Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Pancakes, Castles and a Bike. What else is there?

May 11 - May 15

Thursday night (Ascension Day) I was having a delicious ramen meal at my go to restaurant (Hot and Spicy Chicken is my favorite) thinking of a place I'd like to visit outside the city on Friday.  I asked Jerome the waiter at Sanju (yes I'm on a first name basis) where I should go and he suggested I drive out to the small village of Lage Vuursche.  Not only is there room to run/hike, he mentioned there is an amazing pancake house there.  Pancake house?  Say no more.  So the next morning I was off to Lage Vuursche.  Of course I had to stop by the Village Coffee and Music shop for my "American Americano" from Marty (yes, first name basis) then I was on my way.  It really is a beautiful little town, but before I partake in the pancakes, I need to get some exercise so I went for a run.  The Netherlands is the 30th most densely populated country in the world yet when you drive from city to city you would never know it.  There are long stretches of beautiful farmland and lush forests with canals permeating through the land every few kilometers.  It really is beautiful.  The area around Lage Vuursche is one of those gorgeous rural places.  When I arrived I was actually able to just park the car (YES! there was parking!!!!) and set out to run off a few calories before I put them back in at the pancake house.

I staggered/limped to the imaginary finish line at the end of my run eager to sit in the morning sun and eat the well deserved pancakes.  I walked to the De Vuursche Boer Pannenkoekenhuis (The Fiery Farmer Pancake House).  It was 10:15 am and I asked the waiter for a menu and was told me they don't start the kitchen until 11:00 am.  Uh excuse me?  We are talking pancakes the breakfast food right?  Oh that's right, different country, different customs.  So I order a coffee and got the typical cappuccino that is served in the 4 oz cup that is sipped with the pinky out.  I finished my coffee, caught up on some email and alas, time to order breakfast (nearing lunch).  There were 15 different kinds and I opted for the ham and cheese and it did not disappoint.  It was DELICIOUS!  Nice recommendation Jerome.

I'm in a tough spot being by myself here in Utrecht.  I want to get out and experience the different sights and culture but careful to wait for Cheryl to hit the really BIG stuff.  Searching around I came across the Kasteel De Haar.  It is an old Castle that looks interesting, that I'm betting Cheryl will not be interested in (I'll let you know how that turns out when she gets here!)  The castle was originally built in 1391 by the De Haar family (go figure) but was passed on in 1440 and fell into ruins and rebuilt multiple times.  The final restoration was in 1891 designed by the famous Netherlands architect  Pierre Cuypers.  He worked on the project for 20 years.  It has 200 rooms and 30 bathrooms!  See how much you can learn reading this blog?

Sunday was a particularly good day here in Utrecht.  First of all it was Mother's Day and I got the opportuntiy to talk with my wonderful mother and wife (and family) which was awesome.  That would have been good enough but I also did 4 loads of laundry AND decided to get a bike!  In the Netherlands, having a bike is a must.  Though I know road bikes, I know nothing about the cruisers most everyone here rides.  Conventional wisdom is to buy a used bike which made sense to me since a) I'm not taking it home and b) it will probably get stolen anyway.  I decided to go the safe route and purchase from shop as often times bikes sold on-line are stolen (see "b" above).  I purchased a Sparta "stay cool" which means absolutely nothing to me but just as rescue dogs bond with their owners, I have a special feeling about my Sparta.  One more box checked off!!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Kangaroo in Utrecht

May 6 - May 10th

I had the bike for 24 hours so I wanted to maximize the time I had it so I got up early Sunday morning (OK "early" is a relative term) and wanted to go see some more of Utrecht that was outside my immediate neighborhood.  Where to go, where to go........  Well I have had difficulty finding a drip cup of coffee here as everything is in the small cups (pinky out) that are really strong.  Even if I order an Americano they only fill up my hydro flask half way.  OK, there has to be a Starbucks in Utrecht.  Yep only 5 minutes away by bike!  When I arrived, "Venti Americano please" was all I had to say and BOOM! flask was full.  Weather was amazing again.  27 C! (you'll have to figure that out yourself folks.)  I stopped by the HKU Utrecht Conservatorium to just sit on the bench with my wonderful Starbucks Venti Americano and think about things.  It was awesome.

