Mijn fiets(en): A reluctant love story

So it feels only right that one of my earliest posts here should be dedicated to something that might be the most Dutch-ish thing in existence: the bicycle. Or to be accurate in my case… bicycles.

There are a few things that made our transition from America to the Netherlands easier than it may be for the average American family. First off, we did not have to downsize our life from a typical suburban-American home to a narrow little Dutch house. Coming from Chicago, we lived in a two bed, one bath condo– and our only outdoor space was a back deck shared with our neighbor. Our front yard was literally a bus stop and a donut shop. So needless to say, moving into a our current four bed, two bath home– with a real garden, AND a storage shed feels like we stepped up into a mansion. Although to be fair, I do sometimes miss the donut shop.

Besides this, and maybe most importantly, we didn’t have to adjust from the normal American car culture. We have not owned a car since 2005, and in fact, I have not driven a car at all in 14 years. My last memory of driving a car was sometime in early 2005, right before we moved from Atlanta to Chicago. I was coming home from work, took a turn a little too quick, and totally blew out a back tire. I somehow managed to pull into a Burger King parking lot and had to call Joey to take a taxi and help me out. We sold our car shortly after, and relied on public transportation in Chicago. I also developed a pretty high tolerance for walking long distances. If it’s somewhere I can get on foot in an hour or less, I’ll often opt to just walk instead of paying for transit. The major bonus of this was I almost immediately dropped 15 pounds and kept it off. Forget no carbs, try the no-car diet! If you want to eat pretty much whatever you want, just get rid of your car!

Of course, we’ve rented a car or moving van a few times since, but I am never the one to drive. My aversion to cars is pretty much ingrained in my personality now. If I ever have to live in a city without good transit I hope self-driving cars are a real and affordable thing.

So, from 2005-2018 I lived in places where I took buses, trains, my feet, or the occasional Uber to get around. Moving here last June, I knew cycling was the preferred method of transportation, and luckily I had some practice with a mom bike (bike+kid seat) back in Chicago. We would often ride around in the parks or lake path, but never on the main city streets. I was feeling pretty confident in my cycling abilities because of this, and so I went out and bought a fully loaded mama fiets complete with a kid seat in the back, and a big basket in the front. I was so pleased with my purchase I gave her a name I once considered for Joe had he been a girl: Louisa May.

Lovely Louisa May in her original set up.

This was all fine and dandy, until a few days after I purchased her. I went to the supermarket alone, and loaded up with two bags of groceries: one bag in the big front basket, and one bag strapped into the kid seat. I pedaled out into the bike lane, felt the front of my bike tilt to the side, and despite my best efforts, was unable to stop from totally crashing into a dumpster. A very nice lady helped me up, and luckily I was unharmed. Unfortunately, I did lose about 8 euros worth of blueberries when the containers burst open.

This obviously wasn’t a major accident but it did leave me shaken and scared when riding my bike. To make matters worse, a few weeks later I unexplainably lost control of the bike once more while Joe was riding along. Luckily, he always wears a helmet (even though this is very abnormal here), and the only tears he shed were for his potato puff snacks that burst open on the ground.

These two events in a few weeks time left me feeling very unsure and unhappy with my biking skills. Joey suggested a smaller/lighter bike might help, and I agreed. The thing is, at 5 feet 2 inches tall, I am much shorter than the average Dutch woman. In most bike shops, the salespeople laughed and said I’d have to either special order a bike, or try a kids bike. Finally, I came across a second hand 26″ “EZ Step” bike a few weeks later. The “EZ Step” part means the frame looks like a weird low U, and is meant for the elderly and people with “limited mobility”. At this point, I had no shame and happily purchased the old person bike.

While I originally intended to sell my old bike, I took it out for a ride when the child seat and basket had been removed and realized how easy it was to pedal! I slowly felt my confidence return, and I began to feel excitement rather than dread when going out for a ride. In the end, I decided to split the bikes up with two functions: the “EZ step” with a child seat for towing Joe around town, and my original Louisa May for grocery shopping and everyday riding sans-kid. I moved the big basket to the back of her and this helped keep the balance even.

After many months of unease, and some minor accidents… I am now feeling the love for my bike(s). Even though I have a bus line right outside my door, I now choose to take my bike almost everywhere because it saves money and keeps me healthy… but honestly it’s mostly because cruising through the beautiful streets of Haarlem in really enjoyable on a bike. I can also say I finally get why people back in America love their cars too… it’s very freeing to be able to hop on your wheels and go!

She’s dropped the May, and goes by just Louisa now. She’s a cool mom bike, carrying beer, wine, and the occasional pirate ship in her basket.
The new May. She is a serious mom bike, and functions only for carrying little Joe from point A to point B.

Why are you here?

Since moving to the Netherlands this past summer, I’d say this is the #1 question I get from people. This question is not asked in a rude way, because after all, the Dutch are known for their directness. Rather, people seem surprised that we would leave a big country like the U.S for a country smaller than most states.

