Thursday, December 6, 2012

All that for €0,10?


Today in Amsterdam I parked my car to get lunch and came across the worst parking meeter I've ever seen.  I walk up to it expect to just put some money in and get a ticket...not at this machine.  First think I noticed was that it did not even take coins (or bills).  So I touched the screen to start...first thing "fill in your license plate number."  I'm like WTF??  Of course I did not know what it was so I had to go back and check.  While doing that and coming back there is now a line of two people at the machine.  The first guy took literally 2 minutes to get a ticket.  Al least the next girl got hers relatively quickly.  Now it was my turn.

I typed in my license plate number then it asked me how many hours I wanted.  I only wanted 1/2 hour but you could only increment in multiples of 1 hour.  Whatever, I pressed '+' to make it go from 0 hours to 1.  Then I noticed that it only cost 10 frikken cents per hour!  What the hell is the point to go through making people wait in a line and install this elaborate system where you have to fill in your license plate if you're only going to charge people 10 cents?  Wow!  So I put in my bank card and paid the €0,10 and got the above receipt (I smudged out the plate number) to display in my window.

The whole process took about 5 to 10 minutes from me having to go back to my car, wait in line, and then go back to the car again to put the paper in there, and what all did the city of Amsterdam get from me for this?  10 cents!!!  Ridiculous!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Düsseldorf


Took the day off from work on Friday and hopped on the ICE over to Düsseldorf, Germany to check out the city and also finally see a German Christmas market that I've heard so much about.  The train ride was a short 2 hour and some minute journey and was relaxing with the reclining seats and a good book that I am currently reading.  Upon arrival, I walked to my hotel only to find that they overbooked and had to send me somewhere else.  Luckily they had a partner hotel not far away so they sent me there and paid for my breakfast and minibar.  Not bad, but I would have preferred to stay in the hotel I booked since it was cooler than the one I ended up in.  O well.

The city was bigger than I expected and had a lot of good shopping.  Apparently the street they call Kö is the Champs-Élysées of Germany.  I did end up buying a nice jacket so I was happy about that.  The Christmas markets were actually all over, it was not just one.  The food and drinks were pretty good and it was basically the only place I ate while I was there instead of going to a restaurant.  I would recommend a German Christmas market to anyone that's interested.  They really take the time to make the whole city look great so it's worth the trip.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The iPad

Okay, I have always said that the iPad is just a big iPhone and that I do not need one because I already have an iPhone. Now that I've had some time to play with this one that I'm writing this post on, I think I really like it. Now I can see why this thing really is changing things.

I had a BlackBerry PlayBook that I was using and it was nice to have instead of dragging a laptop around, but this, oh man, way better! Now I can see why many people are calling this a computer replacement (not sure I'd go that far, but it certainly could be for some people).

I've had it now for a couple days but this is the first day I've actually been home enough to give it a good tryout. Only thing is, it's not that comfortable to hold...maybe that it something that I will get used to, I don't know. Really interested to see how this will pan out.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Missed my train this morning

Today I woke up at 8:01 and I was supposed to catch a train in Amsterdam at 8:16.  You can imagine the shock that I felt...I was instantly awake and totally pissed.  Ends up I set my alarm for 18:30 instead of 06:30...how can you mess that up?  I ended up making it to the train station somewhere around 8:30.  Of course I missed the train.  So, I went to the International ticket desk, they were not able to help at all and said I had to call a number that was on my ticket.  I called the number in Belgium and that woman could not help me either, but she said that since I am a member of "The Card" (kinda line an airline frequent flyer program but for the Thalys train) I could just go to the next train to Paris and ask if there was room, if there was then they would let me on.

So I went to the next train and luckily I made it.  I got to Paris only about an hour late, not to bad but for the whole first 1/2 of the trip I could not relax, even though I was on the train and on my way for some reason my nerves just would not stop.

Now that I am in France everything is going smoothly so far.  Got all the planned work done for today and am ready to start with tomorrows stuff.  I am starting to get along a bit better with the colleague who is with me.  Things are still a bit shaky between us but seem to be getting better at least.

Tonight I was getting ready to set my alarm for tomorrow and actually set it for 20:00 instead of 08:00.  Good thing I caught it on time!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Milan and Venice


Last week I got to go to Villa Gallarati Scotti which is right outside of Milan.  The place was really nice and PPG Europe IT had the whole thing rented out for us and some people from IT in Pittsburgh as well.  There were probably about 70 people in all I guess.  It was a really nice experience.  I finally got to meet so many people that I talk to all the time on email, IM, and phone in person.  The food and the coffee were both great.  It was also warm and sunny there.

Later I decided to stay longer and get a hotel in the city since I was never there.  The cool thing about Milan (even the part right in the center) there are a lot of people who do not speak English.  It was great going to restaurants and bars trying to talk to the locals in Italian and them being genuinely helpful and hospitable.  Very cool.  I was going to stay for two days but Dan and Amanda convinced me to go to Venice with them for a day.  Venice was beautiful, pretty much everything that you would expect it to be and more.  Every turn you make is worth taking another picture.  Well of course me being me, I did something stupid, I fell in one of the canals!!!  Here is the story:
 I was waiting for Amanda to be done in a store and started walking down the wet marble steps to the canal to maybe take a picture or something.  I was at the second to the last step and decided to go down one more.  As soon as I did that SLIP and SLASH, I was totally in the canal, phone, camera and all.  I went down to a little above my waist, Gross!!  I immediately tried to climb out but could not because it was just too slippery, I fell back in.  Then I hear Dan say "That's Nick!" He came over and pulled me out but the damage was done, I was soaked.  Almost right after that Amanda came over and the conversation went something like this:

Amanda: Guys look at these cute socks I bought
Dan: Nick fell in the canal
Amanda: whaaat?
Me: Look at me, I am soaked
Amanda: ?????

The worst part was my hotel for that night was still in Milan (a 2 1/2 hour train ride away).  We were also in a section with no stores to buy new clothes and even if we did find a store things were wither way too expensive for stuff that I did not even like or closed for lunch.  We basically walked abound for a couple hours looking for something for me to buy.  I felt bad for Dan and Amanda but they would not leave me no matter how many times I told them to just go and that we could meet up later.
Eventually I did find some pants socks and shoes, ended up going commando because there was no underwear around, but no big deal.

After that we went back to Milan and the next day I took the train back to Venice (as planned this time) by myself.  Well overnight, Venice apparently had some of the worst flooding that it's had in years, almost every shop I passed on the way to the hotel was flooded and pushing water out onto the streets.  I finally made it to my hotel and was immediately happy with my choice to stay there.  Instead of them just handing me the key, I had a whole conversation with the lady.  She was telling me everything, where to eat, what to do, and even gave me a free pair of waterproof boots to wear around for during my stay.  She went over the tide schedule with me so I knew when to where them and then started to tell me about the guy that stays at the hotel during the night being sick.  Then shes like so, I give you all the key.  She gave me all the keys to the doors that I needed in the hotel and my room key.  She also took me to the doors to make sure I knew how to open them just in case.  Then she gave me the owners number in case I needed her and shed me on a map where both the owner and she lived (very close to the hotel).  Wow, what service.  I got to my room and it was just as expected, small but clean, stuck my head out the window and right there in front of me were the sites of San Marco.  Wow!

