Weekendje in Maastricht

Weekendje is a “little weekend”. I think you can take care of the rest. And that’s what Hubs and I had this past weekend! For the wedding, we were given a gift certificate to any 4-5 star hotel in the Netherlands. All we had to do was pay for dinner and spa services (which we didn’t have time to do). We went to a hotel nextdoor to Kasteel Vaalsbroek and spent a day in Maastricht’s City Center.

Maastricht lies in the south of Holland (about a 2 hour drive from Utrecht) and the language there is, as Erik aptly described it, like they took French, Dutch, and German, put them all in a bag, mixed them up and pulled out an all-new language. While shopping in Maastricht on Saturday, we stopped in a liquor store to purchase a bottle of wine for our Turner-sitter for the weekend. The ladies working there were having a conversation and all the sudden one of them said “Michael Jackson”. The only word I understood. As I always do when I pick out words or phrases I understand, I turned to Hubs and whispered “Michael Jackson! I understood that!” He turned to me and breathed, “That’s all I got, too.” This from a man fluent in Dutch and French!

We got into Maastricht at about 1pm, parked in a garage and headed to a cafe terrace for some lunch. There was a bit of chaos thanks to Andre Rieu and the hubbub surrounding his concert that evening. We parked right underneath what was to be his stage for that evening’s performance! We had a quick lunch and a bit of entertainment from a street performer on stilts. I was surprised at the number of English speakers I heard throughout the day, though I shouldn’t have been, seeing as it’s a very popular tourist area. After that, we walked around and did some window shopping and a bit of actual shopping, too! We went into our first Lush and later that afternoon I got some really great outfits. The architecture of the two big shopping centrums was pretty fantastic – very modern-chic! One was an outdoor mall of sorts with 3 levels of stores and another was a one-storey with a very impressive facade. The highlight, however, was the church-turned-bookstore!

And, of course, we got enough religion in to last us quite a while by going to several churches! The name of the first has, unfortunately escapes me, but the building was just positively impressive on the inside. Unfortunately, cameras were not allowed to be used. Hubs had been there years ago for the wedding of one of his former colleagues. A room just left of the entrance contained so many lit memorial candles that just standing on the threshold was unbearably hot! I did get several pictures of the outside of the enormous church, though! Our second stop was St. John’s of Maastricht, named after John the Baptist. The tower of the church is painted red and has been since the Middle Ages. The last paint job was done in 1982. Probably in preparation for my birth a year later in ’83 😉 The final stop on our religious pilgrimage was St. Servaas Basilica. Our tour included the treasury and the church itself, the crypt of St. Servaas, and the cloister.

After a bit of a tiff with Rieu’s traffic control staff, we finally made it to the car and headed to the hotel which is located about 25 km out of the city center. The view along the way was FANTASTIC! So many massive, castle-like structures, green as far as the eye can see, lush wooded areas, and farms. Once at the hotel, we checked in, put our things away, and headed to dinner.

At 7pm, we were the only ones in the dining area! We ordered the most delicious bottle of red wine and tore into the rolls! Soon the waiter came around with a savory creamy tuna hors-d’oeuvre for each of us. I had the most fantastic spinach soup for my appetizer and Hubs got a fish dish served in excellent sauce. About halfway through the bottle of wine, we were served our entrees. They looked roughly the same, although mine was duck and Hubs’s was pork, and they were both extravagantly delicious! The meat was just falling of the bones! Our dessert was creme broulee served with whipped cream, ice cream and a Tia Maria sauce and we rounded off the evening with a cup of coffee and Hubs’s cognac! Hubs spent Monday looking up the wine and where to buy it, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do (it’s roughly 30 euro cheaper that way!)! After dinner, we took a walk around the hotel grounds over to the neighboring castle. It was a gorgeous romantic walk before retiring to our hotel room.

The next morning, we ate breakfast in the castle and redid our evening stroll in daylight. Then, we went to the hotel room, donned our bathing suits and headed downstairs for the spa/pool/sauna/tanning bed/workout room arena. The pool was no bigger than the one at my parent’s house, except for the hidden cove at the end where every 20 minutes or so, a jacuzzi effect took place with pressure spouts and bubbles. We played around in the pool and then retired to beach chairs to read. Hubs hit up the sauna and then it was time to shower, pack and head home.

