I Should be in Paris Right Now

I should be in Paris right now sipping champagne, strolling the Rues and Avenues, enjoying croissants and crepes, cheese and baguette, gazing at Monet, Renoir and Degas, and exploring the most beautiful city in the world with my betrothed. Like so many others I know, another trip has been canceled. Instead of moaning and groaning (too much), I am taking to my refuge – writing. I’ve never blogged about Paris, so perhaps this is the perfect time.

There is no city on earth that has what Paris has: a mixture of elegance and art, of beauty and soul, sights to take your breath away, or melt your heart. Boulevards lining the Seine to walk and gaze and wonder how an architect named Hausmann could make all that beauty in buildings. Have you ever thought about how much you might love to look at buildings? There’s the Parisian café. It’s perfect. You sit, you savor, you drink, you ponder and watch the French and tourists go by. The food is undeniably delicious: the croissant, the crepe, the tarts, the champagne. I could devote a whole 5 pages to cheese alone. The frites, the potato of the French – they are magnifique. The shopping, it’s too much to bear, but I try every time. So many museums, so many sights, so many world-renowned places to see, and never enough time, that is Paris. I haven’t even mentioned the romance.

I was 28 when I first went to Paris. I was very late getting there, I know. My husband and I had just settled into our first expat life in The Hague and our first excursion, just four hours away on the fast train, was to the grandest city of lights. It was early spring and we were young, just starting our married life together. He was concerned I might not like Paris at that time of year and would throw out little statements like “The French can seem rude, but try not to pay too much attention to that,” and “It’s a little smelly and dirty in some of the tourist places, we can skip those.” My expectations were getting lower and lower as the train crept closer and closer to Gare du Nord.

It was 1996 and there were no iPhones so that trip was armed with ACCESS Paris, a handy hand-held map and the love and anticipation of exploration. We waited in lines for paper tickets for trains, the Metro and museums. We wandered and enjoyed getting lost on the most charming streets stopping every few feet to whip out the Nikon camera and capture it. I was usually left behind as my husband went ahead, lacking the patience to wait again and again for me to keep capturing my first glimpses into Parisian life, and who can blame him? He’d already explored Paris years ago on his study-abroad semester in London.

We stayed at an affordable, yet super charming bed and breakfast recommended by our new expat friends, Chris and Rachel, called L’Ermitage (which means hideaway) in the 18th arrondissement of Montmartre. After exiting the metro at Lamarck-Caulaincourt, we lugged our oversized suitcases, unseasoned over-packed American expat travelers that we were, all the way up Rue Lamarck to number 24, a 15-minute hike. Our room was adorable and had a little patio with a fountain full of fish. It was early morning when we arrived and our host, Marie, brought us my first introduction to food in Paris. The simple, yet positively delicious taste of authentic fresh warm croissants, café crème and orange juice left an indelible impression. I can still taste and smell them.

The village of Montmartre (mount of martyrs), situated way up high in Paris, is a diverse area full of art, beauty and atmosphere. It’s the home of Amelie, Moulin Rouge and it’s famous windmill, and the imposing white basilica, Sacre Coeur. The hilly neighborhood has changed since our first trip there, but there’s no changing its heart steeped in history. The cobbled and winding streets are still there, along with the carousel and crowds. Once you make your way up to the top of the hill standing next to the white church, the view is nothing short of spectacular. Go inside the church, it’s worth the wait and price of the ticket to see the largest bell in France and the famous relic of what is said to be the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ. It has the usual “bells and whistles” of European churches and is full of the glitz, stained glass and expansive ceilings one would expect, and an even better view at the top of the dome.

Walking around the Place du Tertre, just around the corner from Sacre Coeur, you’ll find too many tourists and some starving artists displaying their art, or asking you to sit for a caricature, and quaint restaurants with seats outside. Slink around to the funky and interesting Salvador Dali Museum for a break into this Spanish artist’s surreal paintings and sculptures. I remember enjoying the quiet of this museum while admiring the strangeness of his art, so different from the Impressionists we’ve so often awed at in the mesmerizing Musee d’Orsay.

