Independence Day in Amsterdam

The Library with Flag

There are some holidays that you just aren’t quite sure what to do with yourself. Maybe it’s not celebrated where you are living, or you feel like you should acknowledge it, but not sure how. It was definitely that way with Christmas, but Independence Day is such an American holiday. How do you even celebrate that abroad?

Red White Blue Flowers

Maybe you have friends who can get you into the American Consulate for their party, or maybe you have friends who own a wine shop with a Dutch and an American owner. They are sure to throw a party!

US Consulate in Amsterdam

When I met one group of friends, I found out about the Consulate party. I jokingly said “How do you get invited something like that?”. I believe the answer was “Just hang around here long enough!”. Of course, that was not the reason we hung around, but it’s so funny that 6 months later we were invited to the United States Consulate in Amsterdam for their Independence Day party.

Red White and Blue

It was PACKED! Unfortunately, Sean was not able to go, so I met up with some friends when I got there. I was decked out in my navy blue dress with white polka-dots topped off with a borrowed red belt and a pin with the USA and Netherlands flag. So patriotic!

The Library

The wine was from California, beer from the U.S., cocktails from Hard Rock Cafe, American sodas, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Starbucks iced coffee, with wedge salad, hamburgers, and hot dogs floating around. Following all of that, a delicious looking chocolate brownie was passed around, as well as mini lemon meringue pies. What a tasty event!

California Wine

I did not get a lot of photo due to the nature of the event and not wanting to be “that” person. But I feel like I should be that person more often.

Shoshannah and Me

With my fellow American, Shoshannah

On the actual 4th of July we headed to The Library. This place is practically our living room at this point…as well as many other peoples’. It was a HOT day (perfect, right?) so we headed over for the evening. I ended up standing in the kiddie pool (there were no kids) while sipping the Cava that El Bulli once served. Lots of friends were there and the smell of burgers and bacon filled the area. American flag decorations were everywhere and all-American songs and videos were playing. What a fun and chill way to spend the 4th of July abroad.

The Big 3-0

 

Turning 30

I have officially been on this planet for three decades…three! It bothered me for a while, but then I thought about so many different reasons why it is amazing.

  • I’m still alive. YAY me!
  • I have some of my own life secrets figured out (plenty more to get through)
  • I think I spent my 20’s well. No regrets.
  • Hopefully I have plenty more time left on this planet!
  • It’s a milestone that makes you think about what you really want out of life

I wrote a post about my birthday party on A Wanderlust For Life and you can read it there. But I wanted to take a more personal direction with the post on this site. This is my quiet place on the internet, where A Wanderlust For Life is my baby, my brand, so I’ll keep the mushy stuff here.

Birthday Cards

This year was amazing, scary, fun, insane, and so many other things. It was just over a year ago we decided to move to Amsterdam. Though we had a plan in place, it fell through. That’s life. But things worked out and we’re still here. Now that I am 30, I am taking stock in what helps me grow, what makes me happy, who is supportive and shows me love.

My life is good. I am happy. Yes, I pretty much always show the good side of things and not the frustrations. Some things can be nerve-wracking whether they should be or not. I hate that I’m not fluent in Dutch and even more annoyed that I’m not trying as hard as I should. I know I need to register with a doctor and dentist but it seems so daunting. It hurts when I reach out to people back home but they don’t seem to reach back. Some days it’s annoying to have to go to the store because you have to go every 2-3 days…on a bike…maybe in the rain. And yes, four flights of stairs to get to my apartment gets old.

BUT, I am working on my Dutch however slowly it may be. I have access to good healthcare even if their philosophies are different than I am used to. I still love those who don’t reach back out and am grateful that they have been in my life. And you know, biking and stairs are good for me.

Birthday Group

As far as my birthday and my party went, the most all-encompassing thing I can say is that I am grateful. Grateful for the friends that came and shared in a great afternoon. Grateful for gifts, which I really wasn’t expecting! Grateful that a few people even took my camera and got some photos I wouldn’t have remembered to get. Grateful for the cards I received in the mail and all the Facebook love. I cherish all of you. Truly. Whether we talk much or not. Each of you has contributed to make me who I am today, and I can’t thank you enough for your love and friendship. You are all so special!

