Ready for takeoff!

Three years have passed…

Flown by…

We are getting ready for takeoff. In only 10 days we will be moving back to Holland. Back ‘home’? Kind of, I guess. We are going back to our own house. To our old neighborhood. Living closer to our family and old friends, to all those little things we’ve been missing. But what about our new friends? Our ‘home’ in France? I guess when you lived somewhere over 3 years it becomes your home (too). There are new little things that have become part of my new French life.

We had hardships, challenges and downsides. But moreover we had successes, blessings and great adventures. We discovered so many new things, new food, new places, met so many new people. New habits have grown upon us. New values, new appreciations.

Leaving will be hard. And I’m guessing reintegrating won’t be too easy either. But at the same time I’m truly excited. I am looking forward to this new phase, our new adventure. Excited to find out what is ahead of us. Taking along our adventurous spirit, and a whole lot of amazing life experiences. Whatever’s yet to come, we are ready for it.

I am so proud of my family, the 4 of us. Of how we made our French adventure a big success. How we have grown and what we have learned. Sure, we are leaving things behind, but all that, all those memories, experiences, friendships; we can take them with us, wherever we go.

WE DID IT.

Dutch days, French ways.

Take a hike!

No really, you should take a hike. We did this last weekend and it was amazing.

With the finish-line of this expat-adventure coming in sight (yes, looks like we are moving back somewhere this summer), we feel an urge to fit in a few of the last must-do’s on our list. One of them was going for a small break into the Vosges department. Almost half of this department is covered by woodlands and forest and countless lakes. Some of the mountains are over 1000 meters high so in the winter this is a perfect location to do some skiing. But now in summer, it is perfect for a weekend trip to do some hiking combined with lazy afternoons sunbathing and swimming in the lake. Gerardmer is one of the larger cities in this department, located near a lake. So we went online to search for a place to stay in or around this city. Soon we came across some nice looking ‘chambres d’hotes’, the French bed & breakfasts. We ended up staying at ‘La Tulipe Orange‘, a bed and breakfast ran by a Dutch family like us, who only started their new French adventure a few years ago. Their house is located in a small village called Granges sur Vologne, only 10 minutes away from Gerardmer. They have beautiful rooms, comfortable beds and excellent ‘cuisine’, which we very much appreciated after our active days! Should you want to stay in this region, this is the place to stay. IMG_9790

Both full days that we were in the Vosges department, we did a morning-hike. There are countless of hikes you can choose from ranging in level of difficulty, distance, and climbing. With two active boys always up for an adventure we chose two pretty exciting trails to follow. Both were about 4 kilometers in length and respectively 300 and 200 meter ascent! Neither of them was a quiet, easy walk. The paths were rocky, steep, we were climbing, jumping over small waters and climbing over fallen trees that crossed the path. Now this was scary at times fun!! With temperatures around 28 degrees Celsius, we were able to do both walks in about 3 hours. Needless to say the pick-nick near the lake after a well-deserved cooling-down swim tasted better than ever. The afternoons we filled with just relaxing, sunbathing, swimming.

No tv, no radio, hiking, swimming, relaxing, playing games, feasting on excellent food, enjoying the beautiful nature and just doing some exciting great fun amazing stuff with the 4 of us gave me the feeling like I’ve been on a holiday for a week. My battery has been recharged. 100%. Therefore, I say, take a hike! We most definitely will do this again!!!

When back in Holland…

I really wanted the title of this post to be: “How to fit 1 shopping day, 1 theatre visit, 1 restaurant visit, 1 birthday party, 3 visits to a safari park, 2  days of working on our Dutch house, 4 visits to a swimming pool, 2 coffee appointments, 2 dinner appointments, 2 evening appointments and one party in only 8 days”. But somehow that didn’t work well.

Last week, the second week of the boys’ school holiday, we went back to Holland for 8 days. The end of Febuary my youngest turned 5 (FIVE!) years old, so a good reason to throw a special birthday party back home for him with the family. Since our house is under construction and we didn’t want to burden my parents having us all there for the full 8 days, we rented a bungalow at the ‘Beekse Bergen'; a holiday park linked to the safari park Beekse Bergen, and perfectly located for us to execute all of our plans while in Holland. We ended up renting a ‘jungalow’ here for 5 days, and invited my parents to join us there. With our booking we received unlimited acces to the Safari park (and other attractions), located next to the holiday park. This park was voted best wildlife park in 2013 and 2014 with an average rating of 9.0. You will find yourself in an African atmosphere, get an idea of the African wilderness, do a bus or car safari (make sure you are patient enough if the camels have decided to cross right in front of you). With spring about to arrive, the youngest animal was a giraffe of only 6 days old. Pretty special to see this and many other baby animals! Gorrillas, giraffes, rhinoceros, lions, pinguins, birds. And many (in-style) playgrounds. At the end of (many) days while staying at the holiday park, we would finish the day of with a swim in the ‘jungle pool’. No wonder we all enjoyed this park so much!

