When we decided to go on a year-long adventure living in the Netherlands and exploring Europe, I never thought two years later we would still be here. Moreover I didn’t think we would be truly thinking about staying for as long as we possibly could.
There has been so much that has happened in the last two years with us personally, with politics in America, with a virus world wide. These are uncertain times. They can be a bit scary. Are we happy that we are still here and not in the US? Yes and no. Yes, because we see how the virus is being handled and how some people are responding, we see the racial injustice, riots, people screaming help and no one listening, is so disheartening and feels so unsafe. This is not to say we do not love where we came from, because we do and we are grateful for it. No, because we miss our friends and family, and everyday we are here we feel further and further away from them. More disconnected with what is going on in their lives and the time difference makes it hard to connect sometimes.
So are we going to stay or go, that is the big question from our family and friends here and in the US. I do not, however, think there is an easy way to answer that question without first discussing somethings that I have learned from living here the last two years.
When you make a move like we did, you do all of the research. What are the schools like? Do I want my kid to go to a public dutch school or international school? What will it be like to make friends? How often will we go back to visit family and friends in America? What city should we choose to live in? Even deeper, what neighborhood should we choose in that city? How safe is it really?
You will find a million different answers for all of these questions. If I am being honest though, you will not find the answers you want or need until you are living it for yourself, because everyone’s journey is different.
So lets start with the first set of questions, schools. We knew from the beginning that we wanted Z to go to a public Dutch school. We wanted to immerse ourselves in the culture as much as possible. Which means Z immersing himself as well. I loved the idea of Z learning Dutch and I knew that international school would not provide that for him the way a public school would. I should also state that public schools here are on par with private schools in the states, we pay 45 euro a year for this. I will just let that sink in… Z is thriving and can hold a conversation with just about anyone in Dutch.
What city and neighborhood? We looked at three different cities. Haarlem, Maastricht, and Utrecht. We ultimately landed on Utrecht because of the distance to the airport, cost of living and how family friendly it was. Not to say the other places are not family friendly, we just felt Utrecht was the best place for us. That was the easy part, deciding what neighborhood was the tough one. With all of the research it was clear that for expats Wittevrowen and Leidsche Rijn were the most desirable.
We however did not end up in one of these because the demand for housing is so high. We live in the Zuilen area. If I am being honest in the first year we wanted to move, not because we did not like our house, because we love it. Zuilen is a pretty Dutch neighborhood and about a fifteen minute bike ride from the center, which is not bad unless it is pouring rain, this happens frequently in the Netherlands. While there are tons of play grounds there are not many restaurants. Also our expat friends at the time lived in the other two areas, which made it more appealing.
Back to Zuilen being a Dutch neighborhood, this also ties in with the question of how is it making friends? See we were told it was almost impossible to make friends with the Dutch. There are many reasons given for this, some say they are not very friendly, some say it is because they are very close knit and they do not welcome many new people in their friend groups. After two years of living here I have learned that is completely false.
See, it is so easy to get stuck in the expat mentality. Meet like minded people, not necessarily from the same background and culture, but people who are also experiencing the same life changes as you, and hook together and stay that way. What I have learned is that just because you are experiencing the same life changes does not mean you are supposed to be friends, or that sometimes friendships fall apart.
This is not to say do not make expat friends. We have wonderful friends who are expats and cherish those friendships dearly. Do not limit yourself to just that, because when you open yourself up, you may just realize that the Dutch are not only extremely friendly, but welcoming. In our case, our friends from surrounding cities and neighbors and have become some of the best friends we have ever had. Friends that reassure you, that show up at your house with a homemade red velvet cake (even though they have no idea what that is) on your birthday. Friends that are amazing at bbq’s and always there for a late night chat, laugh and good bottle of wine. The thought of moving out our neighborhood now, is in itself scary.
How often will we be able to get back to visit friends and family in the US? Well at first we were not, because we were only going to be here for a year. Since we have decided to extend, we we’ve considered once a year. Unfortunately Covid threw a wrench in that plan this year. Honestly I don’t know what it would be like without technology. We are able to face-time with our parents, which is very important and special for Z. We have zoom calls with our friends for birthdays. We even got to ¨attend” one of my best friends’ weddings via zoom. There are always ways to connect and many friends have even made trip over to visit and travel with us. Which has been so very special.
How safe it is? Well as I am writing this at the picnic table in our front yard, Z is at the playground with friends, Rob is in his office working. Would we let him do this in the states, that’s a hard no. Z can even ride his bike around with his friends. When we discuss how quickly a kid can be kidnapped our friends here are completely shocked. I can walk home alone after a night out with no worries. The thing we have to worry about the most is our bicycles getting stolen, which hasn’t happen yet!
So back to the question will we stay or go? For now, we are renewing our visa, and will be here continuing our European adventures, watching Z thrive, where we feel safe. How long will we be here? I can’t answer that. I do not know the future. What I do know is while we miss our friends and family, we are so happy and we aren’t finished with this adventure just yet.
Stay tuned for more adventures of Rob, Z and I…
“One way to get the most out of life is to look upon it as an adventure” – William Feather
While we can’t travel and be out of our houses socializing, this post will be something different. I am not one who likes to sit at home. I am usually the first person to set up social activities which drives my introvert husband a bit crazy. So when I came home and said, we aren’t going anywhere, for a while, Rob did not hesitate to say “sounds good to me!” Little did I know “a while” was going to be a lot longer than I thought.