Later that night I was at a restaurant waiting and waiting and waiting for my check.  Seems like serving staff are not in any hurry to present the check in the Netherlands.  Take a deep breath Chris, relax and enjoy the experience I keep telling myself as the waiter walks by my empty plate and glass 20 times.  Anyway I digress.  While waiting, I decided to see if there are any good translator apps that might make my life reading menus and going to the store a little easier.  Duh Chris, ever heard of a company called Google?  I downloaded Google translator and let me tell you, it is freaking amazing.  You point the camera and it translates the text from Dutch to English real time.  It's crazy. No more Russian roulette in the store and getting sardines when I expected chicken!  You have got to try it.

The week so far has been really good.  It probably helps that it is a 3 day week due to the celebration of Ascension Day on Thursday and then an additional day off on Friday (sort of how the US treats Thanksgiving weekend).  Tuesday I actually made my first international trip and ventured into Belgium.  Belgium is South of The Netherlands and about the size of Massachusetts (11K sq miles) but almost twice the population (11 million).  I went with 3 coworkers to see a renovated work area at our distribution center in Laakdal.  It is quite an amazing place though we didn't get a chance to see much of the actual distribution center. I was all fired up to show my passport and get a stamp but, noooooo, just an "Entering Belgium" sign as we crossed the border.  How anti climatic!

As if traveling to Belgium was not enough international experience for one day I decided to really go off the rails and go Australian for dinner.  Scanning the menu the Kangaroo really caught my eye (not really, the Ostrich was the only other choice).  So I decided to go for it.  I also decided to order a side of french fries just in case.  Believe it or not it was pretty tasty.  Not sure if it was the sauce or the meat, but it had a little kick to it (OK, I couldn't resist).

Thursday was another pretty good day.  I decided to go on a morning run along the canal.  It is really beautiful.  Winding around on the path periodically crossing the streets, running past the shops and cafes.  I almost forget how tired I was.  Since I didn't have a bike I explored my neighborhood to see if I could find a coffee shop close by where I could walk them through a proper Americano that would fill up my hydro flask.  Success!  Now I have a spot in my Binnenstad neighborhood that I can frequent.  The Village Coffee and Music shop made a wonderful cup of coffee for me.  The barista even provided the origin of the term "Americano."  According to popular belief,  the name has its origins in World War II when American G.I.s in Italy would dilute espresso with hot water to approximate the coffee to which they were accustomed.  So there you go........

Saturday, May 5, 2018

The first week....

April 30 - May 5

As with any new experience, it takes time to get settled and that is what I have been doing.  Trying to set the "routine"  I must admit it's one thing to set a new routine when you move across town, but quite another when you move across the world and start a new job.  But I'm adjusting fine.  The Netherlands is really a great place.  The people are so nice and having everyone speak English is a game changer.  Sure I can't read a menu, a street sign or can of tuna (its tonijnstukken by the way) but I am not complaining!. 

My routine consists of working out at the campus gym every morning and showering there (I have yet to use the apartment shower!)  I'm working long hours now so I won't need to when Cheryl get's here so I get home late, walk to a local restaurant, go to the store and that's about it. 

I've tried a different restaurant each night (not much cooking going on in the apartment) but I think I found my go to spot.  It's called Sanju Ramen and the people that work there are really nice and the Hot ans Spicy bowl I had last night was amazing.  I've talked with one of the waiters, Jerome, and I think we will get to know each other over time. 

Saturday was a big day.  The weather was amazing so I rented a bike to go exploring the town of Utrecht.  As is common in many cities here, there is a large old temple, church or government building in the center of town.  Utrecht is no different and in this case it is the Dom Tower.  It is a church tower standing 368 feet tall.  There are many wonderful shops and restaurants in the area so I locked up my bike and had a beer at the base of the tower at Brasserie Domplein.  The beer was cheap (2.60
euros!) and the atmosphere was priceless. 

