Tag Archives: Netherlands

Bike to work day – the Dutch example

I have 8500 bicycles waiting for me at over 300 locations around the country

Today is the Bike to Work Day in the Netherlands. It may not come as a surprise to you that a lot of people in the Netherlands cycle to work. But have you wondered why? Pro-cycling attitude of employers is no small part of the reason for the high percentages of Dutch cycling commuters. I am fortunate enough to work for Sweco, a company that goes the extra mile in promoting cycling to work.

There are, of course, the usual things (for the Dutch, at least). Proper bicycle sheds, showers and lockers at our offices, tax-free bicycle financing scheme, access to the OV-fiets (the Dutch Railways shared bicycles) are all pretty much standard at Dutch companies. If an employee purchases a new bike, Sweco is also paying for the bicycle insurance and extra’s such as rain gear.

But here’s the extra mile – at Sweco we get paid to cycle. Yes, that’s right – I get money for cycling. The kilometers I cycle are refunded just as car kilometers are, so that even my modest commute of less than 5 km earns me almost 2 Euro each day. It won’t make me rich, but its more than enough to pay for the purchase and maintenance of my bike. Business kilometers pay even more, so that choosing for the bicycle to go to a customer actually pays.

I cycle to work because its fun. Working at Sweco, a bike-friendly company, makes it even easier to cycle to work. I hope more employers around the world will follow Sweco’s example – making the world an easier place to cycle, one bicycle ride at a time.

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The biggest Small European Country

Back in 2015, I’ve written a post titled “How to choose a (small European) country“. I pondered on all the reasons I had to move, and on the challenges posed by choosing a new place. I won’t keep you in suspension – I did move. Out of Rotterdam. Not too far though – the municipal border of Rotterdam is about 500 meters away. But its a whole different country I am living in now. Since a few weeks, I live in  the biggest country in Europe – Suburbia. Here’s how it happened.

In the post I mentioned, I set down several criteria for a new place to live in. I was looking for a properly run country, with a pleasant climate, where I speak the language, in Europe, close to mountains and not too far from the family. After some though, and to my big surprise, I discovered I already lived in such a country, and the need to find a new one was rather less urgent than I though. As you perhaps recall, my test for a “properly run” country was the quality of the tap water. The Dutch tap water is the best in the whole world, so the country is obviously properly run. To determine whether the climate is pleasant I came up with the “wine test” – if the climate is good for wine, its good for me. While the Netherlands is best known for its beer, there are about 200 commercial wine yards spread throughout the country, so the Dutch score again. After 14 years spent here, I speak the language very well, so its another one for Holland. The country is obviously in Europe, so that criterion is satisfied, too. The proximity to mountains is a bit more difficult one. However, the Ardennes are just a couple of hours drive away, and the Alps are within a day’s drive. Sadly, the night train connection to Switzerland has been discontinued, but it’s not like I was using it every month or something. Finally, I wanted to live close to the family. Since we were pretty settled on remaining in the Netherlands, we though we might as well get the best of it – and grandma and the cousins are within cycling distance. I think we’ll be visiting them more often than I would visit glaciers, so its quite a good deal.

And so, I’m still blogging from a small European country – the biggest one of all – Suburbia.

 

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A new begin in 2017

Some things change, some things stay the same… Only constant seems to be that things never turn out what you expected them to be. Enough philosophy. Having made this blog dormant a few months ago, I now wake it up again. No promises, just rolling with it and we’ll see where this all goed to.

Its not that I haven’t been busy all this time – on the contrary, I’ve been very industrious. I have a new job and a new house, and I’ll post some details about both soon. And I’ve also been doing some writing, too (besides job application letters, that is). I’ve published quite a successful article in Vers Beton (“Fresh Concrete”), which is an online magazine “for the hard-thinking Rotterdammers”. The article, titled Waarom de A16 Rotterdam er niet mag komen”, is in Dutch, and in it I tell why I object to the construction of a new highway in the area. For those of you who don’t read Dutch, basically, I think there’s already plenty of highways around here and precious little green open space. In my view, smashing one of the last open areas near the city for the sake of a highway that will not even solve the congestion problems is a bad, bad idea. As usual, the pictures tell a much better tale than me.

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This is where the A16 highway is planned.