When this all started, or when Rob brought it to my attention back in January I am not going to lie, I brushed him off. I tend to joke about him being a hypochondriac. By the end of February, it was spreading. The kids were out of school for a winter break, we took them to an huge indoor play ground, went bowling, and enjoyed time at our neighborhood play ground thinking well, as long as we wash our hands it will be fine. We are healthy people.
Two weeks after bowling I started to feel a bit under the weather, a little tired, headaches, a small cough. It was nothing serious. So I still took Z to school. I didn’t hang out like I normally do though, I dropped him off and left still I touched doors and was around others. Almost two weeks ago, the last day of school before we were all quarantined Z had a school performance and as much as I wanted to be there I couldn’t. My not so serious cold got a little worse and with the threat of Corona I didn’t want to risk getting everyone else sick.
Three weeks ago, the first week of no school, really wasn’t that bad, I was actually feeling a bit better. Whew, I thought, I was going to be one of the lucky ones. I actually did have just a cold. Must be the yoga and all the smoothies. I am young-ish and considered healthy and low risk. BOOM- take that Corona!!
Still I was following all guidelines -that we had here in the Netherlands- I went to the grocery store, took Z on bike rides, we got up early and went to a field field near our house and played football before anyone else was out, made some pretty entertaining videos, worked on Z’s letters and numbers and built what I think is the best fort ever. Trying to live life as normal as possible.
Then two weeks ago on Saturday I woke up barely able to breathe, coughing worse that I have ever before. It’s probably just bronchitis, I told Rob. Yet we decided I should come upstairs and rest. Saturday night The cough got so bad, that I was having a hard time catching my breath then it would stop for a while, it continued this way 5 min of severe coughing then 10 minutes of being “ok”. When I was sleeping it got pretty bad so Rob called the Doctor, I didn’t have a fever so the Doctor said to call back when I do.
I was isolated in the bedroom for 7 days, I should have isolated starting on the 13th of March when I first started showing signs. I ignorantly thought it was just a cold though. I can’t help but think “My God, was I part of the problem?”
This was my first week out of isolation trying to get into some kind of groove with homeschooling, keeping up with house work, and trying to write. I am not going to lie it is hard with a capital H. I know we are all doing it though, so even though we can be around our friends and family I am finding comfort in the fact that I am not alone.
We have been doing the best we can, Z actually seems to be enjoying home school, especially the yoga and art part of our day. So we are trying to embrace this new (hopefully temporary) normal.
It has now been about six weeks since we went bowling, and hung out with friends. It seems like that was last summer. Things have changed so much. It makes me wonder if we had stayed home then, would we be here now? There is no way to know that. What we do know is if we LISTEN and stay home now, we may actually save lives and be able to enjoy our summer outside with each other. I know things seem scary and uncertain, we can get through this, if we decided to help each other, by staying home.
Write that book you have been putting off, get those canvas’ out that have been collecting dust and go to town, record that set you haven’t had the time to do, I would love to hear it. Learn the language you have always wanted to. When this is all over, you can go on that trip and be more immersed in the culture than you would have other wise. Reconnect by hopping on zoom and enjoying a virtual happy hour or game night with friends. We have to learn to live differently in this time of Corona.
From ROb, Z and I stay safe friends…
We all find comfort in many ways, I meditate, do yoga, and this scripture from Jeremiah always brings me comfort hopefully it will you as well.
Jeremiah 29:11 ‘For I know the plans I have for you”, declares the Lord, “Plans to prosper you not to harm you , plans to give you hope and a future”
I was so ready for the end of 2019. I was ready for a new beginning. Feeling a bit broken down, I was ready to move on. There is something to be said about rebuilding. It can be hard when relationships break down, be it a friend, romantic, or professional. Maybe there can be beauty in it, though.
Scotland is a beautiful country that has quite a complicated history. It has been invaded and settled many times. There has been so much growth and rebuilding in Scotland in-spite of its tumultuous past. It is stunning; the economy is strong, Scots are incredibly happy and kind. It’s inspiring.
When we started planning the trip to Scotland, I was excited and anxious, planning a 10-day road trip around one of the most beautiful countries (in my humble opinion) no pressure. There is so much to see and do; we had to narrow it down. Know that if you are going to check out distilleries, most are closed for tours over the holiday season. We knew we wanted to be in Edinburgh for new year’s eve, or Hogmanay (Scottish New Year), so we decided we would start our trip with three days in Glasgow, three days in Inverness, and five in Edinburgh.
If you are going this time of year, know that the days are very short. The sun is set by 16:30. So you will need to plan your sightseeing accordingly. We gave ourselves about 5 hours of driving time each travel day so we could see what we wanted to.
We arrived in Glasgow and went to pick up our rental car. It was already after five and Rob had to drive on the opposite side of the road. So we decided we would head to our Airbnb and order take-out. Thankfully due to his time in the Army and our trip to London, he had some experience. I would strongly suggest if you have not driven on the other side, make sure you arrive before dark. It can be very, as Rob put it, befuddling. You’re in a car that isn’t yours, the driving laws are different, and you’ve never been there before. That is not to say it can’t be done, and it won’t be fun. It can and it will. If you are unsure, Scotland has a fantastic public transit system. You can get pretty much everywhere by train. We just wanted the freedom of having a car.
