Posted in amsterdam, blog, culture, cycling, dutch, europe, expats, food, holland, moving away, the netherlands, tradition, travel, travel blog, travel guide

A survival guide for your first visit to the Netherlands

Recently, we had our very first visitors. Soon after one of my friends came to Amsterdam on private matters, so we had a chance to catch up. And as it always is, you ask the same question over and over again: So, what do you think? But, not also what do they think, but rather what do they find interesting, or weird, or peculiar, or whichever emotion they seem fit. It was nice to hear their thoughts, and laugh at how we perceived them all in the same way. Being a freshie here as well, I imagine there’re a lot of things to come, but let’s just point out some of the things you may find unusual but good to know, once you come to the Netherlands.  Also, some of the things might help you not to feel so out of the place once you decide to visit. It’s always good to come prepared, I’ll say.

  • The thing with credit cards

Today, more than ever perhaps, we rely on our credit/debit cards in our travels. It’s a convenient way to travel from one country to another, without having the need to carry actual cash with us. And a lot of times the currency conversions in some places are insane, so we prefer paying for things, when necessary, with our sparkling cards. And who doesn’t accept Visa and MasterCard these days anyway? Am I right? Well, if you decide to come to the supermarket in Amsterdam and try paying your groceries with that neat Visa of yours, you’re in for a shrug from the cashier: We don’t accept your card. Before you panic, and call your bank, they don’t accept ANY Visa, or MasterCard for that matter. On the majority of card readers at the cash register, there will even be a sticker saying NO Visa and MasterCard. How would I even know that? Because on our very first day here we bought a lot of food at the local supermarket, ready to pay with our card, the only source of our money and the cashier gave us that same disappointed look. The same look I’ve come to encounter so many times when it comes to tourist trying to pay with their credit cards. No Visa. So, bear that in mind. Go to the ATM prior to any shopping and get some smelly euros instead. That way you’ll be safe.

Attention! More often than not, there’ll be signs saying pinkassa, meaning only card payment, and you cannot stand in line there, unless you have, preferably, Dutch bank account. Also, some shops and restaurants accept ONLY card payment or ONLY cash, so look for signs, as they’ll usually be displayed at the door before you come in. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. 🙂

If you have only just arrived in the Netherlands, and you’re at the airport, you don’t have your credit card, but you do have cash, and you want to buy the ticket for the train to take you to, let’s say Amsterdam Centraal, make sure you have some coins. Yup, the ticket machine only accepts coins. Hopefully, you don’t have to go to Groningen, or there would be a lot of coins going down that machine, some of them falling out, so you’d have to start all over again, building up your anxiety even more. Be sure to have the right amount, as well. This is probably the only situation when having that Visa pays off, cause you can purchase the train ticket with it. We tried, it worked. 🙂 Let’s just say I walk around only with a debit card. Like a boss. A great way for your partner to control the spendings. #sadface

  • The thing with public transport 

Public transport is great here. Pricey, yes, but punctual (if the train is late, there’s always a notification for the passengers, followed by an apology), fast, comfy, and well-connected. In translation, you can get pretty much anywhere, once you get the hang of it all. So, you have your train ticket and you’re ready to catch the first one to Amsterdam. Don’t forget to check-in! Meaning, lean your ticket against the designated place on the machine before entering the station. Some spots are impossible to miss, as there’s always an automated door that opens once you check-in your ticket, but at smaller stations, or at the airport, there’s no automated door, and the machine is placed usually next to the moving staircase that leads you to your train.IMG_3719.jpg

Automated doors at the central station in Amsterdam

 Why is it important to check-in? As we all know, an “unchecked ticket” is not valid. So if the conductor in the train takes your ticket and checks it with his chip machine, you’ll most likely get a fine. So, whenever there’s no automated door, look for a stand-alone machine. Also, it’s important not to lose your ticket during your travel, in order to be able to check out, meaning, exit the station you arrive at. For short-term visits, there’s always the IAmsterdam card, so if you’re in for some additional discounts, check it out. The card works the same as the normal ticket would.

E.-Dronkert-NS-in-uitchecken-voor-OV-chipkaart-1402652109

Check-in/check-out machines for train transportation

If you’re planning to spend more time in The Netherlands, consider getting an OV-chipkaart. It’s a card with an electronic chip, and it’s valid for all public transport in the Netherlands, as long as you have enough balance. Meaning, you can use metros, buses, trams, trains, rented bikes wherever in the country, provided you have at least 20€ balance or 10€ on a personal chip-card with a yearly discount. We got the non-personalized chip-cards for when friends and family come to visit, and personalized ones with our picture and a yearly discount for our travel needs. Both cards are easily loaded at the ticket machine using a debit/credit card, or coins. Read more here.

Personalized and anonymous chip card

During your travel, you can easily transfer from train to the metro with the same ticket. Say you have to get to Amsterdam centraal, but your train only goes to a certain station, and from there you have to take a metro. No worries. Just do the check-out at the train machine and check-in with a metro machine. They’re always placed one beside the other. Why is it important to do it? Because there are different rates, and different routes each of them take. It’s important for the machine to read your travel itinerary correctly before you exit the station. The conductor will see it on their chip reader as well. You’ll also always hear the lady on the speaker in trains saying where you can overstappen. More about transfers.

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Just look for one of these and you’ll be fine

In buses and trams, you usually enter at the front, where you immediately make a check-in. Trams have designated entries and exits so you cannot enter or exit wherever you like. There’s usually a red picture on the door you cannot use, and the blue one, or a sign saying welkom for entering the tram. In newer trams, there’s also a conductor booth in the middle of the tram. Yup, there’s a person in the middle of the tram with its special booth, where you can buy the tram tickets, if you haven’t previously, and make an inquiry where to get off, and so on. Also, when it comes to trams and buses, make sure you press the stop button if you wish to get off on the next stop. Don’t forget to check-out! The conductor will tell you as well. 🙂

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Conductor booth in a tram in Amsterdam

If you’re traveling mainly by train or metro, you’ll notice special places for people with bikes. Before you go taking your bike on a train with you as well, there are certain rules. Firstly, if you want to take your own, normal sized, bike on a train, make sure you load it on your OV-chipkaart. Also, you’ll pay 6€ extra for the “bike ticket”. If you, by any chance, have those cool bikes that you can assemble and reassemble, meaning, you have a folding bike, you’re not required to pay for it. Provided you fold it once you enter the train. That way it’s considered to be a normal luggage. If you really want to ride a bike once you reach your destination, but don’t want to pay 6€, you can load onto your card a rental bike supplement, or a ov-fiets for extra 3€. Meaning, once you get somewhere, you can rent one. More, here.

DAHON_EEZZ_Vertical_Folding_Bicycle

Such a neat suitcase

If you, by any chance step onto a double-decker train, called intercity, make sure you don’t sit down at the silent compartment, and decide to have a loud chat with your mum. Look for signs, as always.

A final note on transportation: your hair is wet, and you didn’t have time to put the make-up on, and your train is in 5 min? Don’t worry, just step in, have a seat, and take out your makeup bag. You have time for all the make-up rituals you desire. Even plucking out your eyebrows. Yup, I’ve seen it all. Whenever I think of myself as a weird one, I think of all those beauty treatments on public transport. Who knows, maybe I’ll start doing them soon as well.

  • The thing with paper

Dutchies are reluctant when it comes to printing stuff. The very first time we’ve come across that information, was when we were opening our bank account and the lady asked us if she could e-mail us the contract, rather than printing it all out just so we could take it home and never look at it again. The Dutchies are eco-friendly and don’t really like wasting paper when there’s no real need for it. For that reason, you can do a lot of things online without filling out a form somewhere. So when I was ordering my chip card, I had the option of filling out the form on paper or filling it out online. Just to push people more towards the online solution – they charge for that paper form.

Your train ticket will always be more expensive, due to the fact you’ve printed it out, instead of bought it online, or got an OV-chip card. While we waited for our card to arrive during the first month, we usually paid 1€ more per ticket per person, for each travel. That’s a lot of money if you travel often. Keep that in mind.

Also, in shops, or cafés, they’ll usually ask you would you like the receipt. The reason behind is, not to trick you, but to ask you whether you really need it, or should they skip printing it, and wasting paper. My friend would, naturally, complain why would they even ask him that, and of course he wanted it. But if they notice you’re a foreigner they’ll just hand it to you with no questions asked. And if you have one of those supermarket discount cards, you can see your shopping list online, as well. Let’s be more green, people. 🙂

  • The thing with cafés

Paying for coffee prior to having any. This is the thing I don’t normally notice, or I don’t pay attention much to it when I’m alone, but my friend pointed it out almost immediately. I chose a completely random coffee place for us to sit down and have a chat, knowing I’m the only one who cares about the details such as interior or let’s say, actually good coffee. It turned out to be a perfectly fine café, except for the service thing, which is pretty much everywhere the same. So, there are cafés where you have to order at the bar and pay immediately. Also, there are bars/cafés where you have to order at the bar, but can pay later, emphasising that the payment is always done at the bar. And then there are cafés where you can sit down and wait for the service to come to you, but they usually don’t come at all, or you have to wait for longer periods of time.

