Thursday, October 17, 2013

Time for Change: The Last Post

It's Time
Photo Credit:Tim Nisly
After much deliberation, much soul searching about direction, a lot of brainstorming and still a few doubts I've decided to wrap this blog up. (The blog itself will remain here but there will be no more updates.) A Letter from the Netherlands was the place I started my writing, started connecting with other expats and through this blog met a bunch of amazing people. The fact is that I only have so many hours a day and it's proving not to be enough for everything I want to do. Something has to go. So this is one of the 'things'. After five years here it's a tough decision but I'm taking a new direction, planning a rebranding under my own name (The Writing Well is also on the chop list) and I am looking forward to some really exciting developments.

However, that doesn't mean an end to my blogging - au contraire my dear friends. Expat Life with a Double Buggy is going strong and will continue to do so with a wider scope than before. I started ELwaDB to blog about expat parenting. I'm widening that with a new tag line:

"My expat way of living, loving & parenting"

This means that I'll be blogging about anything that takes my fancy that relates to expat life, parenting, living in the Netherlands, speaking a foreign language, all things British, exploring new cultures...... you name it really, I'll probably have something to say about it!

So if you are a follower of this blog get yourself over to Expat Life with a Double Buggy and follow me over there. Besides the blog, there are a million and one ways to connect with me. Well, four actually. (You can directly click on the social media buttons on the top right of this page or use the links below). 

  1. Expat Life with a Double Buggy has its very own Facebook page with lots of lovely people giving their opinion on lots of expat and parenting related topics. I share not only my blog posts and articles there but wonderful musings from other people too. If you're on Facebook hop over, like and say hello.
  2. I'm on Twitter. You can find me under the name AmandavMulligen.
  3. I'm also on Pinterest pinning lots of different topics but particularly relevant boards include Being British, Expats in the Know, Expat Life, What I love about the Netherlands, Expat Shopping
  4. And last but not least you can connect with me on Google+

I will also continue to be a guest blogger for Smitten by Britain for the foreseeable future.

I guess the short version of all this is that I'm clearing the way for a new path. I'm consolidating. All three of my children are out of the baby stage so it's time to turn a little more focus back to writing. Over five years I've evolved, my goals have changed and my plans have started to take shape. So please stay with me on the journey..... take my hand and walk the new path with me...... see you all over at Expat Life with a Double Buggy. You coming...? This way.....

P.S I think there may be a tear as I press publish this time..... I can always change my mind right?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Expat Guide to the Dutch Crazy Season

As the crazy season gets going here are some older blog posts to help expats come through the other side sane and relatively calm.

First things first, an expat in the Netherlands always needs to get used to the Sinterklaas thing. Suck it up because it will happen regardless of whether you approve of Sint's helpers, the sugar feasts, and the fact that children are literally bouncing off walls at this time of the year. Sinterklaas will arrive this Saturday on his boat full of Zwarte Pieten and presents and you can't stop it (times and dates in your town here). And let's face it, why would you want to? It's fun. Honestly. If you have children it is.

Best thing to do is read up on it, accept it and then join in. As soon as the good Sint heads back to Spain, the Dutch dump their Zwarte Piet costumes and start to prepare for Christmas.

Here are some posts from the archive to catch up on about Sinterklaas and Christmas:

5 December - It's a Dutch Thing - the post in which I explain the essential tools for a successful Pakjesavond

From the Dutch Sinterklaas to Christmas - the post in which I explain the relief at transitioning from my lesser known holiday (Sinterklaas) to my centre of expertise (Christmas)

Passing on Festive Traditions - the post in which I explain to my dual nationality child the difference between Sinterklaas and Father Christmas

Eight Tips Series: Shopping in the Netherlands - the post in which I give life saving advice for the gift buying frenzy that you will have to do in the next few weeks.

Christmas Tree Top - Dutch Style - the post in which I explain that the Dutch don't do fairies or angels when it comes to Christmas tree toppings and you may need a safety helmet throughout the festive period if you top your tree Dutch style. You have been warned.

Rent or Adopt a Christmas Tree - the post in which I explain that you have options when it comes to putting that Christmas tree up.

Making Christmas Just Like Christmas - the post in which I explain Christmas can be recreated using your local expat shop.

Home for the Holidays - in which I sympathise that Christmas can be an emotional time for an expat

Gezellig Dining - where I share my first Dutch Christmas dining experience

So that's it - an archive of Sinterklaas celebrations and Christmases gone by. Enjoy!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Fear of Driving in the Netherlands

Before I moved to the Netherlands I drove a car on the roads of Britain. Quite frequently if the truth be known. Prior to my move I hadn't really thought about driving whilst living in the Netherlands, or more accurately I hadn't given it any thought at all. And then I came here and thought,

"Ok, they drive on the wrong side of the road, whilst sitting on the wrong side of the car."