The next day was our only full day in Glasgow, which is a beautiful city. We started with Breakfast at Bill’s, which is a must when visiting. The staff are friendly, and the food is fantastic. I had read about the street art or better known as the mural trail in Glasgow, and was looking forward to strolling around and seeing what we could spot. It was incredible. my favorite was “The Worlds Most Economical Taxi.” After spending time wandering around looking at street art, It was time to check out the George Square Christmas Market. Probably one of the smallest we have been to, yet still packed with fun and so charming. We played games, took a ride on the wheel, enjoyed hot chocolate and mulled wine, Z even won a new snugly, because every kid needs at least 50 right?! Dinner was a natural decision: Fish and chips. I found this tiny place called CATCH close to our Airbnb; it was delicious. Glasgow was kind to us.
The next morning it was time to start our ride to Inverness. There are a couple of different routes you can take. You can go through Sterling and Perth, or like us decide to go through Loch Lomond national park, Glencoe and Fort William where you will find Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in Scotland. There are so many beautiful stops along this route. The drive is a bit more daunting, though. Windy, narrow roads and it was raining the whole journey there. That just meant nature caused us to slow down and take it all in. It also meant I had seat belt marks on my hands at each stop we made because I may or may not have gripped my seat belt a bit tight!
We made a few stops along the way to get out and enjoy the fantastic landscape that is the Scottish highlands. There are many parking areas, so you can stop, get out, stroll around, and take photos. If you are planning to stop for lunch, we loved Garrison West in Fort William. I had the butternut squash risotto and local beer, Rob and Z had the pancakes with a blueberry compote perfect for a cold rainy afternoon. After lunch, if you’re not in a rush, take time to stroll around Fort William, it is a charming town. It’s tiny, delightful shops, the people are so welcoming, or you can see Ben Nevis.
Our Airbnb in Inverness could not have been more perfect, it was cozy, and the location was central. There were groceries, restaurants, and bars within a few feet, not to worry the apartment was still quiet. Inverness had quite the nightlife. While we didn’t get to go out, the main bar was just down the street, and there was a line to get in until pretty late in the evening. So if that is your scene, you will be covered.
We were all excited to go check out Urquhart Castle, and Z could not wait to search for Nessie, the Lochness monster. After a delicious breakfast, we headed to the castle. It will cost 12 Pounds, about 15 USD. I could have spent all day wandering about the grounds. The castle was passed back and forth between the Scots and the English until finally when the last troops who were there during the Jacobite risings blew up the castle leaving only its remains or ruins; however, you choose to see it. As I stood there on the grounds overlooking Loch Ness, a song came to mind called “Let Go” by Frou Frou. In the song, she says, “There is beauty in the breakdown.” As we walked back to our car, I turned to take one last look at what was left of the castle I couldn’t help but see the undeniable beauty even in the broken-down remains.
The morning we were leaving Inverness, I got up early and walked around the corner to Perk coffee and doughnuts. Do yourself a favor and go! The doughnuts are made fresh every day, and they have vegan options. They were delectable! I am still dreaming of them.
The drive to Edinburgh was not as daunting as it was all on the highway. We stayed in the neighborhood of Leith, which is just outside of the center of Edinburgh. We settled in and went to the store to pick up dinner, taking it easy before a very fun-filled New Year’s Eve the next day.
The Edinburgh Christmas market is something you have to visit at least once in your life. It is massive. It doesn’t cost anything to stroll around; if you want to check out the rides (trust me you do), you can order tickets online then pick them up at the market. There is something for everyone. Stalls and stalls of beautiful art, jewelry, beauty products, ornaments, and leather bags all handmade. We rode every ride Z could go on and ate all the food and Glühwein. Z played games and won yet another snugly, this time an almost Z sized Santa. How we were getting this home, I had no clue.
Edinburgh’s Hogmanay is something special. They even do an earlier celebration just for the kids, complete with a concert and fireworks at 6 pm, only enough time -as many people told us- to get the kids home to the sitter and get back to enjoy the evening sans kids. We, of course, didn’t do this. We decided to head back after celebrating with Z and stay cozy in our Airbnb, watching movies, relaxing, and reflecting.
We spent the next few days exploring the Edinburgh Castle, which is stunning, even Z thought it was cool. It’s a bit expensive to go in; we felt it worth it, though. We discovered the magic of illusions at Camera Obscura, saw a movie, and explored the Leith area, where we had two of our favorite meals. For brunch, you need to check out Roseleaf cafe; the french toast is terrific, and what they do with avocado toast is delicious. Compass is a must for dinner, and they have a great whiskey selection.
Our last day, we drove out to see Rosslyn Chapel. You probably know it from The Da Vinci Code. It is a stunning Chapel also with a sordid past, involving a murder inside the chapel. In the 1500s, the alters were ordered to be destroyed. The chapel was no longer used and fell into a state of disrepair. Even in this state, Rosslyn Chapel became a muse for many writers, poets, and artists. In the 1800s the chapel started undergoing repair, and now it stands beautiful and strong despite it’s past.
On the way back from Rosslyn Chapel, we decided we couldn’t leave without hiking up to Arthur’s seat. It’s a pretty moderate hike up. We only had to stop once for z to take a break. On the way up, we passed by St. Anthony’s Chapel or rather the remains of the chapel. Again, I found the beauty in it. Once you’re at the top, you are rewarded with a fantastic view of Edinburgh.
As I stood there looking out at Edinburgh, the sea, and the valley below. I found myself thinking about the remains of Urquhart Castle, the story of Rosslyn Chapel, and my own story. I thought about how I had been feeling, about relationships that may have been broken, and about growth. I thought about how growth can’t happen without breakdown.