Pentatonix Concert

Image credit: Live in Limbo

Have you heard of the A Capella group called Pentatonix, or PTX for short? I’m not even sure how long ago I heard about them, but I am pretty sure I heard about them through our friend Rebekah on Facebook. I watched them on YouTube and got blown away at some of their songs. My favorites are “The Evolution of Music“, “Daft Punk“, “Mary, Did You Know?“, and “On My Way Home“. Check them out!

We got tickets a few months ago to see Pentatonix in Amsterdam at the Heineken Music Hall in April. It was our first concert in Amsterdam and we were so excited that it was an A Capella group. They sounded absolutely amazing. They even did one piece without microphones and we could still hear them in the back of the standing area! And yes, we stood…and I am short. But it happens. It was still a great concert! Because all the instruments are their voices, there was no way the music could be too loud like it seems to be at many concerts. It was all equally balanced to create a wonderful sounds.PTX Amsterdam

So, Scott, Mitch, Kirstie, Avi, and Kevin, thank you for an amazing show and spending two nights in Amsterdam. Hopefully you were able to experience a little bit of King’s Day, too!

 

Cousin Time

Cousins

Our first visitors! Ok, they weren’t here just to see us! But we were so happy that Sean’s cousin Kerry and his girlfriend Katie were in Amsterdam while traveling through Europe. They were traveling all over the place and seemed to really be enjoying the trip!

KerryKatie.jpg

Through lots of messaging we finally decided to meet up close to where they were staying near Museumplein so we met at Leidseplein. Then we found ourselves with some amazing pizza in a small shop. Over a liter of house wine and two delicious pies we met, caught up, and shared stories and laughs. Not wanting the evening to end, we walked around and ended up at a cafe and sat canal-side chatting it up until they closed.

KerrySean.jpg

The day they left they mentioned they were going to have pancakes (a must-do when in Amsterdam), so we recommended our favorite spot and ended up meeting them there. I can’t believe how much we ate, but they were so so good. It’s so nice to be social, especially in a new city. But it was awesome to meet Kerry and Katie and hope they come back to visit sometime. I’m sure their Europe trip was amazing!

Sean Jess.jpgBest wishes and happy travels!!

 

Bacchus Wijnfestival

Wine Festival US

Can you read the title? It says “Bacchus Wine Festival!” I knew you could read it!

During my first full day in Amsterdam, we headed to Amstelveen (just south of Amsterdam) by tram and then walked and walked and walked. Only later did we learn that we could have taken a bus from the tram stop to the entrance to the park, oh well! It took about 35 minutes to walk there and the festival was waaaay in the back of the park. Easy trail to follow, though, with lots of walkers and cyclists.

The festival had different kinds of seating/standing areas and each wine store was labels with the greenish signs.

The festival had different kinds of seating/standing areas and each wine store was labeled with the greenish signs.

Tokens

Tokens

This really is a festival for the locals, no signage in English at all. And that’s completely fine with us! We just had to figure out how to go about participating. We knew the website said they would only take coins, so Sean had been saving up Euro coins. Turns out, it was a bit of a mis-translation. We think a better term is tokens. You pay for your tokens with cash and then you buy everything from your rented wine glass, to wine tastings/full glasses/bottles, to food with tokens. Once we figured that out (thanks to a super-friendly lady in the token booth) we were good to go.

winefest2

Typically at the festivals we went to in Virginia, the booths were run by the wineries, but these are run by shops. You had a little bit of everything, from the folks that spoke English all the time because there were folks from all over the world working and the only common language was English, to those that were definitely Dutch and then one booth even had an Aussie representing her brand from the shop. This woman literally flies around the world doing wine festivals. Everyone was pretty friendly. Some even wanted to help figure out what wine you would like. We were some of the first people there, so they weren’t burned out yet…I would assume they would get that way eventually. You could get a tasting, a full glass, or buy a bottle of the wine. We got cards from each of the booths we really liked. When we explained we were moving to Amsterdam they said we needed to find our wine store, and they wanted to be it!

Food truck...one of a dozen or so.

Food truck…one of a dozen or so.

Another cool aspect were the food trucks! They would pair the trucks with the types of wines…French, Spanish, Italian, South American, etc. It was a really great set-up and it’s their first year. Our last stop of the festival was a french bakery that has macarons. Oh my goodness. They were amazing. We had a 1/2 token left and asked the guy at the bakery if there was anything they had for a 1/2 token, and although they didn’t, he gave Sean a bonbon anyway for it.

