Dutch life is a beach…

The Herring Truck

The Herring Truck

Goodbye, herring!

Goodbye, herring!

We are settling in.  Like so much sand sliding down a 4 year old’s back and directly into her buttcrack.  The beach is our saving grace thus far.  We’ve gone 3 of the 6 days since arriving in Holland.  Why?  Because bus and train fare is cheap and beach access is free.  On the contrary, the zoo, aquarium, etc. are all mighty costly.  Oh, and we just moved from Kansas.  So, there’s not much in beach time there.  Nor was there in our previous residence, near Syracuse (NY).  Not to mention, the tram/bus/train riding is still a wildly exciting adventure to the kids (ok, we adults think it’s pretty cool too).  In fact, I think tomorrow we should just spend the afternoon riding trams around the city.  Honestly, it’s the best entertainment value for your Euro.  And isn’t it just as good to ride by the Van Gogh museum as it is to stop, wait in line, pay, and drag whiney children through it?  I knew you’d agree.

I’m exhausted.  And my enthusiasm for blogging is fading.  So I’m gonna buzzfeed this out tonight.  And why are my children still awake?  It’s past 10pm.  And it’s still light outside.  How far North are we?  Are we in the Arctic Circle or something?  And where is Bumbles the Pillow Pet?  And who took the pillowcases off of every pillow in the house?  And why does Gwen insist on using a full set of silverware at every meal when only a spoon is needed?  And who left a pile of raisins, meticulously picked out of a bowl of granola, on the table?  And, most importantly, where is my glass of wine?

List 1: Things we are learning about Dutch life

  1. When crossing a street, one must cross 6 different paths – bike (x2), auto (x2) and tram (x2).  We actually already knew this from many previous stays in Holland and have communicated this with the utmost seriousness to the Zipplettes.  However, if they are chasing a pigeon or see an ice cream (ijs) stand across the street, they must be physically restrained.  Every damn time.  For every path.  Every damn, damn, damn, damn, damn, damn time.
  2. Dutch kids often swim naked.  At the beach, at the public pool, whatevs.  And not just  the baby/toddler crowd, but kids up to 6ish.  And they are all blond-haired, blue-eyed beauties.  It’s a bit off-putting and creepy, in a vaguely horror film kind of way.  Imagine a swarm of naked blond kindergarteners running toward you on a beach.  It’s weird.  And then you realize the ice cream truck is behind you.  Now it’s slightly less weird.  At one point, a 2ish year old nudey boy came wandering our way to play with some sand toys.  The girls just sat their stunned, looking at his tiny dangler.  (In a brilliant moment of self-contradition, I must admit he was dark skinned and had an Afro as large as any 70’s NBA star).  He was young enough, and somehow it is more ok for boys to be naked in my mind.  Especially with the sand.  Naked girl parts and sand is just wrong.
  3. Ever try eating herring?  Ever try eating herring from a food truck on the beach?  Then you must not be Dutch.  Husband loves this stuff.  I wish I could be so cool, but I’m repulsed.  There are not enough onions in the world to make it ok to my palette.  The highlight of one beach day was when the herring truck broke down.  The entire beach bumming community rose up from their sandy towels to help the driver.  People really do come together in times of distress.  Then, the truck drove off, literally, into the sunset along the beach.  Cue the orchestra.
  4. This post has been interrupted by the cat escaping out the back door.  We had to calmly herd her back toward the house and lure her in with the sound of opening a food can (husband and I, the kids are asleep now thank the good lord and the makers of Benadryl).  We did not pay hundreds of $$$, take her to umpteen vet appointments to get her “pet passport” and fly her 26+ hours to have her run off 5 days later.  Oh hell no.  Not up in here!
  5. Douche is the word for shower/wash.  I’m certain that’s true in more languages in Dutch.  It’s everywhere here and it will never cease to make me giggle.  Don’t forget to douche your hands after using the “toilet” (or water closet, if you’re a British prick).  Honey, don’t forget to pick up some douche at the store today.  But don’t be a Dutch Douche, though.  They’re everywhere too.  You can spot them by their tapered, capri jeans and Air Jordans.
  6. Speaking of douche .. . while public transport is amazeballs here (honestly, I don’t think I will ever tire from riding trams), the hygiene aspect with small children is troubling.  And Addy is a thumbsucker.  Is there anything more disgusting than watching your daughter pop her thumb into her mouth after riding a bus, holding the railing down the escalator at the train station and pushing the buttons on the tram door?  No, there is not.  And there is not enough “sandsitizer” (Gwen’s combo word for hand sanitizer) in the world to make this ok.





