2 weeks. 10 countries.

2 weeks. 10 countries. 4,908 kilometers driven. Exhausted, yet happy.

Will be sharing with you in the coming days…

xxx

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Stockholm Here We Come

Woo wee! Man, it feels good to finally let the news out that we are moving to Sweden. I wish Jaro had more time to contribute to the blog. What a sweet post, right? He is the best. That’s why I married him.

This has been in the works for months. To be honest (because I always am on here), it was a slow, painful process that kept us wondering if it really was a good idea. Most of the time, we were frustrated by delays and problems that were out of our control. The rest of the time, we were frustrated with our own anxiety about this decision. Now that it’s all over and the contract is officially signed, we feel a huge relief. Time to get excited.

It looks like we’ll be moving around the beginning of November. In the meantime, we have already begun the torturous process of immigration and all the paperwork that goes with it. Yuck. It’s all too familiar as we were faced with this mountain of to-do’s just one year ago. As with our move to Amsterdam, this is another permanent relocation. And by permanent, I mean we’ll stay there until another opportunity presents itself. We don’t know how long that will be. And we’re okay with that.

Like I said in my homesick post, Jaro and I are a team. We share all our excitement and hesitations, talk through every decision (big & small), and chose this new path together. There was a lot to consider, trust me. Making this transition will hopefully be much easier than the first time around. We’re pros at being expats or “foreign migrants” now.

However, having each other is good and all, but also having an amazing support network is helping us tremendously. We know we have the unwavering support of our families and friends. As cryptic and vague as we’ve been for the past couple months, everyone has been so patient and understanding as we’ve navigated our next step. Thank you. This decision has not been easy, but all of your support has helped us be less frantic.

And yes, we did visit Stockholm in July. Obviously, I have LOADS to say about it. And I have loads to say about wrapping up this year in Amsterdam. So many thoughts, you guys. I’ll be sharing that soon.

Right now, we are setting off on an epic road trip. We decided this… yesterday. We don’t know where we’re going (though we do have some ideas). We don’t know when we’ll be back (though we know it will be within 2 weeks). All we know is that we’re cranking up the Stones, throwing caution to the wind, and hitting the road. We’re off on an adventure. Yet another.

Onward.

[photo credit]

A new home.

After a long stretch of uncertainty, the setting for the next chapter of our adventure has finally been decided, officially bringing a conclusion to this first year of life in Europe.

We are moving to Sweden.

In a little over a month we’ll be packing up our Dutch life and moving north, to the beautiful city of Stockholm – home to picturesque Scandinavian landscapes, IKEA and some of the world’s tallest (and most attractive) people.

We paid the city a top secret visit before our trip to Italy and found it suits us very well. We know we’re going to miss Amsterdam but we leave knowing we’re going to love Stockholm. It’s another beautiful European city with it’s own unique character. And though the people are a wee bit shorter and the population is just a tad smaller, Stockholm certainly feels BIGGER than Amsterdam. And in many ways, it is. It’s spread over an archipelago of 14 islands and much of its architecture is based on the grand buildings of Paris. Julie said it reminded her of Vienna. We both felt that some parts even reminded us of sweet home Chicago.

So what is taking us there other than the meatballs? I’ve accepted a new opportunity with Nike as Running Brand Manager for Stockholm. Working on running will be a great new challenge for me as it is the sport at the company’s core. But I’m probably more excited about that last part, Stockholm. Notice it’s Stockholm and not Sweden. For now, I’ll get to focus on a city. Not a territory, not a country, but a city! And a great one at that. But the best part is what it means outside of work.

Julie and I have had an unbelievable but difficult year. We had the perfect wedding followed by the perfect honeymoon then we uprooted our lives in Chicago to start our life together in Europe. I spent half the year in Ukraine, most of that without Julie. I won’t get into how stressful it can be trying to get things done in Ukraine. Add on an ambitious personal travel schedule and you’ve got one year that takes the toll of five. Though we did a lot together, Julie and I had very different experiences. We spent a lot of time apart. I never had a chance to settle in and really feel at home.

