Spring “Cow Dance” at Hoeve Biesland in the Netherlands

We love the Hoeve Biesland, which is located about a 10 minute cycle from where we live on the border of Delft and The Hague.  We and have attended several events there including the 2013 Biesland Dagen and 2012 Biesland Dagen.  We also enjoy shopping at their Weilandwinkel.

Today, it was “party time” again, as it was the day that the cows are let into the field for the first time after being housed inside all winter.  This was pretty exciting for both the cows and the several hundred people who turned up to watch!  Not so much so for the poor pig who got chased away by the over-energetic cows.

I did a Facebook Live Broadcast which you can watch below.  You can also check out a post my fellow Dutch Australian, Kristen, wrote over at Kristen in Clogland: Happy Spring Cows and the Koeiendans

Here are some of my favourite photos.

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Coping with the Cold: How do Australians survive a Dutch winter?

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Hi, I am going to the Netherlands end of next month for 35 days. I am really worried that it will be very cold and that i won’t cope. Do you have any tips? Also if anyone from this community wants me to get them something or drop something off for them while i am over there, i would be most happy to help. I will be staying in Amsterdam and making some day trips. Thanks Andrea

I love receiving mail from the Dutch Australian Community.  Andrea lives in Australia (and has Dutch parents) and is coming to the Netherlands soon.  I’m an Australian trying to survive a Dutch winter right now! So here’s my top 5 tips for coping with the cold, written especially for a short-term traveller here.  For longer-term residents, I’d go more heavy duty – think electric blankets, energy lights and more – I’ll do a separate post.

1.  Layer, layer, layer

I first learnt this when I moved to the UK in my mid 20’s.  I really had trouble trying to adjust from the warm indoor temperatures, to going outside in the freezing cold, then back into the warmth again.  You need to layer clothes so that you can adjust easily to suit.  For example, start with a singlet, then a t-shirt (or long sleeved t-shirt), then a cardigan or light jacket, then a heavy winter jacket over that.

2.  Get a great jacket & boots

If you are only coming here short-term, a jacket may be an investment, but well worth it.  Or perhaps you could borrow one for the month.  I picked up a couple of awesome Esprit winter jackets at an outlet store at Brisbane Airport a few years ago for only about AUD$50 each – as not much use for them for those in Brisbane!  My good ones have feather/down and are water resistant.  If you plan on cycling in the cold/rain, you need waterproof.   You also need a good pair of boots.  I love mine from www.anwb.nl – this is actually the auto association (like RACQ or NRMA in Australia) but they have some great prices on high quality outdoor gear.  You can order online and have delivered next day if you have an address in NL or they have stores as well.   Keeping your chest and feet warm & dry in winter is a must.

3.  Drink lots

So, when you read that, which drink was your first thought?  Some may go straight for a warm pub and down beer, wine, whisky or even the Dutch Jenever to keep warm.  Personally, I rarely drink alcohol but do love a nice, warm mug of mulled wine.  Hot chocolate with a big pile of whipped cream on top is the BEST!  Unfortunately I recently discovered an allergy to milk and am really missing these, I’m going to have to learn how to make myself a soy or lactose-free version at home somehow.  You’ll find hot chocolates in every cafe and restaurant though….usually made with a pre-packaged stuff which you get used to.  If you really search for it, you may find a super-special hot chocolate, where you get a warm mug of milk and a big chunk of chocolate on a stick.  Combine the two and heaven.  You forget all about the cold.  The other thing you actually often forget to drink in the cold is water.  You may not need quite as much as on a hot summer’s day, but still need to make sure you drink water regularly as the indoor heating everywhere can really dry out your skin and give you headaches – but because you’re not hot, you may not feel thirsty.

4.  Learn how to use your heater

Where-ever you are staying, familiarise yourself immediately with the heating system! Most places have central heating, which will have a temperature control in one location.  For our house and many others I’ve seen, this is in the living room – but the one setting controls the whole house.  But if the living room reaches the set temperature, the heating won’t turn on upstairs!  I still find it all very confusing, but basically don’t wait until you wake up in the middle of the night cold to figure it out.  I have bought myself a little 10 euro fan heater to give me a burst of warm air anytime I need it.

