Moving to Holland is not easy, but it's worth the effort. This blog tells the story of shifting from American life in Pittsburgh to Expat life in the Netherlands,
and all of our European adventures that follow.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Antwerp, Belgium

May 2008

We took a day trip to Antwerp with Slavka on Saturday in May. It was nice that it is only 1 hour by train, so it's a nice quick trip. Belgium is not too drastically different than the Netherlands, but Antwerp did have a lot of beautiful buildings with intricate scroll work and statues. There is a huge cathedral near the market. The tower is very tall, and you can see it from almost anywhere in the city.

Even the train station is nice with a tall glass ceiling, and marble pillers. The mail street in Antwerp leads from the train station to the market, and is a major shopping area. We were happy (as always) to find an Irish pub where we could grab a Guinness. ;)

The Castle on the riverfront

The Grote Markt (large market) is also nice with a large statue/water fountain & all of the flags of the EU, surrounded by shops and cafes. We were happy to find it because we could sit outside at one of the countless tables and enjoy Belgium's finest (beer, chocolate, and waffles). It's cliché, but it felt "European." haha. Mussels are also very popular in Belgium, and they are cooked in several different sauces including ones made with Belgium beer. I also discovered what is now still one of my favorite beers, Triple Karmeliet (and not just because there is a fleur de lis on the glass, it's a good beer).

Grote Markt, in Antwerp


Pics from Antwerp:

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Every story needs plot development...

To add to Chad's summary of our move to Europe, I can help to give a little glimpse into what it was like moving to Holland, and what life has been like since we've arrived. After the two month wait due to delays with visas, work permits, marriage certificates, etc (in typical Dutch fashion), we were finally packed and ready to go. Our journey here was not easy, but it went as smoothly as can be expected. Think for a minute about trying to fit everything you'll need or want for two years into three bags that you have to carry through an airport, on and off trains, and across a foreign city to your new house at an unknown location. I wouldn't want to do it again, but with the help of family and friends on both sides of the globe we were able to make it happen.
A portion of our luggage that
we were happy to finally unpack.

We settled in quickly, and I think we both did a good job of adjusting to life in Rotterdam. As I write this, we are sitting on our balcony, drinking Belgium beer, and looking at the city; the people sitting at tables outside the cafes, the bikers riding by holding a bag of groceries while on their cell phone at the same time, the trams going down the street, the conversations all around us that we don't understand, the horns of impatient and aggressive Dutch drivers, and all of the other little things that we've become accustomed to so quickly in the last couple months here.

On the top of the Euromast

We are used to seeing all of these things in our daily lives now, and it's sometimes easy to forget where we are. We often have to remind ourselves that we're in Europe. I guess it's good that we have become so comfortable in our new city. It finally feels like home. But, thinking back to when we first arrived, it's easy to forget how many things were new and difficult. The simplest of tasks could take hours or even days to figure out. It can really test your patience. Imagine with me, again, going to the grocery store and not being able to read any of the labels on the food. To start, you can only buy what your recognize through the container or by a picture (milk, bread, salad, chicken, eggs, etc). Slowly, you start to sneak out your Dutch to English dictionary (with your back turned so you don't look like a total tourist), and decipher some of the unrecognizable or packaged food. After a couple trips, you get more and more comfortable with what you like and, more importantly, what to avoid (here's a tip, Filet American is a raw meat spread, don't find out the hard way like we did... ugghhhh).

With every challenge, there's always a positive flip side to keep in mind. The advantage to living in a new city and a new country, is that there are unlimited places to explore. I love walking around the neighborhoods and looking at the buildings and houses overflowing with flowers, and the beautiful canals lined with willow trees and filled with families of ducks and swans. The larger canals and harbors in the city also have some interesting ships and things to look at. Did you know that it is common for people to live on boats here?

The neighborhood in Capella aan Den Ijssel, where we stayed our first month.

At times it's been frustrating trying to deal with things in a foreign language, but we can easily remind ourselves of the advantages of living here. We've already taken advantage of our close location to several cool cities. We'll recap some of our early trips in the upcoming posts, and then get up to date so we can keep things current, because there's always more to come...


Some more pics of Rotterdam:

And of Dick's house that we stayed in for 3 weeks:

And of putting together our apartment:

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Rotterdam's story

Every city has a history, and a story to tell. We’d like to give everyone a brief snapshot of the new city we will call our home for the next few years.

Rotterdam is located in the Dutch province of South Holland, and is the second largest city in the Netherlands. The port of Rotterdam is the largest in Europe and the second largest in the world, next to Shanghai. There is a healthy competition with the largest city, Amsterdam, which is often viewed as the cultural capital of the Netherlands. The self-image of the city is that of a no-nonsense, hard working city, and in that sense it is very similar to Pittsburgh.

