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A day in the life of a broad abroad: to Paris and back

A day in the life of a broad abroad: to Paris and back

At 5 a.m. the alarm interrupted my midwinter dreams and awaken me to the practically perfect day ahead. After tiptoeing through the morning to get ready while not waking my wife, I hopped on my bike to pedal through a still sleeping Leiden. Once my bike was parked in the jumbled stacks at Central station, I found my way to platform 4 to take the 6:28 train to Schipol where I would find the 7:35 Thalys train to Paris. With a warm kaasbroodje and a cold Coca Cola in hand, I jumped on the train and settled in for the three-hour ride across Holland, Belgium and France. Somewhere between Antwerp and Brussels a deep pink sunrise emerged across the frosty fields on our left. After a brief train-car change in Brussels, and little more than an hour later, I stepped off the train in rainy but ever beautiful Paris. A quick Uber ride to Notre Dame brought me to the cobbled Rue de la Bûcherie where a warm vegetarian restaurant had set a table for the surprise déjeuner with my daughter.
 
Absolutely priceless was look on her face as she realized that the woman standing in the doorway who looked like her mom was in fact her mom! We dined with delight surrounded by hugs and tears and laughter and champagne and friends and falafel. When we could linger no longer around the sumptuously set table, we made our way to the rented flat where Z was staying with the family who loves and looks out for her back home in the States. After a bit of truffle cheese generosity smeared on a baguette, a crisp glass of white wine and off again we went to enjoy a walking history lesson that revealed and reveled in both the opulence and downfall of French nobility.
 
Soaked to the bone with cold rain, we made one last pub stop, sipped a beer or two more, shared sweet hugs and kisses and said our goodbyes. Off again I went to catch the 17:35 train back to Amsterdam. Because parting was practically impossible, the rather late return Uber ride was a mad blur through the rain drenched, rush hour streets to Gare du Nord. With a slippery dash along platform six, lungs near to collapsing, I plopped down in carriage 15 for the ride back home surrounded by delicate French children ranging in ages from eight to fourteen, all possessing the sweet understanding of the etiquette and electricity of whispering among adults sipping wine and pouring over maps of Amsterdam.
 
Three hours later I was extracting my bike from the tangle of handlebars and spokes that is a Dutch parking lot. A city that was sleeping when I left was now wide awake and sparkling with the remaining nights of the holidays. The fragrance of sweet and savory food trucks wrapped around me as I coasted along the bustling streets of little Leiden. And what to my wandering eyes did appear as home drew near? The most beautiful, drafty 100-year-old home, warmly lit with candlelight and Christmas tree, my partner puttering in the kitchen, presently plating her homemade chicken paprikash.
 
With stories shared, dishes done, pups cuddled and a heart overflowing with the unmerited blessings that are mine, dreams of my practically perfect day welcomed me to sleep once more on a cold winter’s night in The Netherlands.
Thanksgiving in Ireland

Thanksgiving in Ireland

When thinking about what to do for Thanksgiving as a couple of broads living abroad, of course the first thing to come to mind was to hop a plane and head to the Emerald Isle. Thanks to RyanAir’s recent kerfuffle, the tickets were ridiculously cheap, so…

After the staff meeting on Wednesday afternoon, our wonderful Scottish colleague drove us to the airport where we waited in a little airport pub and tipped back a couple of practice pints while chatting with the pimply-faced bartender.

Within a couple of hours we boarded, took off and landed in Dublin in the pouring rain. We quickly hopped the 747 bus that drove us to the College Green/Temple Bar stop, sloshed our way to the quaint Fleet Street Hotel (yep, I am a Sweeney Todd fan), dropped our bags and headed out for a brief, single-street pub crawl.

First we wandered just down stairs and sat for a spell in the hotel pub, O’Malley’s for a couple of pints of Guinness and Smithwick’s Pale. From there we found our way to The Quay where the music was thumping and the patrons were jumping. Betsy got a little ribbing from the bartender for ordering a mere 1/2 pint, but I made up the difference by waiting patiently for my perfectly poured pint of Guinness. With intentions to keep crawling, we figured a stop for dinner would be in order.

