Saturday, December 10, 2011

Busy Saturday in Haarlem and Amsterdam

Here are a couple of pictures out the window of our temporary apartment on the 10th floor. It's an H-Tel complex, very nice, safe and clean. In the U.S. this would be the 9th floor, but in the Netherlands the bottom floor is considered floor 0.

Today we drove to Haarlem in the car the company has leased for us. We left the apartment at around 10:00 a.m.

When we got to Haarlem we found a place to park on the street. We got out of the car and started walking down the street. A woman passing by stopped and asked if we knew about the parking fees for parking on the street. We had no idea! There was a machine located down the street that you have to put money into every 2 hrs. when parking in the street. The woman told us about a parking garage, so we moved the car over there.

We were able to get some cash from the ATM at the ABN/AMRO bank.  We opened an account there a couple of days ago (at a branch in Amsterdam), so this bank location will be very convenient when we move. After we got some cash, we headed downtown (Haarlem Centrum). We stopped to look at the flowers at the flower vender at the corner, then continued on...

Our first stop was a little place selling sweets! Oh my, the Dutch love their sweets! Yippppeeeee!  Andrew got a chocolate pastry and I got apple. Both were covered in sugar, and they included another packet of sugar in case we needed more!  We found a place to sit and have coffee and tea with our goodies:

We walked around some and saw quite a few sites:

The waffles are the next sweet I'm going to have to try, and I want to try all of the different flavors!

We had lunch with one of Andrew's coworker's and his wife. We had lunch together at the Jopen Bier brewery. This restaurant has quite a history! The beer was originally brewed by monks in the building which used to be a church in the 15th century.

After lunch we met the landlords and their realtor at the house we're working towards renting. We went through the house together and found that we can rent it fully furnished, which includes all the furniture, bedding, towels, kitchenware, etc. We then went to the landlords' new home where they had moved the furniture that belongs in the other house to see if it's what we will need, and decided it'll be perfect!  So, the realtors are going to work together this week to come up with a price and then we will decide to rent it furnished or unfurnished.

We stopped for gas on the way back to the apartment. Even that was an experience!  The car is a diesel, and of course, there were two kinds of diesel. So, I thought I'd check the owner's manual and guess what?!? It was written in Dutch!  We asked the attendant what kind of gas to use (regular diesel), pumped the gas and went inside to pay.

We stopped at the apartment and rested for about an hour, then headed to Amsterdam for dinner.  While there we went through the Winter Plaza and bought some cheese. Any kind of cheese you could ever want to try is here in the Netherlands!  We bought a Gouda that has been aged for 5 years, delicious!

That's it for the's now 2230hrs, time to "hit the hay"!  

Friday, December 9, 2011

Took a walk and did a little shopping today

My sleep pattern is improving a little bit. Last night I slept till about 4:00 a.m. I got up and read for about an hour and a half. After that I slept till about 9:00 a.m., which is very late for me.

Today I walked to the Groot Gelderlandplein shopping center a few blocks away.  No rain today, which is a welcome change. The sun even peeked out for a bit! There are many stores at the Gelderlandplein mall including Hema, Blokkers, Albert Heijn grocery store, and a chain restaurant called La Place which serves a lot of fresh food.  There are also many clothing stores, shoe stores, and high end home good stores.  It's a nice, comfortable place to shop as it's all enclosed. It's nice when you want to get out of the weather.

I went to Blokkers and Hema to buy a few things for the house.  Their prices are very reasonable. Then I went to a couple of home good stores because I was looking for a bed pillow. The only decent ones I found were goose down and the least expensive one was 199 EUR! Needless to say, I did not buy one.

While at Albert Heijn the other day with Natasha, she got me a discount card. So now whenever I buy something that is on sale I hand them my card and it will register the sale price on items.  For dinner tonight I bought some geschoonde spruitjes (brussel sprouts), aardappel puree met boter (mashed potatoes with butter-I think!), and speklapje a la minute varkensvlees (translated-pigmeat) for dinner and a Italiaanse lasagne bolognese for dinner on Sunday. Oh, and of course, I bought something sweet-some mini-choco stroopwafels! They are delicious!

Today for lunch I had Wasa bread, sardinesfilets (marinaded sardines), and Beemster extra belegen kaas (some kind of sharp cheese). I hadn't had Wasa bread or sardines since I was a kid growing up in Minnesota! Yummmmm!

I thought I'd share some pictures of the kitchen in our apartment. The Dutch make the most of limited space so things are quite small compared to what we're used to. The refrigerator is very small. Having just one refrigerator in the U.S. was good training for me-it won't be too difficult to adjust!  The oven/microwave is small. No turkeys for us!  I had brought a rack to bake a chicken upright, but it's not going to fit.  The washer/dryer is quite small also, I can wash about 1/2 of what my U.S. washer could do. It all works just takes a little getting used to.

