Sunday, December 18, 2011

Finding Social Mecca - And Then Moving On

This week we packed all our favorite things in a handful of boxes, and a little moving company came to take it all away. That's right folks, we're moving on from Amsterdam. 

As a Sydneysider targeted by the cities social incompetence I’d daydream about moving and living around the world, always finding a new exciting place to explore and if I was lucky enough, to call home. In the most exasperating times I swore I would never go back as I imagined myself in some rural part of Hawaii living it up with the locals (that turns out only existed in my mind, but that’s another story).

But as it did turn out, it was Amsterdam with its socially forward thinking, beautiful in its old town charm and lively yet relaxed in its atmosphere that gave me everything I was looking for. Amsterdam revolves around pleasant social gatherings. The Dutch have a word for this; “Gezellig” and there is no direct translation for it, the closest I could come to describing it is “cozy” but even that doesn’t really capture the feeling of Gezellig. Gezellig is enjoying the company of good friends over food and wine, it is sitting by a lake in the sunshine with your partner chit chatting as you watch the boats go by, it is sitting on the back of your partner’s or friends’ bike with your arms around their waist as you ride back home from the theatre. When you experience it you’ve essentially hit social Mecca.

And in the last few months, it was exactly this that had me asking the questions; is moving away the right choice? Will I find this in my next home? Why am I leaving the friends I love so much? Why am I leaving this amazing community I built for myself? Am I crazy? Spoilt? or just stupid?

But, there is one solid reason why I’m leaving Amsterdam, the lack of being close to nature and beaches that are so fundamental to my happiness, without them I feel lost and find it difficult to picture myself living a fulfilled, happy life in any place.

So our adventure in Amsterdam may be over, but the adventure itself continues. Lisboa let’s see what you have to offer!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Fitting In and Hofstede's Cultural Dimensions

When I moved here almost 3 years ago I felt I slipped into Amsterdam so effortlessly that at times I wondered if I had lived here my entire life. I found the locals easy to understand and easy to deal with, I loved the sense of community that I felt all around me and I loved that women were completely liberated, independent and confident. 

And recently this all made sense when I learnt a little about Hofstede and his Cultural Dimension Theory, Hofstede identified several values (dimensions) that differentiate a country's culture and society form another; Masculinity, Power Distance, Individualism, and Uncertainty Avoidance.

So I ranked my home culture(s) using a really cool cultural differentiation tool I found online, and this is what happened:

Masculinity MA - The degree to which a country’s society supports the traditional male/female roles. 
Power Distance PDI - the extent of equality and inequality between people in a country’s society, low PDI scores point toward more social equality while a high PDI indicates inequalities of wealth and power. 
Individualism IDV - the degree to which a country’s culture values and supports the value of the individual over the group.  
Uncertainty Avoidance UAI - the degree of which a country’s culture accepts uncertainly and ambiguity. A low VAI indicates a societies willingness to accept change and consider new ideas whereas high VAI cultures try to minimize the amount of unknown situations, high VAI cultures also tend to be more emotional.    

All the things I hated and loved about growing up as a Greek in Australia were either toned down or toned up in the Netherlands; annoying, stifling gender stereotypes and crazy emotional reactions, gone, replaced by a better sense of community.

In fact the only thing I really struggled with in the Netherlands compared to Australia was power distance differences that I picked up on here in the work force, kudos to my fellow Aussies on that one!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Rollende Keukens - Rolling Kitchens

The delicious Rollende Keukens or Rolling Kitchens was in town again this long weekend for the 4th year in a row. Dozens of mobile kitchens head to the park at Westergasfabriek turning it into a delicious open air restaurant with live music and theatre, and the atmosphere is nothing like what you would expect in Amsterdam: big trucks, carnival rides for kids, horses, music and smoking BBQ's all give the feel of a small American county fair.  

Although our group missed Korean Taco Party the Korean Mexican fusion stall from last year there was plenty of deliciousness to enjoy, smoked pork, BBQ ribs, pulled pork and coleslaw burgers, spit pork, fresh seafood and shellfish, delicious sweet crepes and gourmet savory galettes were just some of what was on offer and perfectly accompanied by sangria, fresh homemade lemon and mint iced tea's, cocktails, ciders and wines. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Crossing the Street in Rome

When in Rome, do as the Romans do, you will have to if you want to cross the street.

