Sunday, September 1, 2013

Wait, no-- not Neverland, the Netherlands!

Owen and I live in Leiden now! I’m going to share this week’s highlights in words, no pictures of our own yet, but never fear, I plan on buying batteries for the camera tomorrow, so you should all have pictures to your heart’s content. If you feel like skimming, please do, I’ll make big headings in all caps so you can skip to the parts you most want to read.

Despite our burden of four suitcases, a violin and a backpack, we got through Washington DC Dulles airport and its security with great ease, our flights were on time, comfortable and without incident. We flew Iceland Air, and found the assault of advertisements for Iceland and its many tourist attractions pretty charming. Though the promises of beauty and wonder at the Iceland landscape seemed like photoshopped hyperbole, flying over the green-green volcanic landscape as the sun rose (too early!) after our overnight flight took my breath away. Even the grassy area next to the runway seemed otherworldly, all craggy and moorish, not level fields of grass or concrete like I would have expected. Stopping over in Iceland also had the unexpected perk of relieving us of the trial of going through customs. While walking through the airport in Iceland we at one point had to show our passports at a window where we were asked no questions and did not need to wait in line, and once we got to Amsterdam were very surprised to find that that was in fact all that was necessary, since we had nothing to declare. So our passports hold stamps from Iceland, but not Netherlands. At least not yet. Our new bags sturdy and easy to find, and after a quick trainride to Leiden, our landlady kindly picked us up from the trainstation in her car and drove us to our new home.

For those of you who haven’t heard our apartment search saga, I will cut to the happy ending. Two weeks before our flight we still had nowhere to live when involved a department email announcing an apartment for rent (now through December) came to our hungry inboxes. We responded immediately, and have been delighted to find both the woman renting her apartment, and the apartment itself a joy and answer to prayer. We have two floors of a narrow section of a building. Living room, WC and kitchen on the 1st floor (not to be confused the the ground floor), and bedroom, bathroom and guest bedroom (!) with a balcony on the second. The whole apartment is beautiful, full of sunlight, books, nice dishes, beautiful furniture, fresh air, and all and all much nicer than we will likely have come January. You’ll hear snippets about the apartment in the other sections, as much of our activity this week involved unpacking, dealing with jetlag, and stocking our kitchen.
The tiny street we live on is small enough that cars are not allowed, just bikes, and nearly all the walls lining the brick road are brick as well, including our place which completes the picture with a bright green door. Typical residents of the street seem to include a local cat, laughing neighbors, and a great many plants and flower baskets.

We have been grocery shopping every day except Sunday since our arrival, covering 4 grocery stores all on foot, the furthest a mere .75 miles from our apartment. The closest (and the biggest) grocery store is a mere 3 short blocks away, complete Gluten Free section, fantastically delicious dairy products, and an amazing orange juice machine. I noticed it first from the fresh citrus smell wafting its way over to us as we looked at potatoes. The whole machine is clear plastic, with slightly whimsical machinery, and to either side of the machine are various sized empty bottles. When the lever is pressed above the spigot, oranges roll down a shoot, get sliced in half, crushed, squeezed, and the juice flows into your bottle. It’s pretty incredible, and I’m not sure I’ve ever had orange juice that delicious.

We took a trip to Rijswijk (30 minutes by train) to pick up our resident permits. I find out after scanning my card, and both Owen and I searching the internet to translate all the stipulations that I can in fact, work for money! My permit is still contingent on Owen’s, so if something happens to him, I’d need to quit my job and leave the country, but I had assumed from faulty information that I wouldn’t be able to work, and now have new opportunities open to me. As it is I’m pretty excited about my original plan of working on research, writing and sending in abstracts to every conference concerning Shakespeare in Europe, with some chamber music, and YouTube videos of finger puppets on the side. But now that actual employment is a possibility, I’m excited for that as well. Also the resident permit cards are shiny and pastel colored and the most techincally advanced ID cards I’ve seen.

We had a day of much paperwork--heading to the University to meet the HR representative with whom we’d been corresponding all summer, getting papers from her, and heading to the bank in homes of setting up a Dutch bank account, only to leave with still more paperwork, and we have another meeting at go to at Town Hall on Wednesday to deliver even more paperwork. The government has just changed some of its regulations which is great in many ways, (now I can work!) but it means that the people at the University helping us don’t know the new procedures. So, still paying cash for everything for now, only one bike between us as of yet, and no phones yet either.  

This morning Owen and I walked to an incredibly welcoming and homey international English speaking church. Not only is it full of people who love Jesus and want to serve God in this world, it’s full of people inviting us to join small groups, offering to put us in touch with people for job opportunities, and just happy to answer an email with questions about transitioning to Dutch life. When greeting us, one woman expressed that she hoped we’d “feel right at home here,” and we absolutely did.

What makes this place Dutch? So far I’ve been very impressed by the elements of design and engeneering even in basic stuff of life. I’ll give you examples from the kitchen and from the layout of the streets. Our kitchen is much smaller than many American kitchens, but the sink has a big heavy cutting board shaped so that it fits snugly right into the space of the sink creating more counter space. Not only that, but the oven has a heavy glass backspash which is not only stylish and conveniently easy to clean, but also folds down over the stove (when not in use) for still more space to work. So the problem of “too little counter space” evaporates with a simple, elegant solution. In the intersections of the streets in Leiden-- which are, of necessity complicated because bikes and cars typically have separate lanes on busy streets and the lanes often have raised medians between them, you end up with a single intersection having twelve traffic lights--cars, bikes and pedestrian crossing lights in each of the four directions. However, the lightposts are set up in such a way in coordination with the stoppinglines that it is very difficult to see any light except the one intended for you. As a result, the intersections are easy to cross safely, quickly and with confidence. These are both simple ideas, but executed with such deft skill, I am wondering why the US hasn’t been copying them more.


We’ve been walking a lot so I have had a great view of the city, and feel more at home every day. Walking down one street I saw four bookstores, two of them looking to be exclusively children’s bookstores. The streets are lined with their narrow buildings all squished up together, their tops all steep pointed and stairstepped peaks with orange tiled roofs. They’re not just brick houses, but brickwork laid as a thing of beauty, an historic craft, not just walls put up in some sort of hurry. Brick streets (often with a simple contrast-colored brick every four feet to indicate a bike lane), lined with fresh green trees. Canals everywhere full of restaurant boats, pleasure boats, crew boats, kayaks, houseboats, boats of all kinds, and bridges everywhere crossing them. And bikes everywhere. Bikes in staggering numbers parked at the trainstation. Bikes with babyseats attached to the handlebars, a couple riding a bike together, a (I kid you not) Dominos’ pizza bike with a delivery trailer behind it. Bikes painted with tulips. Bikes with baskets full of flowers. A bike with four suitcases strapped onto it. This place is beautiful, and I’m so glad we made it at last.

Pictures of our own coming soon!


  1. Clara, this was lovely to read and I'm so glad to hear that you made it so smoothly and are enjoying settling into this new place! I'll look forward to the pictures!

    Also, I wish our grocery store had that orange juice machine! And I wish I could walk to the grocery store...

  2. Thanks SO much for your descriptions of Leiden and your place! How delightful!

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