a two hour drive from Rotterdam! So if you have a birthday, anniversary or other special occasion coming up, perhaps even for Valentines Day, I’d suggest you try to find a babysitter for the weekend, and visit the city of Bruges with the one you love. Yes, it is also a great city to visit together with your kids, but let’s face it, the romance level will be inevitably higher when in Bruges child free 🙂
Have you heard of the Elfstedentocht? Literally translating to the Eleven Cities Marathon, this is a 200km ice-scating race held in the northern province of Friesland. This marathon is the biggest natural ice-scating tour in the world and it tours through eleven historical cities.
The thing is, it is only held when the natural ice along the entire course is at least 15 centimeters thick. When the ice is thick enough, the tour is announced and then it begins within 48 hours. Every year, the Dutch hope with all of their hearts that the race will be able to go ahead. History has shown that the Elfstedentocht was somtimes held on consecutive years, but then at other times, there can be gaps of 20 or more years where the event could not be held. We are currently in one of those gaps, with this year marking 20 years since the last race (in 1997). It was a great event and a spectacle that attracted an estimated two million people to the province of Friesland and approximately 2,000 reporters from all over the world.
The year of 1963 was a significant one. The Elfstedentocht of 1963 became known as “The hell of ’63” when only 69 of the 10,000 participantswere able to finish the race! This was due to the extremely low temperatures that year, with the average temperature hovering around -18 °C, and there was also a very harsh easterly wind. Conditions were so horrendous that year, that the 1963 winner, Reinier Paping, became a national hero, and that year’s tour itself became legendary.
So legendary in fact, that the Dutch have made a movie about it. ‘De Hel van ’63’ is a fantastic movie. It gave me a real insight into the Elfstedentocht, what is involved in completing this race, the determination required, rules to abide by, and the pure Dutch pride felt by all those who take part in the race. Even if you think your Dutch is not up to it, please give it a go and watch this movie. You will enjoy it more than you expect!
To become a Dutch citizen or not? That is the question.
To apply for a Dutch passport via Naturalisation (the legal act or process by which a non-citizen in a country may acquire citizenship or nationality of that country), you must meet at least the following two main requirements*:
Be living in the Netherlands for five years (three years if married to a Dutch citizen)
Show that you can read, write, speak and understand the Dutch language. One method of proving this is by passing the inburgeringsexamen (civil integration exams).
*There are additional requirements you must meet in order to become a Dutch citizen, which you can read here.
Due to the fact that;
I have now been living in the Netherlands for almost six years.
I have been married to and living together with a Dutch citizen for ten years.
I have passed the inburgeringsexamen.
..it means that I have actually been eligible to apply for a Dutch passport for over two years now. I was aware of this; however, due to the cost of applying for a Dutch passport via naturalisatie (almost one thousand euros!), I have been putting it off.
Now that my five year temporary residence permit is due for renewal this year, I am re-evaluating my options. After speaking with the IND, they have confirmed that I have two options…
Apply for an onbepaalde visum to become a permanent resident for a fee of 250 euros (and 51 euros every five years thereafter to continue to renew).
Apply for a Dutch passport via the gemeente (with the IND making the final decision). The fee for this application is now 855 euros and I would be required to attend a naturalisatieceremonie (naturalization/citizenship ceremony). ADDED NOTE: This whole process can take up to twelve months, so check when your visa expires!
Either option allows me to remain in the Netherlands. As far as I can tell, the only main differences between the two (apart from the significant difference in cost), is that with a Dutch passport I could vote (meh) and work for the police force (not happening). If I had been living in the Netherlands for fifteen years or more continuously, the fee for citizenship would have been significant less. Like 800 euros less.
In any case, the sense of comfort and relief that would come with having an EU passport is priceless and I am the only member of our family who does not hold a Dutch passport. As a non-EU citizen, it would be wonderful to be in a position where I can hold an EU passport in one hand and my Australia passport in the other.
For many, to become a Dutch citizen, it also means that they must be prepared to renounce their nationality. Thankfully, as an Australian married to a Dutch man, if I were to apply for Dutch citizenship, I would not be required to sacrifice my original nationality, as unfortunately many others must. To me, that would be an impossible choice, so I’m relieved that I am in a situation where I no not have to make it. I am proud to be Australian and would never want to give this up. At the same time, I really like the idea of being part of a citizenship ceremony here in the Netherlands. I think it would be a very proud moment.
So…to be a Dutch citizen, or a Dutch resident?? Decisions, decisions…
I will let you know once I decide. What did you decide on if you were faced with this decision?
Update as of June 2017
Hi all, just wanted to give you an update on this. In January this year, I decided to go ahead and apply for my dutch citizenship via naturalisatie and reluctantly paid the huge fee. My five year residency visa is due to expire this July and I was informed upon application at the gemeente that it may take the IND 6-9 to look into my application and respond! Then if approval is given, it still takes time to apply for the actual passport. I have travel plans in July and do not feel comfortable leaving NL without a valid visa to get back in and well, I would like to continue working (!!)
I waited until May and called the IND in the slim chance that perhaps they got around to looking at it earlier (silly me). Much to my disappointment, they hadn’t even opened my file yet and they also informed me that it would more likely take 9-12 months! This now meant that I would need to bite the bullet and apply for an extension of my residency permit in addition to my citizenship. Even though the IND suggested I wait until June and check in on the once status again, I immediately applied for the visa extension in May anyway just to be sure; I was another 250 euros out of pocket. Then, get this, I received a letter in the mail to say thank you for your application to extend your visa, we will get back to you in August or September with our decision.
So after all my doubled up application efforts and paying 1200 euros in fees, I still have a problem. Apparently, due to Brexit, there is a longer than usual waiting time at the Dutch immigration department. Anyway, after a million phone calls, they have agreed to add a sticker to my passport this month which shows that my visa application is ‘in process’ and I am hoping that will be sufficient at Schipol airport.