One of my favorite things about living in Amsterdam is the sheer amount of stuff to do. In my bad moments, I used to call central Florida a “cultural wasteland.” To be fair, it was possible to find things to do there other than theme parks and the beach, but we certainly weren’t doing them every weekend. Here in Amsterdam, every weekend I have to choose between several different activities that all sound wonderful. From museums to concerts to festivals to educational expositions, there is just so much going on. And if I widen the net just a little, to cities reachable by train in less than an hour, I have Rotterdam and The Hague, as well as places like Haarlem, Utrecht, Amersfoort, and Leiden, all of which have their own vibrant cultural scene. Truly an embarrassment of riches.
It’s probably obvious from the title of this post which school we picked for our children. De Nieuwe Internationale School Esprit (DENISE) is a small bilingual Dutch public school in a beautiful, historic part of Amsterdam. Here they are, looking happy but nervous on Raj’s first day, and Axa’s second, still jet-lagged after a bare week in Amsterdam.
Before I tell you more about the school and the many reasons we love it, let me explain how we found it in the first place. This stuff is hard to do when you’re an ocean away and don’t speak the local language.
Once we had decided to send our children to school in Amsterdam, we were faced with the rather overwhelming prospect of finding a school that would be a good fit. Fortunately, as usual, the internet came to the rescue. There’s a wonderful expat parenting group called Amsterdam Mamas that has the answers to any question you might have when moving to or living in Amsterdam.
Besides the website, there’s an extremely active Facebook group where you can ask questions on anything, including what to expect when giving birth, which local restaurants are most family-friendly, or even what to do when your upstairs neighbor won’t stop banging on the ceiling (ask me why I want to know). There are a number of offshoots to the main Facebook group, including Amsterdam Mamas Book & Film Club, Amsterdam Mamas Write, and Dutch Education. It was to this last that I went to with all my questions about–Dutch education. I spent a couple of weeks poring over past posts and absorbing everything I could.
When we decided to make a long-term move to the Netherlands, one of the things we had to think about was what to do for the kids’ education. Our family default has historically been homeschooling, and we’ve had a rocking good time all over the world doing that. I can’t take credit for the thoughtful, well-read, interesting, articulate people my children are; they have largely accomplished that on their own. But I like to think I’ve put the fewest possible barriers in their way. I’ve tried not to dampen any of their natural passion for learning, and they’ve spent many hours at the library, and many more outside, catching frogs, swimming at the beach, climbing trees, and playing in the dirt.
From the title, this should be one of my light-hearted, funny, perhaps even a bit aggravated comparative cross-culture posts. But it’s actually not. This is a post about fears and irrationalities and the sometimes bizarre workings of my psyche. It’s weirdly personal, and I don’t share this stuff with hardly anyone. But it has at times played an embarrassingly central role in my life.
I’m terrified of going to the dentist. I know it’s a fairly common phobia, and I can’t go inside other people’s heads to see how you feel about the dentist, or where on the scale of neurotic I fall, but suffice it to say that I think I have it worse than most people. I adored my dentist in Florida (as much as it is even possible for me to adore a dentist) for letting me bring my sugar gliders into his office so I would have something furry and warm to cuddle while I suffered through dentist visits.
I realise that I haven’t used this blog to vent in quite a while. Believe it or not, I have experienced some moments of culture shock (like the other day when I had a very minor bicycle collision and got yelled at by a Dutch guy who was late for work and in a bad mood, and then I went home and cried and for the next hour and a half hated Dutch men). But mostly I am just so in love with living here that everything makes me happy. And possibly the thing that tops the list of happy things (even taking into account the above unfortunate encounter) is the fact that my main means of transportation these days is bicycle. How I absolutely adore traveling by bicycle! It’s good for the environment, good for one’s personal health, and a great way to reduce traffic congestion. No matter how packed the bicycle rack is, it’s always possible to squeeze your bicycle in somewhere. And yes, they are ALWAYS packed, although I suspect that 85% of the bicycles on any given rack haven’t been ridden in months; the city theoretically tags and removes these bicycles on a regular basis, but in practice I think it mostly happens in very high traffic areas like Central Station.
I’ve been quite looking forward to this post. It’s time to tell you all about my new job! First, a note on how I found it, because it’s a fun story. My father-in-law worked as a civil engineer at Chevron for most of his career, sometimes in some very exotic places. So when Tony was a kid, he spent a couple of years living with his family in Indonesia. Those of you who have been expats know that fellow-expats you meet abroad often become good friends, and you end up keeping in touch long after life has moved both of you on to different places. Fast forward 20 years, and the mother of one of Tony’s friends from his time in Indonesia posted a job opening in The Hague on his Facebook wall (Thank you, Nita!). I read it and thought, wow; that job sounds like it was made for me.
I’ve already showed you some lovely examples of the Dutch obsession with flowers. And it goes beyond just having pretty gardens. In fact, 80% of the world trade in bulbs comes from the Netherlands (which is also the world’s top producer of onions; for the statistically minded, visit this website for more facts about the horticultural dominance of this tiny country). They also love to incorporate flowers into other events. Many of the floats at the Canal Parade were covered in flowers, and there is an annual 42 km Bulbflower Parade that we missed in a fog of jet-lag this April, but I’d like to attend next year.
I’ve tried several variations on work-life balance over the years, and found most of them to be fairly out of balance. When the children were small, Tony and I ran a business together, whilst juggling full-time care for a baby and a toddler. We thought a lot about hiring an au pair or a nanny, but moved around too much to ever really manage to do it. So my memories of those days are a bit of a haze of sleepless nights and management meetings, and never having quite enough time to do everything. Still, it was fun and exciting, and I do look back on those days fondly. And I learned some pretty mad organizational skills.
Today was Open Monuments Day in the Netherlands, in which thousands of historical monuments across the country are open to visitors for free. Tony was at basketball this afternoon, so I decided to take the kids out for some cultural enrichment. Somewhat at random, I chose a castle off the list that wasn’t too far away.
We rode the train to the Ruins of Brederode, a wonderful 13th century castle just an hour or so outside of Amsterdam. It’s near Haarlem, actually, or at least that was one of the last stops before the little country train stop where we got off. After a 15 minute walk, we ended up at the entrance of a charming place, a little decrepit for a castle, but very well preserved for a ruin. I am impressed that something made out of brick has lasted so long. It’s not the usual material I think of when it comes to castles.