Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Koninginnedag

Today is Queen's Day... a day of major celebration. What a celebration it was! I really haven't seen anything like it. Not only is the entire country covered in orange, but I think it's safe to say that it's the day of the world's largest flea market. Granted I only saw what was in Amsterdam, but if that was any indication of the flea market around the country... 'wow' is the only word that can accurately describe it all. Not only are there flea markets in Amsterdam, but at Museumplein (where there is a large grassy area) they throw a HUGE party. Music, music, and more music. All you can see around you is a sea of people. Thankfully I'm not claustrophobic.
For the kids and kids at heart, Vondel park is the place to go. It was so cute seeing little children trying to sell things, and perform for money. And some were incredibly talented. The boats in the canals were plentiful. And Brazil shone it's colors today too. I'm constantly amazed at how many Brazilians there are here.
A friend asked me today if the 4th of July is anything like this... it doesn't come anywhere close. They even had fireworks too. I love my home country... and I love Independence Day... but when it comes to parties, Holland really knows their stuff. I wanted to share my experience in more than just pictures, so I've put together a compilation of video clips. Parts are from my morning outing, when it wasn't as crowded, and parts are from my afternoon outing where it took 10 mins to walk five feet.

video

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

My first house guests

On Friday I met up with friends, Lauren and Dan, who are backpacking across Europe, and was able to give them the grand tour of Amsterdam. Well, as much of a tour as a few evening hours allow.


First stop was to get a Belgian waffle with ice cream on top... seriously is the best creation ever. *And when you come to visit me, you too will have the blessed opportunity of eating one.*

After dropping their backpacks off at my place, we went over to the Anne Frank house. It closes at 9pm, but since we arrived at 8, I was sure an hour would be plenty of time. I realized I was wrong, however, when they started shuffling us out the door at closing time. Fortunately we were pretty much done looking around, we just missed out on the gift shop. So, for those of you planning on touring the Anne Frank house, set aside an hour and 15 mins to go through, just in case.

We then made our way over to the Dam (Amsterdam center square), and to our delight found a carnival set up there. Surrounded by hundred of years old buildings were ferris wheels,
bungee jumping rides, and the such.

After absorbing the sites, we were off to eat dinner true European style at 10pm. Of course I took them to get Chinese, but unfortunately we went to a restaurant I've never gone to before, and it really wasn't very good. I took a mental note to not go there again.

They left bright and early in the morning to make their way over to their next destination, and I was left to run a million and one errands. One being, buy my bike. Oh, how I love it!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Test drive


I was told the best bike to get here is called an omafiets... translated in English it's called a 'grandma bike'. It was given the name because it was the typical model of bike in the early to mid 1900's. They have been passed down from mother to daughter to grand-daughter, and most are still very good bikes. These models are still made today, and are supposed to be one of the most comfortable ones around. It is a smooth ride, with extra large wheels; the seat is higher than most bikes that allows the rider to sit upright giving the sensation of sitting on a chair instead of a bike.

Now that I've finished promoting the bike, I will move on with my story.

I got off work today at 3:30, which gave me enough time to go to the bike shop which is across the street from where I live, before it closes at 6pm. The omafiets at the shop was only 200 Euros, which is a good deal, and was in perfect condition.

So I handed over my passport for leverage as I took the bike for a ride. -- Preface: I haven't ridden a bike in years... YEARS. -- So, I get on the bike while holding onto my oversized purse, sitting on the seat which is high enough up that I can't touch the ground at all. I managed to make a fool of myself as the bike wobbled down the road and even more so as I went around the round-about. I don't know the rules of the road here in Amsterdam, and I didn't want to get hit. Instead I stopped at every road around the circle that leads out. Since I couldn't reach the ground while sitting on the seat, I had to get off the bike completely each time which caused more issues. See, the only flaw about the bike is that you press the breaks by turning the pedals backwards (like little kid's bikes). Because of that, I couldn't turn the pedals to a good position in order to get back on the bike and start pedaling. Thus, I managed to run into the curb and later almost destroy the bike by stopping just in time before getting hit by a truck.

That said, it really is a comfortable bike, unlike any I've ridden before. And... I'm buying the bike on Saturday. Moral of the story is: next time someone says "it's just like riding a bike", tell them they've never tried riding one in Amsterdam.

*Oh, and so that I don't get a lot of questions, yes, I got my passport back.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Distance... it's all relative, right?


Since Holland is such a small country, distances of 45 minutes or more by car is quite far -- to the Dutch. This is something that is entirely different than what I am used to, where a 45 minutes drive is nothing. This being said, if the need arises to travel "long" distances, the Dutch want to take advantage of the trip, by spending all day where they have traveled.

On Saturday we went to Den Haag (45 mins away) to go to the temple. We got there at 9am and stayed until 5pm. Not something I'm accustomed to, but highly enjoyable none-the-less. I remember traveling 3 hours to go to the temple in the States to do one session and then would leave. I was able to do 2 sessions this time, and help fold laundry with the 2 girls I went with. The temple is very nice, and (so I was told) is the only temple with a bike rack. It was also neat to hear 4 languages being spoken at once, Dutch (of course), English, French and Spanish.