During my 9 day vacation in Rome it was day 3 when I was finally fed up waiting for traffic to stop for me at zebra crossings and so with no Italians in sight to follow I decided that I would be assertive and cool and just like the Romans I would start walking across the street and not wait by the sidewalk, I even turned to my husband said “you know what? I’m just going to walk, I’m walking… I’m walking… I’m not going to stop”  As the cars approached my husband hurried across (what not to do no.2) and I caught myself acting like a deer struck by the bright headlights of a car in the middle of the street, not knowing if I should run backwards or forwards, went forwards turned and went backwards then turned and ran forwards again (what not to do no.1), by then my husband was standing on the other side of the street looking at me with a huge grin on his face.

When in Rome, you will quickly realize that the endless stream of smarts, scooters, buses and cars don’t stop for pedestrians not even at zebra crossings and so the task of crossing the street is probably the scariest thing that will happen to you there. But it turns out there is a trick to it and although cars wont stop for you they will slow down and adjust their route for you.

Step 1: confidently step onto the street but watch out for scooters weaving between cars that might not see you.

Step 2: keep walking and keep calm, because cars adjust their route to it is important that you don’t stop or run.

Once you’ve mastered steps 1 and 2 you can do like the Romans and stride across the street cool and composed as cars and scooters buzz around you.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The A-Z guide for moving to Amsterdam

On a regular basis I receive emails from people all around the world hoping or planning to move to Amsterdam, they ask for all sorts of things from how to find a job and an apartment to how to cope with the weather. I try my best to get back to everyone but a couple sometimes slip through the cracks – If I never got back to you I sincerely apologise, and if you’re still thinking of moving and need advice email me, I will reply this time, I promise… or you can just read this post.

I keep hearing (and reading) that good apartments are hard to come by in Amsterdam, however most people I know who have stable full time jobs have found great apartments and found them relatively quickly too. I won’t lie though, apartments in Amsterdam are expensive and space is sparse, but the further you move from the city centre the apartments get bigger and cheaper.

Also, before you can get an apartment you need to show a work contract to confirm that you are able to pay rent.

And most importantly, do not use a rental agency, these agencies charge you the first months rent, a rate I think is ridiculously high after the costs involved with moving overseas in the first place. I always suggest the Marktplaats, an online Dutch trading site great for finding an apartment.

You will need a job/proof of income, a local address and a BSN to open a bank account. I have been using ABN-Amro and I find them easy to deal with, I am not sure what experiences other people have had with them, there are of course plenty of other options.

You wont need a car in Amsterdam but one of your first purchases should be a bike, it’s quicker, healthier and much more pleasant. If you’re a newb (like I was) Amsterdam is the perfect place to become confident on your two wheels, the bike lanes are amazingly well structured and a breeze to ride on. Because they get stolen often, go for something second hand and don't pay more than ~€150.

Almost everyone in Amsterdam speaks fantastic English, so like myself it might be hard for you to find the motivation to take a Dutch class if you don’t really need to.  However, if you want to intergrate (better than I have) and meet new people there are plenty of options and the local municipal also holds courses
click here for more info.

If you’re not an EU resident you will probably find it’s almost impossible to land here without having a job lined up and finding a job without speaking fluent Dutch isn’t easy, there are however a handful of international companies that don’t require Dutch language skills. Success on finding a job will mostly depend on your field and experience (a recent geology graduate like me has no luck) however I know several people in industries like finance and marketing who picked up positions fairly quickly. Click here for a list of recruitment agencies.  

Accept that you’re in a new place, that life here is different and don’t compare it to home otherwise you will never be truly happy (and you will probably bore the people around you).

Pray to god you never need surgery or anything else that requires painkillers, Dutch hospitals have a weird stance on them, that is they don’t think you need them (which I find totally contradictory when they allow pot smoking for leisure but not painkillers for… pain). A friend of mine commented something along the lines of home births being so popular in The Netherlands because at least then women can role a joint to ease the pain of labor.

Once you’ve settled in make sure to register with a local doctor and dentist, click here or here to find the closest to you.

They’re everywhere and there’s not much you can do to keep them away for very long. Unless you don’t mind mice you should probably do as the Dutch do and get a cat.

Don’t leave home without it, Amsterdam moves at a slower pace than most other places, you will find yourself waiting longer than usual for service in most bars, cafĂ©’s and restaurants but the best thing about it is no one rushes you either.

When you move here you need to register yourself with the IND and get a BSN, if you have a job already lined up then your HR department should be able to help you with the details for this otherwise click here for more info.

There is a HUGE expat scene in Amsterdam, you will probably not have a problem finding friends unless you don’t make an effort is a great place to start, there are several meet ups for both  Dutch and foreigners in Amsterdam to choose from.

