Archive for October, 2006

Piccies!

Tuesday, October 31st, 2006

Look, I finally took apartment photos! So if you’ve been wondering…

Two angles of the living room:

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The kitchen:

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And even the bath:

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Modern style was never our thing, but we’re finding this implementation of it extremely comfortable to live with.

weekend tourists

Monday, October 30th, 2006

We’ve spent the weekend as tourists. On Saturday, we took the train (quick and cheap) to s’Hertogenbosch not far away. They have their outdoor market on Saturdays, so we walked around that a bit (and I finally found a lap blanket!) and stopped in the VVV (tourist office) not so much to get information as because it’s housed in one of the oldest buildings in town. Not far from the market square (referred to in all our guidebooks as the town’s “triangular market square” (!)) is Sint Janskathedraal, a beautiful Gothic cathedral built from the 1300s to the 1500, and restored a couple times since. We walked around the cathedral, found that the office selling tour tickets didn’t open until 13:00, and walked around the market a bit more. It has stalls selling clothing, fish, meat, cheese, candy, fabric, shoes, hair accessories, and lots of fresh flowers.

At 1PM, we bought tickets to tour the cathedral tower, then walked into the small cathedral museum nearby. Our Dutch is not good enough to tell that the only sign on the museum door said “Please shut this door” but a moment later the woman came in to chase us out – apparently the museum isn’t free. Oops. The cathedral tower tour was interesting; the tower was originally part of a Norman church begun in 1220, which was repaced with the current Gothic one, and it has been changed and heightened over the centuries. The tour guide was a nice gentle old man whose English was somewhat spotty, but some others on the tour were from a Welsh choir that had been singing in town and brought their own interpreter. However, the old man, when he answered a question, answered the heck out of it, up, down, sideways, and diagonally, and didn’t quite seem to get the idea that when you’re speaking to an interpreter it is a good idea to pause frequently for him to translate. He was a very kind man, though, with a lot of knowledge, and one way and another we did get all of our questions answered. (The nest tour caught up to us about two floors up.) He showed us the bells, the carillons, and the fascinating old clock machinery (now supplanted with an electrical system), and we got a wonderful view out over the city.

The other main thing I wanted to see is a museum of Hieronymous Bosch, a native son, in another church, but it won’t open for another month so we’ll have to go back. On the way back to the train station we stopped for the obligatory kopje koffie, actually onion soup for both of us and a sandwich for Ted, plus koffie for him and thee for me (coffee and tea, as you probably guessed) and a Bossje Bol to take home and eat later. These are the local delicacy: basically round éclairs, the size of a softball, with chocolate icing on top and whipped cream (slagroom) inside.

On Sunday we stayed closer to home and rode our bikes to the nearby Historisch Openlucht Museam – and outside museum with two areas including an Iron Age village and a Medieval one. It was another nice day, and there were living history enactors there, brewing tea and making bread and soap, and a large contingent of swordfighters. There are several types of farmhouses, bread ovens, both Iron Age and Medieval forges – being demonstrated – and so on. It’s all set in a pretty park on the south side of town, and is a pleasant short bike ride from our apartment.. The museum was smaller than I’d hoped but nicely done, and we finished off with a snoep (snack) in the medieval inn.

getting stuff

Friday, October 27th, 2006

You know what they don’t seem to have here? Blankets, that’s what. I was not surprised not to be able to find a lettuce crisper (I may have packed ours, actually), though I don’t quite know how people manage without them. Who can finish a head of lettuce in a week? They go bad that fast, if left in a plastic bag, but keep for weeks in a crisper. I haven’t been able to find a broom, but I keep forgetting to look, so I think that’s just my own fault. But there do not seem to be blankets here, that I can find. There are down and synthetic comforters of all bed sizes, with duvets to protect them and add color, and I’ve seen blanketing material for sale in the weekly market, but I haven’t seen any blankets for sale in any size. I theorize that the Dutch reason that the indoor environment should be controlled to the point that one is not needed, but I get cold when I’m sitting still doing nothing and would like a throw to use on my sofa. I don’t think I packed ours, but Ted did pack my fleece sleeping bag liner, which zips open and will work well once it gets here.

Still no news on our air-freighted items. Ted has had to fill out some forms about them , and we’re pretty sure they’re here in this country, but I’m getting a bit worried. I’m sure someone has to be here when they’re delivered and I start work next Wednesday.

another step

Wednesday, October 25th, 2006

So yay, I have a bank account! Mind you, I can’t actually do anything with it yet, until my PIN card arrives in a week or so. But once I get all this set up I will be able to do all sorts of things: deposit and take out money without ATM fees, get a Dutch credit card so I don’t have to pay foreign-use fees, get a mobile phone contract…

Only problem is, next Wednesday I start work. The card will probably arrive Thursday and the postman apparently have to put it directly into my own little hands, or else I get to go pick it up from the post office. At least the post office has some Saturday hours. Still, the Dutch are very good at catch-22 situations.