As a side note: Spring has come... FINALLY. Not only did I not have to use a scarf and gloves today, but I was even able to walk around without a coat. I haven't been able to do that since I moved here. Hallelujah!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Nightly strolls...

Last week I decided to make a nightly tradition of getting to know where I live. Since then, I've found myself astounded at how close I am to absolutely EVERYTHING. I'm continually amazed at how absolutely beautiful... or better yet, breath-taking this city is. Pictures don't give it justice... but I'll show some anyway.





(The buildings are actually leaning)

On Monday I decided to walk through the Jordaan (the oldest part of Amsterdam), since I live right across the canal from it. 15 minutes into my walk, as I was meandering down a street, I looked down a side alleyway, at the far end and across the canal, I saw a huge sign saying "Sex Shop" in large red letters. I thought, 'oh.. whoa... I didn't know the Jordaan was that liberal'. However 2 seconds later (as I had continued down the street) I had found myself smack dab in the center of Amsterdam. I wasn't in the Jordaan like I had thought (although I did start out there). Again, I'm amazed at how close I am to everything.

That same night I saw someone steal a bike. ....AND now I can now check that off my list of accomplishments.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Why I'm gaining weight... and will continue to do so.


There's really no need to say more. That picture just about sums it up better than words ever could. I am definitely in my element here. You think life can't get any better than a Belgian waffle drenched in chocolate at your new favorite chocolate shop "Australian Homemade"... but it does. The very next week you find a Ben and Jerry's and they not only serve a Belgian waffle drenched in chocolate, but they add ice cream too! Talk about a divine experience.

I found the one American grocery store there is here, where they sell rare commodities at astronomical prices. Take a simple can of pumpkin puree for example... it costs 5 Euros, or a box of pop tarts which is 6 Euros. My favorite however, was a box of Duncan Hines brownie mix for 7.50 Euros. I'll pass thank you. I'm sure I'll survive just fine without them, especially with the local cuisine.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

"Tonight I am a tourist"

There's a lady at work who invited me to go to a yoga class at her gym last night. I was more than excited to go... until I found out it would cost me 16 Euros for a 1 hour class. Well... determined to make an effort to make it there by 7pm, even though it was more than I would like to pay, I left work right at 5pm. Luckily for me, the metro was waiting for my arrival, but the tram to my house was not as kind as I waited for it for 15 minutes. Even still, I was on track to make it to the gym on time. That was until I passed my stop by quite a ways, because I was too engrossed in the book I'm reading. I then had to walk home, and didn't get there until 6:15. So I gathered my things and ate dinner, of course. I was all set and ready to go, left my house in just enough time to make the tram (so I thought)... and missed it by a few seconds. And because I missed it, I couldn't make it to the gym by 7:00. Was I disappointed? Not really. Maybe I unconsciously willed myself to miss my stop, or not leave 2 seconds sooner to make the tram to the gym… or maybe it was just fate. If I had a bike though, none of that would be an issue.

Ah... a bike. How I can't wait to buy one. Instead, I have to submit myself to the wills of public transportation. Is that a bad thing? Definitely not... I love not having to drive, and to be able to do something else during my commute other than focus on the road.

Anyway, last night I did not do yoga. Instead I took the opportunity to play tourist. Since moving here, I've felt this undefined embarrassment to take pictures of things (I want to blend in I guess). So, I had to keep running this phrase in my head last night... "Tonight I am a tourist." It worked, and I ended up with some good photos because of it.
Due to my yearning desire for a bike, I ended up taking a lot of pictures of them. It's actually not a difficult thing to do, since (I think) there are more of them here than there are people. Bikers have their own special lane as well, since there is as much bike traffic as automotive traffic.
I walked to Museumplein where a number of museums are located, and put my money to better use than yoga. I bought a year long pass that is valid for a large number of museums all over Holland. For those of you who are planning on visiting Amsterdam at some point in your lives, I highly recommend getting one. It only cost 40 Euros, and to visit one museum costs 10. You do the math. For me, it’s an investment well spent… especially since I’ve been to 2 museums since last night.
I spent my evening with Rembrandt and a few other Dutch painters of that era at the Rijksmuseum (first opened in 1830). Unfortunately, only the left wing is open due to construction, but I was able to see a large number of paintings, along with Rembrandt’s famous “Night Watch”.
After my visit with the artistic masters of the Golden Age, I walked around the park behind the museum. I was lucky enough to find a 3 second gap to get a picture in front of the I amsterdam sign (see beginning of this post - also note: the Rijksmuseum is right behind me). Granted I waited for 10 minutes, but the 3 seconds I found was quite a rare occasion, since it is a highly touristic spot, and generally looks like this.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Only in Amsterdam

I don't know how many of you know of the Dutch politician, Geert Wilder, who has created a highly controversial video about HIS view of the Koran and Islam. Needless to say, it has caused a great upheaval in the Middle East, along with the majority of the Dutch population emphasizing that the video only expresses his viewpoint, and not the viewpoint of the country as a whole. So, when I was walking to work the other day, I saw this picture posted in the window of a container home (yes, sea containers turned into apartments) which made me stop and smile. On a "cigarette" warning label (couldn't be more Dutch) it states: "Extremist: brings you and the society severe damage". [translation brought to you by Annelies... thanks girl!]

