Troostbeertjes

Have you heard of troostbeertjes? I recently read a news article about a little girl who witnessed a car accident. She was understandably upset and to help comfort her, the police agents attending the scene gave her a troostbeertje, which literally translates to a little comfort teddy bear.

Such a simple thing to do, but it has a big impact. I know first hand as my children each received a troostbeer in April 2015 when my father in law fell and broke his hip. My children (then aged 4 & 6) and I were with him at the time and had to call 112. It was quite traumatic for them, seeing their opa in so much pain and by the time the ambulance arrived, both children (and myself) were in tears.

Two friendly police officers also arrived as the ambulance officers were loading my father in law up into the ambulance. The moment they saw my two children crying, they opened the boot of their police car, and lifted two sweet little teddy bears out and then presented them to my kids. They hugged their soft, sweet little bears and were consoled by them.

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The Troostbeer Nederland Foundation supports organizations and institutions that receive children with mental and / or physical suffering as a result of unpleasant experiences.  This is partly achieved through the use of comfort bears by employees of the fire brigade, ambulance and police. In this way, hundreds of children are comforted every year.

Cuddly teddy bears were first invented to offer comfort to children who were scared in the dark. They assist young children in times of setbacks and insecurity and it is sweet to see them still being used to comfort children to this day.

Kristen

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An Aussie Christmas

I’d like to begin this post by wishing you all a happy, healthy and fun 2019, full of love and laughter.  We have almost reached 2020 for crying out loud. Where does the time go?

We have recently returned from a visit to Australia to spend Christmas and NYE with my family. What an amazing three weeks we had. It was so lovely seeing my family and friends again, feeling the sunshine and warmth on our skins and getting a much needed dose of vitamin D, whilst most importantly, making new memories with those we love. It had been five years since my hubby, kids and I went back to Australia together, so it was amazing to be back again.

During this trip, I really enjoyed the small things; the smell of eucalyptus trees, the blooming purple jacarandas, the sound of the magpies and kookaburras singing, wearing thongs (flip flops) on a daily basis, meat pies, swimming against the strong current of the mighty Murray river and lazing on it’s sandbars, breathtaking sunsets, and of course the constant sunshine.

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It was a true Aussie Christmas holiday. Which included all of the typical Aussie Christmas things such as cold beer, glazed ham, pavlova, backyard cricket and footy, countless bbqs, and of course swimming daily to cool off in the 35-40 degree temps.

Most importantly, we laughed. We laughed until tears streamed down our cheeks and our bellies hurt. We laughed with my sisters, my brothers in law, my mum and dad, with all of our little nieces and nephews who played so well with our two kids, and with all of our amazing friends who travelled from near and far to visit us while we were back. I am blessed to have friends who still make me laugh out loud. There are just some people in life that make you laugh a little louder and smile a little bigger 🙂

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We laughed at kangaroos that were a little too happy to see us (that’s not his tail)….

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We laughed at pink Koala balls….

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We laughed whist playing ‘Footgolf’ (a fun combination of football and golf!)….

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My beautiful sisters and I laughed our way through a photoshoot….

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Perhaps a little too much grog was consumed…

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On New Years Eve, the hilarious Cards Against Humanity game came out and I am still cackling to myself whenever I think about it…

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We were also fortunate enough to be there when our eldest niece turned 18 and got her drivers license! It was wonderful to be able to attend her birthday party and celebrate with her.

Much quality time with my family was had and once it was time to go, leaving them was ridiculously hard. Saying goodbye never gets any easier.

We arrived back home in the Netherlands with lovely golden brown tans and smiles on our faces. We will always think back on this trip to sunny Australia as one of the best to date.

Kristen xx

Varend Corso Westland

Every summer for the past twenty years (since 1998), the annual Varend Corso Westland (Boat Parade) has been held, which attracts hundreds of thousands of spectators.

Boats are decorated with locally grown plants, flowers and vegetables from het Westland (an area of the Netherlands in the West, known for all it’s green houses) and compete for the best prize within several different categories. Their mission is to show as many people as possible what the Westland has to offer and display all of the beautiful and healthy products that are grown in the Westland greenhouses.

Then over three days, typically the first weekend of August, the boats cruise though the canals of Westland, Midden-Delfland, Delft, Rijswijk, The Hague, Vlaardingen and Maassluis; From Friday to Sunday, the boats cover a total route of about 70 km. Each year has a different theme; this year, the theme is ‘Helemaal Hollands!’

Attending this event has become a much loved family annual tradition of ours. Tonight we took our folding chairs and picnic out to Maasland and found a great little spot along the canal. Then, just as we have done the past several years, we waited in anticipation and enjoyed the boats going past in all their glory.

The people who participate in the boat parade put soooo much effort into decorating their boats. Hundreds and hundreds of vegetables and flowers are attached to their canal boats. So much time and thought goes into this each year, which is clear from my photos below.

The parade will continue over this weekend, so I hope you are able to go see them this year. For more information on the scheduled route and times, please visit the official Varend Corso website.

