Life – The New Chapter

By - April 19, 2005 (Updated: November 30, 2014)

On Saturday, April 2nd 2005, Andrew and I were winging our way back to the Netherlands. It was a year ago, to the day, that I wrote my last blog entry and stated that we would return to Amsterdam. I never expected that we would make that statement a reality so quickly … but here we are.

We’ve been in A’dam just over a week now. I have to say that it’s a much different feeling than our first week last year. At that time, we were so excited but also nervous. We didn’t know what to expect from this huge, bustling city. We had so many questions about communication, transportation, where and how would we find everything we needed. Our arrival this time was different. On our first drive through the city, Drew and I both commented on a feeling of coming home. It was that familiar feeling that I experience driving into Halifax or Saint John after spending time away; that relaxed, ‘ah, here we are… everything just as I left it,’ feeling.

But there are still some questions nagging at our brains about this journey as well; mainly about what our European future has in store for us and will we be able to handle it. Gone is the safety net of bailing out and going home to Stillwater Lake (the house closed successfully yesterday). Our accommodations in A’dam are only temporary and after 3 months here we will have to move again. Although we would love to stay here in the Netherlands, it looks as though we will have to move to Belgium, at least for the time being. We have left everything we know behind and arrived only with 4 unhappy cats (who are finally settling in), 4 (which became 5) huge suitcases, and 4 pieces of carry-on (airport drama story to follow). Somewhere on the Atlantic right now are 3 large trunks and 5 small containers of books… all that is left of our past life. Where we will be a year from now is anyone’s guess…

Many of you have asked about our flight over. Let me say that it was a saga and if anything could make us stay in Europe, the thought of reliving that flight could do it. While I would never, ever give up my animals to do this (would you give up your children?) I have no desire to fly with them again any time soon (nor, I am certain, do they ever want to fly again).

We left our house, for the last time, at 8am. We sedated the cats and piled them and all that was left of our belongings in 2 taxis. When we arrived at the airport 3 of our bags were over weight. We had to shuffle stuff around. The man who checked us in looked like he was going to be a stickler but he must have taken pity on us. He let our bags on and only charged us for two overweight. He did however, advise us that on international flights the cost would be much more and we should consider buying another suitcase in Toronto.

The flight to TO was fine, but our arrival at the airport began the stress. We had to get our huge bags and 4 cat carriers to another terminal by bus. You can imagine the picture we made. I had a trolley with 4 cat carriers and 2 carry-on bags and Drew had 2 trolleys with 4 suitcases and the remaining carry-on. This we had to man-handle on and off of a bus and to the KLM gate.

When we got there, we decided to take the Air Canada clerk’s advice and buy another suitcase. I was left in charge of cat sitting and Drew went off to see what he could find. Well, I guess a woman with 4 cats is not a common sight at the airport, because I attracted all kinds of attention. The cats were too drugged out to enjoy the attention and I was honestly to stressed and tired to repeat the story of our travels for the 30th time.

Drew returned with a suitcase and we shuffled stuff into it, thinking we were pretty smart. Only to find out, when we arrived at the counter, KLM’s baggage restrictions are much stricter than Air Canada’s and we were still overweight on 2 bags. More shuffling and lots of pathetic, pleading looks later, our bags were chugging down the conveyer belt. Then they had to tag our carry-on.

Well, KLM generally allows only 1 carry-on bag each as opposed to Air Canada’s 2. We had 2 laptops, my camera backpack and a roll-on bag with my slides and negative scanner. There was no way I was checking any of it and I was ready to fight. However as soon as I said ‘photographer’ it was like the seas parted and they tagged all of our bags for carry-on. They even double-checked the roll-on bag with the supervisor and he had no problem with it so we were feeling pretty good about that at least.

We had to keep the cats until the plane arrived so we had 2 hours to kill. Surprisingly enough, there is not much to do in an airport with a trolley full of cats, except sit and wait.

When the time came to drop off the cats, there seemed to be a problem. Someone was supposed to come and pick them up from us and take them on board, but no one was there. The supervisor had no idea what was going on. We waited, and waited and watched the security line we would have to go through to make our flight get longer and longer. Finally a guy arrived and zoomed off with the cats (zooming with the unbalanced load of 4 shaken up cats on a tiny trolley did not seem like a good idea to me…). We watched him head down a hallway and stop. Then he turned around and zoomed back, unloaded the cats and loaded them on to a different but identical trolley and zoom back down the hall, where he stopped again. We watched, we waited but he didn’t seem to be going anywhere. Finally he zoomed back and deposited the cats where he first picked them up… and then he left!! We rushed back over to ask the supervisor what was going on and was there a problem. He distractedly waved us on and said no, no we will look after it. Go get on the plane. Needless to say we were concerned, but we had no choice but to go as our flight was boarding.

The security line was all but gone when we got there (oddly enough they were all now boarding the plane). When we arrived at the gate Drew went to stand by the windows to make sure the cats got loaded on. I waited in line with our stuff to board. I handed over my boarding pass and waited on the walkway for Drew. I had 3 of the 4 bags and a stewardess (the same one who checked in my carry-on) came over to tell me I had too much stuff. I explained that I also had my husband’s bag and that they were laptops and camera gear. ‘Oh, didn’t I check you in?’ ‘Yes you did,’ I said thinking it would all be cleared up. But she had suddenly decided that my roll-on bag was too big. ‘Well, it was fine when you checked me in downstairs and it was fine when your supervisor approved it!’ (Suddenly I was wishing I was wearing my Bitch shirt) Luckily she got distracted by someone else and Drew arrived so we boarded the plane.

