23 December, 2011

2011, AKA "The Rollercoaster"

I can’t believe that Christmas is upon us.  In a couple of days I’ll be sitting down to feast after feast, coming down from a post present opening frenzy.  I received a gorgeous letter from my great aunt today, with all the news of her year, and it made me reflect on everything that has happened in my own life this year.

It’s been a year of the lowest lows and the highest possible highs.  I’ve been to places I never thought I would get to and seen some of the most spectacular sights imaginable. Here’s how it panned out...

I welcomed in the new year with Maarten and friends, watching the neighbourhood fireworks display (as it’s legal to buy fireworks in the weeks leading up to New Year), then on New Year’s Day, Maarten braved the infamous New Year’s Dive.  This year they had cut a hole in the ice and he had to jump in and climb out of the frozen swimming pool.  We then went home and celebrated with the family by eating Oliebollen and Boerenkool and I made my epic “Ik kom klaar”   comment to the grandparents.
The hole in the ice for the New Year's Dive
 January marked the first of our new years resolution trips abroad - to Ghent which I loved and then February we made the trip to Berlin.  I was lucky enough to visit the Berlin Zoo and see poor Knut only a few weeks before he died.  March was Carnaval in Maastricht and a trip of a lifetime to Prague.

The three towers of Ghent

Prague city skyline
Through all of this I was noticing some strange happenings within my body, so went to have a check up in Early April, only to find out that I returned a very serious result in a PAP smear, which in turn resulted in an even more serious outcome after a biopsy - severe dysplaysia and surgery pretty much ASAP.  This was the absolute low point for me this year (perhaps even my life so far).  Before I knew what was going on I was terrified.  Of course when confronted with cancer it’s perfectly normal to freak out somewhat, but I think it was the shock that was the hardest to deal with.  Once I had all the information and knew the worst case scenario (a hysterectomy), I could manage and get on with it.

Then, not only was I dealing with the fallout of this news, literally the day before my scheduled surgery, I found out that I was pregnant with Inky.  We then had to dash to the doctor to find out what happens next, and the specialist and oncologist were adamant that the surgery had to progress, it just wasn’t safe to put it off until after the baby was born.  So, we rescheduled, and I went under the knife in August.  

Our first look at Inky
In the mean time, we were still persisting with our monthly trips abroad.  In May we went to Madrid and Segovia, which was probably one of the best trips we made this year.  Segovia was magical with its startling skyline and Madrid was just one of the most amazing cities in Europe.

Stunning Segovia
June took us to Normandy and the stunning Mont St Michel via Le Somme World War I battlefields, Vainstream and Hurricane music festivals and the pregnancy bombshell.

Mont St Michel

In July we (and I mean Maarten’s dad) renovated our bathroom.  It was such a tiring time.  All I wanted to do was sleep, but had to push through and at least pretend I was contributing to the effort!  Our trip abroad was also a bit half-arsed.  We didn’t have the time or the spare money, so we dashed across the border to Aachen for a schnitzel before celebrating a friend’s birthday in Maastricht.  So it still counted!

August saw me taking the train to Paris to meet my oldest friend Fleur, which was just the coolest day ever.  Two girls from Avenue Range living it up in Paris, munching on macarons and sipping champagne.  It was such a highlight.  The day after I came home from Paris I checked into the hospital for the surgery and then a couple of weeks later was given the all-clear.  No cancer and they had been able to cut it all out.

September was holiday month.  We booked a ten day trip to Crete and it was just wonderful.  We stayed just outside Hersonissos and made the island our own.  Maarten surprised me with an early Christmas present on the second last day - a trip to Santorini!  Sadly one day just isn’t enough to appreciate it and I just can’t wait to go back.  

The view from our hotel, Crete
The beach at Agios Pavlos, Crete
Sagrada Familia, Barcelona
By the time October rolled around I was really starting to feel my pregnancy.  Tiring easily and trying not to be too much of a dragon (that is sometimes a losing battle!).  For our weekendje weg, we went to Antwerpen, which is a beautiful city, just an absolute bitch to get around/into.  Driving the ring road is like running a gauntlet, you just never know when your number’s up.  Getting into the city itself is just as big a nightmare.  A maze of one way systems and no parking (obviously an exaggeration).  Once you’re in, it’s wonderful though.  The train station is listed as one of the top five most beautiful stations in the world and the city is just lovely to try and get lost in.  But the traffic was just way too stressful for me, and I don’t want to go back.