That was one of the things my partner and I encountered on our very first time in Amsterdam. We stumbled upon a cute little restaurant, greeted the waitresses, and sat down. My partner, quite impatient by nature, is used to things be done in a certain way. If he’s in a café or a restaurant, they should come to him and take his order as soon as possible, preferably. Here, we just sat and sat, without anyone coming to check whether we were ready to order. Naturally, he got up and went to the bar, where they told him someone will be at our table shortly. Eventually someone came to take our order, and then the waiting prolonged some more. In the meantime, as it was lunch time, more people sat at the neighboring table, and what I noticed, they were carefree. No one was impatient, no one was wawing to the waitress, no tapping their feet nervously, no grunting, no anything. They just sat there, chatting forever, knowing obviously that someone would eventually notice them. A-mazing. So there are places like that as well, where they’ll come to you, but you’ll wait forever. And that seemed fine to everyone else. Culture clash, right there.

So, naturally, my friend noticed that, and by the time we had to leave he asked me where the bill was, but I explained I’d already paid when ordering. “Ah, yet another place where you have to do everything”. Maybe that’s the thing. They don’t have the need to constantly bother you with questions. It’s plain, there’s the bar, you can order there, you can pick your order there as well, or someone will bring it to your table. If you want more, down the bar you go again. No one will clean your table. Back home, if I’m finished with my coffee, there would be a melancholic waiter, slowly coming my way, picking up my empty cup, cleaning the table and asking would I like anything else. Maybe that is the thing. Maybe they don’t want you to get the wrong impression as if they were kicking you out if you don’t order more. I could stay in this café for hours, feeling like I drank 5 cups of coffee, and got some work done on my laptop in the meantime. A lot of people here make use of that time exactly the same. You’d see laptops, people reading, or having casual meetings right at the next table. No one to bother them. Maybe that’s the thing. My friend disagrees, naturally, and I believe my partner as well. But I can definitely see the lovely quirks of it all. So, if in doubt which café offers which kind of service, there’s always a bar to ask. I do it as well 🙂

  • The thing with supermarkets

Ah, Dutch supermarkets. I love them. Now that I got to understand them, obviously. Now, this may as well be just in my culture, or in my country, plus the countries I’ve lived in previously. Fruits and veggies section. Buying everything else is easy, but that first time I’ve decided to get a strawberry basket, while desperately looking for a number to type on that fruit and veggie scale, then spying on other people how they do it – priceless. Like trying to find Waldo, not realizing he’s not there at all.

So, normally, if I’m to buy fruits back home, I would take a plastic bag, put my oranges, put them on a scale in the middle of the section, type in the number written on a price tag, and press print to put my price on. Now, what I didn’t know, that it’s also the process to do here, but only in supermarkets that have the self-scan registers where you can scan your products yourself and pay for them with a card, not having the need to speak to a human. Well, it was our first day, and it was all so new, so I just ran to a confused worker and asked her all puzzled: I’m sorry, but how do I buy fruit here? – The lady at the cash register knows the price. Mindblown! I cannot tell you how many times in the past I’ve witnessed someone saying: you didn’t weigh these apples? Where is your price tag? Now, I just take them, and the lady at the cash register does the rest. Marvelous.

But let’s get back to that pricing thing. Normally, fruits and veggies are sold by the kilo, meaning their price is per kilo. Here, you’ll find all kinds of mash-ups. For example, cucumbers and mangos are sold per PIECE, kiwis per HALF a kilo, some bananas per 1.20 kilo. Pay attention at the footnote, and, if buying only a piece of this and that, avoid packing it in a plastic bag. There’s a scale to check the weight of your products, as well.

Now that we’re done with that fruit enigma, one thing it annoyed me during the first months was employers stocking up the shelves, every single time I’m at the store. Morning, afternoon, evening, I’ve tried them all. There’s always at least one person in a section with piles of boxes blocking my way to get to a certain product. Normally, back home, the day they’re doing the inventory, they would close the shop. But here, it seems, the inventory never stops, and the stuff just keeps arriving. You’ll even find yourself at a section without prices. Meaning, they’re redoing the price tags at that moment, and they’d left you with guessing the yogurt prices or finding the price machine to scan the product yourself. I’m used to it now, but I can hear a lot of foreigners complaining about it. What can you do, the importance of stocking up comes first.

  • The thing with patience

That being said, you’d expect the locals having the same negative sentiments about it. But I’ve never witnessed a single grunt. Not only no one complains, but they even wait for them to stock up, or they squeeze in between the boxes and get the thing they wanted, apologizing in the process. Customers apologizing to the employers. But nothing compares to the patience they have for one another. How many times have you told someone in the supermarket to move away, or shout you’re in a hurry, trying to go over the line, and so on? Back home, I’d probably do the same thing, run through the store and groan in the line for the cash register. You pick up on things from others, no matter how much you want to stay calm. Then you experience supermarkets in The Netherlands.

On my first trip to a local drug store, burned by a previous experience of a non-cash register, I didn’t know which line to take so, naturally, I took the longer one, hoping I took the right one. Then a lady came after me, carrying only a shampoo bottle in her hand. She wanted to take the much shorter line, but seeing I was the last one at the longer one, she asked me if I wanted to stand in the shorter line. My basket filled with cosmetics, my face blushing, I thanked her and only then realized all cash-registers accepted both ways of payment. The reason why that lady wanted me to take the line before her, was simply common sense. She saw I came before her, regardless of how many items I had in my shopping basket, and it was only natural to her to let me stand in front of her. Just wow. Wow. Few other times, at the supermarket, I would read the ingredients, not knowing there was someone behind me waiting for me to finish. Each time that happens, I feel embarrassed, and quickly get out of the way, and every one of those patient people smile, thank me and apologize if I was pressured into making a decision. After 6 months of living here, not a single bad grocery shopping experience. What I’ve learned? Now I stand in silence and wait for them to finish with their choice. We then smile, apologize, and thank each other. Patience is a virtue, after all.

  •  The thing with lunch

If I were to tell my mum I had a sandwich for lunch, she would say: what else? Meaning, having a sandwich and calling it lunch, it’s the same as saying I didn’t have lunch at all. Enter, a country that does the pure opposite. Now, I’m aware not everyone has the time during their workday to have a hot meal for lunch, and sandwiches are a more convenient way to get you through the day. Here, having a sandwich for lunch is what is considered to be a perfectly normal thing. Not only that, but the restaurants have separate menus for lunch and for dinner. So, if you decide to have some delicious stew, risotto, or anything that requires actual cooking at 2 p.m., you’ll have to get by with burgers, sandwiches, and salads. Dinner menus start around 5 p.m., or later, and then you can get a heartier meal. Bear that in mind if you’re a soup-and-a-cooked-meal-for-lunch and more of a lighter-sandwich-for-dinner kind of person. The solution for that problem is simple since supermarkets, and markets, such as Albert Heijn to go (designed for people in a rush) have meals ready to go, that only need to be heated up in a microwave in their original packaging. Also, it’s normal to pack up your lunch, so if you have leftovers, just pack it up in a Tupperware or a lunch box, and you’re ready to go. Healthier, and better, in my humble expat opinion. 🙂

  • The thing with going Dutch

Last but not least, visiting the Dutch for the first time in their homes. What’s the etiquette, how to behave, and so on. I’ve already done a post about my awkward encounters so let’s just focus on one thing. According to the Cambridge dictionary, to “go Dutch” means to agree to share the cost of something, especially a meal. Meaning, if you go out with your Dutchie friend for a cup of coffee, or a sandwich, expect to share the costs equally. This could also be culture-specific since back home we’re used to paying for one round, then the next person pays for the seconds, and so on. It’s not always the case, and you usually do it with people you’re close with, but the thing that may as well surprise you is the way they host people. In our culture, if we’re expecting guests, everything is on us, meaning we’re responsible for food and drinks, you just have to bring yourself.

The first time we’ve been to a Dutch home, we were instructed to bring our own drinks, which we did. But, now that I think about it, it was only normal, as they were expecting more guests, and wanted everyone to drink what they liked. They provided the snacks, which were brought one by one, and you were allowed to take only one piece every single time. Again, maybe culture-specific, but I’m used to bringing everything out on the table, and let people eat as much as they want, not having to constantly ask do they want some more. And I’ve heard that’s the normal etiquette here when visiting other Dutchies. Recently, I’ve even seen a post from an expat sharing his own astonishment when he was asked by his Dutch neighbors to bring his own drinks. Now that I think about it, it also kind of makes sense. It’s economical, money-wise, at least. Maybe it also makes sense that if you bring your own drinks, you’ll also drink it. When it comes to our culture, everyone is so shy when they come to visit, that they usually, out of politeness, don’t want to drink nor eat anything, so in the end, you’re left with all that alcohol and food. Which is great for you. And it also depends on a guest, and which type of host you are. It is, after all, people entertaining. If they visit, and you have nothing to eat, and they didn’t bring anything, that’s no fun, now is it.