It is crazy to get anywhere in Venice.  All the site are spread out and there is no explanation as to how the city is laid out at all.  You have to cross a bridge ever few steps and it is almost impossible to ever retrace your steps.  I of course loved this because as you may have noticed from my previous posts, I love getting lost in cities and exploring.  I ended up getting to see a few local neighborhoods as well because of this with no tourists around.  I would recommend Venice to anyone as long as you don't mind a lot of walking.  O ya, that was another cool thing about Venice, there are NO cars...at all!  So cool to not have any cars in an entire city (at least the center of it).  For one thing it is not really possible to have them and for another I believe it is not allowed as well.  I wish more cities would follow suit.  Cars and cities just do not mix.

Italy was great as always, I miss the food and the espresso already.  I still can't imagine why my great grandparents ever wanted to leave such a cool place.  It must have been pretty bad at the time.  It's a shame.

Anyway, here are all the pictures form the trip.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

For once I was CAREFREE in the rain

Tonight even though it was cold as hell and I was only wearing a thin Halloween costume with flip flops, I was carefree in the rain.  You see. the costume did not have any pockets so I only wore a hoodie and the only thing that I brought with me were my keys witch were left in the pocket of the hoodie.  Usually when it is raining and I am on my bike, I'm flipping out because I think my phone is going to get ruined.  Well, tonight it was raining like crazy and it was such an exhilarating feeling no not care!  Yes it was col, but I was at a Halloween party and drinking, so that took care of the cold part.  It was raining and I did not care for once!  All I had with me were clothes and keys, both of which are waterproof.  I was totally drenched by the time I got home but this time, I did not care.  It was actually kinda fun being able to bike the whole way home in heavy rain without having to worry about your iPhone getting ruined.  Maybe I should not bring my phone with me more often...

Friday, November 2, 2012

Wanted

Someone who when sitting at a café only wanders what to order next, not what time it is
Someone who loves cities and exploring them until they can't walk one more step
Someone who orders desert when no one else does
Someone who likes the simple pleasures in life
Someone that doesn't settle for the status quo
Someone to travel the world with
Someone extremely curious
Someone spontaneous
Someone adventurous
Someone passionate
Someone different
Someone fun
Someone
anyone

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Dagje Vrij

At the beginning of the week I heard some people talking about it going to be a nice day on Friday, didn't really believe it but thought I would take the day off in advance anyway.  Glad I did!  It ended up being warm and sunny.  I went shopping in the morning and then it really started to get warm...I was shopping for coats and could not continue since it was warm out. ha.  I was going to go to the gym but then on a whim I decided to bike to the beach since it would probably be the last time of the season that I would get to go.  Just sat there on a bench for a while with my Kindle and enjoyed the scenery and the sun.  Still love the fact that taking a day off just because is no issue here at all and you don't have to worry about "wasting" them for stuff like this.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Is being called an "Expat" a negative thing?

Recently the word expat (expatriate) has been bothering me.  I know the word is not met to be negative, but I still do not like to refer to myself in that way.  When I think of an "expat" I think of someone who comes to live in an country without caring anything about if and trying to pretend like they never left their own country.  For example, I mean:
  • Only is friends with other "expats"
  • Knows nothing about the local history/culture
  • Makes no attempt to learn the local language
  • Gets everything paid for by their company (aka not living like a real person)

 This is not something that I want to be like and I feel like that I have gone out of my way to make sure that I don't fit into any of those stereotypes above.  Recently, an organizer of a meetup.com group that I am part of started referring to everyone who was not Dutch as an "expat" and I don't know, there is just something about that word that I don't like to be associated with, so I cringe every time I read it in the invited.

So what do you think?  Is it just me being crazy or do you think there are also negative connotations with being called an "expat."  Would love to hear some other opinions on this.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Cardio going...good actually

As I've mentioned earlier, I actually started to do cardio.  I guess now it's been somewhere short of a month.  I've basically cut my normal gym time in 1/2 and do 25 minutes are cardio after that.  I think starting my next time at the gym though I am ready to raise that to 30.  Funny thing is, I am actually starting to look forward to the cardio portion of my gym trips more than the weight part, never thought that would happen.  If I keep it up, which I think I will, I'm really interested to see where I will be in a few months.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Rest of Sunny Beach





The rest of my trip was pretty good.  Most days I just hung out at the pool or the beach alternating between swimming and reading.  Got about 1 1/2 novels read while I was there so that was good.  Some highlights of what I did include:

  • Getting a massage on the beach one day.  Not as nice as it sounds.  The girl was not that good and anytime a bug or fly or something would land on you you were not able to wak it away
  • Going to see Nesebar.  I was able to see this place from my hotel room and was only a short bus ride away.  The place itself was nice.  I walked the entire way around the small island and found some nice spots, my favorite is here to the right.  One thing that was disappointing there was that it was just as toristy as Sunny Beach.  Every store sold torist junk and the restaurants all had the big posters with pictures of their food on, not my kind of places.  But at least I did find a place were I was able to get a nice espresso.
Other than that, that was pretty much it.  The whole place was pretty empty (Sunny Beach and Nesebar) the tourist season was pretty much over and there are not very many locals.  Some nights I was the only person in a restaurant and as I was walking past bars the music would be on with no one there.  All through the week more and more places were closing down and boarding up.  This was not much of an issue for me though since the weather was still great and I still had the pool and the beach.  Only thing that was annoying was no one was following their posted opening times since it was so empty.  Places pretty much opened late and closed early.

Lastly, I can't believe how clear the Black Sea is.  Wow.  Now, it's not blue like the Caribbean or anything like that but man is it clear.  You can be standing there at pretty much any depth and still clearly see your feet.  Growing up only ever going to east coast USA beaches, I guess I almost always assume that the water is going to be brown and cloudy like it is there.  Here is a picture of me standing in the Black Sea:
That's about it for Bulgaria.  Next on the list is Milan and Venice in November.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

First "Real" Day


I'm going to consider today my first real day of vacation. The sun was out, it was warm, and I sat at the pool all day.  Mmmm. I think tomorrow I will go to the beach instead and try that out for the day.  So far only real complain is that there is no variety in food at all.  The is McDonald's, Burger King, Subway, and these places called "fast food" that all have the same thing... Seriously, I walked for miles today, and that was it!  Also for restaurants too, they all look about the same, haven't tried any yet though.  This is one of the reasons why i never like to go to touristy places, but thats okay, I knew it was going to be this way before I came.

Still a bit chilly at night, but that's okay as long as the days are warm.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Arrived in Bulgaria

Yesterday I flew to Bourgas Bulgaria to for vacation. When I got to the airport the only passport lines that were open were the EU only lines. I showed the guy my American passport and asked where I should go. He pointed to the one line, walked over said something to the girl, and she switched the line do all passports. Everyone else went through really quick with no stamp. When she got to me at the end she checked the passport like five times, then got out the stamp, checked it again, then finally stamped it.

After getting my bag, I walked out and saw the sign for Sunweb (the people who I booked the trip with). As I was walking up the girl was like "Nicholas?" I said yes and she let me know that I was the only person they were picking up. I was also the last tourist from Sunweb for the year in Bulgaria! So instead of a bus we were in a car with me, a driver, and two people from the company! The one already knew stuff about me because I friended Sunweb on Facebook. VIP treatment haha.
After they found out I was American, he was really interested to hear about American high school! Ha, I didn't really know what to say since I can't really compare it to "middelbare school" in NL.