I must say, staying at this holiday park turned out to be the best decision. Going back to Holland for a vacation is always, always filled with crazy fun things. Somehow, without announcing us coming back over, the time there is pretty much filled with going from one appointment to another and a few more change-of-plans in between. And there is always, always guilt for the people we didn’t get to see, we saw way too short and the things we didn’t get to do because of a lack of time. I must say, for a family with 2 little kids, it can be trying at times, to keep everybody happy while moving from one activity to another. And this is why this holiday park turned out perfect; we could spend awesome hours at the park, in the swimming pool, let the kids to some organized activities. And in the evenings, after bedtime for the kids, we could make some trips to see some friends, while our parents relaxed in our ‘jungalow’. Perfect combination.

I got to spend a day out with my husband, visiting Leiden, going to a restaurant, and to see the very impressive musical ‘Soldaat van Oranje’ about World War II. My parents organized a true birthday party for my youngest, making him (and us all) feel oh so special. We had a wonderful vacation African style, spending some great time together. My husband and my father made great progress with our Dutch house. We spend some great time with our sister(-in-law) and her family as well as our brother (-in-law) and his almost-9-month-pregnant-girlfriend. We spend some fun evenings with a few friends. We saw our whole neighborhood at a party of one of our neighbors that made us feel right at home again. We had a great afternoon with our father(-in-law). Yes, we definitely got the most out of this last week!!

French vs Dutch primary school

This school year my oldest started primary school in France. And what a difference that is compared to the kindergarten (‘maternelle’) he had been to up untill now. This is serious business. He is doing a great job and enjoying school. I am pretty sure, however, that, should we move back to Holland this year, he will find Dutch school so much easier and fun. Not in the first place for the language barrier, which in his case has become a minor obstacle as he is pretty fluent in his French. I wrote before about the general differences between the French and Dutch school system.  In this post I will set out more specific differences amonst the French and Dutch primary school. I will make my comparison based on the school we had chosen for him in Holland, versus the French public school where he is going now.

Daily program and ambiance: Daily program in his French primary school consists math, writing, German lessons and at times a science project and one sport lesson a week. Every day there is homework; learning a poem by heart, writing excercises, reading. There are strict rules that must be followed. In the school report kids are also rated on knowing the rules of politeliness, described as: addressing an adult always with ‘vous’ and standing up when an adult enters the classroom. In Holland the core curicullum of Dutch primary schools consists of Dutch, English, arithmetic and mathematics, social and environmental studies (like geography, history, science, biology, citizenship, social and life skills, road safety, healthy living, social structures and religious and ideological movements), creative expression (music, drawing, crafts), sports and movement. Up till the age of 10 there is no (or very little) homework, leaving room for social rendez-vous or sport activities after school. Here, play-dates amongst kids are more the exception than the rule. Just the other day, when I was helping my 6 year old with his homework, I texted my mom (former school teacher at Dutch primary school) that her grandson was now memorizing words like ‘aeroporte’, ‘sorcière’ and ‘coquelicot’. Her best response ever was: “well that’s something else than the Dutch standard words like ‘aap’ or  ‘noot’. Yes, French primary school is challenging.

Special events: In Holland special events play an important role at school. Events like Christmas, carnaval and birthdays are celebrated and often have moments to include the parents. But also sporting events and musicals set up by the kids itself are part of the school program. And don’t forget a special day to celebrate the teachers’ birthday, or the birthday of the child itself. Or if a teacher retires, gets married, or has a baby, you can be sure there is organised a big festive moment at school most oftenly including the parents too. Here, parents are never involved in any celebration (if there is one). I found out that in primary school there is no Christmas celebration nor carnaval festivities. Last year, the principal and long-term teacher at the kindergarten retired and apart from some parents shaking his hand and bringing a small gift it was like any other schoolday. Unthinkable in Holland. What can I say, we Dutch know how to party and value having celebrations as an important aspect of our lives.

Personal development: Dutch schools have a lot of attention when it comes to social development. Here there is clearly a differentation: it is the parents that are responsible for ‘upbringing’ the child and the school is for educating the child. The school of my son works with ‘bon points'; a tangible reward system, points which can be gathered by good work and good behavior. Eventually the goal is to reach a certain number of points in order to trade them for small gifts, like a book. For my son, this system works. But, I can imagine that for kids that might have trouble keeping the pace, this is demotivating as they see all the other kids get points and they are falling behind. Another big difference between the Dutch and French primary schools is the availability of special programs. Here, there is one school program that every kid, no exception, follows. In Holland, if needed, to a great extent the education program can be personalised for a child. If your child has trouble within a certain area, or is not enough challenged, it will get remedial teaching, or extra work. There are also special programs dedicated to stimulate good behavior, boost confidence, fight bullying, etc. External parties are easily involved for their professional opinion and expert advice in order to really create efficient education for each and every child in school.

Communication and information provision: My son’s primay school has over 400 students. The school has no website, no newsletters, no communication via email. Here every student has a notebook in which the needed information is written. If you have a remark or a question, you can write it in the notebook, and you will get a written response from the teacher. There is no direct contact with the teacher. In Holland, you will have special evenings organized at school, dedicated to important subjects. You will receive weekly newsletters by email and (depending on the school), they will have a digitally student-follow-up-system in which you can track the records of your kids. On top of that, you will have a one-on-one 10-minute-conversation with the teacher a few times a year, depending on the schools policy.

