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.
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.
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.
This year, Tony’s parents gave us the best Christmas present ever-a totally kid-free anniversary! Like so many BYU students, we got married between semesters (I seriously have at least half a dozen friends with the same anniversary as ours). It seemed like a good idea at the time, but having an anniversary two days after Christmas can make it difficult to have the energy or resources to plan anything special in the middle of the holidays. It’s been at least five years since we went a full 24 hours without seeing our children.
One of the fun things about moving to Greece is that we are desperately in need of new luggage. Most of our current motley assortment of luggage has traveled many thousands of miles, been sat on, spilled on, overstuffed, and bumped down countless flights of stairs and cobblestone streets.
When we first moved to Italy in 2008, we had a total of fourteen bags of all sizes and descriptions. I vividly remember being at the airport, and dragging suitcase after suitcase over to be loaded on the conveyor belt. Miraculously, they didn’t charge us extra. Remember the good old days when it was actually kind of hard to pack enough stuff into even a large suitcase to go over the weight limit? Sure, it was hard on everybody’s backs, but you could take pretty much whatever you wanted on vacation.
I’m not a coupon clipper. I have no particular strategy for saving money, other than the strategy of walking into a store as seldom as possible. Which is actually not a bad strategy. When Tony and I got married a million years ago, we registered at Target. So we ended up with lots of exchanges and gift cards and stuff having to do with Target, and we went to Target at least two or three times a week. Every time we walked into that store, we spent a hundred dollars! At first it was gift cards, which are kind of like fun cash–it doesn’t really feel like you’re spending real money. After we started spending our own, we decided we just needed to stop going to Target. There’s nothing like not going to the store to make you not realize the bewildering amount of stuff you (don’t) need.
You’d think planning for an international move would be old hat for me since we’ve done it so many times. Unfortunately, we actually haven’t done it that much. The planning, that is, not the moving. We’ve moved plenty, but it’s mostly been on the spur of the moment, and after a mad few weeks of planning. The last time we really took a long time to plan was nine years ago, before we went to the Philippines for the summer. If you’ve read my book, you’ll remember that despite the exhaustive planning, we were such rookie travelers we ended up in the airport with no money and no place to stay, after having spent all 13.5 of the 14 hours on the plane with tomato juice all over my white pantsuit.
Well, while we’re on the subject of announcing major life changes, I should probably let you in on where we’ll be moving next. Hint: our destination is neither U.S. nor subtropical. Because let’s face it–we have now lived in Florida for 2 1/2 years, which in Familia time is about two decades. By the time we leave, we will have lived in Florida for over three times as long as we’ve ever lived anywhere else. Oh, the ironies of life. The weird thing is, I think my internal clock is set according to moves rather than time in any specific location. So I don’t feel like more time has passed while we were living in Florida than Tunisia (8 months) or Ireland (3 months). I’m not sure what that says about my existential state.
This week I find myself unexpectedly in California, which is all kinds of wonderful. We have a family reunion next week, so I was planning on coming out for that, but Tony and the children were going to come out and spend a whole month here while I stayed at home in Florida starting my new job.
I was perfectly happy with the arrangement, and even looking forward to starting work with zero at-home distractions (as well as getting some welcome “me” time). But I was even happier when my boss called at 4 p.m. last Wednesday and suggested that instead of starting the week before my vacation, I could start the week after, since he’d have people out for the long 4th of July holiday anyway.
So, will the airline count an over-sized shopping bag stuffed with tiny Christmas presents as a “personal item”? I’m going to say yes, because this stuff is not going to fit in our carry-on bags, at least if we want to bring clothes too.
Yes, I know that wrapped gifts are on the soft list of “Things to Not Bring on an Airplane.” As in, they are technically allowed but likely to cause delays, headaches, and tearing-of-hair in the security line. But what can I say? The children have been busily working away at them since Thanksgiving.