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Five and a half days in Europe

June 23, 2011

It’s currently Wednesday evening, I’m sitting in seat 52 on a high speed train from Paris to Amsterdam. The seats are bright plum and rose colors. The past 5.5 days have been full and amazing. I am so looking forward to going home to Amsterdam. Leaving a day and a half after arriving was a bit hectic, but ‘duty calls’ as they say.

So…I’ll give you a quick run through of this week and will update here as  start my new life with Bram in Amsterdam!
[Backing up a bit…last week Bram and I arrive back in DC from NY and Michigan where we were visiting family and friends. We got back to DC on Monday and immediately started the packing and ‘getting rid of stuff’ process. I’ll write more on our trips to NY and MI later. We went to goodwill, posting random things on craigslist and encouraged friends to raid the pantry and spice racks in order to clear the apartment and get my security deposit back. Success! Bram borrowed tools from a local bike shop to take apart my road bike. We packed in in clothes and bubble wrap, borrowed an extra suitcase from Liz (which we stuffed with 70 lbs. of clothes and a hanging wine rack). We ended up with 5 suitcases, a bike box, and two carry-on items a piece…..all after getting rid of a ton! We also stored 3 tubs of ‘wanted but not needed right now’ items at my friend Linda’s apartment. Throughout all of this, we did not kill each other. The taxi arrived at 5pm EST on Thursday and we were off to the airport. It started to rain as soon as the car started (tears, perhaps ;)? )

When we arrived in Amsterdam (by way of Reykjavik) we picked up the luggage and were greeted by Bram’s parent’s carrying a hand-made ‘Chloe, Welcome Home in Holland!’ sign, balloons, and a bouquet of roses that has bloomed beautifully. All of our luggage fit in the car miraculously. At home, we ran into Bram’s roommate Harry, whose parents were also in town saying goodbye to him as he heads off to Singapore for a 3 month rotation with ING (Bram’s firm). Bram and I unpacked a bit, freshened up, and we then went to dinner with his parents down the block. It was the first time I had eaten dinner on the exact block on which I live! It may sound trivial, but is indicative of our neighborhood and what seems to be the majority of Amsterdam. You can live, learn, earn, spend, eat, explore all over the city and in every neighborhood.

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One of the first things surprised me were the lit candlesticks in two of the restaurants we were looking at for dinner. I don’t remember the last time I saw lit candlesticks in a casual restaurant…nothing fancy, just wonderful atmosphere. Between the four of us we decided to order every vegetarian tapas on the menu plus a salad. All of the food was delicious and after a long day/night of traveling, exactly what we needed! One aspect of Dutch cuisine I’ll need to get used to is cooked endive. I love fresh endive in salads, etc. but when cooked it becomes even more bitter. When smothered with cheese (like for dinner that evening) it is really tasty, but it is definitely a bitterness I will need to get used to.

After dinner Bram’s parents drove home to Beerze (about a 2 hour drive away). Bram’s friend from work was having a going away party, as he too was heading off on a 3 month rotation for ING. I was exhausted, but Bram convinced me to go have one drink at the going away party. Luckily, the party was at Gollum, the bar Bram and I went to on my birthday earlier this year and has quickly become my favorite. When we got there I was a bit confused because Bram’s cousin was there and I knew he didn’t work for ING. Then Bram tells me we are there for a surprise ‘Welcome Home’ party for me. I was in shock and quickly rallied to occasion. It was great to see so many of Bram’s friend who I had met in the summer of 2009 and last winter, his cousins and friends I hadn’t met before. They really are all wonderful and make me laugh hysterically. It’s great to see Bram in his element with his friends and I am so happy to have entered into such a welcoming group of people! It’s also great to be able to wear 3-inch heels and still have the majority of people in a bar be at least my height or taller (men and women)! Gone are the days of towering over everyone, now I may even be considered short! Another lesson of the evening: ‘gezelig’ a word I hear often in Dutch but could never put my finger on. It means ‘cozy’ and is a word I can see myself using often to describe various places in Amsterdam.

