Saturday, July 31, 2010

BBQ and Pub Crawl

Last night was pretty fun.  I had a bunch of people over for a BBQ (finally got to use my back yard for this!) and then we went on a dive bar crawl of Haarlem.  Everyone brought food over for the BBQ and it turned out to be a lot of good food and tons of alcohol.  I had a good mix of people from all different countries.  One thing that I was not anticipating was drinking so much at the BBQ.  I though we would pretty much save that for the bar crawl.  Ha, I was wrong.  I started with some wine then switched to beer.  At the end of the BBQ, Wouter opened the Polish vodka he brought for everyone to take a shot.

Once we finally made it out, we started getting a beer at each bar, but of course it did not stay that simple, at on bar we had a tequila shot and then at the very next bar we had a Jaegermister shot.  I did not even remember the Jaeger shot until I read Alena's status message today on Facebook...

At the one bar there was a newspaper sitting on the table so I thought it would be fun to tach Julia some Dutch, (like I knew what I was talking about...ya right!)  I like the French person Dutch accent :-)

Finally we just decided to go to Steels and dance for a bit.  We ended up staying until they closed.  On the way back home for some reason, some people in our group decided to lay in the bike lane.  Then the cops came over and told us to go home.  I just remember that I kept saying "Wij gaan thuis!" "Wij gaan thuis!"(not the best grammar, I know)

Today I woke up to find a bunch of pictures on my camera!  They were pretty funny, glad I took the camera.

Today sucked I laid on the couch most of the day then still had to clean up.  Needless to say I am not doing anything tonight!

I think the BBQ/bar crawl was a success but next time definitely one or the other...not both!  Thanks to everyone who came and made food.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Life as a "European" is Good

Life right now is good.  I enjoy my job, my friends, my social life, and just about everything else.  I've always been saying that I like it here in The Netherlands, but I guess about 2-3 weeks ago, I came to the realization that I am really glad that I decided to move here.  It's amazing to see how different the world can be from what you are used to.  I don't think I have ever really been happy in the "comfort zone" I always have to be doing something new.

I'm not sure that I can pinpoint one exact thing or even things that makes me like it here, but I think it is a combination of everything and just the feeling that I have.  Even when I came home (see, I just said "home" there) from London a few weeks ago, I felt like "ah, I'm home."

I guess if I had to think of some things that make me like it here they would include:

  • The people
    • I feel like people here think similar to the way I think
    • They tell it like it is
    • Made some awesome friends already (still can't believe I've only known them for such a short period of time)
  • The atmosphere
    • You can walk and bike everywhere
    • Old buildings
    • Canals
    • No suburban sprawl
  • The location
    • I have the rest of Europe at my fingertips
    • I live so close to Amsterdam
    • I live in Haarlem
  • The feeling of being able to make it truly on my own
  • The language
    • Believe it or not, this one made the list!  Yes, I bitch and moan about it all the the time, but for as hard as it is to learn, I find it truly rewarding each time I recognize either by hearing or reading something that was unfamiliar to me even a couple days ago.
    • This is a true challenge that I vow to accomplish no matter what it takes.  I like challenges and this one is certainly the ultimate.  I think if I can do this, I can do just about anything else.
  • The train
    • It is awesome, there is nothing else to say.
  • Work life
    • Europeans value their home life more than there work life.  This is the way it should be and it is great that the people have control here and not the corporations.
    • 36 1/2 days of vacation!
Now, I don't want everyone in Pittsburgh (and everywhere else for that fact) to take this as I don't care about them anymore.  This is certainly not true!  I miss everyone like crazy.  I can't wait for the first person to come visit.  And if that doesn't happen, until I come home for Christmas.  I wish I could have the best of both worlds by having you all here with me, but unfortunately, that is not possible.  But know that I am thinking of you.

I'd like to close by saying I am so grateful for the opportunity that I had to come here and that I am looking forward to what other experiences and challenges it may bring.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Burrito Night!!