Our trash pickup is cooler than yours and other Dutch discoveries

Outside of our house, which is in a relatively new development of rowhouse type structures next to a high school, occurs

Dutch trash pickup

Dutch trash pickup

Grocery store special!

Grocery store special!

Gwen in the wild of Vondelpark

Gwen in the wild of Vondelpark

the coolest trash pickup. There are two big metal boxes near the curb, one marked for paper recycling and the other garbage. These boxes serve the entire complex of maybe 20 houses. It seems like everyday, a big truck comes by and lifts the boxes up out of the ground, revealing that they are just the top of a large tank holding trash. And then it gets dumped into the truck. (see photo) It’s the kind of thing that gets children excited to see and I can only imagine how my 3 y/o nephew, Jasper, would freak out about these trash “up trucks.”

So, progress is happening here. In baby steps. I made another trip to the grocery store, this time decreasing the level of awkwardness. There is something about getting through the grocery store without revealing foreigness. It’s kind of a litmus test I use. Day 1 – disasterous. Day 2 – much improved. First, I went through an arduous process of getting a new loyalty card. I had to sign us up (hubs and I) through the Albert Heijn website. Alber Heijn is the signature grocery store of the Netherlands. The familiar blue “ah” bags are probably the most common site in this whole damn country. Honestly, it’s one of my great annoyances that people think about Amsterdam and immediately conjure images of wild Red Light District partying and coffee shops with pot smoke billowing heavenward. I’ve spent a lot of time in this country (probably 10 months total over the past 11 years) and this typical view of Amsterdam is like saying that New York City is completely defined by Times Square. The average Dutchie has little to do with it and the Red Light District area (along the Damrak) is so tourist-ified it’s like the Disneyafication of the Las Vegas strip. What was once so edgy with sex and drugs is now a neon playground of cheap souvenirs and overpriced Heinekens.

But I digress. So, I navigated the Dutch website (who needs Rosetta Stone when we have Google Translate?) and activated our cards. They really are important as most everything can be bought cheaper on the card. Look for the “korting” stickers, which indicate a discount or sale. I really can’t explain what makes me so anxious about the grocery store, but there are generally 2 elements. First, finding what I want. I really stink at the Dutch language. Honestly, it is a puzzle to me. Husband is convinced that the Dutch are actually telepathic and they just make up grunting sounds to feign verbal communication and plot world domination via bicycles and pannekeuken (pancakes). To date, I have found no evidence to disprove this theory. So reading labels is a big challenge. To further complicate things, I try very hard to find familiar foods for the girls to get them comfortable here. I’m not sure why because they generally reject my elaborate attempts at cooking (at home and abroad0 and just eat spoonfuls of peanut butter straight from the jar. Nonetheless, I keep trying. You know, because feeding your offspring seems like the motherly thing to do. Anyway, all the usual bullshit is there, but with different labels and in smaller portion sizes (it’s true, Super-Sized America). So I located some eggs, milk, bread, apples, store brand Nutella, etc. BTW – eggs are marked in some kind of strange price per kg or something. It appears as though a dozen eggs are 13 euro, but really they are only 1,45 or so (yeah, they use commas). I have no idea what kind of metric and monetary conversion voodoo this shit is and I’m too tired to try and understand. Brown eggs – check. Oh, and there is something here called “filet Americain.” It’s basically a steak tartar with the option for spices and onions, etc. You can by different varieties in pre-packaged plastic containers just about everywhere. So weird, because isn’t raw burger like illegal or something at home? Anyway, the American adults in this house are big fans and we practically live off the stuff upon firs arrival (until the novelty wears off). And so forth and so on finding “normal” groceries is one of those daily challenges. Just remember, kip = chicken. Which husband thinks is onomatopoeia.

