Toronto summer

Hello! I’m back in The Hague and back to blogging after a 3+ week (unintended!) break, including a visit from my sister and her lovely family, and then a two week trip to Toronto.
This summer has been amazing. I’ve had so many visitors in my neck of the woods, and have just had the most wonderful time in Toronto (with a bonus trip to Ottawa to see my extended family!).

This blog is supposed to be about my life here in the Netherlands, but I just can’t resist sharing a glimpse of my time back home!

We were extremely lucky to have the best weather the city’s had all summer, and enjoyed it as much as we could.
There was a trip to the Scarborough Bluffs …

toronto, scarborough bluffs

toronto, scarborough bluffs

… and several trips to the Toronto islands, including Ward’s Island and – of course – Centre Island for a morning of fun with all four nieces & nephews! My heart basically exploded from all the cuteness.

toronto, centreville

A quiet morning on Centre Island before the opening of Centreville.

toronto, islands

Beautiful view from the lovely & peaceful Ward’s Island

We also spent the day at the CNE and the evening at a Blue Jays (baseball) game – which I found surprisingly fun in spite of my general feelings towards sports.

During our weekend trip to Ottawa, we took Pieter to check out the parliament. The city is beautiful but – more importantly – it was amazing to finally be able to introduce Pieter to a lot of my French Canadian family. There was tons of delicious food and wine and lots of laughs! The best part: Pieter fit right in. He even got to experience a true family road trip both directions – whether or not that’s a positive for him is debatable!

The parliament library

The parliament library

parliament, ottawa, canada

Of course, food was a dominant theme throughout my time back home.

One evening, my brother and sister-in-law took us out to Bloor & Ossington for customized, made-on-the-spot ice cream sandwiches at Bakerbots. One word: YES. If you’re in Toronto, you need to make it out there. My ice cream sandwich – cinnamon toast crunch ice cream between one oatmeal and one ginger cookie – was phenomenal. Writing about it now is making me a bit sad that I didn’t go back before I left!

toronto, baker bots

toronto, bakerbots

Another night, Evelyne took me out for delicious Pho at The Golden Turtle at Argyle & Ossington (two wins at Ossington!) and then across the street to Venezia Bakery for mind-blowingly good Portuguese custard pies. Oh. Man. They were insanely good. On the car ride home, we sang ‘custard piiiiie – custard piiiiie!’ in mournful tones, lamenting the quick devouring of such tasty treats … before I quickly dug into the box Evelyne had so sweetly purchased for our parents.

toronto, pho

toronto, venezia bakery

Sweet mouthfuls of heaven …

It was so good to see all of my friends so shortly after my last visit. I was also extremely lucky to be able to celebrate my 25th birthday with my entire immediate family and all significant others! It was the first time ever that we were all in the same room: all four kids, all boyfriends/spouses, all siblings, and both of my parents. It was also the first time since 2011 that I was home for my birthday. What a great feeling!

To celebrate, my mom took me out to see Wicked at the Ed Mirvish theatre. From the moment the curtains went up to the moment they came back down again, I was totally entranced. I’d seen it before but it was just as good – if not better – the second time around. If you get the chance, definitely go see it.

It was overall a fantastic trip and, as usual, far too short. I’m trying to stay excited about fall and our perpetual apartment-hunting …

I may miss my friends and family back home but there is plenty to be happy about here … even if jet lag isn’t one of them!

Roatrip through Friesland

So it seems that the summer is gone – it left rather abruptly I must say! So far I’m feeling pretty excited about fall though. Cosy scarves, scented candles, torrential downpour … bring it! (I’ll likely feel the exact opposite of this in a few weeks but, for now, I’m embracing the change of seasons and have been obsessively reading style blogs to get inspiration – not that I’m likely to end up veering too far from my uniform of black on black on jeans and comfy shoes, but hey!)

Perhaps to celebrate the last few days of summer, Pieter and I took a little spur-of-the-moment road trip last weekend. Except for the time I took a ferry from Leeuwaarden to the island of Ameland, I’d never been to Friesland before. A real shame considering pretty much Pieter’s entire family is Friesian!

We didn’t have a set itinerary, but rather, decided to sort of wing it. We crossed the huge dyke that connects Flevoland, the man-made province, to Friesland, and then drove along the edge of the lake back down again, stopping in little villages along the way to do some snooping.

Our first stop was Makkum, where we treated ourselves to Dutch pannekoeken (pancakes) while we waited for a little storm to pass.

friesland, netherlands

An old post office.

friesland, netherlands

I came across this adorable onesie and, had the store been open, I would totally have bought one for my littlest baby niece … who is arriving (with her parents and big brother) TODAY!!

friesland, netherlands

I just love that Friesian flag! Where else in the world do they have hearts on their flag? (Technically they’re a specific kind of flower but I prefer the heart idea.)

