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They moved from Brookline to the Netherlands with bikes and no regrets

Cycling enthusiasts Rebecca Albrecht and Paul Larrabee fix bikes and house cyclists in their new life abroad

The Old Canal in Utrecht.
The Old Canal in Utrecht.Handout

From their home in Utrecht, the Netherlands, former longtime Brookline residents and cycling enthusiasts Rebecca Albrecht and Paul Larrabee welcome bike-loving guests from all over, when travel is possible. The couple, both 69, raised two children and were known for their deep involvement in the Boston bike community. Albrecht worked on cycling infrastructure advocacy, while Larrabee, a trucker by trade, worked on the bikes themselves. Both were fixtures on the monthly Boston Bike Party rides, and also made and placed white “ghost bikes” around town to commemorate cyclists killed in traffic. Below are edited excerpts from an interview with the couple.

What inspired you to move to the Netherlands?

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Albrecht: I’d been thinking that I wanted to live in another country for the cultural experience. I had a relative in Amsterdam, and in 2008 we went with the children to visit. Then in 2012, I did a bicycle study tour there, learning about the amazing Dutch cycling infrastructure. It gave me an insight into how much better things could be in Boston. At the same time, I told people that I wanted to move there. I didn’t really think it would happen. When Paul retired, we had to sell our house anyway, so we used that money to move, in 2017.

How did you decide on Utrecht?

Larrabee: When we first came here, we stayed at a B&B in Utrecht. We got to know a few people and found out about our neighborhood. We live on a “woonerf,” which means “living street,” and the only cars are from people who live in the street. Children are out playing and neighbors stand outside and talk.

Albrecht: Utrecht is near Amsterdam and really everything. It’s the fourth-largest city in the Netherlands, but it feels like a small town. It’s also close to the countryside. There’s a beautiful old section, which we live near, and it’s easy to go anywhere by train.

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Paul Larrabee and Rebecca Albrecht.
Paul Larrabee and Rebecca Albrecht.Handout

How were you able to stay permanently?

Larrabee: We knew about the Dutch American Friendship Treaty, where self-employed people can get a Dutch residence permit. Our first idea was to do a B&B, but the immigration lawyer said there were a lot of rules involved. So first I set up a bike repair business. I put out fliers, and I’ve been repairing bikes in our neighborhood. Everybody here has a bike or two or three or more. Dutch bikes are a little bit more complicated, but Rebecca had them in Brookline, so I had experience.

Then you added the B&B?

Albrecht: It’s more like a guest house. We don’t advertise. It’s really word of mouth among people who like to cycle. We rent out two bedrooms and serve breakfast. And if you’re staying here, we go for a bike ride with you. We even give tours to people who aren’t staying here. (See www.bikeinnutrecht.com. Rates $100 per night.)

What are some of your typical tours?

Larrabee: There’s the tour of the city, of the River Vecht heading north, as far as Breukelen (namesake of Brooklyn, N.Y.), or we might ride to the tea house on the Kroome Rijn. We have short and long rides, depending on interest and ability. We also like to explore the waterline defense works, a historic defense system based on flooding, with a lot of wonderful forts remaining.

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Albrecht: We also have rides that focus on cycling infrastructure, including the Utrecht station bike parking, for 12,500 bikes, and a bike bridge that goes over a school.

What about the language barrier? Have you learned Dutch?

Larrabee: We occasionally run into situations where we meet Dutch people who don’t speak English, but most do. But we’d both like to step up our Dutch.

Any plans to return to the United States?

Larrabee: I’m not missing anything. I enjoy living here quite a bit. It’s relaxing and beautiful. I couldn’t be happier.

Albrecht: When we remodeled, we made sure we had two guest rooms. There’s always a place for our children to come and stay.

Diane Daniel can be reached at diane@bydianedaniel.com.