A Strange, Small World

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It’s 6 A.M. and I’m grateful for coffee. The apartment and my body feel like carnage of the past week: There has been insufficient sleep. There have been rodeo-like attempts at corralling the objects from our drawers and cupboards. There have been too many and yet not enough drinks with friends.

My “special notebook” in which I scrawl ideas and other things was missing for three days, presumed lost; resurrected just a day late for Easter. There was much rejoicing. Yesterday I turned on my Kindle to get a moment’s sanity by reading over lunch, and discovered that the top half of the screen is broken. I don’t know how this happened, but I’m pretty sure it has to do with the absence of furniture. I’ve been stashing the Kindle on the floor next to the mattress at night. And I am 80% (Kindle likes to give you percents) through a mystery I wanted to finish.

Last night, around midnight, I tried to read on the Kindle anyway, to see if I could make enough sense of the screen to continue with the story. I kept at it for a few minutes, but I was missing too many words to get the real picture.

That’s life this week. I try very hard, but I’m missing part of the screen. It’s the part that comes after Thursday, when we get on the plane and fly back to America.

Last weekend we hosted (I think this qualifies?) a borrel. It’s a Dutch gathering of drinks and small hapjes (snacks), and in Tim’s department it’s tradition to throw one when you’re going away. Ours was at our house. We still had the couch—Tim and one lucky friend hadn’t yet had the experience of Tetris-ing it up/down/up/NO/down/up our narrow, bent Dutch staircase.

We talked and reminisced, and our friends (in another tradition) sang us a song and gave us gifts. At 2 A.M. I excused myself and went to bed while a tiny core of close friends talked science. It was the right ending.

On a small piazza in Sardinia last month we met an artist who tried to guess our home from our accents. To my surprise, he correctly deduced that we were American but had lived outside the US.

“It is a strange world,” he said, “no? When people from the US live in the Netherlands?”

Saturday we went truant on packing to spend the day in Amsterdam. We bought olives at a market and sat with our feet hanging over the Keizersgracht, feeling the sun and spitting the pits. The canals were busy with boaters (but nowhere near as busy as they’ll be on upcoming King’s Day). Amsterdammers were lounging along the canals, sitting outside, taking it all in, like we were. To them it is not strange; and to us, not anymore.

May the world continue to be strange—and small.

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Alghero

With Europe slipping through our fingers, we had one weekend clear for a last getaway. One weekend on the calendar without plans scrawled across, and it was the last weekend in March. We ran through a few destinations, leaning toward revisiting an old favorite, Barcelona or Ostuni. Busy, we waited to book, and the tickets escalated (way) beyond what we could justify for a 2-3 day trip. Back to the drawing board, I went to the budget airlines and just began plugging in those dates to see what came up cheap.

Alghero, Sardinia

Alghero, Sardinia

What came up cheap was Ryan Air from Eindhoven to Alghero, Sardinia. I really like Eindhoven Airport. From Delft, it’s two hours on public transportation while Schiphol (Amsterdam) is one. The train tickets are twice as expensive, too; so that’s annoying. But it’s quite a nice airport. It’s small enough that there are rarely delays. It’s clean and sunny. There’s a big Starbucks, an Albert Heijn, and a surprisingly good cafeteria. Baggage comes fast and you walk to and from the plane. We’ve flown budget airlines there including Ryan Air, Wizz, and Transavia and never had a problem.

What did I know about Sardinia or Alghero? Nothing. Tim had been to Sardinia once, ten years ago, but not to Alghero. Some photos and phrases online intrigued (fresh fish; local wine; maze-like old town); two friends who had been in Sardinia raved; and we bought the tickets.

Sardinia is the second largest island in the Mediterranean (Sicily is #1), and Alghero is an ancient port town in its northwest. Alghero’s complicated history has left it with a strong Spanish influence and Catalan as an official second language. (I’m sure we weren’t the first visitors perplexed by the dual street names.) Malaria kept it off the tourist map until after the 1950s. The small airport at Fertilia is around 10km away and accessed by an easy bus that makes a car unnecessary (and undesirable, if you have to park it anywhere in that old town). Alghero’s beautiful harbor welcomes luxury yachts in summer, and still sees local fishermen unloading in the mornings near the town’s new, flashy fish market.