In November I realised that my pregnancy was just flying by - I cracked the third trimester!  Inky has been growing and making herself known all the time.  Our second last trip was to Barcelona - an absolute flying city visit.  We saw the high points and enjoyed Siesta and then came home again.  It was a taster really, but enough for me to well and truly fall in love with the city and start dreaming of a return trip.

It was also about this time that my body started to pack up on me.  A mad dash to the hospital (seriously, I’ve been there so often this year I must be on their Christmas card list) saw me kept in for a couple of days for observation and the decision was made by the doctors that I had to stop working, the stress was just too much and I was at risk of going into premature labour.  At twenty nine weeks, was the last thing I wanted to hear, so since then I’ve been ensconced on my couch day in day out, with only the occasional trip out the door to run errands.  

At first I thought I would go a bit mad, but now I’m used to it and am starting to like it.  You’d think that because I’m home all day the house would be spotless, the washing and ironing would be done and I’d be well up to date on current affairs, but no!  Inky’s bedroom however, is ready for its new tenant and I spend quite a bit of time in there just marvelling at the idea of a baby moving in in about seven weeks from today.  Seven weeks!

Today I’m sitting down preparing for Christmas.  All the presents are wrapped and under the tree and I’m menu planning for our Boxing Day feast.  It’s also our last child-free Christmas and I just know that Christmases from now on are going to be so different and much more fun.

I can’t wait for 2012 to get cracking.  One of my dearest friends is coming from Australia and will celebrate New Year with us, my mum arrives in about three weeks time and Inky could appear at any moment.  Then my dad is coming in March.  2012 is going to be the best year ever.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Tell me about your highs and lows in 2011.  Has it been the rollercoaster ride I’ve had?

11 December, 2011

Weekendje Weg - Christmas Markets, Cologne

I can’t believe that it’s December already?  Where did this year go?

We’ve just come home from our very last Weekendje Weg for the year.  That makes it twelve, yes twelve planned trips abroad this year, one a month (actually it worked out to be more, but we’ll stick to twelve for the purposes of this post) every month since January.  Needless to say, I’m pretty chuffed with the achievement.

This month is Christmas Market month in Germany and it’s basically compulsory that we visit at least one every year.  In the past we have been to Muenster, Essen and Aachen, and this year we decided to brave Cologne.  So did the rest of the free world, apparently.

Getting to Cologne was a breeze.  Couple of hours on the freeway and traffic (for a change) was quite reasonable, plus the weather was perfect.  We found a park within minutes and were in amongst it almost straight away.

What I hadn’t counted on was the crowds.  Obviously I expected the city to be busy, it’s the lead up to Christmas after all, but oh my goodness.  There was a couple of protest groups on the Dom square and just getting into the market at the Dom was a nightmare.  Shoving, pushing, shuffling, and just general antisocial behaviour.  Before I had even looked at a stall I was fed up.

We took some time out by visiting the Dom.  The Cologne cathedral is reportedly the tallest gothic structure in the world and wow!  I had to crane my neck to see the top, and couldn’t fit it all into one frame on my camera.  And inside, it was just as impressive.  Although it was almost as busy in there as it was outside in the Christmas markets!  Still, well worth the visit.  Next time I’ll make sure I go in January when it’s very cold and on a Monday.  Just to appreciate it better!

The Cologne Cathedral.  Massive.

Couldn't even get half of it in the frame!
Purely by coincidence a big group of my friends were also visiting Cologne for the Christmas Markets, so we had big plans to meet up somewhere, but after being shoved around at the third market (as they’re dotted all over the city centre) I had had enough.  I shouted at a French guy who took the levels of crowd etiquette too far and realised that it was time to go. We never did find a place to rendezvous, but I'm sure they had a fabulous time!

