Moving abroad

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Ok, it’s the end of January! That’s cause for celebration in my book. I don’t know about you, but I really struggle through January. And February, if I’m honest, but at least it’s short!

We’ve been in the Netherlands just over two months. And although I feel a lighthearted post is due, I also want to take a post to share our not-so-positive start to life abroad. Buckle up, it’s a long one.

Ok, here goes. It’s been a bloody difficult time. I knew it would be hard, but I was excited – prepared for lots of good things as well. But it was worse than I anticipated. We got caught up in a scam. I mean, I usually poo-poo Arijus’s cynical view of the world, preferring to believe that everyone means well, essentially, and giving the benefit of the doubt. In the case, however, I have to agree with him.

With Arijus already in the Netherlands, working full time, I ended up looking around online for somewhere to live. We decided to move somewhere temporarily, for the first few months, giving us a chance to breathe and then look around once we had familiarised ourselves with the areas in The Hague.

Unfortunately, the agency I picked, Fundatie, was too good to be true. We arrived to a “temporary” flat (how funny, the one we had signed a contract for was not available) and told we had to move again in a little over a week. Just what you want after packing up your whole life, putting it in storage, and driving across several countries with still far too many belongings and your two precious cats.

When the time came to move, we were told so many different lies, and when I saw the flat they were going to put us in, I went back to start moving our stuff, sat down and cried. It was vile, furnished with cheap, old furniture and smelled of the bleach the poor cleaner had used liberally to attempt to clean it. The shower room (for want of a better description) was the last straw. All for premium expat prices, of course!

I called Arijus at work in desperation. He came to try and rescue the situation. What a surprise, when we refused that flat, the only one they had available was a large two bed, waaaaay out of our price range! That, or we were out on the street.

It came to a head when we were coming up to the two month mark. The only contract I’d signed, was for an apartment we’d never been given. So, when the agency refused to respond to our emails, we continued paying the rent agreed (also based on an email saying we would be upgraded for free if they couldn’t provide what was agreed). They then started sending increasingly unpleasant emails demanding more money.

We were, of course, flat hunting, and found one (with an agency not only used by a friend, but rigorously vetted by me) with relative ease. Then followed the agonisingly slow process of getting the contract sorted. Considering our experience, we were not confident to say we’d found somewhere to move without that contract signed and in our possession! We had a four month contract with Fundatie, but had been given the option to leave after two months because they had messed up.

Five days before the two months were up with Fundatie, they cut off our electricity. At 8am, with no notice. Just a note on the door.

I’m sure you can imagine how stressful this was, especially in January (it was stormy weather; hail, rain, wind). It wasn’t until 3pm that afternoon that the new contract was emailed to us! Not a moment too soon! The agency confirmed that they would meet us the next day with keys to the property.

So, only one night to survive with no heating, no hot water, no fridge or freezer.

We are now settling in to the new flat. What a contrast; a lovely, cosy home, and decent (if that’s a thing) estate agency. At this point, I’m not sharing this just to rant. If, by some chance, one person is helped by being more cautious due to our experience, then it’s worth reliving it.

I sought legal advice, and was assured we were well within our rights not to pay the money Fundatie were demanding, as they had no paperwork supporting their claim. I was also told (spoiler) that cutting off the electricity is illegal in the Netherlands.

I don’t believe I was an idiot in this situation – go check their website, it’s believable, right? But now I know. If I had to do it again, we would opt for an extended Airbnb let, as at least you are protected by the company, should anything go wrong.

I would also advise reading up on the laws regarding tenancy before finding yourself in a difficult situation. These are the things predators like Fundatie rely on. Expats who haven’t got a clue. At least we were savvy enough not to pay them the money and find out our rights.

Let’s finish this serious chat with another cat pic. That’s better.

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I rode a bike! 

For more than ten years, I would not get on a bike. A combination of a fear of cars (totally reasonable, I’m sure any UK cyclists will agree), and a couple of bad experiences riding in the past.

So, it’s been quite a big deal for me to get back on. The safety of Holland’s cycle lanes and generally different (more respectful) attitude towards cyclists, plus the support of my ever-optimistic fiancé, were key.

When Emma came to visit, I threw caution to the wind, and let Arijus lead us off on a Saturday of cycling through the parks and to the beach. It was a beautifully successful day!

We found some gorgeous spots! This is Scheveningen Beach. Check out Het Puntje cafe if you’re north of the pier. A real hipster/surfer vibe and yummy food and smoothies!

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And it was so lovely to have Em staying with us! Looking forward to her next visit in 2018 <3

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Now, to get back on the bike and get confident!

Indonesian day

Oh, hey! My crazy year has had me all stop-start on this blogging situation, but I’m going to catch you all up from where we left off earlier this summer! Because I HAVE to tell you everything in order; it’s been all sorts of amazing, scary, fabulous, difficult. So, let’s cue that wibbly wobbly visual thing they used to do in TV shows back in the 90’s when you were being taken back to the past …

Where were we …? Oh yes, when Mads and Lucy visited me in Den Haag! It was so good, I can’t wait for their next visit, but I digress.