Amazing Macarons from Patisserie Tout -Photo from their Facebook page since we were too busy scarfing these babies down.

Such a great experience and I really hope we get to go next year!

DJ  was doing his thing from a tractor...with real vinyl records. You cant get cooler than that!

DJ was doing his thing from a tractor…with real vinyl records. You cant get cooler than that!

*Cross-posted on www.awanderlustforlife.com.

National Night Out 2014

 

I get a photo very similar to this every year. It's something that randomly came to be!

I get a photo very similar to this every year. It’s something that randomly came to be! Photo by Wanda Willis

As with each year, each NNO has its own personality. I’ve been going with the motorcade since 2009 so I’ve seen changes in organizers, community stops, and even a change in police chief. But we always get a good turn out and I get to be in the community with people I don’t know well, but get to know throughout the evening.

The back of the bus was the place to be! We had the City Mayor, two council members, the City Manager, the Assistant City Manager, the Public Information Officer, the head of Auxiliary Police, and a police captain all in the back. This will come into play a little later. But anyway, the motorcade consists of a bunch of vehicles aside from the bus. We had motorcycle officers (Traffic Unit), Emergency Communication Center vehicle, fire vehicle, and a ton of police cars. You really couldn’t miss us! I even suggested to the mayor to add flashing lights to the top of one bus so we fit in. But the coolest part of the motorcade were the bike cops (I’ve gotten to know a few and they are good guys but I like to joke around with them). Even though they got a few minutes head-start, they kept up with us really well and still interacted when we got to the next stop! We were all over the city…up and down hills. These guys are hard core. I’d give them a thumbs-up from the bus. I was being supportive! One made a clever suggestion, put his bike on the front of the bus and ride with us. He didn’t, but not a bad idea.

Bike Cops Photo by Wanda Willis

Bike Cops
Photo by Wanda Willis

We met a lot of people that night and I love that city council gets involved and gets in the community with events like this. To me, it shows they care. To get the police, council, fire, and ECC folks out there together shows a cohesiveness that I like to see and I’m sure the community does too. I keep telling people, police are people too. They can be hard on you but they can also be your best friend.

Our major event of the evening was a power outage. And not just any power outage, but one that took out ECC phone lines (911). To watch the conversation that then ensued on the bus was interesting to watch. Then at the second to last stop, the higher-ups waited outside the bus and were on their phones trying to assess the situation and come up with a plan. All the cops by two left to man intersections, but of course as soon as they left everything came back on, so we met up at the next stop! I got made fun of a bit because I asked where the Traffic Unit was and I was told they went to be placed, I then asked how we would get through all the intersections (since they would block traffic along with HPD cars so we could go through). I was told, “We’ll follow traffic rules” while he laughed. Fair enough officer…fair enough.

Front of the Bus Photo by Allen Litten

Front of the Bus Photo by Allen Litten

In the end, I gave out lots of lollipops, stickers, and fire hats and had some chats with kids about why you call 911 and why you wouldn’t. The education in the schools is doing great from what I can tell. They usually know the answers to my questions and are happy to tell me. And sometimes I sent them back to their parents suggesting a fire drill at home. This is a great program and I think Harrisonburg does an excellent job with it. Thank you to the community to hosting the various events around the city for us to show up to…and for feeding us. On behalf of all those in the motorcade, we appreciate it!

Big Picture Photo by Wanda Willis

Big Picture Photo by Wanda Willis

Life in the Firehouse

Jess with the some of the guys of Engine 23

Jess with the some of the guys of Engine 23

What do you think happens at a firehouse? Guys just kicking back, barbecuing, watching sports? Just hanging out until the next call?

Well, for the most part, you’d be wrong. At least in Harrisonburg they have quite the to-do list each day which includes everything from working out, cleaning the firehouse, up-keeping equipment, training, testing, and so much more. I realized when I showed up for my ride-along that I wasn’t really sure what to do because everyone had their tasks. So, I was the “lazy” one and just hung out and followed them around a bit.