I mean minimarkets. Be prepared to find that the supermarkets here are small and have a small selection, but there are some great alternatives if, as you will soon find, you are not tempted by the local Albert Heijn on your corner.  My favourite place to shop is Noordermarkt a small farmers market in the Jordaan and the Albert Cuyp Markt in the Pijp. Marqt supermarkets have a habit of disappointing me with overpriced, not really bio, just pretty packaged food so I opt for a NatuurWinkel or BioMarkt instead

I’m not even going to try and help you with this minefield, like most other expats I know I have a consultant to do my taxes. Talk to your HR advisor they should be able to help you find a trusted tax consultant. Also prepare to wait a looooooong time before you see any €’s return.

It doesn’t rain nearly as much as people think or say it does. The autumns and winters can drag out a bit but Amsterdam is perfect for cosying up in your local bar or cafe with your friends over a beer or hot chocolate plus the vibe in spring and summer is incredible and totally worth the wait.

The XYZ’s 
The I Amsterdam website on living in The Netherlands is by far the best and most updated resource, I would definitely recommend having a good read of it.

And finally, avoid the Expatica forums at all costs, they are full of negativity and whining that can really make you tear your hair out.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Work Situation

Some numbers related to my professional life in Amsterdam since moving here almost 2 years ago;

~ 13 - jobs somewhat related to my career that I could apply for
~ 28 - jobs not specific to my career that I would do out of shear desperation for something to do
1 - university course related to my career path I could apply for
5 - volunteer jobs in the Netherlands I would love to do
9 - recruiters that I am signed up with
~ 46 - job applications and cover letters sent
2 - emails regarding university studies sent
0 - rejection or follow up letters
2 - call backs for jobs somewhat related to my career
2  - call backs for jobs not related to my career
2 - interviews for a jobs somewhat related to my degree
2 - interviews for a jobs not related to my degree
1 - rejection letter following an interview (pointing out that I went to 4 here)
1 - job
1 - number of years employed

(If you're considering moving to Amsterdam and are reading this please don't let it discourage you, my field is very specific (geosciences, geospatial) so finding relevant work here is harder than many other fields).

Pretty pathetic and extremely frustrating. More frustrating is the pattern of never hearing back from any of these places in regards to my application. Not one rejection letter, do companies and institutions here lack that amount of common courtesy and good business practice? It boggles my mind.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Milan In Less Than 3 Days

I'd never heard much about Milan but reading about heavy discounts on designer clothes, markets with vintage shoes and cheap flights from Amsterdam it felt natural to do a girls trip there. So last Friday Amanda and I jumped on a plane and headed toward Italy. 

Unfortunately heavy discounts meant that instead of paying €4999 for an Armani (or; Dior, Gucci, Prada etc etc) dress you could pay just €1699 for it, and that vintage second hand items started at over €100. So there I was, shocked to find almost* everything was out of my budget.

Ok, so I wasn't going to shop on this trip but that wasn't the end of the world because Milan had so much more to offer. 

Tea and cookies in Art Nouveau Heaven at Zucca in Galleria located in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II just opposite the Doumo, completely over priced at €4.80 for a cappuccino but the cookies are to die for and in combination with the setting the tea and cookie option at €6 is totally worth it. 

Inside the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele ll

A quick hop over the Piazza Doumo to the Museo del Novecento (the Museum of the 20th Century) is well worth a visit, on display is contemporary Italian art and it hosts several works of Umberto Boccioni and surprisingly some work by Pablo Picasso. Entrance until the end of February 2011 is free. 

Happy Hour in Navigli happy hour in Milan is unlike anywhere else I have seen, between about 6-10pm bars offer their take on the Italian aperitif (a glass of prosecco and some bar snacks before dinner) in the form of an all you can eat buffet with any drink/cocktail purchase (usually between €6-12), the buffet includes warm and cold snacks such as pizza, pasta, cured meats, cheeses, grilled and cured vegetables, salads, desserts… the list goes on and on and by the time you're done you're too stuffed for dinner anyway. The district of Navigli is a great area for Happy Hour, here canals are lined with some great bars and restaurants that all compete against each other when happy hour roles around, lavish buffets are on display in their windows. Guides will often advise you not to over indulge and state that treating the buffet's as a dinner is considered tasteless by the locals, however this does not seem to bother the locals we encountered who piled on the goodies and went for 3rd and 4th rounds themselves.

Happy hour!

