Thursday, March 31, 2011

I'm back in The Netherlands.Weirdly enough I feel like I've returned home. Maybe because it was raining this morning and the wind is high enough to slow me down on my way home on my new Batavus Mambo 8 speed Fiets (Dutch for bicycle). The letters "ie" in Dutch are pronounced as "ee" (meet) in english. It shows the sly Dutch humor that they call their bicycles "feets".
I figured out today why the companys phone number was always so familiar. My coworker John Cunningham and the broadcasting studio at radio channel 2 in Iceland have the same phone number (23-5687123 and 5687123 respectively), mine ends in 109.

Monday, March 28, 2011

I'm leaving tomorrow. My luggage is too heavy. I have no idea what the time is. My watch says19:35, my Blackberry says 21:35 and my LG phone says 20:35. I have to leave for my flight at around 05:00.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

I feel that I'm in a time machine with a nasty sense of humor. The Netherlands changed into summer time this morning and of course my cell phone/alarm clock decided to ring an hour early. Not good, I've caught some sort of flu and was tossing and turning and sweating all through the night. I could have used this hour for more rest. Because of the flue I had to cancel dinner with friends. I didn't want to carry the flu to them and they have cats which would've made the flu worse.
My time in Iceland is coming to an end. It was good to be back but it will be good to be back at work.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

I've kept on unpacking the crates I packed in preparation for moving to The Netherlands. I kept on asking myself why on earth* did I pack this? I have some stuff that I plan to bring with me when I fly back. I'll have to pay a little bit when the check in person says "your luggage is too heavy sir".



* on earth is used in place of what I actually kept asking myself.
One should never go home. When one has moved, he has no home anymore. I spent the morning working, most of the day unpacking the crates I had packed for The Netherlands and the evening visiting an old friend. I'm trying to decide what to take back with me.
The last few months I've been living sparingly. About the only thing I've bought apart from books (and the bicycle) is food. Now every fiber in my body is crying out to me to buy stuff. I've most likely been paid by now and I'd like to buy the nice Canon 550 camera on offer in Schiphol airport. I'd like to buy the JBL Ipod dock with alarm clock. I'd like to buy the apartment I've been looking at. Then again I'd like to be allowed on board the plane without paying arm and a leg for overweight suitcases.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The cars in The Netherlands are nearly all small cars with small engines and manual transmission. Cars are taxed, taxed and taxed. Fuel efficient cars have lower taxes, smaller cars have lower taxes, lighter cars have lower taxes. And finding a parking space is a constant battle. The apartment building I live in has no parking spaces. There is parking building next door but that costs money, and The Dutch don't believe in spending money unnecessarily.
In Iceland most cars are medium sized with large engines and automatic transmission. Even when faced with the highest fuel prices in the history of the country The Icelanders want power and comfort.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

I really don't like the snow and the cold here in Reykjavík, Iceland.
I was looking through my Flickr page. Of the 50 or so pictures maybe 5 are good.

Monday, March 21, 2011

No post today. Or does this count as a post?
I got new room at the 1919 hotel today. The other one had too much noise from the air conditioning. Now I have less air conditioning noise but more street noise. Perhaps I'll try staying at the Hilton next time.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

In news here in Reykjavík is that today it's one year since the volcanic eruption started in Fimmvörðuháls and moved from there to Eyjafjallajökull with results that most of the world can remember.

Iceland is covered in snow, quite a difference from The Netherlands where I didn't see a single snowflake the whole time I was there. But it's early spring and the snow is melting fast, I can see difference from this morning.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Reykjavik-Hoofddorp is now Hoofddorp-Reykjavik.
Taxis. In The Netherlands the taxis are usually a couple of years old Mercedes sedan. The driver sometimes speak English and they often like to take the beautiful way. To combat that I've confined my taxi travels to one company, Verkuyl. My employer has charge account with them. They are (the taxi driver informed me of this on the way to the airport this morning) a business taxi company. A small company with only 40 drivers and they prefer to serve business men. Verkuyl does not charge too much, they do not take the interesting route, unless you ask for it. You can call them and they come and pick you up. Their cars are clean and the drivers polite and nice.