The Netherlands, shown to scale with the U.S

I could write a book listing our reasons why. Usually, I give the short and sweet answer which is “Better quality of life.” I’m sure I’ll eventually explore some of our more specific reasons in depth here, but I think this answer sums it up best. Many people, both from the U.S and here in the Netherlands, have asked if the move was some sort of political response. You know, a “I’m packing up and moving out of here if so-and-so wins the election” situation. I kind of wish I could say yes it was, because I think that’s a pretty kick ass thing to say and do. The truth is, it’s something we dreamed about doing for a long time, and something we put in motion years ago. Of course, the current U.S political climate did help to reassure us we were making the right decision!

I think a lot of people dream of running off to Europe and starting over. (Or, if you’re European, running off to America perhaps. I can’t tell you how many Dutch people I’ve met that tell me their dream is to live in California!) I think the classic European dream is to run off to Spain, Italy, or France. Somewhere known for its Mediterranean climate, and/or delicious food. The Netherlands is of course, not known for either of these things!

So then, to answer why the Netherlands specifically, I’ll have to go back in time a bit to 2013. I was living in New York City, while a dear friend of mine was attending graduate school in Leiden, Netherlands. She invited me to visit over spring break, and having never been to Europe at all, I was thrilled. I boarded a plane, took a lot of benadryl, and eventually (after my plane turned around half way over the Atlantic, a story for another time), made it to the Netherlands!

Arriving in Holland for my first visit, little did I know I’d be moving there just 5 years later. (Note that my friend greeted me with tulips!)

I spent a very nice week with my friend, exploring all of Leiden, and a bit of Amsterdam. I remember riding a train through the Haarlem train station and commenting “Oh look, it’s like Harlem in New York!” Now that I call Haarlem home, I of course know all about the Harlem/Haarlem connection!

After returning home, lots of big things happened. I finished graduate school, moved to Chicago, and had a baby boy in 2014. At some point in the Joe’s newborn phase, I really started daydreaming of a big European move. I vividly remember sitting down at the computer, while wearing Joe in a baby carrier (the only way he would sleep), and desperately googling “How to move to Europe”. I soon came across information on a pretty obscure agreement between the U.S and the Netherlands called the Dutch-American Friendship Treaty (DAFT). If I hadn’t recently visited my friend in Holland, I might have skimmed right over this information in search of a more common European-move destination. Luckily, the trip I took was still fresh in my mind, and Holland left a great impression on me. I recalled how family-friendly the country was, and imagined myself as a bakfiets mama.

First visit 2013: A stranger asked us to watch her baby while she ran in her house to check her stove was off. Evidence of the laid back, trusting nature of the Dutch.

My husband and I started talking about it, and it eventually evolved into a real thing, complete with hiring an immigration lawyer, applying for a visa, and selling our home/90% of our possessions. I’m sure I’ll write more about the DAFT in the future, but the main thing to know about it is that it’s a visa designed for American freelancers/business owners who would like to move their company to the Netherlands. It was a great option for us, as it allowed Joey to work with new clients in Europe, as well as his established ones in America. If you’re curious about his business, check him out at Make Lovely.

So, that’s the cliff notes of the story. A short outline of how and why we immigrated to the Netherlands. I’d like to explore this topic a lot more here on the blog, as I know reading the experiences of others really helped when we were going through the process. Until then, tot ziens!

Carefree cool girl visiting Holland, 2013
Semi-carefree cool mom living in Holland, 2018

Testing… 1,2,3

Hello. Hallo. How are you? Hoe gaat het? If you’re reading this right now, I probably know you. Like, in real life know you. Chances are you are my friend or relative. If not, I am surprised, but also happy you somehow found my little space here on the internet!

Either way, friend, family, or stranger, welcome to my blog! I’m Amy, an American who relocated with my family (two guys named Joe, one my husband, one my son), to the Netherlands in summer 2018. Moving abroad is a really interesting, sometimes difficult, but mostly awesome experience. Since moving here I’ve shared a lot on social media, but I’ve lately felt the need to write about it more extensively. As my blog’s name suggests, the Netherlands is a really nice place. It’s nice to visit, and even nicer to live in. I hope to use this space to share some of its niceness with you.

So, why should you read my blog? Like I said, at this stage, I assume you’re someone I know and in that case, just read because I’m asking you nicely! Maybe I’ll provide you with some entertainment, or convince you to come visit me with my photos of this beautiful place? Seriously, come visit me. You won’t regret it.

Alternatively, maybe you’re like I was many months (years?) ago. Maybe you’re considering a move to the Netherlands, or some other foreign country. If so, I hope what I have to say can help you. At the very least, just ask and I’ll point you towards others who helped me!

Pretty soon I’ll put up my first “real” post. It’ll most likely be some sort of cultural observation. My guess is I’ll accompany it with a few pretty pictures, because honestly, everywhere I look there is something pretty to take a picture of. Follow me on Instagram to see a lot of these pictures! If you stick around long enough, I might share some home things too. We really are rebuilding our home from scratch since we sold off 90% of everything we owned to move here. Also, I have a lot more time to play around in the kitchen and the garden, so maybe I’ll share some happenings from there too.

All this to say, welcome. I hope you find this place as nice as I do. Enjoy your visit, and come back soon!

My first little bit of niceness for you. Here we have the swan family I enjoy visiting while out for a morning run.