The Good Life

Going the distance

I live in a building with only 8 flats. All the other residents are older than Lee and myself. And when I say older I mean at least 50 years older. They are all lovely people, with their own grumpy and quirky traits.

The couple that live above us is definitely in their 70s and, because this is a very old building, I can hear a little about their daily lives from our flat (I know, a bit annoying, but I try to make the best of it). For example, I already know that they go to bed no later than 12:30 am, I know how loud the man can yawn when he is on the balcony, I know a couple of programmes they like to watch on telly (although I can hardly hear it, really) but, most of all, I know the type of music they like. And this is because every Sunday, without fail, they will listen to music for a couple of hours in the afternoon. They listen to Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles,  Miles Davis, The Beatles, The Supremes, Louis Armstrong, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash … these are some of the ones I recognise (and I have to say I’m not exactly an expert). In my opinion, they have fabulous taste.

Every time they listen to music like that, I can’t help but imagine how stable and settled they are in life. Ok, they are old and they have known each other for a long time, but there is something very endearing about a long-term relationship. I imagine them listening to these songs and looking at each other with puppy-dog eyes, remembering old times, and maybe even dancing slowly in the living room. They certainly have the energy for that, as I see them out and about all the time.

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Long-term relationships are a blessing. It’s almost a miracle that 2 people can meet each other in this big wide world and manage to be there for each other throughout their lives. It’s a choice. It’s knowing that that person will be there for you no matter what and that you will be there for them too. I think that there are secrets to the long duration of relationships. These are things that we don’t do consciously, we just do them, as long as we feel that it’s still worthy for us to have that person by our side.  To me, these things are:

1. Accepting your partner for who they are.

My mum once told me that people don’t change (simple but very wise words). Yes, you may change your views on things, change dreams or change your hair style, etc. But your core, what you truly are, will never change. So, if your partner has traits that you can’t live with, don’t expect that these will change with time or that you can make them change these for you. They won’t. You either learn to live with these little things or you better let go. But remember: you also have little things that your partner may not love, so give and take is paramount.

2. Accompanying your partner through their many phases.

Your partner will go through different phases in life, and you will too. Being there for each other during these times is what makes a relationship strong. We change work, we change interests, we change rhythm, we change tastes. And these changes make us see the world in a different light each time. As a couple, being able to understand and accept these constant transformations in the other person will make you the one constant thing in their lives. And having that one trustworthy person to fall back on again and again is priceless. It makes us feel grounded, secure and loved, no matter what life throws at us.

3. Sometimes giving more, sometimes giving less.

You will sometimes feel that you love your partner so much you could burst. But, in equal strength, you may find that for periods of time, you are just coasting along and going through the motions. I see this as a normal thing. You can’t have that ‘can’t live without each other’ feeling all the time. It’s exhausting! But you should feel that often enough so you always value how important that person is in your life and how much sadness you’d feel if you lost them. To me, love comes in waves of intensity, sometimes they are very high up, sometimes quite low, but somehow always there in some shape or form.

4. Making time for me, me, me.

Have an interest in yourself. You can’t just live for the other person. Cultivate your own interests, give yourself time to appreciate the things you love, even if you don’t share them with your partner. You can’t lose your own identity, as this is what attracted your partner to you in the first place. Also, looking after yourself, having your hobbies and appreciating your own company will make you a better and more interesting person.

5. Understanding that love is subtle.

Grand gestures? Yes, they can be nice. But nothing, to me, is nicer than a cup of coffee made without request at the right time, a ‘how was your day?’ just when you are bursting to tell someone about the supplier that let you down, a ‘come on, let’s go out’ right when you were just starting to wonder what to do on this grey day… Love is in the little things. It’s in the intrinsic way your partner knows you so well and how they make your every day more special for doing so.

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Long-term love is for the courageous. The longer you spend with someone, the more the barrier we usually have to protect ourselves from others comes down. So, the same way as with my neighbours, in many years’ time there will be no barrier at all, as you will know the other person almost as well as you know yourself. And this knowledge of the other, this willingness to share yourself with someone is true love. It’s love that gives you butterflies in your stomach, it’s love that goes through ups and downs, it’s love that goes the distance, with dancing in the living room and all.

Categories: Friendship, Happiness, Love matters, Personality traits, Relationships, The Good Life | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Colours in the sky

Every July now brings something very special to my neck of the woods. They are colourful, they are floaty, they are fun, they are beautiful! The kites of the St Annes Kite Festival make the sky a colourful place, full of bouncing and colourful fun.

