It’s moving day.

Happy Halloween, peeps! I hope everyone is celebrating safely and happily. We are having an unusual Halloween this year. We’re moving to Sweden today. Which means it’s our last day as residents of the Netherlands. As such, I’ve written up a little goodbye.

Amsterdam, it’s been real. You have been an incredible home to us for the past 14 months. You have opened our eyes to new experiences that we never could have imagined. Thank you. And thanks for all the amazing memories that we will cherish forever. It has truly been a pleasure. You will always have a special place in our hearts as our first home away from home.

Here is a little recap of the fun we had this year:

Yours truly,

J+J

Stockholm: 5 Second Impressions

You can see my first impressions here.

The movers are here! This time they have a permit to be parked in the street; we’re off to a good start. (When we first moved in, they didn’t, and had to park at the end of the street and carry all our stuff down the street by hand.) As they begin to pack up our things, I figured I should stay glued to the computer as long as possible share some impressions from our second visit to Stockholm, just two weeks ago. While our house hunt was a bust (and still is), we otherwise had a really great visit getting to know our new home.

  1. The dining scene is fantastic, as we expected from our initial culinary adventures. This second visit cemented it. The Swedes really care about food (like me) so this will be a good bonding point for us. With dinners at trendy AG and swanky Riche, we were impressed. We tried some local dishes and loved them! Skagen is basically a cold shellfish salad on toast, so good. We also had Isterband, which is a pork sausage with potatoes and beets. Reminded me of corned beef, also delicious. And Biff Rydberg, fried tenderloin chunks that comes with a raw egg yolk to mix up with potatoes and horseradish creme. Yum! We have heard that it’s more common to host dinner parties at home than eat at a restaurant, but I’m pretty sure we’ll be doing our fair share of both.
  2. The city as a whole feels huge. It’s roughly eight times bigger than Amsterdam, geographically. We’ll be getting to know that public transportation system real quick. Walking from our hotel, Nordic Sea, to Södermalm took me over 30 minutes. I can walk across the entire city of Amsterdam in that time.
  3. Despite this leap in size, each island/neighborhood feels small and cozy. After several more days of wandering around, we still love Södermalm the most. It feels the most “us”, as the Pijp did here in Amsterdam.
  4. It’s cold. I was not surprised by this as I do not live under a rock, but I was surprised by my body’s very averse reaction. …And it was just October. I have really got to develop a thicker skin for winter (either that or invest in some thermal tights). I’m from Chicago for goodness sake. You would think I can handle it. To make it worse, everyone has warned us that we are moving there at the darkest, coldest, wettest, ugliest time. Yay. Can’t wait. Really though, we’re okay with that. Because it will only get better… right?
  5. We found out about cool celebrations that are totally unique to Sweden. Midsummer in June with dancing under the midnight sun and crayfish parties in August where you better take gulps of schnapps are just the beginning. The Swedes live the good life.

Enough chatter. It was a quick trip and much of it was spent on the house hunt, so we didn’t have a lot of free time. Here are a few pics. Both visits, we noticed we haven’t taken the best pictures, so I apologize for that. These don’t really do Stockholm justice. It is a really beautiful city.

xxx

Monday Travel Memory: One Way Tickets

Moving AbroadThis is us at O’Hare Airport on our moving day just over a year ago. One-way tickets from Chicago to Amsterdam. We were starting a new adventure and receiving a new title: Expats. I remember being so excited I could barely sleep or eat. I remember laughing with Jaro’s brother and sister-in-law as they drove us to the airport. But, I also remember sitting in the lounge crying on the phone with my dad. The range of feelings I experienced that day was intense. Eager, nervous, giddy, sad, proud, anxious, happy… all of it. It was one of the most emotional days of my life. I spilled my champagne all over myself and my seat when we boarded the plane. I was a mess.

This week we have one-way tickets from Amsterdam to Stockholm, our second international move. Over the next three days, we are packing up our apartment and saying goodbye to Amsterdam. It’s not as difficult as our first move, but it is still a mix of sadness and excitement. I guess we should take a picture of ourselves at the airport again, huh?

Looking at this picture and thinking about that day, I can’t help but reflect on how different our lives are. Not just where we reside, but also how much we’ve changed.

It’s been a good year. Here’s to another.

xxx

P.S. My first travel memory (sort of).