Alghero Harbor

Alghero Harbor

The old town, with its sixteenth-century walls still braced against the sea, was lovely for a stroll, though it didn’t take long to feel like we’d “seen it.” We spent hours just enjoying the view from the terrace of our rental apartment. Long conversations and the feel of the Mediterranean sun were among the main attractions. It wasn’t summer, but at midday we could shed our jackets. We were slightly ahead of the main tourist season; the boats to nearby Neptune’s Grotto would open for the year on April 1. The city didn’t feel crowded, and we repeatedly saw the same handful of tourists we’d ridden a bus with. (We’re not the only people who find restaurants on Trip Advisor.)

Alghero Market

Alghero Market

On Monday we visited the daily produce market (via Sassari), realizing it was going to be awkward when we entered the open hall and found ourselves the only shoppers. It was either a slow day or the slow season; the time-worn hall was about half occupied, by four sellers, all of whom had no one to watch but us as we moved from spot to spot. Artichokes were in season, local, and ludicrously cheap. I bought some to bring home, and Tim was kind enough not to protest. The man whose artichokes we bought had a box labeled with black marker on cardboard: MY WINE. (A similar box held: MY OIL.) The bottles, red and white, were completely unlabeled, and the signage was almost the full scope of his English. We bought a bottle of the white (€5). Later in the week we opened it in Delft. If we’d opened it in Sardinia, we’d have gone back and bought more. I would love to tell the man how much we enjoyed his wine.

View from our terrace over Alghero

View from our terrace over Alghero

On Sunday morning we wandered through the town after the bells from a dozen churches had summoned worshipers to Mass. Though there were much larger churches I was drawn by the sound of chanting to a simple open door in the street. I could just see into a tiny chapel, barely even a room, ornately decorated in an Orthodox style with a blue-silver robed priest presiding. Congregants stood in a tight pack, with a few women spilling over into the street, children fidgeting beside archaic candelabras. Just next door, a restaurant was preparing to open for lunch, blaring The Doors’ “Light My Fire.”

Santa Barbara Church, and Mabrouk Restaurant

Santa Barbara Church, and Mabrouk Restaurant

The main tourist drag was a stretch we referred to as “Gelato Row” (Via Carlo Alberto). It had a small piazza, shop after shop selling coral jewelry, several bizarre shops selling only giant candy, and many vendors of gelato. One night we sat on a stone bench and my attention wandered to an eclectic group of men sitting nearby. They were middle-aged and older; some looked as if they might be homeless or down-and-out; others did not. I had puzzled over their relationship when one of them (a sharp-suited, somewhat eccentric man) approached us. He asked where we were from, and though a little wary of tourist scams, we began a conversation. To my surprise, he guessed that we were American but had lived outside the United States. Languages and accents are his hobby, he said, but really he is an artist. He teaches painting to the rest of the bunch. (Some of them were drawing on cardboard.) Don’t be intimidated, he assured us; they are very friendly and would love to show their art. We excused ourselves to head to our dinner reservation, but the Alghero old town is small—a day later, this same man passed us on the street in the middle of the day and said he were welcome to stop by in the evening. The gathering, I suppose, is a ritual: one of the ongoing happenings in a town where—in the off-season, at least—any tourist stands out.

Our recommendations:

We enjoyed Alghero for a long weekend, for atmosphere more than for things to “do” or see or buy. Nearby beaches must be absolutely swarmed in summer.

If you want to buy wine, try the Cantina of Santa Maria la Palma (Via Don Minzoni). The prices were way better than the shops in the heart of the old town. There were also good prices at the Conad supermarket (same street), and a better food selection than the small supermarkets in the old town.