Supported by the local council and local businesses, the event gathers hundreds of families from the area and a number of them that come to St Annes especially to see the array of colours in the sky. And the event doesn’t disappoint! In the shapes of dragons, octopuses (including a 30-metre long one!), teddy bears, planes and even hippos, the kites fly high and catch attention from far away.

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You can also bring your teddy bear to take part in the teddy parachure drop, which celebrates each brave teddy with a certificate of achievement. And with face painting, market stalls and even an army assault course, the day is not only for the kids. Best of all, the festival is free and the beach welcomes whole families that want to watch the kites and have a picnic.

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I am fortunate enough that my little flat is opposite the beach, so I can watch the whole thing from my balcony, and I can say that the only thing I witness is hapiness all round. I see families pointing to the kites, people smiling at their movements and kids dropping their jaws at the size of them all. It’s fantastic to be part of such a fantastic event that brings so much happiness, colour and a great family spirit to the whole town. Can’t wait for 2014!

Categories: Relaxation, St Annes living, The Good Life, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

The Dutch

Since my first visit to Amsterdam, in 2000, I have developed some kind of fascination with the Dutch people. They seem to speak right to me and I seem to understand what they are all about – and deeply admire it.

Over the years, I visited Amsterdam four times and I plan to go there again and again and again. The place is magic – and, believe me, magic is a word I definitely use sparingly when describing a place that I like.

To start with, I like the place because it’s beautiful. And my apologies that I can’t speak for the whole of the Netherlands as I have only been to Amsterdam, but I’m sure I’d be just as fascinated had I travelled further within the country.

Amsterdam has a charm that is even hard to explain. The best thing about it is to get lost (and by that I don’t necessarily mean getting lost by a drug high you can achieve legally over there). I’m talking about walking and walking and walking so much that all of a sudden you start recognising that you have been going round in circles a little bit and took a long time to notice. It doesn’t matter one bit, though. The place is so beautiful and so majestic that you simply won’t mind seeing the same sights over and over again.

Lee and I went to spend Easter in Amsterdam a week ago and, once again, the place amazed me. So, with everything fresh in my mind, I compiled a bit of a list of my favourite things about Amsterdam and the Dutch people.

Please note: I’m not an expert and my travels consisted of 4 visits, so please forgive me for not being extremely thorough, I’m only mentioning the things that strike a chord with me.

So here goes…

1. The way of life

The Dutch seem to live a very balanced life style. They cycle everywhere, they all look healthy and fit and, most importantly, they seem to really enjoy life. A recent study said that 75% of  the Dutch women work part-time and are perfectly happy with their decision. In fact, the Dutch don’t work very much at all, when compared to their European fellow countries. They work an average of 30.6 hours a week, which is nearly one day less than in any other European country. Even so, they still manage to be at the top of the list for productivity, so we could say that working less hours seem to make people more productive. It makes sense: if you have a good work-life balance, you will be happier and, in turn, you will have more enthusiasm to do your work. Clever people .

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Life is good, eh?

2. The Food

The supermarkets contribute, in my opinion, to the Dutch being so healthy. Lee and I were amazed, in our last visit, at how beautifully the fruit and veg are displayed on the shelves. They get placed on shelves with these glass doors, making the whole fruit and veg section look like a shop window. It makes everything look so fresh and yummy. Having said that, nothing beats a good stroopwafel with a steamy cup of coffee. Or the marvellous cheese and brown bread they make. Or the most amazing apple pie I’ve ever had (to be found on Winkel 43 – Noordemarkt). Not so healthy, perhaps, but all true Dutch national treasures.

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Stroopwafel and apple pie. Yum!

3. The bikes

The thing you have to get used to quickly in Amsterdam is the bikes. They are everywhere. With over 880,000 bikes in a city where 790,000 people live, no wonder they are seen on every space available on the streets, on top of one another sometimes, and all around the city, with all the Ducth people riding them. And the reason you have to get used to it quick is because the cyclists may run over you if you’re not careful. They do tell you if you are in their way by ringing their bell a bit in advance, but sometimes just before they are about to hit you. Eeek!