Scotland made a significant impact on me. On all of us. Z keeps asking if we can mover there. Rob has always wanted to visit as his ancestors came from there, so who knows maybe one day. For now, I will continue to grow and rebuild and forever be grateful to Scotland for many things, especially for showing me the beauty in the breakdown.
Stay tuned for more adventures of Rob, Z and I…
“So let go, and jump in
Oh well whatcha waiting for
It’s all right ‘Cause there’s beauty in the breakdown…” – Frou Frou
I met my friend Lauren in cosmetology school years ago, We quickly bonded over our love of House and Techno music, specifically Deep Dish. As I said, it was years ago! We were even roommates for a year after school. So when she messaged me and said she wanted to come to visit, I was over the moon! We had not seen each other in about 6 years since she stood by my side as a bridesmaid at our wedding. I mean, we had not even a conversation on the phone, not because of any falling out, just because life can get away from you.Continue reading “Time or Distance…”
Sometimes life can be slow, but sometimes it can be too fast. The entire world can flip on a dime, rushing to and fro to make everything work. When this happens, the best thing you can do is escape somewhere and recharge.
While we were experiencing a moment in life that was hectic and stressful, we had an escape hatch that we’d been engineering for months; not for that reason, but just by accident. A happy accident.
A few weekends ago, we packed up, and left for my dream location: Croatia.Continue reading “Happy Accidents…”
There is a saying we have all heard and probably even believed at some point in our lives. “The grass is always greener on the other side.” Is it though? Have you ever been on the other side? What makes the grass so green over there? These are questions I have been thinking about lately.
Over the summer we traveled back to the states to visit with friends and family. If you have been following us from the beginning then you know we were originally only going to be here for a year. Well now that we have told our families we can finally share with all of you we are in fact staying in the Netherlands. Questions I kept getting from everyone is: what is better over there? What are the top 3 best/worst things? Is the grass greener?
On the plane ride home I really thought a lot about this. So I thought I would write a post about the biggest differences between the U.S and the Netherlands that we have noticed.
Let’s start with the biggest difference – Quality of Life. In the states the drive to work more, be more, have more is so prevalent. It’s what drives us so hard. I am not saying that isn’t changing, but for us to be able to provide a quality education for Z, to live in a safe neighborhood that was good for families, we had to work a lot. So much so, that we only got to spend a total of two or three hours a day together before it was bedtime for Z. Even then we were still struggling financially. In the Netherlands, Z is getting an amazing education, we live in a great neighborhood, and we don’t have to worry about after school care because we don’t have to work until six or later. We don’t spend an hour or more in the car getting to school and work. Rob and I both work from home now. Z’s school is a quick six minute bike ride from our home. Time is precious. I realize how precious it is now that we have more of it, and when you have more of it, your quality of life is better.
Getting around is easier in the Netherlands. I know, I know it depends on where you live in the States. Some areas have great public transit, most do not though. The need for a car is so high in the U.S. We had bikes in Charleston, when we lived close to my salon, I did bike to work sometimes. Once we had Z, and had to move so we could afford a good school (see quality of life). There was no way I could bike to work or school, not to mention it’s not so safe, and taking a bus, it wasn’t possible. We have lived without a car for over a year now and love it. Sure, if we want to take a road trip we rent a car, but it’s still a lot cheaper than owning a car. When we were in Charleston, I was driving and saw one of the MANY signs that said “share the road” I got frustrated, because no, there needs to be proper bike lanes. In the Netherlands there are, You can bike everywhere. In fact it’s harder to get around by car. We can get to our friends’ houses in about 10 minutes by bike, and by car in 20 minutes. When it’s raining, which is a lot, Z and I wish we had a car sometimes. We have gotten use to it though. That is what ponchos and rain pants are for!
Now, let’s talk food. It’s hard to find a bad restaurant in Charleston. Charleston prides it’s self on two things it’s rich history and it’s food. I mean a few weeks leading up to our wedding I told Rob I had to break up with Charleston because the of the food. Here there are good restaurants, nothing like South Carolina though. I would give anything for a taco from Taco Boy, or shrimp and grits from The Fat Hen, or really anything from Chez Nous or Jack of Cups. Cooking at home is different though. Yes there are Farmer’s Markets and the grocery stores have organic food. In the States, the prices of such food is outrageous. The market every Saturday is amazing. We can get fresh baked bread, fresh eggs, milk, produce, meat, seafood, and cheese for under 50 Euro! Grocery shopping is also much cheaper here. Our grocery bill in the states was always $100-150 for the week, here – buying only organic- our grocery bill is Never more than 80 Euro. Good quality food here isn’t a privilege, it’s just normal.
Travel. The reason we moved here. We wanted to travel and explore Europe. We also wanted to travel and explore the U.S. The prices of flights in the US are insane. Sure you can get cheap flights on budget travel lines, but lets be real: once you add your bags the cost can be the same as flying on Delta. We have traveled to nine different countries including UK, France, Poland, and our up-coming trip to Croatia. The most expensive flight we have had was Croatia and it was 600 euro total for all three of us. We also travel predominately with KLM, the Dutch partner of Delta. I could not even get a flight from Atlanta to Charleston for less than $300 for one of us. Also the trains here are amazing. They are affordable, really nice, and fast. It’s so easy to travel here. I wish traveling the US was as affordable and as easy as it is here. It’s a beautiful country and one day I hope we can see as much of it as we have Europe.