Also on Via Don Minzoni (111), we saw a shop called La Vineria that advertised local wine, oil, and beer. We were intrigued, but it wasn’t open when we passed by. The shops of “traditional Sardinian products” in the old town seemed very touristy.

We enjoyed some tasty pizza (twice!) at La Botteghina.

We did a three-hour “food tour” (farm visit with tasting) with Naturalghero. This isn’t the sort of thing we normally do (organized tour), but we really enjoyed it. The young couple who have recently started Naturalghero have a great enthusiasm and eco-mindedness. The price (€35/pp) was unbeatable for what we did and the amount of food we tasted (almost enough to be a meal, with wine). It was also a great way to see some of the land beyond the city, without renting a car.

Pecorino sheep's milk cheese aging at the farm

Pecorino sheep’s milk cheese aging at the farm

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The One-Month Mark

Spring is returning to the Netherlands (in fits and starts). The train between Delft and Amsterdam passes some of the famous flower fields of Holland, and on a recent trip I participated in the collective “oh” as the perfect rows of yellow came into sight. I’ve been making more treks to Amsterdam, taking advantage of its proximity before we depart, and each time I go, more hardy Dutch souls are sitting canalside at cafes and eating the first ijs of the season (if they stopped in the winter, which I am not convinced that they did).

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In Delft, the students have spring fever. (Again, I find myself thinking: this presumes that in the winter they stopped, and I’m not sure that they did.) A couple weeks ago I was biking home around midnight on a Friday and, squinting ahead, thought: Are there people in the canal? There were! And right around then, they all climbed out and raced nude down the street shouting. Last Thursday, we made another Amsterdam excursion to take a Puglian cooking class at La Cucina del Sole and on our return trip, a transportation problem forced us off the train in Leiden around 11:30PM with no trains continuing to Delft. Eager to get home with the next day’s work looming, we were less than eager to wait for the overloaded and slow-moving buses NS was orchestrating.

“We need to find some people to split a cab with,” I said.

Right about this moment, a group of six girls dressed as M&Ms and drinking out of plastic cups began yelling: “TAXI TO DELFT! WHO WANTS TO SHARE A TAXI TO DELFT?” I think they had their eyes on a group of male students, but the obvious answer was: we did! One of the girls was already on her phone with a taxi-van service and minutes later we were all crammed in, Tim and I up front with the driver. Buckle up, was all I could think. The girls were in party-mode, the driver was pedal-to-the-metal, and at a couple points I seriously doubted we were ever going to make it home. I know there were a few cyclists who nearly didn’t make it home, as our driver basically ignored them on Leiden’s narrower streets. The M&Ms begged the driver to change the station (he did), to let them smoke in the van if they opened the windows (he did). It was one of the girls’ birthdays, they explained. She was turning 19. We all sang (in Dutch).

Despite how ancient and old and unhip we felt, plus the aforementioned questions as to our survival, I couldn’t keep myself from smiling as we floored it down the highway and eventually pulled up right at Delft Station as planned. It was one of those experiences that was too surreal to forget.

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Delft is looking gorgeous on these first warm-ish nights. I’m pretty sure it’s shining itself up to taunt us as we pack, with our windows cracked open and crew boats going by on the canal. I know I’ve been packing but the apartment doesn’t seem to have noticed. Instead, it looks like everything we own that holds things has belched them out. Next week, the furniture goes up for sale. It’s all a bit overwhelming, but we’re trying to make long lists and take it one check at a time.

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The Box

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I used to be good at moving.

Tonight Tim went out (to something we were both supposed to attend, but I wasn’t feeling well) but left me home with five fresh boxes he bought at the hardware store. They’re labeled verhuisdoos just like I asked, so that on the other side I can hoard them and say, “Ohhhh, these are my Dutch moving boxes!” and he can give me a pitying look.

We had agreed that I might start with books, because then we can sell the bookcase. However, there was some dispute over whether or not the boxes were sturdy enough for books (they seem pretty flimsy, Gamma). Tim suggested that we watch online YouTube tutorials on how to pack books, because I wanted to know if we needed to wrap them in plastic or sandbag them or something, since on the way here some of my spines cracked on the boat, which is: TOTALLY UNACCEPTABLE.