But the most distressing part of the trip is definitely the check out. It is at this point that I am most likely to be exposed. First, I pay by cash and this poses issues with finding correct change, etc. Keep in mind that coins go up to 2 euro, so that’s actually a lot of cash compared to a quarter in the U.S. We can discuss monetary issues; why American credit cards don’t have pins and how this is a disastrous problem, and the ridiculous Dutch chipknip, at another time. You might think the payment is the hardest part. But you would be wrong. The real challenge is bagging the groceries. If you’ve ever shopped at an Aldi, you may understand a bit. They don’t bag groceries for you here. It’s up to you. Also, you bring your own bags. They have this divider thing running the long way down the counter after the checkout scanner (you know, where the groceries slide down toward the bagger kid back home). This system allows a maximum of 2 grocery bagging shoppers collecting their goods before inter-grocery shopper mingling occurs. How do I explain this? So the lady in front of me is bagging her shit while my stuff is getting scanned and sliding down the counter on the other side of the divider. I fumble through payment and forget the phrase to ask for a receipt. Done. The lady ahead of me is finishing up and calmly taking her bags away to go on with her merry Dutch life without a second thought. Meanwhile, I head to my bagging station with sweaty palms and an increased heart rate. There is a 20-something guy behind me buying like 3 items. So he has paid and bagged his crap before I get much past untangling the damn fabric bags I had stuffed in my backpack (I use a backpack because I now have to haul these groceries on foot back to the house, about a 10 minute walk away. Although anyone in Holland will tell you it’s a 5 minute walk. Everything is a 5 minute walk away in this country. They are lying. Don’t believe them!). So the woman 2 shoppers behind me is now getting her stuff scanned. The checkout lady didn’t bother touching the divider because Speedy von Young Guy was in and out quicker than a Kardashian marriage. So, I’m stuffing bags. Vaguely trying not to crush the freshly baked bread and keeping in mind I bought eggs, but mostly just trying to git ‘er done before this lady pays and someone else’s groceries begin slipping down my side of the Great Divider. On my first trip to this store, I failed miserably after an epic battle with a cloth bag caught in a zipper pocket of the backpack. This time, I make it! I drop the organic stroopwafels (at delicious Dutch treat for the kiddos) in just before the next shopper’s box of hagelslag (look it up, it’s wildly popular here) comes sliding my way. I coolly walk away out into the sunny street.

It’s a pretty big victory, until about 10 seconds into my walk home when I realize I had put the heavy stuff in the fabric bag as opposed to the backpack. ‘Tis much more comfortable to bare the burden of weighty groceries on one’s back than hanging from an arm. So the journey homeward was painful, switching the bag back and forth from one sore and weak arm to another. It probably took more like 12 minutes.

So, anyway. That’s all the news I have the energy to share right now. We wore the kids out with a shopping trip, playing in water fountain/wading pool things and a nice stroll through Vondelpark (it’s like Amsterdam’s version of Central Park). Side note- Vondelpark is the only place in the world (I believe) where you can legally smoke pot and have sex. I know I’m contributing to the annoyingly badboy rep of this city, but it’s true and interesting. Personally, I love this park because it’s filled with people lounging on blankets, street vendors and musicians, and mostly young lovers or groups of friends picnicking with cheese platters and bottles of wine/Heineken. The atmosphere is part summer picnic, part college music festival campout. But I do worry about the kids getting a contact high. Alright, I have to stop. I’m becoming part of the problem of bad Amsterdam assumptions now.

Oh, and the luggage finally arrived.  And the kiddos ate ice cream (ijs).  And remember that news over here is much more graphic, expect images of dead bodies from Israel, etc.  Better go feed those kids now. Tot Ziens.

Getting there is half the fun

Would you like to hear the tale of our 26+ hour adventure through 4 aiprorts/countries with 2 kids and a cat? Well, hold on to your hats…

Here’s the recount- or, as Addy is calling her newest writing project, Pipsqueak’s Adventures in Holland (our cat). First, it was a funny scene at the airport when the lady at the counter saw us and said ‘oh. The Zipp family!’ Apparently checking 9 bags and bringing a cat is noteworthy. Then there were teary, teary goodbyes. I can’t go into the details of it now. Too soon. Wheels up, no more decisions to be made and nothing but the sound of my own sadness and pent up anxiety over this major life decision and the day’s travels. Cue eruption of tears, bordering on ugly crying. Sideways, take-off hugs from hubby and kids.

Overnight flight – kids watched movie, fell asleep like champions. They sprawled out on the entire row, leaving no room for parents. (As was our intention). No parental sleep obtained. Cat slept.