Wow, I just had real Mexican!  Kris and I bought some huge tortillas at makro a couple weeks ago and tonight we decided to try them out and make some burritos.  We stopped at Albert Heijn after work to get all of the supplies.  Wow, I haven had real Mexican in so long.  Before going to the gym I preped by making some guac from avocados, garlic, a shallot, a chili pepper, a lime, and salt and pepper.  Later on Kris came over and we got to the actual burritos.  Mine had:

  • Chicken (with homemade season mix)
  • Brown rice
  • letuce
  • The homemade guacamole
  • Grilled red onions, bell and chili peppers
  • Sour cream
  • Hot Sauce
  • Lime juice (fresh squeezed of course)
  • Tomatoes
  • Gouda cheese (they do not have cheddar here)
It was ginormous and I could not even finish it all.  Burrito night was a huge success and we may just expand this to a large group next time and show the Dutchies (and some other European groups) what real Mexican is all about.


Are you kidding me? It's only July and it just got warm last month!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Ready for the Canary Islands

This weekend was pretty chilly, 19° (~66° F.)  Got me to thinking about holiday and how awesome it is going to be.  We finally booked last weekend.  It was a bit of a process to find something that was in a good location for a good price but we found it.  We will staying on Tenerife which is the largest island in the chain.  Our hotel is in Playa de las Américas which is the main section for going out and everything else.  I'm also studying to get certified in scuba while we are there.  There is more to it that you'd think.  I have a 250ish page book to read that I will be tested on when I get there, then I have to spend a day in a pool and two days in the ocean.  I think it will be worth it though, I'm looking forward to it for sure.

Also, I can't believe how close to Africa I am going to be.  The Canary Islands are a part of Spain but are right off of the coast of Morocco.  One of these days I will hopefully make it to Africa maybe for a Safari or something.  But right now I am looking forward to the beach, relaxing, scuba, surfing (Kris says he will show me,) hiking, partying, and just having a hell of a good time without thinking about PPG or hearing everyone speak in Dutch!  :-)

Language Fail

Volks Universiteit in Haarlem teaches Dutch as a second language courses.  I think most people who would be interested in these classes do not speak the language.  Why then would you make the page with the information about the classes entirely in Dutch?!  WTF?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

From my Mom

I got a card from my mom yesterday telling me not to forget that Pennsylvania has some beautiful sights too!  Haha.  Thanks mom!  Love ya.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Nederlandse Week (Dutch Week)

As everyone probably knows by now, I am desperately trying to learn Dutch.  I am almost done with Rosetta Stone so I picked Monday the 19th to start speaking all Dutch at work to speed up the process.  Everyone says that you can only lear a language by using it, so why not jump right in I thought?  Here is how the week went day by day:

Monday I got up and was ready and raring to go!  I was excited to get started and really put the learning process into overdrive.  As I started walking over to Kris's, I started to get a bit nervous and all of a sudden my entire mouth was bone dry.  I greeted Kris with a "Goedemorgen," instead of the standard good morning.  The ride to work was very quite.  I did not have much to say because I did not know how to say much.  Kris was trying to make conversation but unfortunately I had to keep saying "Ik begrip je niet" (I don't understand you.  Throughout the day, it was more of the same.  People would try to teach me things but then I would quickly forget.  By the end of the day I was really bummed.  I felt like I learned nothing over the entire day.  I switched back to English on the way home with Kris.  The evening I decided to just go out the the beach to clear my head.  Monday night a wrote a post about my experience that day.

Tuesday I woke up to some wonderful comments on that post.  They were full of suggestions, helpful hints, motivation, and encouragement.  I don't think the people who wrote those comments know how much they made my morning that day.  I woke up kinda dreading going into work and starting the whole Dutch thing all over again, but after reading the comments, I was again looking forward to it.  The one suggestion I took right away was to bring around a notebook with me and write down the things I wanted to know how to say and the things that people said that I did not understand.  I then had people translate for me.  Tuesday went 10 times better!  One of the first things I changed was that I would use Dutch whenever possible and English at other times, not "No English" like I did on Monday, that just did not work.  I felt like getting to go over the words and phrases in the book over and over really helped to make things stick.

