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An Extended Stay in Amsterdam

A typical Amsterdam canal scene in June features a profusion of colorful flowers. Photo Barbara J. Riley.

By Julian I. Graubart

A day after the fabulous wedding of a friend’s daughter at 13th century Duurstede Castle (https://kasteelduurstede.nl/ ), located outside Utrecht, Netherlands, my wife Barbara and I took the 30-minute train ride to Amsterdam. We are so lucky as to stay with friends in an appealing old section of Amsterdam—for six weeks!

I had never been to the Netherlands and Barb had not been here since attending a friend’s wedding about 30 years ago. We decided to live not so much like tourists but residents—well, residents who are retired, have a flexible travel budget, and whose responsibilities back home are manageable from Europe with a bit of planning.

Duurstede Castle, built in 1270, was a fabulous venue for a wedding. Photo Barbara J. Riley.

Several years ago, while we both were still working, newly retired friends who live in New Jersey spent the first three months of the year in a different southern European city. One year it was Seville, Spain. The next year it was Nice, France. The following year found them in Rome. They rented an apartment for most or all of the three months, alternately cooking at home and dining out, painting, playing tennis, and taking language lessons. When they wished to explore places outside of town, they rented a car. In short, life wasn’t so much different from that of many American city dwellers.

Barb and I fantasized about doing our own take on such an extended getaway. And this year, fully vaccinated and boosted against Covid-19 and armed with masks and self-tests, and with the June wedding in the Netherlands providing the impetus and an appealing destination, we took the leap.

Bikes are everywhere—everywhere—in Amsterdam. Photo Barbara J. Riley.

After our six weeks in the Netherlands, we will spend five weeks in Scotland. Barb’s mom Edie was born in Dundee, and we had been thinking about going to Scotland for an extended stay this summer before the wedding’s “Save the Date” message arrived last fall. After an eight-day trip in the Highlands with Intrepid Travel, we will spend four weeks in Edinburgh living in an apartment rented through VRBO.

Extended stays in one place, while not cheap, are relatively affordable. Compared to, say, renting a beach house for a week or two or traveling with an adventure company, your budget goes a lot further—and lasts a lot longer. Here are a couple personal experiences to illustrate this.

In the latter years of our work lives, we took several wonderful bicycle tours in Europe with VBT, a high quality travel company whose prices were considerable but well below those of the top tier companies. Including a brief pre-trip and post-trip sightseeing option, the vacations lasted two weeks. The last time we did one of these tours was in 2017. It started with three days in Venice, followed by a week of bicycling with a group near the Dolomites, and concluded with three days in Verona (including a magical night at the opera in the Verona Arena, circa 30 AD). It was a rich, memorable trip. The cost for the two of us was approximately $12,000, including airfare.

Grocery shopping at the Ten Katemarkt street market, located in the Oud West section of Amsterdam, is a pleasure—and a bargain! Photo Barbara J. Riley.

Last summer, staying in the U.S., we drove from our home in Washington, DC, to Bozeman, Montana, where we rented the floor of a house through VRBO for the month of July. We visited family and friends along the way and stopped off at national parks, staying in modest hotels while on the road. We drove back east via a different route, stopped in seacoast New Hampshire for a family visit, and arrived home exactly two months after departing. The cost was $13,500. (If we were doing the same trip this summer, costs would rise about $700 for high gas prices alone, and we drive a hybrid!)

We expect the total cost for our more than 11 weeks in the Netherlands and Scotland this summer to be less than $18,000–and that includes the Highlands trip with Intrepid Travel costing us about $4,000. When searching for housing in the Netherlands (and other European countries), it is important to understand that the country has very strict regulations on rentals. If you would like to arrange for an extended stay in Amsterdam and you’re not staying with family or friends, careful research is in order. As a start, see https://www.iamsterdam.com/en/plan-your-trip/where-to-stay/private-holiday-rental and https://www.iamsterdam.com/en/living/settling-in/housing/holiday-rentals-in-amsterdam.

By the way, we do not plan to rent a car. Getting around by car occasionally would enrich our travel experience, but in the summer of 2022 it’s a budget buster. Being city folks, we’re comfortable using public transportation, including intercity trains, and we do lots of walking.

Reactions from friends and acquaintances to our plans for an extended stay in the Europe have been surprisingly diverse. Most said, in effect, “Wow! How exciting! You guys know how to do it! I can’t wait to retire!” But others asked, “You’re staying in Amsterdam for six weeks? What are you going to do?” One acquaintance whom we saw at the wedding was going on a week-long bike trip to Bruges, Belgium, after staying in Amsterdam for three days. He said, “I could see maybe one week in Amsterdam, but six?” In a conversation at the wedding with one of the groom’s Dutch uncles, he questioned the need for a visit of this length because “the whole country is so small.”

In our first week in Amsterdam challenges back home cropped up. Barb speaks almost daily with her 93-year-old mother, Edie, who still lives independently in New Hampshire. Because her mom does not use a smart phone, speaking for free over WhatsApp is not an option. So, the day before we left on our trip, we bought a three-month international plan from our mobile provider, Verizon ($100/month).

Edie has a chronic condition that, while not life threatening, can become very uncomfortable when it flares up, and that’s what happened. After speaking with her, Barb communicated in writing with Edie’s primary care physician over her health plan’s portal—just as Barb does when we’re back home in Washington. The physician responded the next day and ordered a new medicine. Edie has contracted with a New Hampshire senior care company called Extended Family to have a personal care attendant (PSA) visit her one afternoon a week to help with chores and errands, and the timing was such that the PSA and Edie picked up the new prescription the next day. We’re hoping this will reduce Edie’s discomfort.

Meanwhile, my older brother, Ron, who is single and lives in Rhode Island, faced his own medical problem. It appears that he bumped his leg against something, the bump compressed a blood vessel on his calf, and that produced a clot. He had terrible pain and couldn’t walk. He needed prompt medical attention.

With such situations in mind, we have worked over the years with a Providence-based geriatric management company called Elder at Home. They provided excellent support for my late mother over the final years of her life, and they now help my brother when needed. A nurse on staff met my brother at the hospital, spoke with the physicians, and ensured that he received the needed care with an appropriate follow-up plan; and she is managing the ongoing follow up. Fingers crossed that Ron is on the road to recovery.

Trams get you everywhere in Amsterdam. Use the OV chipcard to save money. Photo Barbara J. Riley.

Apparently things sometimes do happen in threes. During our first week in Amsterdam we had one more setback at home: our car got dinged. We left our car with Barb’s sister, Carol, in New Hampshire in the unpaved parking lot where she works. We didn’t want our car to sit unused for almost three months, so before we left we checked with our car insurer to see if she could drive it occasionally. Geico added Carol’s name to our policy for the time that we plan to be away. The other day Carol sent us a photo of the right side of the car near the front bumper, showing a dent, considerable scratches, and a small piece hanging. Barb called Geico, confirming that we have a $500 deductible. Carol is seeking prices to get the damage repaired. We’ll decide what to do when we learn what the cost will be.

So life goes on back home, and thanks to the support systems we have in place we deal with it from Amsterdam. We can hardly complain. Walking around vibrant, safe streets and lovely parks, shopping at our neighborhood’s large street market, visiting acclaimed cultural sites, stopping off at friendly outdoor cafes—and all in beautiful, cool weather—we had a great first week.

 

Julian I. Graubart, a longtime resident of Washington, DC, published books in the medical field there for 24 years. Now a freelance writer, he is also a tutor to D.C. elementary school students through  the Reading Partners program. He authored the book Golf’s Greatest Championship: The 1960 U.S. Open.

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