An Expatriate Guide: Living in Amsterdam

So, you want to live in Amsterdam, huh? Or know someone who does? Maybe I, an American expat living in Amsterdam, can help. Now that my husband and I have lived in here for over a year (and sadly leaving it soon), I think we are ready to give advice to those that are considering it. Long story short: It is an absolutely fantastic city and I highly recommend it. There. Drop whatever you are doing and move! If you need more convincing, some specifics below.

Overall Feel: Amsterdam has a very unique vibe, which is something that clicked with us right away. It really isn’t like anywhere else. There is a charm to it that I can’t explain. It is laid-back and unpretentious. It is not judgmental; there is a very evident “to each his own” attitude. It’s also beautiful and romantic without trying too hard. Actually, it doesn’t try at all. It just is.

Neighborhoods: Each ‘hood in Amsterdam is different. Really you can’t go wrong, the city is so small that you can easily get from one end to the other in 30 minutes by tram or bike. I do have my preferences, however. I like living in what I think are “cool” neighborhoods. And I’d like to remind everyone that this is strictly my opinion; others may see it differently. Here is a very tiny summary:

  • Old Center: I’d say this area is the busiest as it’s home to the Dam Square, Royal Palace, Centraal Station and Red Light District. I tend to avoid it since it is usually very crowded and full of tourists. There are quiet areas & pretty canals though once you move away from the Damrak/Rokin streets. There are a lot of shopping (fast fashion staples like Zara, H&M, Mango, and department stores like Maison de Bonneterie, Bijenkorf) and restaurant choices (we like Cafe de Jaren) in this area.
  • Canal Belt: This area is the most romantic. Amsterdam’s famous canals must be seen to be believed. They are magical, especially at night. Living here is very pricey, I believe. When we were house hunting, we were shown a shoe box that didn’t even have canal views for the same price as our loft. The 9 Straatjes on the west side (Denham, Bendorff and Scotch & Soda, do it) and Utrechtsestraat (Labels, Jan, Bellarose) on the south side are my favorite boutique shopping areas.
  • Jordaan: This area is very residential and beautiful. The narrow streets with leaning townhouses have so much charm. If we hadn’t lived in the Pijp, we would have wanted to live here. It is a very trendy area with great boutique shopping as well and lots of cool little restaurants. My favorite restaurant in Amsterdam, Balthazar’s Keuken, is located here.
  • De Pijp: …Is where it’s at! Okay, so I’m partial to the Pijp because that’s where we live, but I absolutely love it. The Albert Cuyp Market gets it’s fair share of tourists, but the neighborhood is very eclectic and “bohemian.” One could even call it the hipsterville of Amsterdam. There are great boutiques (Cottoncake and Streetclothes are my picks), lots of cool restaurants (De Duvel and Bazar are our faves) and a nice park. While at the south end of the city, it’s well connected to Centraal Station by tram.
  • Museum Quarter: This area is very posh and packed with culture. It’s home to the designer shopping street P.C. Hooftstraat and the beautiful Vondelpark (our very own Central Park). Watch out for tourist groups on bikes pedaling through the park or Museumplein, which is behind the Rijksmuseum, Stedelijk and Van Gogh Museum, all located here as well.
  • Oost/Jewish Quarter: I don’t know much about this area at all. This is where the Waterlooplein flea market and zoo are located. It is otherwise very residential. None of my restaurant or shopping excursions took me this way. There is a lot of new architecture because, sadly, much of it was torn down after WWII. It doesn’t have the same charm as the rest of the city.

People: Almost uncomfortably friendly. As a guarded and even suspicious American, it can be surprising that people are genuinely this nice (of course, not for me since I’m from the Midwest; we invented nice). People say “hallo” to each other in the street and as soon as you give yourself away as an American speak, they want to know everything about your experience living here. What you like about their city and also what you don’t. They want to know what you do and sometimes even how much rent you pay. Don’t be shy! I have found the Dutch to be very forward, yet well-intentioned, so you might as well be too.

Language:  Dutch itself is not exactly a poetic language or particularly easy to learn. I did a 10-week course (Thanks Allard!), starting like 6 months after we moved here. I wish I had done it right away and mastered more. There’s something about addressing people in their own language that is, I don’t know, respectful? It just shows some effort. I mean, you are living in their country. And if that was your choice, you should try to assimilate. Then again, everyone speaks English. Even many of the old folks and young kids. So sometimes it’s hard to keep practicing your Dutch because it’s easier for you (and them, honestly) to just talk in English.

Style: Casual, casual, casual. Even nice restaurants, the theater and the concert hall have relaxed dress codes. Of course some work environments may require suits, but the overall aesthetic is decidedly more laid back. For eclectic street styles, check out Dam Style.