Edit. May 2014. Verkuyls quality of service has dropped steadily since I wrote this so I don't use them much anymore. Sometimes I use Marcus, another local company, but mostly I use the buses and trains these days.

When I landed in Iceland I took a taxi to the hotel. It (car nr. 115 from taxi company BBS) was a VW bus, it looked like it was from before the crash, it was dirty and there were pieces missing from the interior. But the driver was quiet and took the short route. Then I took another taxi to my mothers house (car nr. 30 from Hreyfill). That was nearly brand new Mercedes sedan, cleaner than I am after long shower and the driver was really nice. I took his business card (Eiríkur +354 8923440) and I'm going to call him the day before I leave, so he can drive me to the airport.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Tomorrow I fly to Iceland. The purpose of the trip is to upgrade the software in our machines in Iceland. The person in charge of maintainance there is not happy. I understand that they were demanding updates to fix problems until they found out that the memory of the machines will have to be reset. Setting up the machines is a lot of work. Now suddenly their problems are not problems and they are sure that they can work around them. So, what do I do? Do I give the customer what he asks for, what he wants or what he needs?
The toolcase I need to take with me is 25 kilos. And I took lots of tools out of it because I planned to take some stuff with me when I return. I need to seriously look at what tools to take on flights in the future.
Next post will be from snowy Iceland.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Old houses in The Nethelands are usually narrow, deep and tall, often 2-3 stories tall. And the buildings are often wider at the top than at the bottom. Yet another brilliant way of the Dutch people to save money. In the old days they paid taxes based on how wide the building is at its base. No tax collector could make them pay extra if the walls were not exactly straight and sloped gently outwards at the top. The fact that the rain that falls on the walls is more likely to flow down than leak into a wall that slopes outwards is the "official" explanation of the leaning walls of the Dutch. In my opinion the Dutch have executed a flawless tax evasion method. Another common feature, in the houses here, is that the front door is often on the side of the building and in few cases the backdoor is on the front. Stairways are narrow and steep and often the place where the Dutch keep their bicycles. Another feature is that the windows are large and tall, often from floor to ceiling (and clean). Glass is cheaper than brick so there you have still another way of saving money when building houses.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

On my old mountain-bike almost every item on the bike was fastened using "quick release" levers. I could take it almost completely apart in 2 minutes, without any tools. My new everyday bicycle has no "quick release" levers. Because of bicycle theft and theft of accessories "quick release" levers and other hardware are not even available here in The Netherlands, except for special order. Many unfortunate bicycle owners have come out of a building to find that the only thing left of their bicycle was the front wheel, still firmly locked to the stand (I guess the lock was left too). I was told to buy 2 heavy duty chains and always fasten the frame of the bicycle to solid object. I'm told that bicycle theft is not a big problem here in Hoofddorp but if you live in Amsterdam better beware. Don't buy expensive bike if you live there. One of my coworkers had over 20 bicycles stolen from him, in five years, while living there. In the end he never left his bicycle anywhere. He carried it up two narrow stairs at home and it stood in the hallway, when he was home, and besides his desk, when he was at work. I will adopt similar method with my bicycle.
Both my old mountain bike and my new everyday bike, have top of the line, made in Japan, Shimano hubs and gears. The only difference being that on my almost 20 year old mountain bike the hubs and gears are almost 20 years old. Because they were top of the line items when new, they are not rusted or corroded and show nearly no wear. My mountain bike saw lots of use but I did the maintenance that was needed and I tried not to misuse it. Bicycles are one of few items where it pays to pay more and buy high quality products (unless it's stolen from you). You can buy the most expensive and well made phone. It'll be outdated in six months and the battery most likely gone bad in one year. Same with a laptop.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