Here, and many other fire departments have 24 hour shifts. They don’t have to be awake for 24 hours, but they do have to be available. So, if they go to bed at 11pm, they may be woken up at midnight and they will go and stay for however long it takes. But in the event of a real fire that lasts a while, there are systems in place to be sure a firefighter does not get fatigued. They will switch who goes in the building to keep everyone safe! If you see the trucks riding around town without their lights/sirens on, they may be going to a training, or getting something to eat. As I mentioned, they have to be on call, so if they are eating dinner and they get called out, off they go!

The Aerial 1 in the Veteran's Day Parade

The Aerial 1 in the Veteran’s Day Parade

I got the grand tour of the building and asked quite a lot of questions about new trucks/old trucks/new people. They have a large pole in their building. I didn’t go down it because, well, it was taller than I expected and didn’t feel up to it at the time. Maybe next time! I picked a shift that had a family friend and someone I knew from work, and I got to meet someone new too.

During our dinner a lady came in to get a child’s seat installed. This is something that I didn’t realize fire departments did until I got involved and learned more about it. It was right in the middle of dinner, but up we went and the guys did their thing. Since one of the guys made dinner (they usually go out, so this was kind of nice!) we all sat around the table just talking. And I had made cupcakes which they seemed to enjoy!

It wasn’t until the very end of my “shift” that we got a call which happened in a round-about way. But a woman up the street smelled gas and called 911. I hopped in the back of the truck with one of the guys and watch him get his gear on while we drove about 3 blocks. Two guys went in with a monitor and determined there was no gas. But they determined they needed more smoke detectors, so they handled that as well. On the way back we got gas, and then I headed home.

They can have uneventful days (which is really better for everyone involved) and they can have insane days. One day not too long ago, all the engines were across the street from my work, then they were called to CVS, then they were called to the north of town. This was in the span of about 2 hours. Luckily I don’t think any of those events were real fires, but that’s happened too. One fire is put out then a couple engines go into service only to be called two miles away for another.

Here’s a review on what a firefighter might do during their 24 hour shift: Physical fire fighting training at the training grounds, active shooter training with the rescue squad and police, classroom training, test taking, creating building plans, installing child car seats, going to special educational events to interact with the public, washing fire trucks, testing equipment, daily chores, making lunch, and possibly saving your life, oh and hopefully sleep at some point. I know I didn’t catch every possibility there…and I know I don’t know everything about what they do.

Ultimately, this little series of an inside look of public servants is to show you that they are here for you. They do what so many are scared (and rightfully so) to do. They keep you safe. They wouldn’t hesitate to help you if they weren’t on duty and saw you in trouble. So, show respect. These people are heroes and they are regular people too. Please treat them that way. Oh, and move to the right when you see emergency vehicles coming!!

Engine 23 (I'm partial since it's the one a block from the apartment!)

Engine 23 (I’m partial since it’s the one a block from the apartment!)

The Cutrufellos are moving to…

Amsterdam, in the Netherlands!

Amsterdam

As some of you know, Sean has obtained his Italian citizenship which is really the only way we are able to pull this off. I realize there are a lot of questions out there, one being “Why Amsterdam?” Well, Sean’s company has needs outside of London and in Amsterdam and will soon have space in Germany. We have been wanting to move to Europe for years and this seemed like the right time and basically we had to decide between London and Amsterdam.

Now, London is an amazing place, but we wanted something different than a HUGE city. Amsterdam is amazing. We were both there for a day or so years ago and last year we went for a week. It solidified what we felt. I love Amsterdam because it is a European city, but it doesn’t feel huge, and since it’s an older city, it still feels somewhat tight-knit. There’s a lot to do, and even though it’s older, it is quite modern in some respects. Most people speak English (though we fully intend to learn Dutch), and about 10% of its population are expats and there is a big support system there. Did I mention it’s in Europe? Flights throughout the continent are fairly cheap and we love to travel!

There are still a few hoops to jump through for me to live and work there. But we are aware of them and though we don’t really look forward to supplying documents, filling out paperwork, and going to appointments, we know it will be worth it. Once I get residency, I can live and work without restrictions, which is the main goal right now. It shouldn’t be a problem, just annoying, but it’s not like we thought this would be a cakewalk. But life is going to be rather interesting for quite a few months! Wish us luck and send good vibes our way if you don’t mind. We can use all the positive energy we can get!

Gardens, Baseball, and a Free Day in DC and Northern VA

View of the Capitol Building from inside the US Botanic Garden Conservatory.