Stroll through Navigli back to Milans canal district Navigli during the day is also worth a visit, filled with art studios and galleries, vintage clothing and antique stores, well stocked book shops, outdoor markets and cozy cafe's it is a great place to take a walk, pick up a bargain and enjoy a coffee and croissant.

Gorgeous bag found in a second hand vintage shop and still completely out of my budget

Breakfast in Navigli

Climb the Doumo Milan's Doumo is an incredible cathedral made of marble, the Doumo is exceptionally detailed with 3,500 statues, sculptured stories told on it's brass doors by different artists and beautiful stained glass windows. The inside is so special that even an atheist like myself can marvel at what man's faith is capable of creating, but to really appreciate it's grandness pay €5 and climb to the roof (or €8 for the lift), the detail on the 135 spires is stunning when viewed from the top.

The Doumo, view from the top and sculptures on the doors. 

On the top of the Doumo

Sample delicious handmade Mozzarella after climbing the Doumo treat yourself with a sundowner at Obika Mozzarella Bar. Located on the top of a lavish several story department store the restaurant has a gorgeous view of the Doumo spires and the sunset viewed here while enjoying a bottle of cool white wine was the highlight of my trip. Oh and the food is damn good too, Obika has a completely new restaurant concept and offers different types of mozzarella accompanied by delicious and fresh traditional Italian sides, yum!

Get cultured the Biblioteca Ambrosiana (WOW) is another of Milan's highlights, the library also houses a the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana (the Ambrosian Art Gallery) which displays some fantastic masterpieces including Raffael's "School of Athens" and works by Botticelli and Leonardo. The library section is also impressive with 30,000 manuscripts. My only wish is that we had more time so that I could really explore it, we did however see what we went to see and it was totally worth it, the current exhibit of Leonardo Da Vinci's The Codex Atlanticus, these sketches were mind boggling and seeing Leornardo doodles on the edges of the paper used for his designs was a great sight! We were lucky enough to get free entry that Sunday but the usual €15 entry would be totally worth it!

The Castello Sforzesco is also a must see, the caste has several museums within it's walls including an archeological and prehistoric museum it also has a great art collection which includes Michaelangelo's last sculpture the The Rondanini PietĂ . 

Ah Milan.

*almost everything, except for these babies at just €39.95 from OVS Industry

Monday, January 10, 2011

2010 Alphabet

Although I didn't updated much, 2010 was a year of up's and down's. I figured the best way to summarize the year was to do like Amanda and do a 2010 alphabet. 

Chilling in Amsterdam
A. Amsterdam - I loved this city more and more everyday and at the times when I realized I actually lived in Amsterdam I felt so awesome. Although every so often I had itchy feet to move somewhere new and exciting, the thought of leaving Amsterdam always had me thinking twice about taking any action on that. 

B. Beach sickness - More than anything else I missed warm, clean beaches to swim in. I had so many dreams of running and jumping into warm pacific waters, I even had lucid dreams where I controlled my setting and brought the pacific to me with just a simple snap of my fingers; sun - snap! Happy chilled out beach people - snap! Beautiful beach - snap! At least there I could swim as much as I liked and all while never leaving Amsterdam. 

C. Cymbeline - My long, overly perfectionist, super love for detail search for a wedding dress ended with a dress from a Parisian designer named Cymbeline. Unfortunately the dress was 40% over my budget and I needed weeks of wedding budget shuffling and budget cutting to cover the cost. The search for a wedding dress was one of the best experiences I had last year, nothing felt as good as trying on fine gowns worth several thousands while chatting with the girls and sipping tea. I wish I could do it again and again and again.

D. Depression - Unfortunately this came and went a few too many times last year but never really lasted long because my life here was so friggen' awesome that at the end of the day I couldn't really get too deeply bogged down by anything. 

E. Edwardian Pearls - While shopping for wedding earrings in Amsterdam's antique district I decided I would try on a pair of 100 year old, €2000 Edwardian Era pearl earrings that I absolutely could not afford only to have one break as I was putting it in my ear. Luckily for me the man behind the counter said it happens all the time with antique jewelry and let it go (how lucky was that!?).

F. Friends - Not only had I met an amazing bunch of people in 2010 but I also bonded more with amazing ones that I met in 2009. I was surrounded by such a great group of people last year that sometimes I wondered how this little introvert was capable of juggling so many social events like an extrovert. 
Discovering new restaurants
G. Gourmet - I tried some amazing restaurants/cafe's last year. My top 3 included Ron Blauw which totally blew me away, the restaurant has 2 Michelin stars and dining there was an experience that I felt I should applaud. Gartine had possibly the best high tea I have ever had anywhere with delicious home grown ingredients, an excellent atmosphere and super friendly staff. And Brasserie Flo Amsterdam (& Lisbon!) which had excellent seafood and classic French dishes in a gorgeous art nouveau setting. 