Cruising the Mediterranean

Recently, we were fortunate enough to be able to experience cruising for the first time… as passengers! I know that sounds weird, but for several years my husband and I had worked onboard cruise ships as crew members; so it was quite the treat to finally board a ship as passengers. We had never before cruised the Mediterranean and it was also the first time our two kids had ever been on a cruise, so to say we were all excited was a understatement. The cherry on top was that my parents had flown in from Australia and we were able to enjoy the cruise all together!

On the first day of July 2018, our adventure began when the six of us flew direct from Amsterdam to Naples, Italy (via Transavia). As we arrived in Naples, we admired Mt Vesuvius from the air, the volcano responsible for destroying the city of Pompeii.

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We took a taxi to our Bed and Breakfast in the heart of Naples, a convenient ten minute walk to the port. This was a more affordable alternative than a hotel, as all six of us could stay together in their two-bedroom suite, rather than booking 2-3 expensive hotel rooms.

Once we had settled in, we all went for a stroll around the historic centre of Naples and discovered a real (what seemed to be) hidden gem, a gorgeous cathedral. The Church of Gesù Nuovo was completed in 1750 and was without a doubt, one of the nicest churches any of us had ever seen. We then enjoyed our first home-made pasta Italian dinner at a place called Tandem. We were going to be boarding our ship the next day, so we all then went to bed with our hearts full of happiness, excitement and anticipation.

Day 1 – Naples, Italy

Naples, or Napoli in Italian, is the third-largest city in Italy, located in the southern part of the country. It’s about two hours south of Rome, on the coast by the Bay of Naples. Today was our embarkation day; However, as our boarding time was not until 15:30, we decided to visit the world heritage site of Pompeii. However, upon hearing about another site close by Pompeii, which was more preserved and less touristic, we opted to go see Herculaneum. The site was about a 30 minute train ride from Naples to ‘Ercoland’, a few stops before the Pompeii train stop; however, we had assumed we were using the train after peak commuting time (we took it at 10am) but it was absolutely packed full of people. We all crammed into that train like sardines, and it was a very hot day.  Not the most pleasant experience, so I wish we had of known this and either waited another hour before taking the train or have just taken a taxi. Coming back into the city on the train was much better and we were easily able to get seats.

Herculaneum was well worth the visit! Two thousand years ago, the people who lived here died within 20 seconds from volcanic gasses and were then buried under twenty meters of mud (basically the top of Mount Vesuvius that blew off). No lava arrived here, so everything is extremely well preserved. Fascinating and heart breaking.

When we arrived back in Naples, we collected our luggage from the apartment and walked down to the port, to board the brand new — literally just one month old — ship from MSC cruise line, the Seaview. IT. WAS. HUGE. Bigger than any ship that any of us had ever been on before, which was a little overwhelming, but exciting at the same time!

The boarding process in Naples was less than ideal; we waited over an hour in a long line extending out of the cruise terminal, before even getting inside, only to met with an even longer line of people trying to check in. We braced ourselves for another few hours of waiting.  Luckily, mum and dad came to the rescue. As they are frequent cruises, they were MSC ‘black card’ members and once we were able to enter the cruise terminal building, they showed their cards to an MSC employee who then immediately brought us all up to the front for priority check in! I felt terrible for all the other families still standing in line, but so relieved to have been able to skip that long wait! I was already in love their their black card status 🙂

We managed to find our cabins and were ecstatic about our adjoining rooms with combined balconies. After settling in, we heading up to the buffet for dinner and once we had completed the boat drill, we were all more than ready to begin our seven day round trip, departing from and ending back in Naples, Italy.

As we departed from Naples, we stood on the back deck enjoying both the view and the sound of the sea below us again. We were all extremely excited for our upcoming ports of call which included the Italian ports of Genova, Messina (Sicily), Valletta on the beautiful island of Malta, Barcelona (Spain), the French port of Marseille, then back to Naples.

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Day 2 – Messina, Sicily

Messina is on the island of Sicily, separated from the mainland of Italy by the Strait of Messina; So basically, just across the water from the tip of “the boot”.

Originally, I had hoped to visit the ancient Greek Theatre of Taormina, which is about 45 minutes south of Messina. However, we realised that morning that we needed a relaxing pool day onboard the ship to start off our holiday. We had all worked right up until the day before we flew to Naples. We were exhausted, and just craved a day of nothing. This was the best day to do this, as everyone else went ashore, so we easily found four sun beds near the pool.

This day gave us the chance to just sit out on the deck and relax, soak in the jacuzzis, swim in the pools, enjoy the sun and the sound of the sea, and unlimited access to the five super fun waterslides — two of which were racing slides with clear loops extending over the side of the ship(!!) — all four of us had multiple goes of course! The kids had a ball, and us parents got to relax and recharge, so we were all happy.

Mum and dad chose to go explore Messina and they enjoyed walking around this pretty little city. One of the highlights of Messina that they really loved was the Bell Tower and Astronomical Clock; every day at noon the figures begin moving and show scenes from the history of Messina.

That night we all enjoyed being waiting on in the dining room for the first time and our first onboard show in the theatre, which left us jaw dropped! We have all seen multiple onboard shows, but this one really impressed us all. Most of the songs were from the Greatest Showman soundtrack; the singers, costumes and acrobatics were of a very high standard. What a luxury cruising is!