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There’s really not that much of such landscape left around Rotterdam

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The swan song of the classic Dutch views

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Leiden on a cloudy day

I’ve happened to be in Leiden last week, on a wet, windy, grey day. I wandered through the city, snapping random pictures, with my son sleeping in the stroller. The Leiden marathon was held that day, and the few people who were outside, gathered around the route to watch the race. The images, empty of people, make it seem like I had the whole city to myself on that Sunday in May.

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Leiden 15

Leiden 16

All photos are made using my LG G3 phone, in automatic mode.

 

 

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Best of Holland

When writing the city reports for http://www.talesmag.com, I’ve had some difficulty filling in the part about the highlights and advantages of living in a place. Where do you start, when you’ve lived somewhere for over a dozen years? I have given it some thought, and tried to imagine what would I miss most, if I moved to another country. These are the things which to me make the Netherlands a pleasant place to live in.

  1. Cheese
    The Dutch cheese is world famous. But I’m sure many people will wonder “Is cheese something really worth raving about? How fascinating can Dutch cheese be?” I guess it’s one of those things you need to learn to appreciate, over time. Before I moved to Holland, I had no idea that plain ol’ cheese can be so diverse and so damn good.

    Alkmaar cheese market

    Alkmaar cheese market

  2. Museums
    The Netherlands has the highest museum density in the world. There’s a museum for everything here. Tobacco, Jenever, Taxes, Dredging – it can’t get any weirder. And I’m loving it. I’m a museum freak, and even though I enjoy the classic big museums, I get the greatest satisfaction from a visit to one of these obscure museums, where you actually learn things no one else knows. Nothing like small talk about dredging to break the ice at a party.
  3. Cycling
    To the Dutch, cycling is second nature. Some local children learn to cycle before they learn to walk, I kid you not! In fact, the cycling culture and facilities were one of the reasons I chose to come to the Netherlands in the first place. Cycling here is something completely different and it would take a lot of getting used to, should I live anywhere else.

    Cycling in Amsterdam

    Cycling in Amsterdam

    Cycling in Rotterdam

    Cycling in Rotterdam

  4. Location, location, location
    So yes, the Dutch weather sucks sometimes. There are no mountains here, no empty spaces. But one of the major advantages of living in the Netherlands is that its so easy to leave the place. Jokes aside, it is hard to rival the Netherlands in terms of connectivity. In a radius of 1000 kilometres from where I live lie the capitals of 15 other countries, all accessible by a cheap flight of 1.5 hours. Best of all, its possible to board a train in the morning and be in Berlin or Paris by lunch, or even at the Med by the evening.

    Budget airline - use with caution

    Budget airline – use with caution

  5. Efficiency
    A couple of weeks ago, I’ve noticed one of the light poles in front of my house was corroded at the base. I took a photo, uploaded it at the municipality’s website and ticked its location on the map. The next morning, city workers were on the spot, and a new light pole was installed before noon. That kind of efficiency is hard to beat.

    Fixed within hours!

    Fixed within hours!

What are the things that make your small European country a pleasant place to live in? Add your comment, or, if you feel inspired, I’d be happy to publish your guest contribution here.

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Cycling Guide to Rotterdam

In my Rotterdam city report, written for Tales from a Small Planet, I raved about how cycling here in Rotterdam is so amazing. Well, now I have written another report about Rotterdam – specifically dedicated to cycling here.

In 2015, Rotterdam, the second-largest city (630.000 inhabitants) of the Netherlands, has finally stepped out of the shadow of the Dutch capital as a tourist destination in its own right. And now it quickly gains world fame as a cycling city. For those unfamiliar with the Netherlands, it is difficult to realise how much cycling is a part of life here. Writing about Dutch cycling culture is like trying to write about the pubs of Dublin, or the café culture of Paris – a mission (almost) impossible. The sheer volume of cycling in Rotterdam is staggering. 80% of people own a bicycle, 160.000 (25%) Rotterdammers cycle daily, and another 200.000 (32%) cycle on a weekly basis. Every day, 560.000 cycle trips are made in Rotterdam and bicycle use has increased by 60% over the past decade.

Read more about cycling in Rotterdam at the Bike Citizens Magazine – www.bikecitizens.net/cycling-in-rotterdam/.

Rotterdam's market

Rotterdam’s market

Rotterdam Central Station

Rotterdam Central Station

Most recent cycling innovation in Rotterdam are the free children buggies, that are available at the guarded bicycle parkings in the city centre.