The bikes add to the charm of the city and are certainly a major photo opportunity on every corner. And the most curious thing about this bike-obsessed life is that the Dutch really don’t seem to care for really fancy bikes. They prefer theirs to be gearless and rusted, with the odd exception when they paint them in cool colours (see photo). The Dutch don’t thrive on spending money where not necessary – and the bikes, although a main mean of transport, don’t make top of the list for them to spend their (not so hard-earned) money on.

The most amazing thing, though, is what you get to see the Dutch doing on their bikes. They carry their children on it, they carry heavy objects (such as the massive mirror Lee and I saw this guy carrying on our last visit), they eat, they talk on the phone, they have a full conversation with the fellow biker next to them. It looks extremely easy, but I bet it takes years and years of practice.

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Family day out on the left, a very cool bike in the middle and a busy mum on the right

4. The bluntness

I like blunt people. I like when you know where you stand with others. I tend to be like this – which sometimes doesn’t go that well with my polite British fellow colleagues and friends. But hey. I admire it. And the Ducth are just the same.

If you ask them a stupid question, they will look at you like you are, ermm… stupid. And when they stop looking at you that way and decide to help you out by answering your question, expect the answer to be short and sweet. They are straight-forward people and hanging around doesn’t seem like a productive use of their time. However, I may be speaking from a ‘tourist’ point of view here, and they might show a lot more tact with people they actually know. Still, I admire this ‘black and white’ approach (it’s even on the street signs!).

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Lots of the famous Dutch orange on everything, of course – even when they’re being blunt!

5. The houses

Oh my God, they all look so amazing. Outside and inside. And I can say that about the inside because one of my favourite things to do in Amsterdam is to let my inner voyeur out and look inside every single house I have the opportunity to. I think they are amazing. The Dutch have this ability to group things together, but nothing ever looks too matchy-matchy. Everything they seem to own has a purpose to be where it is and the colours they put together sometimes don’t go (in theory), but in practice they just work. They certainly have a gift for making a place look effortlessly welcoming, cosy and modern at the same time. Hats off.

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6. The flowers

They are in almost every house, in restaurants, cafes, stations – pretty much everywhere. And boy do they make the place look colourful, inviting and fresh! I just love how they use flowers for decoration. You see all kinds and they are quite cheap. I wish they were that cheap here in the UK, so my home could have more of it. Flower power.

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7. The 3 kisses

This is something we do in Brazil and, during my few visits to Amsterdam, I noticed a lot of people doing the same. The tradition works in the same way as it does in Brazil: 3 kisses on the cheek (more like ‘blown in the air’ kisses) that start on the right, then left, then right cheek again. The kisses are for family and friends only, though – like in Brazil. It’s just so refreshing to see that, when here in the UK people have this barrier and this personal space that the other person shouldn’t even dare trespass. Refreshing and closer to home.

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Ok, maybe not on the mouth!

 8. The airport

I just love Schiphol Airport – it’s definitely my favourite. Arriving there gives a pretty good picture of what is to come. It’s straight-forward to find where you have to go (very Dutch-like), modern and, to me, the most important thing: it’s colourful. It’s an airport I usually choose for flight connections to Brazil, if I can, and it’s definitely a bonus to be able to buy some stroopwafel on your stopover.

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Vibrant and colourful features make Schiphol special.

9. The passion for life

The Dutch seem to have a special passion for life. They seem to have this eagerness to enjoy every single second, even if it’s by doing nothing. I remember seeing many people just sat at their door step soaking in the sunshine and doing nothing else. They have this ability to enjoy the moment, to relax, to just ‘be’. They don’t seem to be a worried nation, they take life as it comes and cross bridges when they come to them. They don’t get stressed. These are characteristics I really admire, as I can be a stress-head sometimes. We have a lot to learn with the Dutch and their quirky approach to life, me thinks.

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Overall, the Dutch seem to be very happy people and I think this is what fascinates me. Nothing seems to phase them too much. They eat well, they exercise, they are friendly, they don’t mess about, they are proud of who they are. They just seem to go through life in a very well-established manner, like they have all read this secret amazing book of ‘how to live life in the best way’ (but shhh, please don’t tell anyone).

When Lee and I were at the airport, coming back to the UK after our last visit, we were having a chat about how great it would be to live in Amsterdam. We would work less, we would be more relaxed, we would be fitter. We then started talking about how and if this would even be an option for us. I was voting yes, and so was Lee, but then we thought again and found a major obstacle: we’re just not cool enough.

Categories: Amsterdam, Coolness, Dutch People, Living away from home, The Good Life | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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