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Day 3 – Valletta, Malta

I was super excited for this port of call. I have heard so much about beautiful Malta and Valletta, being its capital, was where our ship had docked for the day. I loved waking up that morning, opening the curtains to our cabin’s balcony, to be met with the view in the photo below. I actually caught the last 15 minutes of our arrival into Valletta that morning before 7am. Just beautiful.

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This would have to be one of Europe’s grandest harbors, surrounded by massive forts and defensive towers. We decided that this port would be best discovered by foot. First we had to take a giant lift up over the city’s defensive walls, then once in, we enjoyed walking through all of the pretty streets and around the waterfront. The city looks as though it was all just carved out of one enormous sandstone. We did almost 20,000 steps this day and enjoyed every single one of them.

It was also during our walk through Valletta that we happened upon the police force band playing on the streets for the public. They brought in guest singers to sing with their band and this particular song brought tears to my eyes. So touching to see and hear in person. Simply amazing, what a voice!

Day 4 – Sea Day

We love sea days! They give you a chance to just relax and enjoy all of the amenities onboard. Today we cruised across the Mediterranean Sea towards Spain. This new ship had so many fun things to do onboard, including the water slides, a full-sized bowling alley, multiple kids’ play areas, kids clubs for all ages, a theatre, 4D cinema, and ‘the bridge of sighs’ at the back of the ship (here is a photo of my parents with our kids)!

Unfortunately when we went out to get four sun beds after breakfast around 10am, they were all taken already. There were thousands of sun lounges on the ship, but I guess that is what happens when there are more than 5000 passengers all onboard. We couldn’t even get a seat all day, so we walked around the ship exploring a lot, then ended up heading back to our cabins for a siesta, and afterwards a few drinks on our own balconies (where we knew we were guaranteed a place to sit) before heading to dinner and other fabulous show. This night was a formal night, so it was fun to get all dressed up and we really enjoyed this evening.

Day 5 – Barcelona, Spain

I had never been to Barcelona before, so on this day I had one mission, and that was to see the Sagrada Familia Roman Catholic Church with my own eyes. Although the construction of Sagrada Familia began in 1882, many teams of architects and engineers are still working on it today, in order to complete Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece. They finally hope to make Gaudí’s dream come true by 2026 (almost 150 years after they began building it!). The massive cathedral has been considered both “the most extraordinary personal interpretation of Gothic architecture since the Middle Ages” and “one of the most hideous buildings in the world”.

As one of the world’s most unusual and controversial constructions, it is definitely one worth seeing while in Barcelona. We bought tickets online a month in advance, and this was literally the only thing we pre-booked before our cruise. We had heard how crazy long the line could be, and I’m glad we pre-purchasing these tickets, as by the time we arrived around 10am, all tickets had sold out for the day! The inside was beautiful and the stained glass windows were gorgeous. But for me, although the outside is seen as hideous by some, I thought it was even more impressive than the inside. There is so much detail and so much so look at. It was incredible.

After walking the 12kms from the ship to Sagrada Familia (we hadn’t realised just how far it was!), we were all hot and exhausted, so we asked a taxi driver to take us past some more of Barcelona’s best sites. We admired Park Güell up on the hill, and Casa Batlló (another one of Gaudi’s masterpiece in the centre of Barcelona). The roof looks like the back of a dragon; a common theory about the building is that the rounded feature on the roof with a cross represents the lance of Saint George, which has been plunged into the back of the dragon.

We then walked down the well known La Rambla street back to the ship, exhausted from the day.

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We had a little rest in our cabins, and then went out for dinner and a show again. They put on a brilliant show every single night, and we ended up going to about four of them throughout or seven night cruise! This day was also mum and dad’s 39th wedding anniversary, so we had arranged for our waiter to bring out a special cake after dinner. Our waiter, together with all the other waiters in the dining room, brought out the cake and were all singing at the top of their voices. Dad’s face was red, it was perfect.

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Day 6 – Marseille, France

Leaving behind Italy and Spain, we then arrived in the South of France! Marseille is France’s oldest and second largest city. In this port, we were tempted to book a tour to go check out the Les Calanques, a 20km stretch of high, rocky cliffs rising up from the turquoise Mediterranean water, not far from Marseille. The best way to reach the calanques is by boat (you can also hike there but the tracks were closed during the summer months). There are a few secluded beaches which can be found inside fjord-like inlets. However, the only two boat tours that offered a swim stop informed us that children under 10 were not allowed to swim from the boat.  As our children are 7 and 9, we instead opted to explore the city of Marseille itself.

As our ship had docked 25 minutes from the city centre, and the ship wanted to charge us 16 euros per person for the shuttle bus, we decided to get a taxi to take us into the city and show us around. We admired the two large forts on either side of the old port, the Santi-Nicolas fort, the Saint Marie Cathedral, and visited a war memorial located at an incredible lookout point. But the highlight of the day was without a doubt, the Notre-Dame de la Garde (a huge maritime themed cathedral) on the top of a hill towering over the city with stunning panoramic views.

In the afternoon, we headed back to the ship to enjoy the pool area and relax. During our departure we cruised past the islands of the Frioul archipelago, and saw the below fortress/prison, which became famous from The Count of Monte Cristo.