Although I would never have imagined this sphere existed, there are boatloads of moving companies that have posted YouTube tutorials on how to pack your boxes, including specifically of books. Unfortunately, the first four I watched conflicted 50/50. Two said to pack the books flat, and two said to pack them upright. I was inclined to trust the one where the guy began by packing Harry Potter 7, so my books will go flat. He seemed to have priorities.

I, however, do not. I couldn’t get started on packing. I stared at the bookcase for ages, because it seemed like the first thing I packed should be “significant.” Yet… not so significant that I might want it between now and next month. I settled on The Holland Handbook, the expat guide someone gave us when we moved here. I’m not sure we ever used it. Then I began pulling off the shelf all the books that were Tim’s or that I don’t really care for, because I was certain I wouldn’t want them between now and the end of April. This began with the multi-volume Feynmann Lectures on Physics, which I am nearly certain no one in this house has consulted in four years. I continued with odds and ends books, and when the box was half-full, I determined that it was already structurally unsound and took all the books out.

Then I repacked it with two books, a shower curtain, a few stray linens, and two tiffins. And so it sits: ¾ full of things we will almost certainly be disappointed to see on the other side.

I took a break to open a beer. I took a break to think about the soundtrack to Once, which I’d just gotten from the library. I took a break to brainstorm a creative project for my niece’s birthday. I read a really long article on Slate. I remembered that I was supposed to document whatever went in the box, and I made a list that wouldn’t make sense to anyone else, including items like:

Small blanket I knit. Bird towel.

And I think that’s enough for tonight.

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The Semi de Paris 2014

Semi de Paris 2014

Semi de Paris 2014

I signed up for the Semi de Paris (Paris Half Marathon) on the day it opened. I was still on my runner’s high from Dam tot Dam and thinking that since my ten-miler had gone so well, I needed to get a half on the calendar. Amsterdam was right around the corner, by date and geography, but it was sold out (I later got a bib). By chance, I discovered the Semi at the lowest price tier (€40), and I enlisted.

As the new year turned and it became certain that we were moving, I went ahead and booked everything else that meant I couldn’t back down. This included a new (to me) fine point of racing in France: the medical certificate. When I signed up, I saw a note that to pick up your bib, you had to present a doctor’s form stating that you were fit to run in an athletic competition. There was a simple form to download and get your doctor’s stamp on. I’ve raced in the US, the UK, Spain, and the Netherlands, and generally you tick a box absolving the race of liability if you have a heart attack while participating. Not in France. Nevertheless, I knew I was fit and figured it couldn’t be a big deal.

This was incorrect, as I discovered when I called my huisarts and was told that I would have to pay between 90-150 Euros for a doctor to attest to my fitness, not reimbursable by my insurance because I wasn’t sick. (“But if you know I’m not sick,” I argued, “can’t you just sign it?”) The unfairness of this form was not, to my mind, that it had to be done—but how non-standard the fulfillment of it is, dependent on where you live. I scoured runners’ message boards and read that in the UK and US, people mostly found that their doctors (or their doctors’ receptionists) would smack a stamp on there for $5, free, or maybe $20 if they did a quick exam. In France, a friend explained, your family doctor would know you so intimately from your regular check-ups, that they would also sign away. But the Dutch approach was not confined to my own doctor; I confirmed this. I also confirmed that the French were serious about the certificate—no form, no bib. (“You could bandit,” my sister said. “You paid for the race.”)

Everyone offered to forge to form for me. Several of my husband’s colleagues, who are in fact “doctors,” if not of medicine. “The volunteer who has to take that form from you cannot check 35,000 forms to confirm their authenticity,” more than one person pointed out. And I knew they were correct. But all I could think of was somehow that forged form coming back to haunt me, or having my bib taken away after I suffered through one of my last long runs on a stormy Dutch day with 25mph winds.

