Monday, October 3, 2011

The Netherlands - work in a different location!

I should have written about this weeks ago, sorry I've been a bit slack with the blog, I've been really busy but I will try to catch up this week, they will just be short accounts of what I've been doing though.

Noordwijk aan Zee
Back towards the end of August we loaded up both cars and headed off to Noordwijk, on the coast in the Netherlands. Travelling with these two kids was a lot different to travelling with Arin and Alice from Antwerp to London - Arin and Alice slept most of the way or just sat quietly looking out of the window.

Rogier and the kids in the Bungalow Park
Ollie and Pepi were a whole different ball game, and I was exhausted after the five-hour-because-we-spent-an-hour-stuck-in-traffic trip, and feeling kinda sick from turning around to retrieve dropped toys and pass food and break up fights. We stayed in a little house in a 'bungalow park', five minutes drive from the town of Noordwijkerhout, and ten minutes drive from Noordwijk aan Zee, another town on the beach. Jacqueline and Rogier's friends, Paulette and Remco, their kids Dante and Ava, and their au pair Kerli stayed in the bungalow next door. From the day we arrived, Pepi was different with me, it was like he finally accepted that I was there to stay and I could be fun too, and things between us improved drastically!

The restaurant in Noordwijk aan Zee
From day one, Kerli was counting down until we went home again, and I only laughed and said that being on holiday couldn't be that bad. The first couple of days were really sunny, so we spent them at the beach in Noordwijk aan Zee. This version of 'going to the beach' was a bit different to the NZ version, in that we really went to a restaurant next to the beach with a big outdoor lounge area where waiters brought wine for the adults and a playground for the kids.

Pepi and Ollie in the restaurant
Apart from a brief trip or two down to the water each day for the kids to paddle or kick a ball around, and my walks up and down the boulevard when Ollie needed a nap, we stayed there the whole time. I guess the advantage of being there was that the kids were normally pretty contained, like they stayed in the playground and played with the other kids and Kerli and I could watch them easily, whereas when we went down to the beach the could head in any direction and things got more tricky! But it did get a little boring after the first day or so, and it was really tiring, being constantly on the go and standing most of the day and chasing kids around a lot. It also meant that we spent a lot of time resolving issues between our kids and others, and that several friends of the adults who came to catch up brought their kids and didn't watch them properly, and Kerli and I ended up keeping an eye on them too.

on my walk around Noordwijk
I went for a run the day that we arrived, and then a couple of walks in the following days, but after that I couldn't go anything but sleep whenever I had the chance! I like the scenery in the Netherlands in that there is a lot of water around the place (although unlike NZ, its never fenced off and I can't help but wonder what the rates of children drowning are here) and its really really flat, so it just feels totally different to NZ. I love all of the canals, I would really like to spend some time kayaking up them, and close to where we stayed there were houses with their own boats tied up on the water boarding the garden. One morning I walked to the beach close to the bungalow, it was really cool to be there so early in the morning when there was hardly anyone around.

On Tuesday I headed off the Amsterdam, about 45 minutes away by bus and train. The weather was terrible, all grey and rainy, but I found my way to the Flying Pig hostel. This place was cool, with free breakfast and a bar, and a smoking room where people sat around smoking pot and jammin on drums all night. I went for a walk looking for food, in the centre of Amsterdam where there are narrow pedestrian streets full of shops peddling sex and pot. I wasn't really a huge fan of this area, it was packed with english tourists and just seemed kind of sad. I ended up eating a weird version of Pad Thai in Chinatown, and then took a boat tour around the canals.

This was quite cool. The canals go back as far as the 14th century, but most were built during the Golden Age of the 17th century, with the biggest ones fanning out in semi circles around the centre of the city, and smallers ones linking everything. I love how all of the canals have names! I also love the houseboats lining the canals, around 2500 in the city in total. We passed a lot of the main museums and tourist sites, and I really wish I'd had enough time to see more of the city. Amsterdam has 51 museums, conventional ones like the Anne Frank House, and the Von Gogh and Diamond museums, but also weird ones like the Tulip museum, the Fluorescent Art museum, the museum of Bags and Purses, the Torture Museum, and the Death Museum - I thought I was over visiting museums, but I reckon I could spend a week or so wandering around the huge variety in this city!