As soon as the rain let up a little, we continued on our way – and I’m afraid the names of the next villages get increasingly difficult! (They have their own language over there and as much as Pieter’s relatives try to assure me that once you speak Dutch it’s totally easy to learn Frisian, I beg to differ!) Among our stops were Hindeloopen, Workum, Koudum, and Woudsend.

We drove almost the entire way on this one teeny tiny main road that connected all of these places to one another. We had to be careful for sheep!

friesland, netherlands

Hindeloopen looked like it was actually quite bustling, but we got there right as the torrential downpour started, and ended up seeing it only from the outside, and by car. I definitely want to go back though!

friesland, netherlands

Hindeloopen through the window.

Fortunately the skies did clear later on, so we were able to do some real creeping in the next villages. More than once I wondered if these places were real! They felt like fairytale settings.

friesland, netherlands

friesland, netherlands

(Those are in fact cattle you see up there!)

friesland, netherlands

friesland, netherlands

friesland, netherlands

friesland, netherlands

friesland, netherlands

In Woudsend we came across the harbour, which they use every year for Sneek Week – pronounced more like snake vake – which is a yearly event where hoards of people go out sailing across the Friesian lakes and party it up at night … A sort of Frisian Yacht Week, if you will.

friesland, netherlands

friesland, netherlands

At the back of this little alley a store sells the cutest liquor bottles! Definitely worth checking out if you want a souvenir.

friesland, netherlands

The afternoon passed by in a flash, and we needed to start heading back West. We made one last stop before we did.

friesland, netherlands

And we were rewarded for trooping through the rain …

friesland, netherlands

It was the perfect little trip for a lazy, rainy Sunday. It left me wanting to see more, and also made me realize how many places there are in this country that I still haven’t seen.
For now though, I’ve got my sister, brother-in-law, and their two kids coming! And then on Sunday, Pieter and I leave for two weeks in Toronto!

Happy Monday everyone!

Hortus Botanicus Haren, Groningen

First, I’d like to say thank you everyone for your supportive comments on my last post. I’m feeling decidedly better about the situation now and am ready to dive into house-hunting with renewed optimism this week.

On Friday I headed up to Groningen for the first time in ages to see the gorgeous Nicole – who, as it happened, I also hadn’t seen in absolutely forever. We took advantage of the mild weather to bike to the neighbouring village of Haren and explore their famous botanical gardens. Although I have yet to master the art of total relaxation while on a bicycle, I do love to explore little villages like this, and with Nicole to guide us, there was no fear of getting lost!

I’d actually never heard of the Hortus Botanicus Haren – and I doubt many people in the West of the country would have – and didn’t know quite what to expect … but it’s absolutely gorgeous. You pay 8 euro for admission – or 4 if you’re a student in Groningen – and have access to this surprisingly large expanse of land, full of different types of gardens, green houses, and wooded areas.

hortus botanicus, haren

You can take the main, paved pathways or choose from lots of little narrow dirt paths hidden under tall grass. We chose the latter option as we’re such big adventurers! (Nicole did text me that night to tell me she’d gotten a tick! So do be aware of the possibility if you choose the little paths. She truly is a trooper – had that happened to me I think I might have passed out …)

hortus botanicus, haren

Besides the wild wooded areas, the Hortus also offers a lot of beautifully maintained and manicured gardens.

hortus botanicus, haren

hortus botanicus, haren

We may or may not have picked some of these babies off the tree. Verdict? Sour – punishment for our gluttony!

We reached a little covered tunnel where a sign warned us that we were about to step back in time …

hortus botanicus, haren

hortus botanicus, haren

We crossed the water and arrived at the Celtic gardens, where a maze awaited us, surrounded by horoscope trees. You follow the circle until you line up your birth day with the correct month to find your own tree. Little plaques are set up in front of each tree, giving you insight into your own personality. I must say the accuracy was really quite dubious, but it was fun nonetheless!

hortus botanicus, haren

hortus botanicus, haren

Finally, we reached the Chinese gardens, which are surprisingly elaborate and quite beautiful.

hortus botanicus, haren

hortus botanic, haren

hortus botanicus, haren

It was the perfect way to spend a warm Friday afternoon catching up. If you get the chance, I would definitely recommend a visit. The gardens are set up so that you feel like you’re out exploring, and two hours are enough to get a feel for the place – though you could easily spend a lot longer.
I am so lucky to be able to explore the smaller attractions and villages in the Netherlands. Yes, the big cities are lovely, but there really is something about small Dutch towns that is just so enchanting. The sheer amount of places I still want to see here is overwhelming … and that’s not taking any other country into account. Yikes!!

As per usual, I really need to get to work now. Happy Monday everyone! Here’s hoping this is an excellent week for all of us.

Disappointment & new opportunities

So … remember how I bragged a couple weeks ago that we’d finally got an apartment? And I said that even though the contract wasn’t signed yet, I felt confident in sharing the news and hoped doing so wouldn’t come back to bite me in the tush?

It did.

