By Kim Dunn and Laura Waters, Special for PQ Monthly
We left Paris in June last year, for its outright opposite—the Dutch province of Fryslân. On Airbnb we found a quaint little two-bedroom cottage at a vacation/camping community for about $1,000 for the month. Of all the places we stayed on our trip, it was probably the most at home we felt (not that we knew that at the time.) It had a comfortable couch and bed, a large family dining table, an amazing shower, and a backyard. We didn’t have these sorts of creature comforts much again. The place had toys, a TV, a small lake and sand, a playground, and nature everywhere.
This month was important for our family. Going to a place with nearly nothing to do but walk and talk with the cows and frogs gave us time–space–to be. It was here that we really began to connect with each other, and leave behind the chaos of how we were going to pull off this trip and the realization that we were really doing this trip. We were alone, together. For eight more months. At our best, we played with Legos, colored, painted, played soccer. At our worst we fought. Think about it—we were together constantly. What would happen if you were with your partner and child for 30 days, alone, in the country, with no one around that spoke English?
We walked a lot. We talked a ton. At the time it was laughable this place we put ourselves in. The only Americans for hundreds of miles, walking for hours just to get groceries, the only people not riding bikes. In hindsight, it was our sweetest month together.
Where we went in the Netherlands is probably not a destination for anyone reading this (except my friend Kelly, whose family is from there), but if you get a chance, look it up. Fryslan, or Friesland, with its beautiful landscape dotted with windmills and charming architecture, warm crunchy stroopwafels, canals and hand-cranked bridges would be a lovely vacation on a bike or by boat. And, not gonna lie, the mayonnaise on fries was amazing.
We left Friesland for three wet, cold days in Amsterdam, followed by our first house-sitting gig in hotter-than-hell Copenhagen. Copenhagen is another place probably not on your list. It’s hard to get to, expensive, and the summer is short. We will feel forever grateful that because of our house-sitting job we were able to visit Copenhagen with free lodging. Copenhagen is small and magical, with stunning parks full of people just hanging out together, good food, great conversation, a stunning harbor, culture, the Little Mermaid, and if you’ve got kids I think Tivoli is better than Disney. We would housesit again, and did another time on this trip, but in general I’d say that living amongst other people’s stuff is kind of weird. We took care of two cats (Tom and Lucy), which Tatum loved.
Now, it was about this time in the trip where plan-everything-so-nothing-unforeseen-can-happen Kim and why-are-you-so-worried-everything-will-work-out-perfectly Laura encountered a snag. We had to leave mainland Europe in three weeks—legally. The Schengen visa agreement only allows Americans to be there for 90 days at a time, 90 days within a six-month period. We’d decided we were going to the U.K. but we had nowhere to stay. Laura had been emailing with a lovely lesbian named Bea in Bristol for about six months. Months prior, Bea’s place was booked by someone else just shortly before we planned to book it. But, not to worry, Bea was building an apartment in her backyard and it would be ready for us, she’d said. We were excited, as by now it felt like we were friends with Bea. We were expecting to formally book her place through Airbnb when the email came in saying the place wouldn’t be ready. There were some major construction delays and it would not be possible for us to stay. We didn’t have anywhere to go now, had to leave for the U.K. in three weeks, and everything we could find (now that it was summer, there was little inventory) was grossly out of our price range.
…To be continued.