So back to the question: Is the grass greener? I mean sure it is, it rains a lot here. The foliage is also brighter. Does that mean it is better? I don’t think so. Sure, quality of life is better, travel is easier, quality of food you bring into your home is more affordable, but we are missing so much. The birth of dear friends babies, weddings, and birthdays, and I will take Charleston’s Palmetto bugs over Dutch spiders any day! I think there are always great things about the other side of the fence. There are also going to be not so great things. I think when we stop looking over the fence and start watering our own yard, We will see our grass is just a green as everyone else’s.
Stay tuned for more adventures of Rob, Z, and I.
“The grass is not, in fact, always greener on the other side of the fence. No, not at all. Fences have nothing to do with it. The Grass is greenest where it is it watered. When crossing fences, carry water with you and tend the grass wherever you may be.” – Robert Fulghum
I am reminded of a song from one of my favorite plays: Rent. In the song Season’s of Love, a question is asked, “How do you measure a year in a life?” I mean, let’s consider that. One year, 52 weeks, 365 days. It seems like a lot, doesn’t it? So much can happen in those 365 days though. The last year of our life has been a hurricane in the best way. One year ago today, we arrived in the Netherlands to begin what was going to be a year-long adventure.
In the beginning, I didn’t believe we would stay this long. We were so excited, but not long after landing, reality sunk in. I thought we made a terrible mistake. Those first several months were painstakingly lonely. In a world where we are always connected, we felt so far away from everyone. While we were happy to see our friends having fun and living their best life, we also had a severe case of FOMO — Fear Of Missing Out — crazy, I know! I mean we got to live in Europe, and here we were; sad we were missing out on all the fun with our friends back home. There were many tears and arguments in the first few months. It was a roller coaster of adventure, new challenges, and culture shock. It was exhausting.
After a few months, Z started school. He was afraid, I was scared, Rob won’t admit it, but I know he was too. Z was going to the Taalschool (language school). It’s a prerequisite that you graduate from there before you go to a public school. When he began, he was the only one in his class who spoke English. He was utterly lost in translation and did not want to be there. Z cried nearly every day. It broke my heart. I would take him to school, smiling the whole way and telling him how incredible it was going to be if he just gave it a chance. Then, I would cry the entire way home because what if it didn’t?
For the first time since I was 15 years old, I was not working. I felt absolutely lost. What was my purpose here? I have been a hairstylist for 12 years. Now I was cooking and cleaning and doing laundry every day?! Some days I was so depressed, by dinnertime, I would wonder what happen to the day and realized once again I wasted it by binge-watching yet another show. What was I doing?!
By November, we had been here for 4 months and been to at least 4 countries. When we were home, we were still in a rut, but we were not alone. We had finally met people who had been through the same things we had. Making such a big move, putting our kids in a school where they didn’t understand the language, sharing the same concerns. Making these connections would prove to be a life force here. I began having coffee with some moms from Z’s school. I didn’t realize how important these women would become in my life and their kids in Z’s life. Maybe as the song goes, we can measure life in cups of coffee?
At Christmas my world was turned upside down, I lost my mom to lung cancer, and that disconnection we all felt seemed so far away as friends from all over called, showed up, and sent so much love. Mid-January, my biological Father, passed away. It had only been 5 months of living here, and I felt like I had experienced a lifetime of emotions. Maybe we measure life in loss or love?
By the time February rolled around, it was like things started to fall into place. Z was happy in school and making really great friends. Friends from the states came to visit, and we got to share with them everything we loved about the Netherlands and Europe. I was so grateful. I also realized that I was forming even stronger bonds with friends back home. The distance somehow allowed us to chat and be open in ways that we never had before. Maybe we measure life in laughter and connections?
In March, we decided we would be staying here for at least another year. We were happy. The dark days were slipping away, and we realized this is where we were supposed to be. The growth I see in my self, Rob and Z is incredible. Rob and I communicate so much better, Z is growing into a kind, smart, funny kid who knows way more Dutch than either Rob or myself. Not working at a salon isn’t a bad thing. I have been working, on myself, my relationships, being a better mom, wife, daughter, sister, and friend. Maybe we measure life in growth?
As summer approached, our lives changed so much. Through therapy, I had started to heal. I have been focusing on my Yoga practice and hope to take the class to become certified in January. Rob’s job was going so well, he got a promotion to Team Lead. Z graduated the Taalschool and enrolled at a Dutch public school. We have more than just support here, we have friends and a life that walking away from seems scarier than moving here did. Maybe we measure life in success?
While the beginning of this adventure started off challenging and lonely, it is one of the best decisions we have ever made. We have been to nine countries. We have learned so much about other cultures. As the first year of our adventure wraps up — I wonder — how will I measure this year? I think with gratitude. Gratitude for laughs, cups of coffee, connections, growth, success, love, and even the loss. This year would not have been what it was without any of these things. I would not be the person I am, and we would not be the 3 Traveling Landers.
Thank you for joining us this year! Thank you for your recommendations, and for your good vibes and prayers. Our adventure isn’t over.
Stay tuned for more adventures of Rob, Z and I.
“Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?
In daylights, in sunsets
In midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles
In laughter, in strife
In five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure a year in the life.” – Season’s of love (RENT)
Feeling connected is something we all crave. Which is why we are so attached to our screens. It gives us a feeling of belonging. A sense of still being a part of each other lives even though we are far apart. What happens when we put down the screens, and instead of commenting on someone’s status or tweet, we pick up the phone and call each other. I know, getting us to do that is like trying to convince a child to walk away from an ice cream truck empty-handed. Impossible without a tantrum. I mean if my phone is down I feel lost and NEED it to get fixed yesterday! However, maybe by disconnecting, we could truly connect, with each other and ourselves.