And so two weeks before the race I went to the doctor. It was insult to injury from this point on. The doctor lamented the entire time (all ten minutes): “WHY would you want to run a marathon? Isn’t it enough to run to the bus? I am tired just thinking it!”

“Half marathon,” I corrected her several times. And aren’t you a doctor?

To verify my very expensive health, she asked me questions such as: Do you smoke? and: Has anyone in your family died of a heart condition? She weighed me (“You’re not the biggest person, but, I guess you are running a lot.”). She asked if I had any allergies. In the spirit of truthfulness, I declared that I am lactose intolerant. She then asked if I had considered how this would affect my food consumption during the race (at the water stops). I told her that I had considered it.

She poked me in a few different places and said that my vital organs felt normal, and informed me that I have low blood pressure. She never asked about my training, or any of my previous races. She charged me €95. And as all of my friends had said, the fifteen-year-old girl who stamped my form at the Expo on Friday looked at it for all of about two seconds.

Fine.

Between that form and the delightful but last-minute decision that Tim would accompany me to Paris for the weekend and needed train tickets—Paris was becoming an expensive race. I became a little nervous that if I didn’t “do well,” it wouldn’t all have been worth the cost.

Runners at the Metro

Runners at the Metro

On Sunday morning I was up early and on the metro from Cadet all the way out to the end of the no. 1 line, Chateau de Vincennes, and the start of the race. The metro was full of runners, which is always a race-day sight I enjoy. There were food trucks in the start area, including a vendor advertising hot wine at 9 a.m. I love France, I thought.

Race morning outside the Chateau

Race morning outside the Chateau

On some of the runners’ forums where I’d read about the medical form, I’d also read that the start area for this race could be disorganized, and to allow extra time. I was glad I did. I didn’t wait long to check my bag, and I was able to use one of the really, really inadequate quantity of toilets. Of course, I was so early I wanted to use the toilet again about a half hour later, and then I had to get on one of the ridiculous lines. (It was like they didn’t know 35,000+ people were coming.) I found my way into the 2:00 starting corral, and MAN. We waited there forever. There were so many people doing this race; the corrals were massive. I wasn’t even in the last one (AND I DIDN’T FAKE MY ESTIMATED TIME! This is exciting because in the past I’ve been pretty consistently in the back corral, which is demoralizing.).

After between 45-60 minutes in the corral with all of my thousands of new friends, I was ready to go, and we finally did. As we funneled toward the starting arch, I looked back and was amazed by how many people were still behind me. “So many people!” I said to the closest person nearby. She turned out to be a Parisian girl running her first half marathon. She told me how nervous she was, and squeezed my arm a couple times as we began. (I didn’t see her after that, but, Alicia, I hope you did well!) The instant we went under the starting arch, dozens of men peeled off to pee on the side of the road—I guess that’s what happens after too long in the corral. I had to laugh.

Waiting for the runners at Bastille

Waiting for the runners at Bastille

Mentally, the first few miles of a long race are always the hardest for me. It’s when you’re asking: “Do you have it in you?” “Do you feel good enough today?” It was—I should have mentioned—an absolutely gorgeous day. Earlier in the week I’d told a runner who had fond memories of a spring run in Paris that we were too early for that “touch of spring.” I was totally wrong. We had sunshine, and it was around 50 degrees. I couldn’t have been happier, and Paris couldn’t have looked prettier. I saw Tim at our arranged spot right around 10k, and just afterward the course came to the first part where you could really see the Seine, the skyline, and Notre Dame. It was beautiful.

After a slow first mile (congested start), I started cruising, warning myself that I needed to back off a little, but continuing on. This was, mentally, the fastest a race had ever gone for me. I saw Tim at 10k, 11k, and 15k (he said I looked “a bit tired” at 15k, prompting him to say something like: “Only five more!”). It was true—by the back end I was feeling how fast I’d gone earlier. My goal had been 2:05, and around 8-9 miles I started to wonder if 2:00 was in reach; the 2:00 pacer was always just in my field of vision. There may have been some hope for 2:00, until I got to the long, gradual incline around mile 11. Holy goodness. I wasn’t the only person that incline wrecked; people were walking all around me. Don’t walk, don’t walk, I kept urging myself. 2:05 became the goal once again.

