Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Perfect Fridge


Well you have to hand it to the Dutch, they certainly know how to create the perfect fridge!

This is our deck this morning.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Fietsen! (Bikes)

Well we finally managed to get some bikes! Living and working centrally has kept the priority low but we decided to take the plunge and get on to two wheels with the masses in Amsterdam!

We bought one from Fietspiraat that was quite good but unfortunately needed repairs to the pedals two weeks later (that they took care of for free) and a second one from Recycled Bicycles which we strongly recommend. They have 5-10 second-hand bikes at any one time and the guys there are really friendly and restore the bikes well before reselling. Most of theirs come from reclaimed bicycles from the police so they get a new ID number which makes it easier to track if stolen.

We got the standard rear-wheel circle lock and the secondary front-wheel/frame mega-lock, but we're thinking of getting a third. (Recommended by the locals!)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

No New Zealand is not part of Australia

New Zealand is not on the same continental shelf and so is not part of the continent of Australia but is part of the submerged continent Zealandia. Zealandia and Australia together are part of the wider region known as Oceania or Australasia.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australia_(continent)

Just so we're clear :)

The usual argument people falsely cling to is:
As a cultural construct, the concept of a continent may go beyond the continental shelf to include oceanic islands and continental fragments. In this way, Iceland is considered part of Europe and Madagascar part of Africa. Extrapolating the concept to its extreme, some geographers take Australia, New Zealand and all the islands of Oceania (or sometimes Australasia) to be equivalent to a continent, allowing the entire land surface of the Earth to be divided into continents or quasi-continents.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

BBQ @ Amsterdamse Bos

My work team had a BBQ at Amsterdamse Bos park this evening. It's a lovely huge park with bicycle and horse tracks everywhere. We arrived about 6pm and started cooking around 7. Everyone else seemed to be playing some kind of sport or doing some kind of fitness activity so we enjoyed watching.

We took the 170 bus from near our work, but it also goes from Centraal Station, you can also get the 172.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Amsterdam Library

We decided to visit and join the Amsterdam library on our walk today. We can sum it up in just one word: wow.

However, just a few more words:

Open every day from 10am till 10pm, with 9 floors of books, DVDs, CDs and wireless free Internet access!

Sign-up was easy; at the front desk with passports and proof of address we had our cards in under 5 minutes from the very friendly and helpful staff. We then paid our yearly contribution of 25 euros at the payment machine (one on every floor) and headed upstairs to explore! Computers all over the place for searching and browsing the Internet made it easy to find the books we were looking for... this time books on Copenhagen and Bruges and a couple about Amsterdam and the Netherlands in general.

Signing the books out was so easy too, machines on every floor where you place your card on a desk, the computer scans it and then you place the books and it automatically scans their chips... you press yes to confirm the titles on screen and then it prints out an invoice and you're done!

Plus they have a great restaurant on the top floor with a wonderful view over Amsterdam that we plan on going back to... probably next weekend!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Amsterdam In The Morning

I love Amsterdam in the morning. Amsterdam is lovely at any time of the day of course -- it has a great feel about it, but my favourite at the moment is in the morning. This time of day is my favourite because there are only a few shops open -- just the bakeries and fish markets on my 15-minute walk to work -- with a few others cleaning up last nights' 'fun'.

The best thing is that all the coffeeshops and pubs/cafes are completely silent, no doubt having closed only a few hours earlier while I was tucked up in bed. It's even possible to walk through the red light district and have it seem like a normal street... although I don't make a habit of confirming that :) My route to work cuts across one corner of it, but also has me crossing 6 canals so is generally quite picturesque.

It's also great because it isn't completely empty... there are a few people around, but mainly only the street cleaners or the people heading to work as all the tourists are still fast asleep in their hotels or hostels (apart from the really keen ones already out taking photos -- usually in matching raincoats and 60+) as the shops and museums don't open until 9:30 or 10am!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Van Gogh

Last Saturday we decided to visit the Van Gogh museum. They have a great deal on their website where you can purchase tickets and use them anytime between now and the end of the year, and you can even print them out and miss the huge queue. You can also do that if you have the museum card that I've mentioned before.

Van Gogh certainly had an impressive range -- he does have his own museum after all so you'd hope he had created a lot of work -- but personally I think his variety is what really makes his art stand out. My favourites are still the well-known portraits and Sunflowers, but it was good to see a lot of others that were equally interesting.

