Saturday, October 27, 2007

Monkey See...Monkey Do

Day #5: Saturday, 27 October 2007

We all enjoyed another long morning of sleep to recharge the batteries this morning, and didn’t get rolling until fairly late in the a.m. I took the downtime to get out of the house early and make my first trip to the Albert Cuypstraat Maarkt, an open-air market that runs Monday through Saturday.

Every manner of goods you can imagine is available here, minus automobiles and, oh I don’t know, purple hair dye. No, wait…I saw an entire stall selling just hair dye representing every color of the PMS book. So, no automobiles (but I’m sure someone there would sell you one if you pressed hard enough).

Need Sensodyne toothpaste? Lots of that! Same goes for fish heads, eels, yellow kiwi fruit, incense, luggage, bike locks, tools, leather jackets, razor blades, antique Asian furniture, stockings, spices, sheet music, perfume, thong underwear, and many other useful items. Need some fresh herring? There are at least 3 stalls dedicated to the Dutch delicacy. I managed to stick it to the guys at my local hardware store, who had the nerve to charge almost 10 Euro for a roll of duct tape, finding a roll at the Maarkt for just 2.50! A screaming deal! Note to self: Consider importing cheap duct tape and undercutting the market.

After my triumphant return from the Maarkt, it was off with the family to the (infamous?) Apenheul Primate Park (, about an hour drive east of A’dam. Our new GPS unit came in very handy as we negotiated the Dutch highways and back roads on our way to what promised to be a very fun afternoon for us all. And the place was fun…mostly. But the kids’ cumulative fatigue was starting to manifest itself in crankiness, so it was good to see all of the gorillas and monkeys and get the heck out of there. (Another) trip to Ikea on the way home didn’t help much, either. When kids are tired, furniture shopping is not the antidote. But tasty Swedish meatballs sure help!

Tomorrow: Stacey’s last day before the job starts; cycling around the city.

My New Ride

Day #4: Friday, 26 October 2007

Every good Dutchman needs a good bike to get from point A to point B.

Today, Stacey and I visited one of the many local bike shops. Ringo, the proprietor of the Jan Van Wijk shop, located just 2 blocks from our house, was happy to assist us. Since it was the guy’s 47th birthday, he seemed in especially good spirits. I selected a nice used model—something with a little character, and with a few miles on its wheels. Mijn vrouw opted for a newer, comfortable model that will serve her well upon our return to the states. Photos to come later. My “serious” (?) road bike and Cole’s mean machine arrive in a few weeks with our shipment, making nice complements to the stable. Maya will get her new bike next week.

The kids enjoyed their first full day of school, just in time to transition to their first full week of vacation (next week). At this rate, the truant officer might know our house number by heart.

Another governmental meeting awaited us this morning as we visited the Amsterdam town hall to register as citizens. This, in order to apply for our parking permit. Unfortunately, we won’t be “in the (computer) system” until mid-next week, thereby requiring us to pay for parking until next Thursday or so.

A hotel three blocks from our house is actually named “The Gresham Memphis Hotel.” I don’t even know where to begin with the jokes. Perhaps the person who named the joint noticed the similarities of the two American burgs and decided to combine the best of both worlds.

The wine (“wijn”) shop located just steps from our place carries an exceptional selection of French, Italian, Spanish, and South American wines. “Ria” (short for Maria) was helpful with her recommendations for both a dinner wine and what I like to call my “everyday drinking wine” (don’t draw any rash conclusions, please). As I commented that a 2004 Tempranillo (she offered a taste) needed another half year to rest before being really ready to drink, the shop owner overheard and came running, emphatically saying that this is exactly what he has been telling other customers. I think that Ria, the owner, and myself will get along just fine.

An odd sport observation: Field hockey is enjoying a wave of popularity that is similar to what’s going on in the U.S. with lacrosse. Field hockey sticks are in the hands of all the kids or sticking out of their backpacks as they cycle to and fro. Our relocation assistant du jour even commented that she participates in an adult league in her town, and that leagues are popular for adults of all ages.

Tomorrow: The start of our first weekend in A’dam.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A Real Dutchman…

Day #3: Thursday, 25 October 2007

A real Dutchman understands the legendary bureaucracy of the Dutch government. Today, we experienced it firsthand.

After a half day of school for the kids, we set off (with a representative from our relocation company) to The Hague, a beautiful city to the west of A’dam and the home to much of the country’s and the E.U.’s government offices.

A process that should have been very simple—take our 4 passports, record their numbers, and insert simple stamp to confirm/allow/recognize temporary residency—turned into a 2-hour affair. We watched in wonder as data was entered, double and triple-checked, and recorded by the nice clerk. Next to her sat her boss (?), who double checked and confirmed all of her pen and keystrokes. Mostly, he chatted in Dutch with our helper about topics unknown to us. While I’m sure that similar processes are muddled down elsewhere in the world, the Dutch almost take pride in their layers of bureaucracy. “When a process works smoothly in this country,” said our assistant Michel, “it is changed immediately.”

