Saturday, June 28, 2008

Sunday Before the Sunday Before Last (Jun 23)

I apologize! I uploaded some photos, but completely forgot to POST them!

I don't really understand what happened, but somehow these photos never seemed to have gotten posted when they should have been posted, so without further ado, here they are!

There is an English speaking Mass in Den Haag that we attempted to attend, but we got on the wrong train which was not a stoptrain and that took us too far, so that we had to double back. At that point, we might only have been late for Mass, but somehow we had the address of what appears to be the rectory and is a good half hour walk from the Church. By the time we got to the rectory, decided Mass was definitely not happening at the building we were at and fixed on the correct address of the Church, we were 75 minutes late for Mass! We finally got to the church almost 2 hours after Mass should have started, which means it had probably been over for an hour. These are photos from the trip.

The breakfast of champions! Start your day off right with a bit of tasty sausage, a bit of tasty cheese, some crackers and a glass of milk straight out of the lined carton that was sitting warm on the shelf at the grocery store... What?

The second photo is a bit more clear - on our way back to the church (which is actually only a 5-10 minute walk from the train station, rather than the 30 to the rectory) we walked through a pleasant little park of sorts.

Some old European cars we saw. We saw what looked like a 50s Belaire driving through town a couple weeks ago, but didn't have the camera, and probably couldn't have gotten a photo off anyways. Stationary subjects are much easier...

The Netherlands: best, worst or somewhere in between

For the sake of politeness and generosity, and not to mention since we haven't been here all that long, I'll refrain from making a judgment on whether or not the Netherlands are the best or worst place to live in Europe (or where along that continuum the country happens to land).

I'll leave you to decide that based on the 100 best and worst things about the Netherlands as outlined by The Delftians, an English speaking (or perhaps miscellaneous) group of expats.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Process

Having never lived in another country for any extended period of time, I've never gone through the process of establishing residence within said country. So, I'm going to tell you what we've done so far.

First we had to get the visas. This involved getting a thing called an apostille (I may be spelling that wrong) for our marriage license and birth certificates from Austin and faxing/emailing copies to the people Andy is working for. Once the paperwork on their end went through, we were sent to the Dutch consulate to "apply" for the visas. That meant we had to take photos of ourselves, our passports and the originals of our marriage license and birth certificates, along with copies of the housing and working contracts to their office in downtown Chicago.

Next, we had to get here. That was probably the easiest and most obvious part. =) You buy a ticket, board a plane and away you go.

Once we got here, Andy met with the HR department who informed him that he must go to an office for foreign people and apply* for residence. We went to another, much nicer looking town called Rijswijk for that (I'm beginning to wonder if we're in the only dirty little town in Holland). Once there, we presented the housing contract and our passports, the attendant laughed at Andy's three looks as seen through the passport (from Backstreet Boy to rock 'n roll/motor cycle gang member to average joe), the attendant glued our photos to a piece of paper, we signed our lives away to the Dutch government (we might have, I don't read Dutch!), the attendant taped some stuff into our passports and we were on our way.

After that, we needed to register as citizens in the town we're living in, so we walked over there (after we got off the train), took a number and sat down to wait our turn in the queue. It turns out that of everyone we'd spoken to they're the only ones who need to see the original documents. Nevermind that the originals were required for the visa! So now we're halfway registered as citizens (I'm guessing that doesn't mean we get to vote in any elections) and awaiting an envelope from my parents. Doh.

Once we're done registering as citizens we'll get a BSS number (I don't know what it means) with which we can get a bank account. Once we get a bank account, we can get paid. Whoohoo!

That leads me to another interesting phenomenon here - Dutch banks. Supposedly the town we live in is exceedingly safe, but somehow we still had to be buzzed into the bank - they had two little buttons on top of each other, one green and one red. I don't know what the red one does, but the green one makes a loud buzzing noise. Once the noise goes off, someone pushes an identical green button on the other side and opens the door for you. Now that you're in, if you want to open a bank account, you have to make an appointment, which you can't make until you have your BSS number, which will take two to three weeks. Doh. I'm wondering which documents they'll require in order to open a bank account for us...

If you do this on your own, it costs a lot of money. Fortunately TU has been paying for everything so far. Some departments require that visitors or students pay them back for a portion of their expenses. That hasn't been mentioned to us so far, so hopefully we won't be paying for any of it.

Stay tuned for further updates. If you've lived in another country and gone through this process, tell us about your experiences (especially if another country for you is the US).

*At first the word apply concerned me, because in the US it suggests there's a good chance that you might not get what you want, but they've used it so many times that I'm beginning to think it just means "file some paperwork".

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Our Trip Downtown*

This is where we live from the back side, where I prefer to get the groceries and where we first got the groceries! Very exciting.

A really big sail boat, a canal and a draw bridge over a canal. They actually send rather large barges down the canals. Watching them make 90 degree turns is pretty impressive.

You see that gaggle of bikers over on the right side of the bridge? They're thinking, "We had to wait while they raised the bridge for that little boat???"

You have to look just like the man on the sticker to get the button to work ya' know.

I think the poster says something like, "Oh, John, what makes your hair so nice?" I say that to Andy all the time. =D Except I say Andy instead of John...

This is a big shopping area downtown.

We almost ran into a marching band! Or maybe they almost ran into us. I don't know what they were marching for, but there were at least 3 bands, one of which had very small children marching while carrying instruments (not playing) next to adults. Nobody smiled. It was weird.