We arrived at the hotel the guy there asks for my passport and I give it to him. He was like "you are American!?" I say yes and I guess it ended up not being a problem. Hotel seems fine so far except the WiFi really sucks. Today is cloudy and quite cold. Figures for my first day :( but it looks like after today it should be nice for the whole week.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Cardio (for real this time)

Okay, ever since moving to Europe, I have been very lax on cardio just as I started to actually do it the last couple years of living in Pittsburgh.  No more!  I've made a vow to start doing cardio more than lifting weights.  I know, I know, I can't believe it either... But I think it's pretty important and today and yesterday that is what I did at the gym.  I'm not exactly sure what my plan is yet as to how I'm going to alternate it in in the long run, but it's definitely going to be a big part of my gym trips.  This is a big change because I always hated cardio.  So far though, I am actually getting along pretty well (I know, easily said for the second day...) So if anyone has done the same, any tips?

Wish me luck.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Back to Public Transport!!

sadly only for this week though :-(





This week I am taking training at Global Knowledge in Zoetermeer.  It is not far from Den Haag.  One really cool thing about his location is that it is directly on the tram line (see picture above!!)  First I can take a train to Den Haag laan van NOI and transfer to the tram.  So much better then driving...wow!  O how I've missed my public transport to/from work.  I may have bashed Port Authority every now and then in Pittsburgh, but man, I did not know how good I had it.

Today did not even go smoothly and I still prefer it over driving.  I got on the train in Haarlem and right before we got to Leiden, they made an announcement saying that there was a problem on the train by Den Haag Hollands Spoor and that the train was not going to go any further...shit!

I quickly checked and found that I was able to take a bus from the station at Leiden and get to Zoetermeer still in time for my class.  I hopped on the bus and, sure enough, there I was, no problem!  Well, almost, after I got there it was a bit tricky to find the entrance to the building itself, but non the less, still got to class right on time.

Let's see how it goes the rest of the week.  I know one thing is for sure, starting in October when I will be back in the office, I am sure I will really be missing the train/tram.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Beantown




I couldn't pick between the two pictures so I had to add both! :-)

After getting of the train in Boston, I spent a few days with Kara and Shawn since I seam to be following them all over the country, of course I saw them in Boston too.

It was good to be back in Boston, I liked it back in 2006 and I think I like it even better now.  One thing I never realized is that Boston is a real craft beer town.  Out of all the bars that we went to I don't think any of them had Miller, Cores, or Budweiser on tap, but rather all good beers!  Cool!

We walked around the city and stopped at different bars, bakeries, coffee shops, and restaurants.  All were pretty cool, but the best was probably the beer tasting at Harpoon Brewery.  It was for one hour where they described the beers they had on tap (about 10 or so) and let you try as many as you wanted within that hour.  Most of them were quite good.  Even though Europe has some good beer, I do miss the American craft beers every once in a while.

All in all, good trip as usual.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Amtrak!






After my work trip in Washington I went to Boston to visit Shawn and Kara and I got there with Amtrak!  This is the intercity train company in America.  I was so looking forward to this to compare it with European train travel.  Above is a picture from Wikipedia of what the train looks like.  So old compared to European trains, apparently the cars are from the 1970's!

There were a number of people that were really surprised that I was taking the train, they asked was flying too expensive.  I answered I did not even look, I wanted to ride the train, it was a big part of my trip!  Yes it took 8 hours to get there, but a nice 8 hours getting to see a lot of things like Baltimore, Philadelphia, NYC, little towns, and all kinds of cool abandon warehouses.  It was really cool and the time really just flew right by between me reading and gazing out the windows.  Really enjoyable.

Now, about the train.  It was much better than I expected!  Still no Thalys, but still.  I road in coach and the entire ride was only $70!  The weird things was that in Washington you had to go to gates like you were about to get on an airplane.  Everyone lined up too like they were waiting to get on a plane...I was like WTF.  When the opened the door I thought to my self, this is stupid, it is a train, and I just walked in front on the line to the train.  First strange thing was, there was no platform!  This is a major train station and you had to walk up the train steps to get on the train!  Strangest thing was that this was the only stop on the entire trip that was like that...even the little tiny stations had platforms.  Strange.

The seats were huge with lots of room.  There were even power outlets which was nice but I did not use them.  The windows were a bit small compared to most trains I've been on but not too small I guess.  The whole inside look and feel kinda reminded me a bit of being in a plane.  The bathrooms were also really clean.  That was a nice surprise.

Going through NYC was pretty cool.  It was such a bummer that it was not possible to get out there for a while to look around and then take a different train the rest of the way to Boston.  I did get some nice pictures of the city from the train though:




Almost everyone got out in NYC and a whole new group of people got in even the train workers.  Throughout almost the entire ride, the train was full.  That was a nice surprise as I didn't think people in America rode trains.  I think it's a bit different on the east coast though compared to Pittsburgh.  This too was also apparently the only electrified tracks that Amtrak has and the only section of tracks that they actually own.

In any case, I would highly recommend taking Amtrak if you have the opportunity.  So much better than a plane and much less hassle.  Next thing I want to try is riding through the mountains in the west, that is supposed to be pretty cool.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

OPNETWORK2012


A few months ago I was asked what I thought about looking into performance at work.  I thought it sounded cool and got invited to go to OPNETWORK2012 presented by OPNET.  The conference was in Washington D.C. and I really enjoyed it.  This was not your average conference where you sit and listen to things all day long.  No, here you got to pick classes to go to where everyone got computers to use.  At the class, you learned different things and got to do labs using the real software to test out what was shown to you.  There are a lot of things that I hope to use now that I know they are available to me.  I'm also looking forward to trying some new things at work as well.

The craziest part about this thing was it was totally free (except transportation and hotel).  It was well worth it I thought.  The only bad thing was the food was pretty gross and almost the same every day.  Me and some other guys from PPG just went out to eat most of the time instead and had some really great food.  I had the best tapas I ever had the one night.  Such a good meal.  Then at night, OPNET hosted drinks on the rooftop of our hotel with a view of the Washington monument.

Friday my parents came to see me and I got to spend the afternoon with them since there were no more classes.  That was nice.  We walked around to do some sight seeing.  Above is the WWII memorial.  It looks cool in the picture, but you really should see it in person!  Later we met my Aunt who works only a few blocks away from my hotel in the FBI building for some yogurt.

After that went back to the hotel and just relaxed for a while.  The next day was my first day on an Amtrak train.  More to come on that next time.

Friday, August 10, 2012

What to do when people change?

It's a fact of life, people change, things never stay the same no matter how much you either want or do not want them to.  Eventually nothing is static.  This never makes it easier to deal with.

I've lost someone who I considered my best friend.  Nothing bad happened between the two of us, and no one moved, things just changed and that is that.  It's strange the way things happen.  At first you don't even really realize it, then you think it is just a phase, and then there are all these in between steps as well.  I don't really know how to explain it.  Then one day all of a sudden it just hits you like wow, things are really different now and they are probably never going back to how they used to be.  It sucks and there really isn't a way to prepare for it.

