As I reflect on this past year all I can say is how incredibly fortunate I feel to be living this crazy, wonderful life. I feel like I’ve said that so many times, but it’s because it’s so true. I have a sweet little family. A [mostly] healthy toddler. A happy puppy. And a loving, supportive and hardworking husband. I can’t really ask for much more.
This year has been so unique and special mainly because we took the leap of faith and are living overseas in the Netherlands [from the Seattle area]. Never in my life would I think that I would have the opportunity to travel all over Europe, let alone live her.. We’ve been all over, from Italy to Germany, to Greece and Portugal. And in between. We have a trip planned to the French Alps to ski and a trip to Dublin, Ireland planned in the near future, and still have many more places to check off our bucket list before we head back to the States for good.
In this past year I’ve learned a ton, I’ve been pushed outside of my comfort zone, I’ve eaten new foods, tried new things, I’ve gotten lost, I’ve traveled all over Europe. But the best part? That’s getting to make incredible, lasting memories with my family [and of course, those of you who come visit and travel with us!].
Here’s what the beginning of 2017 looked like for us.
2017. the year of change.
This year started out with a bang, literally! It was the end of December 2017 and we had just moved to Heeze, Netherlands and were barely settled into our new house [with only rental furniture might I add!]. We were really struggling with jet lag. Like, a lot. Our one year old wasn’t sleeping for more than a couple hours at night so my husband Bryce and I would take turns being up for hours in the middle of the night with her. Then came New Years Eve, and let me tell you, we did not expect to have a loud and crazy New Years. At all. All we wanted was a nice quiet evening and a baby who would sleep. Heeze is a smaller, quiet village in the Netherlands and is typically thought of as the countryside, so we figured we’d be in the clear when it came fireworks and partying on New Years. Nope. That wasn’t the case. The inside of our house felt like a rave with lights flashing and loud booms coming from every direction! Man oh man, those fireworks were sure hard to miss. And…they lasted for hours and hours. Needless to say, we had yet another sleepless night.
After about six weeks of living with just rental furniture was hard. Really hard. Our house felt cold and baron and we didn’t have any of the things that made our house feel like a home. We only had 4 plates, 4 cups and 4 sets of silverware, along with a few other cooking essentials. Our couch was small and uncomfortable. Our bed was basically just a mattress sitting on the ground, and let’s just say it wasn’t a Tempurpedic. When our stuff finally arrived it was like Christmas morning! We worked all day and night to get everything unpacked and organized. I’m extremely OCD when it comes to moving [thanks to my mom 🙂 !], so we literally had everything unpacked and pretty much in the right place within 2 days of our stuff getting here. Ahhh it felt so good! We had our comfy couches again, our fluffy rugs, our BED, our cooking utensils, pots and pans. Now we were ready to start our life in the Netherlands.
an empty house ready to be made into a home. Heeze, Netherlands.
adjusting to life in a new country.
There was a lot to do from the time we landed in Amsterdam until we were official Netherlands residents. And there was a lot to learn! We had appointments at the Expat center in Eindhoven to apply for residents cards [this happened the day we arrived and we. were. soooo. jet lagged, tired, un-showered, and the list goes on]. The next stop was a visit to the local bank to set up an account and get our debit cards. The main form of payment here is cash or debit. Hardly anyone uses a credit card and we don’t even have a credit card over here. That was something we had to get used to. Then, from the bank we had to make arrangements to pick up our company car that we were borrowing until Bryce could get his actual company car. And the list goes on.
the never ending to-do list.
There are so many little things that you need to adjust to when you move to a different town or different neighborhood. Things like finding a new grocery store to shop at and finding a new route to work. When you move to a different country, you have all that plus more. Lot’s more. It was extremely overwhelming at first, but my husband and I worked together and slowly but surely figured out how to fit into the Dutch community [even though we definitely do stand out at times!].
Some of the most challenging things ahead of us when we first moved here were time-sensitive things like finding a local family doctor, learning the traffic signs and rules, learning how to run the washer and dryer when everything is in Dutch, getting Dutch drivers licenses, finding a boarding facility for our dog when we travel, buying a car and getting it insured, and then things like learning how to navigate the grocery store and trying to understand food labels in a different language.