Montmartre was a perfect introduction to Paris almost 25 years ago, but it doesn’t matter where you begin to explore in this city. Every arrondissement offers its own flair and temptations. One of my favorite neighborhoods to explore is Le Marais. More trendy and funky, with outstanding shopping, Le Marais offers historic scenery, museums and restaurants fit for foodies. Walking through Paris’ oldest square, Place des Vosges, will give you a highlight into the Paris of old. Be sure to peek into the tucked away courtyards on your way to the best little cookie shop in Paris, Pierre Herme, to savor at least one marvelous macaroon. Le Marais is home to the Jewish Quarter, with a very famous and scrumptious falafel restaurant, perhaps the best in the world, L’As du Fallafel. It’s worth the wait in line to get in.

We were due to sleep smack dab in the middle of Paris in the Opera neighborhood on this canceled trip. We would have taken in an opera (whatever was playing) and walk the seemingly never-ending banks of the Seine for our anniversary. This too will have to wait till the great pause of my lifetime is over. C’est la vie! If memories are there to retain when needed, now is the time for me, and even in these, Paris never disappoints, and even exceeds expectations.

Expats, Consider Champagne For Thanksgiving 

There should always be champagne at Thanksgiving but even better is to celebrate Thanksgiving in Champagne, France. Two years ago when we were living as expats in Amsterdam we decided to take a long weekend trip in late November to celebrate our American Thanksgiving. Since we couldn’t make it all the way across the pond, we decided to meet up with friends in Champagne for a short holiday weekend.

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About an hour from Paris, (and just a few hours from the Dam), lies the famed region of Champagne. Veuve Clicquot, Piper Heidsieck, Dom Perignon, Ruinart, Moët and Chandon, Tattinger and Laurent-Perrier are all there, along with other smaller houses with excellent bubbly to taste. Off-season in late November, we found many Chateaus in the Ardennes offer special room rates at this time. We chose the beautiful and welcoming Chateau de Rilly, in Montaigne de Rilly, just 15 minutes from Reims and 20 minutes from Epernay for our base for exploration and enjoy a delicious dinner at their Michelin-star restaurant for our Thanksgiving dinner.

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While visiting the big Champagne houses may be at the top of your itinerary, also consider biking through the vineyards to explore some of the smaller ones in the region. Pick a clear day to experience a truly beautiful setting with rolling green hills and vines scattered for miles. With map in hand (or your smart phone’s GPS), you can navigate your way from one Champagne house to the next. Ask your concierge in advance to book bike rentals delivered to your hotel from Reims. You can make appointments ahead of time for a full tour of some of the caves lying below the vineyards and learn how the bubbly is produced. Don’t forget to book a table for lunch at one of the restaurants en-route to fuel up on delicious French food to keep you pedaling up and down those hills. We enjoyed the small but delicious Prise de Mousse for a two hour lunch and local bubbly.

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Exploring Champagne at this time of year affords you so much to see and do. Head into Reims to enjoy the start of the Christmas holiday season. The Christmas market officially opens in late November next to the famed Cathedral Norte-Dame (not to be confused with the one in Paris). At night the scene becomes magical with a mesmerizing music and light show against the church’s facade. You can shop, sample local food and yes, drink champagne or hot chocolate. Make sure to pop into the Cathedral to light a candle and marvel at the stained glass that glows in the late afternoon when the sun is at its highest. After a brisk skate at the outdoor rink, you can also tour the Palace of Tau next door where French monarchs were coronated.

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If shopping is your thing, it’s the perfect time to find that special gift or stocking stuffer along the walking streets as you listen to carol singers or stop for a ride on the merry-go-round. Take a break in the sun at an outdoor cafe under the heat lamps while sipping champagne or hot chocolate.

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Champagne on its own is a destination not to miss. It’s even more magical at this time of year for Americans who want to celebrate but can’t get back to the States for a short weekend. And did I mention, there’s loads of champagne!