We decided to head back to our hotel in Neuss for some relaxation time and brave the Christmas market there later in the evening instead.  We booked a room at the Mecure Hotel in Neuss via our new favourite booking site, hotelspecials.nl for the princely sum of 59 euros for two including breakfast.  I like to reflect on how we’ve progressed this year, beginning in Ghent at a Formule 1 Hotel and ending in Neuss in a Mecure.

The hotel itself was really comfortable.  We were in a bed that was actually one bed, rather than two pushed together (which is something very common in Germany and the Netherlands I find) and although the room was small, it wasn’t Barcelona small and it had all the necessary trimmings.  Breakfast was fabulous, with a huge selection of food on offer.  I managed to gorge myself, as usual!

In the evening we headed into Neuss, which incidentally claims the title of “Germany’s oldest city,” as it’s built on a former Roman settlement to have some dinner and check out the Christmas market there.  The market was so much more civilised.  There were less stalls though, but more food.  And the people were all really enjoying their gluhwein and the live music.  The scene fit the definition of “Gezellig” in my eyes perfectly.  

We ate at the Haus am Markt, which was very busy and the food and service was really very good.  Even though it seemed to be booked out (Christmas parties), they managed to squeeze us in without any trouble  The table next to us all ordered steaks (out with Grandma, who was most likely paying the bill!) that looked so good my mouth watered.  I’m now counting the days until I have my baby, just so I can have a mammouth piece of steak with a glass of Coonawarra Cabernet.  I could have ordered steak, but I couldn’t face ruining it by having it served well done.

So, back to the Christmas market, and the entire point of this particular weekendje weg.  What did I think, really?  Well, Cologne is much too big and there are just too many tourists there for my liking.  I find at smaller markets (like Muenster or Essen), the crowds are mostly German, and incredibly polite.  There is sometimes a bit of pushing, but it’s usually just at the entrances and exits.  Inside, everyone knows the rules (stay to the right, don’t push and don’t stop without stepping out of the way a bit first).  However, at Cologne it was one big free-for-all and really not enjoyable for me.  I enjoyed it so little, I did not spend one cent.  Nothing (lunch and gluhwein for Maarten doesn’t count, obviously).

If I decide to go back to a market next Christmas, it will most definitely be to a smaller city.  Maybe back to Aachen (my favourite German city).  Or perhaps we’ll brave Dortmund (with Europe’s tallest Christmas tree).  It’s even more likely that I’ll be chained to the house with a nine month old child...!

Have you been to the German Christmas markets in Cologne or somewhere else?  What did you think?  Where’s a location that you would recommend?

22 November, 2011

Weekendje Weg - Barcelona

More than six months ago we booked a weekend trip to Barcelona.  So much has happened since then, I still can’t believe that we found the energy to go!

We had been watching flight prices for more than a year, but have never been able to find a price good enough for us to take the plunge (tight-arses that we are).  So it was almost a serendipitous moment when I was cruising for offers one day and saw that EasyJet had one of its sensational sales for a destination that actually appeals and we snapped up the tickets quick smart, for the ludicrous price of 120 EUR return for the two of us.

Our big problem was that because we had so many trips locked in, we had barely any spare holiday days available, so we made the decision to only take a flying visit (literally) between Friday and Sunday nights.  I have to say, I was quite nervous about both the flight and how busy we would be.  At 28 weeks pregnant, I’m just not as mobile as I was when we booked the flights (back in the pre-pregnancy days).  We just agreed to take it very easy and if I was too tired, I would just go back to the hotel and have a sleep.

We had what can only be described as a dream trip from Schiphol to Barcelona.  Great seats (managed to secure a spare seat between us in a virtually full flight), then a super fast connection to our hotel with the Aerobus in Barcelona.  We were in the hotel within an hour of getting off the plane, which is absolutely unheard of usually at any destination we go to.

We stayed at the Grupotel Gravina, just off La Rambla.  The location was sensational.  A 30 second walk to the Universitat Metro station and less than five minutes to Plaza Catalunya.  Even better, the hotel was in a quiet side street, with virtually no city noise.