Parents involvement: In Holland, parents play a significant role. There are one or more ‘class parents'; they support the teacher in coordinating and organizing special events like sport-events, Christmas, celebration of the birthday of the teacher, and so on. Furthermore, very often parents are asked to contribute as book-reading-parents, lice-parents (the parents that check kids on lice), library-parents, craft-parents, for a once-a-year-big-school-cleaning evening, for lunchtime supervision, for helping with special events and so on. Here there is one parent comite  and occasionally parents are asked to help with the outdoor events like swimming lessons. Otherwise, parents have no involvement at all at school.

Overall, I am happy with how my son is doing at school. Main reason that I am happy is because he is happy. He had an excellent report this first trimester. But he doesn’t know better I guess. And I do. That’s why I look forward for him going to Dutch school in the future. He will be exposed to other valuable areas than here in his French school. Yes, my son has already learned writing skills that in Holland would have been presented to him not earlier than next year. And yes, he is very educated in math and reading, but I think he will enjoy learning much more the Dutch way. I think the French system is good, contentwise very challenging, but also very linear, not really exciting, and with old-fashion point of views. According to Unicef’s Child Wellbeing in Rich Countries survey amongst 29 industrial world, Dutch kids ranked as happiest kids in the world, leading three out of the five categories, amongst which the category educational well-being. And I definitely see why.

 

Sea, Space, and cars cars cars

This weekend we decided to organize a surprise day for our boys. After two crazy fun Christmas holiday weeks with our house continuously filled with visitors from back home, we felt it was time to have a special fun day with the four of us. I checked our personal ‘tourist office’ (a shoe box filled with brochures and maps) and found a brochure of Sea Life in Spyer, Germany. I booked the tickets online and next morning we hit the road with two excited kids in the back seat, curious about where we were going.

As soon as we entered the village Spyer, we drove past another museum; Technic museum, also in Speyer. We had been to another technic museum a while ago, which is a ‘sister-museum’ of this one. I wasn’t surprised that the first thing you see are huge real planes displayed on the welcoming terrain of this museum. You can imagine how my kids responded seeing this. I must admit there was a tiny bit of disappointment when I had to inform them this was not the museum we were going too. Fortunately, within 2 minutes we drove by Sea Life, and their excitement took over again.

Sea Life Speyer Aquarium

My first impression while parking the car was that it was fairly small. I had pictured ourselves spending a whole day at this museum. We’ve been to several aquariums and this was by far the smallest, with not even an own paking lot. However, I didn’t let myself get down, let’s go inside and get surprised. I must admit, it was indeed small, I think we spend only about 1,5 hours here. However, it truly is a beautifully landscaped museum. You follow the indicated route and you won’t miss any of the 40 displays. The kids were given little booklets in which they could write down answers to some questions specifically put together for them. Our kids were totally intrigued by the beautiful fish, the giant crabs, the fascinating displays, and so were we. Overall, I cannot but say that this is a beautiful aquarium. The displays are breathtakingly beautiful and the people working there are very enthousiastic and helpful. It’s not a museum where I would go back to though, but I would recommend it to people while advising them to visit this museum in combination with the Technic Museum in Speyer. You can get discount tickets if you go to the two museums the same day, or a day apart.

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Technic Museum Speyer

Having visited the Aquarium and it only being 10:30 in the morning plus still having a backpack filled with lunch and snacks, the decision was easily made to continu our day by going to the Technic Museum. And as opposed to the Aquarium, you can easily spend a whole day here, without having seen it all. It is far more beyond a museum. It’s really impressive having a big terrain with multiple airplanes, including a Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet, helicopters, giant boats, and a U9 submarine all being displayed and accesible for everybody. Don’t be claustrophobic when you go into a submarine by the way. There are multiple big hangars which show different expositions. It’s like having multiple museums in one place. There is a whole building dedicated to model building, a maritime exhibition and be very impressed by the huge collections of fire engines, vintage cars, utility cars, motor bikes, bicycles, locomotives and musical organs. In every corner, on every wall, you will find retro decoration, elements, technical paraphernalia, all contributing to the atmosphere. Then there is one hangar with an exposition that I haven’t mentioned yet: the Space flight exhibition. This is the largest space flight exhibition in Europe and it displays an original BURAN spaceshuttle. And yes, you can enter it. Furthermore, there are space suits, space equipment, a landing capsule and space laboratory. With over 300 unique exhibits and an impressive collection of photos and images, this is one of the most amazing exhibits I’ve ever seen. Then again, I am always very intrigued by everything about the cosmos. Stepping into an actual spaceship was definitely my personal highlight of the day. This Technik Museum in Spyer, as well as the Car and Technology Museum in Sinsheim we’ve been to a while a go are definitely two of my most favorite museums!

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We’ve walked many miles, we’ve had many different impressions. And even though the day went differently than planned, we had an amazing time!