Homeward Bound!

27 07 2011

After much discussion over the past couple of months, Mike and I are pleased to say that we have decided to move back to Vancouver in September, 2011!

Over the past week we came to the decision that this is the right move for us at this time and we are ready to come home, having accomplished more than we had originally planned. Our primary aim when moving here was to experience living and working in a different country. With this aim we considered three tiers of jobs: the first tier was working in a café or a job that was a means to support ourselves; the second tier was something administrative like a temp job in an office; tier 3 was a job in HR that was of a similar level to our previous experience in Canada. At no point did we think that there was a tier four option—a position that was in our respective fields and actually enhanced our careers and allowed us to develop fantastic experience in truly global organizations. The fact that we both found these tier four positions was beyond our expectations.

So why leave? Well, a co-worker said to me over lunch a couple of months ago that if you stay somewhere for more than two years, you will be there for five. Seems like a leap to go from two to five but I think there is some truth to that in my experience. Here’s why. The first year or so is just about growing your life and finding your place in the city.  Everything is new and challenging – finding an apartment, making friends, finding work, opening a bank account, joining a gym, buying groceries in another language.

However, sometime between year one and two most of it fades away and all the basics are covered – the challenge is gone and real life sets in. Your life has grown beyond the basics of getting by, and you start to crave more – you want to buy a bigger television, maybe an iPhone, maybe even a house, maybe you just want to take a Zumba class in English. You have a small group of good friends but you think maybe you should get out there and make more. You start to feel disconnected from the city because you don’t know the language – maybe it’s time to learn? This is the moment where you have a choice – do you commit? Or do you walk away? People that make it past the two-year-mark stay for five because they made their decision – they committed. This was the choice we had, but in the end we looked back at the reasons we came and we knew in our guts that our path would lead us back to Vancouver sooner rather than later. So, sorry Amsterdam, your delicious cheese and picturesque canals just aren’t enough to get us commit. Vancouver gets that badge of honour.

A couple more blog posts to come before we retire this blog for good. And you thought it was retired already?


Sinter Klaas part II

24 12 2010

In Sinter Klaas part I you learned about some strange traditions. Nick and I were lucky enough to have front row seats outside our apartment window to the arrival of Sinter Klaas and all of his Zwarte Piets.

In part II, the story gets even closer to home.

Since our apartment is a few doors down from the St. Nicolaaskerk (St. Nicholas Church) our place was nominated to host a rotating wine party among some expat and Dutch friends. At the previous wine party (for American Thanksgiving) we had met one of our Dutch friend’s younger brother and sister. They had never experienced Thanksgiving before and therefore were able to learn the meaning of indulging, North American style. When we finalized the plans for our Christmas / Sinter Klaas holiday party, we were upset to hear that the Dutch  siblings would not be able to make it.

Fast forward to our place for the next holiday gathering. Early on, we were watching youtube clips of Sinter Klaas songs that all Dutch children know. Our friends were adamant that we learn the songs and get in the spirit of Sinter Klaas. We thought it would be a Christmassy, holiday-themed kind of night, but it was quite clear to the Dutchies that they were there to celebrate Sinter Klaas. And so we did.

There was some commotion inside and one or our guests snuck out the door to go downstairs. He returned, and only a few moments later we heard a loud knocking on the door. I thought to myself: dear god, is there some sort of roaming Sinter Klaas that you can invite to come to your house?

Indeed there was. It turns out the Dutch siblings lied all along so that they could show up to our house dressed as Sinter Klaas and his helper Zwarte Piet.

We were killing ourselves laughing. The Dutch siblings played their part so well that at first I was only 95% confident that it was them. They stole the show.

We had all arranged to do a sort of secret santa where we drew a name, then gave a gift, a poem, and if possible, some sort of surprise. I had thought we would just go from youngest to oldest and have each person open their present; however, Sinter Klaas and his helper carried the night from the moment he pounded on our door. He brought a special book (visible in the picture above) that had all of our names in it; he knew many things about what we had been up to in the past year (much like Santa Claus). He called each of us up one at a time to sit on his knee and give us a present, also much like Santa Claus. The main difference, however, was that in true Dutch style, Sinter Klaas was a bit more rough around the edges and more direct than our jolly old Saint Nick.

In order to get our presents, we each needed to perform a task. For example, because Sinter Klaas had heard that I go to the gym in the morning I needed to do a set of pushups.

Anyway, it’s Christmas Eve here and time for Nick and I to watch Love Actually. I just thought it was an appropriate time to share our Dutch holiday story with you all. Here’s Nick on Sinter Klaas’ lap.

