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It’s that time again – Passport Renewal


As an expat, there is one item that one should never be without – a valid passport.  So every five years, well 4 years and 10 months or so, the performance begins.

I presently possess one of the few remaining passports issued by Canada that is NOT Machine-readable.  Beginning in February 2006, all passports submitted to the Canadian Embassy in The Hague were sent to Canada for processing and as a result they are scanned at Customs points around the world.  Not so my passport which was processed in NL and issued in January 2006.  Even though it states quite clearly that it is NOT Machine-readable, agents have been known to swipe my passport, repeatedly, and look at it in frustration when nothing appears on screen.  When they learn that it is an “old-fashioned” one, some agents express annoyance but the majority react with surprise or amusement.

Therefore it is with relief that I look forward to receiving a passport with current technology.

Fortunately, I began my passport renewal procedure in October.  First step is to download the application form from the Passport Canada website.  There are multiple forms for adult citizens available, depending on residency:

Those living abroad – me

Those living in Canada, whose last passport was issued abroad – my daughter

Those living in Canada, whose last passport was issued in Canada – my sons

So far so good.  I gathered together my aged and tattered birth certificate, completed the form, and got a haircut. Passport photos, where smiling is not allowed, are desperate enough, so it’s important to do as much enhancing as possible.

I was heading to Wassenaar for a dentist appointment, so I thought, “ Get your photo taken there.  It’s home to more expats than any other city in The Netherlands save for Den Haag or Amsterdam, so they MUST have tons of experience with foreign passport photos, and my dentist/Guarantor can sign the passport application and the photo, and then I can carry on to The Hague.” So tidy! So wrong….  The photo studio informed me that they could take the photo but that it would have to be ‘sent upstairs for processing’ and it could be collected the following day.

Back home I went where I had my photo taken in a local shop and 10 minutes later I was another step further ahead. Now I should have gone directly to my ‘huisarts’ to have him sign the photo and application, but I waited until the following afternoon – only to learn that my doctor works till noon on Fridays.

My husband had his regular blood pressure appointment scheduled for the next week so he took my application and photo with him and had the good doctor sign and stamp the places that I indicated with sign here arrows. That evening my package was complete.

The next 2 days were event filled ones as my husband and I were attending a pre-retirement seminar.  Another story, that. And then it was the weekend.

The following week I traveled to The Hague.  I learned that the right turn lane at the end of the A44 does not allow for a left turn at the following intersection, and that traffic is still heavy in the city in early afternoon.

The Canadian Embassy was undergoing some renovations in 2007 when I was last there to renew my husband’s passport and on this visit I got to see what those changes were.  Security it seems has been increased. The same receptionist has been there for an eternity but no more newspapers…

In any event I learned during my consular consultation that my NB birth certificate was no longer valid. Incredible – but true, she even showed me a picture from her official binder of instructions. So I was rejected.

Once more, back home I went. This time to my computer where I proceeded to request a new birth certificate from Services NB.  Not an easy task.  The site is geared towards residents of Canada so my phone number was rejected.  Therefore I used my son’s number.  The address form had me nervous and I was quite certain that my birth certificate would not reach me.  It did accept my $30 AMEX payment – thank you, very much.  I searched through the site and found an email address to which I sent a list of my concerns and my proper address and phone number.  I was also invited to complete a questionnaire regarding the website.  To my absolute surprise and delight, I received two responses from SNB.

Last Saturday my gorgeous new birth certificate arrived printed on funky paper (or is it plastic), subtle background, embedded security features, official emblems, and all.

I am now officially passportless and it’s an unwelcome feeling.  I took my packet to The Hague earlier this week, where I once again submitted my bag to a search and showed my expiring passport to the gatekeeper.  The person in Consular services reviewed my application and changed the birth certificate information – I explained why it was incorrect – and she admired my new birth certificate.  She stamped ‘cancelled’ on my passport and cut off the corners – and it hurt to see it defaced.

My new passport should be in my hands within 15 working days (3 weeks!).  For me, this is quite possibly my last passport with The Hague as Issuing Office. The end of an era – but it will be Machine-Readable – the start of a new era.


The Big Knit




Floppy hats

Age UK is a charitable organization that supports the elderly in Britain by offering information on lifestyle, courses, pensions, housing, travel etc.  It is an advocate for senior citizens in the arena of healthcare and politics, but it  also aims to provide physical and social assistance. During the winter months programs are in place to combat loneliness and isolation and to provide warmth. Since 2003 Innocent Pure Fruit Smoothies has been involved in raising money for Age UK.


A selection of hats


Termed, The Big KnitInnocent annually invites knitters to make little hats that fit on the Smoothie drink bottles. During the month of November, in conjunction with Boots and Sainsbury’s, whenever a bottle and hat is sold, money is donated to Age UK. The goal for 2010 is to surpass the “£1 million mark of total money raised over the campaign’s history as we aim to put 800,000 hats on our bottles. (Innocent)”

I was introduced to the charity in mid-September by a British friend who delayed sending off her 200+ hats so that I could add a few to her mailing.  It has been years since I did any serious knitting so starting again with mini hats was great fun and the creative juices were flowing.