5.  Download the buienradar app

Being cold isn’t great fun – but being WET and cold is almost unbearable.  I was stunned when I first moved here when I had a meeting with someone who, just as we were finishing up, glanced at their phone and said “I have 5 more minutes and then have to go so I can avoid the rain”.  They weren’t psychic, but did what many Dutchies do – Checked the website http://buienradar.nl or downloaded the app that can tell you with pretty high accuracy, exactly when it will rain in your region and for how long!

You may also like to read a post that a friend wrote that was published in the Wall Street Journal online:

How to Survive Winter in the Netherlands as an Expat

That’s my daughter in the nose-warmer my mum made for her!  Again, this post is focussed mostly on short-term solutions, as at the end of the month, you get to go back to Australia and defrost!  Here, it is generally what I consider “too cold” from about October to March.

So, Andrea, I hope that’s helpful!  I’m typing with cold fingers so will finish off here, but would love to hear how you go.  I hope you have a wonderfully warm trip.  And even may get to enjoy the cold!

Does anyone else have any tips to add?  Please write them in the comments!

Renee

 

 

Dag van de Kerstster: Lodewijk Hoekstra

On Friday 11th December 2015, I received a press invite (through my work at www.thehagueonline.com) for the “Dag van de Kerstster” (Day of the Christmas Star).

Here is information from the Dutch language section of http://www.kerstster.info/nl/de-kerstster-heeft-een-eigen-dag.html

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….and English….http://www.christmas-star.info

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Called a “Poinsettia” in English, the Kerstster plant is a popular decoration for this time of year, and the press event I attended was organised by PR company Weber Shandwick on behalf of Stars for Europe, the organisation of Kerstster growers in the Netherlands.

At the event on 11 December 2015, Dutch BN’er Lodewijk Hoekstra (from the tv shows Eigen Huis & Tuin and Green Kids) gave away these colourful plants to the residents of the care village Ipse de Bruggen in Nootdorp.  This is actually really close to where I live and I wasn’t aware of how extensive this great facility is.  It’s essentially a village for those with disabilities to be able to live as independently as possible, but still with all the support they need. It had a lovely atmosphere with caring workers and residents excited to meet Lodewijk.  A huge Christmas tree added to the festive spirit.   Here’s my images of the event.

For care tips and decoration ideas for how these plants can brighten your home, visit the website http://www.christmas-star.info 

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Moving internationally with children – my personal experiences

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Hi Renee, I’m so glad I discovered your blog and FB page! I am an Aussie who has a dutch partner (met in Indonesia while travelling 2 yrs ago) and we have recently moved here so Bas (my partner) can have a bit of Dutch time with friends family work etc. Most of our past has been spent either travelling or living in South Aus. I now have a 5yr visa with him as my sponsor. But we would ultimately like to move home to Australia in a year or two for a long period. Although we have discussed and I think will probably be similar to what you experience and not really permanently live in one country. But I am curious if you had written a bog in the past about how easy/hard it was to move internationally with children. We are wanting to have kids soon and I don’t want to have to wait just because some have said how difficult it is to move once you have a child. I read that you had one of your children for your first move. Is there anything i should know?? Did you or your husband already have work lined up before you left? Housing situation? And just how it generally went. I would love to hear about it if you have already done a blog on it, or perhaps an idea for a new one :p Looking forward to reading more! Cheers, Jacqui


I really love getting messages from the Dutch Australian community, whether that is via the Facebook page, email or comments on this blog.  Here’s one from yesterday, and as she suggests, I’m going to respond with a blog post so that others who are interested can also read through my response.  Thanks Jacqui!

There are a number of blog posts in the archives where I document a bit more about these questions, and in fact blogging about these experiences is one way I’ve found I can cope better with situations I have found confusing or difficult.  For me, writing about stuff, and then finding that others send messages who are in the same situation, helps somehow.  Find your way of tackling problems.  Maybe it’s blogging, maybe it’s talking, maybe it’s just thinking them through.  Perhaps it’s drawing.  Find your way that works.

To be perfectly honest about moving between countries – it’s HARD.  Whether you do it for love, for a job, or for other reasons, I’ve now spent enough of my life mixing with expats/internationals/lovepats – whatever you want to call us – to know that there is nobody that thinks it’s easy.  Even if it is easy temporarily, particularly in what they call the “honeymoon period” where you are caught up in the excitement of living in a new country – at some point, you’ll hit a wall.  Sorry!  I know I’m being rather blunt but will put that down to enough years of living in Dutch culture to learn to be brutally honest.