Merry Christmas to all!


Homeward Bound!

20 12 2010

That was such a good movie.  Talking dogs on an adventure through the wilderness… who doesn’t love that?

Anyways this post isn’t about the movie, but is instead about our imminent arrival in Van-town!  That’s right folks, as I type this we are one sleep away from getting in a metal tube and hurling ourselves threw the air to North America! See ya later Europe!  For the next 2 weeks you can keep your crappy toilets, lightly salted Mcdonalds french fries, rodent infestations and sexually suggestive urinals!

Bye Amsterdam...

I don’t know what I am most excited for.  To see family and friends again, to see my parents dogs, or to eat delicious Anton’s pasta.  If you’ve been following this blog religiously (and I doubt that you have) then you will know that the answer is obviously the pasta as food and drink is basically my life.  I can almost taste that Manicotti with creamy tomato sauce from here…

Well it’s almost midnight which means that it is almost time to start packing so I will leave it there.  Wish us luck as we experience the longest (time change), shortest (winter solstice) day of the year as we wade through the sleeping bags that will be lining the aisles at Heathrow airport.

...Hello Vancouver!

See you soon!


Summer Travels: PWWTWWTLTBA Part 5

20 12 2010

The last of our summer adventures takes us to my homeland, my humble beginnings – Wales (with a bit of England thrown in.)  I’m laughing to myself as I type humble beginnings because my mother was more than a little offended by that comment.  I call my beginnings humble, but for her, this was her life.  The fact she was offended didn’t stop me from congratulating myself on how far I’ve come from my small, humble beginnings every 10 minutes. This trip of course had special significance because although many of you can recount call of your own trips to Paris, Munich or Amsterdam, how many of you have actually been to Pontypridd?    Not that many of you.

I was born in Bridgend and this is the Bridge!

It was interesting to see that there were two very different sides to Wales.  First there was the old Wales, the one that my mom remembers.  The fish and chip shops, faggots and peas, the Bridgend market.  Then there was this new Wales that you can see is starting to emerge – Millennium Stadium, Bridgend Outlets, and Pret a Manger. It was very easy to get caught up in the new Wales, and indeed the gentleman that worked at the Cardiff Primark new my face by the end of the week, but it was the charm of the old Wales that made my mom’s face light up just by being there.

For me, it really is always the people that have made every trip to Wales an enjoyable one, and this time was no different as even the crossing guard had a sarcastic, funny quip as I walked by.  Anyone that has met me knows that I’m a hoot (and modest) and I know that that’s the Welsh in me – as you pretty much have to be hilarious to live in Wales or they kick you out and you’re forced to live your days as an Englishman.  Yuck.



We also took a day trip over to Bath and saw the ancient Roman, well, ugh… baths. A beautiful city where I ate and even more beautiful sandwich which had turkey, stuffing and mango chutney from Pret a Manger.  If this is British food, it is definitely the new British food.  Don’t worry though we still had plenty of the old British food. In fact I never want to see another pie and chips again as long as I live.

The Great Bath


Summer Travels: PWWTWWTLTBA Part 4

19 12 2010

Next stop – Salzburg.  The city of Mozart, The Sound of Music, and yeah that’s pretty much what Salzburg is all about. However Salzburg for me has special significance because I can actually remember going there with my parents when I was around 13.  Which is why my trip to Salzburg revolved around the one thing I loved the most when I was there all those years ago – marzipan ice cream.

I LOVE marzipan ice cream.  I can remember walking around the cobblestone streets of Europe eating the best flavour ice cream that ever exsisted and thinking “Nutella for breakfast, and marzipan ice cream after dinner.  Europe has it all.”

Well my friends – not anymore it doesn’t.

Marzipan ice cream is gone.  Nowhere to be found. Salzburg is fresh out.  Done. Fin. Vanished.  Now I don’t know if maybe it was a passing flavour of the month, but I remember it was everywhere in Austria 15 years ago.   We checked every ice cream stand in the city, and apparently no one has ever even heard of marzipan ice cream!  The nerve!  How dare they deny its very existence!?  At least lie to me and say you are fresh out but don’t pretend that this sweet nectar of the gods was all in my head!

Oh well, at least I discovered pistacio which is a nice substitute… I guess… *sniff*

Oh yeah the rest of Salzburg was nice and stuff, but really it was all about the ice cream.  Here are some pics!