Classic Scottish

Basic and advanced knitting patterns are available on The Big Knit website but knitters are encouraged to create their own designs, which I certainly tried to do. The yarn I used was left over from projects of past years and I do believe that this winter I’ll be creating a few more designs to send off next September when the call for hats for 2011 is put out.



I wish that I had a few more colours to choose from but I look at this as a good opportunity to help a great charity organization, spend a little time being creative, and empty out another box that’s been in the zolder for too long.  Will I buy some more yarn?  I might look at the sale bins for odd skeins as I pass wool shops – won’t rule that out.


Amsterdamse Waterleidingduinen


Map showing Vogelenzang to Zandvoort

The Amsterdamse Waterleiding dunes (AWD) are the primary source of drinking water for Amsterdam.  It was the poet, Jacob van Lennep, who first promoted the idea of getting fresh drinking water to Amsterdam and although the rich citizens of The Netherlands didn’t want to invest, van Lennep was able to get financiers from England.  William of Orange opened the project in November 1851 and two years later fresh water flowed for the first time from a tap by the Haarlemmerpoort in Amsterdam, having traveled 23 km from the dunes. For 1 cent a pail, people got fresh water  and more than 10,000 pails a day were being sold within 2 weeks. Lines were eventually laid to connect houses to the water and van Lennep extracted his revenge on Amsterdam’s rich citizens by ensuring that their houses were the last to be connected to the water supply.

Water canal

Situated between Zandvoort and Noordwijkerhout, the 3,400 hectares of the Amsterdamse Waterleidingduinen contain hundreds of plant varieties, birds, small game animals, and deer. An average year will see 800,000 visitors to the area.  Entrance is by day card or with the purchase of a yearly pass. The protected status of the area means that bikes, roller blades, skateboards, house pets, tenting, open fires, or entering the water is not permitted.


The Amsterdamse Waterleidingduinen are one of my favourite places to walk.

Grazing deer

There are often families with small children but they tend to stay closer to the entrances.  Once we are a kilometre or so into the dunes, it is the silence that is so delicious. The occasional jogger will pass by and we’ll greet other couples with cameras that we meet on the paths, but often times there is no one around.

ANWB toadstool

WWII plane The Halifax

Last week I suggested that we take a ‘stroll’ in the dunes, imagining a circular tour that would take about an hour and lead us  through the woods between Vogelenzang’s 2 entrances – Pannenland and Oase; but instead we ended up making a 3 hour  +10Km  hike that took us to Zandvoort and back. Many of the paths are hard surfaces, but it is also possible to follow narrow footpaths that go across the sand, or to walk alongside the many canals. We stopped at the crash site of The Halifax and were reminded that the dunes were not always this peaceful but that day the deer were everywhere, the water was crystal clear, the slight smell of salt from the sea was refreshing, and the sun made us remove our jackets.

Not only do I consider the Amsterdamse Waterleidingduinen as one of the most beautiful places in the Bollenstreek, for  e18.50 I have unlimited entrance for myself and 5 others, which makes this area of dunes one of the best bargains as well.


Open Monumentendags aka Heritage Days


Open Monumentendags (Heritage Days) is an event that is held in The Netherlands every year on the second weekend of September.  Historic, architecturally interesting, famous, significant, etc. buildings are open for public viewing with the idea that by seeing these buildings it will encourage interest and understanding of the country’s history and encourage preservation of historical monuments.

The first Open Monumentendag was held in 1987 and is part of a larger organization, the European Heritage Days, which now includes 48 countries.

Kasteel Keukenhof

Stalhouderij Sanders


In smaller cities and towns, the buildings are only open on Saturday. In Lisse, the buildings that greeted visitors ranged from a dollhouse like building – to a castle – to churches – to a windmill. Something for everyone.


On Sunday, 12 September we made a tour through some of Haarlem’s historic buildings. The Frans Hals Museum (Groot Heiligland 62) is a favourite of mine, and as a Museekaartholder I have visited regularly so we only had a look into the garden on this trip. I have often seen wedding parties exiting the Stadhuis (Grote Markt 2) so it was exciting to see the interior – and what a fabulous place it is with amazing stained glass windows, ornate chandeliers, and a wonderful tapestry.

Grote of Sint-Bavokerk organ

Also on the Grote Markt is the Grote of Sint-Bavokerk (door is located at Oude Groenmarkt 23). It is famous for its organ and it’s also where Frans Hals grave is found. I have a fondness for hofjes, which I first learned about during a tour of Amsterdam and Haarlem has no shortage.

'in Den Groenen Tuin

On this visit we stopped at  Hofje ‘In den Groenen Tuin (Warmoesstraat 23) a charming accommodation for 17 ladies that was built in 1616.

De Waag (Spaarne 30 Rood) is an ornate corner building situated near a canal.  Downstairs is a cafe , on the first floor there is an art galerie, and the top floor houses an artist’s studio where a lady was posing on the podium while artists worked. Who knew?