I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering through the city and doing some shopping, and ended up back at the hostel in the early evening, where I made a snap decision to join a pub crawl as I really wanted to go out but didn't have anyone to go with. I probably enjoyed the pub crawl I did in Berlin better, as there were less people on it and everyone made friends, whereas in Amsterdam the group was so big we had to split into two lots and it was still hard to keep track of everyone. I spent most of the night hanging out with a Swiss architecture student and a group of Uruguayans, and had enough fun for me to feel quite miserable when I had to get up and leave the hostel the next morning. The hostel's free breakfast was a life-saver, and I spent the rest of the day doing my best to recover before I went back to Noordwijk. I did have a good time in Amsterdam, and I would like to go back, but I'm still not certain that I really like the city - the sex and pot is a little too in-your-face and tacky for me, and the place is so crowded with tourists that its annoying.

Dante, Pepi and Ollie in a 'pirate ship' inside on a rainy day
Back in Noordwijk, we had a week and a half's rain, and for me anyway it turned into a bit of a holiday from hell. Kerli and I were stuck in the bungalow park the whole time, trying to entertain four kids in grey or wet weather. Luckily the park had a playground and a couple of goats to feed in one corner, but we were both going pretty crazy. Rainy days were the worst, as there wasn't much room inside and nothing was baby proofed, so I spent a lot of time trying to get Ollie to stop touching the TV or turning the microwave on!

Ollie feeding the goats
I did a lot of babysitting as Rogier and Jacqueline went out catching up with friends. Normally babysitting isn't a problem, as Pepi sleeps pretty well and Ollie wakes occasionally but goes back to sleep pretty quickly too. In Noordwijk it was much trickier though, Ollie's cot was making him wake a lot more and because the place was smaller, Pepi would hear him crying and wake too, leaving me with two crying children wanting their parents and only one pair of hands! In the end I just chucked them both in their parents bed.

The Hague
On Monday I went to the Hague, again about 45 minutes away by bus and train. The Hague has always interested me, because it has the offices of about 150 International Organisations there, including some major UN ones, and its also the location of the Dutch Parliament, even though constitutionally Amsterdam is the capital city. But, as I was really tired and hadn't had much time to plan anything, the extent of my tourist activities was taking a photo of the Parliament while waiting for friends to meet me there. Instead, I spent the whole afternoon walking around the shops. I quite like the Hague, it is small, but it seems quite chilled out, and full of people from around the world working in areas that I am interested in.

Sarah, Hideki, me and Lillian
Later I met some friends for dinner, Lillian from Norway (who I caught up with back in Belgium) and fiancees Sarah from Canada and Hideki from Japan, all of whom I know from the Ship for World Youth. We were joined by another Japanese guy who participated on the Ship in a different year, and some friends of Sarah, and we went for a drink and then had dinner together.

Ollie rocking his brother's shorts and underwear!
By this point, the second week, both Kerli and I were felling really sick, I think from a combination of being tired and run down, and of being outside during bad weather. I had had those two and a half days off and the chance to sleep a bit more than her, like during Olli's naps, so I wasn't in as bad a shape as she was, and finally she had to spend some time in bed. This made things really interesting for me, as there were then four kids left around, and while Jacqueline and Rogier kept helping me out, the other adults didn't as much, and I really struggled with Dante's behaviour. By the end of the week both Kerli and I were counting down the days left to go, but the weather got sunny again and both families decided to stick around for another couple of days - Kerli was really not happy, and while I was eager to stop working so crazily and recover, and I did have plans for the weekend, it didn't worry me so much as having only been in Lux for a couple of weeks, I didn't have that much to miss back.

The beach at Noordwijk in the early morning
This decision to stay longer was a good example of the drawbacks of being an au pair though, for an entire year you're really dependent on other people to make decisions about what they want to go, and you just have to follow along regardless of whether you already had your own plans. Its not like a normal job where your boss has to ask really nicely to get you to do extra work and offer compensation for it.

There is a saying that when mothers go on holiday, they aren't really going on holiday but just working in a different location - the same goes for an au pair, except you end up working a hell of a lot more than you would normally do back home. So, while I'm glad I got a brief glimpse of Amsterdam and the Hague, and spent a couple of days in the sun, I was also really glad when we got back home!

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