Tromp regatta, take 2

Monday, October 23rd, 2006

…aaand in Ted’s own words, so you can have that you-are-there experience:

TROMP BOAT RACE
October 21, 2006

Ted and his partner Erik-Jan rowed together in the Veterans 2x at the Tromp Boat Race in Amstelveen, near Amsterdam in the Netherlands. The race was a 5.2 meter race on a cannel through the Dutch countryside with great weather by local standards. The course even had a classic windmill near the start that my “tour guide” partner made sure we rowed to during the warm up.

This is a rather big race with many of the countries top crews attending. It was tricking getting the boats on and off the water since there was a narrow path from the boat storage area to the boat house. This created a 200 meter line of boats/crews weaving along a narrow path through the trees waiting to launch. Since the canal is narrow the races were divided into Blocks. Everyone racing in a block would row to the start together, get in line, and then all race back. The general atmosphere was a very similar to regattas in the US with the exception of a boat house café that not only served drinks and food but also good beer. It was a new experience for Paula and I to attend a race and not know any one, or for that matter not even understand the referees commands.

We had a good race despite being in the wake of other boats the entire time. We ended up getting second in the B category and 5th overall in the Veteran’s 2x. It was a good day, and a great introduction to rowing in the Netherlands.

WAITING TO GET TO THE DOCKS

LAUNCHING (Note: Outlaw Hat)

THE FINISH

the first race

Sunday, October 22nd, 2006

Ted competed in his first Dutch regatta yesterday, making this his third country competed in (US, Canada, Netherlands). He and his doubles partner Erik-Jan came in 5th of 14 men’s doubles overall, 2nd in their B age category. I think this race, the Kornelius Tromp near Amsterdam, is considered to have a fairly high level of competition, and they were fairly happy with their race.

It was odd and a little boring, being at a race where I didn’t know anyone, but of course that’s a necessary step in beginning to meet people. We went with Erik-Jan, his wife and their adorable baby daughter, but apparently it’s just not really a Dutch thing to introduce everyone – not rudeness, just a different custom. There weren’t many people there from our local club, just the double and one older men’s four. Today we’ll go to the local club to officially sign me up (though I’ve been out rowing once already) and to watch some of a small local race they’re having.

Our other plan for the day is to head to the train station – someone told us yesterday that we can buy a discount card that should save us lots of money in our planned travels around Europe. We may head out to Amsterdam or Utrecht next weekend. We’re also debating what to do for the holidays; current options under consideration are going home to visit our families or else postponing that until we’ve gotten a bit more homesick and instead maybe seeing if we can get a Mediterranean cruise over Christmas. Or maybe some time in Paris?

registration and red tape

Friday, October 20th, 2006

This is definitely the way to do expat: with corporate help. Yesterday we attended to paperwork. The Netherlands immigration red tape is apparently legendary. We had to drive up to Rijsmegen, just outside Den Haag (The Hague) and about a 1.5 hour ride, to apply for our residency permits. Once those are granted at least preliminarily, we can apply for our Sofi (social fiscal=tax) numbers which will permit us to do things like open bank accounts here. I can’t even get a phone contract without a bank account, and we would not have been able to get telephone or other services in the apartment on our own.

As it was, though, we had a relocation consultant to help us through it all. He made the appointment, drove us to Rijsmegen, took us for a kopje koffie (cup of coffee) because we had left early enough to allow for hypothetical traffic, walked us into the meeting, spoke Dutch to civil servants, and the whole meeting lasted about ten minutes, in which they applied very pretty visa stamps to our passports. After than we drove back here, stopping for a lunch much better than we’d have gotten at a corresponding highway stop in the US (even ordinary sandwiches are generally served on good bread here), and then again at the consultant’s own house so he could give us a spare copy of the phone book since we’d mentioned not having one, and went to Town Hall to apply for our residency permits for this city. That was a little less well orchestrated, but took maybe fifteen minutes. (It also took the birth and marriage certificates the company’s own person hadn’ told us we’d need until we asked a second time, so we were glad we’d asked. Se was very nice and helpful, but it’s a complex system.)

The next steps will be to get the Sofi number and bank accounts, and for the relo consultant to find us a local doctor who is accepting new patients. Apparently there’s a bit of a doctor shortage here (as there is also in places in the US including my birth state). On the other hand, when you do get one, they make house calls.

The company had also done a good bit of work behind the scenes of all of this, including paying a few thousand Euros each for the permit fees, not to mention setting up the apartment and related services. The whole experience for us was very smooth and easy, but it’s easy to see how things much have been very much otherwise if we’d had to do it all on our own. This is definitely a benefit worth having. (I wonder if a corresponding business in the US would work?)