The room was however, very small.  The double (just) bed was pushed into the corner (which I hate), so there was only access from one side and it was also quite stuffy, so we opened our window so we could sleep the first night.  Some time during that first night I was woken by some pretty serious banging that sounded like it was coming from outside.  In my sleepy state I wasn’t quite sure what it could be, until I twigged.  It was the neighbours going at it.  And I mean really going at it.  It went on so long and so loudly that I wasn’t sure if I should be envious or sympathetic.  And then just when we thought the slapping, moaning, banging and yelling German sweet nothings was starting to get out of hand (after more than an hour, mind you), they abruptly stopped, had a shower, then slammed their window shut!  Yep, show’s over folks, we’re going to sleep now!  I will admit that at breakfast the next morning I was sneaking looks around the restaurant to see if I could spot the culprits and congratulate/chastise them.

Speaking of breakfast, it was included in the price of the room and although there was a sign in the lift warning guests to eat before 8.30 am to avoid the queues, we slept late (due to the neighbours’ late night performance) so didn’t get downstairs until around 9.00.  Big mistake.  Huge.  The queue was out the door and we knew we had to leave by 10.00 to make Sagrada Familia on time.  So, we retreated upstairs to get ourselves completely ready in the hopes that the line would have shortened by the time we came back half an hour or so later.

This turned out to be a good choice.  We only had to stand in line for about five minutes before we were seated.  However, waiting until almost the end of breakfast service is never really a great idea.  There were about two pieces of bacon and a spoonful of eggs left, plus the pastries on the ‘dessert’ buffet had dried out and were no longer really edible.  On Sunday, we were up and at breakfast before 8.00 am, and as among the first to eat, we had a great choice of the freshest ingredients.  

My tip:  Don’t sleep in before breakfast.  Get yourself up early, tuck in to the good stuff, then retreat to your room for a bit of a rest before starting your day.  Works a treat.

We had looked into a couple of travel options (and when I say we, I mean Maarten) and were tossing up between one of those hop on hop off tourist buses, or the metro.  The hop on hop off buses are expensive (around 23 euros), so we decided to try out the metro.  We thought that if it was rubbish, we could just go for the bus and be done with it.  But, the Barcelona metro is a delight!  The trains are new, the stations are spotless, the trains run perfectly on time (about every three minutes) and best of all, the tickets are cheap!  

We bought a ten trip card for 8.25 EUR on the first morning that can be used by multiple passengers.  So Maarten would check in, hand the ticket to me and then I would check in.  So simple and there are several different options.  For example, we could have gone for the one day unlimited travel card, which is 6.20 EUR per person, but weren’t sure how many trips we would take.  As it turned out, we had one trip (each) remaining on Sunday morning.  I can’t recommend the metro enough.

We took the metro to our first stop of the trip, Sagrada Familia.  I stepped out of the metro station and when greeted with my first view of the temple I thought: Meh.  Is this it?  But it turned out to just be the angle I was standing at.  As we walked around and I saw it from all angles, my awe grew, as did the church, in my eyes.  The second thing I noticed was the queue.  I had been warned that the queue to get into the church was hours long, and the crowd didn’t disappoint.  While it wasn’t equal to the summer Louvre queues, it was down the block and well around the corner and easily a couple of hours long.  On the very sound advice of my friend Natalia, we pre-booked our tickets and waltzed straight past the queue and took the express entrance, score!  I won’t lie, I did consider flashing my arse to those poor souls standing in line for hours...
Sagrada Familia
Standing looking at the outside, I was struggling for a way to describe what it makes me feel or see.  The building feels organic.  Like it was carved out of a single piece of stone, or like it has been there for all time and humans just moulded it slightly.  Inside it feels like a futuristic forest.  Like you’re standing amongst giant trees and staring up at the canopy in wonder.
Inside Sagrada Familia
It turns out that what I felt was basically Gaudi’s intention!  The pillars inside are inspired by tree trunks and the entire structure is inspired by nature.  You know, it’s just wonderful to experience art (no matter the scale) and just get it.  Instead of just looking at a painting/sculpture and wondering what the artist’s intention was or why you don’t see it.  I look at Picasso, or Mondrian and often I don’t see the meaning (who am I kidding, I never see it), but with Gaudi’s projects inspired by nature, you just feel it.