I still feel like I'm some kind of weirdo that never had a "best friend" growing up and always had that person be there for you no matter what from childhood until well...forever I guess.  I've gone through stages of having really good friends and then loosing touch and then making new ones.  It's really hard to connect back with the old ones after a while I find.  While I look forward to making new friends (as I'm sure it will come) I'm just not ready to let some go.  But the problem is the more I try the worse off I feel.  Recently I've just stopped trying altogether.  It makes me feel awful but I don't really know what else to do because I feel trying and trying and trying while receiving nothing in return is even worse.  There is only so much you can take of: let's go to the bar: no | Let's go to the gym: no | Let's hang out: no | Let's go out: no | Let's grab some food: no | After a while you get sick and tired of hearing that answer and just start answering for the person, you don't even ask anymore because you know there is a lurking: no just waiting to answer you back.

I just wish I knew how to better deal with these kinds of things or maybe even to prevent them from happening all together.  Sigh, at least I have a trip coming up.  Travel always cheers me up, especially when it is longer than a couple of days.

This post probably sounds strange but I really don't want to include details or make it easy to identify who I am talking about.  I just need an outlet to "talk" to at the moment and since there is no one else around that can listen, I am using Blogger as my outlet.  I also don't want a ton of people feeling sorry for me either, that is not what this post is about, so I am disabling comments for this post as well.  Don't worry about me though, I'll cope, I always do...

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Gent

I would have to say that Gent is now the coolest city in Belgium.  I like it better than Antwerp, just look:

What a cool place!  The trip started out on not such a good note though.  I made it to Rotterdam to transfer to Fyra (high speed train to Belgium) but it was over an hour late and the train was then absolutely packed!  That part sucked, but once I got to Antwerp and transferred there to a Belgian train the rest of the way to Gent (Ghent in English by the way) I had no problems.

I got out in Gent St. Pieters even though it was a bit further from my hotel, I wanted to see the place.  It was pretty nice as expected but under construction so I did not take many pictures.  From there I walked to my hotel.  Not too many interesting things of note there, but my hotel was really cool.  I stayed in an old nun's room at a monastery that is now a hotel.  It is called Monastarium PoortAckere.

Walking around the city after that, people probably thought I was crazy, I was turning in every direction and just saying wow, wow, wow.  Everything was so amazing, really!  I took so many pictures.  Had a beer along one of the main rivers and just explored the city.

For dinner I at at a place called Vier Tafels (four tables).  It was excellent!  I had smoked salmon with a wasabi cream sauce, then duck best with sweat chilli sauce veggies, and rice, and finally chocolate mousse.  Yum, I was happy.  After this I actually went back around taking pictures both at dusk and at night, that's how much I liked this place.

The next day I found a great little coffee place for breakfast.  It really reminded me of an American neighborhood coffee shop that really cares about quality and not just getting people through the line.  Very cool.  I walked around a bit more then decided to go but of course I got a box of chocolates first!  Instead going directly home instead of just switching trains in Antwerp, I got out and hung out in the city for a while.  Good idea, the cathedral in the middle of the city was playing a bunch of songs from it's bell tower outside.  I grabbed a seat at a nearby café, got a Belgian beer, listened to the bells, and read my book, perfect.

All and all, was a good trip and am really glad I decided to go at the last minute even though no one else wanted to.  Here is a link to the pictures.

Monday, July 30, 2012

NS Day Card #2

Quick note, I got rid of the dynamic blog view, I wasn't really dig'n on that too much anymore.



Saturday I used my second all day train card.  As you can tell from the picture at the top, the weather was not all that great for picture taking so I did not take as many as normal, but still got a few okay shots.

I started the day out by going to Maastricht.  It is pretty much the southern most part of the country and sits right between Germany and Belgium.  The city itself was interesting to walk around.  I also got to see the coffee shops which are now famous for not being allowed to sell weed to people not living in Holland (the law is only in effect in the south right now.)  Let me tell you, this is such a bad idea!  Nowhere else in Holland have I ever been asked if I wanted to buy drugs (well maybe once or twice the whole time I lived here) except for in Maastricht.  Now that it is illegal there, you see shady looking people all over the place asking you if you wanna buy weed/drugs.  Not cool, I got approached and followed about 4-5 times.  Netherlands you just need to tell the European Union to shove it up there ass, this country's drug policy has been working since the 70's and there is no reason to change it just because the EU does not like it.  This does not mean I want to do drugs, I can still buy them if I want since I am a resident, but I would much rather not have shady drug dealers around, not cool.

Next I hopped back on the train and was planning on going to Nijmegen but when I got to where I needed to change at Roermond, I found out the train to Nijmegen was not an NS train and my card was only good for NS trains.  By the time I figured that out, my first train was already gone, so I walked around Roermond for a bit.  Not too shabby but nothing too exciting either.

Finally I went to see ''s-Hertogenbosch (or simply "Den Bosch") this city turned out to be a bit cooler that I expected.  I did not stay too long though I was tired of waling around and wanted to get to Amsterdam to go drink some beer with my Dutch meetup group buddies.

It was a good day but nowhere near as good as from a few weeks before.  I think it was because the sun was not out and I was not really 100% feeling it with the cloudy humid weather.

Here are pictures from my trip they are in the Holland album, newest at the top:

Holland Sites

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Weekend to myself in Paris


Finally after going to Paris so many times for work and only getting to go around in the evenings, I took the whole weekend after working on Friday for myself.  I swear every time I am in that city I like it more and more, there is just something magical about it.

Being that I was there on my own time, I actually stayed right in the hart of Paris this time instead of Clichy as I normally do.  I would highly highly recommend Hôtel de la cité Rougemont if you're looking for somewhere basic, central, clean, and Parisian.  It was perfect, I was even surprised to have my own little balcony that was out on the skinny typical Parisian street.


So what did I do, I walked! and walked, and walked!  Wow, I saw a lot of the same things that I've scene before but in a way that helped me connect things to each other.  There were many times that I was just randomly walking around and all of a sudden I would know where I was.  Then I saw some other things as well that I haven't scene before, so that was nice as well.  My feet hurt so so bad at the end of the day but it was well worth it.  Here are all of my Paris pictures from this past weekend.


The next day I went to le château de Versailles which is another place I've been wanting to see.  I liked it, but there were way way way too many people there, OMG, terrible!  I got there at 8:20 or so (the place opened at 9) I wanted to make sure I had my ticket in time for the opening (I did not buy in advance because I did not know what day I wanted to go.  Well, the ticket office also did not open until exactly 9.  I was so pissed, I was first in line to buy a ticket, but the line to get in kept getting longer and longer.  By the time I had my ticket the line to get in was zigzagging at least 3 times and I would have had to have stood there for probably at least 1 1/2 hours.  I was not having that.  Luckily I overheard some people talking about a tour that you could take that would let you skip the line for an extra €7 (I had already paid €25).  Whatever, I took the tour, no way was I waiting in the line.  Turned out to be a good thing.  Got to actually go into a bunch of rooms that the other people could only look into.  Got some good pictures then went out to see the gardens they were huge.  The fountains were not on so I walked over to see the canal some of the grounds, and the other palaces.  It was impossible to see everything, there was just too much, I probably did more walking this day that I did in Paris the day before.  Finally 3:30 came and all the fountains were on until 5:00.  It took me just about that long to make it around to all of them...beautiful.  Finally at the end they ran the huge fountain for 10 minutes between 5:20 and 5:30, glad I waited to see it.  At that point, my feet hurt so bad, it literally felt like the skin was ready to rip in half at any minute.  Was time to go back.  Here are my pictures from the day.