Rowing = roien, or something like that

Wednesday, October 18th, 2006

Yesterday Ted was scheduled to row in the double (Dutch: “double twee”, which is proably spelled wrong but also sounds redundant to me), so I went along to use the ergs and meet some rowers. The guy he’s been rowing with is several inches taller, but from what I’ve heard they seem to mesh well together – we’ll find out, because they’re racing Saturday. The other guy rows well enough and knows enough people that Ted thinks he’s probably raced at a very high level at some point.

It sounds like there should be no problem finding me a boat to row in; they have singles intended for juniors that are right for my weight (In Dutch, a ingle is a “skiff”). I have to be approved (I think basically just have someone watch me row) before I can take a boat out alone and get a key to the boatyard, but I can go out with someone else before that. The next test isn’t until early November, however, so I’ll have to wait. There’s supposed to be another little test before I can do even that but I think they’re more flexible about that one. I put in a 10K on the erg, with some help from J.K. Rowling, Jim Dale, and the iPod, so at least I’m getting some exercise – and at least people got to see that my form isn’t totally hopeless.

We also spent some time talking to Thijs, who is Dutch but lived in Tempe and rowed with Rio Salado for a few years – Ted was actually in an eight with him for a while. He’s been back in Eindhoven for a couple of years, but it sounds like he’s just recently started rowing again, so we were happy to run in to him there. It sounds like he and Ted may take out a pair one day, and it may be helpful to know someone here who’s lived in the US and can understand the differences.

Finally online

Tuesday, October 17th, 2006

Yikes. So much to tell! Unfortunately we don’t have net access at home yet. It will take a few weeks “because that’s how things work on Holland”. (Direct quote from the realtor who set us up in this place.) Ted had the brilliant idea of buying access from one of the hotels nearby, so that’s where I’m posting this from. I think it’s best if I give a few general impressions and then post some backdated entries to tell the story chronologically.

One thing that makes me very happy is being able to smell fall. I haven’t gotten to do that except on short visits since I left Philadelphia right after college. There are not large leaf piles – wrong sorts of trees for it – but there are enough to shuffle through now and then. We are right in the “Centrum”, the center of town, and much of it is blocked off to cars. It’s like being back in college, on Locust Walk, except the shopping and restaurants are much better (they weren’t bad in college, but they’re exceptional here). We can walk or bike everywhere; I just need to relearn to lift my feet when I walk because I keep tripping over the brick paving.

The apartment is very large and comfortable. We have much more seating than in our old house in Arizona, and our bedroom has a full-motion waterbed. Ted had one when I moved in with him, and we’ve missed it since getting rid of that one due to decrepitude and general ugliness of the bed part (this one is much better-looking). The apartment is furnished in a very modern style that’s a big change to us; at Ikea the other day we were amused to recognize bits of it all over the store. The down side of it is that there’s almost no storage – two wardrobes in our room and a bookcase in the living room, one small medicine cabinet and that’s it. There is a laundry/utility room with shelves, and a storage area downstairs, but that’s not much help for our clothes and bathroom stuff. We’ve bought two chests and shelves at Ikea and a small cart for the bathroom, so that will all help.

The kitchen cabinets are decent and it’s an extremely stylish kitchen. We’re figuring eating out a lot, though; the refrigerator is tiny (about 4’ by 2’ with no freezer); there’s a nice glass-topped stove, but the only oven is a combination microwave/convection/grill, no bigger than our US microwave. We have instructions for all of our appliances, but unfortunately the ones for this are only in Dutch and we haven’t quite figured it out yet. I bought mushrooms at the grocery store and may experiment on them, on the theory that mushrooms are cheap and hard to ruin.
I’m enjoying myself quite a lot, though granted some of that is just due to having the time to settle in properly and not rushing off to work. (That is, I’m still in the glow of quitting my old job!)

Exploring on my own

Monday, October 16th, 2006

Monday:
Ted was back at work, so I was on my own. I started off by getting very lost in finding the grocery store – well, I knew where I was the whole time, just couldn’t find it despite having been there once already. Things weren’t helped by the signs for grocery parking in a three-block radius – I knew it must be somewhere in the area, but kept thinking it must be closer. (This trip was necessitated by the fact that the spare toilet paper Ted thought he’s bought turned out to be paper towels. All the brands and some of the items are different, of course, so shopping can be a bit tricky.)

Next stop was to Praxis (Home Depot-equivalent) to buy some tools – getting lost on the trip to the grocery did result in my finding where to get to the road for this, which is also the road to rowing. Having the proper tools did make putting the furniture together much faster. After that I walked around a bit in the Centrum, getting my bearings and buying some housewares, and spent most of the afternoon assembling furniture.