Tomorrow we plan on driving over to Haarlem for the day. I just got a call from Natasha and it is looking pretty good for us being able to rent the house we like!  We will be meeting with the landlord and her agent at the house to take measurements and look at the furniture they have available. We can rent it "semi-furnished" which means it has a kitchen, appliances and lighting available. Or we can rent it "fully furnished" which means all of the furniture would be put back in the house for us to use. Of course, that costs more money per month. You can also rent houses or apartments as a "shell" here. That means it comes completely empty-not even a kitchen in it. Some people when they move bring everything, and I mean everything with them-including the kitchen sink!

Well, time to finish the ironing and get dinner started. I think I could get used to this!  Too bad I can't retire from my job till May 2012.

Ok, so, I cooked the speklapje a la minute varkensvlees (pigmeat), just like I would American bacon, and voila-mystery meat!  I'll have to work on finding out how to prepare it, the way I cooked it it was in the garbage it went. 

Lessons learned today:
1. Enjoy the sunshine, even if it's chilly outside!
2. Look up food on-line that I don't recognize before I buy it and try to cook it! 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Expat Center at the World Trade Center, Amsterdam

Today I went to the Expat Center at the WTC in Amsterdam to drop off some paperwork. Tram #5 to  Station Zuid brought me right there!

(pictures include: WTC; Expat Center; a canal close by on Beethoveenstraat; and bicycles (fietsen) parked in front of the WTC)

Never in my life did I ever think I'd relocate to another country!  Some days I feel like I'm living in a it really happening?!?!?

I was going to take some time today to walk around downtown, but it started to rain, so I headed back to the apartment.

Last night I ran a load of laundry through the washer/dryer. The washing cycle takes about 1.5 hrs and the dry cycle took about 1.5 hrs. Because it's all in one machine, I can't have two loads going at once, so it's going to take longer to do laundry. Something new to get used to.  Now that the laundry is done, I've decided that I will start ironing again because sending things out is too costly here-I haven't ironed in years!

Things I learned today:
1. Thanks to modern technology I can keep in touch with my children and still help them out in small ways.
2. Bring an umbrella whenever I go out-it rains a lot here!
3. "Sign language" works when trying to communicate with someone who doesn't speak the same language. At the store today another woman and I were able to understand each other perfectly using gestures and pointing!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A busy blustery day in the Netherlands!

Today we were off and running with Natasha at 9:30 a.m.  While we waited outside for Natasha the wind was blowing and chilled us to the bone...We both decided that when we go back to the U.S. we will have to shop for warm down coats!

Our first stop was the World Trade Center in Amsterdam. There we had to provide Apostilled birth certificates, marriage certificate, etc.  We didn't even know what the word Apostille meant till we started this process of relocating! We were provided with a BSN which means "Burgerservicenummer", which is like a U.S. social security number.  Because we don't have an actual address yet, we had to use Andrew's work address.

After we left the WTC we headed to Haarlem to look at some houses, one of which I had looked at two days ago.  As soon as Andrew walked in the door I knew he loved the house as much as I did! Here are a few pictures:

After we looked at this house together Andrew had to head back to Amsterdam for photos, the bank and a meeting at work.  So, off I went again with Natasha and her cohort, Olivier, to look at a few more houses for rent.  We looked at two more in Haarlem (both too large for our needs) and another in Ouderkirk aan de Amstel (also too large for us).  I had never been to Ouderkirk-it is a beautiful little town just south of Amsterdam. It is a little remote though, there are no trains, only bus service if using public transportation.

Our realtor will talk with the owner's realtors and we're hoping to be able to rent the house in Haarlem.  The owner was there when we went to see it, and it was such a pleasure to have the opportunity to meet with her and get a real feel for how much the house is loved. We should know in the next few days if we'll be able to rent it.

After looking at homes we stopped for something to eat, then Natasha and I went to have my picture taken at a card/tobacco/candy store. The next stop was the bank (ABN/AMRO), where we got our bank account opened and I applied for insurance.  Apparently banks carry insurance here, so I signed us up for liability insurance. The people at the bank made everything so easy.

Natasha and Olivier have been such a blessing. They have held our hands through this whole transition, making it pretty seamless so far!

Things I learned today:
1. Parking is a commodity and sometimes has to be paid for with a parking permit in the city you live in.
2. The cost of owning a car is astronomical. People pay approximately 40% tax on the vehicle (yes, even a used one), pay a road use tax (depending on weight of vehicle), and gas is about $7.00 a gallon.
3. The Dutch pay a lot of "extra" taxes: Euro 400 per year for local taxes, Euro 100 for dog tax, water tax of Euro 290 a year, etc.
4. It gets very cold and windy here, so we will have to dress much differently than we're used to coming from California, USA.
5. Winkeling means shopping...and there is plenty opportunity for that in Amsterdam, and in Haarlem!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

House hunting yesterday....