Actually, you ask about the two and I think moving to another country has a lot in common to parenting!  It’s one of those things that you simply cannot really appreciate the enormity of until you are smack bang in the middle of it.  There are incredibly tough times when you wonder what on earth you are doing and why you made the decision to move across the world/be a parent.  But then, thankfully, there are also these other amazing times, when you wouldn’t change it for anything and it’s the most rewarding thing you have ever done.   Usually the good times outweigh the bad.  When they don’t, you need to find help until they do.

Personally, perhaps I’m mixing up parenting and relocating in my head as we have mixed the two in reality!  Our first daughter was born in Delft, the Netherlands and when she was 5 months old, we moved to Australia.  Our second little Dutch Australian daughter was born in Brisbane, Australia, and then we moved back to the Netherlands when she was 3 years old (and our eldest was then 5 years old).  We’ve been here since – it’s been more than three years now.  The first time I moved here, I found it tough but manageable.  The second time we moved back really knocked me down, hard.  I’m not sure that was just because we had children though and in fact, because we had children, it forced me to identify what issues I was having and get out there and solve them as soon as possible.  It took me about a year to “get back on my feet”, another year to “settle in” and now, after the third year, I can genuinely say I’m doing ok.

That first and second year was really mostly figuring out the practical stuff you asked about.  We rented a house for the first year and chose an area near where my husband had lived before and which we knew was an area with a high percentage of internationals (The Hague).  We choose a school based mostly on their nice website!  I used Facebook groups such as Delft Mama and Amsterdam Mamas to ask lots of questions (and am now helping other newcomers there).  In the second year, we bought a house.  This will eventually get a blog post of its own, but even a year later I’m still not ready to write about it!  Not as it was a really bad experience, I just have mixed emotions.  Getting my drivers licence was actually rather traumatic, but that’s more a personal thing I think – and again, though it was tough, the sense of pride and confidence I have of actually having done it is priceless.

Neither of us had work lined up when we moved in either direction, though had done some research and made some connections via LinkedIn which made the process easier.  My husband had work quite quickly both times, but it took me a lot longer – mainly due to the fact I also had the responsibility of caring for the children.  Again, though tough, this drove me to start a business and I did write a blog post about moving my small business overseas with me!  I’ve always done a lot of volunteer work and networked, networked, networked – online and off.  It took me nearly 3 years, but I now have an amazing job that I love.

Finally, as you’ve said, Jacqui, some people have said how difficult it is to move once you have a child.  Yes, it is.  However it’s also difficult to be a parent even if you stay in one place all your life!  Again, to find a similarity between the two, with both parenting and relocating, you will always hear horror stories and stories of pure joy.  And everything in between.

In terms of how the children themselves have coped – I’d say quite well.  I noticed that it took a lot longer for my youngest to deal with the changes, which is probably as much about her personality as it was her age.  They are now 6 & 8 years old and I just realised my youngest has lived half her life in each country, and my eldest has lived more in the Netherlands than Australia.  Overall, they are happy, healthy, well adjusted kids.  They miss Australia but part of this could be due to my conscious effort to keep this as part of our lives.  Of course, one of the biggest challenges is missing family – they talk to my parents at least weekly on Skype and we try to visit annually.  In fact, just this week I was feeling a little down (maybe because of the end of summer!) and realising the kids are using more and more Dutch words and neither sound “Australian”.  However then my 8 year old came home with this beautiful drawing from school.  The Australian side is still strong!

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So where does that leave you with decision making?  You’ll hear “do what’s right for you” and as cliche as it sounds, I think that’s the best advice I can give.  In relationships where partners are from opposite sides of the planet, I think that from that second you decide to be together, you really are making a choice to merge your lives, countries and cultures.  On the down side, that can be incredibly challenging, and expensive if you move/travel between the two countries.  On the up side, it’s amazing – for both of you and any children that may come along.

You do need to find ways to cope with the tough times and again I’ll be blunt.  Divorce rates amongst international couples is disproportionately high.  Throw kids into the mix and you may have near-impossible challenges to solve at some point in your life.  Once you love someone though, not being together may also not be an option – and it CAN work.  Find tools and ways to cope, learn to compromise, respect each other’s needs and talk, talk, talk about stuff until you find a solution.

I hope that helps.  Good luck!  Always great to hear from you and any readers out there.  Browse this blog for more articles about the specifics, you can use the search bar and I’m working on making past posts more accessible via the categories section (on the home page).  You can sign up for the enewsletter to get a summary of posts that month. Guest contributions are most welcome too.