Before we left, Hubs took me to the American World War II cemetery in Margraten. Margraten is a town located roughly 6 km outside of Maastricht, so we had to backtrack a little. Unfortunately my phone/camera died before we got to the actual burial ground. The ground keeper and all staff are, of course, American. A small information office is located to the right of the memorial. A large flat-topped tower stands in the center just before the entrance to the burial ground. The chapel is located inside this structure and the front is the engraving:


On either side of the tower is a long wall with the names of those American soldiers that fell during the battles in the Netherlands. Just in front of the left wall, opposite the main office is a little alcove with maps and inscriptions in both Dutch and English of World War II in the Netherlands. The cemetery itself is very reminiscent of the one in Normandy, France: row upon row of stark white crosses and stars of David. The sight hits you like a fist to the stomach.

We headed back home, picking up Turner on the way. I don’t think any of us wanted the weekend to end! This was the first real date that Hubs and I have had since the night he proposed and it made us both realize that we can never let it go this long again!

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Where Is My Paper Dress?

Never did I think I would miss that stupid paper dress!

So, I’ve done it. I’ve been to the doctor’s, the dentist, and the vet’s here in the Netherlands. Not that I worried about any of them except the vet. I wanted to make sure Turner was in good hands and our vet in the U.S. makes it almost impossible to find anyone just as good and not even worth bothering to try to find someone better – no such thing. Plus, Turner’s so skittish and terrified of everything, that I worried most about bringing him to a new vet and having him exposed in an already terrifying environment (for him) in an unfamiliar language. (Yes, I realize much of the English language is beyond Turner’s comprehension, but we’re also dealing with the fact that Hubs gets upset with him in Dutch, so he’s associated Dutch with Bad Turner).

Since I’ve already started with the vet, that’s where I’ll begin. The veterinarian is called dierenarts. Dieren is Dutch for animal. The art of caring for animals is called dierenpractijk or animal practice. Not much to tell actually. It was very small and looked more like an apartment from the outside than an office. We checked it at the reception and, to my joy and surprise, we were offered a cappuccino – at least I was. Turner got water. We were called in before we even sat down by a kind looking man with curly and lightly peppered black hair and glasses. For being packed in as tightly as it was, the check-up room was impressively high-tech. They had all the latest technology in that little room. I imagine they do surgery there as well. The place was positively pristine. There was one assistant taking notes on the nearby desk top and a second one held and comforted Turner while the dierenarts looked him over. They spoke to me mostly in Dutch unless they were using terminology I didn’t understand in Dutch. Sometimes it was very difficult for them to find the words to explain. Definitely a mental exercise for everyone involved! Less than an hour later, Turner had a passport, updated rabies booster and cocktail injection, general check up, and a second microchip (apparently, European scanners can’t read US microchips. I want to find and murder whoever it was who mandated that animals leaving the US be microchipped before leaving.). For Hubs who had only ever had vet bills for cats and me who was used to writing checks for the vet with sums that made me feel like I was robbing the man, the visit was an incredibly expensive one. But, we live in a city, he’s a big dog, not all vets do their work for little more than a song in return, and he did have a lot done.

About a month ago, I started feeling an intense pain on the bottom of one of my lower teeth right along the gum line. Sure it was a cavity and wanting to be able to eat, drink and floss and brush my teeth again, I scheduled an appointment at the dentist. This waiting room visit was far longer than the one Turner and I had at the dierenarts (dentist, by the way, is tandenarts. Tanden is Dutch for teeth). I think I waited about a half-hour. Finally I was called in and guiltily explained to the tandenarts that my Dutch was not quite to the point where I’d be able to understand what he was saying about my teeth for the most part. And again I was launched into the game of how-do-i-explain-these-technical-terms-in-a-language-not-my-own with a new partner. As for the examining room, it looked identical to every other dentist’s office I had been to. Only, after taking an X-ray of my mouth, he went right to the computer sitting on the counter where my X-rays were uploaded and waiting for him. He was able to show me everything, touching the screen to get to and enlarge certain sections. Turns out, I drink too much soda and brush my teeth too vigorously which eroded my gumline and exposed a nerve. The pain I was feeling was the nerve being hit. He gave me a trial toothpaste created to fill in holes in teeth caused by those very things and we discussed what was to be done with my crown once my implant was finished and he sent me on my merry way after making me promise to get him my dental records ASAP.