Lost in Assigned Seating — The Repatriated Expat in Charleston

“Excuse me, pardon me. Pardon me, excuse me.” These were the phrases my husband and I heard Saturday night at the Regal Cinema in Mount Pleasant, SC as patrons climbed over seated movie-goers after realizing they were in the wrong seats. At the same time other patrons stood still mid-stairway studying their tickets as […]

via Lost in Assigned Seating — The Repatriated Expat in Charleston

Cannolis have vinegar in them? I learned this on a trip to Sicily

While visions of Sicily may conjure up a scene from The Godfather where young Michael hikes through the arid and barren hillsides of Corleone biding time to avenge a vendetta, or marry a beautiful Italian girl on a whim, the reality is this large Italian island hanging off the “boot” is so much more. At first impression while driving on the highways, (some that just end abruptly for a better way around), you may think it’s somewhat stuck in a fascinating time warp. And perhaps it is, lucky for us.

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The farther south you travel in Europe, the slower the passing of time, it seems. In Sicily you feel this everywhere. You’ll see immediate signs of modernity – the giant wind turbines scattered and turning next to olive grower’s huts that seem hundreds of years old. If you didn’t know better, you’d think you were driving through the hillsides of Ireland, with the bright beautiful lush green landscape unspoiled for miles.

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While southern Sicily is beautiful, it could really benefit from an “Adopt A Highway” program to shed a negative light on the downside of tossing large amounts of garbage on the sides of roadways. Road garbage aside, we were happy to be far enough south in Europe this time last year escaping a Siberian wind and snow ban called the “Beast from the East.”

Since we were expats living in Amsterdam, we took advantage of low airfares and our daughter’s weeklong Crocus Break and spent a week in Agrigento, Sicily. Arriving in Catania late in the dark, we wound our way in our rental car from one side of the island to the other, on highway roads with countless tunnels cut though hills and random construction alerts. One even had a stoplight leading to a few roundabouts, then an industrial park and back on the highway. At times our navigation system seemed lost as we followed the highway signs instead of the GPS’ instructions, obviously made before the new unfinished highway.

Undeterred after two hours winding and weaving along, we arrived in Agrigento and were greeted by bright lights high up in the distance shining majestically on enormous ancient temples and ruins that looked like they belonged somewhere in ancient Greece. Dating back to the 5th Century BC and built much like the Acropolis, but brown in color, sits the Valley of the Temples, an archeological Unesco World Heritage site.

 

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After a very comfortable night sleep at the Hotel Villa Athena, we were eager to see the island in the day. Our first excursion took us to a natural wonder, the Scala dei Turchi, which translates to “stairs of the Turks”. Legend says Sicily was invaded by the Turks who used these stairs to sneak in and try to take over. Very easy to find in Realmonte in quiet February, we followed signs leading us down a harrowing incline filled with giant rocks and holes to park. We enjoyed a quiet unassuming walk through little sand dunes toward the beach, and were happily surprised to find just a lone fisherman in waders standing in the warm Mediterranean Sea on one of Europe’s best beaches, according to Travelzoo. The striking contrast of white marl steps jarring out into the blue green water is a photographer’s delight. It was so peaceful I wish we had brought a picnic.

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We then set off to explore around the edge of southern Sicily and found a lovely lunch spot and the only place open at a highly rated restaurant, our first real Sicilian meal. If you are a seafood lover, you should go to Sicily. Every kind of seafood is on the menu, no matter what restaurant you go to. From mussels, clams, squid and lobster, to all kinds of fish. Sitting next to the beach on an outdoor veranda in the hot sun and smelling salt air, we ordered a sampling of pasta and seafood dishes with a nice white Italian wine. Our waiter, restaurant owner and chef, spoke hardly any English but we had no trouble ordering or enjoying very attentive service with a smile. The rest of the day was spent driving through the countryside and marveling at the sheer unspoiled beauty and bright green landscapes dotted with olive groves, vineyards and a random farmhouse here and there. IMG_E4147.JPG

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Since the Valley of the Temples is on the same property of our hotel, we awoke early the next day and purchased discount tickets and entered through the hotel’s garden to stroll through the ancient ruins. It’s small enough to be done in an hour or so and offers amazing picture ops. It’s hard not to feel that you are standing somewhere otherworldly

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While touring through southern Sicily stop in little ancient towns like seaside Sciacca boasting colorful ceramics shops. Hand painted ceramics are popular in southern Italy. Like Portugal, you’ll see ceramics everywhere. You may even see them even on stairways. Wander around off the beaten path to discover them.