In other "only in Amsterdam" news, I have come up with a list of things that I find quite perplexing, intriguing, interesting, and oddly funny.
People here are experts at holding an umbrella in the rain while riding their bikes.
Another multi-tasking ability they have here is smoking while playing soccer.
We are now in the final months of people being able to smoke in restaurants (there is no smoking/non-smoking section) people smoke wherever they sit. Thankfully, all that will stop in July.
The "f-bomb" is dropped on the radio and tv commercials... numerous times, any time of the day. WHY?
All shops close at 6pm, besides grocery stores which close between 8 or 9pm.
There is a HUGE Brasilian population here (I've met/heard multiple Brasilians daily since last Friday).
The only sitcoms that are played on TV are "The Nanny, Joey, Dharma and Greg" and the like,... nothing I'm interested in watching, that's for sure. OH... and we must not forget, "the A team".
The majority of people's home furnishings are from Ikea.
You need to pay 20 cents per grocery bag to put your groceries in. (Which is why there was a stock of grocery bags under my kitchen sink).

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Can man live on Chinese takeout alone?


Well, if the Chinese is from Amsterdam, I'm sure that's quite possible! Man, it's delicious! After discussing the reason for it's "delicious-ness" with a few other people, we have determined it could be due to the fact that there is a large Indonesian influence here in the cooking process. Personally, I don't really care how they make it so tasty... just as long as there's a restaurant nearby-- which there is.

Honestly, it's the best Chinese I've ever tasted, and I'd be quite content to eat nothing else for the rest of my life. But for those who think "What about variety being the spice of life?" Well... then, I'd say, "alright, I'll substitute one meal a day for an egg salad sandwich on a Kaiser roll". Egg salad is another highly popular thing here, found in grocery stores and cafeterias everywhere. And I might add, quite good too!

I moved into my apartment yesterday. It was very exciting moment in history for me. The silence was deafening for a split second as I stood in the living room all alone. But then I took a good look around and saw how dirty the place actually was... (I didn't notice before with the haze of exuberance I had in finding the place)... and I got to work. I was cleaning and running errands all afternoon and evening. I sat down twice last night. Once when I was waiting for my Chinese to be made, and then when I was eating it. Needless to say, I was grateful for the moment when I placed my head on my pillow after the 9 hours of being busy. However, while laying there, my mind kept racing as I thought about all the things I STILL need to do. At this moment I have the kitchen cleaned (for the most part) along with the bathroom. Once those are completely finished, I'll tackle my bedroom and move on to the living room last. (I'm just talking about cleaning now, not settling in). The apartment was owned by a bachelor, and he hasn't lived here for a few months, so there's a LOT of work to do. Meaning: I'll be eating Chinese for a couple days at least... it's quick, it's easy, and I still have a TON of left overs.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

That's it! I'm throwing in the towel!

No more... I'm done... finished! I'm giving up.... on being a vagabond. Yeah, it was fun while it lasted. I got to see more of Holland than I imagined I would in 3 and a half weeks. Plus I was fed SO well. But I decided it was time to plant some roots and settle down (mostly because I actually found an apartment, which helps).
Apartment hunting is not the easiest of feats here in Amsterdam. There's apparently a waiting list to rent/buy where the soonest you can get into a place is 20-30 years. (I'd be gone by then). Otherwise, you can take the quick and financially painful approach and rent a place for 2000 Euros a month. I personally didn't like either of the two options, so I settled on using good ol' networking. My manager had spoken to a guy from work who was looking for someone to rent his apartment for 3 months when he and his girlfriend went on vacation. Unfortunately they found someone else before I arrived. HOWEVER, he then told us about a friend of his (who also works at Verizon) who is moving in with his girlfriend and is looking to rent out his apartment, indefinitely. And I happened to be the lucky person he's renting the place to. It's on the west side of Amsterdam in a great location. I have an updated kitchen with all gadgets and utensils you'd need, a sleigh bed in the bedroom, a bathroom --with a bathtub even (you're rarely going to find that in Europe), a nice sized living room with 2 sofa's , a flat screen TV with digital cable, and internet connection. And for all of those who could be wondering, this place is legit. I signed the contract today. Honestly, I can't complain... nope, not one bit. Plus, I'll be able to paint the walls and make it feel like my own place. I'm quite content. Ahh.... I feel like an adult now and it only took 27 years.
I'll be living on the second floor, plus I get the room up on the very top where that one window is for storage.