Culture: There is more to Amsterdam than pot and prostitutes (you can see my brief rant about that here). That does exist. Get over it. The rest of the city is simply charming. There are tons of museums, swanky restaurants, hip clubs, cozy pubs, and boutique shopping galore. Think you’re going to find a Gap or Sephora here? Forget it. A lot of big chains don’t have outlets here. (Don’t worry, H&M and Zara do.)

Safety: I rarely feel unsafe in the city. Really, the only time when I do is when I can tell a junkie is staggering in my direction. In all likelihood, it is a tourist that overindulged and really not a threat.

Getting Around: A breeze. Pick yourself up a GVB chipkaart right away and you’ll see how conveniently the city is connected by tram, bus and underground subway. Of those, I prefer the tram. But most of the time, I walk or ride my bike. This is the biking capital of the world, so to truly feel like an Amsterdammer, you gotta hop on two wheels (there are pros and cons to the bike culture).

Weather: This is probably a turn off for most people, but hear me out. Yes, it rains. A lot. And most days are an overcast shade of grey. But you gain a whole new appreciation for nice weather. So really, you win.

Household Basics: Things like establishing residency, personal banking, health insurance, etc. all took way longer than we expected (see my brief rant about customer service) and there were many hiccups that were out of our control. Things that would be unheard of in the U.S. like switching signatures on your bank cards or losing your passport photo and forgetting to tell you). You have to have some patience, there is no need for speed here, despite your sense of urgency. Chill. It will get done. (Just remember to follow up, sometimes they forget to process your immigration…)

Housing: After seeing friends’ apartments, we realize we definitely lucked out. Apartments are typically small and have weird lay outs. I’m realizing that is just common in Europe, because we are seeing much of the same in Stockholm (moving there next week). Since we are short-term, we’re still renting and one huge difference from the States is that we pay every single bill separately. Rent, energy, water, trash removal, property taxes (yep, we paid that for the year!) and cable are all separate. Be sure to clarify what is included in your rent, if anything.

What did I leave out? I’ve previously shared things I’ll miss (times two) and things I won’t miss about living here. And I am compiling a separate post about what to do as a visitor in Amsterdam.

Any questions, please write in the comments!

xxx

Amsterdam: 10 (more) Things I’ll Miss

You can see installment one here

This list will probably make more sense if you visited us this year, or have been faithfully been reading this blog for awhile (love you). I could go on and on…

  1. The hot meat man: 
  2. The hot meat: 
  3. My bike basket looking like this every weekend: 
  4. Lazy mornings with our favorite house guests: 
  5. This apple tart (definitively the best in the world): 
  6. Dutch frites (arguably the best in the world): 
  7. These oysters (sometimes accompanied by champagne, because we’re fancy like that):
  8. This window: 
  9. This hilariously tiny oven that still got the job done: 
  10. Our street: 

xxx

Stockholm House Hunt, part ett

Hey friends. We got back from our Stockholm house hunting trip last night. I’ll spare you the suspense: It was a big BUST. We did not find a home that was suitable for us. After examining seven apartments in total, we just could not commit.

Prior to this house hunting trip, we had visited in July to understand the city a bit, done lots of research on the neighborhoods, scoured Swedish online resources about apartments both for sale and for rent. All to get a feel for the market and what to expect. Let’s just say that in an expensive city like Stockholm, we set our expectations at an all-time low. For comparable rent to our Amsterdam pad, we needed to sacrifice both size and amenities. Now that makes me laugh. Those of you that have visited or seen our Dam apartment know that we’re spoiled. It’s huge. Probably close to 150 square meters. We have a dishwasher, in-unit laundry, gas stove, two bedrooms, two bathrooms and pretty much a dance floor/bowling alley. It has been the perfect place to entertain; hosting visitors, throwing parties and nice dinners was our favorite. We also have fantastic neighbors, our street is lovely and we are near everything. It’s actually the best.

We were very open-minded as we started this new house hunt, knowing we couldn’t have the same luck as we did in Amsterdam (which I wrote about here and here). So let’s find the humor in our failure! Here are my takeaways:

  1. First of all, I cannot believe how some people live. I’ll try not to make this a generalization about all Stockholmers, but we saw several apartments that were absolutely disgusting. Don’t they know strangers are going to be inside their place hoping to rent it? It was almost impossible to see past all the trash and clutter. Case in point, kitchen #1:It’s a good thing you can’t see my face. 
  2. Not all Scandinavian design is beautiful. Case in point, bathroom #3:There is no way I would shower in there. It looks like a shower you get murdered in.
  3. Some bedrooms are actually not. Case in point, spare bedroom at #4:Where the naughty kids are sent to bed.
  4. You don’t have to set it up the same way as the current tenants. Case in point, living room of #5:What on earth is going on here.

