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.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Queen's Day (& night)

- April 30, 2009

In Holland, April 30 is Queen's Day, which is a holiday set aside to celebrate the Queen's birthday. Although it is not the birthday of the current Queen, Beatrix (we like to call her Trixy, haha). It was actually the birthday of the her grandmother. Then Trixy's mother took over the crown on April 30th, and she kept the date to honor her mother. So, Beatrix also kept the date as April 30, so that the date of the holiday would be the same every year, and because the weather is usually nicer in April than on her own birthday, in February.

So, there was your Dutch history lesson for the day boys and girls. ;) Anyway, the most important part of Queen's Day, like any birthday, is really the partying. People in every city of the country have an open market, where they can sell their own stuff. Sort of like a giant garage sale. The pubs have parties, there are often live bands throughout the city (especially in The Hague & Amsterdam), and fireworks at the end of the night.

We also found out about Queen's Night, which is celebrated mostly in The Hague on the night before Queen's Day. A group of us headed up there for the night to see what all of the fuss was about; Chad and I, Anna, Laura, Dayrina, Jake and Erin, Toyer & Hanna. We ended up in a plaza that did not have a live band, but all of the pubs around the square were playing music, and there were food and beer vendors everywhere, like at a festival. It was fun just hanging around outside with our buddies, and people watching.

The next day on Queen's Day, we decided to stay in Rotterdam, instead of deal with the masses of people in Amsterdam. Sadly, that morning during the parade where the Queen was riding down the street, a crazy person tried to hit the bus she was riding in, but instead plowed his car through the crowd of people watching. There were some fatalities, and a bunch of injuries. Very sad. Needless to say, this was a very somber tone for the rest of the day. Concerts and fireworks were canceled in most areas.

Although, when that all happened, most people were already out on the streets selling their wares, and sitting in pubs. So there was still a lot going on. We all met up at the beer garden in the back of Boudewijn, which was a nice quiet place to chill. Then we went to dinner at Bazar. Delicious as always. So, all in all Queen's Day wasn't too crazy this year. Maybe next year we'll take a trip up to Amsterdam and immerse ourselves in the mayhem.


Some more pics of Queen's Night and Queen's Day:

Monday, April 20, 2009

Say what now?

Here's a funny one to brighten your day. Just a brief recap of an experience I had in a store recently. I was on my way to a barbecue in the park, and I made a quick trip to the store to buy a cooler. At the same time, Suzanne went to the Albert Heijn (which is a Dutch Grocery store chain) to buy ice to put in the cooler. She calls me from the store to inform me they do not sell ice at the grocery store (which is another funny bit of info all together). So, while checking out with my cooler, I decide to ask the clerk if she knows of any other place where I can get ice. Here's how that conversation went:

Me: Hi. Do you happen to know any place where I can get ice to put in this cooler?
Her: Umm, yes, upstairs we sell these things that you put in the freezer and they will keep your food cold.
Me: Yes, I know what you mean, but I need ice to use now.
Her: You want ice? Yes, they are plastic cubes which you freeze, like ice.
Me: OK, well I need to use the cooler right away, so I cannot use that. I just spoke with my wife and she said that the Albert Heijn does not sell ice. Do you know any other stores which might sell ice?
Her: Check the Albert Heijn.

End scene.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Chris' visit

Yet another one of our friends was able to visit us for a few days, tagged on the end of a business trip. Taylor felt right at home in the land where Dutch & Belgian beers are aplenty. We took him to all of the usual hot spots in R'dam & A'dam, including 't Ardens Nest in Amsterdam, which has the best selection of Dutch beers, arguably, in the world.

"Two gay beers please!"
(as quoted from our favorite movie 'In Bruges' )


You can see a few more pics from his visit on Flickr:

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Moses Parents Visit Holland

April 3-13 2009

In April, my parent's were able to come out and visit us in Holland. I was excited to see them, because it had been an entire year! As expected, the overnight flight, combined with their busy schedule before they left, meant that they were very tired when they arrived. It was cute to see my mom falling asleep everywhere, in a matter of 5 seconds. After a couple relaxing days and a lot of sleeping in, they seemed to be a bit more energized.

The first day they were here we took a walk around Rotterdam near our apartment. We showed them the shoreline by the river with the Erasumus Bridge and Hotel New York, the beautiful park down the street, and the Euromast. Then we stopped by Chad's office, which is on the 19th floor of Erasmus Medical Center. They were celebrating moving into their new offices, so we had a glass of wine and chatted for a bit with his colleagues. The view from up this high was great, and you could see all around the city.

Next we went to Delfshaven, which we have described before in this blog. It's only a couple tram stops down the road, and it's really a cute little historic area with some great restaurants and shops. For dinner we went to El Gaucho, which is the great Argentinian restaurant near our apartment. You can get any type and size of steak you want.

On Sunday, we went to Amsterdam. And, as usual, we headed straight for our favorite pancake restaurant. These are not you normal pancakes, but savory ones with cheese and ham, and other tasty toppings. We strolled around the city and showed them a bit of everything: the red light district, the nice Jordan area, some churches, the boat tour of the city, etc. They had a good time, and found the city very interesting. For dinner, we went to a Tapas bar in The Jordaan area that was recommended to us by the bartender at the best Nederlandse Bier bar (good place to get a recommendation!). It was fabulous!

