(Holiday Greetings from Amsterdam)
Sharene and Harrison’s 2017 Christmas Update
Last year we began our update with a short film, The Tale of Kat & Dog. (If you didn’t watch it last year, click the link — it’s a wonderful story that illustrates why we love living in Amsterdam.) But we have to be honest, life isn’t perfect here. (We hear the gasps!) This year, in a modest attempt to be “fair and balanced” about Dutch life, we start off with The Dark Side of Living in the Netherlands:
Five Years in Amsterdam
In October we celebrated our 5th anniversary of moving full-time to Amsterdam. While we will always treasure our years in Hawaii, these past five years have been the most extraordinary either one of us have ever had. The lifestyle, culture, values, physical surroundings, and of course the Dutch themselves — pretty much everything except the weather — are a perfect fit for us in this time of our lives.
Farewell (Tot Ziens) Hanneke
Hanneke van Mierlo was the very first person we met when we first came to Amsterdam in 2009. We had arranged to stay at the apartment of her friend (and now ours) Frank, and while Frank was hiking in India, Hanneke came to Schiphol Airport to welcome us to Amsterdam. She was a wonderful tour guide, and when we came back in 2011 for four months, and then moved here the following year, she became one of our best Dutch friends.
Hanneke was always in a good mood and loved living. Unfortunately, her body didn’t always cooperate, and she suffered from health problems for many years. She was diagnosed with cancer this past February and died 14 November at the age of 56. We’ll think of her often, especially at Christmas, because she gave us several beautiful, hand-stitched holiday cards, and when we have mussels, a favorite Dutch dish, because she taught us how to prepare them. Tot ziens to a lovely friend.
It was time to say goodbye to another part of life as well — our connection to Hawaii. When we moved to Amsterdam, we still owned three rental properties there and thought we might come back for a few months each year and use them. We realized within a short time that our focus was on Amsterdam and Europe, and traveling halfway around the world was not that appealing. The three properties served their purpose as excellent investments, but over the last few years, as the Hawaii real estate market improved, we knew it was time to sell them. So one by one, we have divested our ties there and continued the process of simplifying our lives.
In June, Harrison traveled to Honolulu and Maui to get the final two properties ready for new owners. While there, he was joined by our friend Els, a Dutch woman now living in Spain, who had never been to Hawaii before. We have spent so much time in Hawaii that we tend to notice the imperfections and miss “the good old days.” It was fun to show Hawaii to Els and see its still spectacular beauty through her eyes.
Our long journey that led us to this wonderful life in Amsterdam started almost 10 years ago in Hawaii with a decision to retire and reinvent ourselves, as we had done both separately and together several times before. We sold our home and vacation rental business first, and after we found the home in Amsterdam that we hope will be our last, we started eliminating other complications. We are very happy that by the end of 2017 we will be free of all business and rental real estate obligations. It’s a great feeling finally to have achieved that long-term goal.
Sharene’s Dutch Driver’s License
Last year we described Harrison’s ordeal to get his Dutch driver’s license, and this year was Sharene’s turn. It’s not easy here; 70% fail the written exam the first time, and then no matter how long you have been driving in another country (for Harrison it was over 50 years, for Sharene 47!), you must take driving lessons with an instructor. Sharene’s story:
“It was painful! After studying for six weeks, I failed the first written exam badly and barely passed on the second try. I thought that was the hard part, but no way. I had to take 22 hours of driving lessons with an instructor I didn’t get along with, and I was ready to give up. But I didn’t, and in all fairness, driving here is unlike anywhere else. There are cars, trucks, buses, trams, motorcycles, mopeds, pedestrians and tourists (a different sort of pedestrian!), and oh, about a billion bikes, all moving at the same time. And lots and lots of rules. So now after all that effort, time, and money, we can now both drive in the Netherlands. And we have, twice! End result: I’m happier on my bike!”