Around mile 12 (?) a police convoy came up behind us, blowing sirens and waving all the runners to one side of the course. It didn’t change my stride, but many of us exchanged nervous glances. Boston, I thought; and I’m certain I wasn’t the only one. I said a prayer. As far ahead as I could see, the pack was moving, so it seemed that the course wasn’t being halted. This was encouraging. A few minutes later, we passed what I’m pretty certain was the cause for the police convoy—a medical emergency on the course, and a runner in a heat blanket being lifted into an ambulance.

Then we hit the point where you’re close enough to the finish that you start seeing runners going the other way, in their medals and plastic ponchos, because they’re already done. And you so want to be them. They cheer for you, which is really nice. After twelve miles, I was looking at every click on my Garmin, until I finally crossed at 2:03:56 (new PR!). And then I stood basically still in the giant end-funnel trying not to pitch a fit about how badly I wanted water and how long it took to get it.

Finishing area with Chateau in the background

Finishing area with Chateau in the background

Ah, Paris. We rode the metro all the way back to other parts of the city where there weren’t as many people wearing the unfashionable, blue finishers’ poncho. I showered and hustled faster than anyone who has just run a half marathon should, so that we could have a great, long lunch with two French friends. There is no better city in which to replenish your calories than Paris.

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100 Objects and the Bucket List

With just over two months on our move-clock, I’ve been trying to come up with a bucket list. Can we fit in a weekend getaway? Is there something we’ve been meaning to do for four years? Why is the calendar for the next eight weeks already speckled with land mines of appointments and commitments?

The bucket list might be better envisioned as an espresso-cup list, because time is flying and things are busy. For one thing there’s all the schaatsen. I don’t think that overall the Olympics are as household-popular here as they are in the US, but the skating is serious. I was in a copy shop mailing a letter the other day while one of the Dutch races was on, and the whole place came to a standstill until the results were in. (Oranje!)

I love Dutch Olympic coverage. It’s been one of my platform issues since Vancouver 2010. They just stream everything (NOS.nl), online, free, from start to finish, mostly without commentary. There are no outtakes; no one selects which athletes you “want” to see; there are no commercials (except on Nederland 1, which also has commentary). I watched the Opening Ceremonies in a Delft sports pub with some friends and a group of Russian students, who were deservedly excited and truly helpful in explaining some of the symbolism and story I would otherwise have missed.

Last week my mom told me she’d seen something in the paper about an exhibit in Rotterdam showing Anne Frank’s childhood marbles. This turned out to be the Kunsthal (art hall)’s “The Second World War in 100 Objects,” and today I took a break from reading The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich to go and check it out.

I’ve never really gotten into Rotterdam. It’s about the same distance from Delft as the Hague (about 15 minutes by train), but whenever I go there, I think I must be missing the action. The city center feels kind of bleak (perhaps owing to the blitz in 1940 that leveled much of historic Rotterdam), and usually I don’t wind up lingering.

Kunsthal, Rotterdam

Kunsthal, Rotterdam

The Kunsthal is a warehouse-ish building with five or six “halls,” each offering a different exhibition. The big draw currently, advertised in all the train stations, is an exhibit on shoes. (The juxtaposition with the WWII objects upstairs was just a little jarring.)

I found the 100 Objects exhibit interesting, but not as compelling as I had thought it would be from the concept. The objects are displayed in one large (crowded) room, numbered and with a paragraph explaining each. The paragraphs are only in Dutch, even though material advertising the exhibit and the “big text” on the walls of the exhibit had English translation. My Dutch is good enough to read the text (if missing a word here and there, usually getting it by context) — but wow, is it tiring. I’m so proud when I can read in another language, but it is mentally exhausting, and I do things like speaking out loud without realizing it. For about the first fifteen objects, I stood there until I had read every paragraph. After that, I went for the headlines.