Not more than a block away we found The Old Mill, a second story restaurant where we indulged in matching baskets of fish and chips. And wow, these fish and chips were the absolute best, most mouth-watering fish and chips I’ve ever tasted. The batter was crispy and seasoned to perfection, the fish was flaky and the chips were both plump and crunchy. As you might imagine, after all that our bellies were full and our pub crawl ran aground as our eyelids began drooping.

Thursday we awoke with hearts full of gratitude for all that this life is giving us. After a great breakfast in the hotel canteen, we made our way to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells and visit the old library. There was no line, the Book was on display and the library was breathtaking! Happy Thanksgiving indeed!

By noon, we checked out and made our way to the Enterprise car rental at city center where we were taken care of by just the friendliest and most helpful Irishmen. Not only did we come away with a great car but a full list of places to visit in Galway. So away we went, continuing to marvel at the constant warmth of the Irish.

With Bets at the wheel and Siri+Kim navigating, we coasted across Ireland. Before long we saw signs for the Tullamore Dew Distillery and, with no set agenda, we decided a detour was in order.  Hint: the actually distillery does not give tours, but the old distillery in town does – yes please! As we entered the small town of Tullamore,   the glorious, sticky-sweet smell of peat fires filled the air. We enjoyed the truly creative tour, sipped some damn fine whiskey and wound up buying a 12-year-old bottle of The Dew.

Back on the road and we soon found ourselves in Galway for another bit of a pub crawl. This was really special for me since I had fallen in love with Galway years ago. We popped into my favorite places, Tig Coilis, The Quays and then stumbled into our first Christmas market of the season. In a twinkly light and mulled wine haze, we sauntered from stall to stall gazing at the glittering tchotchkes and paper stars. We ended the evening at Tigh Neachtain, packed to the gills with ebullient locals, expats and of course, tourists.

Next morning, up and at ’em for a beautiful drive along the coast to have visit Spiddal. After a warm breakfast in the tiny town, we walked to the little church and crawled through the age-old graveyard, along the shore rocks and eventually into the sanctuary where we lit three candles under a beautiful stained glass window full of fish and boats…one for Betsy’s dad’s 75th birthday that was on that very day. The other two flames we left flickering were for me, tiny prayers for sanity and peace to find it’s way back home.

While in Spiddal, we visited the town’s craft village, which is an outcropping of small colorful shops, each dedicated to a local artisan selling their local wares. We found gifts for family and friends and even a few treats for ourselves from a gifted glass artist, a friendly basket artist famous for his “royal rattle” and a very clever Celtic Coin Jeweler. We also came away with another helping of what money cannot buy, the joy of spending even a few moments talking with Irish folk. We even received an invitation to a house party for a CD release party happening later that weekend. Unfortunately we could not make that gig because we would already be on a plane headed back to Holland.

So we made our way back to Galway where we had an amazing day, picked up a few more nice things then walked around town where we “discovered” the only LGBT pub in town – Nova.

There was a single bartender behind the tiny bar and not another soul in the place. As we shook the cold off and stepped up to the bar we found smiling, young Sharon to take our order. Sharon began to “warn us” that a regular patron of the pub would be coming in soon. She told us that they were the only pub in town who would serve the elderly man because he was dying, dying of cancer and coughed so violently, coughing up the death that was in him, that most people found his presence repulsive. She told us that three months ago he had been given one month to live. We thanked her for her gentle warning, but ordered our pints and took a seat by the window to work on our stack of postcards.

Before long, the old man came into the bar, and as she promised, was coughing that cough I recall so well from when my own father was dying. My throat clenched, my heart ached, but we continued sipping and chatting and in a few moments witnessed a truly holy and tender moment in that little gay bar. Sharon greeted the man with a genuine smile, chatted with him a moment and then briefly came to our table to check on us. Then back to the shuddering man, sitting alone in the pub corner. After a few more minutes she seemed to be escorting him out. Instead, she stood with him in the damp vestibule, lit a cigarette, took a draw and then held it to his slack mouth so he could inhale tendrils of one of his last comforts.

His cough subsided briefly and Sharon came back to our table to check on us once again. With tears in our eyes, we told her we’d seen how tenderly she cared for her friend and she shared with us bits about her own life, snippets from her journey and plans for her future. Sharon – barmaid, pub-hospice chaplain, nurse and friend – may the road indeed rise to meet you, sister.