Wednesday I was again ready to go and was hopeful for another day as good as Tuesday.  This did not happen.  For some reason I felt shitty again and did not write nearly as many words in my book that day.  Over the course of the day I started to feel like crap.  That night on of my hipster friends came over and we payed a visit to Mary Jane.  Haven't done that since college (I am not counting my first time in Amsterdam because I'm pretty sure they sold us tobacco there.)  Honestly, I am no stoner, but I think that is exactly what I needed.  It took my mind of of Dutch for the night and just put me in a really happy mood.

Thursday I woke up tired as hell, but still in a great mood to learn some more Dutch.  I felt great the whole day, I was forming sentences that people could understand (even though they were not yet grammatically correct or pronounced exactly right...I still can't make that damn "ui" sound!)  After reflecting on the day on the way home from work, I felt like I really learned something that day and made some progress.  It felt really good.

Friday (today) I woke up and did not feel like learning Dutch.  I felt that way pretty much the whole way to work.  Once I was there for a while, I was suddenly in the mood to start learning Dutch.  I was doing okay, but then for some reason in the middle of the day, I snapped back into not feeling like learning anymore and being depressed because for everything that I seem to learn, I figure out about 10 more things that either don't make sense or that I still have to learn.  I came home feeling not that great overall so I took a random bike ride to clear my head.  I am feeling a bit better now.

Overall, this week was a real roller coaster!  There were a lot of ups and downs and was a very jerky ride.  I am starting to realize that I just need to enjoy the ride without getting so upset.  This is something I really have been trying to work on.  But for some reason my feelings on learning Dutch are just really random.  Sometimes I am really excited to learn and don't care about making mistakes as long as I am speaking Dutch yet other times I don't want to deal with it and get upset every time I get something wrong.  It's like there is some kind of internal switch inside me that randomly flips on and off.  I wish it could just remain on optimistic, but unfortunately, life does not work that way.

Anyway, I decided that I definitely did learn some things during Nederlandse Week and I am planning on continuing it indefinitely until I am confident in speaking the language to anyone about any topic.  I know this is a pretty ambitious goal, but I am also a pretty ambitious and determined person.  I literally devote a ton of my free time to learning this crazy language.  I search the Internet for readings, videos, or anything else that will help me to understand.  I have faith that it will come one day and that is what is keeping me going at this point.  I do not want to just be "that American on Jeroen's team."  I want to be able to talk with and interact with people in the native language of the land in which I live.  So although this week was a little rocky I am still going at this with full force.  Please keep your fingers crossed for me and maybe, just maybe, one day Ik zal spreken goede Nederlands (I shall speak good Dutch!)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

It was much better today

Day two worked out to be much better in my switch to Dutch.  Thank you everyone who gave suggestions.  Here is what I did today:

  • Did not limit myself to Dutch only, there was too much silence and not enough learning yesterday.  Not to mention it made the day way less fun.
  • Brought a notebook (thanks Anya!) and wrote down things that I heard and things that I wanted to know. I was able to review this during the day and again tonight.  Made me feel like I actually learned something today.
  • I spoke in Dutch, or a least tried to, many times with everyone who would listen and then correct me.  Thanks again guys!
Overall I just had a much better feeling throughout the day and am hopeful that things will just keep getting better as I am sure they will.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Trying to Assimilate

 Well, today was the day that I picked to start speaking all Dutch at work.  I know it was going to be hard, but man, it was really bad.  I feel like when I am saying things around other people, I forget works and I do not pronounce then correctly either.  It's not like I do everything perfect at home while I am practicing, but I really feel that I am better when I am home.