But anyway.  Off from Sagrada Familia and on to Park Guell, another Gaudi nature project.  Maarten had warned me that it was a “bit of a bitch” to get to and stupid me thought he meant that it was a bit out of the way on the metro, but no!  What he actually meant was that once you stepped out of the metro you have to walk about a kilometre up (what feels like) the third steepest street in the world, eep!  But, I put on a brave face.  After all, I did climb Heart Attack Hill twice a week for two years, so this was clearly going to be a walk in (to?) the park.  Lucky for me half of the journey was serviced by escalators so we made it to the top in a jiffy.  Note to Kings Canyon park rangers:  Escalators!

Our walk wound us around the top of the hill and offered beautiful views of the city and Mt Tibidabo (remember that Friends episode?) and over the bay.  Then we descended into the park itself and to see Gaudi’s work at its finest.  The two houses that look like something out of Hansel and Gretel.  The walls built to resemble birds nests. The curved walkway that looks like a wave, and of course the mosaics.  I fell in love with the place, and not even the enormous crowds and revolting toilets could put me off.
One of the houses inside Park Guell

The Salamander - synonymous with Gaudi's work in Barcelona
After visiting Park Guell, it was most definitely siesta time for me, so I headed back to the hotel and Maarten went exploring by himself.  Siesta stretched well into the evening, and it was quite late when we finally headed out for dinner, with a spot of shopping along the way.  I just love that all the stores stay open until 9.00pm, so convenient!

Sunday Morning we were up early for all the fresh goodies on the breakfast buffet and then headed out to enjoy the city by ourselves.  Something that we just love doing is getting out and about early in a new city on a Sunday morning.  There are virtually no people around, so we can really get a great feel for the place.  We visited a couple of Gaudi-designed houses, and went inside the Casa Mila which is now a museum.  It was very expensive; around 15 euros per person and there wasn’t a lot to see.  Not if you compare it with other, far greater museums.  Although it was very cool (and World Heritage listed), if you’re on a budget visiting Barcelona, I would give entering this one a miss.  It’s fabulous for the chimneys on top, but that is the main attraction to be perfectly honest.  It’s one of those places that you think will be much more than it is.

Casa Batllo,  inspired by St George and the dragon

Chimneys atop Casa Mila

We stopped off for a spot of lunch at one of the many, many Spanish bars for a bocadillo (sandwich/half a baguette) and one of Barcelona’s specialities; Patatas Bravas.  Basically, it’s cooked potato pieces with a yummy spicy mayonnaise-like sauce.  Very, very tasty.  These bars are so cheap and simple, it makes me wonder why we insist on all the trimmings at cafes across Europe and Australia when the Spanish do it perfectly, remembering it’s all about the food, not the fancy decor.

Patatas Bravas
As it was getting close to the time that we needed to head to the airport, we ambled through a park, past Barcelona’s Arc de Triomf and via the Cathedral to the hotel before catching the bus to the airport.  It was then that we discovered that back home in the Netherlands, there was a blanket of mist waiting to greet us and that Schiphol was in chaos with flights cancelled and delayed left right and centre.

Lucky for us, we took off on time and were only delayed a little while circling at Schiphol, but spent half an hour taxiing to the terminal - the one runway that we always seem to land on is basically in Haarlem, although it feels like it’s in Alkmaar...  We were out of the plane, straight on a train, and then home tucked up in bed before 11.00 pm, ready to go to work first thing Monday morning!

What did I love about Barcelona?  Everything.  Although I only spent a very short amount of time there, I really felt at home and like I could have stayed and blended in immediately.  I loved all the buildings that I saw by Gaudi and wish that I had more exposure to it when I was younger, it is truly inspirational.

What didn’t I love about Barcelona?  Nothing.  It was spotless.  Never once did I feel like a target for pickpockets. The key is to be vigilant, but not over the top.  Just keep a hand on your bag and don’t look like an obvious tourist.  Those of you who wear a money belt and zip off trousers, I’m talking to you!