In addition, there was the never ending to-do list that included things like figuring out which stores sell what [i.e. drug stores, hardware stores, speciality stores, etc.], finding kid-friendly places like zoos, museums and parks, finding a salon to get my hair done or the occasional mani/pedi, and learning how the recycling works. Recycling is different in the Netherlands. For anything glass you have to take it to a local drop off. We drop our glass off in bins at the local train station which is just a few minute walk from our house. Plastic, milk cartons and tin cans are all recycled together, but you have to put them in specific recycle bags which get collected twice per week. Paper is a separate bin that gets picked up once per month. Lastly, any garbage is collected and picked up once monthly. Yep you heard that correct! Once per month. Back in the states our large garbage can was full each week and here in the Netherlands we have one small can that is collected once per month. This was a big adjustment, but we’ve managed to reduce our waste by recycling everything we can and composting our food scraps. It’s become second nature after living here for a year, but in the beginning it was tough.
After about six months there were other things on the agenda that included finding a preschool for our daughter, Hallie. I am beyond thrilled about the preschool that we choose for Hallie. Although she’s still having a hard time adjusting to spending time with people other than me and her dad, we think she’ll learn to love it soon enough. And she’ll be speaking Dutch in no time!
Hallie first day of preschool. Heeze, Netherlands.
Then there are the cultural differences that include the fact that many stores are closed on Sundays. Our little town of Heeze feels like a ghost town on Sundays, so we usually make a trip to the nearby city, Eindhoven, if we want to do anything. Also, many places close early, around 5 or 6pm every day and they don’t open until 9 or 10am. Then theres the fact that there are virtually zero drive-thru or to-go coffee shops. Shorty after moving here, we purchased an espresso maker and it’s been one of the best purchases we’ve made. Almost all of Europe uses the metric system which is different than the US, so that was another adjustment we had to make. Then there’s the obvious difference which is the language. Although many people in the Netherlands speak English fluently, there are still things to get used to like learning to read or translate Dutch mail, restaurant menus, signs, food labels, etc.
Whew, there were/are a lot of little things to get used to when we first arrived in the Netherlands. Looking back at all of these things now, it seems stressful, but we managed to get through it all and now feel much more at home here.
the food and drinks.
As a Nutritionist I was especially excited to move to Europe simply because of the better food standards compared to the United States. Europe has banned several additives and preservatives that the US continues to add to food products. This doesn’t mean that Europe is exempt from having not-so-good-for-you foods, though. There are still entire grocery store aisles devoted to chips, cookies, sweetened cereals, candy bars, soda, etc. It’s all about the choices you make. There are also plenty of fast food restaurants, including chains like McDonalds, Burger King, KFC and Taco Bell, but happily I can say that there are much less that in the US.
The Netherlands isn’t really known for its cuisine, but there are a few delicious Dutch foods that I love and some that I’ll take a pass on. First thing is cheese, or in Dutch, “kaas.” They are famous for their gouda cheese and sell it in different varieties including, young, old and very old cheese. The older cheese being more sharp in flavor. I really do love the Dutch cheese.
Stroopwaffles. There are delicious little waffle cookie sandwiches with syrup or “stroop” in the middle. You can find them in pretty much any grocery store or bakery. Anyone who comes to visit us doesn’t leave without giving the stroopwaffle a try.
Bitterballen and Krokets. Bitterballen and Krokets are similar and very popular Dutch snacks. They’re on the menu in almost every bar or restaurant! They’re essentially deep fried balls filled with a savory mixture of soft meat and spices. I couldn’t possibly live in the Netherlands without giving them a try. And the verdict is that I’m definitely not a fan. The flavor is okay but the texture of the filling is a little odd. I’ll just stick to the cheese platter.
Hagelslag. Sprinkles that people put on their bread for breakfast and/or lunch. Strange I know, but from what I hear and see, it’s super popular among both kids and adults. Chocolate is most popular. I haven’t tried this particular Dutch specialty, and in all honesty, I don’t plan to.
Erwtensoep. A thick and hearty split pea soup that I absolutely love! I’ve always loved split pea soup and I love it just the same here in the Netherlands. The thought of ertwensoep makes my heart happy because our sweet neighbor brought us over a batch of her homemade soup shorty after we moved in.