Summer Travels: PWWTWWTLTBA Part 3

19 12 2010

As you can see, I have been too lazy to blog about things that we were already too lazy to blog about in the first place. Well my goal was and still is to have all of our travels documented on this blog by Christmas so you may notice me power through some last ones.  My plan was for conversations with people at home to be something like this:

You: “Nick, so tell me all about your fabulous, amazing adventures in Europe!”

Me: “I already did.  Check the blog. Pass the rum.  Pass the eggnog.”

See the appeal?  This way I don’t have to dive into stories multiple times and the onus is on you to read on your own time so I can drink more rum over the holidays, and less time telling the same stories over and over.  Basically I am outsourcing the work to you.  Unfortunately I have to do some work up front so here I go, the long overdue part 3 of ST:PWWTWWTLTBA.  Did I make this a 5 part series?  What was I thinking…

Basically I’m going to sum up Germany in 3 words.  Beer. Food. Castles.  We got the castles out of the way now onto the REAL reason you go to Germany.

First the beer.  The Germans don’t mess around with their beer.  In fact, they serve them in liters.  That’s right – “1 beer please” = 1 liter of beer in a giant frosted glass. I loved it.  Now here in the good ‘ol NL they serve them in tiny thimbles that the Dutch tell me is because they hate warm beer, so they like to order them small but frequent.  It kind of makes sense, except that the German solution to the problem was not to serve them in smaller glasses, but to just drink quicker.  My kinda people.

Liter #1 at the World famous Hofbrauhaus

After Liter #2 right before I threw up at the world famous Hofbrauhaus

Now the food.  Sometimes I think the Germans and the British could have solved most of their animosity over the last hundred years if they just sat down for a meal becasue they basically eat the same things (not a compliment to either country.)  In fact I ordered dinner in Munich and it had no less than 5 seperate animal products on the plate with some raw onions on the side.  Ta-da! That’s dinner.  Somewhere the French are wheeping…  Here is a pic for you to experience.  Vegetarians – avert your eyes.

I wouldn't trust the German food pyramid

So to sum up – Beer?  Good, but pace yourself.  Food?  Well, let’s just say that the Germans probably should have some Metamucil to offset their diet.


Summer Travels: PWWTWWTLTBA Part 2

19 12 2010

Behold!  Part 2 of the Series!  Today I will focus on the castles and in another post I will go into a bit more detail on my main reason to go to Germany – beer and food.

While in France and Belgium we took trains to all the major hubs, in Germany we took a very different route – we drove.  In hindsight this was an awesome way to explore the country as I found staying in those tiny towns and visiting old and decrepit castles could not have been appreciated while whizzing by on a train.

The first thing I noticed is how strikingly green Germany is.  From the rolling hills and the tall trees it has a very different look and feel compared to the flat-as-a-pankcake Netherlands.

Definitely the most interesting parts of the Romantic Road were the castles – with a few castles sticking out more than others.  First of all let me be up-front about the castles that I like.  I enjoy my castles dark and brooding.  Battlements, drawbridges, moats – the more dilapidated the better.  What I don’t like is prissy stone houses that rich lords used to summer.  So with that in mind some castles were awesome and some had tours were we learned about pewter bowls that some baroness gave the lady of the manor as a wedding present (boooooo-ring.)

There were a few castles that stood out above the rest.  First of all there is the Disney castle which inspired Walt Disney.  A little too clean in my opinion as this was a really elegant castle which I normally hate, but I must admit this was the nicest of the pewter bowl castles.

The second one that stood out was our friend Krysty’s castle.  See Krysty apparently had a castle that her family used to own and we sought it out.  This castle was a little off the beaten path so I remember that it seemed like we walked for 9 years to find this thing.  The castle was great and it was awesome for Krysty to get to see it.  I mean, does your family have a castle?  Didn’t think so.

Finally, last, but certainly not least was my favourite castle – Castle… can’t remember the name.  Regardless, this thing was exactly what I wanted – large, in ruins and with a great restaurant with an awesome view.  Hey – just because I like the medieval castles doesn’t mean I have to eat like they did.  Oh and I haven’t even told you the best part.  There were underground catacombs where you could take a candle or a flashlight and squat around in under the castle!  How cool is that?!? So I went in the catacombs for a while (the rest chickened out) and couldn’t find my way through the underground maze and then I used Rick Steves and Mike and I went back and finished the maze and made it to the other side.  This passageway was so low that you had to be in a low squat the entire time.  It was pitch black and we spotted a rat crawling around at one point.  Now THIS is my kind of castle!

So there we have it!  Overall I really enjoyed our castle experience – especially that last one!