That's the townhall. Or the old townhall. I don't know if it's used anymore.

The middle photo is of a little market place they had setup.

Some little boys were floating down the canal (not in a straight line either). Fortunately, some parental looking figures were just down the canal in a power boat.

A Best Western!

That's the "Old Church" which means the one that was standing at the time of the Reformation. You can't tell in the first picture so much, but in the second you can see how far the tower is leaning.

A tourist boat and a weird car. By the way, we saw a Chevy Belaire driving down the street. I was so sad we didn't have the camera with us. While we were in Den Haag or maybe it was on our way back, we saw a long line of old cars, half of which had the steering wheels on the wrong side of the car (British!).

It was a neat look building, so we took a picture. I don't know what it was.

All you can drink wine! Except not. Sadness.

I think it's some sort of heron.

The first windmill sighting! (that we could have walked up to if we wanted to anyways)

Next is the train station we came into. We walked a long way with our luggage. A long way.

There's an underpass we have to walk through to get between our place and downtown that has tons of well done graffiti on it. Apparently people just come down and paint on the walls when they feel like it.

They're pretty impressive, but I suppose when nobody's coming to crack your head open with a night stick while you paint, you've got time to do something that's pretty nice. Though I have no idea what they say, so maybe it's not really all that nice at all...

We took a photo of the bus stop so we would remember to check out that website for cheap flights. =)

And last but not least...

Holy cow! That's a little bitty car! There were two people in the car when we walked up beside it, and they were quite crammed together. I imagine it didn't take up much more than half of a regular car in width.

*I am thoroughly dissatisfied by this method of posting photos to Blogger. I need an album thing that's well integrated. So hopefully the system will get better.

How to Make a Latte

  1. add approximately an inch of water to the bottom of large pot
  2. warm pot to almost boiling, then turn heat down to maintain temperature
  3. while pot heats, prepare espresso on stove as usual
  4. add preferred amount of milk to two (or more if desired) coffee mugs
  5. place coffee mugs in pot and heat until milk is almost hot
  6. once everything is finished, prepare latte as usual
Yes, we really do warm our milk in a pot of hot water on the stove so we can have our lattes. There's really no other way...

Friday, June 20, 2008

Cooking in Holland

Probably the largest shock for me here in the Netherlands is the food. It seems they don't like food very much and tend to put "stuff" on a slice of bread (1 slice) and call it a sandwich. Shopping for groceries turns out to be quite a challenge since most people in the grocery store don't (or won't) speak English, and we are getting some surprises. Too bad the food doesn't have an English translation on the label. For example, this morning I opened up what was supposed to be bacon (at least to the eye) and found a very thin slice of bacon (like prosciutto except a pinker color) wrapped around a lump of pink ground meat. Google tells me that the label says the meat is actually beef, but last I checked beef was red. Anywho I'm sure I will fry it up in my standard issue wok and put it on 2 slices of bread. But at last I have my coffee pot so all is well, I just need to find better coffee it seems even LavAzza is weak here.

The Apartment Photos*

These are photos out the front door and the back patio. We have birds like these in the US, but I don't know what they're called. There are some other birds I'll try to get a few photos of that are really neat/pretty.

Also, note that I said we have a patio. =) We have a patio in Chicago, but it's not "private". Oooohh. =D

I just wanted to show you all the doors in the first photo. The door on the right leads into the bedroom, if you look just to the left of it, you can see the other door leading into the bedroom. What? Did I just say that? On the far left is the door leading to the hallway, the door beyond that is to the bathroom, the door beyond is to some sort of storage closet with a mattress and washing machine, and the door beyond that is the front door. Why is there a door between the living area and the hallway?

Notice that we have a SINGLE basin sink. And yes, that's the fridge beneath the stove. There is no oven, no freezer, and no microwave.

Our apartment came with two sets of the dishes in the middle photo. Notice the little paring knife, the bread knife and the dinner knife. What am I supposed to eat with those? Also notice the little tiny spoon. Am I supposed to eat soup with that one or the giant one or the wooden one??? And why a wok? Wouldn't a regular ol' skillet have been more useful? What do these people eat besides bread???

The dishes in the photo on the right are the things we decided we couldn't live/cook without. Total bill: 30 euros... Cost of the stovetop espresso maker: 18 euros. Yah, it was a bit expensive, but it makes 6 servings!

Our first response to the view in the left photo was, "What the heck?" They're reading lamps that you can't turn on/off without getting out of bed. That little black thing hanging down? That's to turn off the overhead light.

As you can see from the middle photo, there's no place in the bathroom to hang the towels (I'm afraid the shower rod will collapse in the middle), so the foot of the beds will have to do... Yes, we are married and sleep in twin beds a la "I Love Lucy".

That's our dirty laundry in the right photo hanging on the door of the wardrobe that doesn't have hangers in it. Our linens came in those plastic bags you see sitting on top of our luggage - 4 warm blankets and 4 sets of white sheets. No fitted ones. =(

It's the bathroom. It's actually cruddier than it looks. The flash makes it look too shiny and clean...

I saved the best photo for last - the inside of the toilet bowl... You should have seen it before I cleaned it... Ewwwww.

*This layout isn't optimal, but it's much better than the original! Maybe I'll fix it later. Maybe I won't.