With all of the travel we’ve done, we’ve had the opportunity to try some of the most amazing food ever. Some of my absolute favorite things were, of course, mostly from the countries that the food originated from. The homemade pizza and pasta in Italy is simply incredible. The chocolate in Belgium really is that good. I had the best bite of bratwurst and sauerkraut just a few weeks ago at a Christmas market in Aachen, Germany. The seafood from Lisbon, Portugal was so fresh and prepared just right! I also had the single best bite of croissant from a little café in Lisbon. New places, new foods, new memories.
seafood stew. Lisbon, Portugal.
I’ve tried a couple of new drinks since living in Europe, and one that I especially love is the Aperol Spritz. It’s a vibrant orange chilled, refreshing cocktail made from prosecco, Aperol and soda water. My husband and I have also loved trying all kinds of new wines from different regions of the world. On our trip to Florence, Italy last year we had the opportunity to visit a winery and we continue to purchase wine from them. We also frequent a local wine shop here in Heeze where we try wines from all over, including Italy, Spain, France, Portugal and Australia. We have some favorites, but prefer to try new things as well. The beer selection in Europe can be overwhelming. There are so. many. options. We had to simply try different beers to decide which variety we liked best. It ended up that my favorite and most preferred beer variety is called a Tripel. It’s described as a strong Pale Ale, and although many different breweries brew there own Tripel, there hasn’t been one that I haven’t liked yet. What I love about the beer scene here is that people are definitely into local craft beers, similar to the way people are in Seattle, Washington.
enjoying a Tripel beer on the patio in Heeze, Netherlands.
a definite perk of living in Europe. traveling the world.
My husband Bryce and I made a promise to ourselves that we would travel as much as we could and see as many things as we could because our time here in the Netherlands is limited. Traveling can be overwhelming and stressful at times, especially with a toddler, but it has been completely, 110% worth it! Just to be able to say that I’ve seen the things I’ve seen and been to the places I have feels like a dream. I haven’t traveled much in my life prior to 2017, so it’s been a complete blessing to see so many things in just one short year.
We live 15 minutes from the Eindhoven airport which is a small airport that pretty much flies anywhere we’ve wanted to go. I’ve never loved flying and I probably never will, but when you can be in a different country in a little over an hour, it’s so worth it. The longest flight we’ve taken was three hours and it took us all the way to Crete, Greece for a family getaway. The shortest flight was just an hour and took us to Munich, Germany to experience the true Oktoberfest.
Crete, Greece. 2017.
Flying throughout Europe is easy, but road tripping in the car is a cinch, too! We’ve driven several places for a quick weekend trip or even a nice little day trip. And driving form country to country is just like driving from state to state in the US. There aren’t any border crossings, just signs that say you’ve arrived in a different country. Amsterdam is just an hour and a half from us and it’s become one of our favorite European cities. We love the hustle and bustle of Amsterdam, but we also love exploring the back streets and finding little bars and cafés. The longest, and most recent drive we’ve taken was to Dresden, Germany for their annual Christmas market. The drive was a long 6.5 hours, but fortunately we were on the Autobahn most of the time where the roads are well maintained and there’s no speed limit :). Then from Dresden we took a half day trip to Prague, Czech Republic because it was just another 90 minute drive and we simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit yet another country.
Charles Bridge. Prague, Czech Republic. December 2017.
If you want to see some of the places we’ve been to you can go to my travel section and check out each individual travel guide. I don’t have a travel guide for every place we’ve been yet, but I’m working on it :).
oh, the places we’ve been.
In just one year, we’ve had the amazing opportunity to travel to these unique and unforgettable cities.
- Rome, Italy [twice]. Rome is magical. The pizza and pasta are to die for, there’s no shortage of things to do and see, and the city is a rich with history.
- Florence, Italy. Florence is another food lovers paradise, and don’t forget about the wine. It’s another bustling city full of history, and is completely walkable which I loved. Some of the most amazing vineyards are just a short drive away in Tuscany, too.
- Sicily, Italy. The Mediterranean Sea, the salty air and a local fish market are what best describe our trip to Sicily. We stayed in a mountain top city called, Erice which has some amazing views and a castle you can walk about.