So, I’m not completely sold on this Dutch hosting type, and I’ll happily stand on my side of entertainment. Which is why, when we had guests the other day, we did it our way. But it didn’t make me feel any less unprepared, or nervous, for that matter. First time for everything is quite annoying.

In conclusion, I expect you’ve found some useful information before your first visit to the Netherlands, and, hopefully, you’ll be more prepared than I was. Or not. To err is human. As always, till next time, stay curious, and wonderful as you are! 🙂

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Posted in amsterdam, blog, books, bookshop, culture, dutch, europe, holland, language, literature, the netherlands, travel, travel blog, travel guide, writing

Operation Amsterdam bookshops & how reading defines me

Books have always been a huge part of who I am. During my University years, I had longer periods of not having the time to read just for the sake of it. Having studied two languages at the same time, the list of books I had to read on a daily basis was intense.  Fast forward to happier times when I studied abroad as part of exchange programs, which also did not bare fruit in my book club section. One thing I genuinely did for myself, during all those years of unhappy readings, was taking a course on English literature in the last year of my master’s studies. I was once again that 19-year-old girl, attending her very first class of Russian romanticism, and loving every single moment of it. The feeling I experienced years ago came flashing back to me, and hitting me in the head, shouting “this is you!”. On top of some interesting book titles, I had an opportunity to learn from a fascinating woman, and a professor, who put me back on track, and taught me, again, about phenomenal worlds hidden inside those book covers.

Little after that, while doing my master’s thesis, I came across an international online bookshop, Book Depository. Back home, a lot of bookshops at that time didn’t have the capacity to satisfy my cravings, and whenever they did, it would usually be a translated work, of which I was never a fan of. Funny for a girl with a degree in languages. My attitude has been, and always will be, If I know the language the book was originally written in, and if I’m at liberty to choose, I will never pick a translated version. It would be like picking a completely different version of the same book. To many, it doesn’t make sense, but maybe I just spent a lot of time during my Uni years, trying to translate someone’s work, evaluating someone else’s attempt at translating it right, only to realize I always liked it better in the original form. Naturally, my language knowledge is limited,  but whenever I can, I opt for the language I’m most familiar with, since it’s the terrain I feel comfortable with.

Also, if I can help it, I never read poetry in translation. It is impossible to translate poetry. The translator would have to be the poet himself, and, ideally, just as good as the poet in question. Maybe the best point in translating poetry comes from a 2016 movie Paterson, directed by enjoyably eccentric Jim Jarmusch. In it, Adam, bus driver and a poet, played by wonderful Adam Driver (get the irony in the name), meets a Japanese man in a park, who also happens to be a poet himself. Adam asks him if he could read him some of his poems, but the man refuses, as his poems are in Japanese, and there’s no point in translating them into English.

DUKzU3QVQAE6V7ACouldn’t agree more

ATTENTION! Above stated are my sentiments only, and I don’t interfere with anyone else’s reading habits. But, since the blog is written in sort of a diary format, I feel free to express my opinions, which, I repeat, don’t have anything to do with other people. If anything, my intentions are simple, and I wish to encourage everyone to read, whenever they can, in whichever shape and form, in a language they prefer, and/or have access to. We all sound the same underwater, as my favorite poet, Sarah Kay, says. Link is to the YouTube video, by Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye performing “An Origin Story”. It will make your day!

Getting back to the point! Book Depository has been my best friend when it comes to amazing book deals, discounts, and special member benefits. They offer free delivery WORLDWIDE, so be sure to check them out. The delivery is super fast, at least for Europe, as I get all my books within a week. Sweet! You’ll only have to pay a small tax fee, which, for me, has never exceeded one euro. Plus, people say the shipping price is already included in the book price, but that’s simply not true. Just take a trip to any one of your local bookshops, or google the original price, and you’ll see Book Depository is the way to go. Book Depository did not pay me in any way to promote their business. 🙂

So, whenever I’m not hauling books in my online basket, I like to explore local bookshops, to get inspired, mostly. Digital era maybe helped me to get my books in the post mail, but it never drew me to the side of e-books, Kindles, and all sorts of little robots that read instead of you. I seldom use Audible, but I blame my partner for that. When it comes to finding something new to read, something to inspire you to freshen up your bookshelf, or if you’re in need of browsing through tons of books, take a walk to your favorite bookshops. Also, if you’re a traveler, always check bookshops of the city you’re in at the moment. It’s a super fun way to explore their reading habits, to see the number one book in their shop, and stumble upon an English corner, with bunch of your favorites on massive discount. Finally, if you’ve never stopped being a fan of libraries, and feel like supporting your local one, renew that membership, and start borrowing books again. Nothing beats the smell of a new book, but damn, those library ones strike the note as well. I plan on signing up for a membership soon at Amsterdam public library, OBA. If in Amsterdam, check it out inside, go to the top floor, and enjoy the view with a cup of coffee. It’s located near Amsterdam central train station, at the East Docks.

Finally, BOOKSHOPS IN AMSTERDAM! The list is pretty straightforward, containing some of the bookshops I adore coming to, exploring their shelves, and inhaling that enchanting book smell. The only must have of choosing the right ones was: they had to have a good selection of English books, and if possible, Spanish ones.

WATERSTONES

The link above will take you to their Facebook page, since they don’t officially have a web page for their Amsterdam branch. The reason behind it, is that the Waterstones bookshop is a UK bookshop chain, and a quite respectable one as I hear, so their official page is for the UK stock only. You can, nevertheless, go to their page and get information whether or not they have the book you’re looking for. The search engine will even find the location of the library where the book can be bought, but as I said, only concerning the bookshops in the UK. For Amsterdam one, you can always mail them, or simply walk into this marvelous bookshop, and search for it yourself. 🙂

IMG_6791Busy Kalverstraat where Waterstones is located

Being a UK bookshop, the whole bookstore is English based, so you’ll be able to find A LOT of books. Located in a historic building with high ceilings, this bookshop is as beautiful as it gets. Lots of corners where different book genres are hidden, staff with impeccable Oxford English willing to help you, as well as advise you. My partner got me my birthday present at Waterstones, and told me the guy who helped him was super nice. You’re free to scroll around as much as you’d like, but you risk of spending a bit over your budget, as this bookshop is on the pricey side. What I do, and I know I shouldn’t, I take it as a reference point. Meaning, I browse through bookshelves, in search of something new, or old, but never read, then check the price, and google whether I could get it cheaper online. That’s probably my go-to-thing for people who have a tight budget, but really want to buy books. Go to the bookshop in search of inspiration, then buy the book only if your wallet lets you. Once you get rich, there’ll be no need to look at the price. 🙂  But if I really want the book, and the price doesn’t differ that much, I just buy it. You’ll even get the discount after a certain amounts of books you buy, and I love discounts. And membership cards. They make me feel important.

Back to the interior of this bookshop, and this is something I really love. So you have the main floor filled with books, corners with current worldwide bestsellers, classics, fiction, non-fiction, art. The second floor is filled with all kinds of trinkets, totes, British snacks, cute planners, and board games. Don’t go on buying everything just yet.

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Third floor contains all kinds of Dickinsons (as in Emily), Tolkiens, Harry Potters, you name it. The last floor is full of history related books, which I often skip, but if you’re into that, you’re in for a treat. And finally, what makes me smile every time I enter this bookshop, is those little reviews the staff leaves under certain kinds of books they love, or recommend. So, if you’re one of those undecided readers, these cute reviews are something to look for.

20180818_133126Mister Tim is my cup of tea

ATHENAEUM

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This bookshop on Spuistraat is a mix of books offered in various languages, a large part of it being in Dutch. Which should not discourage you, as you’ll find a lot of interesting treasures once you decide to explore it. Also, a lot of times, in the sections related to art, or specifically, mythology, and other non-fiction, the Dutch and the English books are all mixed up together.

The concept of the bookstore is interesting, so you’ll see a lot of interesting sections, if you don’t get lost. I did, several times. I still cannot wrap my head around it, but I believe it’s because of the funky way the whole shop is constructed. Maybe they thought the space was too small to only have one floor filled with bookshelves all the way up to the ceiling, so instead, they created these little mazes. The number of steps, little closed corners, unexpected turns, and all that going up, and down, what really should have been just one floor, made my head spin. You’ll just end up going in circles, and coming back to the same place, if you’re not familiar with the premises. Or is it just me, maybe I’m a naturally disorientated person. Anyway, after a lot of confusion, I’ve managed to find the other languages, which is made of mostly German, and French books, with a fair amount of Italian, and an okay selection of Spanish books. English books thought to be for children have their own section, and that’s where you’ll find your dose of J.K.Rowling. I was naive enough to think I’d get my Beasts at the adult section.