I went and bought the bicycle. I guess that makes me officially 1/4th Dutch. I need Cloggies (wooden shoes), tulips on my balcony (where I'm writing this on my laptop) and to learn the language (1/4th for each).
As I said I'm writing this on my balcony, after lovely meal, courtesy of the turkish family restaurant in the building. Like usual the old turk took the cash and put it in his pocket without punching anything in the register. There is also a jewish restaurant in the building. I must go there soon to try it out. I'm pretty tired after long day at work so I sit here watching the sun set over the old church by the roundabout. There are literally dozens of jet-trails in the air. Light wind, the temperature has dropped down to 12-15° so I'm going inside soon. I understand it is freezing in Reykjavík and everything is covered in snow.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Dutch name for Thursday (Day of Thor (god of thunder)) is Donderdag (Day of Thunder). On Mondays (Day of the Moon, maandag) most restaurants and many shops are closed. Most trains and buses stop running/driving around midnight, the first buses start again at around seven. The bar at De Beurs closes at one o'clock on Friday (Day of Freya) evening. Super Fly, the "coffeshop" next to De Beurs, that sells hash and is second home to some ladies of negotiable affection is open somewhat longer.

The window cleaning last weekend earned me unexpected points from my neighbour. :)
I've decided to buy this Batavus Mambo bicycle on sale at the friendly neighbourhood bicycle shop. Until I change my mind. Bicycles are the main method of transportation in The Netherlands. I've seen bicycles with child-seats for 2 kids, one in front of the rider and other in the back. I've seen cargo bicycles with 2 child-seats in the "cargo area" and a clear cover to keep the rain out. I've seen bicycles with baskets big enough for couple of cases of bottled beer. I've seen (lot) of bicycles with locks that cost more than the bike they're used on. When the Dutch carry a passenger on their bike the passenger usually sits side-saddle so it's easier for him to see where they're going. The owner of the bike is almost always the one that pedals so it's not uncommon to see women pedalling, sometimes in high heels, and guys sitting in the back. No one uses helmets and there seem to be nearly no bicycle related accidents.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Yet another day in paradise. The weather is good, but the skies are cloudy. I'm going to stay at home and read some books on my Kindle.
I don't know if it's my imagination or has the number of books featuring female detectives, or heroines, multiplied in the last few years. Saras Paretskys detective/heroine, W.I. Warshawski, from the late eighties, early nineties, is the first I remember. Maybe because in the movie Warshawski was played by Kathleen Turner, who was one of my favorite actresses. (Her appearance on the TV show "Friends", as Joeys gay father, had me laughing so hard I cried, especially since the woman I was watching that episode with commented "What an ugly guy".) Around or shortly before the Millennium Janet Evanovich wrote her first "Plum" stories. The first "Stephanie Plum" story "One for the money" will come to the silver-screen next winter, starring Katherine Heigl. Maybe I'm just noticing all these stories because Amazon pushes them at me. Amazon thinks I'm interested in those storied because I've bought the "Plum" novels. If you remember earlier stories please comment.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

I was cleaning the windows in the apartment. It makes me feel so proud, and so Dutch. And it has the added benefit that now I can see out the windows. The windows go all the way to the ceiling so I needed a chair to reach the top. That's when I noticed that there is no regular chair in the apartment. There are bar-stools, sofas and balcony-chairs but no regular height chairs. The only thing I found to stand on was a footrest from one of the sofas.
The weather was really good today so I took the bicycle and cycled to Haarlem to look at the Model Auto Cluc Haarlem Radio Control Racing Track in person. There were about 10 people practicing there. 2 with electric cars, the rest with nitro. The electric cars have become faster than the nitro cars. The limiting factor for speed today seems to be grip. The MACH track is a simple track, very fast with long back-straight that ends in a U turn and couple of corners which make the only tricky part of the circuit. The asphalt is very fine and high grip. I'm definately going to bring my RC car with me, when I come back from Iceland. I'll go for a visit in a week.
After the trip to Haarlem I visited a bicycle shop and I think I've found a bike to buy. This is a Bavarius 8 speed bike for 800 Euros but I get 20% off if I buy now. 
I think I remember correctly that tradionally, in Iceland, doors always open into a room and towards the nearest wall. Living rooms never have doors. Here in The Netherlands it seems to be traditon that doors open into all bedrooms and into the living room that usually has doors. Toilet, bathroom, storage and other rooms open out.