We spent the rest of our Galway evening wandering back to the Christmas market, picking up a nice bottle of Writer’s Tears along the way. And we ended the evening back in the warmth of Tigh Neachtain where we enjoyed sharing a flight of fine whiskey and chatting with locals who assured us that Galway is as special as it seems.

The next morning we packed up early and headed back to the east coast of Ireland for our flight back to Schiphol. We dropped off our rental car (where the attendant insisted on giving us a courtesy ride to our penultimate stop – the Guinness Storehouse tour). Though a bit overpriced and a lot over commercial, the panoramic view of Dublin from the top is stunning. If you go, buy your tickets online and skip the crazy long line. We recommend going straight to the restaurants a few floors up then visit the top-floor and then, if you really must, take the tour. We didn’t spring for the extra €€ to partake in the pouring class, but we did enjoy a couple of decently poured pints along the way. Try to avoid the gift shops if you can, or you’ll drop a pretty penny taking back swag for your friends.

So off to the airport we went with swift cab ride and dash through the terminals. Sitting in different rows, we met and chatted with more lovely people until an hour and a half later we were back on Dutch soil.

We are incredibly thankful for the beautiful whirlwind this trip was! Thank you, thank you, thank you, Ireland for your multitude of gifts.

Stay tuned for the next grilled cheese-off, a peek at a couple of Dutch Christmas markets and eventually, a post about going back to the States for Christmas.

 

Grilled cheese-off: ooey, gooey, deuxey

Grilled cheese-off: ooey, gooey, deuxey

In the second week of the grilled cheese competition between Betsy and Kim, we’ll see cheers, we’ll see tears and someone will win the highest honor, “Winner winner, chicken dinner!” as proclaimed by the right honorable judge, 3 year old Liam.

Betsy and Kim began the competition in the Leiden market, each choosing a cheese and agreeing on a single loaf of bread. Betsy settled on a hunk of Groene Hart Oud cheese after just a few samples and Kim was also a bit quick on the draw when she selected Trots Pikant. Both cheeses came from the abundant supply found in the friendly stall that can be found in the market on Saturdays and Wednesdays.

From the baker, a local sourdough was chosen, though much to the dismay of our competitors, it neither looked, nor ultimately performed like a San Fran. sourdough.

The judges, Louke, Dani and their son Liam arrived at the appointed grilling hour and settled in for what promised to be a delicious evening. Our judges came prepared with a highly technical rating system as seen below in the construction paper signs.

Betsy and Kim got to work, slicing and grating cheese, slathering butter and pouring a flight of three randomly selected beers to pair with the sandwiches (and chocolate milk for judge 3, of course). Beer 1 – a nice seasonal Bok from La Chouffe. Beer 2 – an IPA from The Flying Dutchman. Beer 3 – a white from Ginette Beer.

After a rather frantic grilling where both chefs shared a tiny Dutch kitchen, the sandwiches were quartered and served to the judges.

Within moments, the decision was in…

For Kim, who presented a less than stellar grill with somewhat gooey cheese on the dense bread…

For Betsy who plated the superior grill, using a salted mayonnaise to catapult over the competition…

And the highest honor went to Betsy when Liam exclaimed “winner winner chicken dinner!”

Tune in next week as both chefs are allowed to add one veggie to their grilled cheese creation.

 

PS – Three out of four lesbians preferred Ginette, beer that is.

The grilled cheese off – part one: Cheese glorious cheese

The grilled cheese off – part one: Cheese glorious cheese

Every Saturday morning, after our first cup of coffee, we weave our way over and along the canals of Leiden to the amazing Street Market. Stall after stall offers an amazing array of fresh fruit and veggies (the 1€ bowls of avocados are our favorite), fish, flowers, clothes and spices from around the world…and cheese, glorious cheese! As we wander by the numerous cheese vendors, it’s practically impossible not to snatch a sample, or ten, from the piles of savory cubes. We’ve fallen in love with the truffle, mustard, cumin and other cheesy goodness we can’t yet pronounce.

As the days grow shorter and colder, and the rains keep us inside more than outside, we’re cooking up new ways to entertain ourselves. With all of these cheeses at out fingertips, it makes perfect expat sense to have a great grilled cheese cook off! The Dutch call these toasties, grilled sammies all buttery and pressed to scrummy perfection, invariably dipped in a sauce that is some variation of mayonnaise…fancy ladies call this concoction an aioli.

