No riots in this town

Whatever it was they were afraid of – it did not happen. No anarchist army trying to storm the city, no one trying to climb those fences or crash into those barricades. Just a lot of curious Dutch people with their bikes or on foot, standing around and hoping for a glimpse of someone important arriving for the Nuclear Security Summit.

Apart from that, empty streets. No traffic chaos. Apparently they really scared everyone off, the warnings have worked. On Monday morning the city stayed in Sunday mode. While biking to school with the boys I had to suppress the urge to check if it was really Monday.

Exceptionally nice traffic wardens and police men (in black combat uniform!) showed us where we were allowed to cycle and were not. They smiled, wished us a good day and were open for chats. The only thing disturbing the peace was the constant hum of the helicopters circling the area, until late at night.

On Tuesday, some cars ventured into the streets again, but still too few to cause serious problems. While cycling back from school in the afternoon we did encounter an annoying situation though: The police suddenly started to block one of the (officially open) side roads – someone important apparently needed to drive there. So we had to turn and ride back quite a bit and make a detour. Older boy sighed but did not complain. Younger boy was munching a cookie on his seat on my bike. (He complained later that he had gotten cold though… he did not like those policemen so much.)

Tuesday evening the helicopters stopped and it seemed that this was the end of the NSS for us.

Except for the fact that the fences and barricades were still there. It had taken some time to built them up, so naturally it will take some time to take them down again. Which goes without saying – and therefore no one had really mentioned it (or is it possible that they just thought it would sound too bad… having to live with blocked roads for a week instead of 2-4 days?)

So on Wednesday morning everyone took out their cars again, and we all found ourselves in a huge traffic jam after all. Hurray.

P.S. If I remember it correctly the whole thing cost more than 20 million Euro… I don’t know how much of that sum went into the fences and barricades…. but I think they could have saved some money there…

Blogging in view of a fence

At the moment we have a big metal fence near our house. Plus black roundish barricades. Plus a lot of policemen patrolling in the streets. And helicopters circling the area.

No, I am not living in some sort of dangerous place, but in the peaceful (some say boring) Netherlands. From tomorrow morning on The Hague will be hosting the Nuclear Security Summit – a lot of very important statesmen discussing a lot of very important things (yes, Obama will be there too). It is the most important international political event in modern Netherlands so far, and the Dutch are taking their responsibility very seriously. The whole area has been divided into colour-coded zones, depending on the proximity to the conference hotel. There are zones where you cannot park your car, zones where you are not allowed to drive but ride your bike, zones where you have to walk (or push your bike). And the inner zone (the red one!) is surrounded by big metal fences the Dutch have borrowed from UK (where they allegedly have been used at the Olympic Games in London… though not as part of any competition, I think). A lot of roads have been closed and everyone is warned not to come into the city by car during the next two days, to avoid a complete traffic chaos. The roads from the airport to The Hague are also partly closed. You can imagine what this will do to Monday morning rush hour, if enough people insist on still travelling by car. Everyone is encouraged to use public transport – great idea, except for the fact that the tram we would use in our area is not riding its usual route because of the NSS. So it will be biking to school tomorrow. Luckily it is not that far.

But when I look at all these fences and barricades and policemen I start asking myself: what are they expecting? A violent mob trying to storm the conference building? I cannot really imagine the Dutch doing that. Granted, they are not really fond of authority, but what they would normally do is probably trying to engage everyone in a loooong discussion about it. Now, earnestly, I cannot imagine a big anarchist crowd flooding the city.

But if they are so paranoid about it, why do they have to do the whole event in a city? Why not on the countryside, maybe one of the little Dutch islands up North? Just bring everyone there, shut down the ferry service and enjoy. Maybe let a few ships patrol the North Sea, and if you have to, bring those helicopters over too. – But no, it has to be here, and all the Dutch politicians are so vey proud about the role their country is playing. The eyes of the world are on The Hague. Oh well.

Am I being too cynical? Should I be proud too? – Anyway, I just hope anything good will come out of those two days, not only quarrelling and digging in of metaphorical heels. And with a bit of luck, the anarchists will stay home too or just enjoy the nice spring weather at the beach.

I will let you know.

Good night.

Choosing a Challenge

There haven’t been a lot of big choices around lately. Just the usual day-to-day stuff. But suddenly one sneaked up and sort of presented itself rather unexpectedly.

We have been living in the same apartment for quite some time now. It has slowly changed from being very spacious (when it was just the two of us) to getting more and more crowed (with the arrival of the boys, followed by their clothes and toys and books and more toys and even more books). So thoughts of moving to a bigger place have been in the air for a while, but we never really did something with them, except for the occasional glance at our local real estate website. We like our neighbourhood so we would like to stay close, we would love to have a bit of a garden for a change, and we would prefer our future home not being one of the really old houses (which were built around the 1920s).  Since our neighbourhood basically consists of these old houses, what we wanted was a bit tricky. The old houses are beautiful, but most of the time you have to renovate them for a fortune, and you never know what is lurking beneath the floorboards or inside the walls.