There are just so many questions I have like:

  • How do you know the placement of words?  It seams so random to me, verbs, nouns, and adjectives are always in different places and there never seems to be a reason.  It's like sentences are randomly jumbled around.  I can understand what the order means when others say it, but I can never re-create the proper order.
  • What is the difference between is and wordt?
  • Why do words have so many different meanings?
  • Why so the same things have so many different words?
  • Why are the teachings of Rosetta Stone and language in the real world so different?
  • And I think most importantly, why do I feel like I did not absorb anything today?  I was not planning on learning a lot, but I though I would at least learn one or two things.
    • Actually, I did learn some things, but forgot them almost right after learning them
Now I knew it was going to be bad, so I am not going to complain, (these are serious questions above.)  I am going to continue speaking Dutch (if you can even call what I am speaking Dutch!!) all day for at least the rest of the week.  After this week I am going to evaluate what I have learned against the stress that it caused me and see how I will proceed.  I can say that no matter what I am going to try to use more Dutch from now on, I just don't know if I'm going to try to do it all day anymore after this week.

One good thing at least is that I've received some positive comments from the people at work and even though I don't see much progress, it's nice to know that some people think I am getting somewhere.  I also want to give a lot of props to everyone at work so far.  They all seam to be happy that I am trying to learn Dutch and are willing to put up with me trying to speak and understand it.  I am grateful for that because so far nothing else is working.  I hope I don't end up annoying them too much.

For right now, there is a long long road ahead of me, but I am looking down that road with optimism.  Although it does not seam like it, I think I will be able to do it.  The only question is, how long will it take?  Honestly,if I can get to the point where I can have a meaningful two minute conversation with someone I will be pretty happy.  I think once I get to that point I will have a lot easier time learning the rest.

If anyone has any tips for me about learning anything language, things that worked for you, please let me know.  I am really devoting a lot of time and energy to this and welcome any other ideas that might help.

Thanks for listening to yet another Dutch language post.  ;-)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Holland Lost but still Quite an Experience

(Make sure you click on the picture to enlarge it.
They dropped orange flowers from helicopters!)

After getting back from England, I did not have much time until it was time to go watch some Dutch football.   I got home, put away my luggage, did a bit of work, took a shower, then I was off to meet Erik.  Shoved down some pizza really quick at his house and we were off to Museumplein in Amsterdam to watch the game.  We got there really early so we had a pretty good space right in the middle.  We met Kris and Faycal there too.  There was an insane amount of people there, thousands.  I can't believe the amount of things people were allowed to do in the crowd that was perfectly acceptable such as waving flares, shooting off fireworks (from right in the crowd,) crossing through restricted areas, and many other things.  It was really nice to see an atmosphere like this that did not have an overabundance of police.  As a matter of fact, I did not see one police officer until we were walking home after the match.

The atmosphere was pretty fun as well, they were playing music and getting everyone ready for the match.  Right before it started, helicopters came and dropped tons of orange flowers all over the crowd (check out the picture above.)

It was a shame that the game was so bad and there really was not even a point during the game where the crowd got really excited.  Holland ended up losing 0-1 against Spain in overtime.  It was sad and people were just walking away not saying much.

Even though they lost, I am glad I got to experience the World Cup in a European country who's team made it the whole way to the finals.  I was never really interested in "soccer" before, but now I kinda like it.  It was exciting being here from the beginning watching people getting more and more excited after each win, right up until Sunday in Musuemplein watching the last match.  I really enjoyed it and am sad that it's over now.  Next big event is the European cup which will be two years from now!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Last Days in London

Saturday was my last full day in London and the best part was class was over so no sitting in a classroom from 9-7!  I started out early because I wanted to get as much in as I could.  I took the Underground to Piccadilly Circus to go get my ticket for The Original London Sightseeing Tour on one of those big double decker open top busses.  The tour was nice and I was able to see a lot of sights and learn a lot of interesting facts.  For example, did you know that the "City of London" is only one square mile and that a lot "London" is actually the "City of Westminster."  One the tour I saw:

  • Big Ben
  • Parliament
  • London Bridge
  • Tower Bridge
  • The Tower of London
  • Buckingham Palace
and many other cool sites.

