Thursday, February 26, 2009

Road rage - bicycle style

In efforts to reduce the amount of curses brought upon the heads of unsuspected tourists by frustrated bicyclists, I've decided to give a three part course on Amsterdam road etiquette. I've often heard tourists say "bicyclists here are craaaaazy!" I used to think the same thing... when I first arrived. Now that I, myself, am an avid city biker, I no longer agree. We're just trying to get where we're going as quickly and safely as possible. Due to construction and traffic, bikers already have to anticipate various maneuvers to make in order to achieve their desire of arriving to their destination on time. Their "craaaaziness" and frustration stem from the sudden movements of a disoriented tourist.

Objective: The three brief courses are aimed at creating a greater awareness to the tourist who wanders the streets of Amsterdam by foot and by bike. Thus bringing peace to the world... or at least this tiny part of it.

You will learn basic rules of the road such as:
  • road signs and round-abouts
  • sidewalk vs. bike path
  • who has the right of way
  • which direction you're supposed to be going in according to which side of the street you're on - most specifically for the British tourist
  • tram tracks and other casualty traps
  • vehicles to be aware of and where they're allowed to drive
This three course online class starts the beginning of next week. You do not need to sign up, and the courses are free of charge. Although, donations are always welcome.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Starry Starry Night

"Flaming flowers that brightly blaze
Swirling clouds and violet haze
Reflect in Vincent's eyes of china blue."

I've always been drawn to Van Gogh's paintings. Maybe it's the brilliant way he makes use of color, the way he exaggerates an object to make it magically display emotion,... or it could be that the individuals his paintings are all wearing wooden shoes. I'm not really sure what the reason is, but then again, there really doesn't have to be one.

The Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam has a nice collection of his works, although the majority of the museum displays the work of artists who inspired him, or were inspired of him. The Museum d'Orsay in Paris, which my mom and I were fortunate to visit in August, houses some of his most famous works, along with those of other impressionistic artists. There's something special about seeing a painters original piece of art. To vividly see the brush strokes and the amount of paint applied gives an even greater sense of admiration for the artist in making use of their God given talent.

So, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see the "Van Gogh and the colours of the night" exhibit that is currently on display at the Van Gogh museum. Paintings of his were flown in from all around the world which were in the dusk to dawn theme. It was an excellent exhibit, and (although I am no art historian or expert in the field of anything related to art) it's one worth booking a flight to Amsterdam in order to see.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

May I see your credentials?

I've formed quite a strong opinion about the Dutch health care system since I've been here. Up until 2 years ago the country used socialized medicine. Now every person (resident and expat) has to purchase their own health insurance, and are obligated to do so. Employers may or may not offer health insurance, but the employer only covers a minimal portion of the cost of the insurance, if any at all. The most basic of the 'basic' insurance plans cost 85 Euros a month.

That being said, the type of medicine provided still has the feel of socialized medicine. Each person is required to have a home doctor, the first line support in their medical needs. The home doctor will then refer the individual to a more specialized doctor if needed. The individual's home doctor must work no further than 1 kilometer from the individual's residence, in case the doctor needs to make a house call. That doesn't provide one with many options.

Last year I had my first encounter with my home doctor. My confidence in her medical knowledge wasn't very strong after that visit. So, when my mom (who's a nurse practitioner) persistently urged me on a weekly basis to get my iron levels checked, because I have anemia, I didn't immediately pick up the phone to make an appointment. I wasn't thrilled at the thought of visiting my doctor again. I managed to pushed off making the appointment for months, but finally took the plunge this week.

This time my expectations for the visit were not as high, and the doctor managed to fulfill every one of them. As I stepped into her office she shook my hand, which was the only contact we made. She sat down at her desk, and I sat on the other side. Our conversation was as follows:

me - "I have low iron/anemia, and would like to get my levels checked."

Dr -"Oh yeah? And are you taking medicine?"

me - "Iron pills."

