Monday, June 30, 2008
At the grocery store the other day I was craving "rocket pops" which are those red white and blue popsicles. I saw this package and without really looking at the contents, put it in my basket. When I got home I realized it was a variety pack with soccer ball shaped ice cream sandwiches, ice cream bars shaped like soccer players (complete with orange jerseys) and rocket pops in red white and blue (the colors on the Dutch flag). I'm not sure what the ice cream cones represent. Maybe boundary cones?
They're a lot more palatable to me than those sausage logs in the automatic vending machines. I've since learned that those snack shops with vending machines are called Febo, and the sausage logs I posted a picture of a while back are called Frikandel. In the Netherlands, the frikandel mainly consists of a mixture of pork, beef, chicken and horse meat. Horse meat? Yuck.
Sunday, June 29, 2008
The Oven/Microwave Combo - With space at a premium, the Dutch are masters at efficiency. In our apartment here we have one appliance that functions as a microwave AND an oven. It's big as far as microwaves go, but it's MUCH smaller than a traditional oven in the US. I've been known to bake a lot, and I enjoy roasting a turkey, but this year things will have to get scaled back a bit.The Refrigerator - Also much smaller than a typical American unit, the fridge/freezer is very compact. There aren't any special controls here, but I have to remember that the freezer is on the BOTTOM - and I won't be able to let various random sauces and dressings accumulate here. There just isn't enough room.
Saturday, June 28, 2008
Friday, June 27, 2008
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Here at the airport grocery store a Nicoise salad includes tuna, capers, tomato and onions - but it also has green olives, feta cheese and honey mustard dressing! I didn't love this version but I'll try almost anything once. You never know what you'll like.
When I lived in London I discovered sweet corn mixed with tuna fish. They served it on baked potatoes and I loved it. I never did try tuna and sweet corn on pizza, but to the Brits - it's a treat.
In other news, Holly and I move into our apartment on Saturday. We couldn't be more excited to be out of the hotel, and I'll be sure to post pictures of our new home and neighborhood. I've also got some fun business trips coming up. One to Paris and another to London. Did I mention that I love this job? :-)
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
I also saw this "Sissy Boy Homeland Store" sign at the mall. I'm not sure what the store sells, but I'm guessing it's not wimpy Dutch men. Still, this is Amsterdam. They sell a lot of things here that you can't buy in the US :-) In reality though, they sell clothing, furniture, and home accessories.
Monday, June 23, 2008
Luckily there were no angry fans last night. Just supporters. I did however figure out who I saw by the elevator banks. His name is Giovanni van Bronckhorst , in the center of the front row in this photo. He scored the 3rd goal in the Netherlands - Italy match, which the Dutch won 3-0.
As I walked towards the door there was a tall man in a suit eyeing me. Then, when I got to the door there were security gates blocking my path along with a TV camera. There was also a small crowd beyond the security gates. It reminded me of tourists with "hi mom" signs in NYC, trying to get on a Good Morning America taping.
I was puzzled but needed to get the dog out, so I picked my way through the people and the gates, even working my way around the camera man with a camera pointing in my general direction.
On my way back in, I watched the crowd continue to grow, with people running up from cars carrying soccer balls and journalists running along clutching high end cameras. I asked a cab driver next to me who it was, and he replied "Dutch team."
Aha! More flash bulbs went off and I saw a few of the players behind the security gates in their street clothes. I couldn't get back into the hotel the way I'd gone out so I went in another entrance and started to go up to my room. Imagine my surprise when one of the team members I had just seen downstairs was standing at the elevator bank! By himself, just 1 foot away.
It's too bad I didn't have my camera to record any of this. I almost always carry it here. Oh well. Even if I had a photo, I still would have had to scour the soccer sites to figure out who it was. Still, it was kind of cool in a "I'm not sure why I should care but others seem to be gobsmacked" kind of way.
Sunday, June 22, 2008
What a bummer. In the Euro 2008 soccer tournament quarterfinals, the Dutch (who were the favorites to win), lost against Russia in the 2nd half. I don't typically watch soccer or any other sport, but it's hard to ignore European passion for the game. When walking yesterday the streets were decorated with orange flags, there were orange soccer ball cakes for sale at the bakery, and everyone was clad in orange.