After the tour I decided to check out Harrod's.  I thought Macy*s Harold Square in New York was amazing, but this place was crazy.  It was like a giant maze and the architecture and detail were pretty nice.  After Harrod's I went back to Piccadilly Circus and walked up Regent Street and around on Oxford Street to do some shopping.  They were having major sales so I got some good deals even considering that I was paying in Pounds not Euros.

After walking around the city pretty much all day, I decided to have some Mexican for dinner.  I had two huge chimichangas and two big margaritas.  It was great!  I haven't had decent Mexican is so long.

I got back to the hotel early because I was dead tired.  For some reason I decided I better check on what time the Underground opened on Sundays.  To my surprise, it was not until 7:00!  This was way too late for me to take the hour long ride to Heathrow!  I this point I was like O shit!  A cab to the airport cost about £100!  At this point I was wide awake because I didn't know what to do.  After some investigation, I found out I could take a bus to Paddington Station and get a train from there.  The busses ran all night and the first train to Heathrow was at 6:12.  I thought this might be cutting it close but I decided to try that in the morning.  The only problem was, I got rid of all of my cash so I did not have to exchange it, all I had left was 10p (10 pence.)  On top of being worried about the plane, it was so hot in my room that night I could not go to sleep, I did not dose off until around 1 and I woke up to catch the bus at 4:45!

The next day, I woke up, had to get to an ATM to get money for the bus and luckily the one I found let me take out only £10.  When the bus came, the driver said he does not give change.  I was about to just tell him to take all £10 but before I could, he just waved me in for free!!  Wow, I could not believe that.  We got to Paddington a little early which was good because it took me a little while to get the Heathrow Connect ticket to the airport.  Of course the train was late which got me stressing even more.  There were a bunch og Heathrow Express trains departing but those were ridiculously expensive.  Finally, my train came and I made it to the airport on time.  I ended up buying an orange juice for the exact amount of cash that I had left, perfect!

I was finally on my way back to Holland to see the final game of the World Cup in Amsterdam.  More on that next time.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Things I Like about London

Here is just a short list about some of the cool things about London:
  • The Underground is an amazing way to get around
  • The buildings/architechture
  • There are always people everywhere
  • Places are always open
  • It is like the NYC of Europe
  • British accents
  • Lot's to do and see
  • People with a lot of style
  • Tower Bridge
  • Native English speakers
  • Very modern and very old at the same time
  • Lots of organic/natural places

Proper Coffee

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

My Bucket List

Recently I've been thinking about things and decided that I want to have a bucket list.  There are a lot of things that I would like to accomplish in my life so I thought if I actually write them down and work at knocking things off the list, I might actually achieve them.  After moving to an entirely different country and living my life pretty successfully in Europe, I'm come to realize that nothing is too big to become a reality.

So, I've created a list:

This is of course a work in progress that I will continue to add to when I think of other things that I want to do and cross off thing that's I've accomplished.  Think there is something that I might enjoy that is not on the list?  Any and all suggestions are welcome.  Also, some of these goals would be much more fun to complete with others, anyone willing to take a tip with me or do/learn something with me, that would be great!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Voetbal vs. Football

Wow, what a game tonight with Holland playing Uruguay.  It was intense right up until the last whistle.  I love the way voetbal (Dutch for football aka, soccer) is played in Europe compared to American football.  There is 45 minutes of non-stop action in the first half (there ate not even commercials) a 15 minute halftime, and finally a non-stop 45 minute second half.  The clock never stops no matter what, in fact it actually counts up instead of down.  At the end of the half, they display a sign with the number of extra minutes to be played, but the thing is, you never know when it is really going to be over.  It is up to the ref to call the game when there is not a play in progress.  For example in tonight's second half, there was supposed to be three extra minutes but it ended up being close to four until the called the game.

There is no time to look away from the TV during the action or can very easily miss something.  For example, I looked away from the TV just to order another beer tonight and bam, I missed Uruguay scoring.