All in all, not completely impressed with this bookshop, especially when I think of staff behind their computers in every small corner of this shop, so I literally feel like I’m being watched. But this is definitely me, and my introvert issue, not to say other people would have problem with that part. The prices are okay, perhaps bit better than Waterstones, but if I had to choose between the two, I would spend my money at Waterstones, any day of the week, and twice on Sundays. 🙂

Update: There’s another Athenaeum on Roeterstraat.

THE AMERICAN BOOK CENTER

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Right next to confusing Athenaeum, there’s The American Book Center, an independent bookshop, with huge selection of English-only books, magazines, comics, graphic novels, etc. In the middle of the bookshop, there’s a huge tree trunk, that expands throughout several floors. While I’m not a huge fan of a mutilated tree, meaning they had to nail it down, cut it where it didn’t fit, and so on, in the middle of a shop, I commend the effort. And, I’ve heard, a lot of people find it nice, and enlist is as one of the most beautiful bookstores in Europe, so be sure to check it out if in the neighborhood, and see if you’d like it. Other than that, the book selection is mind-blowing. It’s a bit on the pricey side, but then again, a lot of books are long way from their homes.

I had a fun time exploring this book treasure, and love the section you find on steps while climbing to the second floor. The staff members chose their favorites, and put them on display for you to see if you’d like them as well. I spotted new Sarah’s Scribbles there, and it immediately put a smile on my face. Check her out, if you haven’t. She’s hilarious. Among other interesting sections, there’s a section “Books no one reads”, which are on the highest shelves possible, so if you happen to do read them, I imagine the staff would have a field day when you come to the shop. On the first floor, there’s a couple of benches where you can relax and go through some of the books. And in front of the shop there’s always a yard sale, where you can look freely through selected books, and find couple of gems, like I did just the other day. Be sure to get a discount card, or a student one, if you really are a student. Cute shop, huge selection, friendly staff, recommend!

IMG_6789Yard sale in front of ABC

EL RINCÓN DEL LIBRO (The Book Corner)

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The name always reminds me of a certain page “Rincón del vago” (the lazy corner/the corner of the lazy one) that my colleagues and I used whenever we didn’t comprehend the novel we were supposed to read for Spanish class. This little bookshop is super easy to miss, it happened to me the first time, Google maps was right, I just didn’t believe it, and continued on walking. It’s part of a far bigger Plantage bookshop, and only the small part of it is dedicated to literature in Spanish. When I say small, I mean a room. This little bookshop is one tiny room with some great book selection from Spain and Latin America, alongside with something for the kids, as well as for learning Spanish, if your first language is Dutch. There’s usually one staff member cramped behind a small desk on one side of the room, and they’re always super helpful.

Even though the space is so confined, and I don’t particularly enjoy small shops, it’s actually the place where I get all of my Spanish books from. Just the other day they didn’t have the one I was looking for, and the man, mistaking me for a Dutch person, started explaining, in Dutch, how he’ll order it for me, and how I should pick it up the next week. Everything was going peachy, until his friend, who was chatting with him just moments before, started asking questions I did not know how to answer, and completely blew my cover as a native Dutch person who just happened to read books in Spanish. Still a lousy foreigner, folks. #ahthoseexpats 🙂

To conclude, I love this bookstore, the prices are super reasonable, especially in comparison to Book Depository, which I never use for books in Spanish.

SCHELTEMA

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Finally,  cherry on top, enter this charming edifice, Scheltema bookshop! This is a Dutch bookshop, one of the oldest ones, and one of the largest ones in The Netherlands. It’s located on a busy street Rokin in the center of Amsterdam, just after Madame Tussauds and the Dam. The bookshop features 4 enormously spacious floors, first one dedicated to books in Dutch, the second one containing different languages such as English, French, Dutch, Spanish. You can find fiction, non-fiction, comics, graphic novels, a special corner with ridiculous discounts, as well as section labelled “ramsj”. Now, I didn’t even know this category existed in publishing world, before I googled what it meant. In English, it translates to “remaindered books”, meaning books that are no longer selling well, or unpopular titles, and are sold at a significantly reduced price. Then there’s the third floor dedicated to specialized fields such as philosophy, or religion, which I usually skip, and hop on to the 4th, and the last floor. Primarily because of the view, and then due to fact that the whole floor is dedicated to second-hand books, including the English ones! What a neat idea! I don’t see it quite often in bookshops, and they’re normally smaller in size, but this one takes up the entire top floor. If you’re looking for fantasy books in English, don’t head over to “literature in English”, but rather to a separated section with fantasy and sci-fi in English. Even Scheltema knows how special those literary worlds are 🙂 I spotted Aaronovitch, and Gaiman there for a fair price, so be sure to check that one out. If not, just take a walk through the quietest floor, admire the view.

20180818_135311Windowsill art on 4th floor

20180818_140130Have a seat, or take a nap

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Then, take the stairs, not the escalator, or you’ll miss the beautiful art of colorful windows, wooden handrail, and old photos of Ajax, the football club, displayed on the walls. Also, no one ever takes them, so that’s a perfect way to avoid the crowds, and get out sooner, before you even think about buying another book.

20180818_140118Take the stairs 🙂

So, why I love this bookshop so much? It’s a Dutch bookshop after all, and I don’t speak Dutch. Why am I so in love with it? For many reasons already stated, but apart from the perfect way of displaying the beauty of books, they are masters in appreciating the art of reading. On every floor you’ll find big, comfy couches, where you can sit, and go through some of the books you plan on buying, or to take a break. There’s number of big wooden tables, and chairs, in every corner, with lamps, for people to sit down with friends, chat, while surrounded with books. Then there’re sofas for you loners out there, and even a chess board, if you feel like coming to the bookshop and playing a game or two. There’s even a conference space, and a cozy café on one of the floors where you can sit, have a hot cuppa, a slice of cake, soak in the view of busy Amsterdam, ALL THE WHILE SURROUNDED WITH BOOKS.

This is what books are all about. Coziness, pleasure, relaxation, laughter, contemplation. If someone’s to tell me they don’t like reading, I would take them to this place. If after that they still don’t like it, at least they’ve witnessed loads of people who do, and know how to. Long are the days when we read only for English class, and to pass the school test. Books are so much more than what schools taught us, and I urge you to give books another try, if you’re still in doubt.

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That’s it folks! If I’m to choose, I would say Waterstones because of the selection, and those adorable book reviews, and then Scheltema, just for the love of books, and the art of doing it right. Hope you’ve enjoyed, picked up a few things, and decided to head to your local bookshop today, if only just for the smell. If you want to know what I’m reading at the moment, click on my Goodreads profile, say hi, join Goodreads, if you haven’t yet, set up your book challenge, and share the love of reading with the rest of us!  Stay curious, and wonderful as you are! Doei!

Posted in amsterdam, beer, beer guide, blog, craft beer, crafts, dutch, europe, expats, holland, moving away, the netherlands, travel, travel blog, travel guide, writing

Where to get craft beer in North Holland and Utrecht province

There’s a special place for people who come to Amsterdam and visit Heineken brewery, and buy Heineken overpriced souvenirs, and walk with Heineken little bags around the city, while looking for a pub to get Heineken draft. That place is hell. I’m sorry. That place is hell to me. If I’m to use the term my friend chose for me one summer evening sitting by the beach with our beers, his in a plastic bottle, mine in a stylish glass one, as a beer snob, I die a little every time I see cheap commercial beer on sale. Or anywhere. Don’t get me wrong, I love cheap beer, and there’s nothing that excites me more than a good old Jopen at a discount at my local grocery store. I just got one this morning. It says it’s holier than pope, so my beer is cooler than yours, obviously (hashtag holybeer). Also, I’m a hypocrite. One warm afternoon, in desperate need of a good spot to sit and have a view of charming canal houses, I’ve settled for the cheapest beer in the house. It was piss water. But cold. So cold that you almost forget what it is, but then the aftertaste reminds you it’s so cold, so that you forget it’s so bad. Also, I’m a sentimentalist, so have nothing against people having a sip of Amstel, which, as I was told, comes straight outta river Amstel in Amsterdam. If there were a river Heineken, I would maybe, just maybe be partially okay with that, cause you don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

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The day I betrayed crafts for a view

Realizing I’m pushing my luck, and risking getting the hate I deserve for dissing Heineken, I should get straight back to the matter, which is, awesome places to get good glass of beer around here. Now, as I’m a newbie, and have been in this wonderful country just over 3 months now, I’ll state only the places I’ve had the chance to visit so far, in hope it would help someone someday, or, better yet, encourage you, commercial lager drinkers, to try the other side as well. Drink quality, not quantity, I always say.