Last night my computer ran out of juice and I discovered I didn't have the right plugs to plug it in here. Now that I'm back on-line I'll catch you up with my day yesterday!

Natasha (our realtor) picked me up at 11:00 yesterday morning.  We drove out to a town south of Amsterdam called Amstelveen.  She showed me two houses there: #1 was a four bedroom and #2 was a five bedroom. Both of them were okay, but not in a quaint area that I picture us living in. Also, both of them were too big for our needs.

House #1:

House #2:

On we went to the town of Haarlem, which is about 13 miles west of Amsterdam. As soon as we entered the town, my first thought was "we could live here"!  It's like a mini Amsterdam, without all the traffic. We looked at two homes there: #3 a two bedroom on near Haarlem Centrum, and #4 a two bedroom on the south end of town.

House #3:

House #4:

All of the houses we looked at have stairs. The stairs in the Netherlands are nothing like in the U.S. Because they try to make the most of every inch of space, their stairs are very narrow and steep. To go up and down you have to turn your feet sideways!  We aren't sure if the dog will be able to maneuver them, but we've decided he can have his bed on the lower floor if necessary.  All of these homes have what they call a "garden". They are very small yards, usually paved.  There is always a concern about parking, so that will have to be settled with confirmation of a permit before we agree to rent anywhere.

I have decided that I'm going to go without a car here, at least to begin with. So, we're trying to locate a place to live that has convenient public transportation, either bus, Metro or the Tram.

Natasha and I stopped for a wonderful lunch at a place in Haarlem.  Afterwards we walked around in Haarlem Centrum.  What a lovely town!  All the charm of Amsterdam, but smaller!  Here are a few pictures:

Every Monday and Saturday there is an outside market downtown Haarlem where you can buy fresh fruit, vegetables and of course, flowers!

This morning I got a map from the front desk here at the apartments and I went downtown Amsterdam to buy a plug for my computer.  I took Tram #5 to Museumplein, got off and walked around the corner and caught Tram #24 to Muntplein. Natasha had told me about a store called "Aurora" where you can buy all kinds of electronic supplies. They had exactly what I needed!

I walked around for a bit, but it started to hail and rain so I decided it was best to head "home"....brrrrrrrrr!  I took Tram #24 from Muntplein back to Tram #5 at Museumplein and got off at my stop:  Van Boshuizenstraat.  Whew-that's a mouthful!

On the way "home" I stopped at a little market and bought what I now know (Natasha helped me identify the products I need!) are dishsoap, laundry detergent, and fabric softener.

Things I learned today:

1. Yes, I am directionally challenged, but I can get around just fine if I have a good map!
2. a.u.b. means alstublieft in Dutch. You see the abbreviation everywhere-it means "if you please".
3. I learned how to operate a Miele induction cooktop and a Miele microwave/oven combination. My next appliance to conquer is the Siemens washer/dryer combination. They certainly make the most of limited space!
4. I will definitely need to take conversational Dutch classes. I can't read the signs, can't read directions on packages, can't understand conversations, etc. Very frustrating!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Sinterklaas Day and househunting day!

It's midnight and I can't sleep, so thought I'd post a little something!

Today is Sinterklaas Day in the Netherlands.
Some of what I learned about the day from Wikipedia:
Sinterklaas is the basis for the North American figure of Santa Claus. It is often claimed that during the American War of Independence the inhabitants of New York City, a former Dutch colonial town (New Amsterdam) reinvented their Sinterklaas tradition, as Saint Nicholas was a symbol of the city's non-English past.[13] The name Santa Claus supposedly derived from older Dutch Sinter Klaas

Landed safely in the Netherlands...

After a 10 hour flight, we landed safely at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam at around 9:00 a.m. We took a taxi from the airport to the apartment.  Michael, working at the front desk of the complex, showed us to our room. He then took us around the building to see the workout room and the room on the top floor where you can get a 360 degree view of the Amsterdam area!

After traveling all day we felt a little grungy, so we took a quick shower then went out to take a look at the neighborhood.  We found a grocery store a few blocks away so we stopped and bought a few things and brought them back to the apartment.  Grocery shopping here was quite an experience!  I don't recognize most of the products and even some of the produce was foreign. Next time I go I've decided to bring a pen and paper and write down things that look interesting and look them up when I get "home"! Looking forward to getting another "smart phone" so I can look words up right there.

We took the Tram to the Museum area and had dinner at a little cafe.  While walking through the area I saw this cute building, set up for the holidays!  Everything looks so festive here this time of year.

It's now 6:00 p.m. and we're both exhausted. We're trying to stay awake till at least 7:30 so we're not up all night.

Lessons learned today:
1. Wear my glasses when I leave the apartment so I can see where I'm going (hmmm, that would be nice!)
2. Bring a scarf and gloves when I go out-it's cold!
3. Learn to speak and understand more Dutch, as I couldn't tell the difference between the laundry detergent and the dish soap at the store!