We lost the apartment. The beautiful apartment with an amazing view on a canal, a loggia, two bedrooms, hardwood floors, and a semi-private roof-top terrace. The beautiful apartment we would have been moving into in exactly one week today.
Gone.

After nearly two weeks of begging the real estate agent to send us our contract, we finally received it – only to find out that this was no ordinary contract. While the apartment had been advertised as being rented our for an indefinite period, and while there had been no mention to the contrary during our various meetings and correspondence with both the agent and the owner, the contract contained a peculiar clause. This clause meant that, if we signed the contract, we were essentially signing all of our renters’ rights away. The owner would have the right to give us two months’ notice to move out of the apartment and, if we couldn’t find a new place in time, could start asking us for double the rental price per month.

We tried to negotiate. In the end we couldn’t reach any sort of fair agreement and so, tragically, we backed out.

Much as I hate to admit it, I’m finding it really hard to be positive at the moment. We’ve been anticipating a move since the middle of December – having moved into our current place in October – and have been looking since mid-February. It feels like we’re in some sort of strange limbo. Our walls are bare because we figured, ‘what’s the point now that we need to move again?’ We haven’t really made any effort to meet new people in the city, for the same reason. Just a few days before we got the nasty contract, we’d gone out and bought a bunch of binders and office accessories, determined to organize all of the paperwork that’s currently sitting unchecked on our desk in the living room, determined to really take pride in our new home.

Thank goodness for Pieter, who has taken it all in stride – in spite of the fact that he is in fact the one who suffers more because of this, as he’s the one commuting three hours a day. He’s been a true champion, jumping back into house hunting immediately and never losing his cool.

I titled this whine-fest Disappointment & new opportunities because this turn of events has made us consider a whole new option: buying.
That scary idea I dismissed months ago when we were picking through the rental listings for the first time is looking more and more attractive and strangely comforting. A few nights ago we discussed fixed vs flexible interest rates over dinner! We’ve looked at bank websites and calculated how much money we could borrow, and we’ve got a hot date with a mortgage specialist at the bank this weekend.

I tend to simply avoid thinking about things that cause me anxiety. Maybe what I need to take from this disappointment is that facing this terrifying unknown – buying – isn’t really that scary at all.

So we’re still looking at renting, but our search field has expanded tremendously. For every rental property with a sink in the middle of the bedroom, there are five properties with totally sink-less bedrooms!

Getting lost in rainy Amsterdam

I used to feel wary of Amsterdam. I realize how weird that sounds, and yet it’s true. It wasn’t high on my list of cities to know better. I’d been there a handful of times, seeing the sights and attending a meeting or two, but otherwise didn’t feel in any way compelled to return purely for pleasure – to get lost in little alleys, to dive into vintage stores and bakeries, and to generally enjoy the city.

My resistance had a lot to do with my terrible (read: non-existent) sense of direction. I’d never been there alone, instead letting others find our way, and I was convinced that the layout of the city was simply too difficult and Dutch for me to handle. ‘Follow the canals’? What did that even mean?! Take one terrible sense of direction and general fear of getting lost and add a couple million bicycles, silent trams, and unpronounceable street names to the mix, and I was convinced you had a recipe for disaster.

To be fair, I could have practically debilitating anxiety about even having to be in a neighbourhood of Toronto that I didn’t know very well – and Toronto is in a handy grid.

About a year ago, things started changing. I started taking visitors places, necessitating at least some sort of fake bravery on my part … and now, I’m no longer faking at all. I realized this the other day when, armed with the biggest umbrella I have, I found myself navigating the trams and the streets of Amsterdam in a total downpour on my way to do an interview for my research project … smiling to myself and taking pictures as I went.

amsterdam, rain

amsterdam, expat

When I’d finished my interview, I decided to walk back to the central station. In the downpour.
I’m pretty sure that means I’m a new woman.

Amsterdam in the sun is definitely a beauty … but Amsterdam in the rain has some serious perks too. Like eliminating over half of the tourist traffic – weeding out the weak, if you will – giving you more personal space to wander, pause, and admire, all without being jostled by the crowd.

amsterdam, expat

amsterdam, rain

amsterdam, expat

The flower market on Singel was set up – and totally empty. There’s something quite romantic about a flower market on a canal in the pouring rain.

flower market, amsterdam

flower market, amsterdam

Major landmarks were practically deserted, with people taking shelter in caf├ęs and bakeries and clothing stores.

amsterdam centraal

dam square

Even when my little, rather uncomfortable ‘interview booties’ began to fill with swooshing puddles, and even when I at one point realized I’d taken a wrong turn (which a few years ago might have sent me into a bit of a panic), I just loved the city.
It was frankly a bit weird.

amsterdam, rain

When I got home I stripped off my soaking wet socks to find that my boots had stained by feet a terrifying blackish purple. They’re still not totally back to normal two days later!

I guess this post is in celebration of not only Amsterdam, but of my growing confidence. Pop me down into any foreign city and only mild panic will be felt as I navigate my way to the nearest landmark!