Item #8 was a pair of pigeon’s feet, with the explanation that during the bezetting (the occupation), large quantities of pigeons had to be killed so they wouldn’t be used to transport information or supplies. The feet had to be turned in. Item #40 was a train board, identifying the route Westerbork-Auschwitz (Westerbork being a Nazi detention camp in the Netherlands). And amidst these grim items were bicycles: a Dutch exhibit wouldn’t be complete without them. One was an illegal news-press from Amsterdam, powered by pedaling; the other was a bicycle with a wooden wheel, its paragraph explaining how when tires became scarce in wartime, people had to improvise.

100 Objects

100 Objects

If you’re an expat in the Netherlands, or even a tourist who intends to visit a handful of museums, the Museumkaart is a fantastic investment. It’s €55 for a year and good at most of the major (and minor) museums in the country. I had one for two years, and it easily paid itself off. I was kicking myself today for not renewing it when I paid the Kunsthal’s €11 fee, for a visit that lasted about an hour and a half.

I said that the bucket list should be like an espresso cup, but I’ve been writing it like it’s a wheelbarrow. I’ve been taking stock of all the wonderful travel and things we’ve been able to do since 2010, and trying to admit that not much more is possible given the time constraints at hand. Europe will be there, people keep telling me—people I want to spend time with, before our journeys all lead us on from this place.

Moving, seriously, is a headache. It’s crazy how fast it just becomes about your “stuff.” How will you get your precious stuff from point A to point B? How much will it cost? Will you be able to find a new place to house all your stuff? Which stuff will you get rid of, before you move? A friend advised us a couple weeks back to cast off as much as we can on this side. I’m trying to take his advice. There’s no literal wheelbarrow, after all.

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Four Years Later

Four years ago this month, we visited Delft for the first time. It had snowed, which I now know is unusual. It was Carnival, and there were adults in strange costumes, and we couldn’t find too many options for breakfast on a Sunday morning (these things are usual—Carnival is just one of many excuses for adult costume-wear).

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I remember thinking: I could live here.

The day my husband had his interview, I walked all around the city by myself and sat in the same café I’ve sat in probably two hundred times since. I watched bicycle after bicycle slide by in the slush. I was fascinated, and happy.

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We took touristy photos of the Stadhuis, and the Delftware shops, and the view up Oude Delft toward the Old Church. Someone in this relationship likes to quantify things, and I remember having a discussion about how we were already “80% certain” we would move here.

Take a set of vacation photos that you love, and then imagine if you went back and spent four years in that place. Yes, some of the gloss would disappear. But for me, most of the shine really hasn’t. I’ve never regretted that we came here. Every time I cross the Markt, I feel like I should take out a camera. I never get over the beauty.

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Three years, we said when Tim accepted his postdoc position. It was a relatively easy commitment to make, all told: a postdoc isn’t meant to be permanent, or even long-term. We wanted a change. We wanted to see the world. And we did. And we still do.

In April things will change, and we’ll be moving back to the US: to Massachusetts, specifically, which is where we left off before. Tim accepted the job that will be the next step in his career in early January, but I’ve resisted blogging about the news, or posting it on Facebook. In part, that’s because it feels surreal. I’ve barely set foot in Boston in years, and as much as I loved it before, it is foggy when I picture dropping back in to stay. You might have noticed: I love Europe.

I’ve been making little notes about things to look forward to when we go back. They range from giant freezers to American bookstores to the possibility of finally attending my family’s Christmas party. Most of the important things in the plus column have to do with family.

When I look at the photos from that first visit, I can’t help thinking: we look young. Really. (Is the moral of this story that being an expat ages you prematurely? The verdict may still be out…) I didn’t know a single Dutch word. I couldn’t convert Fahrenheit oven temperatures to Celsius. I’d never been to Italy, or Paris, and I don’t think I’d ever even had a Belgian beer. In Belgium.  I didn’t know so many people who I now call my friends.

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I remember when all of this was new.

And I hope I never forget it.

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