Posing in de Waag Art Studio

Our last stop was the Stadsschouwburg (Wilsonsplein 23) where every room had a musical event.  I must admit we spent the majority of our time listening to a youth choir sing songs from West Side Story – translated into Dutch.

This year we moderated ourselves and decided to wander the streets without a definitive plan to see what we could find and I believe that we saw a cross-section of what was on offer.  Last year we spent 2 full days visiting the monuments of Leiden and while incredibly interesting, it was exhausting.  So much to see and so little time.  Open Monumentdags – definitely a highlight on the European calendar.


The Garden Center Experience


Here in The Netherlands, where a 500 sq m  residential lot is better than average, the garden centers are plentiful and well stocked with a large selection of plants.  They are also permanent fixtures.   After October, many become Christmas shops, but the integrity of the shops remain. Even in winter it is possible to saunter past the floral displays, dreaming of creating a hilly rock garden, installing an indoor living wall, collecting fruit from a private orchard, or having a house filled with room sized plants.

In spring the outdoor terrain gradually fills with perineal of varying sizes.  Trolleys, five shelves high that are bursting with plants, block the indoor aisles. Garden furniture is artfully arranged under tents and awnings and plump cushions invite the shopper to sit and envision entertaining on the latest teak, wicker, or metal furniture.  Hammocks and garden swings suggest childhood, and long days in the sun.

It’s not unusual for special events to occur at garden centers such as the guinea pig/rabbit/chicken competition.  Serious judges in white coats awarding ribbons to beautifully manicured and preened animals. Or the choral groups entertaining weekend shoppers. Our local garden shop even has a chip wagon set up outside on Saturday, for those who need sustenance to begin or at the end of their shopping experience.

On my last trip to Canada I helped a friend with her garden which required trips to the temporary garden shops that sprung up on the parking lots of Saveway, Supervalue, Canadian Tire, Walmart, etc.  My shopping experience was less than satisfactory.  I was left to wonder why it is that garden centers such as Intratuin, Overvecht, and de Bosrand aren’t more plentiful in the Ottawa area.  Well it seems that Stittsvile, Gloucester, Orleans, & Kanata are the places to go when looking for horticultural advice.

Curiously, I noted that on my recent trip to a local garden center it was possible to buy what appeared to be the plastic tubes in which tennis balls are packed and sealed, filled with pebbles, shells, or sand from Sanibel Island for the price of e12.95. Now, The Netherlands has a 400+ km long coast – why would anyone buy sand from Florida?  I admit to having several jars filled with organic material –  one contains round stones from Wreck Beach in Vancouver, another is white stones from beaches of Nova Scotia along the Northumberland Strait. A third has a selection of shells collected from various beaches around the world.

Plums in the sun

I wish that my garden was bigger.  Our 2 trained plum trees stand about 150 cm high and provide a wind block without taking up much space but they also provided us with over 200 plums this year.  Our olive tree is thriving, although it will be a few years to harvest time.  The Japanese maple is a brilliant red and the landmark by which we describe our place to taxi drivers, “the house on your left with the red tree.” Soon I will harvest a few gourds – grown accidentally from the soil of the compost bin – but their large, yellow flowers make them attractive potted plants.

I REALLY like Garden Centers….and although my garden is full,  there is always room for one more….


An observation or two on driving


My driver education, although it was a frighteningly long time ago, taught me about safe stopping distance and in many decades of driving I have never rear-ended a car.  So yesterday I was maintaining the 1 car length for every 10 miles/hr rule on an N road – the kind that are 80 km/hr with no passing allowed. The car behind me was so close that I could NOT see the license plate, the bumper, the headlights, or the symbol on the front to indicate the make of the car.  The driver appeared to have thin lips and a mole on his check.

Fortunately the chance of a deer or moose suddenly darting across the road are minimal at 17:00 in The Netherlands.  But what if I had to brake suddenly?  I drive a car old enough to still be called a Swedish tractor – none of this made in China for my Volvo.  I feel quite safe in it and I’m not in the market for a new one.  But what was the driver behind me hoping to accomplish?

When my daughter was younger I used to drive her to school – but only because I worked there. One day a car passed us on the 44 and it had for sale signs in it’s windows.  When it pulled into our lane my daughter, who was maybe twelve announced, ” nobody should buy that car.” When I asked her  why, her answer – ” because the signal lights don’t work.”  Good observation.

In 2006, while at a stop light in Leiden, I was involved in a kettingsbotsen – chain crash. I was the first car at the light and some young driver plowed into the car behind me, forcing that car into the rear of mine. My Volvo had some rear-bumper damage and needed painting on the hatch because of material flying off  the second car.  The second/middle car was a complete write-off, crushed both front and back.  The driver of the middle car was looking in his rear view mirror and knew that he was going to be hit but he said that the scariest part was watching the 2 people in the front seat of the car that hit him, fly into the front window. Fortunately none of the people involved in the accident were injured.

It really only takes one accident to reinforce a healthy respect for road rules and I really hope that the guy who was on the road behind me yesterday learns quickly and painlessly to back off.