The plane itself was the biggest I had ever been on. It had an upper level for first class and the economy class was enormous. The lady that was sitting in our row was in the window seat but asked if I would trade my isle seat (score, I love the window). I spotted 2 of the carriers on the baggage cart outside. Thank goodness, 2 of them made it but where were the others. Then I saw them, on the tarmac, in the rain!! I was irate. But at least they were getting on the plane. I thought that would be the worst of it. However, after our seemingly endless flight I went to pick them up while Drew got our bags. They were alive and in one piece, or so I thought. It wasn’t until later that we noticed 2 of the carriers were damaged. The door to Dea’s carrier had popped a hinge. I was able to pop it back together but it is missing one of the plastic screw-thingies that hold it together. Then Drew noticed that Buddy’s carrier had a huge crack down one side, like something had fallen against it. For the amount of money KLM charged us to ship our pets, I would have thought they would be treated with first class care. As it was I am thankful they are alive. The only casualty was Orange and her wounds were self-inflicted.

Apparently she tried to escape her cage by clawing at the metal bars. In doing so, she managed to pull out 4 of her claws. Her feet were sore for days and we kept a close watch to make sure they didn’t get infected. She seems to be doing better although I doubt those claws will ever grow back.

We didn’t have much trouble getting through customs. In fact we tried to declare our things that are being shipped over and they didn’t care. One female agent started to inspect the cats’ health documents but a supervisor walked over and shooed us through. (Glad we paid all that extra money for micro-chipping). We had the usual money kafuffle at the rental car stand (I don’t know why that always happens) but eventually got our rental (hey, a Ford Focus wagon… what a new and different vehicle). With some help from Robert, we transported everything to our new, temporary home at the Sumatrakaade on Java Island.

Our first week was relatively quiet. Drew was thrown into work right away on Monday and I spent the first couple of days unpacking and getting the apt. in order. We made a couple of trips to Ikea for furniture. Our ‘furnished’ apt. was pretty basic and we needed some more storage space. I spent most of an entire day putting together 2 night tables, a dresser and a cabinet for the bathroom. Thankfully Paul had lent me some power tools… (Whatever happened to just needing an Allen key?) By the end of the day I was feeling pretty Girl-Powerish but I think I’ll lay off the Ikea stuff for a while.

Last Thursday was our first shopping day (stores are open until 9pm) so Andrew took me out on the town. We couldn’t buy because of the shortage of funds until the house closed but I cased a few shops for future reference… (Very cute little skirt at Zara I may have to go back for… Jenn I miss your shopping advice already). We had our first supper out at Los Pilones. This is our symbolic restaurant that we try to eat at on each of our last nights in A’dam so it was fitting to begin there too. Our only other meal out, so far, was at a little Italian place on our block, a few nights ago. It’s a fabulous little place and I can see it becoming a regular haunt.

Saturday was a fun, and ‘educational day… Drew’s co-worker Paul was having a birthday so he and his lovely wife, Inge, invited us to come for the afternoon and stay for a bit of the festivities. We had visited Paul and Inge at their camping place, in Den Helder, in August and had a great afternoon. So we accepted their offer to visit them, at home, in Arnhem (site of ‘A bridge too far’ for all you history buffs).

We made it after taking ‘the scenic route’ (i.e. lost) through Arnhem. They have a lovely house, in a quiet neighborhood and a beautiful little fish pond. They also have two very pleasant sons, Tim and Jeroen. Tim is taking English immersion and did an excellent job of translating for his Grand-Mother who was also present. We had a yummy supper of chicken Tikka and then the other guests started to arrive. We fumbled our way through with lots of help and patients from Paul’s friends and family. Hopefully we didn’t drive them too crazy. But all in all it was a fun time.
The following day, Sunday, we went to the Food and Wine show, put on by one of the Expat groups. It was called S’makelijk! And the guest star was Ainsley Harriet. I doubt any of you have ever heard of Ainsley but I think he’s great. As you know, I end up watching a lot of BBC programs here and he is the host of one of my favorites, called ‘Ready, Steady, Cook.’ It’s kind of a cooking game-show (A bit like Iron Chef without the wacky Asian guys). Ainsley is also a fabulous chef in his own right and cooked up a storm at the show. I have to say that the Food and Wine show itself was very badly organized, but I’ll chock it up to growing pains, as this was the first one they have done. All said and done however, we did have a fun time. We learned how to make Sushi and subsequently bought a Sushi making kit. We went to a cocktail making seminar (which Drew volunteered at) and then saw Ainsley do his thing, which in itself was worth the wait. You’ll find pictures and Videos of our day in the photo section.

This week has been rather uneventful so far. Drew has been in Madrid for 3 days, training some customers. He’ll be back Friday night. We plan to take it a bit easy this weekend and maybe do a bit of plant shopping. Now that we are staying here for a while, we can be Dutch and load our patio up with plants. I did already purchase an orchid which I am quite ecstatic about, as I’ve wanted one for a long time. Let’s hope it survives. I miss you all!

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Alison Cornford-Matheson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of She is the author of The Foodie Guide to Brussels: Local Tips for Restaurants, Shops, Hotels, and Activities. Alison landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about slow and sustainable travel, in Europe and beyond. She loves to discover hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She has visited 45 countries and is currently slow travelling through North America in an RV, with her husband, Andrew, and two well-travelled cats. You can also follow her work on Google+
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