The huisarts (or doctor. Huis = house. This one, I don’t get either) was by far the most interesting. Hubs and I are still depending on the anti-baby pill and I desperately needed new ones – after all, we don’t want any Little Tiffanies running around just yet! So, my doctor’s visit was more of a feminine nature. I figured since I was in there, I may as well do that yearly exam that we women find so gezellig since I was due for one anyway. The exam rooms are really the doctor’s office. The huisarts works there at a computer with scanner and printer and phone and fax machine. And on the other side of the small room is the examining table next to a counter filled with cabinets and drawers to store all their goodies. Between the two sides of the room is a lovely little Japanese changing screen pretending that it actually gives the patient privacy.

I was told by my new doctor to go over to the table and strip from the waist down. Which I did and then reached for the chair to grab my paper dress. When I pulled my hand back to me, I was a bit surprised to see that I had failed to retrieve  the paper dress, which was surely laying on the back of the chair. So I turned back to the chair – actually looking with my eyes this time – and was shocked to see there was no paper dress. Feeling quite naked and exposed all the sudden, I began to search for my paper dress. My search turned frantic, but yielded no paper dress. I was about to tell my new huisarts that she must have forgotten to set out my paper dress when it struck me: perhaps there was no paper dress at all. I was not about to Amaricanize myself by insisting on a paper dress (did I mention there was no paper sheet either?), so I sucked it up and sat down. She came around to my side of the good-for-nothing changing screen and told me to lie down. I did and waited for her to pull out the stirrups. I always had this sort of exam done right in my regular doctor’s office and every examining table had them build in. But she did not reach to the bottom end of the table and pull out the stirrups. Because there were none. And so, stirrup-less and without the comfort of my paper dress and blanket, I spread ’em and let her do her thing. I was speechless. But, honestly, what does the paper dress really do? The doctor just opens it up and feels your boobs and looks at your bare hoo-ha while they stick various tools up there. And, much to my relief, I have been assured that at the gynecologist, they do indeed have stirrups. Perhaps they have paper dresses and blankets too. I wonder if I’ll use them?

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Go (Go Gadget) Green!

Life in the Netherlands certainly has a lot to teach about being eco-friendly

Here we are in the swing of summer again. While everything outside is lush and green is a great reminder for us to Go Green! Go Green is a worldwide campaign to create a healthier environment and take care of the world we live in through eco-friendly actions. Living in the Netherlands where preservation is extremely important (the majority of the country is below sea level), I have made several environmentally friendly changes that are a pretty standard way of life in my adopted country. I wanted to share them here in the hopes of inspiring more people to Go Green!

The biggest change I’ve made is in the way I get around. Bikes are a way of life in the Netherlands. There are special bike paths pretty much anywhere with their own traffic lights and traffic rules. I cycle into town, to work, to meet friends, to meetings, to classes. If I can get there in a 30 minute cycle, that’s the way I get there. And when I don’t cycle, I walk. Hubs and I take the car out about once or twice a week, if that. And that’s if it’s just me, just Hubs, or the two of us together. Sometimes we’ll go two weeks or more without even setting foot in the car. Not only does this lessen pollution due to CO2, it also saves a LOT of money. I know this is more often than not impossible in the US to use a bike as transportation, but see if you can start to use it here and there. Every little bit helps. If the school, grocery store, pharmacy, work, or a friend is close by, think about taking the bike out for a spin on your next trip instead of hopping into the car. You can buy saddle bags, wagons, and children’s seats for your bike at pretty much any bike store. Or try looking online.