View of the Capitol Building from inside the US Botanic Garden Conservatory.

I took a few days off so that we could go to a baseball game in Washington D.C. It was a Thursday afternoon game so we slept in and head up to the metro stop se we could be in D.C. around lunch time. After grabbing a quick sandwich and a cupcake from Curbside Cupcakes, we headed to the United States Botanic Gardens. One of the last times I was in D.C. I went to a Safe Kids event and walked right past the Botanic Gardens, and since they are free, it’s an easy decision to make that a quick stop when you are in the area for another reason and don’t have a ton of time.

Love this tree!

Love this tree!

There are three sections to the Botanic Gardens: Conservatory, National Garden and Bartholdi Park. The Conservatory is the indoor area with many sections ranging from medicinal plants, to cacti, to orchids. This is also where the “Jungle” is…the large room with high humidity and warm temperature. This room is the center and makes up the peak of the building. There’s a really cool view of the Capitol Building from the walkway in here.

Lovely water feature

Lovely water feature

Outside and next to the Conservatory is the National Garden. This area has a Butterfly Garden (not so active while we were there), a Rose Garden (which wasn’t at its peak…but that’s flowers for you!), a Regional Garden which is for plants who thrive in our climate, and a First Ladies Water Garden (which was dry). So, it doesn’t sound like we went at the best time of the year, but even still, this place is beautiful and peaceful, and in the city, it’s just a nice place to be. We figure the outside gardens are very busy at lunch time.

UsInTheJungle

Across the street is the Bartholdi Park, named after the man who created the beautiful foundation. He also happened to create the Statue of Liberty! This is a lovely area with benches and tables all over for people to enjoy the fountain and flora all around. While in the National Garden, you may be able to forget you are in the city, which is not the case in the Bartholdi Park. It is lovely, but there aren’t really any barriers between the park and the road. We just sat there for a good while enjoying the sound of the fountain and people watching.

Fountain

We weren’t sure how early to leave for the game, but we were out of quick things to do, so we headed back to the metro and did our transfer…we left at the right time. That’s for sure. It was already crazy crowded! Since the roads are blocked off by the stadium and it was an area of D.C. I hadn’t been to before, I felt so out of place. But the stadium is beautiful. The set up felt a lot like Jiffy Lube Live where you walk in the gate, but you don’t really feel like you are inside yet. There are bars and restaurants, then you walk under the really high seats and there’s a bunch of food, drinks, yummy things there.

NatsStadium

Our ticket was a “Beltway Burger Pack” ticket, so the fourth inning I went up to get our food. It took an entire inning since everyone else had the same thought! The seats weren’t bad, but you can’t see the big screen at all, and our section didn’t have a monitor to watch either. But I knew we had cheap seats, so it was all fine. As a bonus, the Nationals were holding a Post-Game Concert Series that is INCLUDED with your ticket. About  a half hour after the end of the game, the Plain White T’s began their performance. We moved to better seats since it was general admission at that point, and hung out and enjoyed the performace! So, for $33 we got to watch a baseball game, eat dinner (burger, fries, and a drink), and got a concert. Not bad!! I love a good deal. I even got our hotel at an amazing deal thanks to AAA, and we got a breakfast sandwich included with our room.

PlainWhiteTs2

Plain White T’s

Friday I was on my own since I took Sean to work. But it worked out great! I got to nap, and then pick up Sean for lunch around the corner that was amazing! Kapao is an Asian restaurant that you have to try if you are in Ashburn. Then, I went to my massage appointment that I got for 45% off. Did I mention, I love my deals?! Very nice place, Aria MediSpa in Sterling. After that, I saw Malificent at the theater next door for FREE! This was thanks to movie passes I was given for Christmas.

Kapao

Then it was the perfect time to pick Sean up from work and head to dinner. We had heard great things about a restaurant called Melt in Leesburg. Since we don’t usually drive through Leesburg, but around, we’ve never been. But it’s a burger place and Sean and I love our burgers. Besides, this gave us a little more time for traffic to die down a bit. The burger was delicious! Definitely worth the stop.

So, Thursday and Friday were jam-packed full of driving, fun visits, good deals and delicious foods! I love our quick trip to our nation’s capital, but mainly I just like finding delicious places to eat!