The cat and girls did AWESOME all the way to Coppenhagen (12 hours into journey). The 6 hour layover and delayed flight pushed our limits and then broke through them like a 4 year old ripping open (and spilling) the last bag of Goldfish. Luckily, husband is able to handle my occasional major bitchiness. It was pretty severe. Although, I was right. Seriously. We finally secured food, water and play space. Gwen, who was our Director of Kitten Petting Services, managed to not instigate an international incident by letting the cat loose in a Scandanavian country (but honestly Denmark, you’re not as Scandanavian as the dangling countries on the other side of the water.) Addy, our Family Historian and Regional Manager of Kitten Support Services, excelled at fending off rambunctious-looking Norwegian brothers (approximately 3 & 5) from harassing the cat in a bag. And then she supervised the Kitten Exercising Programme. Walking a cat on a leash in a Danish airport is strangely calming to 7 year olds.

‘Twas a brief moment of contentment and calm. But then we were still there. Waiting and waiting. We could feel the loose grip on sanity slipping. We were all hot, mildly sweaty and stinky, foggy from no/weird sleep. And the children’s play area was devolving from a sanctuary of free movement to a romper room of annoying, small humans speaking gutteral-sounding languages and trying to touch our cat. Suddenly we had to get out. Bear in mind that we were toting 3 roller carry-on bags, a cat carrier, 2 adult backpacks, 2 kid packpacks (long ago abandoned by the children they were designed to be carried by) and a hodgepodge of stuffies, dolls and blankies. And why, oh why, do these children insist on taking their shoes off at every place we stand still for more than 5 minutes? I have spent more time looking for stray flip-flops in foreign countries than at any major monument or important tourist destination. Anyway, the lag time between deciding we HAD to go and the actual going was significant. And what the hell kind of people make a play area on the second floor of an airport but have no elevator or escalator nearby? “Great” Danes, my ass. Luckily, Daddy has “muscles like tanks” and we only held up a half-dozen or so travelers schlopping our wares down the narrow staircase.

We made our way to the Gate with all the grace and coordination of a 6th grade orchestra. Next thing I knew the kids were sprawled out asleep and I startled myself awake with my own snoring. Attractive for sure. Boarded flight with relative ease, quick 2 hour journey, off board to final destination – Amsterdam.

At this point, I must include some broader context. Yesterday was a National Day of Mourning in the Netherlands in honor of more than 200 Dutch victims in the MH17 flight shot down over the eastern Ukraine. I’ve flown into Schipol airport probably 10 times before and it has never felt like this. We arrived shortly after a national moment of silence that occurred as the victims’ bodies arrived at another airport to the south of us. The bodies were being driven toward Amsterdam in a caravan with Dutch people lined up along the route, much like fans line the streets for the Tour de France. But this was a terribly solemn affair. There is a heavy cloud over this country and everywhere we looked reminders, from notices on the airport screens about the Day of Mourning to the live tv coverage of the caravan, of the tragedy. We feel it deeply on behalf of our new home country.

Back to a happier tale. Like how all 9 of our checked bags, plus the car seats, were lost. So, we waited and waited and filed a claim with baggage services. As you can imagine, the kids were beyond melting point. I got in an argument via Skype phone call with the taxi driver that was arranged to pick us up. We got a different taxi and arrived at the furnished house rented for us by the University. The owner greeted us and was very kind, preparing snacks for the kids and pouring us glasses of wine. He explained details about the house and gave instructions I blurrily recall. Finally, he intuited that we were burnt out and he left, promising to check back in on Monday to make sure we were ok. We have this house for 6 weeks.

Kids bathed and mommy to the grocery store for dinner (for first awkward consumer experience – pangs of panic as my grocery loyalty card, which I have so proudly kept and located, has apparently expired. Can’t I just get this win?). Then adults showered, we ate, and all fell asleep watching Free Willy. Back up clothes for kids were in carryons, but there was nothing clean left for adults. So (shhhh) we borrowed shorts from the owner’s closet. Could anything make me feel more awkward then wearing a strange man’s cargo shorts right now? We slept hard, but the kids woke up around 1:45am. I fended them off for awhile but we were eating eggs at the kitchen table by 2:30. Hubby and I are taking shifts and as I write this the girls are drifting in and out of consciousness watching The Simpsons (they reluctantly watched some Dutch cartoons I forced on them, but eventually they wore me down). I’m signing off for now. I figured out the cappuccino machine here. Time for Round II. Tot Ziens.