American football on the other hand is much slower paced.  There are commercials every 5-10 minutes and the clock runs and runs when players are just standing around.  In fact, you can pretty much officially win a football game with people rushing on to the field when there is still time left on the clock!  I always found this totally ridiculous.  I hate the way that is perfectly acceptable to just intentionally down the ball when it is during the last minute or so of the game.  I read an interesting article in the wall street journal where they was a study done that showed there was really only 11 minutes of actual action during an American football game.  That is just crazy to me when there are four 15 minute quarters.  I always knew it was bad but never realized it was that bad.

Don't get me wrong, I still like American football and love my Steelers, but I really like the way things work in voetbal (soccer) better where the game is played non-stop and it is not commercialized to the point where most of what you are watching is commercials.  Think about it, the regulating game is 1 hour, the only action that happens takes 11 minutes, but in order to watch a whole American football game takes about 3 1/2 hours!  Crazy.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Tower Bridge, London

Wow, so cool!

Arrival in London

I’m in London!  Everything is written in English and everyone is speaking English.  I never thought I would be so happy to see and hear this!

I started out early in the morning to wake up and catch my flight which departed from Amsterdam at 8:30.  Upon arrival at the airport, I got to bypass a line full of British youth football payers because PPG bought me a first class ticket here!  (I am economy on the way back but at least I got first class here.)  I walked right up to first class and checked in no problem, then the lady gave me directions to the British Airways lounge…cool, I never been in an airline lounge before. 

Next was passport control.  The guy asked me if I was returning to the US and I told him no I’m going to the UK.  He asked me if I lived in the US and I told him no, I live here.  He then asked for my residence card…I was like o shit.  The IND in all of it’s Dutch efficiency has still neglected to issue me my residence card!  I told the guy this and of course he had to call to check.  Another customs guy came up and took me to the “back room” and was tool to wait there until they checked things out.  I was starting to think, o great, no London for me.  He came back and told me I was in the system and that I could continue on my journey.  I was relieved and glad to see that at least I am partially in the Dutch system.  Of course he had no information on when I could expect to receive my residence card.

After that, it took a little while for me to find the British Airways lounge, but when I got there, it was nice.  Free WiFi, computers to use, free food, coffee, and alcohol.  They just had bottles of liquor sitting around for you to pour yourself a drink!

I made my way to the gate and boarded.  We then had to wait on the plane for about an hour and a half because there was some kind of engine issue.  And the air conditioning was broke.  I guess the A/C was not all that big of a deal, I’m really used to there being no A/C anywhere at this point.  The other day on the bus is was pretty unbearable, when I got off; my jeans were totally stuck to me.

The flight to London was short and breakfast in first class was decent.  Flying over London was amazing.  I could see so many things that I’ve only seen in pictures from the time I was little like Tower Bridge (not called London Bridge as some might think.)

Getting into Central London was pretty easy, there was a London Underground station right in the terminal.  I decided not to go directly to the hotel since I was not able to check in until 15:00.  I got off pretty much right in the center and decided to walk around.  I don’t know why I always insist on doing this with luggage…it is not fun.  I got all turned around walking to the hotel since I did not have Google Maps to rely on (International roaming rates.)  At least I downloaded a free London map with GPS before coming here, it worked OK but integrated really terribly with the compass so it pointed me in the wrong direction a couple of times.  When I finally made it to the hotel, I just wanted to check in, change clothes, and put my bags down.  Of course I was not allowed to check in early unless I wanted to pay £10.  I decided not to, that is stupid so here I am at Starbucks in Liverpool Street Station having an ICED Americana (pretty exciting) writing this post.  Unfortunately, they do not have free WiFi here like I hear Starbucks in the US now have; they don’t even have WiFi at all as a matter of fact.  But it’s okay, I’ll just post this later at the hotel.  It is now 14:34 and that is about it for my day so far, I am going to shut down and get ready to go back to the hotel and this time hopefully check in.

I made it and am in my room.  One question.  Are there no garbage cans in London?  There are none that I saw anywhere on the streets in the train stations or even in the restaurants, WTF?