I’ve only been following craft beer scene since early 2015, but that was the year I’ve started appreciating good quality drink, as well as it was the year when everything started changing, and by the end of 2015, small craft breweries began appearing on every corner. I would say the summer of 2016 was exploding period of small independent craft breweries, leading to today, summer of 2018 where probably the guy you somewhat knew in high school now brews wicked IPA in his basement. In this short time I’ve been in The Netherlands, my birthday also occurred. The cursed 27 club. So, it was only natural my partner got me a beer guide for The Netherlands, and it’s most probably the best present I could wish for. Other than actual books, but we’ll talk about that later. Also, I was the one who shared my beer wisdom with him, introduced him to this wonderful jungle, and dragged him off the devil’s path. You’re welcome. Team girlfriend, right? Anyway, the guide was published in 2014 by Tim Skelton, and you also get an extra booklet covering changes that happened between 2014-2016. Naturally, a lot of breweries closed, relocated, grown bigger, etc. Still, the guide is amazing, you get the introduction to beer, how it’s made, how it all began, and in the second part, a list of every brewery, pub, and shop available to you, alphabetically, all categorized into different provinces of The Netherlands. Every info you need, trust me! I love it, and take it with me whenever we take a trip somewhere.

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Tim Skelton did not pay me for this advert, but he should

North Holland province

AMSTERDAM

CRAFT & DRAFT 

Mon-Thu: 4 pm – 12 am
Fri: 4 pm –  2 am
Sat: 2 pm – 2 am
Sun: 2 pm – 12 am

Numero uno! After a full month of adjusting to our new environment, we decided to celebrate it with good old pint of craft beer. But, where to get one? This was before I got the beer guide, so Google helped us this time. It was challenging to find it, since we didn’t quite understand the way street numbers go in this city (still not quite sure), and then it appeared. It’s easy to miss, if you don’t know what you’re looking for, but stay focused, and you’ll be rewarded. We entered this cute little pub with no one in sight but the bartender, since they only just opened for the day. I immediately noticed cute little gift shop at the front with souvenirs from the pub, such as glasses, t-shirts, and hoodies. And then, THE SELECTION! 40 craft beers on tap! I was sold. But did not know what to get. Luckily, the bartender was a true connoisseur, and welcomed us with all kinds of questions about our preferred beer style, before giving us few samples to help us choose. I got the star of the day, as it said on the blackboard, the bartender’s choice, Bald Eagle IPA. A double IPA, to be exact. That bartender’s got some serious taste. The usual prices, around 4 euros for a small beer. Heads up, a small one means 25cl, unlike 33cl I would get back home. Definitely recommend, it’s a bit off the beaten path, not very central, but super close to Vondelpark, and they offer draft beer in bottles, so you can just get your favorite one, and take it to park to relax for the afternoon with style, without opting for those Heinekens in plastic bags they keep trying to sell you every time you position yourself under a tree. Pro tip for all you brave ones wanting to order second glass of beer the Dutch way: biertje, alsjeblieft or alstublieft (you’ll never get it right, though). 😀

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Also, the bartender gave us some coasters to take home. We love coasters

 

DE BIERKONING (beer shop)

Monday-Saturday: 11 am – 19 pm.

Sunday since 12 p.m.

There’re two Bierkonings now, but we went to the one behind the Dam square. The reason was, we needed beer glasses, since we left all our collection back home when we were moving. Maybe one day we’ll unite them all. So, Bierkoning, or Beer King, is a beer shop. An amazing one, scout’s honest. They have whole section behind the cash register all dedicated just to special beer glasses for different kinds of beer. We got classic pint ones for couple of euro. Also, the whole store is filled with craft beer from all around the world. I cannot recommend it highly enough, for any true beer lover, or the one just getting started with the whole process of conversion. This place is gold!

 

EETCAFE IBIS (a restaurant)

Now, while technically it’s not a brewery, nor a pub, definitely not a beer shop, this is an Ethiopian restaurant where we had dinner for my birthday. I’ve always wanted to try their cuisine, and, accidentally, they serve one of my favorite beers there, Mongozo, which, I hadn’t been aware it was Dutch, up until then.

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My favorite is a coconut one, and my partner got the mango. Also, they serve it in these cute coconut shells. Reminded me of that time when I was in a local pub in Serbia, and the bartender gave me one of the coconut shells as a gift. Happy memories. This is for the ones who enjoy a little bit lighter beers, with a hint of fruit. Nothing wrong with that. Personally, I enjoy a good fruit beer every once in a while. Also, it goes smoothly with the super spicy food you get at this great restaurant. Don’t forget to get Ethiopian coffee afterwards. They serve it with popcorn! It’s a traditional way of serving, we were told, and I didn’t mind one bit. P.S. I’m positive you can get Mongozo in any well stocked grocery store, or a beer shop. We just wanted to be posh for a day. 🙂

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Proost!

ADAM’S BEER FESTIVAL (craft beer festival)

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Some would say I only came for these glasses. Those are people who don’t have them.

New country, new city, new beer festival – the essentials of staying alive. This year, 3rd-5th of August there was an annual ADAM’S beer fest in Amsteram Noord. What a better chance to finally take that free ferry (or pay a metro ticket and then walk forever to the festival location), and finally see the art scene of Amsterdam’s North neighborhood. I presume the name of the festival comes from Amsterdam’s “nickname” A’dam, but don’t take my word for it. I like my theory, no matter what the truth is. I’m probably right, though. You could get tickets for 10 euro per day, which came with a fancy beer festival glass, of which I’m a devoted hoarder. Or, you could be an early bird, and get by with few euros less. A truly amazing festival, with two opposing music stages, place to play beer pong, ping pong, gigantic Jenga (which will almost always collapse in matter of seconds), delicious food, aaand stands with amazing craft breweries and their special beer on tap. No cash, only card, so be prepared. This year beer prices ranged from around 2.50 euro to 3 euro. Beware, some prices are higher, and they don’t necessarily have it written down anywhere noticeable. We stayed till the end of the day, tried various kind of beers, left with 4 beer glasses, and some additional coasters for our collection. Did I mention we’re hoarders? 🙂

Next time, though, or rather next year, we should visit a second beer festival, which was the very next weekend, and we didn’t want to overdose ourselves with another one so close after. It’s hosted by a local brewery Oedipus, and I hear it’s just as good. Maybe even better, but we’ll see! If nothing, I plan on visiting their taproom in Noord soon, so let me be the judge of who’s better.

HAARLEM 

JOPENKERK 

Daily: 10 am – 1 am

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YES, YES, YES. Nothing beats drinking beer in a church. And yes, the cover of my beer guide is taken in Jopenkerk in Haarlem. Even if you’re not a beer lover, which I’ll never understand, you just gotta come and see this beautiful interior. You also don’t have to drink beer (but why not?), and you can get lunch as well. So, this pub, or should I say, heaven, is located in a restored Jacobskerk, which preserved large part of its original decor, including those huge colorful church windows. All draft and bottled beer is, naturally, Jopen beer, and wow, what a selection! There’s also a screen above the bar, where you can read all about the special kinds of beer, and, if still in doubt, you can always ask the well experienced bartender. Also, be sure to find a seat at the bar. The view is amazing, you’ll be able to get all the information quickly, and enjoy your day with, I must say, an amazing soundtrack in the background. Rick Astley, anyone? Well done, well done! It is worth mentioning, a lot of beers have a “holy” link in their name. Other than the bottled ones I constantly buy, here I tried Jacobus RPA, and Life’s a Beach. Yum, yum, yum. If you like sour beers, my partner got a sour Who Gives A Rasp, and he loved it. See you at church, my dear beer friends!

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Holy beer, I may say

MELGERS (beer shop)

After having few ones at Jopen Kerk, take a 5 min walk from the church, and find yourself in beer heaven, a beer shop (and other liquor, as well) that stocks more than 1000 different beers from The Netherlands, and around the world. This shop blew our mind, and we didn’t know where to start. There’s a huge aisle just for beer from Haarlem, and surroundings. My partner got lost in the middle of Welsh aisle, as he’s a huge fan of ciders, so he got a couple of those. They also offer beer for a single euro, so be sure to get those, especially if you’re low on cash, and cannot decide which one to take home with you.

 

WEESP

WISPE BREWERY

If you venture out on a day trip, or a quick hop to Weesp, a small town just outside Amsterdam, be sure to try their beer. Yes, they produce it here as well. A 15 min train ride to get it at the nearest Albert Heijn, and I’m pretty sure, a town pubs. Why I’m mentioning it, is because I’ve come to realize you can get hold of these small independent craft beers only by visiting the town it’s brewed in, or distributed in local grocery shops. Obviously, you can get the more popular ones all across the country. Anyway, if you find yourself in Weesp, try their Wispe bier. They have every type for every taste bud, and, by the end of this year, they’ll have opened their brewery, which once was a local church, for tours, along with a taproom opening in spring of 2019. Make sure you get it on your schedule, and visit once they do.