Friday, March 11, 2011

An earthquake hit Japan this morning, followed by a tsunami who continues to cause destruction to coastal areas around the world. My most sincere sympathies to all those who've lost loved ones in this tragedy. I selfishly hope those few people I know in Japan are safe and for everyone that things will return to normal as soon as possible after this disaster.

In other news. Today was yet another sunny day in the Head Village (Hoofddorp). The last I heard from Iceland is that everything is covered in snow and the wind is in unusual hurry. A gourmet meal is warming up in the microwave. The weather forecast is good for the weekend. I'm definitely going to take the bike and travel around a bit, maybe to the MACH RC track. On my way home from work today I went sightseeing and looked at a building where there are couple of apartments I'm interested in purchasing. Pretty nice.
I'd like to call home to Iceland, but no-one is on Skype. I wonder if old fashioned telephone still works? And I wonder if I remember how it works and if I can remember or find a phone-number to call.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Netherlanders of necessity usually use their bikes to go to work, shop or visit neighbor, but if it was as hilly and windy here, as in Iceland, everyone would drive. And while on the subject of driving. On frosty mornings both nations make small clear window in the front windshield and then drive on, trusting the defroster to finish the work before they hit something.
I've noticed that peoples use of bicycles, scooters and cars is defined by sex, age and the time of day. Those who use bicycles during the day are mostly teenagers and middle age people on their way to work (the middle aged people are going to work, not the teenagers). Young men, who work, drive cars no matter what time of day it is. Those who use bicycles in the evenings are almost exclusively young women. The young women who go around in the evenings and don't ride on bicycles are driving scooters. It is a sort of fashion statement and one of my favorite sights here. A trim young women in dark-blue or black jacket, zipped up to her scarf, sitting with her nose five centimeters (2 inches for those few who don't use the metric system) from the windshield on her scooter wearing an open helmet. The young women are the only ones who use helmets here. No one uses helmet on a bicycle and the guys who drive scooters don't bother either. Most scooter drivers drive on the red bicycle roads that are parallel to most streets here. For bicycle and scooter riders a red light on the traffic lights is used for occasional guidance, not as rule, but since no driver here seems to be in a hurry it all works out in the end without accidents.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

There is a saying that "The devil is in the details". And it is in the details that all the difficult and the strange things lie, when you move from one country to another.

