When did I stop referring to trips back to California as going “home”? Was it when I realised my son has spent half his life outside his (first) passport country? The day we bought a house across the sea? Little by little on walk after walk over miles and kilometres of foreign roads? I think the first inkling of the feeling must have begun long before all that, when the plane touched down in Istanbul half my life ago, and I realised how much bigger the world was than I had ever imagined.
Dear Loved Ones Near and Far,
I confess that one of the main reasons I write this Christmas letter is not so much to let you know what we are doing as to find out what you are doing. Sometimes I fantasize about what it would be like to grow up and live my whole life in the same little village. And then I watch a moody European crime drama awash in small town secrets and decide I don’t so much mind my itinerant city life. But I do miss being able to see all the people who mean something to me and be a part of your in-person lives.
It’s not that easy to find the perfect photographer for your romantic Iceland photoshoot if you don’t live in Iceland. Fortunately, you don’t have to. Because we already have! If you are in need of a photographer in Iceland, I highly, highly recommend Gunnar Jónatansson. Not only is he a talented photographer, but he and his wife Rósa took us on a fantastic tour of some of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. And if you’re wondering why the quality of photos on my blog has suddenly improved so drastically, it’s because all the photos in this post are courtesy of Gunnar.
My in-laws are here visiting, and we wanted to take them somewhere picturesque and typically Dutch. When I heard about Giethoorn, the pretty little village with canals instead of streets, I knew it would be perfect. Especially since we were also planning to go up north to visit Groningen, so it was right on the way. We're trying to do some more exploring and get to know this tiny country we call home.
Giethoorn is another corner of the Netherlands that somehow recalls the Shire to mind.
We rented a boat, as one does. They happened to be out of the basic metal boats, so we were forced to get an amply sized one with cushioning. Which in retrospect was totally worth the extra €15 anyway.
Here's our skipper and our mini skipper, at the wheel.
The place is unbelievably quaint and photogenic.
House after immaculate house surrounded by flowers.
The houses themselves are quite colourful as well, with many of them sporting the typical brightly painted shutters.
And of course, since the "streets" are actually canals, instead of cars they have boats.
The waterways are periodically crossed by wooden bridges.
We stopped near one of these bridges to find a shop to buy fresh bread for a boating picnic.
Tony, bless his heart, followed directions and ended up walking all the way back to the boat dock for bread. But meanwhile we discovered a cheese shop with tasty samples.
Right next door was a mineral store full of all sorts of treasures.
It was almost like a small museum, complete with impressive fossils.
Axa and Raj took the opportunity to find a surprise gift for Grammy.
Next to the town is a wetlands nature preserve with a miniature lake.
Here's a closeup of that traditional boat someone is sailing off in the distance.
There's some cute farmland. Even the horses were miniatures.
We also found a little treehouse.
At only a couple of hours by train from Amsterdam (and less by car) Giethoorn is a perfect day out if you want some delightful and unique countryside. We definitely enjoyed our time there!
Several months ago my kids’ school started offering free Dutch lessons to parents. I jumped at the chance, not only to help reinforce to my kids that learning the language is important, but because I actually do want to learn Dutch. Juf Ricky, who teaches the lessons, also teaches the kids Dutch as a second language. She’s not only a great teacher, but also a really nice person. Today she took us on a tour of her hometown, Gouda.
Yes. Gouda, as in the cheese. What a delightful little town! We all met up at the Amstel train station and took the train there together. It’s about 45 minutes by train.
I am usually not the one in this house who goes on business trips. Because they are just not really a thing when you work part-time at a small nonprofit with a small nonprofit budget. While Tony’s business trips do occasionally include some perks for me, usually I’m the one at home single parenting while he’s gone. Which is OK. It’s part of the life I’ve chosen, and I don’t mind too much being home alone with my (increasingly independent) children when Tony travels.
When I did the obligatory unofficial Facebook poll of what to do in London, the two most recommended must-visits were Camden Market and the V&A. Camden Market will, alas, have to wait until a less grey and drizzly day. But as you know, I am always up for another museum, especially if it involves history or the fine arts. Or both, as the V&A does. It is a wonderful museum, and I heartily add my voice to the recommendations next time you are in London.
The 1899 ceremony in which the foundation stone of the museum’s current building was laid turned out to be Queen Victoria’s last public appearance, and it was then that it officially received its name, the Victoria & Albert Museum. It’s a perfect place to explore at random, which we did, although in the end I believe we saw almost the entire museum. The exhibit themes range from time periods (e.g. 1300-1600) to geographical areas (e.g. Korea or the Middle East) to artistic media (e.g. ceramics or glass).
One of the Things You Do while in London is go to a musical (although I’ve extracted a semi-promise from Tony that next time it will be a Shakespeare play). We picked Wicked. And Tony has been crushing on the Dutch actress who played Elphaba ever since. I liked it even more than I thought I would, and it’s been so highly recommended to me by so many people that I was expecting to like it a lot. It was a spectacular piece of theatre. I loved the opulent costumes and the steampunk feel of the sets.
So far, London is spectacular. At least what I’ve seen of it, which is mostly the inside of the British Museum. Because let’s face it, we all know which person I am here:
It is entirely possible that I went straight there from the airport (having arrived at Heathrow shortly after eight in the morning), and stayed until I was literally shooed out at closing time. I also had to replace my audio guide when the battery died after several hours in the museum. So I guess I’ve confirmed my family’s suspicions on every vacation we take that I would just stay in that museum indefinitely if they didn’t drag me out.
If you look at a map of the Netherlands (which I should do more often, since I know many of its cities only as final destinations for the trains I take), you see that Maastricht sits in what Wikipedia refers to as an “eccentric location” on a little extra tail that dips down between Belgium and Germany. Of course, as always, there are a variety of strategic historical and military reasons for this, which you can read about in Alexandre Dumas novels and various other places. In more modern times, it was chosen as the location for the 1992 Treaty of Maastricht, establishing the European Union, which I hope we can all agree to go ahead and continue to keep intact. Please.