Most recent cycling innovation in Rotterdam are the free children buggies, that are available at the guarded bicycle parkings in the city centre.

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Rotterdam city report

Tales from a Small Planet (http://www.talesmag.com) is a website dedicated to helping expats to get credible information about “What It’s Really Like to Live There.” It contains reports from over 350 cities, school reports (where the schools are graded) and essays, fiction and humour about life abroad. The project originates from the U.S. Foreign Service and the reports are mostly written by and for Americans, so I decided to do my best to add a non-American angle to the Tales. Here’s my first contribution, reporting on Rotterdam, my current home town.

Rotterdam Talesmag 1

Rotterdam from the Euromast

What are your reasons for living in this city (e.g., corporate, government, military, student, educator, retiree, etc.)?
Came here as a student at first (studying at Delft University of Technology). Met a local girl, married, got children. That sums it up pretty much.

How long have you been living here? Or when did you live there?
I have been living in Rotterdam for over 6 years now, after spending 7 years in nearby Delft.

Was this your first expat experience? If not, what other foreign cities have you lived in as an expat?
I lived in 4 other countries before moving to Rotterdam.

Where is your home base, and how long is the trip to post from there, with what connections?
Having lived in the Netherlands for 13 years, by now my home base is here.

What are the special advantages of living in this city/country (e.g., touring, culture, saving money, weather, etc.)?
The classic painting-like Dutch countryside is beautiful, Dutch museums are magnificent, connections to the rest of Europe are superb. And of course cycling here is something quite amazing.

What have been some of the highlights of your time in this city/country?
After so many years spent here, it is hard to choose from so many. Getting married in a medieval townhouse. Sailing on the Dutch lakes. Spontaneous weekends away to another country. The annual International Film Festival in Rotterdam. The insanity when the national team plays football. Cycling. Cycling. Cycling. Hey – its the Netherlands, what did you expect?

What is the air quality like (e.g., good, moderate, unhealthy, or very unhealthy with comments)?
The Dutch air looks clean. Its not. Especially in Rotterdam, with its oil industry, fine particles pollution is a serious problem.

What is the climate like? Weather patterns?
Its sometimes hard to tell what season it is without a look at the calendar. They say it can be sunny, warm and calm here, but never all 3 on the same day. That said, its not as bad as some would make you believe. The biggest downside is that good weather seldom lasts longer than a couple of days in a row.

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What kind of insect problems are there, if any?
Mosquitos are a nuisance at some parts. Ticks occur in the countryside. Wasps in late summer. But its not a major issue.

Are there any special security concerns?
Compared to the rest of the world – no. The locals do complain, but its a national hobby. Fact is that crime rates have plummeted in the last decade or so, and in Rotterdam there are no real no-go areas (anymore).

Housing types, locations, and typical commute time?
City center is apartments mostly. Further out its typical suburbia. Commute time in the Netherlands is among the longest in the world, which is surprising for such a small country. But given the amount of cars per square km, which is one of the world’s highest, its not that surprising that rush hour traffic is best avoided here.

What’s the availability of International schools and your experience with them?
There are a few, a recent trend is dual-language education (classes are in Dutch and English).

Are preschools/daycare options available (with comments about your experience and costs)?
Available – yes. If you book way in advance. Expensive, too.

What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Depends a lot on which school it is – the quality varies greatly.

Is this a good city for families/singles/couples?
For singles and couples – great. For families it can be challenging to find affordable housing and good schools in the same neighbourhood.

Rotterdam Talesmag 4

Some of the playgrounds here are really awesome.

Is this a good city for gay or lesbian expats?
Yes. Another recent trend is that Amsterdam hipsters, including LGBT, are moving to Rotterdam due to the excessive costs of living in Amsterdam.

Are there problems with racial, religious or gender prejudices?
Immigrants and their descendants complain about discrimination. Native Dutch grumble about high crime rate and low work-morale among immigrants. You don’t get shot for running while black, so I guess its better than many North-American cities. Zwarte Piet might be a shock for visitors from overseas, but even that freaky colonial legacy is slowly being taken care of.

 

I won’t say too much about the attitudes of many in the local Muslim community towards women, LGBT’s and other religions, especially Jews, enough has been said about it elsewhere. Let’s say there is plenty of room for improvement there. To close this on a positive note – the current mayor of Rotterdam is Ahmed Aboutaleb, of Moroccan origin, who is highly respected by all and is known for his harsh criticism of intolerance in the Moslim community.

Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city? Comment:
Its Holland – famous for its flatness, so I guess its fine. More seriously – most bus stops and such are wheel-chair friendly, and public buildings seem to be fairly accessible.

What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “secret or hidden gems”?
Plenty. For Rotterdam check out http://www.spottedbylocals.com/rotterdam (I used to write for them). In the Netherlands the Wadden Sea and the islands are worth a trip, Maastricht is not to be missed, and I hear diving in the North Sea can be quite a thrill, even if a cold one.

Rotterdam Talesmag 6

Rotterdam is full of “hidden gems”. But I’m not telling you where this one is.

Are gyms or workout facilities available? Costs?
Yes, although I don’t use them myself. The prices vary, but I hear you get what you pay for in terms of quality. There are cheap ones, but if you’re serious about your workout, it may be best to pay more.

Are sports programs available for kids?
A lot, outside the school system usually.

What fast food and decent restaurants are available? Cost range?
An abundant supply. In recent years, a major change for good has happened, in terms of price/quality ratio, diversity and overall quality.

What is the availability and relative cost of groceries and household supplies?
Everything is available. If you choose where you buy, the prices are quite OK. Fresh fruit and vegetables are relatively cheap, especially on the markets.

What comments can you make about using credit cards and ATMs?
Credit cards are not really welcome here. Not even all ticket machines at train stations accept them. ATM’s are everywhere.

What type of automobile is suitable to bring (or not to bring) because of terrain, availability of parts and service, local restrictions, duties, carjackings, etc?
Small. Gas prices are among the highest in the world and parking space is very limited. Buying a second-hand one here is probably better – Dutch are known for keeping their cars well-maintained.

Are local trains, buses, and taxis safe? Affordable?
Safe- yes. Affordable – not really.

How much of the local language do you need to know for daily living?
Everyone here speaks English. Learning Dutch is actually a challenge – locals don’t understand why anyone would bother.

Which English-language religious services are available?
Many. Its a major harbour, so quite a few seafarers churches here.

Is high-speed Internet access available? Cost?
Yes. Around 30 Euro per month for regular connection, high speed may cost more.

Size and morale of expat community:
Lots of foreigners, not sure about the morale.

Are there decent job opportunities for expats on the local economy?
Are you?

  • Proficient in Dutch
  • An EU citizen (or have a work permit)
  • A skilled professional in a high-demand job (IT specialist, teacher of math/physics/German, electrical engineer and so on)
  • Prepared to take any job

If you score on all 4 points – you’ll have employers begging to hire you. Comply with 3 of the 4, and you’ll get a job within a week. Two out of four – your chances are OK. One out of four – its a start, but don’t count on much. Otherwise don’t bother.

What volunteer opportunities are there?
A lot. Really a lot.

What are some typical things to do for entertaining/social life?
The above mentioned International Film Festival Rotterdam is a highlight. So is De Parade – a summer theatre festival. Summer carnival is big, especially with the Caribbean community. The Rotterdam Marathon is huge, with hundreds thousands of spectators along the track. Other big events are Museum Night and Open Monumentendag (Heritage Day).

What’s the dress code at work and in public?
Smart-casual, although the office dress code is more relaxed compared to Germany or France. Rotterdam’s blue-collar roots do show in the relatively high amount of sweatpants worn in public.

Are there any health concerns? What is the quality of medical care available?
Health care quality is good and very professional. Dutch doctors are quite reluctant to prescribe medication (which I think is a good thing). So don’t expect to get a prescription every time you see your GP.

You can leave behind your:
SUV.

But don’t forget your:
Cycling skills. Umbrella. Rain jacket.

Can you save money?
Yes, with careful budget planning.

What unique local items can you spend it on?
Cheese, special beers. Antiques.

Knowing what you now know, would you still go there?
For sure.

Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
“Who am I?”, with Jackie Chan (filmed here in Rotterdam).

Rotterdam Talesmag 3

Rotterdam’s brand new Central Station is yet another architectural highlight.

I hope my contribution to Tales from a Small Planet will inspire more non-Americans to add reports about their experiences abroad. The site is useful and fun to read, and I think that with a bit more diverse input it can become even better. I know I will do my best to diversify the content at http://www.talesmag.com, and of course will re-post my contributions here.

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