Everywhere I go there are obstacles because I don't understand much of Dutch yet. In the supermarket, in the bank, in the restaurant. In the restaurants, even in the English menus, the description or the name of the course is meant for someone who knows the name of all the spices and meats here. I bought minced meat in the supermarket few days ago. When I used Google Translate to translate the label into English the result was "mostly meat". I was wondering if it was pork, lamb or beef. I guess I find out when I cook it. I know it's not chicken, chicken is Kip. I also know its not any kind of fish.
Many sinks here have only one tap. In other words, when washing your hands after going to the toilet you often have only two options, cold water or dirty hands. Good thing I don't care if the water is cold. 
I've borrowed a bicycle to go on to work. It had no air in its tires when I got it. After pumping up the tires I found out that other thing it doesn't have is brakes. It hasn't got any lights either so I'd be illegal if I rode on it after dark. It doesn't have any gears either and the gearing is tall so starting is often slow. When I buy a bicycle it'll have gears.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Oh, what a great day. The sun's been shining all day long with temperature in the teens. As I bicycled home from work the birds were swimming in the canals. No, the fishes were not singing in the trees. They might have been singing underwater but, fortunately for them, the water is so dirty in the canals that there is no hope in seeing if there are any fishes left. I wonder if natural selection will soon create fishes that use radar, or maybe sonar, to see where they're going.
My NL Credit-card arrived in the mail the other day. I was activating it and I must say few words about internet banking here in The Netherlands. First, only one of the large banks in NL offers the option of internet banking in English. I would've thought all the banks did that, they all do in Iceland, but it seems the Dutch banks don't consider it worth the cost. ABN Amro is the only bank that offers the English internet banking option so naturally that's where my business goes. I must admit they could do it better. When I was activating my credit-card online, the web-page changed from English without warning. I had 3 options, in Dutch. If not for the confirmation E-mail (still in Dutch, but thank god for Google translate) I still wouldn't know if I'd activated the card or closed all my accounts. Logging into my internet bank is neat. When I opened the account I got a little gadget that I connect to my computer using USB cable. Then I browse to my banks web-page and press login. There I'm asked to put my Debet-card into the gadget and punch in my pin number. If the number and card are correct I'm logged in without further involvement and must try to understand how the internet bank works.
The Dutch are clever. I have 2 bank accounts. One is savings account, it has interest but is not connected  to a debet-card. The other is regular account, it has debet-card but the money in it bears no interest. I can move money between them without charge but then I'll have to go online. The debet-card also has "wallet", a seperate account for small amounts of money that can be withdrawn without pin number. Ideal for busfares and similar but if I lose the card this money is lost.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Sergei, one of my coworkers, has offered to loan me his old bike. He is a good guy and feels sorry for me when he drives past me walking, every morning, on his way to work. This is a traditional Dutch bike, often called granny bikes and it probably belonged to his grandmother. It's been standing outside (in a shed) for more than a year so it needs a little tender care, some cleaning, some adjustments, some oil and as a priority, some air in it's tires. The condition of the tires is such that I'm a bit afraid to put air into them. There are lots of crack in the rubber. But I'll pump them up tomorrow at lunchtime, little at a time. Checking frequently if looks like they're about to explode.
Brian, another coworker, has offered to sell me his apartment. It's a nice, bright and roomy apartment by the sea, on the eight floor so it's above sea level. I can even get his wife's car with it (they're moving to Germany) but he's keeping his tuned sport car. The apartment has two reserved parking spaces. It's right next to a racetrack where there are track-days for bikes or cars. The only problem is that it's priced at 230 thousand Euros which is a bit more than I've been planning for. But it's really nice apartment and the view is incredible.
I don't remember if I've mentioned that there is 6% tax that buyers have to pay when they buy apartment. Plus 2% for the service of real estate agents. Then there is 2-3% in other associated costs. Even knowing this I found it surprising that some banks loan 112% of the purchase price of an apartment or house.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

What a nice weather we're having here today. The sun is shining and there is little wind. The temperature might go into two digits and I might go out on the balcony for the first time since I moved into the company apartment.
I noticed yesterday, on my way out, that I can see "The Skislope in Hoofddorp" from my front doors. The really nice Japanese restaurant, where the cooks cook in front you, is right next to it so I now know almost exactly where the Japanese restaurant is from my apartment. There is another Japanese restaurant almost straight across the street from my apartment building. I've tried to go there, but I was at six thirty and their next open table was at nine (I understand it is a really, really good restaurant). So I went to the Jasmin, another nice place just few steps from my apartment. I can count at least five good restaurants within one hundred meters and ten within two hundred meters. There are at least ten more that are more of a fast food restaurants, Pizza and/or Kebab.
I've located an apartment that I'm interested in. 75 m2, for 175.000 Euros. According to the pictures on Funda.nl (the largest real estate web-page in The Netherlands) it is ugly, and it is too expensive for me, unless the 30% ruling comes through. I'm not kidding, it is really ugly, the colors, the doors, the tiles in the bathroom, the shower in the bathroom, the toilet in the bathroom, the kitchen cabinets, the kitchen sink gas heater, the carpet. But it is close to work, has extra bedroom for guests, is not too small, is not too big, it has nice view over a canal (so I'll get plenty of mosquitoes in the summer), and it has a small garage. It is on the Harleem side of Hoofddorp so the MACH RC track is not too far away. Maybe, if I'm lucky, I can get the price down by fifteen or twenty thousand Euros. The downside is that there are no good restaurants next door.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