For five weeks, Betsy and Kim will each pick a different cheese, prepare a sandwich and present them to the esteemed judges…our hungry friends and neighbors. The rubric is random and solely based on the tastes of the judges. Bribes of beer and chocolate are encouraged.

Last week we had our first cheese-off as a test-run – we were both the cooks and the judges and here’s what happened. In an effort to clean the fridge we limited ourselves to the cheeses left over from the progressive dinner. Betsy chose the risky red pesto option, while Kim settled on the mustard cheese, sadly the slightly moldy brie and dried up parmesan did not make the cut. We used the same freshly baked bread from our neighborhood grocery store, the Dirk.

Slathered in fresh butter and piled high with cheese, each chef pressed the thinly sliced bread to golden perfection. While Kim’s mustard grilled cheese was pungent and delicious, both judges agreed that the rich color and striking flavor of the red pesto grilled cheese won the night! Betsy is sure her grilling technique is also responsible for the superior slice of heaven. And though we may or may not have been enjoying a little fruit of the vine, we both agree that cheese is integral to the grilled cheese experience, here’s looking at you, Hannah Hart, lol.

Tonight, with fresh cheeses and a loaf of local sourdough acquired yesterday, we’ll present this week’s toasties to Louke, Dani and their son – the first victims, uh, friends, willing to be our judges.

 

Three months in and we’re lovin’ life!

Three months in and we’re lovin’ life!

In one sense, I should be over the moon about the fact that I haven’t written a post in over three months. As I look back over the span of my work, I see vast portions that were fueled by pain, fear and, truth be told, 32 flavors of frustration. Now I find myself in the fortunate conundrum of re-learning how and what to write as a deeply content woman living a life beyond my dreams with the woman who is my soul mate.

It’s true that while settling in over here I’ve done my dead level best to ignore the swirling shit-storm that is The US at this point in time. I’ve seriously curtailed my consumption and engagement of social media, but more than that, in the past 90 days I’ve seen little more than about an hour total of news from any corner of the earth other than what is going on within a 10 mile radius around me. Yep, this is negligent and must soon come to an end, but it has been life giving to step back and live, really live, in the here and now.

So before I start blogging regularly again, I thought I’d catch y’all up on what we’ve been up to the last little while…

Walking and Riding

Everywhere. We get everywhere a gal’s gotta go on foot, bike or public transportation.We ride our bikes about 9 miles two and from work most days, unless it’s piss-pouring rain, which as it turns out happens far less than the expat guides scared us into believing. Of course Betsy still splashes into work, poncho a’flyin.

Early on, I had a nasty little splat when I misjudged the physics between bicycle tire and concrete curb. But over weeks and months of getting back on the horse what threw me, I have come to adore sailing all over town on my trusty blue bicycle.  Now we are learning how to be really Dutch by trying to carry far more than is reasonable as I peddle through town. Five bags of groceries, sure! Dog food bag the size of a love-seat, no problem! Modest haul of produce from the market + new broom + fire pit (some assembly required) – you got this, babe!

Working and Playing

Betsy and I spend our weeks fully immersed in the life of the school where we both work –  Betsy as a 9th and 12th grade teacher and I happily splitting my days as an admin in the athletics and communications/marketing departments. The work is wonderful and the culture is fantastic. We’re making good and true friends and find affirmation anew each day that we have indeed chosen wisely.

Nearly every Wednesday we enjoy happy hour at a different pub in Leiden with a little crew of faculty and staff who live in our college town. Some of our favorite stops this fall have been Cafe De Bonte Koe, Lot & de Walvis, Waag, The North End Pub, Café de Keyzer (where I will be co-hosting Pub Theology on Nov. 17!) Olivier’s and Grand Café De Vriend.

We’ve – lost miserably at Astronomy on Tap bingo, been to a beer festival at Brouwerij de Molen in Bodegraven, celebrated Leiden’s Ontzet on Oct. 3, enjoyed brews and burgers at The Jopenkerk (brew pub in a church) in Haarlem, taken in a few flicks at The Leiden International Film Festival, enjoyed walkabouts in Amsterdam and a slow stroll through the Van Gough Museum and even climbed to the top of a windmill with a friend visiting from the States.