Good luck!  Succes!

Renee

The Netherlands Institue for Sound and Vision (Nederlands Instituut voor Beeld en Geluid)

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The Netherlands Institue for Sound and Vision, of Nederlands Instituut voor Beeld en Geluid in Dutch, is located in Hilversum.  This is around an hour’s drive or just over an hour on public transport from The Hague.  Hilversum is also often refered to as “media city” as it is the main location for television and radio broadcasts. The Institute is an archive and museum dedicated to this topic.  We visited in March this year with a group of six adults and five children, of various ages, and all thoroughly enjoyed our visit.  I was the only one who didn’t have a childhood in the Netherlands and wasn’t really familiar with Dutch TV, so I didn’t really connect with or truly understand many of the exhibits – however I still found it worth a trip.

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With a collection of more than 750,000 hours of television, film, music and radio which dates back to 1898, it is one of the largest audiovisual archives in Europe.  Aspects of the material are available to media professionals, education, science and the general public.

The building is amazing and an icon itself, with coloured glass creating a unique effect both inside and out.

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Exhibits throughout do focus on Dutch television and radio and as such, may not be experienced in the same way by an english speaker.  However it is highly interactive so if you visit with Dutch speakers but don’t speak Dutch yourself, you’re not likely to be bored.

Visitors are issued a digital ring at entry, with one version for children and one for adults.  This can then be programmed with an interactive guide…many are Dutch “BNers” (Bekende or famous Nederlanders) and English speakers can choose Rembrant!

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As you make your way around, there are many panels to scan your ring.  This not only activates certain things, but will save elements of your experience to email to you.  For example, you can make a short car chase film, be a popstar or have photos taken with images of BNers.

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We ate lunch there in the reasonably priced cafe.  My favourite parts were the building itself and wandering through the “Media Ukkie Land” where aspects of media for children was explained and analyzed.  The children loved the popstar stage.

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We also really enjoyed the process of “making” this short film:

This was also fun:

#tvstars #beeldengeluid #hilversum

A video posted by Renèe Veldman-Tentori (@zestee_renee) on

If you’d like to visit the Institute, you can do so from Tuesday to Sunday, 10am-5.30pm at a cost of 16 euros for adults and 9 euros for children between the ages of 4 to 12.  Children up to the age of 3 are free.  On site parking is available for a fee.

More information can be found via the English version or Dutch version of the website.

Renee

A version of this post also appeared on TheHagueOnLine

 

Birthdays and Holidays are the most difficult

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I’ve written before about having two homes and after almost 3 years of life (back) in the Netherlands, we are settling in here and overall doing well.  The girls are enjoying school in groep 2 & 4 and I’m so proud of their bilingual abilities.  As I write, the sun is shining and the sky is blue, which always makes everything seem better.  I’ve found freelance work that I find both challenging and rewarding, teaching marketing and ebusiness at The Hague University.  I am likely to start studying towards a Masters in September with a view to working as a lecturer long term (you need a Masters to get a fixed contract).  We’ve been in our “new house” for a year now and it’s a beautiful area to live, right on the border between Delft and The Hague, two beautiful cities. Driving here has become something easy I do nearly every day instead of the terrifying ordeal it was when I first moved here…and I haven’t fallen off my bike in more than 2 years!

This morning, I gave an interview to a writer for a magazine in Sydney about moving overseas to be with a partner, which should be published in the next few months.  In this hour-long Skype conversation I felt mixed emotions when sharing our story.  I was proud of how far I’ve come since we’ve moved here, personally and professionally.  There are so many challenges I’ve faced that I’ve somehow overcome.  When she asked if it’s changed me for the better, I can say “absolutely”.

Reflecting on the “usual” question she asked about what I miss the most, it is – of course – family and friends.   There are other things, but they are far outweighed by this number 1 priority.  When she talked about homesickness, an image of beautiful sunny beaches and delicious juicy mangoes comes to mind, but mostly, it’s the faces of my family.  Homesickness is a strange thing.  You can be totally fine and then it will hit you at really random times.  Sometimes you’ll be sad for an hour, sometimes for days, sometimes longer.   Consistently though, I find that birthdays and holidays are the most difficult.  Tomorrow is my mum’s birthday and I wish I could turn up with a big bunch of flowers, a hug and her grandchildren.  Early next month, it’s my dad’s 75th birthday and I’d love to be there.  I was considering it, however it falls during school term and I’ve already been strictly told (due to the “leerplicht” rules making it illegal for me to take my children out of school) that a trip at this time would not be allowed.  I did consider risking a fine, or I’ve heard, possibly even being stopped at the airport, but it just seemed too hard.  Other commitments like my work and the costs of the flights have also meant I need to accept this isn’t going to happen.   In August, it’s my 40th birthday.  Again, I’ll be celebrating this without my family.