At the RER station (RER is a commuter train in the Paris area) the line to get return tickets was out the door.  People were flipping out after having to wait in lines all day at Versailles.  I just laughed, used my prepaid ticket and went in front of the whole line.  There were so many people crammed into about the first 10 cars of the train, I just kept walking and walking, and then got in, I had a whole car to myself...stupid tourists!  :-)


After that, I had dinner in Paris, went back to my room and that was it!  I could not walk another step.  But no problem, I got to use that awesome little Parisian balcony of mine for some reading.


Great two days.  I love Paris.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Finally Acknowledged

Okay, haven't had a Dutch post in a while so here we go...
Don't worry, it's a good one!

Wow, I had quite a surprise today at work.  As you may already know from previous entries, I use Dutch all the time at work, almost always in meetings with my boss, with venders, people around the office, phone calls, and email.  That in itself is something that I am proud of, but there has always been a few people that always refuse to speak Dutch to me.  It used to bother me a lot, but in the last few months, I really stopped caring, thinking, I speak in English too, so who cares?  One of these people was my boss's boss.

Last week we had a conference call and he asked me if Dutch would be okay, I said yes of course, but there ended up being someone else from England who joined the call so we had it in English.  He did make a comment though stating something like "o we can't fool Nick anymore, he's been here long enough know and knows Dutch."  I was thinking to myself "huh?" "then why don't you ever use it with me??"

Well today two Dutch people came in for a meeting with him and I.  There were no questions asked, my boss's boss just started in Dutch and did the whole thing that way.  Normally this would not be such a big deal to me anymore because it's something that I do often now except for the fact that it was coming from him.  I was thinking wow, finally!!  Then after the two other guys left he came in my room and continued in Dutch discussing the meeting with me.  I almost fell over...  I was happy though.

One person down, now only one more to convince at work, but I think he is starting to break, especially since I am kinda blatantly using English around him now.  Talk to everyone around him in Dutch then to him in English, two can play at this game!  haha

After him, and outside of work, there is one more person that I would at least like to acknowledge my efforts.  But for right now, I guess that's not so important.

Fwd: AutoResponse

Could you imagine responding to your customers like this at work?  I don't know how these people can get away with it.  I would get fired if I waited 10 days to answer emails.

Begin doorgestuurd bericht:

Van: "+Priority Club Service Center \(EMEA\)" <priorityclubEMEA@ihg.com>
Onderwerp: AutoResponse
Datum: 16 juli 2012 20:45:31 GMT+02:00
Aan: "Nick Ferrara" <xxx@xxx.com>

Message

Thank you for your email. Due to high email volume, we are unable to attend to your concern immediately. We will respond to your email within 10 days. If you need immediate assistance, you may contact our office by clicking the following link: http://www.priorityclub.com/rewards/us/en/customer-care/contact-us


Monday, July 2, 2012

Walking through the Dunes



Today I got the chance to walk through the dunes in Zandvoort and Bloamendaal like I've been wanting to.  Nice!  I was going to go to the gym, then I looked at the weather, it was going to be a prefect evening and then rain the rest of the week.  I could not pass up the opportunity to do something a bit more exciting and outdoors than the gym....

Side note:
Sometimes I need to stop making sure I go to the gym all the time no matter what, I can miss out on good opportunities like I got to have tonight.  There are other ways to get exercises than just in the gym.  While this of course does not mean I am going to stop going (I still like to go) I am just going to start being more open to other opportunities for exercise when the weather permits.

I took the bus to Bloemendaal and just started walking .  I hit a couple of dead ends and also ended up in a bunch of campsites (wow, by the way, these campsites had there own grocery stores!)  but then I figured out the heading towards Zandvoort had the better places.  I made it onto a paved path and started going through the dunes.  Really cool.  So many wild flowers (great smells everywhere) and the were rabbits everywhere running around.  Then I came to a path that you can take with a sand walk that went all up and down through the dunes and with no one else (except for rabbits) around.  Really nice to just walk through there listening to your iPod and just taking in the sights.

Ended up exiting in Zandvoort somewhere in a residential area.  Was a bit lost for a while (but that is part of the fun of these excisions that I go on) but then I found my way back to the main part of the city and got a bus back home.

Nice way to spend the night.

By the way.  I've been home now for about an hour and the sun is still out! :-)

For pictures from tonight, be sure to see my Holland Album:

Holland Sites

Sunday, July 1, 2012

A Good Day in Scheveningen and Den Haag






Today was a last minute decision after I got back from the gym this morning to finally go check out Scheveningen which is the (famous) beach town right outside of Den Haag.  It was a great day so I figured, why not?  I WhatsApped Sammy and he ever said he would join me there.

So I hopped on the train, grabbed an ov-fiets (rental bike) and I was there pretty quickly.  So...this beach was way better than Zandvoort and Bloemendaal.  The absolute coolest part though was the Steigenberger Kurhaus Hotel!  Wow, just so old timey and beautiful:


Sammy and I walked around a bit since it was my first time, walked down the pier and were thinking about doing the bungy jumping, but not for €70!  Walked around a bit, had a few beers they he left.  I wandered around some more, took some other puctures, then biked back to Den Haag and wandered around there for a bit.  Happened to run into Sammy again(!) so sat and had a few more beers with him and a friend of his.  After that, it looked like rain so was time to head back.  Altogether, was a nice day.

As usual, all of my Holland pics, most recent at the top:

Holland Sites

Thursday, June 28, 2012

An Evening in Spaarnwoude






Two nights ago might have been the first real summer feeling day the whole year.  So I rode mt bike to Spaarnwoude which is a big recreation area not far from Haarlem.  I focused most of my time in the shaded green area towards the top.

On the way there I saw this interesting bridge:

The ride was good.  I got to see a lot of things that are pretty close to my house.  I thought I was in Spaarnwoude before (which I was) but I never realized how big it really was until that night.  The part I was in before was actually only a small piece.  It is kinda crazy because you actually go in and out of Spaarnwoude (at least the recreation part) a lot.  You will see signs welcoming you and saying goodbye every so often.  There was really a lot here, camping, fishing, horseback riding, biking, beaches, swimming, restaurants, and many other things.  This will definitely be worth checking out again the next time there happens to be a nice day.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Ride with the Train in NL


On Saturday I used on of the unlimited train ride tickets that I have and visited Leeuwarden, Zwolle, and Hoek van Holland.  It was a nice day and I got to see a lot of things.

The first stop was Leeuwarden which is the capital of Friesland.  I was was looking forward to going here since in Friesland they also speak in Fries instead of only in Dutch and I wanted to hear what that sounded like.  After getting there besides for a few signs on tourist locations, everything was in Dutch and everyone was speaking in Dutch, even the old people.  It was kinda unexpected, but o well, the city was still nice to see.  I bought a book there called Gehaaid (English version is "The Raw Shark Texts")  So far the book is pretty interesting and different.  I really like it and can't believe it was on the bargen table for only €2,50!  It definitely kept me busy during all the train riding I was doing.

Next was Zwolle.  This city is in the eastern part of the country.  Also a nice place to walk around.  here just as in Leeuwarden I walked around the center and took a bunch of pictures.  I also bought some stuff at this one store and was taken aback when the woman at the register answered me in English!  Wow, that hasn't happened for a long time.  I tried not to let it bother me too much, but it did get to me just a little.

