The month of May

Trip Start Apr 15, 2003
Trip End Sep 01, 2011

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Friday, May 30, 2003

On May 2 Chris arrived in Amsterdam for good. YEAH!!! The trip from the airport on the train was somewhat traumatic because, once again, we had too much luggage. In the course of loading it all onto the train, one of the roller bags that had another carry-on sitting on top of it fell over. Midway to our destination we realized that red liquid was seeping from the bag. Turns out that a vintage bottle of wine had broken in the fall. Luckily nothing else (besides the bag itself) was ruined. At the Central Station we had to repack everything into other bags then took a taxi home.

Much of May has been filled with normal settling in things. We've continued to unpack and continued to try to find places for all of our stuff. We really don't understand why it doesn't fit easily. The apartment here is bigger than our apartment in Chicago and we put some of our stuff in storage so the only logical conclusion is that it multiplied while on the boat here. Either that or we just aren't organized yet.
After a month we've also had an opportunity to observe much more of daily life. Here are some of our observations to date. Feel free to skim and read what is interesting - we won't be insulted if you don't read every word of every one.

To get started:

BEER (of course we start with the most important!)
Many of the bars and brown cafes are owned by or have exclusive contract with Heineken and therefore only serve Heineken and Amstel brands of beer. These are fine, but not very interesting. However there are a handful of beer cafes (so far we've found 4) that serve a variety of Belgian and non-Heineken Dutch beers. These are great places to try different varieties, each of which has it's own unique flavor, body, and alcohol content. The % alcohol is always listed on the beer menu and can vary dramatically - from 4.5% to 12% -- so it is important to know. After a month of trying many of these beers we've decided that it is really not wise to have more than 1-2 per day. 8% (the average) really is quite a bit stronger than the 3.5% to 5% we're used to in American beers. The four places we've found so far are very small. The smallest has seating for 10 and the largest probably has capacity of 40. Most do not really serve food beyond nuts (which must be purchased - not given for free), olives, or a cheese plate. However we have found one that has a very nice food menu as well. Our current ritual is to go there after Melanie's Weight Watcher's meeting on Tuesday nights.

The good news is, there are 2 meetings a week in Amsterdam and both are in the evenings so can be attended after work. One meeting is half way between home and one of our favorite Belgian beer restaurants (see the beer section for details) and the other is in a very inconvenient location. The bad news is they are (of course) in Dutch. The other VERY bad news is that shoes must be worn for the weigh in. So in addition to trying to always wear clothes of comparable weight from week to week shoes must be factored in as well.

Nutritional labeling is not required for packaged food here so it is difficult to know what the point values are of many things. Although it is fair to guess that beer, chocolate, cheese and bread are not low in points. Melanie bought the book with point values of the Dutch food, but the difficulty is knowing what they call something in order to look it up. Interestingly, point values are measured to the closest point, instead of full point here. This is probably because the Dutch tend to eat very frequently but in very small portions.

So far she has successfully maintained within range of goal weight despite all of the high fat food. This is probably due to an increase in exercise - not least of which is running up and down the stairs to get something on a different floor in the apartment. Even the kitties look skinnier from this activity!

The Dutch are very active people. From the very first day of work one of the first questions people would ask was what sport Melanie was interested in. There are rowing clubs, sailing clubs, racquet clubs, soccer clubs, you name it. ABN AMRO sponsors many clubs for employees to participate in various sports and it is pretty much assumed that a person will have some activity of interest.

The Dutch recognize that physical fitness is an aid to mental fitness and creates, rather than destroys, energy. In a recent meeting at work there was a discussion that we were coming onto a difficult period with some very tight time frames. In America that would have meant working very long hours without break and ordering in junk food for dinner. Here, the manager made a point that everybody should be extra diligent to maintain their activity level as the energy would be necessary to get through the rough period.

Generally in the Netherlands all stores are closed on Sundays, Monday mornings, and by 6:00 p.m. every other day of the week except Thursday. As Melanie found out when living in temporary housing, this isn't just a rumor - it's really true. In the center of Amsterdam (not all of Amsterdam, mind you), some stores are open later and the grocery and other limited stores are open on Sunday, but in general it is still the rule that Monday mornings everything is closed. Thursday is shopping night, when the stores stay open later, but not all of the stores stay open later. In general, the store that we are really counting on going to on Thursday is the one that does not stay open. So far the pet food store and the flower market are the notable examples.

The grocery stores do not provide shopping bags. It is expected that you will bring your own bag. If you do not, you will need to buy one for 16 cents. Most people bring a backpack for carrying things home. We never go out without a backpack anymore - just in case we decide to stop at the store.

Laundry here takes FOREVER. Each load is about half the size of a typical American laundry room load and takes over 1 hour to wash and over 1 hour to dry. Plus, for some goofy reason, at the end of the final rinse cycle, the washer just stops with the rinse water sitting in the drum. It then takes manual intervention to select a spin cycle and get the thing moving again. This is by design. I know this because, for once, I have an English instruction booklet. This means that when Chris was tasked with doing one load of laundry it took two days :) Day 1 a.m. - start wash. Day 1 just before bedtime - remember that laundry is still in washer. Start spin cycle. Day 2 a.m. - do nothing. Day 2 noon - remember that washing was started yesterday. Put wash in dryer. Day 2 p.m. - Melanie asks about the wash. Removes from dryer, folds and puts away.

Well, that should be enough to start. Future entries will include one on food, one on biking, something on the weather (it rains a lot) and time (it stays light REALLY late) plus anything else we can think of. We'll also provide update of of our travels from Amsterdam to other parts of Europe. Any specific topics of interest, feel free to email us!
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