The new job is, more than anything, an opportunity to take a deep breath and slow things down. Sure, I’ll work just as hard as I always have, but I’ll be in one place, dealing with first-world problems. I couldn’t be happier that for the next indefinite period of time I will find myself, very comfortably, located in a city, with my wife. Exactly where I want to be.

London Calling

Remember that one time when we lived in Europe for an entire year, were approximately a one hour flight from London (one of the “greatest cities in the world“) and never went? We finally changed that last weekend.

London took a back seat this year to what we considered to be more “exotic” travel. Maybe places like KievMorocco, TurkeyPolandHungary, etc. are not considered “exotic” destinations to all of you, but they were to us. England felt too easy. Too English. What do you mean we can read every sign, understand every underground station announcement, and have pleasant conversation with our hotel concierge or restaurant server? Well, guess what? It was the BEST.

As soon as we arrived, I felt comforted. It was a strange sensation actually. I felt so at ease. We realized that this was only my second trip to a English-speaking country (the other was Ireland) and Jaro’s first in our time abroad. Also, the fact that several of our friends have lived/do live there (Chris, Julia, Kevin- I’m looking at you), and many more have visited might have something to do with it. (Thanks for all the wonderful suggestions, guys.)

As for where we stayed… the Covent Garden neighborhood was fantastic. It was so fun, energetic, and colorful. Away from the touristy open atrium of Covent Garden Market, it felt quite authentic and charming. Lots of shopping, which neither of us complained about.

As for what we did and what we saw… I’ll let the pictures (mostly) do the talking. You can click them to enlarge.

Coincidentally, we spent time with my uncle who was there for work. What lucky timing to be in the same random city on the same random day. That type of chance is one of the best things about travel. You never know who you’ll see.

We also roamed around Tate Modern, where we saw an interesting Munch exhibit. I’d recommend it for art lovers. We went to a show. And yes, that show was The Lion King. Never mind that I was unimpressed with Simba, the show itself was great and something everyone would enjoy. The costumes? Stop. I obviously cried as the curtain pulled back to “Circle of Life”.  Seriously, I don’t know what happened, I let go. But let’s move on… Of course, we shopped too. Spent a lot of time along Portobello Road and Regent & Oxford streets. The crowds there on a Saturday are unbelievable. Obviously, as seasoned shoppers, we had to check out both Selfridge and Harrods. The Harrods foodhalls are epic.

As for where we ate… you know this is one of our biggest priorities while traveling. We did it right in London. Crunched on fish n’ chips and game pie at a pub. Had great meals at bustling Jamie’s Italian, Indian hot spot Dishoom, and a hip Moroccan place called Maison Touareg. They were all recommended to us and we recommend them all to you. But the best was Jaro’s face when we saw a Chipotle the first day. That ended up being our first meal and nothing can replace the child-like sparkle in Jaro’s eye when he saw it for the first time in over 12 months.

As for where we drank… We stayed local in the CG & Leicester Square. Pints at Lamb & Flag (with Kevin, a fellow Chicago expat), The Crown and The Spice of Life were all very much enjoyed. We sipped on Pimm’s cups at Punch & Judy’s reminiscing about the first time we had them at Juliette’s rooftop in Brooklyn back in 2010. Sidenote: Things close up early around London, what gives? At 11:30 on a Friday, the pubs were all cleared out.

We had an absolutely lovely time. We’re already planning another trip and might be going at the end of October. London in the fall seems like the best time to be there. Crisp air, turning leaves, cozy pubs, hot tea and tweed. Doesn’t that sound wonderful?

Lots of other stuff to do until then…

xxx

A hot minute in Strasbourg, France

We had a very brief layover here on our way back from Italy. Instead of relaxing in the airport terminal like normal people, we sprinted to the train, hopped on and ran around this tiny city on the France/Germany border. Within 90 minutes we had speed-walked across the city, eaten both a pretzel and a crepe, and gotten ourselves lost. We ended up racing back to the airport and were those embarrassing passengers that ran up to the gate and onto the plane just before take off. I’ve learned to avoid eye contact with fellow passengers in these situations. I could feel the glares without looking up.

But we did manage to snap a few pics:

It’s such a cute little place. I’d love to go back for more than 1.5 hours.