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ALKMAAR

De sliterij van Alkmaar (a liquor shop)

Intercity from Amsterdam Centraal gets you in ca. 35 min to Alkmaar, the city up north, and the last one from the North Holland province for this post. We went there to visit friends for a Saturday lunch, so got a chance to explore the beer scene as well. Truth be told, I was a little bit disappointed, as my beer guide warned me the pubs, and beer shops were mainly distributing Belgian beers. Naturally, I was surprised as they were so far up north, long way from Belgium, and still so strongly connected to it. So, I’ve decided not to visit local pubs, as it seemed they were bit short on the local draft scene. Instead, we opted for a liquor shop stated in the guide. The guide also said there were two of these shops in the city, the other one with better stock, but bit far, so we went to the one in the center. It’s an okay-sized shop, with a nice selection of beer, but, as I said, a large portion of it were Belgian, and worldwide ones. At the entrance, a small section mixed up with American, is dedicated to craft from The Netherlands. I specifically wanted to find an Alkmaar one, since that was the reason we even entered the shop, and, luckily, found the one brewery, Zeglis. When I tasted it back at home, I wasn’t even remotely blown away, as I was by the cool name of hops it said it contained. But, hey, there are also good and bad craft beers. The important thing is to try as many as you can. That way you’ll know the next time you see that familiar name on the shelf.

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Not so secret IPA

 

Utrecht province

UTRECHT

DE DRIE DORSTIGE HERTEN  

Mon-Tue: closed

Wed-Thu: 15 pm – 22 p.m.

Fri-Sat: 15 pm – 12 am

Sun: 15 pm – 19 pm

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Easy to miss, easy to fall in love with

It’s a mouthful, I’m aware. In translation, The Three Thirsty Deer. Fun fact: dier in Dutch means animal. Thank you, language evolution, for making learning a new one so difficult. 30 min south if you take the Intercity from Amsterdam Centraal, is an adorable city of Utrecht. It’s in the center of the country, so it’s incredibly well connected by railway with the rest of The Netherlands. Not mentioning the beauty of the city itself, we jump right into the best pub. Originally, we wanted to go to the more central, and popular one, called Beers and Barrels, but as we arrived pretty early, a lot of craft pubs were not open for business. So, we went on a walk along the city, and I found a cute little pub that scored well on Trip Advisor scale. We went to check it out, only to realize they were closed as well. Since we walked a lot to find it, we decided to sit on a bench across the pub, and wait impatiently for them to open. Soon after, a lady opened the door, and began vacuuming, the guy was cleaning the windows, so, naturally, we had to wait a bit more for them to tidy up. My partner was suspicious, with the same old comment “we’re gonna be the first costumers, AGAIN”, not realizing the charm you get with it, the freshness of the space, the opportunity to chat with the bartender, or enjoy the peace and quiet with a nice draft deliciousness.

Once we got in, other than the fact we were the only ones, I fell in love. The quirkiness of this pub, the interior, every detail. It was like walking into some old pub in England, even though I’ve never been, but I imagine what it would look like. I presumed the woman who welcomed us was one of the owners, but don’t take my word for it. It all seemed like a small house with a basement where the bathrooms are, the first floor where the actual pub is, and, again, probably, the living floor, on top. She was incredibly helpful, and we got to chat immediately about the craft beer scene, and Utrecht itself. She recommended the local beer, from Eem brewery, named after the river Eem in Utrecht province. We did not regret it. The beer was awesome, and she quickly returned to her job, as other costumers kept coming in. Now, I don’t speak Dutch, but I got a sense this was a fairly local pub, where all the Dutchies from surrounding houses come to have a nice glass of beer, and to catch up with their friends, the bar lady included. So glad we found this little gem. Be sure not to miss it when you visit Utrecht!

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A fair reward after all that walking

That’s it about beer for now, folks! If you’re interested more in craft beer, or want to know what kinds of beer I get my hands on, among other things, you can follow me on Instagram, or become my friend on Untappd (amazing app for keeping track of your beer wisdom) so we can propose a toast. If not, see you next time when I’ll be writing about a bookstore pilgrimage I took recently. Until then, stay curious, and wonderful as you are! Doei!

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Da bounty

 

Posted in amsterdam, blog, culture, dutch, europe, expats, holland, language, moving away, the netherlands, travel, travel blog, travel guide, writing

Yoga in Dutch and other awkward encounters

For what it’s worth, watching the Football World Cup finals in the middle of a Food Hall in Amsterdam, and realizing the Dutch are vigorously cheering for your home country has been the weirdest and the most endearing experience in my humble 3-month stay here.

Moving to another country might not be as fun as it sounds, since there will be a lot of work to make yourself feel like you belong somewhere new. I’ve done it a few times before, as a part of my university education, but nothing as real-life as this one. So, after we’ve managed to contact everyone we were supposed to, and made deals with insurance, gas, water, and other companies, we can finally say that, after 3 months, we are standing on our feet, unconcerned about that next unexpected thing we forgot to take care of when we first came here. Now comes the other part of living in a new country. Adjusting. It will most probably never be the way you imagined it. But it will also not be as bad as you thought. It is one thing moving to another city in your home country, or going away to study, or moving to a country you know quite a lot about. Whole other package comes with a country you’ve never been to, don’t know anyone besides the person you came with, and you don’t speak the language, or have the faintest idea about it. That was The Netherlands to me. Tabula rasa.

So, what did I do to step out of my comfort zone? I’ve decided to find a small yoga studio, and make myself do a trial month. A complete amateur in yoga, and, for that matter, language. I’ve walked into that intimate studio one Friday morning, wearing what I though I should, and approached the instructor with my strong will to attend the class. The first thing they’ll warn you, and it will always be the case in these situations, is that the classes are in Dutch. To you, that’s completely normal, as you’re in their country, and that’s precisely the reason you chose that studio, and not some gym, but they’ll warn you anyway. Maybe they thought I’d demand they spoke English, or perhaps they had some idea that all foreigners demanded it. I was clear. I didn’t need special treatment, I would occasionally glance at the others, and I would make do. The first class was weird, especially because I was new to yoga itself. I had some experience, but it was always a mix with bunch of other fitness programs. And music. Lots of it. But, there I was, in circle with all these other people. In complete silence. The instructor was constantly shifting from Dutch to English, and everyone else just followed. I was afraid someone would comment on it, or reproach the instructor, but they didn’t make a sound. A fully new experience, awkward as hell, and, surprisingly liberating. I finally got through one of my biggest obstacles: trying something new in a foreign environment, completely on my own. And all that coming from an introvert. #introvertpower #yougotitgirl

Fooled be not, there will be discouragement. Since yoga is quite a relaxed practice, I found instructors struggling to switch languages, even had one of them saying, in exasperation: “ah, English again”. Other times I had to reassure them I didn’t require it, but appreciated the effort. Some instructors will be surprised you want to attend the class in Dutch, and when you tell them you’ll be able to follow without the translation, they will be skeptic. But I did. Every single class, even the ones the instructors never spoke English, and, incidentally, those were the ones I enjoyed the most. I got all the moves, slowly began learning different expressions, and felt proud for doing the whole thing. My advice is, definitely try something completely new, and challenging, in another country, in a language you don’t speak, just to see how much you can push yourself. As I said, it will not be easy, and it will take some time to get used to it. But, you are doing it for yourself, and that’s what counts.

Also, beware of fitness studios here, as they tend to commit you to a long-period contract, and you just might not be ready for that kind of obligation. It reminded me of that Friends episode, when Chandler desperately wanted to quit the gym, but they just wouldn’t let him, so he ended up paying their monthly fee anyway. See, everyone has their own issues.

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And yes, you will arrive to another country and come out as a total idiot when dealing with people. If you’re anything like me, out of fear of insulting or doing something wrong to another person, you will totally forget how to behave like a normal human being. Take me, for example. I heard, before coming here, that the Dutch are pretty straightforward, and don’t mess around. If they have something to say, no matter how rude or inconvenient it might be, they will say it. So, it’s an understatement to say I was scared of Dutch encounters. Then I met few nice Dutch people, and they were nothing like the warnings I had in my head. They were nice, easy going, relaxed, ready to explain what you wanted to know, and quite welcoming. Maybe that’s just my experience. For now, anyway. Nevertheless, it didn’t stop me to act like a communication invalid, and speak without apologizing, or trying to find the right words. It’s not me, people, I just don’t know the accepted behavior here. It turns out, you should just be yourself. Go figure.

Speaking of relaxed, the Dutch are pretty much that. They take their leisure time seriously. We have huge windows in our apartment, and window blinds are always down, no matter what time it is. Otherwise, people could see into our apartment from the street. Back home, that’s what we do. We hide from people. Here, everyone’s blinds, if they even have them, are always up, and there are always by the window enjoying their dinner, watching TV, reading a book, whatever there is to do. Seriously, I could see what each and every one of my neighbors is doing now. But, I won’t, since I’m not Peeping Tom. And it’s considered rude. They are allowed to do what ever they want, and it’s your problem if you decide to stare, and invade their right to privacy. That’s what shocked me. There’s no hiding behind the curtains. Even more, there’s no hiding in-between their walls. If the weather’s nice, they’ll put a chair in front of their house, on the street, and enjoy the sun while reading the newspaper, or taking in the after-work daylight while sipping on a glass of wine, and not caring the slightest about cars driving by, and tourists passing by with their maps, and complete sense of disorientation. And if you head to the nearest park, you’ll find Dutchies all over the place enjoying the afternoon sun, whether they’re taking a break from work, or having a picnic for no other reason than just because they want to. The Dutch sure know how to take it easy. Hats down. I sure hope I’ll learn something here.

