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.