We only saw one nice apartment we could see ourselves living in. Meatloaf may have said two out of three ain’t bad, but one out of seven is really bad. Terrible. The deal breaker was that it sat on the northern edge of town, in a quiet area full of families with small kids. We aren’t there yet (and won’t be for several years, thankyouverymuch). While we know we have to sacrifice size and location, we won’t budge on location. We want to be in a lively ‘hood.

So what now? Time to face reality. We have to increase our budget by about 5,000Kr. We have to be flexible about “nice” amenities like dishwashers, in-unit laundry, balconies and, most sadly, spare bedrooms. We have to keep looking.

Come November when we head over for good (oh God, two weeks from now!), we’ll be in temporary housing until we find it. It will be worth it. It’s all just taking a little longer than we hoped.

At least we know autumn in Stockholm is beautiful:

xxx

Stockholm: 8 First Impressions

Hi pals. Happy Monday. I hope you all had a nice weekend. We went out with friends on Friday, met friends for lunch on Saturday and stayed in that very rainy night with pizza & beer. We’re really enjoying these last few days in Amsterdam, rain or shine.

So, Stockholm! We’re moving there in two weeks. If you’re reading “live”, we are there. Right now. To house hunt! Okay, more like tiny apartment hunt, but still. I hope we find our little home.

But let’s back up. If I’m going to do this right, I have to go wayyy back to July when we first visited. We went for five days, smushed between hosting visitors and our two week trip to Italy. To say we were a little frazzled (or maybe that was just me, Jaro tends to take things in stride better than I do) is an understatement, especially because this trip was booked only the week before. It all felt rushed and I felt unprepared. I hadn’t researched much about it and wasn’t sure what to expect.

As we arrived, I have to admit… I did not want to like it. I love Amsterdam. I’m not ready to leave. It really feels like home and a place I could stay for a long time (read: more than the 14 months we’re getting). I love our neighborhood, our lifestyle, our friends, our apartment, everything. Okay, maybe not the weather, but even that has stopped bothering me like it first did.

Our focus of this trip was to get an “overall feel” for the city; explore some different neighborhoods, see where people shop, eat, hang out, etc. So we rode the T to our teeny holiday apartment in Södermalm, the alleged bohemian neighborhood (much like Amsterdam’s Pijp where we currently live), and I had my doubts. I was ready to point out all its flaws and shortcomings. As I stared up at high-rise condominiums, modern glass buildings, and so much concrete, I wasn’t feeling it. I missed Amsterdam’s charming, cobblestone streets.

But over the week, we found Stockholm’s charming, cobblestone streets, rode bikes via the shared bikes program, shopped in lots of glorious boutiques, ate hot dogs from street carts and dined at fancy restaurants. I warmed up to this cool city. (See what I did there?)  Here are some initial thoughts:

  1. It’s very stylish. Shopping is a huge part of the culture and the city’s somewhat recent rise to fame, something which Amsterdam is not exactly known for. While I have happily adapted to the Dam’s casual street style, I’m going to have to step it up a notch with this move. And no complaints! I love fashion and even though my passion took a hiatus for the years that I was an accountant, I think it’s really going to come back in full force.
  2. It’s hilly. Whoa. I have never lived in a place with actual hills. I love the added interest it gives to the city landscape. It’ll make walking and cycling a better work out, that’s for sure.
  3. Speaking of interesting landscape, this city is comprised of 14 islands all connected by 50 some-odd bridges. Smitten!
  4. They eat lots of herring (and fish in general), much like they do here in Amsterdam. But theirs is pickled, not raw. I still like it.
  5. They eat lots of other delicious things too. Chutney, Urban Deli, Bageriet by Urban Deli, Restaurang Östgötakällaren, and the many others we tried, were all great. Good food, friendly service. I know the culinary scene is going to rival (and maybe beat?) Amsterdam’s.
  6. Swedish wildlife (as we learned at Skansen) includes brown bears, coyotes and wolverines!
  7. Neighborhoods are all very different. We only checked out parts of Södermalm (hipster), Gamla Stan (historic), Norrmalm (touristic), and Djurgården (green space). On this current visit, we’ll also see Kungsholmen (residential), Östermalm (posh), and Vasastan (residential) during our apartment hunt. There is a lot to explore.
  8. It’s expensive. Beers can be up to €8. A one hour T fare is about €5. And trying to convert the Kronor back to Euros is dizzying. It took several months to start “thinking” in Euros instead of dollars, but I think we’ll get used to our new currency faster in Stockholm.
  9. Bonus Thought: I like saying that we’ll be living in Scandinavia. It just sounds cool, yeah? Much like how I love saying we have been living in Holland. Sigh.