We recently participated in progressive dinner that had us traipsing all over Leiden to a few  homes of our colleagues. Creepy Cocktails and simple snacks began at 5:30 at our house then we moved on to sample delicious dishes in some truly covet-inducing apartments around the city. Since it was the weekend before Halloween, I may or may not have been donned costumery for our roving affair (and I may or may not have been the only one sporting a costume).

We’ve also introduced a handful of new friends to a bit of American culture with our NFL Sunday nights (complete with wings, sliders, chips and buckets of beer) and an evening of pumpkin carving with a neighboring couple and their little boy.

But we’re not just social butterflies flitting about the local environs…

Nesting and Traveling

We spend a lot of time making this house, street, town and country our new home, just the two of us, ever astonished that this is the life we get to live. Hardly a day goes by when we don’t turn to one another and say, “Wow, I love this life.”

The house is our pride and joy and the time we spend together continues to be sacred and central to our happiness. Many an evening approaches where we’ve planned to go visit a new pub or take in a sliver of Dutch life, when the urge to snuggle up in our home, light a few candles and fire up a bit of Netflix wins out over traipsing about our beautiful city.

Nearly every Saturday we take a couple of hours to stroll through the Leiden Market to shop for yummies for tummies. Holding hands, talking about all the things and taking in the sites, sounds and smells of a bustling Dutch market, is our chance to start the weekend right – fully present to one another and the gifts we’ve been given. And one of my favorite moments has been sitting in the park on our little wooden beach chairs, enjoying a snack of local cheeses and a sip or two or local beer on a warm Sunday afternoon. Sabbath indeed! How odd (and satisfying) it was to be the leisurely locals spied by the flotilla of tourists gliding past on “our” canal.

But wait, there’s more! We’ve also had a chance to travel beyond the borders of Holland since jumping across the pond! We flew to Budapest over fall break and stayed with friends (and former colleagues) of Betsy’s. We rode busses, trams and trains all over the city, saw beautiful sites, ate amazing Hungarian food, soaked in the warm waters of the Széchenyi Bathhouse with hearty locals and sleek tourists and were utterly gob-smacked by the beauty of the magnificently lit parliament house as we floated by on our candle lit dinner cruise.

We have another fun trip planned for Thanksgiving break, so watch our Facebook page for posts. First to guess where we are wins a postcard sent from our destination!

Missing and Not Missing

Y’all, for real, I miss very little from The States apart from family and friends. I do not miss:

The near constant presence of visceral and aggressive homophobia
The perverted marriage of capitalism and health care
The celebration of unhinged materialism
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The glorification of busy
Fear based everything – religion, politics, commerce, relationships, eating…
The religious industrial complex that commodifies our relationship to God, self and others

I DO miss my daughter with an increasingly physical ache that sometimes wakes me in the night. I know she is thriving in her own life and that this is the season where she’d naturally be living into her own trajectory, but I still wake some mornings wishing I could make her breakfast or snuggle under piles of quilts while sipping hot beverages and reading important thoughts to one another. Betsy too misses her parents and siblings with whom she is very close. She’s a tender soul and being an ocean away from her folks can bring tears to her eyes, especially when there is so much of this chapter of her life she’s bursting to share and so much happening back home that she only hears about through phone calls.

I can safely say we all miss a yard for the pups. Though beautiful Plantsoen Park is little more than 20 feet from our front door, we miss the lazy days of Sookie and Louie lolling about on the back deck with the freedom to muck about, off-leash, around the sizable old Florida landscape.

Southern fried food. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of fried food here, but it’s just not what my mama made. I was raised in a family that friend anything that stood still long enough – brined, dredged and cast-iron fried is what I’m talking about! The fried bits and nibbles of the Netherlands don’t quite cut it for this southern gal with a tad too much buttermilk running through her veins. And don’t even get me started on the great biscuit fiasco of naught 17!

Whew! Now that we got that out of the way…stay tuned for our regularly scheduled programming of posts.

Next up – the great double Dutch grilled cheese cook-off where Kim and Betsy go head to head fusing an American classic with the cheeses of Holland! Do you know how to pronounce Gouda?