November is also a fabulous time to go.  The weather was still great (I could have worn shorts to be honest) and there are half the amount of people that visit during the summer season.  It’s the perfect off-season destination, but is Spain ever really off-season..?

Basically, I can’t wait to go back.  Can’t wait.

Have you been to Barcelona? What are your tips and what did you think of it? Did you love Gaudi as much as I do?

17 October, 2011

The Expat List

This morning I opened my blog reading list and first stop was Our Big Expat Adventure, a blog written by a fellow Australian, living in Singapore.  The author, KJ and I connected over a mutual love for mamamia.com.au and now chatter away on Twitter fairly regularly.

Today’s post is titled The Expat List and just reading it made me become excited.  I’m certain that every expat has their list filled with weird and wonderful items that only fellow country(wo)men can relate to, I know I do.  I have found that over the years as I get used to living abroad my list has decreased somewhat,  However, my mum is coming to visit in a few months with a luggage allowance of 30kg (bless you Emirates), so I’m in the process of putting together the full shebang.  She’ll regret offering by the time she has no space left for her own clothes!

Here’s my list of essentials:
  • Arnotts Pizza Shapes.  If you don’t know what pizza shapes are, it’s probably a good thing.  They are good enough to consume my thoughts for days on end.  Really.
  • Chickadee chicken salt.  I’m sure the ingredients aren’t only ‘chicken’ and ‘salt’ but it’s so damn tasty that I could cover anything with it.
  • De Jour tampons.  I don’t know why, but tampons outside Australia just aren’t as good.  Plus it seems women in the Netherlands prefer sanitary towels, which are just not for me.
  • Tea bags.  English breakfast is my flavour of choice, and the blends here in the Netherlands are just not up to scratch.  I love Twinings, Tetley and the best:  PG Tips.  I usually put in an order for those when I know someone going to the UK.  I have found them in the Black Market in Beverwijk, but that’s an hour’s drive, just for tea...
  • Chocolate.  It’s weird what you miss.  Belgium is as close to Almere as Mount Gambier is to Lucindale, but when all you want is a Violet Crumble or a block of Cadbury Snack Godiva just doesn’t hit the spot!
  • Heinz (or home brand) cheesy tinned spaghetti.  Love it.  I can also get tinned spaghetti from the UK, but the Australian version is just that much better.
  • Crumpets.
  • Cotties apple and raspberry flavoured cordial.  This is a new addition to the list.  I really miss ‘proper’ cordial.
  • DiGiorgio Family Wines sparkling pinot noir chardonnay.  My all time favourite bubbly.  Helps that it’s from my home town!
  • Bundaberg rum.  This is for my husband.  The smell takes me back to too many nights of obscene drunkenness, and these days it’s only after I’ve drunk my body weight in beer or wine that I think rum is a good idea.
  • Vegemite.  Of course.  What I would really love is a cheddarmite scroll from Bakers Delight.  Yum!
  • Promite.  I prefer it to vegemite actually.
Notice that Tim Tams are missing? I love them, but they don't quite make my essentials list. Chuck in an extra box of pizza shapes instead.

What about you?  What’s on your list of items from home when someone comes to visit?

12 October, 2011

Is that light I see at the end of the tunnel?

Just recently I’ve noticed a shift in my perception and attitude to life here in the Netherlands.  Confrontations or situations that earlier would have left a black cloud hanging over my head for an entire day (or a week, sometimes!) no longer seem to bother me for much longer than a couple of minutes.  Often these days I’ll have a near miss on my bike with an idiot in a car on the way to work and by the time I arrive at the office it has been forgotten.

I have been wondering to myself if perhaps, finally, I’m transitioning through the stages of culture shock.  It is generally understood that culture shock passes within a few months (certainly within a year), but I talk to people here in the Netherlands who are clearly still struggling, often after a few years.  I certainly have been!