Z’s spring break planning was going nowhere. First off he got two weeks for spring break. TWO WEEKS! What was I going to do for two weeks?! We discussed traveling through Spain or Portugal, but to be honest, we couldn’t afford that right now. Also, the thought of being that busy just wasn’t what we needed in our life at that moment. Rob had been so slammed with work. I have been working on a particular project. Z had definitely had too much screen time lately. I felt like we were so disconnected from each other. I was ready to give up until Z came home from school one day and announced he wanted to go camping.
Rob and I talked about it and decided that it was what we needed. So we began researching camping in Europe. We ultimately decided that we wanted to go somewhere we could drive to. We agreed we would like to explore the Netherlands a bit more, we have been flying to these fantastic countries but had yet to really explore this great country we live in. Rob found a place a couple hours drive from us called De Pekelinge. It was perfect. They had an indoor pool with a water slide, climbing walls, indoor and outdoor playgrounds, bike and skate park, restaurant, and a market that had everything you could want.
I was able to, not so subtly, convince our friends Kim and Jason to join us. They have a daughter Z’s age and a son who is 11. I thought it would be great for us to all go disconnect together. Kim and Jay’s son, E, also brought a friend. This was perfect! We all would have someone who we could enjoy the same things with.
The day finally came for us to load the car up and head out. I think I was as excited as Z. I also had a feeling of grief, though. See my mom has always gone on Z’s spring break trips with us. This would be the first since she passed away. I was trying to focus on the excitement of it all, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing as we got on the road.
As road trips go, we turned up the music and began dancing and singing our way to the campground. About an hour into the drive, the song Sweet Home Alabama came on. As I was fighting back the tears while still singing, I found myself reaching for my phone so facebook could distract me. I heard Z in the back seat belt out “Rock and Roll baby!” This is something his mamaw had taught him. I had, however, never heard him say it without my mom singing, dancing, and prompting him to do so. He even said it the way she did with “baby” pronounced “BAEBAY.” I am happy I put my phone down. I shouted it with him as song after song seemed to be another one of my mom’s favorites. I felt so connected to my mom and Z at that moment.
As we pulled up to De Pekelinge, we were all so excited to see what our safari tent was going to be like, explore the campground, and Z was ready to hit the pool. I was really looking forward to getting away from the screens, work, and life and just being with each other. I didn’t realize that this trip was going to connect us all in a way that would last a lifetime.
After unpacking the cars and settling into our home for the next 4 days, the kids were ready to explore so Jay and Rob took the kids to see what they could find. Kim and I decided we wanted to read our books for a bit. I have said it before, there is something special about a friendship when you can sit together and not talk. Being able to connect with someone when your not even speaking means something a little deeper to me. We both were just so happy as busy moms to be able to relax and read a book. We didn’t need to talk at that moment. We got each other.
A while later, Jay returned sans kids. You could see the look of panic rising on mine and Kim’s face when Jay said Rob was at the market and the kids were somewhere playing. Our littles were running around by themselves!? Jay assured us they were OK; Kim, and I tried to chill out and trust that they were fine. A bit later the kids came running back smiling so big. They were just so excited they could run around on their own. It really was so safe that they could do that. I felt this rush of relaxation come over me, what was this feeling. I have never felt this before. I don’t have to worry about my kid getting abducted, or lost. It was amazing.
Later that night Rob and I made dinner reservations at the restaurant, Kim’s family decided they were going to cook dinner at their tent, and Z could not be bothered with leaving the fun, so Kim and Jay told us to go ahead, that Z could stay with them. Rob and I practically skipped to dinner holding hands. We laughed, talked about things other than work and bills. We flirted with each other for the first time in a while. Everything else seemed to melt away. As we walked back to our tent hand in hand after dinner, I remembered what a deep connection we have. Something that seemed lost because we were so connected to everything else instead of each other. I did not want to forget this moment.
The next day, when we woke up, I was bracing myself for an argument if Z asked to watch his show. He didn’t even ask. He just wanted to go see if his friends could play. My heart smiled so big. As we had breakfast and coffee, the kids blew bubbles, played paddle ball and sword fought with brooms. It was so beautiful to see them outside, laughing, connecting, and creating memories with each other. Z is still talking about it weeks later. That evening after dinner, we taught the kids how to play Red Rover, Red light Green light, and other games we played as kids. It was so special, and they didn’t find us lame! They had a blast, we all did!
The only place the kids could not go by themselves was the pool, which is where they wanted to be. So, Jay took them to the pool; Kim and I gathered again on her porch. Sharing champagne we talked and laughed, and even though we have done this many times (sharing laughs and wine), there was something different about this night. It seemed like our friendship was growing. I knew I could tell Kim anything, but at that moment, I truly realized how important her friendship is to me. How important her family is to mine.
The next day we decided that we wanted to go to Brugge, Belgium. It was only about an hour and a half from the campground, so we loaded up the kids and took off. The first order of business was to get Mussels and Frites, I mean we were in Belgium! Then it was off to the chocolate museum. As we strolled through Brugge taking in the absolute romantic beauty of this town, I was watching my friends, the kids, and my husband. Everyone seemed so happy to be here, at this moment, in this city. The only time a phone came out was to snap a picture. We were really enjoying being together. That is what connection is all about, right?