There are few things here that are more expensive than in Iceland.
No I can't remember anything. :)

Just kidding. I remember one thing. When you're in the supermarket and need a bag for your purchases. The plastic bags are more expensive here but people here can also buy reusable bag that is even more expensive but, as the name suggests, can be used again and agin.
Gasoline is almost exactly the same price, it might be 10 cents higher or lower from day to day.
The refund for plastic bottles is higher here. If I buy 1.5 liter bottle of water I pay 52 cents for the water and 25 cents for refund.
To buy a house has much more costs included ,which I will come to again at a later time.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Since snow and ice rarely gets the chance to visit The Netherlands, it's perfectly natural for a thrifty nation like The Dutch not to spend much money on winter-tires for their cars. This can cause traffic to be stuck for miles whenever a little snow appears on the ground. That the traffic stops so easily is especially interesting since The Netherlands are almost perfectly flat and I know from firsthand experience that it is extremely hard to get stuck on flat ground. Back in mountainous Iceland we laugh at the snow. In the first winter, that we have our drivers licenses, we learn to drive up hills covered with snow and ice without getting stuck. The trick is to use little throttle and carry speed over snowdrifts and ice. Cleaning the tires with turpentine can also help a lot. Of course the standard family car in Iceland gets shod with studded winter-tires in celebration of the cold and when the weather gets warmer again, it gets the quieter, longer wearing and less fuel consuming summer tires on it's rims. The largest downside is that the otherwise really nice people at the Icelandic tires-shops absolutely refuse to put the old tires back under the car if the thread is less than 3mm. Therefore you almost never see cars in Iceland with visibly worn tires. The thrifty Dutch on the other hand seem to consider it an insult to replace tires on a cars if they still have visible treads.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

It's been a very cold here since I arrived. That is the opinion of the natives that have quite often voiced their concerns about me, because I usually leave my jacket open and I don't have a scarf. No matter that I'm wearing thick zippered fleece jacket underneath the outer jacket. They still think I'm freezing. My opinion is that it's quite warm for the last months of winter.
I might have mentioned that lot of people here wear a sort of black and white scarf over their jacket. Quite often the scarf is the only article of clothing that is not black. Since most of the clothes I took with me are black I fit in quite nicely, apart from the scarf.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

According to some neighbour of mine, he's all out of love, so lost without you and doesn't know what he's supposed to do without you either. At least that's the gist of the song he's playing at full volume. People are the same everywhere but in this "tiny little village", I live in, I don't hear much of this kind of expression. By expression, I'm talking about people playing songs loudly. This village, as I've been repeatedly warned and although HoofdDorp directly translated to English is HeadVillage, is distinctly low profile kind of town where people stay at home during the evenings.

The days are getting longer here. As it was still daylight as I was walking home I took the beautiful way and walked some of the paths I'd not walked before. What I noticed this time was that the pavement slabs on the sidewalks are terribly uneven and often covered with sand and/or clay and every 20 meters or so there are few loose ones. I also saw this nice little house for sale that I need to check closer at a later date.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

I found a bookstore last weekend, where I found and bought Tom and Janry graphic novel. For those that do not know who Tom and Jamry are. They are the cartoonists that have been responsible for "Robbedoes en Kwabbernoot" (or "Svalur og Valur" and later "Svalur og félagar" as it is known in Iceland) for the last few years.
In the english pocketbook novels section I also spotted between Stephen King and Dean Koonts, well, in the next shelf above, a couple of novels by by the icelandic author Arnald Indriðason.