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Last on our itinerary was an authentic cooking class at the home restaurant Sapori di Grigenti complete with an English translator to interpret our teacher’s Italian instruction. Here in Sicily, simplicity and traditional (think old) ways of growing ingredients makes this cuisine authentically Italian, and in Sicily, authentically Sicilian. We started with the end. In Sicily, dessert usually includes cannolis. Did you know that cannoli shells have vinegar in them? They do! Once we made the dough for the cannolis, we put it in the fridge for the next two hours and started on the rest of the menu.

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Our lunch menu included stuffed artichokes with peppered pecorino cheese, scallions and chopped artichoke stalks, then stuffed squid with chopped squid tentacles, tomatoes, breadcrumbs, basil and garlic, and for the main course homemade cavatelli pasta and sauce. Vegans would love this pasta recipe: flour, water, salt. It’s so incredibly easy. I wonder why everyone doesn’t just make homemade cavatelli.

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It’s fair to say that a trip to any part of Italy should include lots and lots of eating. I like to say tasting. It sounds less fattening. And after a week in Italy nothing tasted better than those cannolis made with vinegar. Who would have thought?

 

 

Love That Absentee Ballot

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Here in America today, deep in the South, not super deep, but deep enough, I eagerly set out to vote in the mid-term elections. As a repatriated expat I no longer have to mail in my absentee ballot from Amsterdam. With my shiny new South Carolina driver’s license and voter registration card in hand, I arrived bright and early at 7 am when the polls opened at my local elementary school. I was sure I would be in and out in 15 minutes. Silly me.

Having voted for years up North, (in just 15 minutes), I was expecting signs telling me where to park, where to enter – basically where to vote. I thought I’d see campaigners with signs standing 100 feet back waving as I pulled in. Not a one. I parked in front of the school near another newbie South Carolina voter and we searched together for the right entrance. At the third door we tried to enter at the front of the school someone came to the door to tell us we had to enter around the back. I asked why there were no signs directing people where to enter. She had no idea.

At 7:10 am when I arrived at the back entrance, and there were still no signs directing anyone anywhere, I followed people who clearly knew where they were going. And then I did see a sign: “No concealed weapons allowed.

I made my way inside to the back of a snake-like line around a corner of 200 deep in a dark hallway waiting to vote. An hour and 15 minutes later I finally checked in and cast my electronic vote on one of only eight stands with an iPad-like screen hoping no one was hacking my choices. I left happy to have done my civic duty and to be out of that ridiculously long line. On the way out passing folks coming in, the line being twice as long as when I entered, I was surprised to hear people say the line was shorter than the 2016 Presidential election.

Man I miss those speedy hacker- free paper ballots back in MA. Next time, I’m voting early or maybe I’ll be traveling on Election Day and need an absentee ballot once again.

 

 

 

 

 

Tot Ziens Corner Bakery!

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I’ve saved this particular post for my last week in town before repatriating back to the USA. It’s selfish really, why I haven’t posted earlier to rave on and on about my favorite cafe in the Dam. I didn’t want to make it even harder to get a table on this extremely popular corner at the end of my street. We ate here on our first day in Amsterdam and have become regulars ever since. 

Peek inside the windows as you walk by the corner of Johannes Vermeerstraat and Frans van Mierisstraat to see the brightly decorated cakes, enormous apple tarts and mouthwatering brownies and frosted donuts to get a glimpse into the experience that is The Corner Bakery. Once you’re seated inside or out, you’ll soon realize it’s a small and friendly slice of heaven. You get over sitting packed tightly next to other eager and hungry patrons pretty quickly once your cafe latte arrives.