After our delicious lunch in Zebedeus, we walked round to the main part of Grote Kerk. This part of the building is still in use as a church. The Indonesian Embassy were hosting a Batik exhibition and fashion show. Batik is an age old tradition, found across several Asian countries, which involves using wax to create patterns on cloth, before dying. It is most developed in Java, Indonesia, where it is believed that the art of Batik predates written record. This art form has a long and complex history; one which my mother, born and raised in Java, promotes and helps to help preserve, through her charity work. She is particularly focused on reintroducing batik tulis as a skill to young women, so that they can not only continue to pass this down the generations, but also find work for themselves and be financially independent.

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The awesome displays were open throughout the afternoon, and followed by a fashion show in the evening. Sadly, we were too full to appreciate the traditional Indonesian snacks that were on offer, but I did help myself to a glass of wine. It would’ve been rude not to!

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There was a large display of batik from Java, but we saw batik from other parts of Indonesia too. The batik with the gold is from Bali (my spiritual home, but we can talk about that another time).

 

We stayed to see the first half of the fashion show, which showcased Indonesian designers who use traditional batik fabrics to create their pieces. Some were modern, some traditional. It was really interesting, but we were sat behind a few rows, so didn’t get any good pics. My favourite thing was the fashion show opened with traditional Balinese dancing, which I adore (and briefly studied, when I was about five years old!) and I was delighted that Lucy and Mads got to experience a little of that.

We snuck out at the interval (we did excuse ourselves in advance!) to meet Arijus and Ronique at our favourite Indonesian restaurant, Warung Bude Kati.

Needless to say, we stuffed our faces, choosing a rijsstaffel so that our visiting friends could enjoy a variety of dishes. Thinking I may need to do a separate post in the future about Indonesian food, and the Dutch/Indonesian connection! Some really interesting history there.

Another great day! I’ve been really enjoying discovering Den Haag with friends. More soon!

Ciao xx

 

Zebedeus 

I took Lucy and Madeleine to one of my favourite restaurants in The Hague, Zebedeus. It’s located in Grote Kerk, the beautiful, large church in the centre of town. Incidentally, Grote Kerk is one of the oldest buildings in Den Haag, and a venue for many concerts, exhibitions and more. You can read more about the Batik exhibition we went to in the church in my next post.

Back to Zebedeus. We had a truly scrumptious lunch and Lucy was very happy to discover from our helpful waiter that quite a few options on the menu were gluten free, or could easily be adapted. She chose the omelette sandwich on gluten free bread.

Madeleine and I chose salad. My butter bean, watermelon and feta salad was delicious, and I will be recreating this soon, once I find the sumac spice our lovely waiter advised me was the ingredient I couldn’t figure out. Mads assured us that her salad was also amazing. I had to take her word for it, as it had beetroot in it. Urgh.

And finally, the dessert! I will let our expressions speak for themselves!

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That’s happiness, right there. Lucy had a chocolate pecan slice, Mads had an apple crumble, and mine was like a pound cake with almond. They were all AMAZING!

Amsterdam, baby! 

My girls, Lucy and Madeleine came to visit me in The Netherlands. We had so much fun, despite Lucy having fractured her ankle a few weeks before she came out.

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A canal tour is perfect when one of your party is on a crutch! We took the Stromma.com 100 Highlights tour. It was good; an enjoyable and informative way to see central Amsterdam easily in an hour.

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The gorgeous Amsterdam Centraal Station.

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That moment when you realise no Starbucks barista will ever get your name right. Lol.

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This was also the day when Lucy didn’t like ANY of the photos … *rolls eyes*

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Well, we managed to get one or two (out of hundreds!) that were acceptable, apparently 😉

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I’m so happy so many friends and family are taking the opportunity to visit with us, whilst Arijus is working in Den Haag. But I’m starting to think I’ll be seeing this sign quite a few times!

Before heading home, we stopped at Salsa Shop for a deeeeeelicious burrito. They are SO GOOD. Also, they are huge, and Lucy and I were pretty impressed by teeny tiny Mads putting away the whole thing! We obviously worked up an appetite with all our touristing.

Sadly, due to lack of foreplanning (all my fault), and Lucy’s foot, we didn’t get to see everything we wanted to. On the list for next time: Anne Frank Museum, Van Gough Museum and Katten Kabinet! Because some of us are massive cat people. And by some, I mean all.

Our soundtrack for the whole trip: DESPACITO  😀

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Good times. So as not to bore you, I’ve split the trip into separate posts 😉 Enjoy more of our adventures in my next posts!

 

 

 

 

It’s your party! Surprise!

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I spent six months planning Arijus’s surprise 30th party. (Oh, hi over there, I can hear your little comment “he’s 30 but it’s all about her”. Yes. It’s my blog. Deal with it.)