Saturday, after sleeping in and waking up to rain, plans for a long bike ride quickly diminished. The agenda: breakfast, bank account, train ticket to Paris, phone, and possibly a new pair of shoes. We were off! We grabbed our cruiser bikes and headed to Gary’s Deli. Gary’s is a place I found last winter when looking for a café with wi-fi from which I could work. They have good bagels and great coffee. We grabbed some breakfast/lunch and ate outside along Kinkerstraat (the busy street I’d love to live on in the future!)

Sitting on Kinkerstraat, rocking the blue sunglasses I bought in NYC last week.

Gary's Deli - great bagels and coffee!

We then went to the bank. I didn’t realize that I would need the quasi-equivalent of a SSN in order to open a bank account, so that was not possible. I’ll first have to establish residency to get that number and then an account. To the phone store for a chic European phone! But wait. There, although I didn’t need this number for a phone, I needed a Dutch bank account in order to get a contract. The fact that I was going to Paris the next day and wanted to be able to hit the ground running with work, Bram opened a new contract in his name that we’ll eventually transfer over to me. Phone: check.

Then the train tickets. A funny (or frustrating) thing about the Dutch banking system, is that in many places they do not accept credit cards unless it has a special chip on it. (Supposedly, they a more fraud-proof than the simple strips on our cards back home). That is all well and good, but if you are a foreigner with no special strip, it forces you to take out over $200 in cash in order to by a train ticket….or almost anything…almost. After getting the train ticket, we went grocery shopping at an organic store. Here they like to flip the system on its head. No cash, no debit cards, only chip cards and credit cards. So, where I couldn’t buy a train ticket except for in cash(in reality, Bram bought it and I’ll pay him back), I can’t buy groceries, except for on credit? Must be the Dutch sense of humor.

Is this some sort of joke targeting the lowly foreigner?

Saturday was an at home dinner, which we both needed after travel and a week of veggie burgers in the US since that was what was in the fridge back in DC.
Sunday: high speed train to Paris, then regional train to the ‘burbs of Paris where Ashoka’s Changemakers Week was taking place. I was glad to be there: met many of my European colleagues, led a few sessions with one of our partners in health, and saw some friends from work who had previously moved to Europe last year. It was a great and tiring four days.
Prior to getting on the train to Amsterdam, I wandered for a few blocks around Paris.

How am I feeling now? I can’t wait to get home! I’m so looking forward to exploring Amsterdam and the Netherlands and settling in.
What is on the agenda for the next few days? I’ll start working right away, and will be using a lot of what I have learned this week at the conference. On Thursday, Bram and I are going to look at an appointment after work as we start our permanent-apartment search. Marieke, Bram’s sister, is coming to visit us on Thursday evening as well. On Saturday, Bram and I are doing a 1/3 triathlon in the south of the country. Two months ago this sounded like a great idea, but after a month of to India/DC/MI/NY/DC/AMS/PAR/AMS my training has suffered. But, it will be good to kick me back into training and it will be Bram’s first Tri so hopefully it will be good prep for us both prior to the half-ironman next month. This Saturday’s distances: 1350m swim, 50k bike (about 40 miles), and 13k run (about 8 miles). We are staying in a hotel on Friday night closer to the race.

My road bike, unpacked from the box. We wrapped it in clothes to keep it safe and bring more things!

My bike! Bram's parents gave Bram and I bikes from the campsite. This one is a beauty and rides really well. I am thinking of getting a basket!

At the bike lot near Centraal Station - see those covers on the bike seats? They are like the equivalent of someone putting a flyer on your car to advertise - love it!

On Sunday, we are headed to Den Haag for a music festival featuring a band called Staff Benda Bilili. Bram and I found out about this group a while ago, they are a group of paraplegic street musicians from Kinshasa, DR Congo. Their music is fantastic and I am really excited to see them perform live! Check out the video I linked to, you can see the instruments are hacked and make wonderful sound.
Stay tuned for more!

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 23, 2011 9:16 AM

    WOW, thanks for sharing parts of your new adventure. Good luck with your triathlon and I look forward to reading more about living in Amsterdam!

    • Chloe permalink*
      June 23, 2011 9:22 AM

      Thanks for your comment! I am going to be diligent about keeping this blog updated. Your site looks great! I am originally from NYC so can relate to your posts quite well. Cheers,
      Chloe

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