Van Gogh's work takes up the entire 1st floor, but you can see them all in about half an hour to 45 minutes unless you really want to stand in front of each piece for 5 minutes. The 2nd and 3rd floors contain a wide selection of works by some other artists, some of which were his friends.

On minor minus was the layout of the museum itself. I don't understand why museums don't have art displayed at a 30 degree angle (or so) a little higher up, so that a crowd of people can stand in front of it and not get in each others way. I'll ask my Dad to design the museum I want to build some day and it will be the first! People might get sore necks but at least it'll be worth it for enjoying the art!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Edam and the Beach!

Last weekend we visited Edam with some friends as they have a car. It was great being able to get there in half an hour and find a car park easily – there was no machine or attendant so we just had to write the time we parked there on a piece of paper and put it on the dashboard!

We wandered around the town a little and then stopped at great place called Hotel De Fortuna for a couple of drinks and some local cheese and mustard in their garden beside a canal. While there we saw the nearby draw-bridge raised by hand to allow a few boats through.

We then decided to drive across to the west coast to a beach village called Bergen aan Zee, through the slightly bigger main town called Bergen which had a lot of huge houses in a forest-like suburb, well worth a drive-through if you get out that way. The beach was amazing, similar to Mount Mauganui in many ways. There was even a cafe on the dunes with two NZ flags flying – we asked why and the owner said she ‘just liked the stars and knew there was no chance anyone would complain’!

After a few more drinks there we headed back to our friends place and had dinner at a nice local Portugese restaurant that they knew. The service was a bit on the slow side but the food was really delicious – I had the goat and it was delightfully tender!

Unfortunately we hadn't charged out camera battery, but our friends did take a few photos so hopefully I'll be able to upload those at some point.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Shopping is a necessary evil for me -- my style is one of having a specific thing in mind, browsing for as little time as possible and then going in for the purchase as quickly as possible. So recently I needed to buy some new shoes as my current pair of brown CATs were looking a little worse for wear after 3 years.

Enlisting the aid of my girlfriend I went for a stroll along Kalverstraat. We were pleasantly surprised to find a great many shoe shops along the strip, more than we thought were there, especially in regards to mens shoes. I found 1 pair that I liked enough to try on in Sketchers but once I did I realized they weren’t for me… but while there I noticed another pair I liked and my girlfriend found a pair of slip-ons that I decided to try. I liked both so bought them with a little discount for buying two at the same time!

So anyway, you’ll see very few posts like this from me, but I did want to advise that shoe-shopping here in Amsterdam is very good!

Next on my list is a new summer jacket, yay.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Dutch 101: Lesson 3

Dutch Word of the Day!

It's time to start increasing our vocabulary -- this site has a lot of great resources as well as the standard word of the day via web or email: http://dwotd.web-log.nl/

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Milk

What is up with the milk in Europe? UHT seems to be very popular and for fresh milk the two standard options are full fat and half fat (half volle). We go through about 2 litres every 3 days but we still have to buy 1 litre containers to keep us just ahead of the 'going off' stage.

I'm not sure whether the treament process is different or whether it's a matter of there being so many people that the milk takes a lot longer to get from cow to human, but ours never seems to last more than a couple of days in the fridge!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Ikea

We went to Ikea the other day to find a few bits and pieces. Such a great store although I can't say I like the floorplan which takes you on a trail around all of their products but I guess they've got to try to increase sales somehow.

Getting there turned out to be fairly straight-forward, if not well sign-posted. We were able to take the Metro from Nieuwmarkt straight to Bullewijk* station. We bought 2 x 1 hour tickets each for 5 euros so that covered us both for the return journey. We could've bought 2 x 24 hour tickets but that would've been 7 euro each and we weren't planning on travelling on the Metro again during the 24 hours. We exited Bullewijk station and turned right and walked until the first major intersection and then turned left and Ikea was already visible. The first entrance we found was through the carpark so I think the general idea is to drive there rather than take public transport.

* One amazing thing to note, after we got off the train it started to leave the station then suddenly slowed down and came to stop... just to let a mother and her child that had arrived late get on the train! I can't imagine that ever happening in London, once a train has started moving the drivers there wouldn't stop for anyone.

So we wandered around Ikea for a couple of hours finding the bits we needed wanted and then went to the warehouse to gather the pieces we'd noted down. Like the other Ikea stores I've been to this one also had a huge restaurant, but we didn't go in as it was packed and we wanted to get home. At the checkouts there was a 'Contant Betaling' option and one beginning with 'Alles...', we chose the latter since we saw a sign with all cards on it and I was able to pay with my new bank card... or with 'my pin' as people seem to say here. At home we looked it up and the Contant Betaling option meant you could pay with cash so that's good to know for future as you couldn't use cash on the other tills at all.