When I look back on this trip, I smile. Yes, there were times of frustration and annoyance, but they seem so mild to the connections that were made. Sharing things with each other, that would not have happened if we had not disconnected. Moments of bravery such as going down a waterslide for the first time with everyone cheering on, climbing through the playground with the kids just to reach a slide that literally dropped straight down, I was so terrified, but the older boys encouraged: just to do it! Playing card games, sharing meals, jokes, so many laughs, and even some tears.
We all taught each other something. Our littles got to be free for the first time in their life, sincerely, and we were leaving with a stronger bond than we had when we arrived. So I wonder if we just disconnected a little more maybe we can reconnect to what really matters.
Stay tuned for more adventures of Rob, Z and I…
“By setting aside time every day, we can leave the pixelated wilds and rest at least for a little while in a place of unplugged, authentic human connection.”
― Meghan Cox Gurdon,
Have you ever been through something tough and the only person or people who can help you pick up the pieces are your girlfriends? There is something special about the bond between women. Growing up it was tough. Women use to tear each other down. In today’s world We support each other and build each other up, even when we don’t know each other. That girl in your travel group that just got her heart broken and is asking advice on traveling alone to mend her heart, you along with thousands of other women who have never met this girl show up to comment your words of support. Or what about that mommy group you joined when you found out you were pregnant? You probably knew a couple of people in the group, but at 4 am when you made a post about how nursing isn’t going so well and you feel defeated so many women, you have never met sent you love and support.
The girlfriends we make in our life are so special. Some will stand the test of time, some may not. That doesn’t mean they were not special in that season of your life though. I have been lucky enough to have the most amazing women in my life. It has made it hard to leave when I have moved to a new place. You’re always scared that you will drift apart. Or that you will never make new girlfriends in your new city that could even hold a candle to the ones you are moving away from. I have been so lucky that my girls have been by my side even, when they aren’t by my side. When I look at where I have lived, Atlanta, Charleston, and now Utrecht my heart swells because I have amazing girlfriends in each of those places. They are always there. We may not get to talk everyday, but when it matters we show up for each other. They are family to me. They have been there to help pick me up after a bad break up, to walk me through being a new mom, holding my hand through losing my own mom, and letting me vent when Rob and Z are driving me absolutely crazy. They are my glue.
One thing I think is so important: getting to spend time together, doing things like girl trips. As women we need that time, to be with our tribe, the girls who know us so well, and support us. I have had some amazing trips with my girls. Camping and hiking in Asheville, Beach weekends in Florida and Charleston, weekends in New York, and every single one was special and therapeutic in their own way.
Most recently I got to go to Prague with one of my favorites: Meghan. This trip could not have come at a better time. As a mom, I was reaching a place where I needed to take a break from Z and Rob. PSA: It’s ok to feel this way! In fact its normal! So when Meghan said she was coming to visit I was beyond excited, and PRAGUE!? Yes please!!!
We arrived in Prague on Thursday, and took an Uber to our Airbnb which was amazing. The views were incredible. We could see all the way to the Prague castle!
We settled in, freshened up and decided to go explore. The first day, we just wanted to get our bearings and explore the area where we were staying. We lucked up with our location we were in the centre of New Town. After some exploring, we were reaching hangry, so, I went into planner mode.
On all of our adventures that is what I do. I am the one who plans EVERYTHING, from where we are staying, our activities to where we are eating. Well, not this time. Before I could even get my phone out, Meghan had a place and the map pulled up to get there. This threw me back, I wasn’t use to this. It was so nice. Meghan found a great place, Cafe Imperial.
I had the best truffle gnocchi I have ever had! We also realized how inexpensive Prague really was. We had an appetizer each, entrees, and drinks and it was €40! It was a really nice restaurant too! After dinner, we decided it was time to check out one of the best beer gardens in the world: Letna-Schlösschen. This is a must when visiting Prague. The walk up is a steep one, but, when you are up there you are rewarded with great inexpensive beer (they also have wine and other drinks) and one of the best views of Prague. Go at sunset, it was breathtaking. We got lucky because there was a super blood wolf moon that night. The pictures do not do it justice. It was beautiful seeing this moon over Prague. What a great way to start our trip!
After an amazing night sleep, feeling relaxed and refreshed, we decided to go to the Prague castle and check out the John Lennon wall. Prague isn’t really that big, we walked everywhere with no need for public transportation.
Walking up to the Prague Castle, there are ton of stairs! I was so happy for cute, but very comfortable shoes! As we reached the halfway point, there is another amazing view of Prague and a charming snack bar. We decided we would stop on the way back down for a drink with a view. At the top is the St. Vitus Cathedral It is truly remarkable! It doesn’t cost anything to go inside, so do it! You will not be disappointed.
After exploring the castle and Cathedral, we started heading back down. Stopping at the halfway point, which is next to the oldest vineyard in Prague. We decided to take in the view while Meghan had a beer and I enjoyed an aperol spritz. It was so refreshing since it was so warm that day. Standing there, I felt this weight I have been carrying finally start to lift away.
After enjoying the view, it was time to head over to the John Lennon wall. It was so cool! Since the ’80’s, people have been creating street art inspired by Lennon and the Beatles with Lyrics and messages of Love and Peace. There is an incredible energy here. In keeping with the theme, we were planning on eating lunch at the Lennon Pub.