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Carpe diem

And now a little bit of usual weather complaining for the end. It’s been warm in the Netherlands ever since I came, but not as warm as it has been lately. Which surprised me, as I intentionally wanted to move here to get some rest from all those heat waves back home. But, they followed me all the way to the North Sea. Needless to mention, our apartment doesn’t have air conditioning. Nor does any of the previous ones we were looking at. Turns out, they don’t need it. Or didn’t. The last heat wave occurred in 2006 and only then did they create the National Heat Plan. That said, it’s only natural people don’t invest in air conditioning, other than stand fans that are easily moved, and don’t require any complicated installation. Back home, not only do we expect tropical weather, we abhor it. Schools are on summer break from mid-June till September, due to extreme heat. As far as we’re concerned, heat wave warnings are common, and they happen every year. We suffer, take cover in cool places, and, when not sweating at work, we enjoy the beach days in shade, naturally. And now I’m experiencing my first Dutch heat wave warning. As it is quite uncommon for extreme temperatures to last more than few weeks here, I sure hope that is going to be the case, or there will be some serious investing into the most powerful fan there is. Or bunch of small ones. Luckily, the trains are air conditioned, and the ones that aren’t working properly, are being taken care of. Thank you, NS!

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Now, onto that leisure time. Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed. Stay hydrated, and wonderful, as you are. Tot ziens!!!

Posted in blog, crafts, culture, dutch, europe, expats, food, holland, moving away, the netherlands, tradition, travel, travel blog, travel guide

Playday in Zaanse Schans (clogs, clogs, clogs, and other things the Dutch are doing like a boss)

Curiously enough, the English word “boss” originated from the Dutch word “baas“, so, that’s another thing the Dutch are boss at. Not to be confused with the Dutch word “boos”, which is “angry” in English. Unless you’re boos AND baas. Then it’s fine. Sponsored by: English lessons you don’t need from a painfully non-native English person. You’re welcome.

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Well, well, well, if it isn’t the time to delve into the essence of what makes the Dutch so famous. And soooo Dutch. The answer lies in visiting this adorable neighborhood in the Dutch town of Zaandam, and discovering it yourself. You can reach it by taking the train from Amsterdam Centraal to Zaandijk – Zaanse Schans. From there, you have somewhat  10 minutes on foot. Easy peasy. You could also take the bus from Amsterdam Centraal, which goes directly to Zaanse Schans, but we figured it would take us longer that way. Plus, we love trains more.

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Welcome shoes

The windmills are visible from the town’s bridge, and a lot of tourists stop there to take zillion selfies, but trust me, you’ll have plenty of chances to do it at the Zaanse Schans playground later. As mentioned above, Zaanse Schans is a neighborhood in Zaandam, which was transformed into one of the most famous tourist destinations in the Netherlands. But what is it exactly? Contrary to some people’s belief, it’s not just a tourist attraction. It’s also a residential area. So, while you’re strolling down a cute path, admiring that historic house from the 18th century, you’ll most probably find yourself staring at someone’s garden, invading their privacy, as they’re sipping wine, and reading newspaper in peace. It happened. They didn’t mind. 🙂

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Hello, meneer, do you mind if we just admire your house?

What the Dutch did, is they recreated the look of those 18th and 19th century country look. The way it was back then. They mastered the art of rural tourism, if you ask me, by bringing traditional crafts to one place, and selling it to the public. The minute you step into that world, you’ll immediately feel back to the past vibe. There’s also this cool website they have in English explaining everything. Take a look when you decide to visit the place, just to be sure about the opening hours, etc. They also have a supposedly cool app with walking tours you can take by yourself, but the app just refused to work when we needed it, so I cannot recommend it.

First thing you’ll see, is the Albert Heijn museum, the most popular Dutch supermarket chain, which originated there, in Zaandam. It started as a small family business, a simple grocery shop, and the setting of the shop is the exact one you would find back in the days, with the original furnishing, and stock. The entrance is free, you can take a peek, or buy something special, and quite Dutch-y.

Sneak peek at the Albert Heijn inventory

You can choose seeing everything from a distance, or step into various kinds of mills, barns, or workshops, and see how that certain product is made. Most of the workshops are charge-free, with the exception of windmills, and some museums. Needless to say, we opted for the free-version ones, as we only wanted to look around, and didn’t have any special wishes, other than enjoy the beautiful scenery. This is the kind of destination where you cannot possibly be in a hurry, or try to see everything at once. If you want to spend your Saturday relaxed, walking among the windmills, wooden houses, and domestic animals, this is your place. If you don’t mind all the tourists. In that case, you can always find an empty bench and have your lunch.

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The best seats in your open-air restaurant

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And you wonder why the cheese’s so good

The main attraction is, I would say, the clog workshop. The entrance is free, and it’s the place you don’t want to miss. You can watch the documentary in English as soon as you enter the museum/workshop, and check the clog exhibition, from the very first ones, how they changed through time, special clogs for certain kinds of professions, and so on. For example, the real reason why they even made clogs never occurred to me. Because of the hazards while working with animals, or doing crafts. In case cow stepped on your foot, or you dropped a hard tool. The legend says, the car could run over your foot, and nothing would happen. Just don’t forget to wear thick socks first.

Beautiful wedding clogs

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Fisherman clogs

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After the exhibition part, you can go ahead and take a look at the demonstration area. You can also buy the cool t-shirt explaining the whole process.

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Clog masters operating the heavy machinery

Aaand, then the clog-craze-land begins! Where you can buy anything and everything clogs-themed. From the traditional kinds of clogs, to the today’s version. Gotta say, was pretty tempted to buy a pair for myself. The 21st century ones. And the prices are reasonable, for something that durable.

Shopping for the right clog

On to food! Cheese! We all grew up eating Dutch cheese, without even realizing it. And now we’re eating it, realizing we can have it every day, and showing our gratitude to this country. Fun fact, Dutch men are the tallest in the world, if you’re to trust those researches. Which I do, cause people here are incredibly tall. It’s the cheese, I tell ya. Aaand, as a tall person myself, I’m loving it. So, you have the opportunity of visiting the cheese museum. Here, you can watch the video how the cheese is made.

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Like a kid in candy store

Also, try not to spend all of your savings in the cheese shop while the gorgeous Dutch women in traditional clothes lure you into tasting all kinds of flavors. Especially when you find out they make cheese with coconut, and it tastes like heaven itself. If heaven was filled with some of the best things in the world. Yup. You’ve heard it here first! CHEESE WITH COCONUT!!! Thank you, cheese lord.

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The wonder of you

And just as if that wasn’t enough, you spot the shelf of all your dreams coming true. Special beer for special kind of cheese. And wine. But let’s get back to beer. They produce beer suited especially for their cheese. So, it’s cheese, coconut, and beer. That was the moment in which we realized we had to leave this heaven, or we would have ended up taking all of these goods with us.

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Hello, darkness, my old friend

Next stop was the CocoaLab, at Zaans Gedaan, where you can get their chocolate, ice cream, or have some hot cocoa. We bought cocoa powder drink from the Droste company, Dutch chocolate manufacturer. All we need now is the original tin can, which we failed to steal from their shelf. The entrance is free of charge.

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Blocks of soon-to-be-delicious-looking-chocolate

After the smell of chocolate, we did the final walk down the windmill path, which is, you guessed, filled with windmills, and you can visit each and every one of them, which we didn’t, seeing we had enough excitement for one day. There’s more to see and visit in Zaanse Schans area, and this was just a glimpse of what you can experience if you decide to make a day out of it. A thrilling, education-worth adventure that will just put the smile on your faces from the moment you step out of the train and start smelling the cocoa all the way through. Thank you, Netherlands, for making this available to everyone. We’ll definitely come back!

 

 

Posted in amsterdam, blog, culture, dutch, europe, expats, food, holland, language, moving away, the netherlands, tradition, travel, travel blog, travel guide, writing

Chocolate sprinkles on bread (and some other Dutch delicacies)

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One of my absolute favorite parts of visiting another country is trying new food. And when you get to live in a foreign country, you take your time. Step by step. Eventually, you end up trying all kinds of weird stuff you definitely wouldn’t during one of those 2-day trips. Ah, the perks of being an expat.

Anyhow, got munchies?

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How about a breakfast?

