Sunday, June 26, 2011

The goods and bads of the next adventure...

The Hoopers are gearing up for another big move. This one won't be quite as far as the last one, but an international move nonetheless. We are terribly saddened to be leaving Holland. We ended up absolutely loving it here. There is so much to love. In honor of my friend Stacy I., I was going to do a top ten list, but I have a hard time trying to narrow down my loves to ten. The easiest way to describe why we like it so much is several -er words. Compared to where we came from, Holland is cleaner, healthier, safer, family friendly-er, and more moderate. Throw in that it is a quick 2 hour drive to Belgium, Germany, or less than 2 hours by plane to virtually anywhere in the European Union, and you have a winner!

Of course there are a few things we are eager to get rid of and quite frankly took for granted while living in the US. For example, when we went house hunting in London, it was almost a strange feeling to be able to read the store front and know what the store was selling. I had become quite used to peering in windows and completely avoiding reading the long, too many consonants, unpronounceable Dutch words, all of which ended in winkel, to determine what kind of "winkel" it was.

Also, it will be nice to be able to read our mail, without taking it to work and asking my Dutch friends to tell me if it is a bill or an announcement, if it is direct debited, or if we need to pay it. I haven't bothered to add up late fees here on bills because I am afraid of what we might calculate. The good news is that the tv, water, internet, and electricity never were shut off. Not even once...

The last thing I believe will see an improvement on is customer service. For my American friends, to truly understand what the customer service here is like, the best example I can give you is this. Imagine that you have Comcast service which is always dreadful, throw in that you have to pay to call customer service (per minute), sit on hold for several minutes (10-15), get someone who doesn't care and may or may not speak moderately good English, and is pretty sure that whatever you are calling about is your fault and not his concern, and try calling back tomorrow. Seriously.

While I am excited a great deal about our new adventure in London and even more excited about my new job, I know that we will miss Amsterdam...

Moving on, London has so much to offer! English (albeit the "Queen's English") and proper "American sized" grocery stores and refrigerators are two of the many things I am looking forward to. Caden will quickly tell you he is looking forward to Legoland in London, and Keali is excited about going to an all girls school. Scott is happy to go somewhere new and is thankful to reduce his commute and time difference by an hour.

We will be living near Heathrow Airport in western London. In fact Kew Botanical Gardens are about a block from our new home. We will have a bit more space in the new house and even a back yard with a patch of grass in it. The house is in a great location by restaurants, Kew high street, and the underground stop. One stop away is Richmond Upon Thames, and just a few stops away is Waterloo.

Pending our NYC trip and our visas being approved, we will be moving July 14. If we like London half as much as we like Amsterdam, we will be happy ex-pats in the UK!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A journey in Germany...

With our imminent move to London coming up, our family had to go Germany to get our visa application submitted. Due to some timing problems, we ended up going for a 3.5 day trip prior to the trip to go submit applications.

We spent our first night in Düsseldorf. The driving on the autobahn was far more exciting than Dusseldorf itself. In fact, the highlight of the Dusseldorf stay was a cool park where the kids played in the sandpit. Suffice it to say that Düsseldorf is not coming from this family as a recommended destination.

The next day, we drove on to Köln (Cologne for us Americans). What a beautiful city! It started out right when we arrived because we walked into the coolest over the top apartment for our 2 night stay. A beautifully redone giant apartment right in the heart of old town Koln made us excited about our newest adventure. Our first stop was to go explore the Dom Cathedral. We were all eager to climb to the top of one of the towers. The picture doesn’t allow full understanding of how tall it was. We climbed 566 steps to the top. (For those of you who don’t think 566 steps is far, it is close to 28 floors of stairs.) Keali was by far the smallest/youngest kid climbing and she made it up without any problems. It was extremely fun and cool and the views were spectacular.

We watched a free Amnesty International concert in the square – Tom Beck was even performing. It was fun walking around the square and recognizing the songs being played in the square. The concert brought out lots of interesting people. After the kids took some candy from “the guy in the white balloon”, we explained to them what he was dressed up as. They didn’t stop talking about it for a few days. (Stellar parenting, I know.)

Köln was cool and relaxing. We met a friend of Scott’s for lunch one day and did cable cars another day to ride over the Rhine River and see some new parts of the city. If you are ever in Europe, Köln was a nice stop.

We ended up going back to Düsseldorf the following week to submit applications for the visas there. After literally all day trying to get the visas submitted, dealing the German (lack of) customer service, and even an international internet café stop, the ultimate reason for the trip was aborted. The immigration consultant company advised improperly and our visas would have been denied. This of course provides the reason for our next adventure: New York City July 4-8. As much as I am dreading the flights and jet lag for such a short stay, I am looking forward to being back in the States with the kids. This will be their first trip to the US since August 4, 2010.

Honorable mention:

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A lesson in Roman history...

We were fortunate enough to spend five days touring Rome with the family. It was an interesting place and we were able to take a few private tours. While not cheap, I believe this is the best way to tour Rome. The history makes the buildings, art, and even religion much more interesting. (But let's not get ahead of ourselves as the most important thing is the food: fantastic.)

I learned a great deal on this trip. For example, I was unaware that St Peter's Basilica in the Vatican was built by the Barberini family literally destroying and taking all the artifacts, marble and gold out of Rome and delivering it to St Peter's building ground. I was also unaware that Caesar's Palace was built long after Julius Caesar had died. The Caesar salad isn't named for Julius Caesar, but rather after all Caesars (rulers) going forward. Who would've thought...

Perhaps some of the biggest learnings came from touring the Vatican (believed to be the richest "state" in the world). Hmmmm? It is comprised largely of Roman artifacts stolen by the Barberini's. Hmmmm a little more? Michaelangelo (painter of the Sistine Chapel, among other things) was literally forced to paint the chapel. He was previously only a sculptor and architect. The Pope insisted he painted it, so he spent four years in misery painting the chapel. What isn't widely publicized is that Michaelangelo was a known homosexual... Seem inconsistent? To add to that, the women that he painted appear to be (as our tour guide said) men with breasts. Also, through a crack in the door, you can see into the (current) Pope's residence. Amazing and baroque and over the top. Seem inconsistent yet? It goes on, but I will stop now. Below a sculpture by Michaelangelo inside St Peter'
s Basilica.

Probably the coolest thing we saw was the Pantheon. Words don't describe it, so I won't bother. Suffice it to say that the engineering that went into this building is simply amazing.

The Coliseum was interesting. It is simply amazing that this big and complex of a structure could be built 2000 years ago. Just recently they have opened the underground of the Coliseum for private tours where you can see where the gladiators, slaves, and animals were kept. They even had elevators then!

Of course the kids' highlights of the trip were the zoo and the horse drawn carriage ride. We had a curious horse.

All in all it was a great trip. I had always wanted to see Rome and am thrilled that we had the opportunity. It is rich in history, art, architecture, and religion (Pagan and Christianity). You can't help but learn while you are there. It is a must see for a European traveler.

Honorable mentions:

Toga Party!