Recycling is also a great way to be kind to your environment. Most plastics, glass, metal, and paper can be recycled. Look for a grocery store that will give you store credit for turning in bottles, both plastic and glass. Almost all the grocery stores in the Netherlands do this. It really makes a difference in your monthly grocery bill. Find a metal and aluminum center that will give you change for your scraps. There’s one in Frederick, MD called Reliable Recycling. Before I left for the Netherlands, they were paying $0.35 per pound of aluminum cans. Take anything you can’t get rid of  to the nearest recycling center. Donate or give away old toys, clothing, shoes, and appliances. One man’s junk is another mans riches! Right by where we live (less than 100 meters) there’s a recycling center that also takes used clothes and shoes. You can also have a yard sale and make some extra cash! Be creative with the ‘leftovers’. Make a tire swing or a jump set with a pole set atop stacks of tires for your avid horseback rider. Cut pictures from old magazines to make collages, use junk to make coasters, notepads, scrapbooks, whatever you can think of – be creative! If you just have to throw it away, condense it first. Crush cans and plastic bottles, smash cartons, break down the glass, pop those addictive little bubbles in the bubble wrap, and stuff other trash into anything hollow that you can’t break down. This will allow more to be fit into you trash bags which will limit the space taken up in the landfill as well as save you money on trash bags!

My husband doesn’t use paper towels. We have napkins with dinner on occasion, but most spills can be taken care of with a dish or cleaning cloth. Better for the environment to wash a cloth than to add paper towels to the overflowing landfills. Reuse as much as you can. Refill bottles. Make sure your dishwasher is crammed full before you run it. Dishwashers use a lot of water and energy and this will save time, water, energy, and money! Use bath towels for a week before washing. When you dry yourself after a shower, you’re using a clean towel on a clean body. No need to wash a clean towel. By the end of the week, it’ll have collected enough dead skin that it will need to be washed, but not before that. Wear pajamas for a whole week. Unless you participate in the Sleep Olympics, your nighties won’t get soiled enough to earn washing after one wear. When you do do laundry, fit as much into each load as is safe for your machine. Consider air drying as much as you can and combining 2 loads of wash into the drier instead of one (most washing machines are smaller than dryers). Consider not using a blow drier for your hair. If you absolutely have to, I understand, but if you don’t need to, don’t. It’s really bad for the environment and, surprisingly enough, your hair.

Got a garden? If you don’t, you might want to think about it. They’re beautiful and peaceful for starters. They rid the atmosphere of CO2 and replace it with oxygen. They also provide food and shelter for other creatures. Plus gardening is relaxing and fun! If you already have a garden or are planning to start one, be sure to build a compost pile. Not only it is fantastic free fertilizer, it also diminishes the amount of waste that goes into the landfill. My “pile” is composting in a Cola Light bottle just like in Mr. Kemp’s 7th grade science class. Not only do I have a compost, I’m also re-using a plastic bottle which can eventually be recycled too!

Just say no to paper and plastic shopping bags! One thing that struck me instantly upon my arrival to the Netherlands was that stores rarely give you bags. You have to ask for them. Otherwise, they assume you’ll just shove it in your purse or backpack, carry it as is, or put it in another shopping bag. Pretty much everyone carries around a vinyl grocery bag with them on a shopping trip. Either that or they’ll bring a plastic bag from home. I’ve seen many a college student enter the supermarket with a plastic grocery bag overflowing with empty plastic and glass bottles and leaving with the same bag filled with groceries. Most stores here in the Netherlands have these bags or you can buy a store logo free one at a market or the Hema (the Dutch equivalent of Target). In the US, you can get them at most grocery stores. Buy one or two for the car or the house and let it be your shopping buddy. If someone offers you a plastic or paper bag or absent mindedly begins to shove your newly-bought items into one, just say “No thanks. I already have a bag.”

Don’t use heat and AC unless you really need it. Hubs has a rule: no heat after March and not before November. This one was tough, but really, you can live with sweatshirts, sweaters, slipper, socks, and blankets. To my amazement, AC is not a common commodity in the Netherlands. There’s a restaurant in the city center of Utrecht that proudly boasts in paint on it’s windows that it has AC. This is rare. The country seems to have both a figurative and literal Open Door Policy. They open doors and open windows, pull out their fans and take advantage of the breeze. And I’m still alive! And getting used to it actually (although I do miss it at some times more than others).