Coming up: Our first trip (I know) to London.

xxx

Kitty War: It’s over, for now

Muahahaha. This missing cat flyer showed up in our mailbox yesterday. Seems to me that “Bamboo” (the culprit of annoying midnight howling and not one, but two recent break-ins) finally met its untimely deserved end. We had been planning to send the owner a cat soup recipe if it bothered us again, but now it looks like we don’t have to! I wondered why our alley has been quite for the past few days.

I suppose it could still be alive and tormenting other victims. It’s not over til it’s over…

They’re Souvenirs, Not Stuff

Just read this article on NYT and it inspired me to share some of our favorite souvenirs that we collected this year. We always thought carefully about our purchases, after all we don’t like a lot of clutter around the house (ask Jaro about his OCD) and never wanted to suffer with tons of luggage to cart it all home. These were a few of our non-wearable, non-edible treasures that we thought (and still think) were worth the weight.

This kilim (rug) from Turkey.

This pouf from Morocco.

This globe from Russia.

This teak dining table from the Netherlands.

This blanket from Morocco.

This tile from Morocco.

We did, of course, buy much more. These were the more interesting pieces. And nobody (not even me) should delve into the risky business of my reasonable exponentially growing, enormous scarf collection. I’ll leave that behind closed closet doors.

Fun Fact: For the first 365 days that I have lived over here, I spent 127 outside of the Netherlands. That’s a third of the year, folks. Crazy. Let’s not get into Jaro’s stats, then you’ll know how often we were apart.

xxx

One Year.

On this day, September 4th, exactly one year ago, we took the scariest, most exciting, thrilling and exhilarating leap of faith in our life. We moved to Europe. It’s been one whole year already. Looking back at my very first (very naive) post, I can’t believe that was only a year ago. “Only.” It feels world’s away.

This milestone day, surprisingly, has made my heart so heavy. I’m sad. All year I have tried really hard to be optimistic; to enjoy this experience as much as possible. (Duh.) And I really have enjoyed it. But I’ve also been doing everything I can to stay in touch with family and friends back home through a constant cycle of skyping and emailing; to stay relevant and present in their lives. It’s been a challenge. I haven’t stayed as close with some people as I would have liked to. Some have slipped. Others have surprised me and I feel closer to them now more than ever. Mostly, it has been a wonderful change. I’ve learned so much about the world and about myself. I’m thankful.

But I’m giving myself a break today. I’m homesick damn it. And we’re not going home for a visit until December. This day is a difficult reminder of some painful things. It’s been one year since I have given my sister a hug. It’s been one year since my brother has teasingly shoved me after one of his jokes. One year since I have seen many of our close friends & family. Today and many other days this year, that has made me cry. A lot. Knowing we’re missing out on impromptu dinners. Quick phone calls. Hugs. I think I can speak for both Jaro & myself when I say that is undoubtedly the hardest part about living abroad.

Obviously, this isn’t the first bout of homesickness I’ve experienced. It comes in waves. Today is a tidal wave. I’ve developed some remedies, however, that make it less painful. I can’t make this whole post a sob story, you know? I don’t roll like that.

Today, on the hardest day, this is what I’ll be doing to be happy:

Watching the picture montage our wedding photographer put together. I still cry when I watch this. At least it’s happy tears.

And just looking at all of our wedding pictures because they are amazzzzing.

Following that with some laughs by watching our wedding Smilebooth montage right after.

Skyping with friends… anyone around later?

Eating this. And drinking wine. Lots of wine.

Now a message to Jaro. My partner. I wrote something similar at our 6 month anniversary and I’d like to reiterate: We are getting through this together. We have each other. That is my greatest comfort. Our marriage has already been an incredible adventure; welcoming a transatlantic move, exploring 8 18 countries, and building a bond that gets stronger every day. I love you. And this extraordinary life that we get to share.

It may be “only” a year, but it’s a whole year. And it’s just the beginning.

xxx

If you’re still reading, thanks for letting me get that out. Need to vent today. This blog has been another source of cheerfulness knowing it keeps me connected to those who care. I love you all too.