Considering its geography and topography, it’s no surprise that the Netherlands is a country of mariners. During the 17th century, it had the largest navy in the world, as well as an economy built around the commerce of its major port cities. And although a series of Anglo-French alliances eventually put an end to Dutch military dominance of the sea, Rotterdam is still the biggest port in Europe. Today Amsterdam has a beautiful (and very much used) network of historic canals. There’s one that runs right near our house, in fact, and it’s a lovely place for picnics. And I never go out there without this charming quote from The Wind in the Willows running through my head:
Ever since we moved to Amsterdam, people have been telling us about the famous canal parade that happens every August in celebration of Pride week. This place loves an excuse for a party, and as city renowned for its tolerance and open-mindedness, it’s no surprise that Amsterdam celebrates Gay Pride with panache and gusto. There are all-night street parties and other events for days before and after, but the main attraction is the canal parade on Saturday afternoon.
Accordingly, we arrived a good hour and a half or so before the parade was to begin. The crowds were already packed along the parade route, but we managed to find a spot on a bridge (we’d been informed that bridges offered the best view), almost in the front. We settled the kids with their legs dangling off the bridge under one of the giant hanging flower baskets. Yes, I did give more than a passing thought to the idea that they might fall in the canal, but no, it didn’t prevent me from allowing it.
One of the things I love about the Dutch is the delight they take in flowers. Since we arrived in March, there has been a temporal cavalcade of blooms, beginning with daffodils, and cycling through the famous tulips in every conceivable color and shape, and then irises, wisteria, poppies, foxgloves, roses, and various others whose names I don’t even know.
Flowers bloom in abundance on canal railings, in tiny niches of earth on city streets, on balconies, and in a wild profusion in tiny front gardens. To say nothing of the city parks, which are a pleasant mixture of hidden playgrounds, beautiful shade trees, walking paths dotted with romantic benches and picturesque bridges, the occasional cafe with indoor and outdoor seating, and little patches of formal and botanical gardens. In fact, I was speaking a few months ago with a master’s student in ecology. He said The Netherlands was a very difficult place to find natural ecosystems, because the Dutch cannot seem to restrain themselves from planting flowers even in “natural” areas.
One of the things we love about living in Amsterdam is visiting the city centre. While Amsterdam is famous for its multitude of, shall we say, earthly delights, there are also plenty of wonderful family-friendly activities here. Shortly after we arrived, we bought ourselves the Museumkaart, a card that allows you to get into most of Amsterdam’s museums and other historical sites like the Anne Frank House for free.
Our first couple of times using the cards at the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum were somewhat less than successful, due to a combination of crowds, long lines, and insufficient parental ingenuity. Today I was determined to make a better plan. We started off the morning with hot chocolate and pain au chocolat (keyword: chocolate) at De Bakkerswinkel, slathered liberally with their signature strawberry jam, lemon curd, and pineapple basil preserves.
Four months in Amsterdam have flown by. I’m not sure where to start with telling you about it, so I suppose I’ll just start with this moment, right now. I’m sitting on my balcony, enjoying a long summer evening. It’s after eight at night, but the sun hasn’t yet set, and it won’t start getting dark for another couple of hours.
We live in an apartment in the south of Amsterdam (just one train stop away from Schiphol International Airport, in fact, ideally located if you’d like to pop in and visit–please do). Many summer days have been like this, bright and blue and sunny, but with a touch of a breeze in the evening. Other summer days are bleak and rainy; but it’s hard to remember those exist on a day like this. We even had one entire week of actual hot summer, culminating in an agreeably sweltering Fourth of July; our apartment doesn’t have air conditioning (I think most don’t), so we broke down and bought fans, but we haven’t even used those much since.
We finally finished packing up our house yesterday. Remind me never to live in a four bedroom house again. Also remind me that just because I see something free on the curb does not mean I should take it home and find a use for it (see Dumpster Diving in Deltona, Parts 1 and 2). This week we left our own
pile mountain of junk treasures out in front of our house. Actually, we did it multiple times, and each time the stuff, whether it was a duct-tape repaired beach umbrella or a large rubbermaid tub full of dirty old scratchy towels, it was all gone within hours, if not minutes. If you haven’t lived in Deltona, it’s hard to imagine, but there was very little left at the end for the garbage man. Which I applaud, because that means less of it goes to the landfill. Still, sometimes I wonder if we should all stop endlessly passing the junk around. Sorry I neglected to take a photo of the mountain of trash, but you didn’t really want to see it anyway, and I definitely don’t want to see it again.