Sinter Klaas part I

6 12 2010

Warning: the post you are about to read ranks high on the cultural differences meter. I’d say it’s on par with Queen’s Day, but for totally different reasons. And this is just part I.

Two weeks ago, Sinter Klaas arrived. Nearly everyone we’ve met here has been preparing us for the Dutch December festivities. Get this. Children in the Netherlands believe that Sinter Klaas (not to be confused with Santa Claus) comes here by boat from Spain two weeks before the 5th of December. I’ll repeat. By boat from Spain. He comes with his helper Zwarte Piet (Black Peter) of which there are many, kind of like Santa’s elves. Children are told that the Zwarte Piet are black because they get soot on their face when they go down the chimney. Historically, however, they are black slaves and somehow the tradition hasn’t died. Definitely offensive to some, but it seems to just work out here and no one really complains.

Anyway, we had front row seats out our living room window so here are some pictures from Sinter Klaas’ arrival into town:


little girl dressing like a Zwarte Piet

girl with Sinter Klaas hat she probably made at home

baby Zwarte Piet costume

Sinter Klaas' arrival

Sinter Klaas and his helper Zwarte Piet

And coming up next…part II.


Summer Travels:PWWTWWTLTBA

14 10 2010

Welcome to the 1st edition of a new 5 part series that I will call:

Summer Travels: Places We Went That We Were Too Lazy To Blog About. (ST:PWWTWWTLTBA)

Basically we did quite a bit of traveling in the summer but as the name clearly states, we were too lazy to blog about.  Oh well.  So there were three trips in total, the first one being with our friend Jenn, the second being with our friends Krysty and Andrew (who weren’t so lazy and already wrote this post), and finally we went to the homeland with my parents. Part one will discuss our trip to Paris which was sometime in July I think.  I’m not sure as it really feels like a 100 years ago.  By the way, this trip was in the same adventure to Bruges which thankfully Mike already blogged about so this doesn’t have to be a 6 part series.  1 down, 5 to go.

Paris is stunning. There is no getting around it.  To me, everything about the city just feels like quality – the architecture, the food, the coffee, the clothes, our hotel.  Oh wait, never mind, scratch that last one (I’ll get to that story.  hint: it involves, a german shepherd, a 90 year old woman that spoke little english and a police officer.)

Oh fine, I’ll tell the story.  Basically it was 4 in the morning and Jenn, Mike and I were asleep in our tiny 2 star hotel (that’s how we roll) and there was a knock on the door.  I thought it was housekeeping and told them we were still sleeping but that didn’t stop them from unlocking it anyways.  Through a tiny sliver of light comes a giant german shepherd followed by a tiny french woman who I swear was only 6 inches taller than the dog, speaking really quickly in French.  Eventually she retreats to the hallway and enters a tall police officer who proceeds to talk to us in French for about 30 seconds.  I interrupt him to ask him to speak English (to this day I wonder how long Jenn and Mike would have let him go on for) and he tells us there was a break in and that we should check our stuff.  I laugh as our beds alone take up 95% of the room and that he would have to be quite the cat burglar with suction cups on his hands and feet to climb in here and steal our passports.  Anyways, we check the bathroom to make sure that he didn’t steal our shampoo and sure enough, everything was intact.  Lesson learned: spring for the 3 star.

There is no city in the world quite like Paris and it has definitely earned it’s place amongst the best cities in Europe.  I could go on and on about the architecture, the food, and the sites, but let’s be honest – it’s all about the pictures.



Thankful for the basics

10 10 2010

Nick suggested this morning that since it is Thanksgiving we make a special dinner. With next to zero planning, a quick trip to the grocery store, and about an hour in the kitchen we were sitting down enjoying this delicious dinner:

Since Thanksgiving has no meaning here in the old world the grocery stores do not have turkeys and stuffing and cranberry sauce bombarding you at the end of every aisle. We took the simple route and chose not hunt down a turkey. Instead, we went with some pan-friend chicken breast, garlic mashed potatoes, roast vegetables (carrots, brussel sprouts, and asparagus), salad, and some new world corn-on-the-cob.

Of course, as is traditional, we discussed what we were thankful for over dinner. The funny thing is that living away from home toned our list down to some very basics: Nick’s British passport, which makes our residency here legal; our jobs, which provide the income we need to stay here longer than the four months we lived without an income; the fact that English is spoken so widely around the world, which gives us a stage to perform our jobs; and our friends that live here because without them we may not have made it this far.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!


Nick’s Edit:  We are also thankful for the love and support of our wonderful friends and family back in Canada.  (My god, we would have never heard the end of it if we didn’t include them…)