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Day 7 – Genoa, Italy

Passing several French Riviera destinations on our left, such as Saint-Tropez, Cannes, Nice and Monaco, we then arrived back in Italy, docking at the historical port city of Genoa/Genova. In Genoa (pronounced as Genova by the locals), we were interested in seeing the older part of the city and it did not disappoint. Just off the gangway, we found an open top city bus tour for just a couple of euros per person, so we hopped on and it took us all around the city, which had so many pretty buildings and gardens.

We then explored the old city area further by foot, stumbling upon a lift that took us up to a panoramic lookout over the city (Panorama Della Citta – Castelletto).

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On our way back to the ship, we noticed a cozy little bar and, as it was a hot day, we decided to stop for a cold beer. There was a cupboard full of board games for the kids, great music, and cold beer. We ended up staying here all afternoon, having a great time!

We loved this city, specifically the old city area, which was basically the entire half of the city close to where our ship had docked. Afterwards, the sail away did not fail to impress! As most of our departures were scheduled during the early seating dinner time (6pm), we had not been able to fully enjoy them all. This particular day, we left a little earlier, so we were able to really enjoy the sail away from our own balconies before dinner. Here is a time lapse video of our departure.

After dinner and the show, we went out to our favourite spot on the back deck, enjoying our last sunset onboard the MS Seaview.

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Day 8 – Back in Naples

Today our ship was to arrive back in Naples around 1pm. We had packed our suitcases late the previous evening (after receiving a letter asking us to do so when we arrived back at our cabins to go to bed!). So during our last morning onboard, we gave the kids some time to have one last swim in the ship’s pools. We watched our arrival into Naples from the pool deck and then disembarked, saying goodbye to the beautiful MS Seaview.

We decided that we would stay an extra two nights here in Naples after the cruise — in the same B&B that we stayed in the night before our cruise began — to give us more time to explore the area. So after disembarking from the ship, we dropped off our bags at the B&B and went off to explore Naples some more. It is such a lively city. The entire population seems to be out on the streets and the smell of pizza wafts through the air, day and night. It’s a chaotic city, and a little dirty, but there are so many great things to do in this region of Italy.

We walked around, exploring the waterfront area a little more, the Santa Lucia District/Marina, the Nuovo Castle, palace and the city hall. This area was very pretty and much cleaner than the area we were staying in. Our B&B was very central, but also very noisy as it was close by the university and was therefore very lively at night. We then walked along the via Benedetto Croce street in old Naples (also known as Spaccanololi) again which had become our favourite place to buy gelato.

When in Naples, one must eat Neapolitan pizza of course! There are two basic Neapolitan pizza styles that cover the vast majority of the pizzas you’ll find in Naples: the Pizza Marinara (tomatoes, oregano, olive oil, and garlic) and the Pizza Margherita (tomatoes, olive oil, fresh mozzarella and basil leaves). Both are mouth watering and always made with the freshest ingredients. That evening we found a pizzeria at the square, Piazza San Domeico Maggiore, and all ate delicious pizza and drank Aperpol Spritz until our bellies were full.

(Day 9) – The Amalfi Coast

With Naples being a fantastic home base to explore further, we used this day to go explore the Amalfi coast. Dad had reserved a Mercedes van with a driver/tour guide for the day to drive us around the Amalfi coast, including some free time at several different stops along the way. Our driver picked us up at the apartment at 8am and we headed off up into the mountains towards Ravello (the highest point of the mountains overlooking the Amalfi Coast). During this drive over ‘the milk mountains’ where the milk farms are located to make mozzarella, we enjoyed views all the way back to Mt Vesuvius and also across to the island of Capri.

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Our first stop was the relaxing little village of Ravello, which is located 365 meters above the Tyrrhenian Sea. This charming town offers far-reaching views from its terraced gardens and cafes, and it also hosts the popular Ravello Summer Festival. We would have loved to have spent a week here, as it just seemed so relaxing and peaceful! The perfect destination for recharging your batteries and also the perfect base retreat in order to explore the nearby coast.

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Once we arrived in the town of Amalfi, we had officially begun our trip along the Amalfi coast, a 80km narrow coastal road. It was still morning, and not too overly busy just yet, so while my parents and hubby went for a stroll into town to see the famous 9th-century Amalfi cathedral, I took the kids to the beach. The three of us enjoyed a swim in the sea, cooling off while soaking up the incredible views of the town of Amalfi surrounding us.

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Positano offers the best views possible along the entire Amalfi coast. Our driver took us to a restaurant for lunch high up on the cliffs which was not overrun with tourists, but more of a local family run business that you can find the locals dining in. Here we enjoyed the best Italian meal we have ever eaten. Everything was home grown in their garden and hand made. Delicious! The breathtaking views out over the Tyrrhenian Sea from this restaurant was the cherry on top, making this stop an unforgettable one for us all. If you ever have the chance to visit Positano, do yourself a favour and go to the restaurant, de Costantina for lunch or dinner, and order the ‘family menu’ (a 3-4 course surprise menu).

Sorrento

We then arrived at Sorrento, which is not officially on the Amalfi coastal drive, but is known as the gateway to the Amalfi Coast. Bus tours are only allowed to drive in one direction along the Amalfi coast (from Sorrento to Amalfi), so I was glad to see that our driver took us the opposite direction, resulting in us avoiding the large crowds or being stuck behind a slow maneuvering coach bus. That coastal road was a nail biting experience and we have a new found admiration for those drivers! As our driver explained, their local bus drivers need a healthy combination of patience and bravery (and there is a fine line between bravery and stupidity).