We experienced two very Dutch things with my parents: tulips and windmills. Haha. And unexpectedly, we experienced a third element: Dutch weather! We visited the famous Tulip gardens at Keukenhof. It is a large park with flower arrangements, ponds, statues & artwork. They have stands that sell ice cream, hot dogs, and beer. There was even an organ grinder by the front entrance playing today's top Dutch hits. There is a windmill which you can climb up to look out over the tulip fields. In the center of the gardens, there is a huge greenhouse which has every species of tulip blooming. This is really special, because you don't get to see all of the tulips in bloom, since they bloom at different times during the Spring.

We were waiting for a sunny day to go to Kinderdijk, the national park where there are 19 historic windmills. The nice, warm, sunny day did not come, so we decided to go on a day that was a bit chilly, but looked like it would be OK weather. We were wrong. To get to Kinderdijk, you take a boat from Rotterdam, which is a nice way to see the shoreline of the city. The boat ride was fun, but on our way there, you could see the rain start to fall on the boat windows.

When we arrived at Kinderdijk, it was rainy, cold, and windy. But… we persevered and still walked out into the fields to see the windmills. There is always one large windmill which you can go inside and tour. It is set up like a house, to show how the mill keepers family used to live inside the wind mill. Pretty interesting. In the end, it was a fun experience to walk around the windmills in the rain. It was truly Dutch weather that day. I was proud of my parents for being such good sports!

We went to Delft, which is a great little town (also described previously in our blog). Sort of like a mini-Amsterdam. It has all of the canals and churches and row houses, etc, but on a much smaller scale. We enjoyed looking through the Oude Kerk (Old Church, from the 1300's) & Nieuwe Kerk (New Church, from the 1400's). My mom and I went shopping in all of the little gift shops, while Chad and dad sat outside and enjoyed the Belgium beers. For dinner, we wanted to try to find a new place since we always seem to go to the same, great restaurant in Delft, De Waag (The Weigh House, an old building that actually used to be the weigh house for the town). We happened to pick a real hidden treasure. It was a Thai restaurant that had a set menu, meaning, you get whatever they are serving for the day. There was a fish/mushroom soup for a starter, and the dinner was four different dishes, served in a compartmentalized plate. It was a great way to get a lot of different flavors, and the food was excellent!

For their final weekend, we had booked a trip to Bruges, in Belgium. It's only about 2.5 hours from Rotterdam by train, so it's very easy to get to. We decided to stay one night in Bruges, so we could fully enjoy the city without rushing. It was a wonderful trip. It is such a small town, that it is really easy to relax and enjoy the old buildings and the great food & beer. I wrote a lot about Bruges in the February post of our Valentine's Day trip, so check that out for more details about the city. We were all really glad that we had made the trip to Belgium. I think it gave my parents a nice idea of another country near Holland.

It was really nice to see my parents again, and to show them around our new home. They enjoyed their time in Holland and Belgium, and hopefully they learned a bit how to slow down and relax (hint hint mom and dad). ;)


Pictures from their visit:

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Taxation without representation…

The following is one of the more frustrating Dutch tales that we have to tell. To put it into lay-terms (because that's all I know anyway), there is a rule in Holland called the 30% Rule where if you are a "knowledge worker," such as Chad, then 30% of your salary is not taxed. A knowledge worker is someone who proves to provide a specific function or job that cannot be filled by any other person in Holland. It is also important to note that the Dutch tax expats somewhere between 45-48%, so the 30% Rule is quite helpful & important for us poor expats.

Before we moved to Holland, Chad did his homework and learned about this wonderful 30% Rule. He did what anyone would do, and asked the HR rep from Erasmus MC about the rule, and what specific steps he needed to take this rule. He was informed by his HR, presumably the experts in the subject, that he was not eligible for this rule because it only applies to people who come from third world or impoverished countries. Bummer.

So, tax time comes around this year and Chad finds a tax guy to do our NL taxes (which is a must because taxes are confusing enough… just trying doing them in Dutch). The tax person asks Chad why he is not enrolled in this 30% Rule. Chad repeats what he was told by his HR about not being from a third world country. The tax guy laughs, shakes his head, and says in so many words, "that's a good one." He asked Chad to send him his job description of the work he is doing at Erasmus, and if he doesn't understand more than 5 words, he'll be a shoo-in.

Of course his job description is quite complicated, so he "passed" with flying colors. The tax guy proceeds to fill out the forms, and Chad is approved for the 30% Rule. But, unfortunately for us, it is Not retroactive. Damn! So, we lost this money for the first 10 months we lived here when he was not enrolled. Chad of course informed his friendly HR rep so as to try to help prevent such an unfortunate fate of the next expat who may dare to move to Holland.

Just another example of something you have no control over, that is incredibly frustrating, and that you just have to learn how to live with. If you are one of these people reading this who is moving to Holland as a knowledge worker, don't take no for an answer. Find someone who Knows! Like the public service announcements say: "The more you know!"