And finally was Hoek van Holland.  This is a beach/port town that is close to Rotterdam.  The beach was quite small compared to Zandvoort but the port was huge!  There were cruise ships and a ton of industry.  The pier pictured above was really really long as you can see from the picture.  This is me at the end looking back and the beach to the left and port to the right.  It was incredibly windy there too, wow!

It was a good day overall and I got to see three more places in Holland.  I still have another ticket and I already have some places planned that I want to see.

As always, if you want to see the pictures from this trip, they can be found in my Holland album, newest pictures at the beginning:

Holland Sites

Sunday, June 10, 2012

First (warm) Day at the Beach in Holland


Today I woke up and the sun was out!  It was really nice out.  I was supposed to go and meet Megan's friend in Amsterdam today but she ended up not coming.  Too bad, today would have been a great day to show her around.  So, I sat in my back yard for a while, read some, and had some lunch.  I kept thinking that I should go to the gym, but just did not feel like it today, then I came up with a good compromise, why not ride to the beach!  So I did, at first I thought it was going to be a bit too cold, but it wasn't at all.  I walked around a bit, walked to the top of the dunes (have to go back and explore this further another time) and then just sat and read and slept for a few hours, was great!  On the way home before I left, I stopped and got an ice cream, salted almond camel...wow, really good.

Tomorrow, back to work...eh...

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Time in the US






I know, I know, it's been a while, but I had lots to do in America and then as soon as I came back I got kinda sick for a day, but now I'm all caught up and back to the blog!

This was such a great vacation.  The thing that made it so good was the fact that I had so many different things to do this time.  I actually did not miss Holland (as much) this time!  The first week I took vacation and stayed with the rents.  The first full day of being home was Mother's Day, so of course as usual the whole fam did race for the cure.  It was good as usual, but even better for me because I was so proud of my dad!  He lost a bunch of weight (and is still loosing by the way) and had so much energy that he was ahead of us almost the whole time!  Keep up the good work dad, you look great!  Later that day I saw Meem and Uncle David, Aunt Chris, and Nate.  Tuesday I took mom's car and went to Squirrel Hill and Oakland for the day.  What a great day!  Most of the time I just wandered around to some of the places I used to go to all the time.  I stopped by my old apartment, had coffee at some great coffee shops, stopped into Faculty Records and saw Carol and Maria, and had lunch with Nicole.  Just seeing everything as it was (and even some new things) really made me feel like I was at home and it was a great feeling!  That night I had dinner with pap and even got to see Dave and Erin (and finally meet Cooper).

Wednesday mom and dad took the day off and we took bikes and went riding for a while along the trail that goes between Pittsburgh and Washington D.C.  For the very small part of the trail that I got to see, I liked it, and would love to bike the whole thing one day.  Thursday was great because I got to go to Kennywood!!  I met Dan and Sara there and later we met up with Jim.  It was great to be there.  There are a few things that we noticed that are slipping now that the place is under new management, but nothing too bad and hopefully it stays that way.  Friday mom and dad were off again and surprised me by going to Fallingwater!  The place was amazing and was everything that I expected it to be and more.  What a cool place that must have been to stay at.  Saturday we had a small bachelor party for Mike since I will not be able to be there for the bigger one later in the year.  We had a cook-out and went out for the night in the Southside.  It was a good night.  That night, I also stayed at Mike's new house in Moon Township.  It's a big place!  I'm glad that him and Lyndsey like it so much.

Sunday I headed Downtown for a week of work.  The week was pretty good.  I got to see a lot of my old colleagues and eat some good food.  We also got a lot of things taken care of too that can be difficult to do when you are not Downtown with everyone at the same time.  It was also great to see Kavin! :-)

Friday I flew down to Florida to see Shawn and Kara.  The first whole day of being there they had to work so I asked Sara P. to come hang out.  She was able to come and it was so good to see here!  I think it's been 3 years!  The picture to the left is from Siesta Key (apparently "America's best beach")  It was pretty nice.  Most of the time being in Florida I got to drink good micro brews (which is not so common here in Europe) and just hang out which was a great way to end an awesome trip.  Thanks Shawn and Kara for having me.

Finally I have to tell you about the funny old couple that I sat next to on the plane.  They were so nice and we talked almost the whole time.  They were Americans but also of Italian decent so I got all kind of stories after they found out I was as well.  I almost felt like they were my own grandparents.  I was helping them use the personal video system, keeping them company, and really just enjoying talking to them.  The poor old guy was having so much trouble getting out of the seats since the row in front of us was reclined.  He litterally had to walk over the seats just to get in and out, it was pretty funny.  Then the kept bringing me candy, cookies, and crackers from the galley!  haha :-)

So overall a great trip with beautiful weather almost the entire time!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Nervous but not what "they" were thinking

Saturday morning I was getting ready to get on my plane to the US and sometimes they have people there to ask everyone additional questions when you are flying to the US...so stupid.

So I'm talking to the woman there who is speaking very quietly while the people next to me are talking quite loud.  I'm answering all her questions then she's like ok wait a minute.  So I'm waiting and then some guy comes over and starts asking me the same questions.  Then after a while he is like are you nervous? Are you afraid of flying?  I'm like no...  Then I said, well I'm always a bit nervous when speaking in Dutch but otherwise no.  Then he's like o, I speak in English too.  So he asked me some more questions in English then sent me with some more people to get all of my stuff and myself hand screened in some back room.  I was like WTF, but honestly did not really care too much because all I had to do was wait anyway.

The funny part is that all the people that I was dealing with throughout this experience were telling me that I speak Dutch well...guess I just have to work on the nervous aspect of it because apparently I am a security threat otherwise! :-)

Anyway, of course everything checked out and made it to the plane with plenty of time.  One good thing did come out of it though.  The one guy was asking what was in my short pockets and I told him nothing, but...my sunglasses were in there.  Cool!  I totally forgot to pack them but I guess they were packed anyway and now I know that I have them with me.

Goal for my next flight to America: Get thought the screening process without people being suspicious of me because I am nervous while speaking in Dutch!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

2012 Haarlem Kermis


So, tonight I went to the kermis (fair) in Haarlem with Novita.  In Haarlem there are always two kermissen (fairs) one in the Grote Markt right in the middle of the city and one in the north on Zaanenlaan.  I have always only ever been to the one in the Grote Markt witch is really cool because it literally is right in the middle of the city.  But tonight we went to try the one on Zaanenlaan which is a residential street in the Northern part of the city.  And wow. this one was way bigger!  The crazy thing is they literally build it right on a street full of houses.  So you look out your window and see rides, games, food, etc.  Kinda cool!  They had a full size Ferris Wheel and even a roller coaster!!

We road and bunch of ride and had some food and met Erik and Julia there as well.  The only bad part was, when we road Deca Dance shown above.  At first the ride was really slow and we were like, is this it?  Then it got faster and was fun for a while.  And we kept going and going and then it got faster and we kept going and going and going and going and... no lie probably for about 10 minutes!  Once we got off, that was enough riding for a while.   man...

It was a good night, I always have a good time at the kermis.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Getting Fat? The Story of my New Bike


Ever since I turned 28, or maybe even a little bit before, I felt like I was getting fat!  Strange because only a month ago or so, I thought the totally opposite.  Anyway, it did not help that last night while I was riding home on my bike, I went over a speed bump and CRUNCH my seat broke right off into about 3 pieces.  Upon looking at it when I got home, the bolt just snapped right in half!  Maybe I was right about getting fat...  Time to really start watching again.  My mom sent me way too much Easter candy, I have absolutely no control when that stuff is in the house...this is why I never buy it myself.

