Pros : Riding
Cons: watch your bikes.
June 9, 2004
Rosy, Faith, and I arrived into Schiphol airport safely early on
Sunday, 31-5-04 (notice the European date system we are using already)
for our 3 years in Amsterdam. This completed the six month process
of job interviewing, saying goodbye to family and friends, selling
our house, selling our car, moving, living in temporary housing
in Chicago, learning as much as possible about the Netherlands,
and attempting to learn enough Dutch on our own to be able to tell
people that "Ik spreek maar Engels" (I only speak English).
The flight was long, but we were fortunate enough to secure a seat
in business class on KLM for Faith (now 1-year old). We thought
that would ensure that Faith would sleep through night, but since
every gadget on the airplane was so exciting for her, she only slept
2 of the eight hours. Thankfully most of our flight was tolerant
Dutch passengers and flight attendants, and there was a child just
behind business class who screamed the entire night. So, since everything
is relative, Faith actually didn't do too bad.
We were to be picked up in the waiting area after clearing customs
and retrieving our bags. It was critical that we found the appropriate
person to pick us up because he had the keys to our apartment. And
we did (despite half the country of Turkey apparently waiting anxiously
for someone very important directly where we were to exit the baggage
area) because Rosy noticed that an old man was holding up a notecard
with "Schokkerspad" written lightly in pencil, the name
of the street we will live on until finding permanent housing. Unusual
for the Dutch, the man barely spoke English, but he told me that
I could not possibly be who he was looking for because he was looking
for a wife and baby. After pointing behind me, the man scratched
his head and decided this was OK.
Schokkerspad is a small side-street away from the city center of
Amsterdam, so it took about 15 minutes for the taxi driver to determine
where we were headed. He seemed to think that I spoke Dutch because
he had to be muttering to someone, but I just smiled & ignored
it. With that, we were given the keys and left to fend for ourselves.
Our first revelation was that we had no whole milk for Faith. Since
Schokkerspad was in a very residential area with no stores, we needed
to get directions. Rosy took it to the street and stopped the first
bike-rider passing by. In a very Dutch way, he looked at her like
she was crazy because there were no stores open in the area on Sunday--plus
this was a holiday weekend, so they probably won't be open until
tomorrow. We did learn, however, that a tram (streetcar) stop was
a couple of blocks away, so there may be something open downtown.
Every grocery store downtown was, in fact, closed as well, but Rosy
did manage to find one store that had whole milk available.
Rosy & I are beginning to learn a lot about each other on this
trip. My Dad warned me that trips to Europe have caused marital
battles and sometimes even divorces, so we are both being as patient
as possible with one another. My attitude is that we'll find it
if we keep walking, and Rosy's attitude is that it would be best
to just ask. So as you might imagine, I spend a lot of time holding
Faith looking embarrased and like I don't know Rosy while she asks
anyone on the street questions. But we manage.
I did not have to work week one, so our tasks for the week were
to buy bikes, find internet access, open a bank account, adjust
to the time change, and to look for apartments. Considering that
we had no idea where we were going, this filled the week. My problem
with the Dutch streets are that the name changes every two blocks,
so just to stay straight on a road can get you lost.
I realize I'm being very detailed about everything, so I'll hit
the highlights of the week.
After taking the tram downtown, Rosy went to the grocery store,
called Albert Heijn, on Monday with 20 Euros in hand. She has never
been a big fan of carrying cash, so this is normal. After locating
what looked like what she needed (since everything is in Dutch,
some of the items are not very obvious), she went to the very long
checkout line. After everything was scanned, the total price was
35 Euros. Rosy handed the lady her credit card, and the Dutch grocer
said that they only take Dutch bank cards (kind of like a debit
card). We had opened an account (another story even longer, but
not very interesting), but the cards were in the mail. So you can
guess the story: the grocer suggested that she put things back or
that she find an ATM. The people in line behind her were unimpressed.
Rosy did find an ATM, and after completing the purchase the Dutch
cashier asked her is she would like a bag. She was not being polite,
she was wondering why Rosy was just standing there and not bagging
her own groceries. So as you can imagine, Rosy came home very upset
and ready to book her flight home to Chicago.
The high point of the week was buying bikes--well, not really the
process of finding bikes, but the time after we purchased them (the
first two stores I went to had clerks who were too busy talking
to their friends for an hour that they couldn't help me). For those
of you that don't know, Amsterdam is famous for having a population
of 750,000 people and approximately 1,000,000 bikes. My best guess
is that the 250,000 difference is the bikes that are in process
on the black market of being resold after they are stolen. We were
told to buy the bike that would be the least attractive on any bike
rack, but after riding them we realized that we would need something
that most people don't have--hand brakes. Especially considering
that Faith would be sitting on a seat that attaches to the front
handlebars. So we bought new bikes that were in pretty good shape
and fully insured them against theft. All said, the lock and insurance
almost equaled the price of the bikes, but this is normal. So we
now have bikes and are thrilled to have the freedom to head downtown
(about a 25 minute bike ride) or to one of the three major parks
Because it is not always easy to have Faith with us downtown, Rosy
& I traded childcare times often to have a chance to explore
on our own. I knew we had finally arrived when I was coming home
from downtown on Saturday on my bike and an Englishman who was confused
as I was the weekend before had to be pulled out of my path by his
buddy to avoid being hit. On the major streets there are six lanes
to cross, the bike path, the road for cars, the tram line, the other
tram line, the road for cars, and the bike path, and sometimes each
vehicle can come from either direction--at lightning speed. In the
background I heard, "Jesus Christ"--frustration not directed
at me but at how you really have to keep your eyes open to avoid
getting hit by some type of vehicle with wheels. I smiled all the
Rosy knew she had arrived this week when she decided to park her
bike against a pole that you weren't supposed to use for bike parking.
An old lady came up to the sign and was mettlesome enough to point
it out for Rosy. Rosy rolled her eyes, told her "whatever",
and walked away. We are quickly learning that if people give you
flack in the Netherlands, you simply return the favor by giving
it back. So I am going to be wise not to cross Rosy ever again because
she got very tough this week and is always anxious to tell me the
next story of how she didn't let someone push her around. Great.
So things are going well now that we have overcome the initial culture
shock and time change shock. Faith only took 2 nights to adapt to
the new sleep schedule, so we were very lucky. Now that we are established,
we are excited to be here.