I loved it. The planning that is. I see how it could have been more stressful if I’d not left myself so much time but in this case, the most stressful time was the 48 hours before the party, when I had to pretend face to face. It was supposed to be 24 hours of pretending but SOMEONE came home a day early without telling me! SURPRISE! Oh, the irony.

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I loved planning and organising a successful surprise party, full of our wonderful friends and family, and making the love of my life so happy. It was great to be able to share the plans with Arijus’s sister, Ieva, and delegate the cakes to her!

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And I sang. Of which there are videos for posterity, however, I currently can’t listen to more than 30 odd seconds of them! That’s the sensational Corcovado Duo, backing me up and making me sound good!

Side note: I’ve know Dan (left) since secondary school, so about 20 years of my life!

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And our lovely Em was there.

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All in all it was fab. I think I’d be a pretty good event organiser (hashtag humble brag). I won’t bore you with all the little details, but feel free to ask! I’ll be on the lookout for the next party to organise …

So, about these cats…

‘The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.’ – T S Eliot

My Gran bought me the Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats when I was about nine. By this time my brother and I had made strong arguments for a pet, to no avail (FISH DON’T COUNT MUM AND DAD). I can’t possibly begin my blogging journey without sharing my wonderful feline family members with you.

It was February 2002 when I finally realised my childhood dream of owning a cat (having not owned one before, I was not aware that it works the other way round; they own you of course). My first cat was called Serafina and she was a beautiful rescue cat. I named her after Serafina Pekala from the Northern Lights trilogy. She came with a variety of emotional and psychological issues, which, in my inexperience, I did my best to deal with.

Serafina

As you can see she was a complete fluff ball. I did a little research and I’m convinced she had a bit of Maine Coon in her, or possibly Norwegian Forest cat. I loved her very much and it broke my heart when she passed away in December 2012. I hope she knows I did my best by her, and tried to give her a good life. If she sees me paying more attention to my new babies, hopefully she realises that I learnt from being owned by her moody, uppity little self.

The house was horribly empty when she left, not least because she’d gone deaf some months before she passed and quite likely senile too, so she used to sit herself down somewhere and just caterwaul. I would go to her and give her a cuddle just to let her know that she wasn’t alone. I was bereft without her and it wasn’t long before we  started looking into where our next cats were coming from. Yes, that’s correct, cats plural. Serafina wouldn’t have put up with another cat in the house, but I knew I wanted more than one this time and I also knew I wanted to stick with the medium to long-haired variety. Although people who know me question how this fits with my cleaning OCD, I guess I just like the look and that’s that.

We decided on the Maine Coon breed. I liked their looks and temperament and Arijus liked that they are described as the most dog like of cats (I have no idea why this appealed to him, he is an all animal person, rather than having a cat or dog preference) and that they grow to be much larger than your average moggie. We found a breeder who’d just had kittens, so we went to visit and chose our two when they were just three weeks old. Then I had to wait THREE MONTHS before I could bring them home!

Gus Pads

The red and white is Asparagus, known as Gus, GusGus, Gussyboo, and the grey tortie tabby is Padme Amidala, known as Pads or Padmeboo. They are now a year and 10 months old. It is an absolute joy to have them as part of our family. Maine Coons don’t reach emotional maturity until they are roughly four years old, nor are they fully grown physically until around that age too. So we have two very large cats that are still very kittenish in their behaviour! It has been amazing to watch their characters develop and learn about them. They are so beautiful and regal as well. I could wax lyrical for ages but I think I’ll throw in a few more pics and save some for another post!

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They are still really little in these pics. Gus would struggle to get in that cat tree now and only one cat per lap as well! Of course, when I say little, we brought them home at 14 weeks and they were already the size of a small to medium regular cat.

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Gus loves posing for the camera! He started practising for his modelling career at a young age 😉 He’s a big softie, while Pads is more reserved.

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Naturally their favourite pastime is snoozing and we constantly walk in on them in these ridiculous positions! They give us love every day and put a smile on my face when I’m feeling crappy. So I warn you in advance there will be kitty updates! If you want to see more of Gus and Pads, check out my Instagram. It’s mostly them. A few other pics, but mostly them.

Books, books, and more books

I cannot get enough of reading. I don’t have loads of spare time, I have a mahoosive tbr pile and I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t buried in a book at any given opportunity. As an adult I have noticed that reading is my last resort escapism. In times of stress, I very successfully avoid things by sticking my head in a book.

I am currently reading the fourth book in a series called Seasons of the Moon, by SM Reine. It’s light reading for me, but quite enjoyable, not too predictable and very tweeny.

 

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More on books I love another time. Happy reading peeps!

Change is a comin’


“You’re always you, and that don’t change, and you’re always changing, and there’s nothing you can do about it.” 
― Neil GaimanThe Graveyard Book

 

I’m studying. I’m blogging. I’m excited about the future. This is good. Ain’t no point moaning about not liking what you’re doing, or where you are in life unless you’re prepared to make some changes. Well, that’s what I finally got round to realising. So I’m working on it. Because I want to wake up every day and be excited about what I’m doing.