According to Wikipedia culture shock has four distinct phases; Honeymoon, Negotiation, Adjustment and Mastery.  In the honeymoon phase everything is lovely and new, bright and shiny, exciting and fascinating.  The negotiation phase tends to kick in once one realises that life isn’t actually all roses.  Differences between the home culture and new culture become glaringly apparent, and the differences are often difficult to deal with.  Language, social interaction and perhaps one of the big issues for people coming to the Netherlands is the attitude within primary health care and its magical wonder drug, paracetamol, can become overwhelming.

Eventually the negotiation phase fades and the adjustment stage will begin. Wikipedia states that this usually happens between the six and twelve month mark, although if my own experience is anything to go by, it can take much, much longer.  In the adjustment phase one will develop more of a positive outlook and deal with issues as they arise instead of getting bogged down in the differences and difficulties that they would have during the negotiation phase.

Finally, the mastery phase.  Basically full integration.  This does not mean losing one’s own cultural identity, but becoming comfortable enough in the new country that they finally feel at home and at ease.

I have been struggling along in the negotiation phase for a very long time.  So long in fact, that I don’t even remember the honeymoon phase.  Perhaps my honeymoon phase was in the time when I was just a regular visitor, rather than a resident.  I do remember marvelling at the ING building in Amsterdam Zuid on my first trip and traversing the Oosterschelde and Afluitdijk respectively was an incredible experience for me.

But, I have so many memories of incidents and hurdles that really bogged me down.  Regular tantrums in the supermarket for not being able to find the "right" products.  Horror and anger that would last for days at a perceived slight from an encounter in public.  Throwing my homework across the room and refusing to continue at the tone of some to the integration coursework.  Uncontrollable tears when I break three wine glasses in one day because I’m just useless and can’t do anything right (that was a merry Christmas, let me tell you).  All things that should in all seriousness be water off a ducks back.  But they just weren’t.  Everything was so much harder.  I would take everything personally.  Maarten has been unbelievably patient with me for a very long time and it’s really only now that I’m coming out the other end that I realise just how trying I must have been (who am I kidding, still am!).

Why has the transition into adjustment finally come about after so long?  I really think that it has to do with all of the health dramas I’ve had this year.  As a consequence of being ill, I’ve had to put myself out there and speak Dutch.  I’ve had to be proactive in interacting with others.  I’ve had to take a good look at myself and my own attitude.  

It’s really only been in the last week or so that I’ve actually noticed this shift in my own attitude.  I’m happier more than I have been the entire three and a half years living here in the Netherlands.  I can finally have a meaningful conversation with my mother in law as I am much more confident with my level of Dutch.  When I encounter antisocial behaviour (daily) I’ll just think “sukkel” and forget about it almost immediately.

By no means does my new outlook make me reflect and think that my old attitude was ridiculous and invalid.  I don’t doubt that others around me believe(d) that I was behaving like a crazed harpy, but that makes my own feelings no less important or relevant.  Life has been a real struggle for me in the last few years.  I could not count the amount of hours, days or probably even weeks that I’ve spent wishing that I could be in Australia, or even anywhere else if I'm honest.  I do truly believe that there are real social and behavioural issues that need dealing with here in the Netherlands which have been a huge factor in how I've felt.  The bubble mentality is so ingrained that it is very obvious that many, many people think only of themselves.  You can enter any supermarket or stand in any queue and experience it.  Maarten’s grandfather, who is quite possibly the most lovely man you could meet turns into a shoving monster when he’s put into a queue for free food.  His appalling behaviour has to be seen to be believed!

What happens now?  I keep moving up.  I seem to be slowly evolving into more of a glass half full type of person and I’m liking this new outlook.  I’m not walking around with a dark cloud hovering over my head any more.  I can finally see and appreciate my life and how damned good I have it.

And let’s face it.  I have some pretty cool experiences coming up soon.  Not only am I having a baby in a few months, but my mum is making her first trip abroad to visit us.  This is huge.  The woman is terrified of flying and is going to put herself through quite possibly the worst plane journey on earth in the middle of our winter just to come here.  It makes my heart sing.

Lastly, I’m going to master this culture shock if it kills me.

Which stage are you at in the four phases of culture shock? How have you coped? How long has it taken you to see the light at the end of the tunnel?

What we are talking about

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...