I climbed back aboard the workout train today (finally) to shake off many days of physical inactivity. Stacey said she was jealous of my hour run tonight, but I think it’s best if she gets another day of rest in after her marathon last Sunday. By the way, her 3:49 at the Nike San Francisco Women’s Marathon placed her 140th overall.

A trip to the bank this morning helped me sort out a number of questions. In Holland, everything is done via debit card, with currency a distant second and credit cards nearly non-existent. Other Dutch expats and former expats reading this are certainly nodding their heads in agreement…it’s a system that takes a while to get accustomed to.

Some notes from the grocery store trip this evening: If you love smoked/honey/sweetened slice turkey and can't live without it, it's probably best that you don't move to the Netherlands. Same goes for cooking spray of any sort, low-fat microwavable popcorn, and small ziploc bags. Not that I need any of these…I’m just sayin’.

Cole was so tired tonight that he actually fell asleep in the bathtub. That’s a first.

Tomorrow: Visit the city registration office and obtain a parking permit.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Our First Full Day as Dutchies

Day #2: Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Sleep was the seductive drug of the day, as the kids didn’t wake until after 11am—their method of shaking off the jet lag.

After our “brunch,” a heating repair guy showed up to start thawing out the joint. His efforts were successful, and the apartment is now quite comfortable. But the morning chill gave me a chance to test my firebuilding skills (they’re in excellent shape, thanks) in the fireplace.

We decided to head out on our first adventure today. With car seats in hand, we loaded the kids onto the tram and headed out to pick up Stacey’s car. One tram stop is just 2 blocks from our house—so incredibly convenient. The tram was packed, and the kids had a blast seeing their first real sights of A’dam. Soon enough we arrived at Central Station and hopped on the train to Bussum, located to the east. From the Bussum train station, we took a bus to Huizen, then a short walk to where the car was located.

The VW “Bora” (same as the U.S. “Jetta”) will be a temporary ride until Stacey gets an Audi A3 in a few weeks. Until then, she’ll have her last chance to enjoy automatic transmission on the VW before transitioning to a 5-speed.

Then, it was off to Ikea for our first foray into furniture shopping. After a meal in the store’s cafeteria, time was getting kind of tight, so we just picked up a few misc. household items. The big pieces of furniture will be selected later when we have more time.

It was a great day for our first as Netherlanders.

Tomorrow: Kids get their first taste of school; visit the bank; a trip to The Hague for citizenship registration & social security numbers.

Onthaal aan Nederland (“Welcome to the Netherlands”)

Day #1: Tuesday, 23 October 2007

The reality of moving to Europe finally hit me as we approached the Portland airport, enjoying our last few minutes of the beautiful Pacific Northwest October weather. Waiting for our Lufthansa flight, it occurred to me that we would, in 10 short hours, be in our new home.

The flight went well, but the kids didn’t sleep a wink, despite our best efforts. They busied themselves with reading and other games, and remained fairly happy throughout the journey.

I’ve read that the measure of a man can be determined in part by how he reacts to lost luggage. Of course, I had my opportunity to test my patience since all of our ELEVEN pieces of luggage (including 9 enormous suitcases) didn’t make the entire trip to Amsterdam. Fortunately, the bag was found quickly and delivered to us later in the day.

All of our luggage was quickly loaded into a van taxi and we arrived at our apartment around 1pm. The kids love the new place, and really, what’s not to love? We live in a great neighborhood with plenty of conveniences within steps of our front door. Grocery stores and various shops fill the neighborhood. The Rijksmuseum is only 6 or 7 blocks away. And Amsterdam’s beautiful Vondelpark is a 2-minute walk.

By the time 6pm rolled around, the lack of sleep finally caught up with the kids. Maya nearly fell asleep in the middle of eating an apple. Cole passed out watching a movie. It was an easy transition to bed for all of us. Oddly, they both awoke around 3am and had to be helped back to bed.

Something is a bit wrong with the heating system and the place feels like a meat locker. Hopefully we can sort this out tomorrow. But everything else is pretty comfortable, thanks to a truck that was waiting for us upon our arrival, filled with an entire package comprised of a temporary set of furniture, bedding, kitchen equipment, and miscellaneous stuff. This will all be moved out in a few weeks once we have the chance to buy our own furnishings and appliances. The arrival of everything we shipped from Portland will complete the picture.

Some of the little things already are making me chuckle. For example, how many trips to the grocery store will it take before I can break the 40-year habit of always having a plentiful, free supply of grocery bags at my disposal? Bags here are not free, so if you don’t have your own, you have to purchase one, and remember to do so before you’ve paid for all of your groceries.

A great first day for our new adventure!

Tomorrow: Sleep in, more grocery shopping, and other miscellaneous errands.