Sorrento was a larger city, much different to the smaller coastal villages we had just visited, yet it had it’s own charm. Perched up on the cliffs, Sorrento is a popular holiday destination for the English. We walked along the narrow alleys through it’s historic centre and enjoyed a bit of shopping and sight seeing before returning to the van and heading back to Naples.

It was a full day of adventure from 8am-4:30pm and was such an enjoyable day!! The Amalfi Coast is absolutely stunning and this day was the ultimate highlight of our vacation.

(Day 10) – Last Day in Naples, Italy 

Today was the last day of our trip and we had reserved a taxi to take us to the airport in the early afternoon. After breakfast, we enjoyed our last few hours in Naples wandering around the old town, along the well known street of Spaccanapoli in the center of old Naples. We also really enjoyed strolling around the San Ferdinando district and along the via Toledo street (main shopping strip) where we stumbled upon a gorgeous public shopping gallery, Galleria Umberto I. Again, this area seems to be a lot cleaner and better taken care of than the old historical centre where we were staying.

We enjoyed every minute of this trip and wished we could have booked a longer cruise. We hope to do another Mediterranean cruise in the future, as there are so many more beautiful ports to discover, and I would love to see more of the smaller Greek islands. We find cruising to be the ideal way to travel, it is literally a floating, portable resort. You unpack your bags on the first day, and then every night while you sleep, you are comfortably transported to a new destination. Travel doesn’t get any more convenient or easy than that.

We have experienced a higher level of service on other cruise lines such as Princess and HAL; however, the new MSC cruise ships make up for this with their immaculate facilities. The Seaview and Seaside sister ships are ideal for families with younger children. We loved being on the water again, being waited on each night in the dining room, the high quality entertainment and most importantly, the quality family time we had together, and we will always remember this holiday fondly with a smile on our faces.

Kristen

 

Bremen & the Brothers Grimm

The city of Bremen is in Northern Germany, just a 1.5 hour drive from Friesland, the North-Eastern area of the Netherlands. From the Randstad region, it’s about a four hour drive or train journey to reach Bremen.

Bremen was made famous by the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale, “The Town Musicians of Bremen”.  I read this story out loud to the kids in the car on our way to Bremen, which was fun. In the story, a donkey, a dog, a cat and a rooster, were all getting older and feeling useless on their farms. So one by one, they left their homes and set out on an adventure together to go to Bremen, known for its freedom, to live without owners and become musicians. They ended up saving the town from thieves and lived happily ever after of course.

But why, in the story, did the animals choose to go to Bremen? The Brothers Grimm were said to be good friends with the Mayor of Bremen at the time, Johann Smidt (1827-1857). So it is thought to be possible that the animals’ desire to get to Bremen was a gesture of appreciation for him.

We chose to go to Bremen simply because a photo on Instagram had caught my eye, and I instantly felt the need to visit this historic city. The photo showed a narrow cobble-stoned street, lined with traditional Bremen houses and a little, cosy-looking restaurant. I was determined to find the location where the photo had been taken, which, I had discovered before our visit, was to be found within the Schnoor district in the Old Town of Bremen.

Most of the historical sights in Bremen are found in the Old Town (Altstadt). The oldest part of the Old Town is the southeast half, starting with the town square (Marktplatz) and ending at the Schnoor quarter. We knew we wanted to find accommodation as close as possible to the old town so we booked a room (which could accommodate a family of four) at a hotel in the city centre, just outside the old town area. I’m glad we did this, as driving into the city we couldn’t help but notice that the outskirts of the city did not give a great first impression. We were keen to get to the old centre and our hotel was very close by. After checking in, we set off on foot to explore Bremen.

The blue dot was our hotel and everything inside the red circle is what you want to see when you go to Bremen. You can even see the old town moat that still exists. We really enjoyed walking along the inside of this moat, which is a lovely park area with pretty gardens and a windmill.

From here, it’s a short five minute walk to the old town square which is just stunning. Surrounded by buildings all mostly constructed in the 13th century, you can’t help but just stare at them in awe of the details; the town hall, the Bremen St Peter Cathedral, the old weigh house and even the private residences. The buildings surrounding the town square were the first in Bremen to be restored after World War II by the citizens of Bremen themselves. We climbed the 265 steps up to the top of the cathedral for a great view over the town square and surrounds.

The Town Hall of Bremen (1405), on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, nowadays hosts a beautiful restaurant, ‘The Ratskeller’ in the cellar (no rats so don’t worry LOL) with gigantic wine barrels, and is also home to the twelve oldest wines in the world, stored in their original barrels.

Right beside Bremen’s beautiful gothic styled town hall, a bronze sculpture can be found of Die Stadtmusikanten (the Town Musicians), showing the donkey, dog, cat and rooster.

In front of the town square is the 10m high statue of Roland. Roland was a knight who protected the city in his day and still ‘stands watch’, protecting the city and its people today.