This last one’s tricky. Limit your water use. Have a bathroom cup for teeth brushing. Fill the cup with water and use it to wet your toothbrush, rinse your mouth and rinse the sink. You’ll use a lot less water this way. Make it a rule to turn off the tap whenever you are not actively using it. This includes while washing and drying your hands, brushing your teeth and taking a shower. Yes, you need water to lather up soap and shampoo and to rinse off, but not while your scrubbing. I have found that this one takes the most self-discipline. Also, if your tap water is safe to drink, drink it. Not only is it just as good as the bottled stuff (some studies say it’s actually better for you), but it saves money as well as the worry of what to do with the plastic bottle once your done.

Here are some sites with information about the Go Green drive and ways to do it

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Expat’s Best Friend

When I said “yes” about 20 times to Hubs’ proposal, I knew I would be making a huge step and moving to another country for my husband. Making new friends, finding a new job, meeting new people, getting involved in new things, learning a new language, starting a life together, trying new foods, re-learning to drive, getting used to a new home and new surroundings, learning a new culture. What neither of us thought about is how it would effect Turner.

Turner was my dog and now (as much as he hates to admit it) is Hubs’ as well. As far as Turner’s concerned, he’s more Hubs’ dog than he is mine! It was an unspoken understanding when we decided that I would move to the Netherlands that Turner would come too. We agreed that I would need a friend – someone to spend time with and share my lonely, home-bound days with while I was just starting out here. I also knew how much he depended on me and was afraid how of he might react if I left him in the States. But it never occurred to either of us how the move would affect our Little Buddy.

While in the US, I was concerned with wedding plans, moving details, and all the administrative stuff I had to do to get my dog into the Netherlands. Actually, the process of bringing a pet into the Netherlands is surprisingly easy. The airline required that he have a certificate of health, a microchip, updated rabies shots, and a pet cargo carrier that complied with the airline’s policies. The Netherlands wanted roughly the same, though they obviously weren’t particularly concerned with what we used to get him here. Other than that, everyone was happy – no quarantine or anything, much to my (and I’m sure, Turner’s) relief.

As far as getting all the stuff, we really lucked out! We got the crate as a wedding gift from one of my bridesmaids, which actually went above and beyond airline’s requirements. Through the Humane Society in Frederick, MD, we got Turner’s microchip, microchip tags, and a T-shirt for $25! Our vet in the US was brilliant. Every time an animal needed to go to the vet for whatever reason, we hoofed it all the way to Charles Town, West Virginia to see Dr. Allera.* When I was living in Washington, DC, I still continued to take my cat, Samwise, there. For $75 we got the following: full check up, rabies booster, completed health certificate, 2 Front Line small dog gels, 2 Front Line large dog gels, 4 Front Line cats gels, and 4 sedative pills for Turner for the flight and New Year’s Eve fireworks.

Because my dad flies for Delta Airlines, my brother and I – now that we are no longer dependents (when we were, we flew everywhere for free) – fly very cheaply. However, we fly space-available. This means we’re usually in business class as that’s where most available seats are. It also means that if there aren’t any unsold or vacant seats, we have to wait for the next flight. In addition, my parents get 8 Friends and Family Passes per year. This allows those friends and family members my parents choose to give the passes to to fly for a little more than what it costs my brother and I (to give you an estimate, when I flew one-way to the Netherlands in December 2008, I paid roughly $120 and sat up in business class). Hubs became very familiar with this way of travel while we were dating! But he didn’t want to risk the possibility of not making it to the US in time for our wedding, so he booked a round-trip flight through United Airlines. Being equally afraid that I might get bumped on the way to the Netherlands and risk Turner flying out without me, Turner flew with Hubs. It was just a matter of calling United and letting them know that my husband would be traveling back to the Netherlands with an American dog.

The day we left for the Netherlands, I was dropped off at the airport first since I had to fly to New York in order to get the flight to Amsterdam. Not long after dropping me off, Hubs and my dad gave Turner 2 sedative pills. I’ve been told that Turner was more or less out before they got to Hubs’ airport. Once there, they put him in the crate and my dad pulled away. Hubs went to the counter and handed the agents Turner’s information. They made Hubs get Turner out of the crate so they could inspect both dog and crate. Then they proceeded to charge Hubs $250 more than they quoted me when I made the reservation for Turner! Afraid he and dog wouldn’t make it on the plane, he complied – although I heard aaaallll about it later!  (turns out , the agent I spoke to over the phone didn’t make note that the dog was only flying one way, so they charged Hubs for a round-trip ticket for Turner. That and apparently prices went up between when I booked the flight and the actual flight – or so we were told.)

