Here and There

September 12, 2006


One can not help but continually compare the differences between home and here and what is alike and what is different. There are moments that I almost forget I am in Europe now. Sitting at a playground here is not much different than home. At first the uniqueness of our favorite playground in Amsterdam made it feel different and certainly hearing everybody talk in a different language added to that, but as we have become regulars, we find it not so different than doing the same thing at home. Mozart has the same ease of making friends despite not speaking the language. The same with grocery stores, dealing in Euros and many other things, one shifts quite easy and naturally to the new reality.

I am reading “A Sense of Place” right now in the moments when we are just hanging out. I love to escape to our bed loft and read. Sometimes it is when they go off to the park, the camp store, playing soccer etc and sometimes it is virtually a necessity because it gets crowded with three of us moving about. It is funny how one adapts and finds new ways of finding privacy in small spaces.

One of my concerns before coming was about being confined in a small space and I even talked to another couple who spent 2 years caravanning around Europe after selling their large home who said it was just not a problem and in fact they are still living on the road in a small space because they love the freedom of the lifestyle, only now it is in the States. They were right, one adjusts to it quite easily altho I am glad that we had time in our small rental to start adjusting to a smaller space. It IS sometimes annoying, but then so are the inconveniences that come with a big house. If one looks for it, there are always reasons to be annoyed, so like most things a big part of it is attitude.

I found a couple of quotes from this book interesting to ponder just now. This one from Frances Mayes  of Tuscan Sun fame particularly struck me:

“I like the perspective on America that we get here, and it’s definitely turned my head around because I always thought America was the center of the universe. I was very much taught to believe that Americans were the luckiest people in the world and everyone envied us. And I find that is definitely not the case. It’s just mind-expanding to read the European papers versus the American papers to realize how much more of a global interest and outlook they have in Europe than we do in America. The news of the rest of the world in America is so shoddy, it’s so small. It just keeps reinforcing that we-lucky-Americans sense that I’ve totally become disillusioned with. I don’t find that to be true at all. I find life in Europe much richer on a day-to-day basis than life in America.”

“I think if you are lucky enough to spend some time in a foreign country it will change you. It will open your eyes to the kind of provincialism we have. Of course every country has its own kind of provincialisms, I’m totally aware of that,but I think Americans are particularly parochial.” 

And I skimmed ahead to this bit on Rick Steves:

“In an essay posted on his website “Innocents Abroad:How Travel Made this Young Republican a Liberal, “Steve tells how his global journeys led him to see the “vast gap” between rich and poor.” Lessons I’ve leaned far from home combined with passion for America have heightened my drive to challenge my countrymen to higher ideals. Crass materialism and a global perspective don’t mix.”

We are too new to all of this to really have any opinion yet, but I already see truth in what they are saying and it is the kind of mind expansion that comes with such a trip and I am grateful to have the time to mull all of this over for a while. I do not have any conclusions yet, just taking it all in and thinking about it.

In some ways life seems harder here and in some ways the quality of life seems so much better. We are still sorting our what is illusion and our own prejudices. We are just tourists so can not fully know what the life here is like, altho this method of travel helps one get more of a sense of the every day reality and we have met Dutch people of every kind, shape and color. People seem less hurried here,more relaxed and content from what we have observed so far. Perhaps it is just the Dutch personality or mirroring back our own contentment. I have heard many American expats say that the quality of life is much better in Europe, but then again, I know many Europeans who live happily in America. Since my first trip to Europe in my very early twenties I have found that I tend to be attracted to “Europeanized” Americans or “Americanized” Europeans.

We were talking about the bikes the other day over dinner. They are popular all over Europe and not just as a sport, but as a main means of transportation. They are fun and wonderfully healthy and environmentally positive, but one does wonder more about the why behind their popularity. Do they prefer them over cars or can they just not afford cars or is having a car just more trouble than they are worth with parking and such when such good mass transit is available? (which is true in NYC where few people own cars). There are also lots of cars here, so perhaps they own both. That claim of 200,000 bikes in that one garage area in central station that the canal tour boatman mentioned still rings in my ears and astounds me.

It is just one of those things that is so different here from there and it makes us curious. You surely do not find bikes like this in NYC where it certainly is feasible due to a mostly flat landscape. I use to ride a bike and roller skate around NYC some (tho I took taxi’s most) and others do too, but you certainly would not see your average lawyer, stockbroker or business person riding to and from work every day dressed in work clothes on bikes or moms doing the shopping with 2 kids on a bike as a way of life. Some appear to be driving long distances on bikes and they bring them on the metro and train. I know a family back in Santa Cruz that just uses bikes for all transportation, but they are very rare. It just makes one wonder what the difference is. I do think we miss out by not having good mass transit and as the oil peak approaches more closely, that will become a much bigger problem. But, time will tell.