- several cities in the Netherlands, including: Amsterdam, Den Bosch, Utrecht
- several cities in Belgium, including: Antwerp, Ghent, Brugge
- Munich, Germany. The real Oktoberfest and a trip I will never forget. What a party scene it was, but it was such an amusing trip with my in-laws and our daughter, Hallie.
- Aachen, Germany. Home to an amazing Christmas market and a unique, history-rich city. We live just an hours drive to Aachen and have been a handful of times because we just love this little city.
- Lisbon, Portugal. The most unique city I’ve ever been to. From a massive castle on the top of a hill to the narrow, tile-lined buildings of the Alfama neighborhood, Lisbon is a city full of culture and rich in history.
- Crete, Greece. We vacationed to Greece for a last summer trip and it was fantastic. This trip was a little different because we chose to stay at a super kid-friendly resort with pools and palm trees. With easy access to the beach and a short drive to the city of Heraklion, we had a great time.
- Paris, France. Just a four hour drive from us is Paris. We spent a long weekend in Paris and saw as much as we could! We explored the Eiffel tour, the Louve, the Notre Dame cathedral, the Arc de Triomphe, and lastly, added a lock to the Pont Neuf bridge.
- Salzburg, Austria. We spent just a day here but had the opportunity to take part of some Oktoberfest festivities and visit the Hohensalzburg Castle.
- Dresden, Germany. Simply magical Christmas markets line the streets of Dresden throughout December. You can’t help but be amazed by the sights, sounds and smells that remind you why Christmas is so magical.
- Prague, Czech Republic. We spent just a half day in Prague and got to visit the Old Town Square which was set up for their annual Christmas market. We tried some of the famous Trdelnik which is a delicious pastry covered in cinnamon and sugar, and cooked over an open flame in the streets of Prague. We finished off our day with a walk to the Charles Bridge.
Rome, Italy. October, 2017. Altar of the Fatherland
oh, the places we’ll go…
Just like living back home in the US, having trips and vacations planned is one of the best feelings. There’s something to look forward to and be excited about! I live for these trips and the time I get to spend time with family making new memories.
The is what we have planned for year two, 2018:
- skiing in the French Alps, January 2018
- Dublin, Ireland, February 2018
- not planned yet, but on the bucket list are:
- Amalfi Coast in Italy
- Venice, Italy
- London, England
- Santorini, Greece
- Copenhagen, Denmark
- Norwegian Fjords
adapting to a new culture and way of life.
There truly is so much to love about living in Europe. Here is what I/we love the most:
Traveling all over. From quick road trips to easy flights, having the ability to take a weekend trip or a week-long vacation to a different nearby city or country has been life changing! It’s given us the itch to travel more and more, hence the reason we’ve already been working on our 2018 travel vision board.
Bike riding anywhere and everywhere. There are bike paths literally everywhere. They’re wide, flat and take you anywhere from the countryside to between cities and villages. I love days where we can hop on our bikes and just go. We ride out to one of our favorite restaurants in the country. We ride to the neighboring villages, Geldrop and Leende to have a drink and some appetizers out on the patio. And Bryce rides his bike to work when he can. It’s a completely different way of life compared to the US and it’s something that we will definitely miss. p.s. we’ve gotten much better about watching out for bikes! Bicyclists pretty much have the right away anywhere you go, and they’re not looking to stop for anyone.
biking through the Heeze countryside.
Local markets. In most villages there are several daily markets each week. For example, our town of Heeze has a fish market on Tuesdays and Fridays, an “everything” market on Thursdays [fruit, veggies, cheese, breads, fish, etc], and a flower stand on Saturdays. The markets in Heeze are always held right outside city hall so I always know where to go if I need to stock up on anything. It’s also fun to walk around some of the larger markets in Amsterdam and Eindhoven and explore the markets in other countries when we travel.
Crete, Greece. Saturday Market.
Local Farms. The number of small, family-run farms throughout the Netherlands is massive. And it’s amazing. There are farms everywhere that sell local meats, cheeses, eggs, vegetables, fruit, etc.
