Oh, the Places I’ve Missed (Writing About)

We’re approaching the end of the year, and as one often does at this time, I want to reflect backwards and evaluate how I’ve moved forward.  I’ve certainly posted enough lately about personal changes and growth, so I want to focus a bit more on the living-abroad side of my experiences.  After all, the end of my second year in Amsterdam is in February, and living in Europe for two years is quite an accomplishment in itself.

The first part of looking back is about places I’ve been, particularly those I didn’t write about.  I realize that of the 17 trips I took in 2015 (18, if we count next week’s trip back for Christmas), I wrote about only two (Norway, and my Italian Heritage Trip).  Bear with me, so I can reflect on the changes that have taken place even in travel patterns.  This is not to boast.  Mostly it has been quite exhausting and it has helped me realize that bouncing around from place to place wanderlustfully is great, but also having a sense of home and order (as I get older? as I realize the relative importance of things when losing loved ones?) also has a valued place in my life.

Of the 17 trips, let’s take away the 4 times (5, if we count next week’s trip) that I went back home to the US for planned visits and unplanned funerals, support for family, and support for myself. That leaves 13. Repeat visits to the Lorraine region of France, twice back again to Paris, once again to Barcelona, once again to London, and once again to Chamonix. And two trips about which I’ve already written.

So… 6 new places: The Italian Dolomites/ Venice, Stockholm, Brugge, Milan, and Berlin.  I’ll touch on each of these in a series of postings and then come back for a final posting on some cultural observations from my second year living among the Dutch.

The Italian Dolomites (Cortina D’Ampezzo) and Venice

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In January, Uri and I took a week for what you do in Europe in the winter — a snow holiday.  We originally booked so Uri could get a taste for his love of snowboarding, but as he then also booked a trip with people more apt to snowboard than me, we then planned to indulge in lots of different winter activities instead, and the snowboard stayed at home.  We chose the Italian Dolomites mainly because it was less expensive than the ritzier large locations in France and Switzerland.  We chose Cortina D’Ampezzo for its size, access to Venice, number of bunny slopes for me, and non-ski/snowboard related activities available.

First things first, Uri proposed to me on our first night in Cortina. 🙂 Resolute on avoiding a proposal in Venice (how overdone!), he popped the question on our first night, so we could have a full week of enjoying our “fidanzanmento!” in Italy.  We drank many Aperol Spritz’ in celebration.

This trip was almost a year ago, and there are a few things that stand out in my memory outside of our engagement. First, eating canaderli (also called Knodeln in German), which are dumplings made of bread chunks and ham, served in a soup broth or with butter and cheese. The area of Cortina, being so close to the German border, has many crossovers in Italian and German cultures, with canaderli being one of the culinary similarities. My second clear memory is of how much I love the mountains and their views, fresh air, and ability to give perspective, despite my aversion to downhill skiing and to being out in the damp cold for hours a day, and days at a time.  Third, how much I love Italian food (PIZZA!  PASTA! BREAD! CHEESE! WINE!) but how after a week of it at three meals a day, you just would die for clean cooked chicken, or fresh veggies not soaked in oil.  I’m sure my ancestors are turning in their graves, but I remember one night of deciding to go to a fruit stand and eat two bananas for dinner, after a huge pizza lunch and previous days of carbs left me begging for anything I could find otherwise. And there was another night with me requesting plain chicken and a side of whatever the shop had that was green in the kitchen.

Cortina was also a week of experimenting with new sporty activities.  In addition to Uri taking one day to downhill ski with me (instead of his usual requisite snowboarding), we tried alpine/ cross country skiing for the first time, which for us, was swishing our legs back and forth in a preset track with absolutely no control over our speed or direction. Despite our “noviceness”, we had a blast and look forward to trying it again in a few months.  We also went snowshoeing, which must now be my favorite snow-related activity.  I’ve found I just do not get a thrill from careening downhill on skis, nor do I enjoy high speeds, having a fear of falling, or actually falling.  Snowshoeing for me was fantastic, because I was up in the mountain for a long time, enjoying gorgeous views that are really missed in those few moments you get off the ski lift before you head down the mountain. We walked high-kneed over and through the mountain with our guide, and he even brought us to an old bunker that was previously used in fighting the Austrians on the other side of the Dolomites during WWI.  Truly riveting!

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After five days in Cortina, we took the bus back to Venice and spent two days exploring the city. Not surprisingly, Venice was overwhelmingly touristy (gahhhhh the selfie sticks!), but we had some really good meals there (particularly, I had the best Pasta Fagioli I’ve ever had in my life at a place called Osteria Ae Cravate). We walked the old Jewish Ghetto, drank bombardinos and prosecco (Venuto is the home of prosecco!), and reached our breaking point for mass tourism on the island of Murano and its blown-glass sculptures.  Venice was undeniably beautiful, but perhaps its touristic hysteria and hyperbolized greatness left us feeling a bit underwhelmed overall.  It’s a wonderful city to visit, and I’m glad I saw the blue canals in person, but given the opportunity to go back again, I would probably pass.

Stockholm

In February, Uri had a work trip in Stockholm so I tagged along and we stayed the weekend.  Even though we visited in the dreary winter, I LOVED Stockholm.  It is such a livable city with a great combination of charm and modern living, with trendy and artsy-bohemian areas, without being too gritty.  There is a livable combination of Swedish and English infused in the city, and people are notably friendly and welcoming.  That said, I may have formed my bias solely from my experience at one fantastic restaurant we fell upon for brunch.  Again, without hyperbole, I had one of the best sandwiches of my life at Nybrogatan 38.

