Sunday, February 8, 2015

The big bad Repatriation

As I wake up in this gloomy Dutch morning I can't believe it's february in 2015! Where did the time go? They say the years between 35 and 45 are the most productive and surely the whirlpool of productivity has gone on to me. 2014 was a year of R&R: read Relocations& Remodeling. Nothing much to do with  Rest and Relaxation mind you.

2014 was one hell of a intense year. In April hubs moved from Moscow back to the Netherlands.  His commuting schedule changed from flying to Cyprus from Russia every weekend, to flying to Cyprus from the Netherlands. That added another hour to his 3 h flight time one way, not to mention far less flexible flight schedule. But you gotta do what you gotta do.

We decided that the kids and I will stay in Cyprus August, so that we can enjoy the summer in our Mediterranean paradise and they will continue going to their English school. There were virtually no schools available in Netherlands in April on such a short notice. Apparently for most schools you need to sign you children up since birth, virtually impossible concept for people like us, since how would we know where we will live in 4-5 years.

As we realized we might spend couple of years in the Netherlands, we decided that we want to have a permanent place to return to in Cyprus for holidays. I have been looking already for years but finally we found The one. It was a total wreck but I had a vision. When I mean total, I mean it. New doors, windows and redoing all the walls and floors as the leaky roof has damaged them all. We pretty much stripped the place down to the bones and rebuilt it again.
The living room "before"

And so that was Remodel No 1. Most of the time I was left alone with it and the two children. I only know few women that will take on something like this, and I think that's simply because we are a bit crazy:) It took 6 excruciating weeks and another 2 to put all furniture in place, shipped from our storage in the Netherlands, but finally in May 2014 we moved in.

Most thanks to my project manager who has been a true visionary and perfectionist and patient enough to deal with my own perfectionistic demands. And to my husband and friends who kept my sanity and joined me countless times in Leroy Merlin and all the DYI stores on the island. The result was the penthouse of our dreams.

gotta miss those sunny breakfasts outside
We knocked out the small windows in the living room and replaced them with floor to ceiling huge ones giving a 180 degrees panorama of the Salt Lake and the mountains, true wow-factor together with the 80 sq m sea-view rooftop terrace.

The summer went on and it was time to move to the Netherlands. (Deep sigh here). As you may understand, leaving Cyprus where I have been living for 2 years was a very hard thing to do. I grew to like this place so much and it has became a home to such an extend, that I suffer true as if it was a love-sickness. But we had many plans to return, all school holidays and even a weekend trip here and there, so I braised myself and on to the next adventure:

Repatriation i.e. Relocation back to the Netherlands
Back in the "matrix" in Utrecht

If you have ever experienced a true Repatriation, you probably know that going back to the country you left is probably one of the hardest things you ever had to do. It has been 7 years since we left first for the USA and then Russia and then Cyprus and we have learned and experienced so much. And what it feels like when you get back is that things haven't changed together with you. In fact it's almost like revisiting your past, but not as an observer, no, as a transplanted into your old self unwilling participant.

Living in Western Europe, especially in the Netherlands has it's indisputable advantages, high-level of organization in society, lack of poverty, thriving economy, architectural beauty, culture, tolerance to a lot of of other things I value. But it also has things I can't stand, for instance bad weather and traffic jams. To add to the rising nationalism, judge-mentality and "burgerlijkheid" ( in english something like small-mindess). If society is something that you can learn to accept by creating your own sub-society or likeminded people, bad weather and traffic jams are there to stay.

Dec 26 2014 in sunbathing in Cyprus
Bad weather meaning from over 300 days of sunshine in Cyprus on to 300 days of overcast in the Netherlands. Let me tell you that, you may find charm the the rain, you may see overcast as romantic and even mysterious, but that ware off really fast when the S.A.D. settles down. And there is no escape, unless you leave the place, either for holidays or permanently. Once you have lived at the sun and you know what it means to be able to run, hike, eat, sit, drink and do whatever outside, year round, then you know that everything else is a compromise. Maybe if you are born with the bad weather and you don't have anything to compare it with, then maybe you are alright. But all those scandinavians flocking Southern Europe whenever they can, well, I rest my case.

And then there are the traffic jams. And I don't mean it literally even-tough a human being trapped in a motorized metal cage, stuck immobile together with herds of other entrapped human beings it's a really sad thing to see or endure. I mean life in the Netherlands is one big traffic jam. It's no secret that this is one of the most overpopulated country in the world. 17 million sharing a very small territory with no mountains, under sea level, like a giant human pot with a lid of overcast. And all those 17 million need to go places such as work or school, buy food, cloths, go out, go to the cinema, the museum, pay bills, go for a run, to the park, sign your children for sports classes etc etc. And all of these is a fight, a queue, a waiting list, a struggle, a few hundred other people to share it with, a number you need to call to, a person you need to talk to who only works 3 mornings a week and is on a sick leave.