Outdoor living. As soon as the weather starts to get a bit nicer, the restaurants open up their outdoor patios, bicyclists fill the streets, everyone is outside. Entire city squares turn a once empty cobblestone square into a bustling outdoor patio with seats filled with people. People here also take a lot of pride in their “gardens” or yards and spend a lot of time outside in the summertime. The weather here is very similar to Seattle, WA. It’s quite rainy in the Spring and Fall, the winters get cold and you’ll see a few days of snow, and the summers are absolutely gorgeous.
Unique architecture and cobblestone streets. Everywhere you turn there’s history. There’s history in each village’s local cathedral, some are small and others are massive and magical. There’s history in the ancient cobblestone streets. There’s history in the mid-century buildings and houses. It’s uniquely different from the Unites States and there’s just something pretty cool about that.
Alfama neighborhood. Lisbon, Portugal.
Laid back vibe and family focused. This was something I was most looking forward to. And it’s true. People here take their vacation time very seriously. And people get quite a bit of paid vacation, too! Stores close fairly early and open late. Good luck finding many stores open on Sunday. There’s an emphasis on family and being together. It’s a nice change from back home where there is so much emphasis on always working late, never taking vacation, and “living to work” instead of “working to live”.
Villages/towns are set up to be self-sustaining. Every village has pretty much any store you would need. Grocery stores, hardware stores, hair salons, bakeries, cheese shops, shoe stores, restaurants, drug stores. You name it and each village will probably have it. I love that because I know that if I need to run some errands, I usually don’t have to go far unless I’m looking for something pretty specific.
the first of many trips to our local bakery.
Learning new traditions. While it’s been challenging to learn about all the different traditions here, Bryce and I really like making an effort to join in on the festivities.
Our little town of Heeze hosts a huge summer festival called Brabantsedag each year where groups of locals take months creating these giant floats that they then parade down the streets. There’s music, food, drinks, and lots and lots people. It was so fun this year, and the best part is that we could walk to it.
summer 2017. Brabantsedag Festival. Heeze, Netherlands.
There’s also a holiday called Carnaval which we’ve learned is basically like a Halloween party for adults who dress up and party. It’s a hoot to see all the costumes and the hype that goes along with Carnaval, but you won’t catch Bryce or I dressing up anytime soon.
Eindhoven [a large city near us] puts on a festival of light each year which is called GLOW. It attracts people from all over the world. Throughout the city there are amazing displays of light as you walk about and enjoy the festivities.
St. Catherine’s Cathedral brilliantly lit during the GLOW festival. Eindhoven, Netherlands. 2017.
One of the holidays we experienced most recently is all about Sinterklaas. Sinterklaas is a legendary figured based on Saint Nicholos, the patron Saint of children. The legend is that he healed people and brought presents to kids. He comes every year and gives gifts to all the kids on December 5th. Only the good little girls and boys will get presents, just like with Santa Claus, but you must put one of your shoes at the front door with carrots, a bowl of sugar and water for Sinterklaas’ horse to eat. Both Sinterklaas and Santa Claus are celebrated here.
Some of the nicest people. I feel lucky to live in the town that we do because it’s just small enough where we see some of the same people and start to get to know them. It feels so good to be walking down the street and hear a friendly “Hallo!” from the local café owner who’s café you frequent. Or when I go to the local wine shop and the owner knows our names and asks about our weekend. It’s those small gestures that make the Netherlands feel a little more like home.
As I finish up this blog post I can’t help but continue to be extremely grateful for this opportunity we’ve been given. While there have been ups and downs [as with any new experience or life in general], it’s been a very fulfilling and enriching experience for all of us. We’re learning all about a new culture and way of life. We’re able to travel all over and see the world. We’ve become adventure seekers and love to explore, even if we’ve gotten lost a time or two. It’s truly a once in a lifetime opportunity and we’ve living it up as best as we can.
Amsterdam, Netherlands. December 2017.
We’re not exactly sure when we’ll be headed back to the US for good, but in the meantime you can expect to see us traveling the world and hopefully bringing some of you along with us! 🙂
Peace out 2017, you’ve been good to us! Bring on 2018 and its many, many more adventures!
certified nutritionist, food lover, exercise enthusiast, wife, mama, sister.