H. Holland Hup! - Such a great vibe in the city, it was lots of fun being in Europe for a world-cup and even more so in a country where the team made the final. 

I. Insomnia - When I wasn't lucid dreaming of warm pacific beaches I spent a lot of my time tossing and turning and trying to fall asleep.

J. Jerks - I ran into a lot of them this year, especially a lot when it came to organising my wedding. Nuno Flores - who provided our live music sent us 2 violinist instead of a cellist and violinist which is what we asked for from the very beginning. Marina Cruz - who after paying them €300 for wedding hairstyling slyly added additional costs to the total value of €500 and then charged us for the coffee we drank on the morning of my wedding at the salon. I do I do - who's service was too shockingly rude to be in the wedding service industry. The cynical ladies running Quinta dos Alfinetes in Sintra who rudely tried to force us to have our wedding on a weekday or a weekend in November because they didn't want to give us a weekend spot in September/October. The list is pretty long so i'll just stop here. 

K. Kilos - The gym became an important part of my life and I lost about 10kilos leading up to my wedding, my gown was taken in 3 sizes and body pump and core and stability classes almost turned into my religion. 

L. Love Parade - We spontaneously joined some friends heading to Duisberg for the Love Parade, this was probably one of the worst experiences i've had not only in 2010 but in my entire life. When we returned to Amsterdam I had to wash my hair 4 times before the water ran clear from the all the dust off the coals of the shitty industrial area the organisers thought they could squeeze so many people into. 

M. Mor - Sadly Mats' grandmother passed away early in the year and I couldn't attend the funeral because of some minor surgery I had the week before. Mor was a wonderful host who welcomed people from everywhere into her home and I will remember the few christmas' I shared with her forever. 

N. Norway - In summer we headed over to Norway for Mats' mum's 60th Birthday. And again back for Christmas at the family farm. 
Celebrating my 30th
O. Older - I turned 30! And spent my birthday drinking red wine and eating mussels in a brasserie in France. 

Pre wedding in Ericeira
P. Portugal - Probably the word we used more than any other the entire year, Portugal was the main focus of everything for us, our families and closest friends. After flying there to settle on a wedding venue we had 8 months of looking forward to Portugal. We honeymooned pre wedding in Ericeira and post wedding in Sesimbra, they were beautiful sunny days filled with delicious seafood and salt water that was too cold for swimming but perfect to smell in the air. 

Q. Quit my job - Not so wise finically, but oh so liberating. After seeing my yearly contract out I decided not to renew and am again a lady of leisure looking for something new and exciting. 
Roadtrippin' the French Riviera

R. Roadtrip! - Our annual roadtrip with Mats' brother Jonas took us down to Dijon, further down to sunny Marseille and across the Riviera, to Nice and Monaco, up through Italy to Lake Como and back through France to Strasbourg and all the way back to Amsterdam. 

S. Sintra - The little town where we got married, we were so thrilled to share this magical place with the people closest to us!

T. Tonsils - I had them snipped out, and it was 2 and a half weeks of complete hell because of the doctors refusal to prescribe me any pain killers stronger than paracetamol. Crossing my fingers I never break any bones in this country... 

U. UK - We spent a weekend in London with family and I got to do plenty of shopping. Although I could never live there, visiting London is always a highlight.

My brother and his gf visit Amsterdam
V. Visitors - We were lucky enough to be visited by more friends and family from Norway and from Australia last year among them was my brother and his girlfriend, a very good friend and her son, and my cousin and his wife. 

W. Wedding! - I got married, twice! On September the 23rd Mats and I caught a bus from Ericeira to Lisbon and were officially married by the Norwegian Ambassador to Portugal in the Norwegian Embassy. The whole experience took about 10-15 minutes and before we knew it we were married and catching a taxi to Brasserie Flo where we celebrated with champagne, oysters and delicious deserts. A little over a week later we headed to Sintra with our closest friends and family for a beautiful wedding weekend where we were married once again in a symbolic ceremony on the terrace the hotel that we hired out for the weekend. It was an amazing day that flew by far too quickly. 
Waiting for the bus to Lisbon

X. Y. & Z - Impossible to think of any x y & z's! 

So there, I've updated on my 2010, hopefully this year I will update more than a total of 3 times.