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The Böttcherstraße runs from the town square down to the river and is lined with stunning buildings containing shops, museums and theatres. It’s a great little street! Directly across from the Glockenspiel (bells clock) was our favourite place to get a drink and/or meal, the Standige Vertretung. Such a great building, full of character and great meals at a great price! The grilled pork knuckle, schnitzel and curry sausage were are amazeballs! Look for the little yellow owl.

The river Weser runs right through Bremen and the promenade, Schlachte, is lined with beers gardens and river boats. However, we were there on a public holiday and just seemed to be filled with young drunk people (at 3pm). It certainly was the place to be if you are looking for a big night out (but as we were with the kids, we much preferred walking along the old moat/river).

Our favourite part of Bremen was the old Schnoor district, which could actually easily be overlooked if you are not specifically looking for it as, although it is close to the town square, you have to cross a main street to get to it. The unique and crooked buildings, small family run businesses (boutique shops and restaurants), cobblestones streets and narrow alleyways made it picture perfect! Just what we came to Bremen to see.

Bremen is also home to the Universum Science Centre, which, although we did not get to, I have heard that this mussel shaped, interactive science museum is well worth a visit.

Bremen holds a traditional German Christmas Market every year, where the old town square is transformed into a winter wonderland from the end of November to the end of December. More information on this annual event can be found here

We really enjoyed our stay in Bremen, it is a great German city to visit during any season of the year, either with or without kids. Spend your time in Bremen within the red circle shown above, as outside of this area, it is not the prettiest city to look at. You need to get to the heart of Bremen to be able to appreciate all it has to offer and it is definitely doable in 1 or 2 days.

If you plan to visit Bremen with your children, I’d suggest you read them the story of the Bremen Town Musicians before you go 🙂

Kristen

Fun Fact:

“City air makes you free”

In the Middle Ages (approx. 500-1500 AD), from the second half of the 12th century, European cities held the promise of a new life for serfs, giving rise to the saying “city air makes you free”. Much like the Bremen Town Musicians, a great many peasants attempted to escape their feudal lords by heading for the city walls in the hope of leading an independent life. Those who were not found and retrieved after a year and a day were free for good.

Source:
“Der Alltag im Mittelalter” by Maike Voigt-Lüerssen, published by Books on Demand, 2006, ISBN 978-3833443541

The Spring Gardens of Keukenhof

On the first Friday of April, I visited Keukenhof together with my two kids and mother in law. All the Dutch schools were in session and we were lucky enough to have the day off, so it was not overly busy like is can be. The sun shone for us all day, the crocuses, hyacinths and daffodils were in bloom and the tulips were beginning to open, it was the perfect day for it!

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We were a little hesitant to go so early in the season, as we had heard that many of the flowers were not out yet, but we decided to take our chances anyway and we don’t regret it. Although we could see that many flowers hadn’t opened yet, and I know the park can be a lot more colourful, there was still loads of colour throughout the park. The indoor exhibitions made our visit even better; they were fabulous! There was a tulip exhibition in the main Willem-Aleksander pavilion, which was literally a colour explosion! The kids really enjoyed reading all of the different and interesting tulip names, choosing their favourites and smelling them. The indoor orchid and gerbera exhibitions were also impressive and a must see!

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The history of Keukenhof dates back to the 15th century. Countess Jacqueline of Bavaria (1401-1436) used to gather fruit and vegetables here for the kitchen of the Keukenhof Castle, which was built in 1641. Over time, the estate grew to over 200 hectares, now known as the Keukenhof gardens. The castle is not accessible from within the gardens (you will need to travel via the outside around to the other side of the park to view the castle) and is not always open to the public.

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The same landscape architects who designed Amsterdam’s Vondelpark, redesigned the castle gardens in 1857. That original royal garden, in the English landscape style, can still be visited inside Keukenhof. In 1949 a group of 20 leading flower bulb growers and exporters came up with the plan to use the estate to exhibit spring-flowering bulbs. The Spring gardens of Keukenhof opened its gates to the public for the first time in 1950 and was an instant success from then onwards.

Each year, the gardens are planted inline with a new theme. In 2018 the theme is Romance, so you will see that both the indoor exhibitions and the flower gardens are all designed around this theme: hearts, weddings, love etc. With each year being a different theme, you can visit over and over again, and there will always be something new to see.

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Our day was perfect, right up until the moment we decided to leave. It took us about 30-45 minutes to get out of the parking lot (many cars all being funneled out through just one exit). But aside from this, is was a wonderful day and I look forward to returning again next year.  Keukenhof is open until mid-May, so don’t miss it.

Tip: Pre-purchase your tickets online via the official Keukenhof website to avoid the long lines at the entrance.

Kristen

 

Friendship

Friendship. It is impossible for me to describe just how valuable it truly is. To have a network of true friends around you, particularly when living abroad, is so, so important.

I have to say, that I am the type of person who really loves (and needs) an active social life, and enjoy continuously surrounding myself with people I respect and can relate to. Of course, I love and value time alone with my husband and kids, and on the odd occasion, I even enjoy a little time to myself. However, as often as possible, I enjoy hanging out with my friends. It is a form of relaxation; de-stressing after a busy work work. Laughing until you cry, talking, sharing each others stories and feelings, comforting, understanding, reassuring, or cheering each other when needed.  Being able to openly share your feelings with a true friend and in turn, simply lending a listening ear when needed is so invaluable. We crave honesty and acceptance. Enjoying someones company and authentic communication is healthy and healing.