Last week when Turkey won their match, a band of about 10 cars kept doing laps around the Amsterdam city center at 10PM, with flags and people draped out windows. They were yelling and horns were honking. I can only imagine what it would have been like if the Dutch had won, but I wish I could have seen it.
Saturday, June 21, 2008
Today's challenge: How to secure an apartment when your bank's wire transfer service is only open Monday - Friday EST. I'm meeting with our new landlords on Monday to sign the lease. That means I need 3 months rent money up front (2 months deposit for the furnished apartment and the first month's rent). In other words, several thousand dollars! I don't have a Dutch bank account so the money needs to be wired from the US. I just hope the wire transfer doesn't take too long. I'd like to move in as early as Thursday.
Other "strange" things that I've been told are standard in Dutch lease agreements: Landlords can take 60 days to return your deposit, and the tenant is responsible for any repair under $200 - without limit to frequency. Luckily this apartment has been renovated, but I wish repairs were included. When the tenants in our house in Virginia called to tell me the microwave broke - the repair bill was $400! I just think that for the amount of money we're paying - things like this should be covered. Oh well.
Today Holly and I took the train and the tram to a co-worker's house for a walk in the park. It really is dog friendly here. The ticket agent playfully tried to hand Holly her "hond" ticket and then on the platform a nice man from South Korea enjoyed petting her and telling her "it's ok Holly" when she was startled by the air brakes on the train. She was still nervous on the train and tram but it wasn't as bad as last time. She just might become a city dog yet! There were ponds in this park and I decided to let her take a swim since she's been cooped up in the hotel. She had fun getting muddy and ran around "smiling." One thing to watch out for in parks here though? Dog poo. It's everywhere and nobody picks up. Ick. Regardless, if you want to see a happy dog running in the park in Amsterdam, enjoy the video below.
Friday, June 20, 2008
Since a SOFI number can take a while to get, I guess I'm going to have to become good friends with an online translating tool. Not my first pick when dealing with finances, but hopefully everything will be fairly straightforward.
In other news, we expect to sign a lease for a place on Monday. More on that to come.
Other discoveries/thoughts from the day:
1) Putting cantaloupe slices (or any other fruit) in a pitcher of ice water makes a really tasty drink.
2) I've eaten more cheese here in the last 2 weeks than I've eaten in the last 6 months!
3) A bag of several slices of bread is a typical snack here
4) Dog fur is really visible on royal blue hotel room carpets
5) I really like my co-workers in the Amsterdam office
6) It stays light out until past 10PM here
7) There are 4 Starbucks locations in the Netherlands, 3 of which are at the airport. Supposedly the Microsoft office has the 4th.
8) I probably shouldn't buy "reduced price sushi" from the airport grocery store - but so far I haven't been sick :-)
Thursday, June 19, 2008
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Monday, June 16, 2008
I've had a few people ask me questions in Dutch while I'm standing on the train or in the elevator recently. I guess it's a compliment that I don't look so American that they wouldn't bother, but it still feels a bit awkward to respond in English even if they understand me.
Other than that, nothing exciting to report on today. We're still looking for an apartment and housing inventory is very tight here - even without the added challenge of the dog. We found a place we REALLY liked in an area called the Rivierenbuurt (River Neighborhood). It's on a canal a short distance from the city center and walking distance to grocery stores, restaurants and public transport - but it's on the 3rd floor (known as the 2nd floor here) with no elevator. I didn't think too much of it, but my co-workers have all warned me that the stairs will be bad for the dog's hips - so now we're looking for a place that's one flight of stairs or less. Fingers crossed that we find something soon. :-)
Sunday, June 15, 2008
Tonight we had dinner in the Jordaan neighborhood with a former co-worker of mine. He was in town for work and brought along 2 co-workers from the local office. We had a great time chatting and once again, I came away from the experience with more learnings about my new home. I learned:
1) It is considered down market to request tap water in a restaurant.
2) If you have leftovers, it considered down market to ask to take them home. (Though generally the portions here are much more reasonable than in the US)
3) A canal can divide a street so you have even numbers on one side of the canal while odd numbers are on the opposite side - BUT they don't synch up. ie: you can have #169 on one side of the canal, and directly across, it can be #374.
