Four Years in Amsterdam
Sharene and Harrison’s 2016 Christmas Update
We’ll start off this update with a home movie! (Well, it’s a movie about our home. Does that count?) The Holland Marketing Alliance has a very successful award-winning series of tourist videos called “Holland. The Original Cool.” The videos have been so successful that they are cutting back on promotion because there are too many tourists! But we want you to see one of the latest videos because it’s almost an allegory for our life in Amsterdam. We know nearly every place shown in this 18-minute film (we live close to many of them) and the sweet love story filled with magic isn’t that far from our own experience here.
It was a year of milestones: 30 years together, 25 years married, four years living in Amsterdam, and the most discouraging presidential election of our lives. But the big event for us was our long fall trip back to Hawaii. We visited four islands: Oahu, Maui, the Big Island, and Kauai. Our Dutch friend Martin was with us for part of the trip and it was fun to see Hawaii through the eyes of someone who had never been there. After so many years away, we had a fair amount of work to do at our rental condos in Honolulu and Maui, but we still had time to enjoy ourselves and of course appreciate the warm weather.
On the Big Island, we saw our former home, Hale Kakahi, and we were able to visit with quite a few friends, most at an open house we held at the home of one of our former vacation rental clients.
We had some more nice times with friends and family in Honolulu and on Maui. Sharene and her sister, Linda, have birthdays only two days apart in October, and the wedding anniversary of Linda and her husband, Ralph, is almost at the same time. It meant so much to us that they took the time and effort to come to Hawaii to celebrate these events with us. We had dinner with Steve and Iku; Steve was our business partner on the Big Island and now he and Iku are real estate agents in Honolulu who have been very helpful with our own properties there. Sharene learned that Dominic, her boss at WorldRes during the first dot-com boom in Silicon Valley in the 1990s, was visiting Honolulu while we were there, so we had breakfast with him. And on Maui, Sharene cooked dinner for Matt, the son of her best high school girlfriend, Linda. Linda owns a condo just down the street from ours and Matt and his girlfriend were staying there during our visit.
Our 1991 wedding took place at a home in Kona on the Big Island owned by Pat and Phil Bickel. We had met them two years before on our first trip to Hawaii together, and we liked them and their home so much that we asked to get married there on the day before a total eclipse of the sun was to occur. Because the eclipse was a big deal in Hawaii, Pat and Phil’s daughter, Lindsay, brought her two children, Noel (9) and Max (6), from their home on Kauai to see it. Since they were at the house for the eclipse, they attended our wedding as well. It was a very small wedding; there were only nine people including the minister and us, so Lindsay and the kids were a third of it! We later met Lindsay’s husband, Greg, and discovered we had a fascinating connection to him as well. We became and have remained friends, watched Noel and Max grow up, and mourned when Phil and then Pat passed away. We visited Lindsay and Greg in their elegant home on Kauai, and on Sharene’s birthday, when we were in Honolulu, we were given royal treatment by Max, who is now 31 and a skilled mixologist at Top of Waikiki, a rotating restaurant overlooking Honolulu.
Harrison hadn’t been back to the United States at all since we moved in 2012, and while Sharene had traveled to the U.S. several times, she hadn’t seen Hawaii for over three years. We feel extraordinarily fortunate to have grown up and lived most of our lives in the United States during what very well may have been its peak years. However, our time in Hawaii and on the mainland (Sharene also visited San Francisco and Harrison stopped in Seattle) just reinforced our decision to move to Amsterdam. We enjoyed seeing familiar places and visiting old friends, but it was crystal clear to us that our lives in Amsterdam are much happier, healthier, and just overall better than they would be in the United States.
We took another trip down memory lane for our 25th wedding anniversary in July. Way back in 1988 we took our first vacation to Switzerland together and visited Riederalp, a beautiful village in the Bernese Alps that Harrison’s mother read about in the San Diego newspaper. Many years later in 2009 on another trip to Switzerland, our “adopted daughter” Amelia took us to Ascona, a charming city in the Ticino, the Italian part of the country. We hadn’t been back to either place since, and they’re not too far apart, so we decided to visit both again for our anniversary. Riederalp sits near the top of a mountain at 1905 meters (6250 feet) and is car-free; you leave your car in the valley and take a 3000-meter-long (nearly two miles) aerial tram to the charming village. You keep going up, up, up, like Jack in the Beanstalk, until you’re in a different world and can’t even see the valley anymore. It’s primarily a skiing village, so when it’s quiet in the summer you can hike almost alone along the Aletsch glacier, an amazing alpine experience. The weather was spectacular, we got in some great hikes, and we took some fabulous photos (including the one at the top of the page).