When we were out in California, Tony’s mom undertook the monumental task of having a four-generation photo shoot. Tony forgot to tell me about the dress code beforehand, but we were fortunately able to scrounge up blue and grey clothing from what we had packed for the trip. I’m not sure if this is the photo that ended up being THE family photo, but here we are with his parents, his grandma, and Tony and his siblings,with their significant others and kids.
It was a little chilly and windy, and it had been raining almost the whole week beforehand, so the shoot had to be moved from it’s original picturesque rural location in front of a barn (which happened to be surrounded by a very muddy field) to a more urban setting. I think it turned out nicely, though. After the big shoot, we got some individual family shots taken too. Here are the four of us:
So, this was me last week:
I’m home alone, OK? And since I’ve been through all eight seasons of the new Doctor Who multiple times, it was really time to branch out. Battlestar Galactica is kind of fun, because it was originally created by a Mormon, who included stuff like the home planet being named “Kobol,” a Council of Twelve, and the inclusion of the phrase “with every fiber of my being” in the presidential oath.
If you are Facebook friends with me or on our woefully outdated Christmas email list, this may be the second or third time you’ve seen this. But if you missed it, here’s 2014 in a nutshell:
Dear friends and family,It’s been another year in Florida. Probably the most exciting thing we did was get out and actually see some Florida landmarks. At the beginning of the year we visited St. Augustine, which locals like to call the oldest city in the U.S, although Wikipedia uses rather more adjectives to define it precisely as “the oldest continuously inhabited European-established settlement in the Continental United States.” Whatever its exact claim to fame, St. Augustine is atmospheric, in a Pirates of the Caribbean sort of way. Our first stop when we got there was the Pirate Museum, which boasts a creepy life-sized talking Blackbeard head, as well as a variety of real-life artifacts recovered from sunken pirate vessels off the coast of Florida. Our trip also included a visit to St. Augustine’s main landmark, the Castillo de San Marcos, which isn’t actually a castle, but an impressive fort built out of the native coquina stone, with seashells embedded in it. The highlight of our fort visit was watching the cannon being fired by a bunch of guys in red stockings and tri-cornered hats. The 4th of July found us in Miami, where we ate amazing ceviche while watching the World Cup with a large, noisy crowd of various Latin American nationalities. On the way home, we popped into the Everglades, which we experienced unforgettably via airboat. The mangrove-lined waterways had a sort of dramatic, unearthly beauty, at least until the still air and reflective water were shattered by the deafening roar and roiling wake of our airboat. We’re still nursing some environmental guilt over that. Axa and Raj had another great year with Irish Dance, culminating in going to the Oireachtas (the big regional competition) with their team. Sarah’s still doing marketing at work, and has developed an obsession with Doctor Who, which has spilled over to the rest of the family in the form of a homeschool history class based on the Doctor’s travels in time and space, and a Whovian Halloween. Tony is still doing marketing from home, as well as managing the homeschooling. He also bought a massage table, and has become quite an accomplished masseuse (yet another reason to come visit us). Actually, if you want to visit us here, you’ll have to make it soon, since we’ve already begun packing up our house. Yes, the time has come to say goodbye to Florida. Our original plan was to move to a Greek island and start a commune. However, after our prospective co-communists eventually all bailed on us (you know who you are, and how much we’ll miss living on a commune with you!) we decided to try a different plan: Amsterdam! We leave in March. Sarah will keep working remotely for her company, and Tony is planning to do a Master’s program at VU University in Amsterdam. We are excited to get back on the other side of the Atlantic, and start a new international adventure, not to mention ditch our car and start biking everywhere like true Amsterdammers. We hope it’s been a great year for you, and that next year will be even better. Let us know what you’ve been up to, and have a wonderful new year! Love, Tony, Sarah, Axa & Raj
After a lovely week with family in California, I’m pulling a solo couple of weeks again, while Tony and the kids spend some more laid-back grandparent time. Fortunately, it’s not summer this time around, so the lawn looks to be in a fairly dormant state (which for Florida means bright green still, but not shooting up like a jungle). So I don’t think I’ll have to mow it, which is good, because I hate mowing the lawn, it takes me forever, and I’m terrible at it. I may trim the bushes, which I actually enjoy, and which by itself goes a long way toward preventing our house from turning into The Haunted Mansion.