Whether its breakfast or lunch you’re here for, you can’t help but marvel at plates passing by while you wait for your order since everything on the menu looks and tastes divine. Portions are large and the culinary staff presents each dish whimsically on your plate. My favorite is the avocado toastie with feta and tomatoes. I didn’t even know I loved these till I came here. I’ve tried this item elsewhere and none come close in comparison to The Corner Bakery’s.

img_4533The Corner Bakery is the kind of place you think about after eating there. And you keep thinking about it until you find yourself waiting in line for a table with all the other eager eaters once again. You’ll most likely find yourself taking pics of your plate or your milkshake topped with a colorful donut, whipped cream, rainbow sprinkles and some fruit loops to remind you of the experience.

Of all the eateries in the Dam I’ve found and enjoyed, The Corner Bakery will be the one I miss the most. Everyone we’ve taken here while visiting has been exceedingly impressed as well. I know I’ll be thinking about this place long after my feet hit US soil and long after I find new favorites in the new town I’m moving to.  

Tot Ziens Corner Bakery! Till I visit you again.

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May the 4th Be With You!

It’s Independence Day today in America and I’m celebrating in a country that once owned New York City for two short years. New Amsterdam (Manhattan) was purchased in 1624 for the amount of $24 by the Dutch West India Company. In 1626 the English fought and won the rights to the land and, finally, after the American Revolution, it became our country’s capital.

Ironically, this same week Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte met with our US President in my nation’s capital. I have to say, Rutte outshined in orange representation. Did I mention the Dutch were once ruled by the House of Orange and it’s the national color here? News outlets jumped on the story where PM Rutte boldly interrupted one of the President’s “very very” sentences with a remark of just plain “No.”  I admit, I have a love-hate relationship with the Dutch’s blunt, oftentimes rude comments, as do many of my compatriots who live here, but I didn’t mind one bit watching Rutte’s response. The Dutch may be rubbing off on me.

The world already has the Dutch to thank for so many ingenious inventions like the CD, the DVD, wifi, Bluetooth, the telescope, the microscope, donuts and, most notably, Tony’s Chocolonely. I wonder what my home country would be like if it stayed in the hands of the Dutch. Would there already be dykes surrounding the Gulf protecting our vulnerable flood zones? Would there be bike lanes in every major city encouraging healthier modes of transport? Agriculture would surely be safe in the hands of one of the smallest countries whose agriculture production could feed the world. The US could learn a thing or two from the Dutch.

While I look for some leftover sparklers from New Year’s Eve here, a celebration of such magnitude that could outdo any American firework display, I feel a sense of longing for home. These feelings are coming just in time as my family prepares to repatriate back to the land of the free and the home of the brave next week. 

May the 4th be with you!

 

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Photo by Public Domain Pictures on Pexels.com

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Time Flies When You’re Having Fun

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Remember when you toured apartments in Amsterdam hoping to find the perfect one to live as an expat? There may have been too many stairs but a fantastic rooftop. Or one that wouldn’t fit all your furniture with a gorgeous garden? Or one that had brand new everything in a faraway neighborhood? As I open the door to let the realtors and potential renters in to peruse where we’ve been living for the past two years, I’m brought back to when we were hopeful and eager and ready for our new expat adventure.

Some new family will be occupying this place we’ve called home. Will they love the neighborhood as much as we did? Will they take care and admire the parakeets living in the garden tree? What will they think of the Heineken wagon and clydedales that clop up this street? Whatever lucky family moves in, I have no doubt they will fall in love with Amsterdam.

 

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They will, like we did, get used to the sounds of the tram bells, bike bells, bike locks jingling, wheelies being pulled by the front windows, the smell of weed here and there, and the frighteningly loud Monday air raid siren at noon. I wonder if they will find the girl who sells flowers up around the corner who agreed to only speak Dutch to me so I could practice. Or come to love the delicious patisserie I ordered all our birthday cakes from. How many times will they sit at Cafe Loetje for a beer and bitterballen entertaining visitors? It’s funny what happens when you’re getting ready to leave. You start thinking about your arrival.

The countdown’s begun for us. We’re busy checking off our to-do lists for our move back to the States. It’s true what they say, “time flies when you’re having fun.” When we board that plane at Schipol and my passport is stamped for the last time as a resident going through immigration, our next adventure will begin and Amsterdam will then become that beloved city we once called home. Till then, I’ll keep opening the door, my dogs will bark like crazy and I will watch strangers walk through this rented apartment. And I will feel grateful.