Another standout during our short time in Stockholm was the Vasa Museum. In the 1600’s, a ship experienced the biggest fail possible by sinking in her maiden voyage only after traveling 1300m in the Stockholm Harbor.  It was salvaged in 1961 as one of the best preserved and historically important shipwrecks ever. The museum, in my opinion, is a must-see.

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Traveling in winter in Europe outside of Christmas market season can be a bit discouraging.  Days are extremely short, sometimes with sun setting as early as 3:30, and sometimes it seems the sun never really rises at all. At least in the north, what makes the best of cities is often lost in the rainy dreariness.  The best things a traveler can do, I think we did well, and that is to be one with the snow and to eat good food.

 

Up next: Brugge, Milan, and Berlin.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Expat Meetups

Having moved to Amsterdam in February, we’ve decided to use the Meetup group as a forum to meet other expats or people interested in befriending internationals.

We’ve had two successful nights out (if the score is kept by number of quality people you end up meeting), and we’ve learned a few things along the way:

Do:  Take special care in who you approach.

On our first night, Uri (my boyfriend, or as they call here in the Netherlands, my “partner”) and I showed up right on time for the Meetup event (we’ve heard time and time again that the Dutch are always on time), to be reminded that this event is all internationals that like to show up late.

We sat at the bar for a bit and eventually saw two small groups form.  One was a couple sitting to the right, and the other was two couples chatting to the left.  We nervously plotted our plan (it was our first time, and we were apprehensive, feeling a bit like we were speed dating for friends). We approached couple #1, and as we pulled out our chairs to sit, we asked them if we could join them.  They seemed very uncomfortable and by the looks on their faces it seemed right to ask, “Wait.. are you here for the expat Meetup?” (“No.”)

So basically we invited ourselves to sit in on this couple’s date, appearing briefly to be swingers or something.  This story has apparently circulated, and when we went to the Meetup again, several people mentioned hearing about the time some expats sat in on a date asking to join in! Oops!

Do:  Be outgoing and ask questions.

Both times we’ve attended these events, I’ve been lucky to get friend-digits and meet some really great people.  By the end of both nights we stayed out later than expected, had a few extra drinks than planned, and felt really comfortable with the people we met.  We were often in the largest or seemingly most fun/ laughter-filled circle.

What I’ve found that works is to ask people questions; we all love to talk about ourselves, and it’s a much nicer way to get to know someone than to just prattle away with your own story.  The effect is cumulative; once you are in a group of chatty people, others will join.

Listening… what a novel idea!

Don’t:  Give out your phone number to the opposite sex without clear intention.

At our second Meetup event, we started off strong again, creating an energetic circle of laughing people.  We chatted at length with one guy, who eventually got a phone call needing to leave.  He said he was coming back and asked me for my phone number, which I thought was a bit strange. But as I was in the center of the newly formed group, I assumed he was using me as the doorway back to the crowd.  I turned and asked Uri if it was okay that I gave this strange man my number (he said yes, assuming it could only be for the same reason).  Then the guy says, “Wait, this is your boyfriend??”  With his phone still in my hand, I deleted my number and returned with, “Wait, are you hitting on me?” (I had been holding hands or standing close with Uri the entire time, and I’m pretty sure we introduced ourselves together.)  Everyone got a really big laugh out of that one.  Well, except for the guy, who seemed to bolt out of there pretty fast.  And he didn’t come back.  Oops again.

Don’t: Take yourself too seriously.

In both bumbling situations, the mishaps we had at the events ended up being great icebreakers.  It’s humanizing to remember that all of these expats are just like you: many are far from home (many for the first time), and everyone there really wants to make friends to better call this new place home.  Our little social “blunders” cut through the formalities pretty quickly and I really believe helped us to make quick connections with great people.

… as did my numerous glasses of cava, of course.

So basically, the expat Meetup is a great way to meet like minded people that are in a similar situation to you. I was pleasantly surprised that the age did not skew super young. There were plenty of young-minded 25-30-something professionals looking to meet new people.  Just make sure to remain attentive to the intentions of those around you 😉

Hello, world.

How many blogs start this way? My guess is 45-50%.

Is this thing on? It’s my first time.

Well, I’m Amanda and I’m abroad.  … Get it? It’s my attempt at being pun-ny.

Anyway, I hope to have some posts here that entertain my family and friends, and maybe some strangers, too.  I’m writing this blog mostly for myself, so i can take time and reflect on remember what I’ve done out here.  My friend Megan can confirm I have a horrible memory and I often overlook my accomplishments forget that I have met people.  I’d like to get better at that.

I’m a girl who “never thought she could do something like move abroad” and I am sure there are many, many people out there writing things just like this.

The difference is, this is mine. So there.

I don’t think I am particularly funny, intuitive, or adventurous.  I’m also not particular self-deprecating either (well, sometimes, but I’m not going to write a bumbling/charming-girl-in-Europe-and-her-mishaps blog).  I’m just a regular girl from a place where people don’t move out.  But I did. And ever since the dawn of email-chains-to-your-friends-trading-hilarious-ongoings, I’ve been told “You need to start a blog!”

So, we’ll see where this takes me.

A