It's an overpopulated country, and all the good things you need to share with a lot of other people. Comparing to the abundance of space and resources of the USA or Russia and the ultra relaxed Mediterranean island lifestyle, the Netherlands is a whole different cup of tea. The society there works like this: In NL you can count on the basics and they will be better than pretty much anywhere in the world. You will never starve, you will have a place to live, a job to do and if worse happens the life hits you hard, there will be bunch of NGO's jumping on to help. From then onwards it will be a struggle for any improvement of your life you want to achieve. You are punished for earning good money because the taxes model is a bit like Robin Hood, stealing from "the rich" to give to "the poor". And even if you have any money left to afford certain things such as for instance owning a car, they government after taxing it heavily will regulate that you can't park it in front of your home, because oh God, you live in the city center and that means at least 2 years waiting list. But there are people with children like us living in the center, what would you suggest? Drop the 4 years olds at home alone and go park the car 15 min bike ride away? It's even struggle to buy groceries, queues, ridiculously overpriced fruits and vegetables that taste all the same (like water), lack of parking, inflexible opening hours. I almost can hear some of those Burgelijk people I mention before "So if you don't like our beautiful country why are you still here" and exactly that kind of mentality can really tip you off at the end of another day of various struggles.

Flatlands, view from Utrecht's Dom tower
And then it comes where you live. The truth is there is only one place for people like us in the Netheralnds and that's Amsterdam. Only within 2 months of landing at Schiphol I knew we had to move from out Utrecht canal house to the "big city". Amsterdam is what New York is for the USA and Moscow for Russia. It's just another city in the Netherlands, it's a bit of a different place, city with it's own lifestyle and subculture, very liberal and expat-friendly.

new place
And the bank made it very easy for us, we could not renegotiate our mortgage deal for our house in Utrecht without paying a huge penalty so the best way was to sell and buy a new one. And so it started. After couple of intense months of looking and pure struggle we found just the right place downtown Amsterdam in De Pijp, which is something like the Latin Quarters in Paris. The apartment though was also in need of thorough renovation. Most people do one or two in their lives. I did two in one year (fixing Cyprus And the house in Utrecht that was rented for 7 years and needed some serious work) and getting ready for the third one. Funny enough though, it's a bit like running a marathon. It's hard when you do it and question your sanity, but after you are done it's such an invigorating feeling that makes you feel you can do it again. And now we are in process of knocking it all down and creating proper two bedroom with two-bathroom proper family place from what it was a big one bedroom bachelor hut. I think we will move there in April 2015. It basically took one year since we first "moved" to start an actual life in the Netherlands and the question is always, for how long.

People often ask, so how do you like to be back in the Netherlands. It always puts me into the dilemma wether to say what I think or lie not to offend them. So I usually make a weather joke and avoid straight answer.
the girls waiting for Sinterklaas to arrive in a typical gray december day

A good thing I started this year is that I sort of created a job for myself. I am simply renting out our places when we are not using them but in such a way that I made far more money in the last 4 months as I would have with a full time job. It's a short term renting and it means quite some work to organize it, especially remotely with checkin/checkout, the cleaning etc. I have the Cyprus penthouse in 3 websites and it requires a good follow up to avoid overbookings. But it's flexible hours and pays great.
It has gone so well, that I am thinking to invest more in it and make it a bit more of a business, but more to come on that in the next year. The older I am getting the more I value having free time as one of the essential parameters of how well you do professionally. It's not only the satisfaction and the money you earn, but the combination of the satisfaction and the time you spend versus the money you earn. For instance doing renovations has been really paying off as it's very intense work for a few weeks but the time vs. money earned ratio is fantastic, besides it really pays off later to have a modern latest/greatest outfitted home to rent out.

Well, besides all the intesity of the R&R there was time to relax and enjoy and do some of my favorite things, paraglding, travel and hiking. We started the year with a trip to Paris and kept on roaming Europe the whole year, I missed it when I was away and learn to apprecaite the old continent so much more. We finished up with a great "romantic" holiday to Israel and Jordan for hubs and I and fullfilled a childhood dream of mine to see Petra. Paraglding was basic in Cyprus but in got a week in Italy and that was absultely amazing. And did a quick trip in the Dominican Republic in Jan 2015 to ditch the winter gloom a bit. It was not really flyable there which was a shame but had a great time with a really nice group of new/old friends. I have never thought it was so much fun to take a ride of the back of a pickup truck, the views, the wind in your hair on some dusty Dominican road... ah:) Now "enjoying" the Dutch overcast. Can't wait for next long haul holiday with hubs. Since we have lots of  air miles we booked a trip pretty much for free to Jakarta and we see from there. I am absolutely in love with Southeast Asia, really can't wait.

And then over the last year I hiked Cyprus left right and center. The amount of time one can spend outside in here is simply amazing and I take full advanatge of it. I don't think there is a trail I havent done, mostly I have done them few times. I love being in the nature and the smooth combination of physically challenging activity combined with fantastic views, fresh air, mountain smells. Each time I come back from a hike I feel I rebooted the system, it all starts flowing again just the way it should. I really miss that in the Netherlands and replacing it with running only partially solves the problem. I hit the gym in hubs work but I need a gym closer to home. in Amsterdam the gym is 5 doors down the street, one more reason to look forward the move.

All in all, 2015 is going to be another intense year. I will keep you posted on my Dutch whereabouts :)

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