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Waterclogged

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I may sound like a broken record, but it’s raining again in Amsterdam. Does one ever get used to the rain here? While the Dutchies simply face another rainy day as par for the course, I’m still hoping, in my last few weeks here, for a hole in one. Can you imagine Amsterdam with full sun everyday? I dare say it might then be the absolute perfect place to live.

Living in Amsterdam has given me a new appreciation for good weather. Before May, that lovely month with record breaking heat and sun, my iPhone morning greeting was “Good morning Cathy. Stay dry today in Amsterdam. Rain is in the forecast.” Shocker.

You know those friends you have from California who actually complain about constant good weather? That’s right, they actually complain about sunshine on a daily basis and wearing t-shirts and shorts and going to the beach all year long. I secretly want them to live here for a really long time so they’ll realize not to say things like that to those who actually do live in The Netherlands. Believe me the grass may actually be greener here, since there is definitely not a water shortage, but my envy of those complaining may possibly be brighter than that Dutch grass.

This past May was the hottest on record in Amsterdam. The sun was generous. If you had visitors during then you may have found yourself saying, “You are so lucky. The weather isn’t usually like this,” as I did. And still people were complaining about the heat. I had to resist the urge to yell at them “HELLO! It’s going to rain sometime very soon, probably for a week straight. Enjoy this while it lasts.”

And here we are. The rain is back again. The old normal. Bring back that sun and heat I say. I want to be looking for shade. Where’s my bike seat cover? Which of my three raincoats should I wear? Is it side blowing rain or just constant drizzle?

I wonder when I move back to the US to a very hot southern state if I will be wishing for a rainy day. Naaahhh

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ticket to Ride

 

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I wouldn’t trade this roller coaster ride for anything, except maybe another one. I’m at the end of my third expat life. The first was twenty some years ago when my husband and I moved to The Hague for work. We signed an expat contract for two years, which turned into three. I remember not wanting to buy that ticket and hop on that ride. I quit a dream job I loved, packed up our possessions for storage, sold my beloved Saab 900 and said teary goodbyes to loved ones. Back then snail mail was the norm, there was no Skype, FaceTime or iPhones and international travel plans were made through a travel agent with paper tickets. THAT move was a BIG deal.

I remember the eight hour overnight flight in February, 1996, landing at Schipol at 9 am on a Sunday. As the plane touched Dutch ground we were greeted by total darkness and rain. I looked at my husband and said. “I’m not sure this was a good idea.” The shock of moving and assimilating to a country this far north in winter took some getting used to. I’ll admit it, I cried a lot. On the flip side, at least everyone spoke English and we could be in Paris by fast train in less than four hours. We worked really long hours, made amazing new friends, tried to learn Dutch and traveled a lot. The US dollar was worth twice the Dutch guilder. Life was pretty good, so we had a baby to add even more excitement to the ride. When our son was 6 months old we moved to Copenhagen for our second expat life in Denmark that lasted a few more years before repatriating back to the US.

Fast forward 16 years later to Boston, enjoying another set of amazing friends and fully ingrained in American life, we jumped at the chance to hop back on that rollercoaster again. We left our Dutch baby, then 19 years old, at college in the States and embarked on our third expat life in Amsterdam, this time with a teenage daughter and two dogs in tow.

Our latest ride has been much less bumpy knowing what to expect. Armed with a little Dutch and smartphones enabling us to frequently keep in touch with family and friends, we eagerly bought that ticket for another stint in The Netherlands. Amsterdam is one of the easiest cities to live in for Americans. Almost everyone speaks fluent English, there’s a large international expat community and organizations to join to make friends, integrate and have a social life.

Perhaps one of the greatest things about this ride is the friends you make while riding. Expats seem to attract other expats because no one understands better what you’re going through. They empathize. They eagerly offer advice, point you in the right direction and include you. Every expat needs friends in the here and now and it’s easier to widen that friendship circle. Expat friendships seem to evolve much quicker.