But, at least this was a good excuse to finally get a Dutch bike.  My old bike while still a decent bike has some issues and it is certainly not as convenient and comfortable as a Dutch bike.  So today I went to Amsterdam to buy a bike that I saw there last month at Decathlon.  Well I got there and they did not have it!  I was so pissed.  It was the only decent bike I saw that was for a decent price...then I remembered that I also saw one online at V&D but they did not have it in Haarlem.  So before I got too upset I went over to the Amsterdam V&D.  It did not look like they even had bikes at all then, one the last floor, way in the back, there it was, my new bike!  I bought it and brought it home and an quite happy already.

So one down one to go, got my bike, now I just have to get not fat again...

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Scotland! Edinburgh and a small trip to Stirling


I'm back from my long weekend in Edinburgh, Scotland and I must say that I was impressed with the oldness of the city.  It was very cool to walk around and intresesting to be on vacation and be able to understand everyone around you and all of the signs, packaging since everything is English.

It all started on on Friday morning where we went to the airport and borded an easyjet place headed to Edinburgh.  Easyjet was pretty much what I expected, not all that great but it was not bad so I can't complain.  Landing was another story!  I had a cold and while we were landing there was no way for the pressure to leave my head and it felt like my eyes were about to burst out of my head!  It hurt so bad that tears started to come out of my eyes.  Ariving in Edinburgh, they had really nice airport busses that took us almost directly to our hostle.  The hostle was not so bad, we paid for four beds even though we had three people but that way we ended up with our own room with toilet and shower for really cheap staying right in the middle of the city.

After eating lunch and checking in, we walked around for a bit and started to make a list of things we wanted to do.  We had Mexican for dinner that night and as I experienced before in the UK, it was not all that bad.  We went to a few bars, but but that point the pressure in my head hurt too much so I had to go back and sleep.

The next day I felt much much better!  Luckily for me since we had a lot to do.  Started out visiting the Edinburgh Castle which was nice but the views were really the best part.  Next we had some decent fish and chips and headed off to the Scottish wiskey tour.  We learned all about the wiskey and then got to taste some.  We walked around to a couple stores (they did have some good shopping there.)  Finally we went to dinner at a nice Italian place.  That night basically just going out to many different bars.  They strip club we went to was probably the dumbest strip club I ever went to...

The next day we took the train to Stirling.  It was a nice little city and the train that we took there ran on gas and not electric which was quite strange for Europe I thought.  We walked around and saw some of the sights and then had lunch at a place that seemed like it was going to be really good but ended up being out of pretty much everything and was not all that great.  After ariving back in Edinburgh Erik and Kris wanted to nap.  I of course did not, there was way too much to see!  I ended up getting lost in the city with my camera and have some great pictures to show for it.  Getting lost in a city by yourself with no set direction and no time limit is, for me, the best way to see a city.  That night I tried a Scotish "turkish pizza" and really liked it and we went out to more bars.

The last day we saw the National Museum of Scotland.  The museum itself was pretty nice but the building it was in I liked even better.  We walked around the city a bit more and saw a few more sites and that was about it.

I arrived back at home at about 10 PM and was dead tired!

Update!
I forgot to add the link for picture!  Click here.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Brace Face!


I went to the dentist yesterday and all went okay until she said maybe I should go to the orthodontist for a consolation!  What?  braces??  I don't know if I could do that!  I had them as a kid and that was bad enough, but I really can not imagine having them as an adult.

Now it is only a consolation so nothing is for sure but it was still on my mind all day yesterday.  I do not go until May so I have a little while to find out anything more.  I would like to have my teeth a bit straighter, but I don't think I would want to do it via braces.

I kinda feel like my parents should get back the money they had to pay when I had braces when I was a kid.  What was the use?

What are you thoughts?
  • Do you think my teeth are crooked enough that I need braces?
  • Will I look like a total looser with them?
Honest opinions please...

Sunday, April 1, 2012

2 Years!

Yep today make it 2 years that I've been living in The Netherlands!  Believe it or not.  I really have two feelings about this:
  1. Wow!  Two years already, I can't believe I've lived in Europe for two years!  Wow, time really goes fast.
  2. Really?  Only two years?  I feel like I've been here much longer!
 I thought it would be fun today to take a look back into the notebook that I used to keep where I would write down all of the words that I did not know (that is what's pictured above).  Funny to read through some of these things now.

So now of course the question is: When are you coming home?  And I think everyone should know by this point that then answer is: I don't know!!  I do not like to plan these kind of things.  Why do I need to have it planned is my question.  There is no use in me saying, "Okay, I'm going to go home on [put in random date here]" that just does not make sense to me.  Why would I plan for something like that when I have no idea what I will be doing at that point in my life.  All I know if that I like living here for now and I am going to stay until I either don't like it anymore, or have a desire to live somewhere else (Pittsburgh or otherwise).  My point is, I am happy where I am at right now, so why make plans to change?  I know there are a lot of people that do not understand how you could possibly not plan things like this, but then again, I am not a lot of other people.  I like living my life spontaneously, and that is how I am going to live it! :)

I wonder where I will be in 2 more year...  Time will only tell.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Second Day Off


Friday was just as nice as Saturday.  This time I went into Amsterdam for the day and had a list of things I wanted to do.  First I started out by picking up a bike and then heading to the Haarlemerstraat and browsing through the stores, then having a really nice sandwich at Tramezzino.  These were not your typical Dutch sandwiches, yum.

Then I went to go see the new Apple store and it also just happened to be the first day of the iPad 3 in Holland.  Both the store and the iPad were really cool.

Next I checked out the Amsterdam ArenA:
and stores around it.  I also had a really great Turkish pizza for lunch.

Finally and I think most importantly I discovered Westerpark thanks to Joyce's recommendation.  They were having a carnival there in a portion of the park.  But just the park in general was cool, especially the old gas company buildings that are now a part of the park and turned into things like shops, restaurants, and bars.  I also walked through the more natural parts of the park too.  Definitely a place I plan on going back to.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Time Off

I've lived in Holland now for almost 2 years, it's time I started taking my vacation like a European.  Today and tomorrow I've taken 2 vacation day just because the weather is nice.  No plans, not going anywhere, but just using them to enjoy life instead of wasting away in an office on two of the first warm and sunny days of the year.

How great is it to be able to do that?  I've been so reluctant to just take vacation like this because "what if I need it later?" I just can't get my American (limited vacation days) thought process out of my head.  Well today, that changed and it was great.  I was able to wander around Haarlem in just a T-shirt enjoying the sun, reading a book, having a drink in the square and just breathing in fresh air.

What a great feeling, I need to do this more often.

Tomorrow, Amsterdam, also in the warm sun, biking around to things "I've been meaning to see/do"

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The difference between talking to a Native and a Learner

As everyone knows, I go to a Dutch language meetup group almost every week.  I've come to notice a trend from a lot a new learners (no matter how long they lived in the Netherlands) that just is not true and I think it is holding them back.