I like to consider myself an experienced cyclist in that I have ridden to San Francisco, completed Seattle to Portland and thousands of miles around the Willamette Valley.   Similar to how scuba diving is not swimming, being on a bike in a Netherlands city is not cycling.  Sheesh, these people don't mess around.  There is no joy riding here.  These bikes are utility bikes.  You want to joy ride then get on a back street (which is exactly what I did!)

Well time to get a little laundry done and get something to eat.  It's been a good week thus far.  Though I would have liked to be in our permanent residence immediately, living in Utrecht for a month is going to be an unexpected pleasure I think.  It's a very nice city.  So until next time, I miss you all I hope you are doing well.

I am in the Netherlands!!!

April 29

Well, after months of talking about it, weeks preparing for it and days constantly thinking about it, the hour has arrived.  I am going the Netherlands to LIVE.  Yep, take 4 seasons worth of clothes and the charger for the electric toothbrush.  It was a day I was not looking forward to.  Not because I don't want to go, but because the reality of having to say goodbye to the family is much more difficult than I expected.  Our lives are built around each other and though it's easy to say "there will be visits," it will be different.  So here I am at PDX after sharing some some tears with Cheryl and am ready to check into Delta Flight 178 non stop to Amsterdam!

The trip was uneventful and I actually got a couple hours sleep because I will be spending the day at EHQ after I arrive and I don't want to bonk!  I only needed to get my bags and rental car (my permanent car is not available yet).  I got a nice little SUV Ford KUGR.  One problem, they only had a vehicle with a manual transmission.  Seriously??  It's not that I can't drive one, but I'm an old man.  I don't need to drag anyone off the line and with all the bikes, pedestrians, buses, trams, traffic lights, narrow roads, street names like "Plompetorengracht" to look for I don't need one more distraction!  OK, I'll take it, but "madam, will you please double the insurance coverage?  Thank you"

My first day at EHQ was good.  The people are terrific and I will have no problem adjusting.  They may be the one's who need to adjust to "the loud guy."  The campus is significantly smaller than WHQ but a major campus renovation is just kicking off and the rest of the European region is also undergoing some major changes to align with our new company strategy so there is a lot to do.

I left work a little early (good first impression eh?) to meet the real estate agent and get my temporary apartment.  It's in downtown Utrecht.  A town about 10 miles south of Hilversum (where EHQ is located).   I'm in a cool old area (well, every area is old) that is only two blocks from a nice downtown with restaurants and a grocery store.  The town itself is about 350,000 people but like Amsterdam, doesn't feel as big as it is as everything is broken up into neighborhoods.  Just a block north of my apartment is a beautiful canal.  The canals in Utrecht are different than in Amsterdam in that you can get right down to the water.  It's pretty nice and allows people to canoe and boat around a lot more.

It can't be all fun and games.  I need to go shopping so I have something in the refrigerator as this is going to be home for the month of May.  I got lots of sliced meats and cheese as I don't expect to be cooking many meals.  Maybe an occasional pot of spaghetti but don't be looking for me on Chopped any time soon.  I was very thankful to see Doritos made it over to the Netherlands.  I was a little disappointed in the selection.  Only Nacho Cheese.  Was looking for Spicy Sweet Chili flavor but I guess I can't have everything.

Well that's it for my first day of my new life experience in Europe.  I am excited to be here but even more excited for Cheryl to join me so we can share the experience.  Only a month to wait......

Monday, April 30, 2018

Getting Ready to Head Back

April 5 - April 26

When I left off it was April 4 and we were heading back to Oregon to continue getting ready to come back to start the 2 year stint in the Netherlands.  Cheryl and I both had "an idea" of what we were getting into but we under estimated by, well...... a factor of 10!  We ended making it home safely though I required a special security search by an "all to friendly" security professional.