Moving abroad, pulling up deep roots and saying goodbye to our own little corners of the world, to our families and everything familiar, can be as disorienting as it is exciting. When I left Australia, I also left behind a large group of the most wonderful friends you could ever imagine. Friends who I had made through school. Friends that can make you laugh until you cry. Moving to the Netherlands and having to rebuild a group of friends from scratch was tough, but I was lucky enough to meet some wonderful people over the past six years; a good combination of both Dutch locals and fellow internationals who have also chosen Holland to be their home. I have met some truly kind and genuine souls, who are exactly the kind of people I want to spend my time with.

When living in a foreign country, friends become a kind of family. I felt it when I worked on cruise ships away from home for months at a time and I feel it again now. It is natural to grieve the loss of the family that we leave behind when we move, even if married with families of our own. It can feel as though you have lost an immediate support, acceptance and presence of your parents and siblings in your daily life. As time passes and we settle into life in our new country, and friends help to fill that gap. I am not saying we miss our families any less or that they become less important, only that we adjust and adapt to our new lives. Supportive, genuine friendships provide us with so much.

As I grow oder, I am also realising that it is less important to have more friends and more important to have real ones. I am becoming pickier which whom I choose to spend my time with. Friendship, real friendship, can be hard to find. So once you do find it, be sure to value and appreciate it.

How fortunate I am to have met such wonderful people on both sides of the world and to be able to call them friends. Whenever I return to visit Australia, and meet up with my friends there, it’s as though we have not been apart at all. We do not see each other often and the distance makes it difficult to be able to be an active part in each other’s daily lives. However, I still value these friendships back home just as much as the newer friends who play an active role in my life right now here in the Netherlands.

My conclusion: No matter where in the world we are, we need friendship like sunny afternoons full of laughter and chocolate. They are such an important part of our lives and I for one, do not know what I would do without them.

Kristen

Nederlands, Nederlands, Nederlands

Dit is mijn eerste blog post helemaal in het Nederlands geschreven.  Wij wonen nu zes jaar in Nederland, en ik vind de taal nog steeds moeilijk, maar langzaam (heeeel langzaam) woord het makkelijker.  Dus, ik dacht dat het een leuke uitdaging was, om een blog post in Nederlands te schijven — zonder Google translator of bewerking van mijn man! God help me, what was I thinking?!

Het is heel belangrijk voor mij en mijn man, dat onze twee kinderen (7 en 8 jaar) goed Nederlands kunnen praten. Ok, niet alleen ‘goed’, maar net zo goed als een Nederlander. Ze waren allebei in Australië geboren maar, na zes jaar hier in Nederland, kunnen ze allebei redelijk goed Nederlands praten, schrijven en lezen — maar nog niet tot hetzelfde niveau als anderen Nederlandse kinderen hen leeftijd vind ik. Aan de anderen kant, onze kinderen zijn beiden tweetalig: ze kunnen allebei heel goed engels praten, schrijven en lezen. Dit maakt me heel erg blij, want engels is een van de meeste gebruiken talen in het wereld (en mijn moedertaal natuurlijk). Onze kinderen zitten op een internationale school waar ik werk, en logisch is dit heel handig, maar voor onze Nederlands, niet super.  Wij praten de hele dag engels met een beetje Nederlands tussendoor. Wij moeten meer Nederlands praten om beter te worden.

Allebei kinderen gaat wel naar buiten school activiteiten met Nederlandse kinderen in onze stadje, bijvoorbeeld: scouting, voetbal, turnen. Dit is heel belangrijk voor ons. Dat ze locale kinderen kunnen leren kennen en de taal oefenen. Ze speelde ook heel veel buiten met al die kinderen van onze buurt. Dit is heel fijn om te zien, dat ze allebei kunnen communiceren met de anderen kinderen van de buurt, maar soms vind ik dat ze een beetje onzeker voelt. Ik voel precies het zelfde toen ik Nederlands probeer om te praten met een buurvrouw, vrienden of collega.  Mijn droom voor mijn kinderen is dat ze kunnen Nederlands heel makkelijk praten en dat ze klinkt als Nederlanders. Vraag ik dan te veel?

Mijn man is wel Nederlands, en vanaf het begin van onze relatie zeventeen jaar geleden, hebben wij altijd engels met elkaar gesproken. Dat is heel moeilijk om te veranderen. En omdat mijn man en ik altijd engels thuis praten, is het dan heel moeilijk voor mijn man met de kinderen Nederlands te praten als we allemaal samen zijn. Wij moeten meer Nederlands met elkaar praten.

Wij weten wat we moeten doen, maar het zal een enorme uitdaging zijn. Wij gaan proberen om thuis alleen maar Nederlands te praten (s’avonds en in het weekend wanneer mijn man thuis is). Het is goed voor onze kinderen en ik. Ik heb wel een keer ergens gelezen dat als je een relatie in een taal begint, is het bijna onmogelijk om naar een anderen taal te veranderen. We hebben eerder een paar keer geprobeerd, maar elke keer automatisch in het Engels terugvallen. Hopelijk deze keer lukt het! Wij kunnen alleen maar nog een keer proberen en wij zullen het zien.