Now of course, before I moved, I did realise that. It wasn't a surprise. For some reason the whole of Europe drives on the wrong side of the road. But having been confronted visually with the reality, my next thought wasn't,

"Right, screw that. I'm not driving here at all if they can't drive on the correct side of the road."

My Kind of Driving
Photo (c) The Writing Well
But it is what happened. Nearly twelve years after moving to the Netherlands I am now taking driving lessons, with an instructor who specialises in helping those with a fear of driving. So, now I have said it aloud and told the world I have to persevere. Yesterday, in the hours leading up to my second lesson, I tried to think of every and any reason why I couldn't possibly go ahead with the lesson. I couldn't have felt more nervous and stressed about it, and that despite the fact that the lesson the week before had gone okay. I got back home in one piece, as did the instructor and the car. Success in my book!

It's been a strange journey to this point. Driving has never been a love in my life, more a handy skill to have and a helpful way of getting from A to B. My driving career didn't get off to a great start (the words "Tesco car park" and "bollard" are all you are getting) and I passed my test at the second attempt. After that it all went well for a few years.

Then I moved to the Netherlands. For some reason I made a mountain out of the fact that everything was on the other side. I did a few minutes round a car park on one occasion in my first week. Every now and then I would get behind the wheel, drive around for a little but and then declare it all a lost cause.

So for years I drove maybe once a year - in the US so I could say I had driven on Route 66 and once in Denmark. A few years ago I drove my eldest to the local farm. I didn't enjoy it but it went okay. It should have been the trigger to drive more. But for a reason I can't explain it wasn't.

Now with three children getting out and about without my husband chauffeur is tricky to say the least. I want to be able to take them places in the school vacations, and know that if I need to get to the doctor quickly I can thrown them all in the car and get there without the hassle there is now.

However, to feel confident enough to drive with my three kids in the back of the car I need to feel confident about driving in general. And of course with little practical application in the last twelve years that isn't the case. So I want another experienced driver in the car with me, but not my kids who are not only a distraction to say the least but also extremely precious cargo.

So there was the option of getting a babysitter so my husband could sit in the passenger seat whilst I cruise the local streets in our car. When we had finished laughing at that idea (we get out on our own once a year so such so we won't be wasting that on driving - we'd rather have a dinner or a movie together!!) we tried to think how else we could overcome this issue.

After a bit of internet searching I found someone local who specialises in driving lessons for those with a fear of driving. That was a year, a year and a half ago. And nothing was ever followed up. Until this year in March. For my birthday my husband presented me with a certificate for driving lessons to get me back on the road, full of confidence...... You can imagine my face unwrapping that!! However, it's a good thing because, albeit it two months later, I have finally taken the important step of trying to face my fear of being behind a wheel on the Dutch roads.

Traffic Jams are as common as cheese
in the Netherlands
Photo (c) The Writing Well
Having had two lessons I am now able to articulate exactly what it is that scares the crap out of me on the roads here:
  • Lots of roads are small. Narrow. Barely enough room to allow two horses to pass, let alone two modern day cars. My instructor has disputed this, explaining that two cars can pass fine on most Dutch roads. 
  • Many of the roads which look like they are too small for two horses to pass run next to a body of water. You see where I am going with this I'm sure.....
  • Dutch people drive very close to the car in front of them. I had it yesterday - a car lodged on the back seat of the car I was driving. My instructor told me to ignore him, and explained that he knew no better. How the hell did he get a driving licence then? She assured me that he hadn't taken driving lessons with her.
  • The roads are congested. At least here in the Randstad - there are cars everywhere, all fighting for space on the road. That means traffic jams and accidents.
  • Drivers coming from the right on roads with no markings have priority. That means they can pull out right in front of you and are actually in the right. So you can crawl along at a snail's pace hoping no one hits you, or you can peg it down the road as fast as possible and hope you are out of the way by the time they pull out. The latter apparently is not the method approved by any qualified driving instructor. 
  • Many Dutch road users do not see a red traffic light as a sign to stop the car and wait. 
  • Not only do you have to watch out for other cars, you also have to check in seventeen directions at every crossing and roundabout to make sure there are no cyclists, pedestrians, electric wheelchairs or rambling groups that wish to cross the road. They all seem to have priority. However, when I am on a bike, in a rambling group (does walking around with my three boys qualify under this?) or just plain walking about I seem to have no priority at all.
As you can tell, the journey will be a long one before I am sitting comfortably behind the wheel of a car here...... but at least the journey has now started!