When you speak with a learner of the language, they are sooo obsessed with perfection and not conversation.  They get down to the point to where they do not want to learn the sounds of a word unless it comes from a Dutch person.  Now of course, the Dutch do know best and can pronounce best their own words, but non-natives can also be pretty close.

People want to do everything they can to have a natural Dutch accent and ditch their own accent whenever they are speaking in Dutch.  Well, that's nice, but it is not going to happen.  Face it, you are not Dutch, and one the other hand, why would you want to lose your accent?  That is what makes you, you.

When you are talking to a Dutch person, they obviously know that you are not Dutch (because of your accent or how you word certain things) but guess what?  It doesn't matter!  As long as you can have a conversation and everyone understands one another it's fine and 90% of the Dutch people I've come across would probably agree.  But that is a very hard thing to say to a learner...they will not believe you.

I can understand a bit because yes, why you are first starting, people will always switch to English for one of three reasons:
  1. You don't know enough to have a conversation, or to even communicate an idea or a request.
  2. You can't understand a response.
  3. You show absolutely no confidence while you are talking.
All three of these take time to have a good handle on, and that comes though TALKING and making lots and lots of mistakes (which people of course do not want to do.) "I will speak in Dutch when I am fluent"  Well...it does not work that way!

I think most Dutch people are happy to have a Dutch conversation with you if you can meet the above three criteria.   It will take a lot of work to meet those three things, but it is very rewarding when you make it, trust me.  For me, I can't even get people (that I don't know) to even switch to English anymore.  For example when I'm on the phone with someone for work, I might have to go and explain something in a really round about way to get my point across instead of saying it in only a few words in English.  Because of the conversation that I've already built up with the person and my persistence on continuing to talk they will not switch to English and neither will I.  Now during this time, we both realize that I may be making language mistakes, but guess what?  We are still communicating in Dutch and in the end achieving our goal.  And, each time you go through having to explain things like that in a round about way, it provides a learning opportunity for you to follow-up on either through researching yourself, or asking someone else on how you can improve for the next time.

I wish there was a way for me to better be able to explain all of this to the newbs, but I guess it all just takes time, I know it did for me, I was one of them at one point with a similar thought process.

Spring!

7 PM and the sun is still shining. Not even daylight savings time until next week. :)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

It's the Little Things

Ziplock bags are hard to come by in Holland and when you buy wraps try also do not come in a ziplock bag and tend to get stale rather quickly. Well, not anymore for me! I found ziplock bags in France that are just the right size. Yes!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Monday, March 12, 2012

Spring is coming and I'm feeling overall good.


Here I am in my hotel room in France at night...with the window open!  It is such a great feeling to be able to do this! :-)  Spring is coming, the end of the cold cold weather for a change and finally time to sit outside and enjoy.

In addition I got to thinking about what exactly I did today...now it does not seam like such a big deal, but if I think about where I've come from, I guess it really is.  Today:
  • I woke up in Haalem, The Netherlands and took a train to Amsterdam
  • From Amsterdam I casually waited in the first class lounge and then got on a high speed train headed south
  • The high speed train blazed through Holland, Belgium, and France until I arrived in Paris
    • While on the train I had a conversation in Dutch with some people sitting around me and answered the different attendants in Dutch or French (depending on how the greeted me)
  • I got off the train, grabbed a quick and headed directly to the RER (kinda in between a metro and a real train)
  • I took the RER to another station in Paris and from there got on a normal French train.
  • I ate my lunch while in the train and arrived in Clichy
  • I strolled into the datacenter, saw some people I knew who let me in, and began my day working in France.
I did all of this without even really thinking.  Just got up and did.  It's kind of amazing to me how automatic this has become.  Traveling through different countries, many different trains (the all work differently) and speaking different languages that would have all been so foreign to me not so long ago.  I just go on my way without hesitation or really even having to think about it.  Almost every step of this would have been foreign, but now I just...do.  And you know what?  I love it!

Tonight I was doing some grocery shopping in a French grocery store (I really don't need to be a tourist every time I am in Paris, I'm here enough) and got to thinking how lucky I am.  I wanted to supplement my pantry with some French items, so I just go to a grocery store in France, how many people can say they can so easily do such a thing?

I'm not at all trying to brag, but just reflect on how my life has really changed.  Sure I miss some of the things from Pittsburgh (that I don't think will ever change) but right now, I am really happy with the way I am living.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Copenhagen (the rest)


So here is it, Copenhagen from up above.  Let me start by saying Copenhagen is a cool place.  The food is great (almost as good as Paris) and there is a lot to see and do.

Saturday I woke up and started off with a canal/harbor tour of the city on a tour boat.  The sun was out and it was a beautiful day so I even was able to sit outside on the boat.  The tour started at Nyhavn pictured here:

We went all around and I learned some interesting facts about the city.  It was also good because it showed me some things that come back to later while I was on foot and would have more time.  After the tour, I headed over to the National Museum which was a huge place and was even free!  I also had a nice brunch there.  Next I headed to the Marble Church the place was really nice inside but I just missed being able to climb to the top (note to self put on the list for tomorrow.)  Then I walked through the palace to the harbor and along the shore to get to The Little Mermaid one of Copenhagen's biggest tourist attractions, and I really have no idea why.  It's a little mermaid statue with tons of people trying to get their picture with it at the same time.  Next I walked over to the old fort shaped like a star, it was nice to walk around but by that time my feat were killing me.  I sat down on a bench for a while, took in some of the sites and continued on my way.

Next I came to a park with a cool old castle in the middle.  It was closed so one more thing for my list for the next day.  Finally I went back to the hotel for a nap!  Had dinner at a great place suggested by my Danish colleague called BrewPub.

Tivoli

Sunday I rented a bike!  No more really tired feet.  Luckily the Danish use bikes almost as much as the Dutch so this made it realy easy to get around.  First I stared out by trying to find a breakfast place recommended online...turns out it was not there anymore.  But good thing because then I ended up finding a GREAT indoor market.  Wow, this place reminded me a bit of the Strip District in Pittsburgh.  Such great things.  I had breakfast and vowed to go back for lunch.  Next I walked through a bunch of parks and arrived at the castle that I saw from Saturday.  Took a tour of it, and liked some of the cool old stuff that I saw.  Next I went back to the Marble Church and went up to the top.  I almost liked walking though all the ancient passageways to get to the roof as much as I did the view from the top (pictured above, first picture).  Then it was back to the market.  I had a really great double espresso and also an awesome lunch.

Next I biked over to Christiania which is a crazy hippieish place taken over from the city from people in the 1970's.  They make their own rules, have their own businesses, and even their own currency!  Technically they are not allowed to do some of the things that they do, like sell weed all over the place on a street rightly called "Pusher Street."  It was very interesting to walk through.  People living there basically build their own houses and there is a very hippie feel to the place.  From there, I went back researched a good place for dinner and ended up having my third really nice dinner.

Monday was back to work and we ended up getting a lot done.  After work Hans took me to another place for dinner.  It was good and was nice to have company for dinner that time.  Tuesday was more work, and finally back to the airport for my return to Holland.  One strange sounding thing to me was that that every time I was introduced to people, I was "Nick from Amsterdam" strange not being "Nick from Pittsburgh" anymore...

So all in all, I liked Copenhagen and that puts a big CHECK on my list for Scandinavia this year.  If you want to see the rest of my pics, just go here.

Old Stock Exchange (the spire is 4 dragon tails twisted together)