As it happened, I was completely unaware of this Dutch eating habit, until my partner came back from work one day and shared with me that, to his astonishment, “these people eat sprinkles on a bread, Mia!”. So, naturally, as any well-informed person, who knows her mum keeps sprinkles in a separate box, and rarely uses them, unless there’s a  special cake in need of a decoration, I’ve decided to ignore that fact. But, then you get to go to the store, and there’s that whole aisle filled with all kinds of sprinkles, and you cannot look away. So, you start reading those boxes with slices of bread with sprinkles on them, because seeing is believing, no matter what they say, and only then you realize “these people put sprinkles on their bread!!!”. Yup. You heard it. It’s cake for breakfast!!! So, next time you feel bad about having cake for breakfast, remember, the Dutch are having their cake, and eating it too. But, fooled be not, as they are not your usual birthday sprinkles. They’re called hagelslag in Dutch, and, due to lack of better translation, they translate to sprinkles in English, but the kinds of sprinkles meant to be eaten on a bread with a layer of unsalted butter, as I was told. That way, the sprinkles stick to butter, and don’t scatter all over the place. You could probably use any kind of butter-based spread, but the unsalted one is the way to go if you wanna do it the Dutch way. And, to a foreigner, it could seem like a silly thing to do, but I’ve heard people of all ages like a bit of hagelslag in the morning. And who doesn’t like chocolate in the morning?

Since everything has a historical background, so do these sprinkles. The story goes that they were invented by the director of today’s Dutch company VENCO (famous for their salty licorice drops, thank you, but no thank you) one gloomy day in search of a bread topping. As VENCO patented the name hagelslag, all the other companies are not allowed to use it, unless they first put the name of the flavour, followed by hagel. You can read the whole story about it following the link I Am Expat – my favorite expat surivival page.

And, since there’s only so much convincing to do to make me try something, the time came for the hagelslag! *The Final Countdown in the backgroundAfter speaking to few Dutch experts, I was ready to do my little experiment. Just to be clear, there’s tons of hagelslag flavors, we just happened to choose the chocolate one. Step one! Sliced bread! Cause, frankly, it’s a challenge to find an unsliced one in the supermarket (read: not ready to face the bakery talk just yet :D). Step two! Spread evenly the unsalted butter on the bread. Step 3! Sprinkle sprinkle sprinkle! Shake shake shake! EET! The secret to it all is in the texture of the sprinkles, I presume, as they melt instantly in your mouth, creating a chocolate-buttery delight. Impossible to stay grumpy after one of these for breakfast.

Moving on.

Bitterballs! Or bitterballen. We got invited to a neighborhood gathering the very first month of our arrival, and, among other snacks, the hosts served us with these. As I find it rude to take photos while trying to socialize with new people, the next day I bought the frozen ones at the supermarket and decided to make them, buuuut. Missed one thing. As we have no deep-fryer in our apartment, I just ended up with burnt, half-raw, mushy, no-longer-balls snack. So, I’ve found this lovely photo by holland.com.

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Next time will just get them on the street, or at the snack bar, as you can get them on every corner. So, what exactly is this? It’s deep fried ragù , usually beef, served with mustard, as shown on the picture. But, why bitter? The balls aren’t bitter, but traditionally, as people at the gathering told me, the balls were served with jenever, the Dutch gin, hence the name bitterballen. Aaaaaand, once you try it, you’ll agree it’s probably the best thing on earth to have with beer, or biertje, as the Duch love their diminutives. Bitterballen for food president! Hieperdepiep hoera!

Update: found bitterballen for oven in the supermarket. Yes yes!

Speaking of fried things, they looove frying food here. Everywhere you go, the chances are, you’ll see something fried. And that’s fine. Everyone has their own style. But deep-fried mussels??? Speaking from a point of view of a native Croatian, who spent her whole life on a sea coast, and never even thought about frying these things. No. There’s only one way to eat it – fresh. All those times I’ve spent scrubbing their shells with my mum. Only to witness this. How. Why.  But, when in The Netherlands… I came. I tasted. I did not like it.

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Deep-fried shellfish? Not a fan.

What about French fries? Or Belgian fries, as they should be called? What about Dutch fries? They’re pretty darn good. Because, the Manneken pis (you’ll get the name) ones are the real deal. Flemish fries with the skin on. Now, that’s a revelation to me! Fries with the skin on. You had me at hello. But the toppings appal me. Normally, I would eat mine with mayo, topping I’ve come to know the Dutch also like. But the rest ones…eewww… I’ve seen them eat it with mayo, ketchup, and fresh onions on top, which is called friet speciaal, so I did a bit of research, and it turns out they also like their fries with peanut sauce (again with this peanut sauce obsession). Just the normal sauce for me, dank je wel.

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Manneken pis story

 

Still, I love my egg salad the best.

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Extra, extra, read all about it! Dutch supermarket tricks:

  1.  pre-chopped onions for saving time

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…and tears.

2. saving money (and your soul) with the sticker ”throwing away is a shame” (or sin, however you want it) on products nearing expiration date

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Neat reminder why you shouldn’t waste food

3. craft beer section with carefully written labels containing tips on food pairings, taste, and, my personal favorite, the bitterness level. Loving it!

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That’s all folks! Thank you for reading, I hope you’ve enjoyed, and learned something along the way. Stay curious, and wonderful as you are. Until the next chapter, doei!!! 🙂

 

Posted in amsterdam, bike, blog, cycling, dutch, europe, expats, holland, moving away, the netherlands, travel, travel blog, travel guide, writing

Bikes bikes bikes – Dutch recipe for a longer life

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In front of the central station in Amsterdam

WELCOME TO FIETSLAND!

9 out of 10 times when you mention The Netherlands, people will comment: “Oh, they like riding bikes there”. Second thing is the weather. Thank you, Susan, for pointing that one out. Then you arrive to the country, and it’s nothing like people back home thought. It never is. Bikes, bikes, bikes, as far as your eyes can see. On the streets, sidewalks, parking spots, in trains, on bridges, they are EVERYWHERE. And it’s beautiful. Also, quite dangerous, if you don’t know how to behave in a country where cyclists have the advantage over cars, and pedestrians. But, after you almost get killed a couple of times, you learn to look left and right, and allow all of 1546 bikes to pass before you cross the street. You learn something new every day. Especially, after the incident I had with bikes, which resulted in a chipped tooth, and countless painful procedures. As one would expect, I still have nightmares about it 2 years after. So, I was a tiny bit reluctant about that whole bike culture. It was fine to watch them, cycling with ease throughout the city, having their own lane, their own parking spots, everything designed to encourage bike riding, and discourage car pollution. And they sure know how to behave in traffic, with signalling, and all. A country where drivers aren’t overtaking the cyclists, but sharing the road with them. Police officers on bikes! Bike country! And, yet, my trauma’s still alive and well.

My partner, of course, was having none of it. So, the very first week of our arrival, he’d decided to get a bike. To my misfortune, there are bike shops on every corner, just as there’s one down our street. I went with him to help him pick. He got a perfect second-hand one, a Dutch Gazelle, the best of the best for a city bike. The model is omafiets (Dutch granny bike), meaning it has no special features like, for example, mountain bike, and you ride it with your back straight, so it’s great for your posture. These are the bikes people ride here, and I love it. Even though I wasn’t ready to climb one, I enjoyed watching them.

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Our first Gazelle

At first, he used it only for going to work. But, I grew tired of constantly carrying groceries like a sad mortal, while every single person in the neighborhood did it using their bikes. I needed encouraging, so we took the bike, and chose a quiet part for me to sit on it for the first time in 2 years. The fear was real. I did maybe a couple of meters before stopping, catching my breath, and thinking of getting a mouth guard and a helmet, before climbing that thing again. So, it took me a while. Yesterday, I finally started using it on my own, and the feeling was exactly the same as the day I discovered I could do a self check-in at the airport. LIBERATING. I was one of the locals. Finalmente. I’d dared stepping out and riding side by side with other cars. Naturally, I avoid main roads, as I’m a bit unsteady with my steering wheel, and tend to wobble. What a rookie. The important thing is, I’m doing it. And with those bags we have on back of our bike, we easily store groceries, and ride our way back home. Without breaking a sweat, or pulling a muscle. Already thinking of a basket for the front side. Carrying a six pack from the store has never been easier.

Groceries on the side, there’s not a single downside in riding the bike. It takes small amount of space, you can store it pretty much anywhere (buildings have basements for that reason), there’re tons of parking spots wherever you live (careful on train stations, although it’s free of charge, you can park your bike for a maximum time period of 14 days at once), people respect you as a cyclist, you can reach the spots a car cannot, or isn’t allowed to, and it’s healthy. If you hate exercise, then city bike is the real deal for you. So, don’t get surprised when you see a 70 year-old granny riding that bike like a pro. Because she is. And faster than you.

The thing is, if you’re not using a bike, or getting one soon, you’ll never quite fit in. Here, it’s the main mean of transport. Alongside with those amazing trains that run on 100% wind power. Therefore, I can worry less about my carbon footprint. Cause I’m a natural paranoid.