Getting everything home was pretty easy too, we only had to pay to have one item delivered and that cost 39 euro, fortunately they were able to deliver it later that same day. We managed to carry the rest of the stuff home via the Metro. Easy!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Mutations

This may be something that is normal everywhere else in the world -- in New Zealand and the UK bank statements consist of 'transactions' -- but here in the Netherlands they consist of 'mutations'!

It seemed very odd when I read it the first time -- I'm not sure if it's a direct translation from English or if that's standard financial terminology that I've just never come across before, perhaps someone out there knows?

Either way, it's still funny to look up my mutations for the last week as in English it has somewhat different and negative primary connotations :)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Garlic Queen

Recently I had dinner at a restuarant called the 'Garlic Queen' which is between Rembrandtplein and Leidsestraat. As the name suggests, almost everything on the menu contains garlic. The selections were good, the meal itself was very tasty and I enjoyed the atomosphere of the place also.

Their website doesn't really do them justice, it's a shame they don't have any photos up as the interior is interestingly decorated. I recommend you go along -- if one of your friends really hates garlic you can always ask to have a meal prepared without it, but it really is worth trying -- the garlic ice cream was delicious!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Online Shopping

I've received my first online groceries order and AH have made a very bad first impression. I had booked for delivery between 1900 and 2100 and at 2100 with no sign of the driver and no notification of delay I rang AH to find out what was happening. They contacted the driver and discovered he was running 30 minutes late... and hadn't told them. I was told that I would get a whole 3 euros credit for my next order, which is half of the cost of delivery. Not exactly happy with that -- I expect if they can't deliver within the agreed time then delivery will be free, especially if they don't even bother to call me to let me know they're running late.

So I waited until 2200, still no delivery, tried to ring customer service again but they closed at 2130. So I continued waiting... until 2210 when it finally arrived.

I hope AH aren't the only supermarket to provide online delivery so that I can try to find one that can deliver on time. At least the food was all reasonable quality.

Friday, March 13, 2009

It's a small world after all

Good (and bad) to see that some things are universal -- we had our first sales cold-call last night. There was the usual spiel rattled off in 5 seconds and the only thing I caught was the name of our landlord. I asked if they spoke English but already knew that they were trying to sell me something. A different operator came on the line, a trainer I guessed, and asked if I was the owner. I replied no and asked what they were selling. He said they wanted to offer me a better energy deal so I answered no thanks and hung up. Now I need to find out if there’s somewhere you can sign up to not receive these kinds of calls like there is in the UK.

UPDATE: A kind reader has added the url: infofilter.nl

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Bank Account

Signing up for a bank account was very easy. I needed to take my SoFi/BSN, proof of employment, proof of residence and my passport but it was yet again a simple matter of making an appointment and signing a few forms.

I decided to go with ABN AMRO as they have an English Internet portal. They offered me the 'expatriate package' which includes a current and savings account, a debit and credit card, and phone and Internet banking, all for €8.25 a quarter!

How the credit card works was a bit of a surprise. You get a monthly limit which you can spend up to within that month and then at the end of the month the entire balance is automatically debited from your current account! You can arrange to pay offf the balance over a fixed term, but you must set that up manually and that is when you will start paying interest like a normal credit card.

My debit card arrives in 3-5 working days and my credit card a few days after that. I'll need to activate the debit card at the bank and assign a pin but will be able to activate the credit card over the phone as normal.

So, all in all, a very straight-forward and efficient process -- as expected!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Look both ways... in four directions... twice

Going for a stroll around Amsterdam has its pros and cons. Almost everywhere you look there’s a brilliant view, everything is within walking distance in the central area and it’s generally easy to know where you are without a map in a fairly short time. However, the downside is that you have to be much more aware of your surroundings and everyone else around you. Most of the time you’re OK on the footpath, but there are some odd pedestrian-cycle-traffic areas where anything goes – it can be easy to wander into one of these without noticing it.

Road rules in Amsterdam appear to be extremely flexible. So flexible, in fact, that they can be bent 180 degrees. They appear to be built on one common rule which is ‘I’ve got right of way, you don’t’. This rule seems to apply to all methods of transport, apart from pedestrians who seem to always be in the wrong. Bikes, motorcycles, cars and other vehicles can come from almost anywhere despite all the one-way signs... the trams are a little easier to avoid since they’re on tracks, but they do hide each other quite well so if there’s one close by then cross the road cautiously as another one can zoom past from the opposite direction without much warning.