Enough talk, here are some pics. We surprisingly didn’t take a lot because we were so busy trying to soak it in and not be too distracted by what aperture setting we were using.

Moving is tough. Not going to lie, it’s stressful to visit a new country, trying to imagine yourself settling in there. In many ways, you can’t. We were more than ready for the initial move to Amsterdam just out of sheer excitement (I’m riding a tram! I’m eating herring! This is all so exciting!), but we are a little more cautious about this one. We hope we love it just as much. And you know what? I think we will.

So there you have it. Some initial thoughts on Stockholm. Looking forward to sharing our house hunting adventure with you all soon.

xxx

Amsterdam House Hunt, part twee

Time to revisit that little piece o’ news I mentioned a couple of weeks ago and give you guys a little more information about it. We have a spacious, beautiful loft in the heart of De Pijp (roughly pronounced ‘Pipe’ for us Americans). This hip, little neighborhood is located in the Amsterdam-Zuid borough, so we are just south of the canal district. Now for all of you whining about us not having a canal view, I don’t want to hear it. As a visitor you would have had to sleep on the floor since there is no way we could have found a place with all our must-haves like a second bedroom. So really, this arrangement works out better for you, our guests. You all are visiting, right?

We are almost finished furnishing the place and let me tell you, it is no small undertaking. Our initial expectations were pretty low (by that I mean, teeny tiny), so we didn’t ship a lot of our furniture. Boy, were we off! We be shoppin’ up a storm to make this house a home. Last night we bough a beautiful dining room table and, for some reason, that purchase made me feel like a real adult. I mean, it’s teak. Fancy. We still don’t have chairs yet, but hey, we’re getting there. While it will still look pretty bare in here, it’s all intentional as we plan on filling it up with personal items that we will collect as we travel. You all know how impatient I am so this will be a challenge for me. As soon as we are all initially set up, I will post some before and after pictures to get that ‘Oooh’ and ‘Ahh’ effect from all of you. I know, I know, I have been making empty promises talking about pictures for quite awhile, but now that we have our home computer, I can start uploading! Yay!

While we are thrilled with our loft, moving into a new place abroad has had its challenges. Like…

– we have a convection oven. I always saw the instructions on food packaging, but didn’t think they actually exist. You know, like the Lock Ness Monster. Anyway, it’s the size of a large toaster. I made some mean stuffed portabellos in there last night though, I will dominate it soon enough.

– we have huge, 2-story windows. How on earth are we supposed to clean those things? #firstworldproblems

-our TV and computer are from the States and I grumpily happily went to four places before I found a shop with 3-prong converters.

-the metric system. Liters. Meters. Celsius. All things I know embarrassingly little about. I do know that 82 Fahrenheit is the one temperature that can be flipped to 28 Celsius exactly. #nerdalert

That’s it for now.

xxx

Amsterdam House Hunt, part een

Well, hallo there. I have some exciting news. Jaro and I had our apartment search with the relocation agency last week and it was a success!

We looked at seven places around the city and I could not believe the range of sizes and amenities we saw. Some teeny tiny, others colossal. Some about to cave in, others fully renovated. I am so surprised at what we can afford. And where we can afford it. At the end of the day, (can’t believe we were ready to commit after only a day), we were torn between two places and you won’t believe what we picked. We went with a 2-story, 2-bed, 2-bath, design dream for Jaro …. a LOFT!! It is huge, beautiful, spacious and sunny. We could have brought all our furniture from the States. Oh well, it will be fun to buy new things and decorate this place.

It’s the type of apartment we will not be able to have once we’re older with pets and/or children, so we are very excited to enjoy it while we can. Who are we? We even have our very own (enormous) rooftop. I hear it’s the best way to watch the NYE fireworks that explode literally all over the city. It is in the heart of the neighborhood we wanted on a quiet street between a beautiful park and a bumpin’ outdoor market. I cannot even explain to you guys how cool and how “us” this area is. Not that I think I’m cool… Anyway, we move in on October 1st, once our shipping container clears customs and we finally have all our own things.

Hooray for living abroad!

xxx