Dr - "And you still have the problem?"

me - "Yeah"

Dr - "Wait...what?"

me - quizzical look in response to her quizzical look

Dr - "Why do you have the anemia?"

me - (in a half chuckle) "uh... I don't know, I just do."

Dr - "Well, what's caused it?"

me - "Um, probably the low iron in my blood?"

Dr - (again) "And you're taking meds?"

me - (again) "Just the iron pills."

Dr - (again) "And that hasn't resolved the issue?"

me - "no!"

Dr - "It's strange that the medicine hasn't resolved the issue."

me - blank stare, since I'm afraid if I open my mouth I'll say exactly what I'm thinking.

Dr - "And how long has this been going on?"

me - (in a state of disbelief that this conversation has lasted this long) "My whole life."

Dr - "Is it genetic?"

me - "Uh, yeah... sure."

Dr - "Does anyone else in your family take medicine for it?"

me -"No, just me... and really, I'd just like to get my levels tested... that's all."

And after another minute or two of useless banter, she finally gave me a form that I needed to take to the health center to get my blood drawn.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

not so 'Extreme Home Makeover'

Although it feels like yesterday that I moved into my apartment, April was actually 11 months ago. However, I still vividly remember the hours, upon hours, upon hours I spent cleaning the day I moved in. Since then I'd warm up the apartment by adding a rug one month, painting the walls another month, adding a few pictures, along with a vase here, and a table there. It wasn't until last Saturday though, when -with the help of a friend- I put up shelving, that my house finally felt like a home. So, after 11 months in the making I present to you my "crib".



Wednesday, February 11, 2009

I have an alarm clock for a reason.

Fact: construction workers are permitted to use a sledge hammer from 7am-10pm in residential areas.
Fact: the construction workers in my area are morning people, I am not.
Fact: I have not woken up happy in the past two days.

Another fact: the floor boards above my bedroom squeak when my upstairs neighbors walk on it.
Another fact: they too are morning people and tend to congregate in the kitchen which is located right above my bed.
Another fact: again, I have not woken up happy in the past few days, but not due to them-- because I can easily fall back asleep after waking from the sound of squeaking floor boards.

Final fact: I hate sledge hammers and those who use them before my alarm goes off.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Now that's desire!

Remember my 11 month hassle to move here? Well... maybe not, but I sure do. After about 5 months I realized that I either really wanted to move to Amsterdam, or I was just going through the hassle because I'm crazy. I'd like to think my desire to move outweighed my craziness. But I've come to realize it takes a certain type of person to want to move to, and continue living in, the Netherlands, although not for the reasons you may think.

Immigrants/ex-pats come in three categories of crazy. A) Those who don't feel like dealing with the logistics of the Dutch government, aka. illegal immigrants. B) Those who, on a yearly basis, subject themselves to a mountain's worth of paperwork to try to convince the government that they'd like to stay. -OR- C) Those who find the easy way out and marry a Dutch citizen, or request nationalization. By process of elimination I'm sure you've already figured out where I fit.

My year mark is approaching rather quickly now. It's hard to imagine that I've been here that long. But, as the middle of January hit, I realized I had to get on the ball in order to renew my residency. In an ideal world I would go to Town Hall, hand them my residency permit, they'd enter something into their computer and a few minutes later they'd provide me with a new card. But, as my mother was always quick to remind me, "life's not fair" - or ideal for that matter.

Normally the government will send you a package with documentation to fill out. I never received it. Instead, I went onto the immigration/ex-pat website which, in English, told me the steps I had to take in order to extend my stay. I followed the link to the documentation page which had documents for everything imaginable (all in English I might add) and found the document I needed. That document is one of two that are only in Dutch. For a moment it made me wonder if they do that just so people give up, deciding it's not worth the hassle and in turn leave the country. Gratefully, I have colleagues who are more than willing to help with translation purposes.

Even with their help though, it took a while to get everything organized. I needed one document after another, copies of this, and copies of that. I had to go to the local town hall to get a document proving I have a place of residence. I needed a new passport photo (the Dutch way - with both ears showing), since the last one I had taken here was older than 6 months old. In the end, I had over 20 pages worth of documents to get a silly little card that sports a horrible picture of me.