So in general, the old rule of looking both ways before you cross is very important to follow whenever crossing a road in Amsterdam, but please take my advice and at least look both ways twice!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Heathrow

Unfortunately BA were the cheapest when I booked my flights to London for the weekend to meet S on her return from New Zealand. So I was forced to endure Terminal 5 yet again.

It started the way it always does -- with the self check-in machine throwing up an error and informing me to seek assistance. There was the usual gaggle of ground staff engrossed in a private conversation so I left them to it and headed straight for the assistance check-in counter since there was surprisingly no queue. The woman who assisted me had the patented arrogance and irritation common to most BA staff and with what appeared to be a great effort on her part I soon had my boarding pass and was heading towards the ever-popular customs.

Being a Sunday afternoon the queues were quite light however as is now required I removed my laptop from my backpack, my coat, my scarf, my belt and my shoes and placed them all in trays to be x-rayed. Somehow I still managed to set off the metal detector so I was subjected to the standard pat-down without event. I went to collect my stuff and noted the sign stating 'Do not remove trays', so I grabbed all my stuff and managed to make it to the nearby tables, which had a sign on the top which read 'Please return trays to conveyor'... sigh.

After I had re-assembled myself I headed downstairs to the 4th floor (!) for the departure gates. Fortunately the BA assistant had written down my gate number so I could go straight there to chill-out with my book. Unfortunately she had only written down the number 7, and not specified whether it was 'A', 'B', or 'C', so I wandered around until I found a comfortable couch in front of one the departure screens and passed the time reading. Once it came up I went to the gate and boarded half an hour later without any further problems. The flight was only a third full so I think that played a large part in that.

Arriving back in Amsterdam was painless as always, I was home within 40 minutes.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Schiphol Airport

Schiphol airport is so good. It's huge but well sign-posted and there are time indicators on the signs so that you know how long you'll need to leave to get to your gate. There's lots of room everywhere and there aren't the normal queue bottlenecks that seem to plague other airports especially at passport control or customs.

But the one cool thing I noticed this time is that you can go to the Rijksmuseum while at the airport! It's on the Holland Boulevard which is behind passport control and between the E and F Piers. This mini-museum has ten works by Golden Age Dutch masters from the Rijksmuseum's collection and it changes a number of times each year. Well worth a visit if you've got a little extra time while waiting for your flight.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Dutch 101: Lesson 2

"Yes but where can I speak Dutch other than The Netherlands?", I hear you ask. Well you can also speak it in Aruba, Belgium, Netherlands Antilles and Suriname.

I learnt how to say 'Bon app├ętit' (Enjoy your meal) at lunch today: Smakelijk eten! or Eet Smakelijk! I think it is pronounced along the lines of 'smakalerk'.

Plaats is the equivalent of place in road names and straat is street.

Meneer is Mr. and Mevrouw is Mrs -- often it will be abbriebiated Dhr and Mevr respectively and this is more often than not what you will see on forms, so for males choose the Dhr option.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

‘Coffee’ Shops and the Red-light District

You tell people you’re moving to Amsterdam and the first thing they say is “Oh I see, you’re going for the ‘coffee’ shops and red-light district, wink wink nudge nudge”. Monty Python reference aside, while this is what Amsterdam is well known for, once you get here you realise it’s actually a small part of the whole.

When my girlfriend and I first visited we managed to walk though the red-light district without even noticing (we then back-tracked just to satisfy our curiosity, but it turned out to be mostly full of stoned or drunk English men stumbling from one window to the next). The main area itself is quite small and easy to avoid, although there are smaller mini versions dotted around the city which you can accidentally wander into but it’s all fairly tame by today’s standards.

The coffee shops are of course everywhere like cafes in most other cities but more often than not people seem to just be there for the coffee oddly enough. So one of the nice things about Amsterdam is that you can really make it what you want it to be, I suppose that comes from it being such a tolerant and accepting nation. If you're really that way inclined you can of course skip the coffee shops and just DIY as shown in the photo.

One thing I found out recently is that The Netherlands has more great museums per square foot than anywhere else in the world! And for 40 euros you can buy a Museum Card (Museumkaart) which lets you into 29 of them in Amsterdam (and hundreds more elsewhere) as many times as you like for a year. You can buy it at some of the museums or at Uitburo at Leidseplein 26. If you’re already living in Amsterdam then you can buy it online at the link above.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Good Stuff Too!

