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, March 20, 2009

Londontown, Round Two

- March 13-16, 2009

A second trip to London? Yes, please! Chad and his boss, Arjen, had a conference in London over the weekend, so they decided to "bring the wives," and make it an extended weekend holiday. We actually traveled by train through the Chunnel, which is the tunnel that runs under the English Channel. I was always curious about how that worked. We took the train to Brussels (2 hrs), and switched to the Eurostar train that would go through the Chunnel (2.5 hrs). You had to go through a cursory security screening before boarding the Eurostar. So it was a quick trip, just about 5 hours, and you end up in the city center of London. I was surprised that we were only under the water for about 20-30 minutes. I thought it would be much longer, maybe an hour.

It was fun to explore the city again. We found some nice places to eat dinner and have some good UK beers. On Saturday, Chad and Arjen were at the conference all day, so Linda and I set out on our own. We went to London Tower and Tower Bridge, then to St. Paul's Cathedral. It was a huge cathedral with beautiful sculptures, and high ornately painted ceilings. We walked up several hundred stair to get to the inner circle of the churches dome. And, a nice surprise, we were even able to walk outside on top of the church and see a beautiful 360 degree view of London.

That night we met up with the guys again and went to the dinner with the rest of the people from the conference. It was at a wonderful Italian restaurant, and the food & wine was fabulous. We then moved to the hotel lobby, where we proceeded to drink and talk until about 3 AM. It was amusing to me to see this group of people up drinking so late, and to see where the conversations went. It was fun for everyone, though.

We had a lot of fun hanging out with Arjen and Linda. They have always been so helpful to us since our move to the Netherlands, and it was nice to get to know them even better. London is one of those cities that you can visit time after time, and always find a new interesting part of town. I'm sure this won't be our last trip to Londontown.


Pics from London:

Monday, March 9, 2009

Fietstrommel Trouble…

It's been a while since we've entertained you with a frustrating story of Dutch bureaucracy. This one involves trying to apply for a "fietstrommel," which are little bike sheds that they place around the city. You can get a key to one of these shelters to keep your bike more protected (from weather and theft). We decided to try to get a couple spots in the one next to our apartment. With the help of our Dutch colleagues, we navigated the website, found the necessary form & filled it out in Dutch.
Chad headed down to city hall, and after the standard hour or so wait, his number came up and he went to the desk, only to get a blank stare from the person on the other end. They said that they couldn't help him because they knew nothing about the fietstrommels. There was only one person who deals with these forms, and they were not in that day, and they did not know when they would be in next. So he asked how he was supposed to know when to come back, and they said that they did not know what to tell him. They suggested that he just mail in the form. We had not wanted to mail the form, because these things tend to go into a black hole, and you never know if they will come out. So in the end that was our only option. In the mail it went.

The crappy bikes we're trying to protect.

OK… I'll try to make this long, painful story short.

We mailed the form in September. One full month later we got a letter saying that our application had been received. That's all the letter said. It took them one month to tell us that they had received my letter. More waiting, and waiting, and received nothing further in the mail. It is hard to know who to call or what to ask in these cases, because most likely the person you talk to will have no idea what you are talking about in English. After 3 full months, though, I had reached my limit, and I asked a Dutch colleague of mine give them a call. I listened to a long and confusing conversation in Dutch, during which my colleague was put on hold twice for 5 minutes or more while they "looked into it." In the end, they had to take down his phone number and they said they'd call back because the person who knows about this wasn't there that day.

So, again we waited. A week later and still no call back, so my colleague generously agreed to call them again. This time they gave him the email address of the person who handles these bike shelters. So I emailed him, and as you may have guessed… no reply. It was the middle of December, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt that he was out on vacation. So I waited until after the holidays and I emailed him a second time in the beginning of January. This time, miraculously, I got a response! He informed me that one of the two bike spots we had requested were available. So we could have one spot now, and then would be put on a waiting list for the other spot. He said he would inform me when the key was ready for me to pick up at city hall.
Just to break up the monotony of text, here's another pic of our bikes in the winter.

Again I was waiting… get the trend? After a couple weeks I hadn't received any additional letters in the mail, so with a couple more emails back and forth with the gentleman, he informed me that it would be done that week. It finally came, and I went to city hall, waited an hour, and thankfully there were no mix-ups or other hold ups, and I was able to get my key to the fietstrommel at last! Unfortunately, all of this did not happen soon enough to avoid some damage to my bike in the meantime. I was keeping my bike locked to a street light pole on the sidewalk, and a horrible parker (as there are so many of in Holland) drove up on the sidewalk and crushed the main gear. Luckily I found a small repair shop that was able to fix it up for only 25 Euro.

So, let's recap. This process started in September, 2008. Two trips to city hall, two phone calls, several emails, and 6 months later, I finally "succeeded" in getting the key to one of the two fietstrommel spots in February 2009. Now, THAT my friends is Dutch efficiency at it's finest!