My fingers are crossed that they're not going to say I can't stay because I didn't put a check mark in a little box on one of the forms. And my fingers are crossed that they'll get all the documentation processed before my card expires. Not only do I not want to gain the title of an illegal, but I'm looking forward to getting a (slightly, although not by much) better picture on my residency permit card. Because, let's face it... you can't get a worse mug shot than this.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

"You told her to visit Amersfoort??"

I wanted to visit Delft on Saturday, home of the world famous delftware. But, after looking into a few things to do there, I realized the best time to go would probably be in the spring. On Friday, using the vast amount of resources I have around me, I went in search of another good city to visit. What I often forget, however, is that a person from a specific country doesn't explore their land of origin very much... or at least not as much as a tourist/expat would. So, not going to the ultimate resource - another expat, I asked a colleague which city around Amsterdam would be nice to visit for a few hours.

He gave me a list of options, including Amersfoort. I had actually gone to church in Amersfoort when I first arrived in Holland. The colleague I was staying with then (due to the apartment scam) asked if I had time to visit the city as well, which I hadn't. He said it was a neat city and one of the few medieval cities from Holland that still exist.

As I was leaving work my colleague who provided the advice asked which city I was planning on visiting. I told him I decided on Amersfoort, and proceeded to walk out the door when I heard someone say, "You told her to visit Amersfoort??"

There are only a few things about the city that still show it's true age. One is the original entrance. It's currently under construction, so it wasn't as impressive as I'm sure it truly is. Then there is the wall around the city, which actually no longer exists, but houses that used to line the wall still do. Finally, there is the tower in the center of the city. Other than that, the city is fairly modern - from the late 1700's to today.

I'm sure I would have visited the city at some point, even without the suggestion. But I do have to admit, I spent most of my time shopping.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

"Use it up, wear it out..."

I don't know about you, but in order for me to feel like I've gotten my moneys worth out of something, I have to use it so many times that what I actually ended up spending on it will seem like mere cents to the dollar... or euro, depending on where you're located.

In April of last year I bought a museum card for 40 Euros which would provide me free (or discounted) access to nearly all museums in Holland for one year. Now the card's expiration is fast approaching and I can't help thinking that I really haven't the most out of what that card can offer-- with the vast amount of museums around me which I still haven't visited. Granted, through my own use of the card, and that of others I've let borrow the card, I've definitely gotten my moneys worth out of it. But that doesn't waver my mindset.

Since last Saturday's adventure to the horse menagerie didn't last more than 15 minutes, I ended up having another 2 hours worth of free time on my hands to do a little more exploring. That's when the museum card started burning a hole in my pocket. I pulled my "to do in Amsterdam" book out of my purse, which I had thrown in there just in case, and searched for a nearby museum. Location, however, wasn't the only qualification I was looking for. I needed to find a museum I was sure I'd be able to visit in it's entirety in only an hour and a half, (since I'd need 30 minutes travel time). That's when the Rembrandt House nearly popped out of the page at me. I was sure I'd be able to tour the entire thing in the allotted amount of time.... little did I know.

The museum was fascinating, especially with the accompaniment of the free audio tour. I particularly like the soft strokes of Rembrandt's paintings, but found myself drawn to the paintings of his students even more. Now, his house doesn't display very many of his paintings... you'd have to go to the Rijksmuseum in order to get your fill. But I found myself enjoying the Rembrandt house more than the Rijksmuseum. Not only does it provide you with a history into his life and the house in which he lived, tour guides provide various free workshops on things such as how he'd make paint in his day, or how he made his etchings.

Time flew by, and I ended up skipping a majority of the exhibition on another painter, Jacob Bakker, in order to make it to an appointment I previously scheduled. I'm learning, though, that I'm no good at guestimating on how long I will actually need at one museum or the next. Next time the museum card starts burning a hole in my pocket, I'll make sure I allot an extra hour of "just in case" time to what I feel will be the perfect amount of time to visit a certain museum.