Once at Schipol airport in Amsterdam, Hubs got his luggage, picked up Turner in his crate, and passed right through customs without being stopped  to where Hubs’ friend and I were waiting for him. We got Turner, who was more than a little disoriented, out of the crate. There was a bit of water and urine mess, forcing us to bury Turner’s blanket and one of his toys in the airport trash can. And Turner reeked of that musky skunk smell he gets when he’s frightened. But surprisingly enough, he was very compliant! He came right to us when we called him after he escaped from the crate and he went through things he’d never encountered before like it was nothing: moving sidewalks, escalators, elevators, revolving doors, he even got on his first train! I was to find out later (in very much the hard way and much to my embarrassment!) that he did all this so calmly because he was still too drugged up to know what was going on.

I wonder what was going through his mind. As far as he knew, he was sitting in his car and went to sleep. All the sudden, he wakes up to new people, new things, new places new smells, new sights, a different language. The home he had known for well over half of his life is gone and the people he was always surrounded by are gone too. Only Mommy and the man later to be known as Daddy. He’s brought to a new home with no yard, no Belle, no Uncle Timmy, and no Grand People. He’s always on his leash, which until we moved him here and he realized he had to get used to it, always made him nervous. And Utrecht is a city. Knoxville, Maryland most certainly isn’t. So many cars, bicycles (something he’d never seen before), lots of people, lots of dogs, busy streets, loud noises. Taking him out for a walk was a great adventure those first few weeks!

He’s come an awfully long way! He’s still afraid of the bicycles no matter how many times I take him out with mine. And he’s terrified of the huge city truck that comes once a week to empty the recycle bins across the street. Trash days still make him nervous. He clearly recognizes my parents. He hasn’t seen my brother since before we left the U.S,. but it’s obvious that he recognizes his voice when we Skype and it upsets him that he hears him but can’t figure out where he is. What I wouldn’t give to be in his head and know what he’s thinking. Or that he could speak and describe for me what it’s all been like.

He adores Hubs and lives for 6:30pm when Hubs comes home from work and the two of them play on the rug in front of the TV for 5-10 minutes. He’s developed a taste for fine cheeses (particularly paturain, portsalut, brie, feta, and goat) and Dutch pudding and yogurt desserts. And the fact that I have to take him out and walk him 3-4 times a day has really strengthened the bond between us. He helps me take care of the little boy I babysit on Mondays, and we practice cycling on the way there and back. He’s learned to shake with the commands “paw” and “poot” (Dutch for paw). Turner’s also become quite the gardener! He loves to sit out on the balcony with his nose in the daisies. But before he lays down to relax, he first must check inside every pot to make sure that everything’s growing to his satisfaction!

The attitude towards dogs is also much different here. The last time I was in the States, I saw a sign on the Metro bus that read “No drugs, smoking, weapons, pets, or other hazardous material.” I’ll take the Netherlands over that attitude any day! There are all kinds of “honden toilets” where dogs can relieve themselves and the owner’s needn’t worry about cleaning up behind their pets. One of these parks exists about 100 meters from our apartment. No matter what time of day or night, you can expact to see at least one other dog! In addition, there are areas where dogs can run freely without a leash. Turner’s favorite of these is the woods of Bosch en Duin. And there are few places where dogs are not allowed. Only during the heavy summer months are dogs forbidden on the beaches. A sticker with a dog inside a red circle marks those places where dogs are not allowed, but there aren’t many of them. So far, Turner’s been inside a department store, several small stores, and 2 cafes. At the cafes, restaurants, and pubs, they bring a water dish for your dog before they get your drink order!

As a result, Turner’s gotten worlds braver – if you knew him in the States, you’d hardly recognize him now! And he’s become quite famous! Well, in the IWCU anyway. He relishes in the parties we have and loves having people over (this is new… very new), and has been pictured in the IWCU bi-monthly newsletter The Contact twice and mentioned 3 times since January. I think, like me, he’s learned to love it here. And it’s obvious how much it means to him to have a family of his own!

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