One thing I feel bad about is that I always plan weeks in advance to write a card and plan a perfect present for my family’s birthdays.  However I then end up being literally paralysed and don’t do it.  It just seems too hard and threatens to unleash a carefully built dam of emotions.

I’m feeling the same way about planning our next trip back to Australia.  At the moment, the plan is to go next July/August for around 5 weeks, during the girl’s school summer holiday.  That will make it 18 months between trips which in some ways isn’t long at all and in others seems forever.  I’ve opened the flight website many times but somehow just can’t get any further.  Entering dates and looking at availability and costs and weighing what I want against what seems possible is overwhelming.   I’d much rather go at Christmas time to escape the bleak, long, European winter, and spend Christmas with my family.  We managed this for the last 2 years, getting permission from the school for an additional 2 weeks holiday to add to the 2 weeks regular Christmas school holidays but I was told last year it was the “last time”.  I can go on my own, but then have to spend Christmas without my children.  So again, leerplicht, cost and tough decisions means I’ll probably be spending Christmas 2015 here in the cold.   I’m trying to look on the bright side – an old-fashioned church service with my family-in-laws, Christmas markets, gluwijn, and maybe even snow.  However I already know that Christmas Day is going to be tough and am bracing myself for this.

Bizarrely I had a bit of an unexpected emotion on a local holiday here recently – Koningsdag.  For months, I’d been looking forward to getting dressed in orange with my kids and hitting the markets for bargains. When it came though, I had quite an intense feeling which is difficult to describe.  The best way I can do so is to say I felt like my children and husband were a real part of this Dutch holiday, while I was an outsider.  The crowds of orange overwhelmed me and I felt physically sick.  Perhaps it was also as I had been battling a cold but I did realise that I have felt like that before on other Dutch holidays.  Like the “Centreparks” type getaway that so many Dutch people, including my husband and kids just LOVE, but for me is not my idea of a fun holiday at all.  I know it’s most likely “in my head” and I am working on just getting out and enjoying holidays but I’ve discovered that life in a culture other than one you grew up with often comes with a range of strong emotions you often don’t have names for.

Birthdays in the Netherlands are also a bit of a joke for expats – I love how Stu from the “Invading Holland” blog has come up with a “Dutch Circle Party Guide“.  But again it hits home that even celebrating your own birthday here means YOU have to buy everyone cake and be the hostess.  So for my 40th, I’m hesitating on how to celebrate.  I really don’t want to do the Dutch Circle Party so I guess being summer, I could do a backyard Aussie BBQ!   Again though, I’m really going to miss having my family there.  I’m planning my girls 6th and 8th birthday parties and have realised my parents are not likely to see them in person at this age at all – they will be already 7 and 9 by the time we next visit.

This post feels at the moment like a self-pitying ramble, it was different when I was planning it in my head.  I guess I wanted to say that I feel for all of you out there in a similar situation.  Having family in two countries and living between cultures is always hard, but it seems birthdays and holidays are the most difficult.  Is that the case for you?  I know this is also true when loved ones pass away as well.  This morning, I found myself telling the journalist that one of the ways I cope with tough times is by sharing how I feel, often via this blog.   I’ve always loved having messages from readers saying they understand and have been through the same thing and survived!  So here’s to surviving birthdays,  holidays and any random time you are away from and missing family.  Perhaps in the future, I can then move past surviving and really enjoy it.  Next year, I’ll tackle Koningsdag again in orange and with a Heineken (or two or three) and do my best to have FUN!

Another thing that helps in tough times is to focus on what you’re grateful for.  I am always so very grateful to have my little family here with me, happy and healthy.  There is also technology to talk to my parents, they even bought an iPad so we can use FaceTime now and my mum’s getting really good at sharing photos on Facebook.  They are travelling a lot around Australia and I love hearing about their adventures.

Oh and if you have any awesome long-distance gift ideas, I’d love to hear them!

Renee