4) That I'm going to have a REALLY hard time pronouncing things correctly without sounding like I'm dealing with phlegm.
Here in Amsterdam $4 per gallon would be quite a steal as the prices are over double what they are in the US. We haven't seen more than 1 or 2 SUVs on the streets yet, and none of them have been full-size, though we have seen plenty of "Smart Cars," scooters, and of course the most fuel efficient transportation of them all - bicycles.
The sign in the picture shows gas at 1.69 Euros per litre. With 3.8 litres per gallon that's 6.42 Euros per gallon. When you factor in the exchange rate, the price in USD for a gallon of gas is $9.85. Our gas bill on the x-country drive would have been $1,650 or almost $300/tank! Luckily for us, public transportation is easily accessible here and the train systems are excellent.
Friday, June 13, 2008
There are a lot of the same products you see in the US, like Pringles, Snickers and Diet Coke (aka Coke Light), but then there are some new ones like "carrot croquettes" which are like baby carrots - but round. We've also seen vending machines for hot food that sell an item that is supposedly a sausage but looks like something very different. I'm sure you can use your imagination on that one.
Thursday, June 12, 2008
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
As you sit there chuckling at my naivete you may appreciate what it really takes to make a life changing move like this. There are normal things like packing, lining up a job for your spouse and arranging mail forwarding - but then there are snags along the way that make things a bit more challenging...such as:
1) Being such a fan of your dog that you'll do almost anything to avoid putting her in cargo - from investigating charter flights (too expensive at $80k) to begging the new COO of your company to let your dog ride on the company jet (it was full), to ultimately resorting to shipping her in cargo. Then - in order to shorten the amount of time on the plane for your dog, you drive cross country in a rented Ford Expedition (the only car large enough to fit her crate) so she'll be used to traveling in it for extended periods. When you arrive at your departure airport you discover that there's a freak heat wave and it's too hot to fly, so you scramble and rebook from a city 5 hours north in order to make it out on time. Then you get delayed on the tarmac for 2 hours due to storms. Upon arrival, you discover that your dog is physically fine - though really nervous and thirsty and needing to find a spot of grass immediately. Upon check-in at your hotel you learn that they DO take dogs - just not ones over 25 lbs - but your pitiful look convinces them to make an exception. Next challenge: Permanent housing. The housing agent has just ONE apartment in the entire city that will take a dog - and then only for 6 months.
Did I bring a lot of stress upon myself just for my dog? You bet. Was it worth it? Yes, now that it's done and she's snuggled up by my feet :-) Even so - we're bringing her back to the US on the Queen Mary 2 cruise ship!
2) Banking - Have you ever had a fraud hold on your account while traveling even after you've called the credit card company to tell them you'll be traveling? Have you ever tried to wire money internationally from your small local bank in the DC area? Apparently if you aren't there in person to request the transfer, you need to go to the local US Embassy in Amsterdam to have them put a consulate stamp on the request and it must be notarized. Then you need to overnight it and wait for the call from the bank verifying that you *really* want the money. OR you can go to a larger bank and get a new account so you can initiate transfers by phone. Thanks to Bank of America for their help in rushing this through.
3) Being a landlord - Have you ever walked into your house to re-sign your tenants for another year, only to discover water damage in the walls due to a leak in the roof? Not fun. Fixable, but not fun when you're leaving the country in 4 days.
4) Prescriptions - Did you know that some insurance plans a) don't ship internationally and b) won't let you get more than 2 months of a prescription at a time? Instead you are told to buy a year's worth of medicine up front at full retail value, wait a year and then submit the claim for payment. It's a silly insurance policy, but congrats to Target in Sterling, VA who was the lucky recipient of my full price order.
Don't get me wrong. We're going to have a great year abroad and I'm thrilled to have the opportunity. My one recommendation for anyone else plotting a similar move? Take a few vacation days before you leave and after you get there. I tried to save my vacation days and almost lost my mind in the process :-) Now that my venting is over, prepare yourselves for the fun stuff....like pictures of carrot croquettes and the story behind the name of the blog "Mooi helm"