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" 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.


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 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  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.


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)

Friday, March 2, 2012

Copenhagen/Dyrup Day 1

I'm in Copenhagen, Denmark for a business trip to assist with the integration of Dyrup (a Danish company that PPG acquired.)  First of all being present in this country completes one of my 2012 goals, go to Scandinavia.  Didn't think I would make it here so quickly, but cool, I did.  Getting out of the plane in the airport, the first thing I noticed was, wow, a lot of these words look Dutch.  They are not exactly the same but I could easily figure out their meaning via context and similarity.  I quickly headed to the train and got out in Central station in Copenhagen.  My hotel is right around the corner in a great location.

Today I worked all day in Sølberg where Dyrup is located, it's not far at all from Copenhagen.  We were supposed to prepare switches that were going to arrive today to be installed on Sunday...they never arrived!  We tried to prepare as much as we could in advance and now are hoping to get things done Monday evening.  So...I get the whole weekend to myself!  Gotta figure out now what all I want to do.  One thing I am a bit disappointed that I don't get to see is Trivoli Gardens which is the oldest amusement park in the world and is literally located right in the center of Copenhagen.  No kidding, right outside the train station and around the corner from my hotel.  It does not open until April 12th :-(  But there are certain places around the perimeter that you can see in, and it really looks pretty cool.  Part of it is even lit up at night.

The picture above is from the main shopping street here, apparently the longest pedestrian street in Europe.  So far I tried a hot dog from one of the stands that are dotted throughout the city, it was pretty good, GRILLED and not boiled, with 3 or 4 sauces and a bunch of other toppings!  For dinner I ate at an Australian place called Reef n' Beef.  Was really pretty great.  Kangaroo carpaccio for a starter and crocodile for a main.  So good!  No sure at all what the weekend has in store, but I'll be doing some research tonight and heading out early tomorrow.