Next on the agenda was taking care of all the little things you don't want to have to worry about while away.  You know, hair cut, cutting your toe nails and of course getting your teeth cleaned.  It seemed like such a good idea at the time, but while there,the dentist reminded me that I had a tooth that's been ready to crack for about a year and needed a crown.  Since I was just over a week from take off, he offered to do me a favor and stay late to install the crown.  Geez I hate getting my teeth worked on.  Extra novocaine please!!

Cheryl has been doing an amazing job clearing the house of unwanted "stuff" and we have been hauling other items to the kids for their use or selling on Craigslist.  One of my golden rules is "don't love something that can't love you back."  By following that rule you would think it would be easy to sell the motor home and my motorcycle.  Well, it was hard!  We had the Intruder for 7 years and we keep a log of every time we use it.  There were 140 entries!  You math geniuses out there can quickly deduce that we take the Intruder out 20 times a year.  That's one hellava lot of Walmarts!  I hope the new owner has as much fun with it as we did.  Safe travels.

Next on the list was the motorcycle.  Though I didn't ride it much, there aren't many things better than riding a motorcycle in the country on a sunny summer day.  OK, there are probably a lot of things better, but still, it was fun.  The Yamaha V-Star 650 was my first motorcycle after I got my endorsement and the person who bought it just got his also.  That explains why he asked me to drive but back to his house after he bought it.  I was happy to do it as it gave me one more time to ride it.

The last items on our list were the good byes.  Crowns, selling the Intruder and motorcycle were bad enough, but visiting our many wonderful friends that we will not see nearly so often was tough.  Sure we will be back on occasion, but it s not the same as the routine "pop-ins" or an impromptu dinner out or a Sunday BBQ.  I must say that my heart hurt as the last couple weeks past but my liver was really feeling the pain.  Lots of farewell toasts but they were moments I will always remember.  We are so blessed to have so many wonderful friends.  We love you all so much. 

We Have an Amsterdam Address!

April 3

It was a huge day for us today.  We are going to decide on our apartment for the next 2 years.  It’s down to two but we discussed it all weekend and we are pretty sure which one we will take.  But first we need some breakfast and we’ve found there are not a lot of bacon and egg places around but there are a ton of bakeries.  We hit the “Ice Bakery” (a chain here in Amsterdam) and not wanting anything too sweet Cheryl decided on a waffle.  “What would you like on that?” she was asked.  “Strawberries, whipped cream, Oreo cookies, Nutella, sprinkles, bananas, sour patch kids…….” At that point Cheryl declined and settled on an apple turnover.  I also didn’t want anything too sweet either so I decided on a white frosted doughnut.  To my surprise, as I bit into it I realized it was filled with Nutella.  Sheesh, the Dutch like their sweets!

Off we went to check out the two apartments.  We were pretty sure we wanted the one with a gated entry on street level because the layout was very practical and it has a very large deck, however, we needed to look at them both again.  Though we loved the beautiful main floor of the 3rd/4th floor unit, the stairs were a killer, even for Amsterdam.  Believe it or not, this was only the first flight of stairs!  So we decide against this one.

The apartment we settled on is a 2 bedroom with a very unique lay out for Amsterdam.  There is a gated front all to ourselves, a large entry way and the stairs are broken up.  The guest room has some privacy and there is a huge deck off the living room.  I can only show pictures from the outside because it is currently occupied and current renter doesn't appear to know what clutter is.  The bottom line is that we have a place with a real Amsterdam address!  Are you ready for it??? Alexander Boersstraat 54 II.

 Time to head home bright and early in the morning.  We'll catch up on a few things then, I'm back over at the end of April to stay here permanently (well 2 years feels pretty permanent)  So until then.........

Monday, April 2, 2018

Tulips in The Netherlands?

April 2

Another day of exploring the Netherlands!  We want to take advantage of the rental car so we decided to again flip a coin and today that coin said to go to see the Tulips!  The Netherlands is known for their flowers.  In fact, iamsterdam.com says that the Netherlands accounts for 70% of the worlds commercial flower output.  So off we went to Keukenhof flower garden in Lisse.  Probably not the best day to make this adventure as it was raining and we were a little early in the season and there were very few tulips at the tulip garden (as noted below) but we always go where the coin tells us.