So we concentrated on optimising our current apartment, chucking out some stuff here, putting up new shelves there, rearrange some corners, build a higher bed for little one so he can have a little cave for this toys underneath it (no worries, it is not that high and it has security railings on the side 😉 ). Apart from the issue of the old building being quite draughty and the bathroom being the coldest room in the house (in winter), we were quite happy.

But for no special reason I had another look at that real estate website. And saw the house. Not huge, but bigger than our place now. With a garden. With a cellar (storage capacity!). Built 1980. Only a few streets from here. Affordable.

Without really believing it, we scheduled a viewing with the real estate agent (something we have never done before). Afterwards we found out that the house actually belongs to one of husband’s colleagues. So they had a long chat. And it began to feel like this house has been waiting for us.

So, believe it or not, we are in the process of buying a house! It stills feels rather unreal, but it is happening. – Husband is talking to the bank. I start unearthing stuff we can throw away (you won’t believe the amount of paper work that has been sitting in binders for years… totally shreddable!). We both play games of mentally arranging our furniture in the new house. Little one starts getting excited at the thought of having a bigger room. Older one thinks it really cool that his room will have a (small) balcony. They both love the thought of turning the garden into a football field.

It does feel strange. When we were faced with the choice of going for it or not, both husband and I were a bit “ooooh, are we really doing this?”.  After we chose “yes” we still were “do we really want all this” (meaning the financial side, the moving part). We felt  like we were gambling – having a nice place to live in after all. Should we trade our comfy cave where we feel at home, where the boys have been living all their lives (and where little one was born – literally).

But if feels better every hour. It is happening. We choose this. Choose change (although a small one, staying quite close to our old place) over habit. We will be moving house soon.

(I know that for many of you it might sound ridiculous – such a small move, such little change. But for us it also is a commitment – to stay here even longer. We have been “expats” in this country for years now, always with half a thought on the possibility of leaving soon. But we have grown some roots here, without noticing. At the moment, there is no other place that is pulling us towards it. So we will stay. For a while. And – if everything will be going according to plan – in our new house.

A week in paradise

I have been taking a week off – off from my usual life and also from the blogging world (although I have to confess I did sneak in a couple of times for a quick read). The boys had one week of holidays which we spent at the place that for me is a small paradise on earth: No, not a tropical island with beaches and palm trees, but a house in the Austrian countryside where I spent a good deal of my childhood.

It is the place where I can unravel like nowhere else. It begins when I step out of the car and take the first breath of that fresh, clean air that smells of the trees I know so well. Everything slows down there. ‘There’ is the house I know every corner of. ‘There’ is the garden with my trees, the grass, the flowers (yes, they were starting to appear, rather early this year). ‘There’ is the green fields and meadows and forests surrounding the garden, where I used to play in my own pretend universe when I was small. ‘There’ is the lake you can see from the garden, with clear water, sometimes all shades of blue, turquoise, green, sometimes even purple – I could spent hours watching it change. And behind the lake, the mountains, now capped with snow, against a bright blue sky (of course it can also be very grey and dull and wet, but not this week).

When I am there, I can step out of my daily life and just be me. Put on an old pair of jeans, grab some scissors and a bucket and disappear in the garden, cutting, trimming, digging with my fingers in the earth. I am free of most of my normal chores – my mother does the cooking and the washing (thanks so much for that, Mum!) like she did when I was a child. I only have to handle the boys, who in turn transform into their holiday selves, (mostly) happy and free. They spend hours playing football in the garden, they work on their tree house, let model airplanes fly above the fields and play with the toys that have been patiently waiting for them since last summer.

And I walk around the garden, tackling some stubborn blackberries (that insist on growing in the most strange and – for us – inconvenient places) and only have to settle the occasional fight over “that was a foul! – no it wasn’t ’cause I did not do it on purpose!” or “that was out! – no that was in!” (when they switch from football to tennis for a change). But even these fights seem different, are holiday fights and most of the time less fierce.

Life was simple this week – gardening, doings some grocery shopping, one day of driving up into the mountains to let the boys play in the snow. Long talks with my mother in the evenings.

I feel a calm there I feel nowhere else, I can recharge my batteries, I start dreaming daydreams and believe in impossible things again. If there was ever a shred of doubt in me about the power that nature has over my mind and soul, it would dissolve there.

But, as you can see in my use of “there” instead of “here” – we are back. School started again yesterday, and I have to say the boys where happy to be back with their friends. And I? I would not have minded lingering a little longer. But I guess it is time to be back to the duties and challenges of normal life. Time to see if I can bring some of the day dreams to life.

And we will be back in summer, as always.