The south side of the Mass river in Rotterdam, always busy with ships.
Hotel New York is the short building in the back with the two round green tops.
This is the hotel where immigrants stayed before boarding the Holland-America ship to go to Ellis Island.

Rotterdam is well known for its modern & eccentric architecture, such as the Kubuswoningen (cube houses), and the Erasmusbrug (Erasmus Bridge). The Euromast is another popular tourist attraction, as well as being one of the tallest structures in the Netherlands. With the city being built mostly behind dikes, large parts of the Rotterdam are below sea level. The lowest point in the Netherlands is located just to the east of Rotterdam, in Nieuwerkerk aan den IJssel, at 6.76 meters (22 ft) below.

The course of Rotterdam's history was forever changed in 1940 during WWII. This snippet from Wikipedia gives a good summary of the impact of the German bombing of Rotterdam during WWII:

“During World War II, the German army invaded the Netherlands on 10 May 1940. Adolf Hitler had hoped to conquer the country in just one day, but his forces met unexpectedly fierce resistance. The Dutch army was finally forced to capitulate on 14 May 1940, following Hitler's bombing Rotterdam and threatening to bomb other Dutch cities. The heart of Rotterdam was almost completely destroyed by the Luftwaffe (air force); 800 civilians were killed and 80,000 made homeless. The City Hall survived the bombing. Ossip Zadkine later strikingly captured the event with his statue ‘Stad zonder hart’ (‘City without a heaAdd Imagert’).
Rotterdam was gradually rebuilt from the 1950s through the 1970s. It remained quite windy and open until the city councils from the 1980s on began developing an active architectural policy. Daring and new styles of apartments, office buildings and recreation facilities resulted in a more 'livable' city center with a new skyline.”

Rotterdam before and after the bombing & subsequent fires

If you have had the chance to visit Rotterdam, you will notice that it appears more modern, and not as “Dutch” as other cities in Holland, and the above is why. Now, each year on May 14, the anniversary of the Rotterdam Blitz, the city shines light into the sky to mark the boundary of the bombed and burned area of the city.


Saturday, May 10, 2008

Where do we start...

Since this blog will be authored by both myself and my beautiful (and patient) wife, Suzanne, we have decided to make our own individual posts, instead of some kind of gender-neutral compromise.

Most of the people that read this blog will already know about us and our Expat move to Europe, but here at the start (almost to bring a meaningless sense of completeness) I will start off with a quick outline of the 'why' and 'how' we now live in Rotterdam in the Netherlands.

The 'why' is very straight-forward: I got a job here. I just finished my PhD at the University of Pittsburgh where I did research in biomedical optics. My job here in Rotterdam is at Erasmus Medical Center, where they are experts in that field, and perhaps more-importantly they are excellent people to work with and learn from.

The 'how' is more detailed. It took 5 months of document processing, 2 months of living (as newly-weds) in my sister's spare bedroom, personal correspondence with the WV secretary of state, 156 emails inquiring about available apartments... and the list just goes on and on. In short: the Dutch do not welcome Expats with open arms. They are open about this and, in fact, it is a directive of the government to 'make it difficult' to move to and work in Holland (this is an attempt to stem the large flow of non-Dutch people into the country who come for work and do not integrate into Dutch culture... thereby diluting the Dutch culture). The most common phrase that we may have heard during the process was "You thought that this would be easy?" This is usually followed with "It is much harder to get a visa to work in America."

There is not a canonical set of steps to complete in order to move to Holland (making that information available might make the process too easy). But the list of steps is extensive (applying for an MVV; the actual move; searching for an apartment; registering with the city council; applying for the Residence permit; getting cable/phone/internet) and none are easy, so I will describe them in greater detail in later posts.

If any readers have questions about moving here, or life here in Holland, or Europe in general, please leave comments and we will do our best to give you feedback.

Now that we are here and settled in, we are living the hard 'European' life. This includes sitting in sidewalk cafes, enjoying Belgian beer, catching short train rides to Amsterdam or Paris, scheduling use of the 40+ vacation days that I get this year, ... etc. Well, when I put it that way, it is obvious that it has been worth the trouble. :)


Pics from our first days in Rotterdam:

Saturday, May 3, 2008

And we are off...

(what do ya think... do we look tired or what?)
We moved to Holland almost 3 months ago, but we are just now getting around to setting up this site. Hopefully, we can use this as a method to describe our experiences in the Netherlands and the rest of Europe. More will follow...