Heb jij wat ervaring met dit soort situatie? Heb jij wat handige tips die ons kunnen helpen om dit plan te houden?

Groetjes,

Kristen

 

Parenting Dutch Style

There are some varied and strong opinions out there in regards to parenting, and the specific topic I am about to broach. In this post I would like talk about what I find to be the most striking difference between parenting in the Netherlands versus parenting elsewhere: Parental Supervision. 

A touchy subject I know. We all have questions such as, Should all children be supervised at all times? How old should your child be before you consider allowing them to walk or bike to the playground/shop/school etc. alone? Is it ever ok to leave your child at home alone, and if so, from what age? I’m not going to sit here and give you the answers to these questions, as they would only be my opinions. All of these questions have multiple answers, as every parent makes a decision that they believe is best for their own child(ren).

Young children are generally incapable of looking after themselves and are incompetent in making informed decisions for their own well-being. We all know this, there is no argument there.  However, older children should be given a certain amount of freedom and trust. Of course, every child is different and parents should be able to see if their child is at the point of being responsible enough to take the trash out, pop down to the store for some milk,.. or stay at home on their own while you do it.

I recently read an interesting article called “How Young is Too Young to be Left at Home Alone?”.  In Australia, you would never leave any child below the teenaged years unsupervised at home. However, in the Netherlands it is actually encouraged to give your children more independence from an early age.

Dutch parents begin by giving their children small responsibilities or house hold chores, see how they handle it, then move on to other more significant tasks. For example, from about the age of four, children are expected to be able to make their own sandwiches. The bread, butter and all toppings are placed on the table, and the children assemble their own lunch.

Dutch parents let their children begin biking to school or football practice etc. on their own typically from the age of 7-10 years old, depending on the child and the route; Taking into consideration that the distance from home to anywhere here in the Netherlands is quite short and that the typical Dutch child has biked daily from the age of 4. Usually school is located within an easy 5-10 minute bike ride from home. Dutch parents will purposely choose a school close to their home for this very reason; so that they can eventually give their children the freedom to travel on their own as soon as they are ready to take on that responsibility.

Many Dutch parents also let their children play outside in local playgrounds with friends from the neighbourhood without supervision (usually from around the age of 6-8). It took me a good 5 years of living in the Netherlands, whilst observing others and noticing the benefits, before I even felt comfortable with the idea of ever letting my kids go to the playground on their own. Recently, I too began letting my children go down to the playground on our street together, without me (they are almost 7 and 9). The first time, I wanted to go spy on them through the bushes, but resisted. They came home at the time I has asked them to, with giant smiles on their faces. They are good kids and I am confident that they will be careful and make smart choices. I also live in a safe neighbourhood where we all know each other and look out for each other’s children, which helps.

Coming from a society where this is never done, where you are frowned upon if you would even consider doing it, it has taken me some time to adjust my way of thinking and get past the motherly pangs of guilt. On multiple occasions over the years I have been heard saying, “It’s not the kids I don’t trust, it’s everyone else”. There are so many bad people out there. Its good to be cautious, but you can’t live in constant fear of something bad happening. You also can’t watch your children for every second until the day they move out of home. There comes a time when you just have to let go a little and give them some independence when you believe they can handle it.

There is a fine line between the right amount of supervision and poor parental supervision. I am aware of this line and am careful not to cross it. Still, those I know back in Australia would still not approve. But after living here for several years, I have done a complete 180 in my way of thinking in regards to parental supervision and completely understand and respect the attitude that the Dutch have towards it. Giving your children some freedom to do things on their own shows them that you trust them to do the right thing, obey the rules, and put everything you have taught them into practise. It teaches children responsibility and gives them much needed independence, shaping them into well-rounded independent adults.

There are many things the Dutch got right with parenting. This post entitled “16 Surprising Things About Parenting in the Netherlands” is well worth the read! From being down to earth, to food, to gender equality.

In 2013, a Unicef report rated Dutch children as the happiest in the world. So the parents must be doing something right. The Dutch have a reputation for being liberal, yet they are actually fairly conservative people. At the heart of Dutch culture is a society of home-loving people who have a healthy attitude towards their kids, seeing them as individuals. The Dutch have managed to minimize the anxiety, stress and expectations of modern-day parenting, redefining the meaning of success and wellbeing. For them, success starts with happiness – that of their children and themselves. But it is still important to remember that our kids still need guidance, rules and routine!

Finally, I would like to stress that us mums need to stick together and support one another. Try not to judge those with different parenting styles to yourself. I almost didn’t publish this post, in fear of being judged. I hope that by reading this post that you will be more open to pushing your comfort boundaries just a little, and try different parenting techniques that positively impact your child(ren) whilst you battle one of the toughest jobs on earth, being a parent.

Groetjes,

Kristen

Friends Come and Go

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 ‘stayers’ and ‘goers’. 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.

I read an interesting article on this topic last year, called “The transition that never ends: The ongoing cycle of expat Stayers, Goers and Newbies”, which explains each type of person and why it is so important that we all continue to interact with and help each other. We each have something unique to give. Are you a Stayer, a Goer or a Newby?

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

Kristen

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