Our American readers may have trouble understanding how a driver’s license exam could be so difficult, so here’s just one sample question from the study guide for the 40-question written exam (which requires 87.5% correct to pass). In the figure on the left, who has priority? (Priority is the European term for right-of-way.) In other words, what is the crossing order? This is important to know not only for the exam but also in real life; it’s a common intersection and you might be the man in blue or the woman with children trying to cross without getting hit! See if you’re surprised by the answer: 1. Red convertible; 2. Motorcycle and woman with children; 3. Car at stop sign; 4. Bicycle and man in blue.
No, we’re not referring to the women in the Red Light District! Our Christmas letters tend to focus on people — house guests and other visitors, friends and family we see when we travel — but we also take a lot of photos of beautiful and interesting places we come across on our bike rides or walks. Here’s a sample (roll over photos for captions; click any photo for a slideshow):
We love Amsterdam so much that we hate to leave it, but we do from time to time! This year we traveled to a bunch of places, some together, some separately, some with friends. In addition to Harrison’s trip to Hawaii (mentioned above), after which he flew to Seattle for a few days, Sharene traveled to California for her annual “Girl’s Trip,” where she also saw her sister and brother-in-law. One or both of us also visited the Dutch island of Terschelling, Eindhoven (for a Barbershop singing competition), Vilnius in Lithuania (for a Tommy Emmanuel performance), Berlin, Sardinia, Maastricht (for a concert by Dutch favorite André Rieu), Barcelona, the French town of Uzès, and Herentals, Belgium (to visit a high-school classmate of Harrison’s). Some photo highlights:
People and Activities
You’ve probably heard anecdotes about people who retire, get bored, and die within six months. We’re in the other category of retired people who are so busy they don’t know how they ever had time for a job! Between activities in and around Amsterdam and time with local and visiting friends, our challenge is to find quiet time for ourselves. But we loved having all of our visitors and showing them around Holland.
Harrison’s Other Piano
A fun lost and found story. When we moved from Hawaii to Amsterdam, we shipped two pianos. One was the Baldwin baby grand that Harrison has had since 1974 and now graces our living area, but we also shipped the small Everett console piano that Harrison learned on and has been in his family since 1960. We didn’t have room for two pianos, but there was no market on the Big Island for used pianos so we thought it better to move both of them to Amsterdam and sell the Everett here. We consigned it to an Amsterdam piano dealer and he sold it for us in mid-2013.
Jump ahead four years to 2017. Amsterdam has a prominent music store called Concerto. We’ve passed by it regularly since way back in 2011 when it was close to one of the apartments we rented during our four months in Amsterdam, but for some reason, in all that time, we had never gone inside — until this past summer when Harrison was on a walk and noticed that Concerto served coffee. His story:
“I went inside and found a cute little area with tables and chairs, part of which was raised and could be cleared of the seating and used as a stage. Off to the side I saw a small upright piano. It had the same shape as my old Everett. And the same color. I moved closer. I saw the Everett label. Could it be? Then I saw the consigner’s logo sticker on the front. Yes! After four years, I had found my old piano. Perhaps only another musician can relate to my joy in discovering it, because of course I never expected to see it again.
“I told the Concerto staff my story, and they said that they have regular live performances in that space and my piano is used often. I sat down with my coffee while soaking in the ‘energy’ of a piano that had been a part of my life for over 50 years. I haven’t been back to hear it being played, but it’s nice to know where it wound up, and that it’s being used regularly by people who can actually play it well.”
It’s hard to believe, but this month we celebrated the 31st anniversary of our first date back in 1986. We had no idea what adventures awaited us! We are grateful each and every day for our good health, the extraordinary life we have been able to enjoy, and the people who have touched us. If you’ve made it this far in our long update, then thank you, mahalo, and dankjewel for being a part of this magical journey. We wish you and your families fijne feestdagen (happy holidays) and an enchanting and interesting 2018.
Harrison and Sharene