Instead, we got pulled into the Pirory Mill by the charming patio. It was so good! We wanted something light and veggie forward, it did not disappoint. I had the burrata, tomato and avocado salad. It was so fresh and mouth watering delicious.
We did still stop at the Lennon pub for afternoon drinks. They made the best Bloody Mary. We decided to take the Charles Bridge back across the river, you can’t miss the Charles bridge. There are artist selling everything from handmade jewelry, paintings and photos. I am so glad we checked the bridge out on Friday because when we tried to go back on Saturday you could not get to the bridge because of all the people.
We headed to check out the Dancing house hotel on the way back to the AirBnb. The architecture in Prague is really incredible. The hotel has a rooftop bar with more great views. You do have to buy something to go outside and enjoy the view, so I got a prosecco for a whopping 3 euros and Meghan grabbed a beer.
After we got our drinks, we went out on the terrace to enjoy them. It was worth the 3 euros. We had one of the best chats up there. I was able to get closure on something that had been bothering me. Girlfriends, they are the best. It was time to go back and relax for a bit before deciding what the plan for the evening was. As great as chats with your girlfriends are, there is also something wonderful about being able to be in the same room and there is a comfortable silence where you can reflect on the day and recharge to go out that night. I loved that Meghan and I could have that.
We decided to check out Vytopna Railway Restaurant. It was very cool! Your drinks are delivered by a train that goes all around the restaurant. Definitely worth checking out! We were, at this point, tired. It was early though and dang it I was traveling without my kid!
We decided to go to Zombie bar, hoping we would get a second wind. I am glad we did, because after talking to the bartender he told us about The Alchemist Bar. SO VERY COOL. It’s eclectic and a bit gothic, in the best way. You can just have some drinks, or, you can try your hand at choosing your fate.
We picked our first drink. It was delicious! Then, with a bit of liquid courage we decided to go for it. The Guardian of the chest came to our table and pulled tarot cards out of the smoke filled chest, you then choose a card. That card determines what your next drink was. The drinks were delicious as well. The card also tells you what bar to go to for the next card/clue, in hopes that you can help solve the mystery of Rudolph II’s treasure. We didn’t follow the card to the next bar because our second wind was fading so we went back to get ready for the next day. If you ever do go and follow the cards let me know how it ends!
Our last day in Prague was a bit more relaxed. We took our time in the morning, having coffee and getting ready for the day.
It was time to head to the Astronomical Clock. It was beautiful. honestly though, go get your picture and keep exploring. You can go up but it was so crowded and honestly there are better views in Prague that aren’t.
We wandered in Old Towne Square for a bit, before grabbing lunch. While sitting at this cafe, we noticed a museum next door. We were so excited because it housed Warhol and Dali exhibits two of my favorites. The museum was cool, we spent a lot of time wandering around. I learned a ton about Andy Warhol that I didn’t know. Seeing as he is from there.
There was a lot more than just his works, like letters he wrote home to his family, childhood photos, etc, really cool. We had a couple of hours to kill before our appointment at the beer spa so we decided to keep with the beer theme and check out the beer museum. Included in the fee is a beer tasting. The museum is small so after checking it out we went down in the cellar to get our tastings. You get four beers going from light to dark.
Finally, it was time to go to the Original Beer Spa. I can not tell you how amazing it was. We checked in; they took us to our private room. There were two oak barrel tubs that had jets and were filled with beer! The lady added in the hops and malts while she was explaining everything. You get 30 minutes in the tub, beer bread with a beer butter spread, and there are taps beside the tub for self serve beer your choices are light and dark.
After 30 minutes, you relax on a bed made of hay (it was actually really comfortable and soft) and continue to enjoy the bread and beer. It’s a really good thing we did all of that walking!! It was so relaxing and my skin was so soft for days!
Meghan and I agreed on our last night, we wanted to check out Prague nightlife. After doing some research we decided on Karlovy Lane, a 5 story club next the Charles Bridge. There was a cover of 12 euro, but honestly it had been so long since I had been out dancing I would have payed 20! Also once inside, you basically have 5 different clubs and the drinks were ridiculously cheap! Each level is a different theme: radio hits, oldies, techno, hip-hop, and chill-out. They all have very different vibes and we wandered from floor to floor. The energy was so vibrant and we danced until about 2:30 am!
On the way out, we decided to stop by the oxygen bar on the bottom level. We were not going to do it, then we got there and discovered what it actually was. For about 5 euro you choose the “flavor” I went with lavender. you get a new clean tube that goes over your ear and under your nose for you to inhale 99% pure O2 (typical air is only 21%). I felt completely relaxed, but also elated from dancing all night. Sometimes you need to blow off steam and for me dancing until 2am was just what I needed. Thanks to the oxygen bar, I woke up feeling fine. Sadly our time in Prague was over, and I had fallen in love. We grabbed breakfast and headed to the airport.
This trip could not have come at a better time. I have been in a pretty sad place since losing my mom. It had been a while since I really laughed and let loose. For this trip, I could not have asked for a better travel partner than Meghan. She knew how much I needed this and she really took the wheel. I was able to relax and go with the flow.
All the conversations, the laughs, the dancing, the love, and Prague: I will hold these memories forever. I feel like I came back to life. I know in those times of sadness and when Rob and Z drive me crazy, I can think back on this trip; make a phone call to one of the amazing women who are always there to chat; or even just listen while I cry or vent. So hold tight to your female friendships and don’t take them for granted, they are special.
Stay tuned for more adventures of Rob, Z and I.
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