I should point out that this blog isn't just going to include things that Amsterdam doesn't have or do -- I'm just finding a few of the differences quite surprising and am thinking other people might too. I will be adding posts on the good stuff going on here also, and there's a lot of that... just outside my window is a canal! How cool is that!? Plus I can walk to work in 15 minutes! And the trams run reliably and it only costs 40 euros a month for a zone 1 pass!

Credit Cards

I stopped in at Albert Heijn today to get some essentials (and non-essentials) and just as I was at the checkout counter I realised I only had 20 euros left in my wallet plus a few coins. I knew what I was buying would come to about 25 euros. Fortunately I saw the person in front of me pay using a card so I thought phew no problem I can use my credit card (I don't have a bank account here yet, still waiting on my SoFi number).

So anyway, a minute later it was my turn to pay. I offered my credit card and asked 'Can I use my credit card?' and the lady replied 'No'. I was dumbstruck for a couple of seconds while this sunk in -- before I realised I'd even asked again, 'You don't take credit cards?' to which she again replied 'No'. I recovered from my brain freeze a few seconds later and asked her to take out a couple of things I didn't really need and used my remaining cash.

But seriously, a supermarket not taking credit cards? In the capital city of a European country? Is this standard in Europe? Quite amazing to me, but I guess since New Zealand adopted EFTPOS such a long time ago (1985) it never occurred to me that other countries wouldn't have the same level of service by this time. I had thought England a little behind when I lived there but even they have found the benefits of the scheme and most shops now have the service.

Ah well, at least I now know to always have cash on me until I get my bank card.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Dutch 101: Lesson 1

Most people do indeed speak English in Amsterdam but there are still some times when people don't or when things aren't written with an English translation (not that we're complaining -- we're trying to learn Dutch -- we're just pointing this out). There are lots of dictionaries and translators out there so we'll try to concentrate on things that we've come across that are actually useful to know and often not mentioned in beginners courses that focus on things like numbers/days of the week etc.

So to begin with, shops/stores are called winkels -- this helps when looking for store locators on websites that are only in Dutch.

ATMs/Cash/Teller machines are usually called Geldautomaat or Bancomat.

Entrance is ingang and exit is uitgang, tickets are kaartjes.

The biggest supermarket chain is Albert Heijn, so you can always look out for the 'ah' blue logo (note the 'Winkels' link in the menu for finding your nearest shop).

Saturday, February 21, 2009

New Apartment

I've been in Amsterdam for three weeks and have just moved into our new apartment -- I'll go into more details of the process in a later post so that I can hopefully provide some useful tips.

Our apartment is in the Nieuwmarkt area which is a great location right in the heart of the city. Thankfully we're far enough away from the red-light district that we can avoid the masses of tourists. I'm very much looking forward to exploring the local area, especially once my girlfriend (with whom I shall be writing this blog) arrives in April.

The apartment is nicely furnished and the common areas are clean which is apparently quite unusual for Amsterdam. The living areas are very sunny and we have a lovely view of two canals out the front, and no buildings immediately behind us so we don't feel too cramped. The only downside I've noticed so far is that we don't have a proper oven! I'm not sure how I failed to notice this when I visited the apartment. I guess it's just one of those things that in New Zealand you never think to question... who *doesn't* have an oven!? Things aren't too bad though, we do have a special microwave oven which appears to have a grill so I believe that's the cut-down substitute. I shall look forward to experimenting with that tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

SoFi/BSN/Tax Number

Signing up for anything in The Netherlands seems to require a BSN (Burgerservicenummer) so it's important to get it as soon as possible. You need to contact the 'Dienst Persoons- en Geo-informatie' and I recommend making an appointment before you get to the country as there was a fortnight lead-time when I made mine.

On the day I went in and told the receptionist that I had an appointment and he gave a number, so I sat down to wait but a few seconds later my number came up on the board despite there being half a dozen other people in the waiting area. I entered one of two dozen or so small Dilbert-like cubicles and the woman waiting for me turned out to be very friendly and helpful.

She asked for the required documents - passport, proof of current address and proof of work - which I provided and after taking a few photocopies and filling out a short form we were done. All in under 10 minutes! I can pop back in a few days to request my number in person, or alternatively they will send it to me in a week or so.

Once I have my number I'll be able to continue on to the next task; getting a bank account.