After hiking in the Alps, we headed to Ascona. It’s only about 60 km (40 miles) away, but what complete cultural opposites! They speak Italian there, and you might as well be in Tuscany (except it’s Switzerland so everything is more efficient). Our dear friend Sarah (Amelia’s mother) joined us for this part of the trip (we were also in Switzerland with her five years ago for our 20th anniversary) and we walked through the hills, took a boat ride on Lago Maggiore, and had some nice meals together.
We visit Switzerland often but it’s usually to see Sarah or our “adopted daughters.” This was the first time we have played tourist there in quite a while and it was nice to be reminded what a gorgeous country it is. A great place to celebrate 25 years of marriage and the amazing love and life we have shared.
Once again our year has been full of visiting family and friends. We like to think they come just to see us, but we know that Amsterdam remains one of the most attractive tourist destinations in the world so it all works out! (After watching Kat and Dog, how could you not want to come here?) Here are some of the highlights.
Sharene continued the long tradition of her annual Girls’ Trip with her three best girlfriends. This was their 21st year of traveling together — every year the place is different and of course so are their lives. This year they chose Martha’s Vineyard as a celebration of Cathy’s retirement from teaching, so now two out of the four have joined the big “R” club. Martha’s Vineyard was a perfect choice, and by coincidence Sharene could also see two more friends from our days in Hawaii — Linda and Ann — who just happened to be in Massachusetts at the same time. Once again Sharene feels very fortunate to have such beautiful women friends.
Another special moment came during the trip to Hawaii when we laid the ashes of our nephew’s husband to rest in front of Hale Kakahi. Junior’s wish was to be with his late husband, John, on the ocean, where years ago we created a little family memorial. On a more fun note, Sharene cheered up Jennie by throwing a Girls’ Party for her. (The slings were for Suzette who broke her arm and couldn’t make it.) And Martin and Sharene helped our friend Monica celebrate her husband’s 70th birthday at a ’70s Birthday Party. They really rocked it with their outfits!
One of the big reasons we moved to Amsterdam and love living here is that we don’t have to own a car. But that doesn’t mean we never want to drive. We can get pretty much everywhere we want to go in the Netherlands by foot, bike, tram, bus, or train, but every now and then a car would make it just a little bit easier. We could rent a car, but we couldn’t drive it, because under Dutch law, once you have lived here for six months, it’s illegal to drive here without a Dutch driver’s license — your foreign license is no longer valid. We can’t simply exchange our American licenses for Dutch ones, we have to start from scratch and pass both the theory and practical tests just as if we were learning to drive for the first time.
At first we heard that the tests were given only in Dutch. Later we learned that you could pay a little extra and take the tests in English, but by then we were so busy enjoying life that it wasn’t until this summer that Harrison finally took the time to study for the tests. And study he did! You would think that someone who has driven safely for over 50 years and who graduated from two of the finest universities on the planet wouldn’t find a driving test much of a challenge, but you don’t know the Dutch driving test! It took almost three months of concentrated effort and 18 hours of driving lessons to prepare for the tests. Harrison is a licensed pilot and these tests were harder than the U.S. private pilot exams!
We have heard from many expats (and a lot of locals) that it took them multiple tries before they passed, so Harrison is pleased that he passed both tests the first time. Sharene, however, is not looking forward to the process herself! She’s still getting over the fact that she has had not one, but two bikes stolen since she’s lived here!
We never get over the extraordinary but approachable beauty of this city, our wonderful apartment, and the friends who embody the welcoming spirit that Amsterdam has shown throughout the city’s history. (We overlook the bike thieves!) Here are just a few more photos of some places we love and friends who deserve to be recognized for making our time in Amsterdam special.
Important note: If you’ve made it this far, you have read our letter and seen the small photos. But in case you haven’t already figured it out, you can roll your mouse over any photo to see the caption, or click on any photo for a complete slide show of full-size photos. (Some computers, tablets, and smartphones may operate differently.)
We end this year’s update with a bittersweet farewell to our dear friend Eva, who passed out of our lives earlier this year and moved on to new and exciting times. Eva, you were truly a gift and the amazing experiences we shared were high points of our lives. Love always and we wish you well.
We have now lived in Amsterdam for four years. By the time we had been in Hawaii for four years, we had already begun to recognize the challenges and limits to a happy life there. Here, though, life remains just about perfect. Perhaps something surprising will happen to make us say, “We didn’t see that one coming,” but so far all the surprises have been positive and we can’t imagine where else in the world we would ever want to call home. We hope that wherever you call home, you find the joy that we have in Amsterdam.
Dank je wel for taking the time to read our letter. We love hearing from the people who have touched our lives, and we appreciate your letters, photos, cards, or comments using the form on our website. Wishing our families and friends a very merry Christmas and a safe, healthy, and happy 2017.
Harrison and Sharene