But (and I never like to start a sentence with but), here is the downside. The roller coaster, at times, starts twisting and jolting you around and you feel the need to get off. You’ll feel a pain of separation in ways you didn’t see coming, whether it be from this expat life, or the life you left back in your home country. After getting through the initial mix of excitement and culture shock, bureaucratic red tape of the Expat Center or Gemeente registration, obtaining your international driver’s license, or getting your kids (luckily) into the international school of your choice, you think you can relax. But (again with the but), something will go wrong. Perhaps it’s your cable, heating system, an infestation of mice, or your basement floods. Or you’re told by a Dutchie what you’re seeking which seems very reasonable is “not possible.” Or maybe it’s something back in your home country – your renters are breaking their lease or you’re missing a reunion.

And, then, just when you finally have a group of friends and feel settled, spoiler alert…..if you haven’t been through this already, you should be aware, chances are, as an expat, you will experience saying goodbye to an expat friend or two or three. It will crush you, sadden you and leave you feeling lonely.

It’s a true emotional roller coaster ride, this expat life. You’ve eagerly bought that ticket, ran to get a seat and suddenly the car you’re in is dipping too fast. It’s a struggle to stay on. You need to grab on to someone or something to get through it. Eventually, though, after those tough dips, the ride will start to climb back up allowing you to let go, raise your hands in the air and enjoy the ride.

 

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This time around, in our middle age, we’ve played host to so many family and friends now quite able to afford the ticket across the pond. We’ve enjoyed the benefits of Apple TV (no more choosing between ancient reruns of Baywatch, Cheers and the Bold and the Beautiful). Eating healthier grown, tastier and more affordable foods has been a serious plus. And let’s not forget the flowers. There is nothing like Dutch flowers. Another notable perk has been the ease of booking flights in minutes for travel throughout Europe for less than what it would cost to fill a gas tank (3.80 euros per gallon) to destinations far and wide. How cool it is to be in a different country in just a couple hours? And most notably, for us, has been having our older kids experience all this too.

So many folks (from the US) have asked me if I was afraid while living here because of terrorist attacks. The reality is Amsterdam is one of the safest countries in Europe, and the world. And certainly it’s much safer than the US. There are no guns here. I feel much more comfortable letting my teenage daughter take public transport and walk the city here than I ever would back in the US. And that is something we will all miss greatly. While my anxiety and stress levels are at an all time high, preparing to repatriate back to what used to be a highly respected first world country, wondering and fretting that my loved ones could be shot with an assault rifle anywhere, with an unstable, ignorant passible dictator at the helm, I try to focus on the positive.

We’re going back to where our closest friends and family are. I will no longer have to pack my own groceries at the store, and my dryer will dry all my towels and clothes on the first go around. I will be able to understand conversations going on around me and announcements in public places easily without waiting for my brain to translate and there will be a lot less rain where we’re headed. I need more time to find more positives.

For expats, no matter how long your ticket to ride, you’ll no doubt look back at this life in Amsterdam and realize you’re not the same person as when you arrived. Your eyes will have been opened to what it means to feel different. You will have experienced a liberal, tolerant and accepting culture, fresher and healthier food, be introduced to or tackled a new language, embraced different customs (give me three kisses please) and holidays (Kings Day, Sinterklaas and St. Martin’s Day) and made friends from different walks of life you might never have had the chance to know if not for this ride. Perhaps you had a stay in a hospital with universal health care and left without having to pay a bill. Or gave birth with a midwife and were treated like a person instead of a patient. You will undoubtedly have traveled – near or far throughout Europe, where life is about living and not working. Whatever your unique and personal experience here in Amsterdam, when it’s time to go, you will no doubt appreciate the sun more (unless you are moving to Syracuse, NY) and leave a little bit wiser to the world.

 

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Our ride is slowing down and coming to an end. I know before we get off we have to say goodbye to wonderful friends we’ve made and all that living in Amsterdam and Europe has given us. It won’t be easy, because truthfully we all want to stay. In the back of my mind somewhere is the hope that there could be a fourth expat life for me so I will save the used ticket from this ride. I will treasure it. I will bring it out now and then and remember. And most of all, I will be grateful.