They all do much more walking here as well and think nothing of it. I can’t tell you how many times we have heard something is just a twenty minute walk (when the reality is longer for me because I have a bad knee so go at a slow pace and they are talking 20 minutes at a fast clip on top of lots of 20/30 minute or longer walks).It is certainly a good way to get in better shape and have more ground level experience of the world. Despite one blister on my second to littlest toe, we are enjoying the walking and getting more exercise just by doing life.

There is waaaay too much smoking here for my taste. We lived in an area where there was almost no smoking and I do miss that and worry about the level of second hand smoke we are getting as it is especially bad for children. I do wonder why they are not more educated about the harm of smoking as it seems just as smokey as when I lived here over 30 years (altho I do not have the stats).We avoid it as much as we can.

Still the Netherlands has an extremely high health record which is interesting. They have one of the best birth stats in the world and most babies are born at home with midwives. The birth stats of the United States is appalling and one of the worst out of industrialized countries (despite our having the most money spent on health care). While Holland is always at or near the very top, we are always far down the list somewhere after Poland.

The campgrounds here so far are impressive. There are five really nice campgrounds just around the ring around Amsterdam with easy mass transit available which I read is typical for most European cities and tourist areas. There is a campground right in the middle of Paris which still blows my mind as I can not imagine one in the middle of NYC or Chicago and I never knew it existed until I researched this trip. We probably won’t go to it as we do not want to deal with Paris traffic with this camper just yet, but there is also a fantastic one within walking distance of Versaille with a quick train in where we will probably stay. Some say the campground in Venice and other places are the very best places to stay there. I once did a camping journey in a Fiat and a tent from Boston to Key West, across the southern route with long stops in New Orleans and Big Bend state park in Texas and over to San Diego and up the California coast to San Francisco and we have some impressive camping as well. But it is different here. Both good,just different.

Laundry is different here too and expensive. I don’t know what the every mans experience is ,but as a camper it is quite interesting. I think I spent 14 euros to do two small loads of laundry and one drying session  and almost 8 euros for a very small box of detergent (they come in packages of 2 little discs). Some of this is the campground as everything is ridiculous at their store so we get most things in town,but over all it is much more expensive here and one sees clothes hanging outside  homes,apartments and campgrounds because drying is particularly expensive.

Mozart really enjoyed helping me with the hand laundry as we pretended we were the American Girl Josefina and her sisters washing at the river. What could be more fun for a kid than a chance to  play in water and in truth I rather enjoyed it too. We better, as it seems we will get lots of opportunities.

Drying is a whole other ball game. We put up a little wash line and I felt like a little ol’ washer woman from the 50’s as I had never done this in my life. But it did not all dry,so I had to rig up my inside line so they could dry during the night. I soaked a sweater and sweatshirt of Mozart’s all night at the campsite facilities trying to get stains out of these 2 new things,but luckily got to use the dryer at the workshop
when they worked on the SOG. I was impressed with their dryers.

The next day we bought a little contraption that makes hand drying easier that we have seen on many campers. I actually have been doing a lot of hand drying at home since Mozart came along because it is easier on her clothes and she keeps them longer than most kids because she tends to just grow up not out
so can wear things forever. I actually learned that trick of not drying from ebay. Most of the clothes we had to wash were her clothes as she is still rough on things and does things like wipe her hand and face on her clothes when she forgets to use a napkin. She has actually been always very neat for a kid, (a true virgo)
but after all she is still a kiddo. So for two adults on a trip like this ,laundry would be less of a concern especially with clothes like Exofficio which dry very fast. Most of Da Vinci’s clothes are from Exofficio and we are very pleased with them. They do not have my size, but I have similar good travel clothes and they are well worth getting for such a trip.

I always joke that I became my mother as far as laundry is concerned as soon as I had a child. I never paid much attention to it before her birth,but a skin flint like me definitely starts to learn fast when a brand new expensive little baby outfit gets stained the first wearing. (Dialing mom for help and insight). I never spent so much time scrubbing stains in pre-baby days. Now with my first clothes line I have turned totally into my mom as far as laundry is concerned (tho I will never even start her ironing habit as that asks too much since she irons everything and I will not touch the thing unless its a dire emergency) and have come full circle. Some of my earliest memories are of her hanging up clothes in the fifties and hearing them flap in the breeze. So far it is kind of fun, but I wonder how soon it will get old.

Here and there. The same and different. Just observations, food for thought  and wondering what it is all teaching me. Meanwhile Mozart had fun at the park next door having a picnic and making some water colors that she got from the Van Gogh Museum on the chips of wood she took from the wooden shoe factory.







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