Sunday, September 18, 2016

Amsterdam: A First Glance,The Van Gogh Museum & Travelling by Bike

Canal Houses, Amsterdam
So, I've been in Utrecht, Holland for three weeks now, and I'm loving it.  I especially love going everywhere by bike  - yes, they ride without helmets here. It is incredibly safe, though. I did attempt to find a helmet initially, but really, it's almost impossible to find one in bike stores unless you are a child or a super sporty racing cyclist.

We have our own lanes, which neither pedestrians nor cars are allowed on, and almost all of them are separated by meridians.  About a week ago I traded the 4.40 euro daily train ride for a daily 30 minute (return) bike ride. I paid 50 euros for the bike and 27 euros for two super high quality locks! So, it's a lot cheaper. Plus, having a bike bag to stick your groceries in is fantastic - it's so nice to not have to carry them!

Utrecht is super small, and my trip to Amsterdam last weekend lead me to one of the smallest-feeling capital cities I've ever been. It is beautiful, though and those of you who know me, know I love photographing boats! So, check out the highlights and my slideshow below!

My new bike!!! (pre-bike bag)
I took 360 Amsterdam's free walking tour (you tip the guide a few euros, of course) and learned a bunch of facts about the historical (and modern) aspects of the town.

A few highlights:

  • The canal houses are very expensive, and few people own the whole house; normally they have an apartment on one floor
  • To move into and out of these tiny, skinny, houses they use a special type of crane and have hoists at the top of roof (Check out the slideshow for a zoomed in photo)
  • The city had a historic "magic" piece of bread, blessed by a priest; the bread "survived" a fire and was known to be sacred. The special metal box they kept this bread in is still housed in the Amsterdam Museum.
  • Although most people in Amsterdam are not religious (and very tolerant of all religions), there is a small community of nuns that live in the historic centre; apparently the waiting list to join this community is over 30 years long, so most of the residents are senior citizens
  • The Van Gogh museum is beautiful - I'd recommend a trip. However, I'd definitely say I was disappointed by the fact that it was so commercial. I felt like there was store upon store upon store - perhaps more items in the stores than art on the museum walls!
  • The main church is quite pretty - but don't lean up against the walls. Apparently lots of people use the side wall as a urinal after partying...
  • Boat photo, Amsterdam canals
  • The "coffee shops" are apparently in place primarily for tourists - according to the tour guide, anyway. Locals are very tolerant, but prefer not to participate in this aspect the tolerant, legal culture.

In other news, I'm basically working like crazy on my PhD (I've gotten SO far ahead of where I was in three weeks here; it's incredible!). I'm also auditing two classes (although I don't get a grade, I feel obligated to do the assignments since I'm getting the courses for free). The Digital Linguistics (Python) course is slowly killing me, and the Speech Production and Perception course has quite a high workload, too. 

I am starting to wonder if taking two courses was the best idea. I am super exhausted and swamped, especially with the upcoming launch of my new teaching, organizational and motivational resources blog (coming in November 2016!). On the bright side, I'm learning a lot. By the time I get back to Barcelona, I'll have quite a lot of data analyzed, and (hopefully) two journal articles in progress. Those two were a surprise addition to the ones I need for my PhD, actually, but here's hoping they happen!

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the slideshow below. Happy Saturday and have a wonderful weekend!

Abi - the cat who loves Kiara best now. He often hangs out on my bed.
Check out the slideshow below for my first shots of Amsterdam! 

Stay tuned for my second day trip to Amsterdam, tomorrow! I've got tickets to check out the Anne Frank Museum and I can't wait to check out this amazing piece of history.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Living in Utrecht: First Impressions of Holland

Cute yellow houses, Utrecht-Overvecht
Kiara and I had a hectic start to our current adventure, but we're here in Utrecht, Holland ready to have two months of  "back-to school" time. With two Masters-level linguistics courses, only a few hours of online tutoring, dedicated time to PhD analysis and advice from a famous professor (+ some Skype help with the amazing programmer, Robby, of course)- I'll really feel like a student.

We arrived just over 24 hours ago and I've already taken K on several walks (it's her 7th birthday today!), found the gym I'll start Bodypump at tomorrow evening (15 minutes walking distance!) and got the basics at a couple grocery stores. So, let me fill you in on the craziness of pet travel, as well as my first impressions of Holland:

The Airline

  • I took Transavia Airlines, as they had the best (and only direct) route from Barcelona to Amsterdam. I LOVE how organized and helpful they are; I Facebooked them to confirm the boarding process, etc, and we arrived with plenty of time to get through dog security and board
  • A few minutes before the plane was due to take-off, I asked the airline hostess to check if K was en route to the right cargo hold and she said yes, don't worry
  • Two minutes later, a different hostess came and said "The captain has a question for you about your dog. I'm not sure what". So, I followed her to see the captain
  • "The kennel is too big to fit in straight..."  EEK. PANIC. How could that be possible? It follows international regulations. I was freaking out inside; would they kick us off the plane?
  • It turns out they just needed to take K out and put her back in once the kennel was securely in the plane, which they couldn't do without the owner present. So...I got to hang out with the captain for a minute, wear a yellow cargo vest, and hang on to K and then convince her to re-board the cargo escalator. How cool is that?! I came back to the captain on the intercom, explaining that K's kennel was the reason we were a few minutes delayed
  • Before we started our descent, the airline hostesses checked on K for me again (without me even asking), and came to explain how to find her in the airport.

The Airport

  • The cargo man, though, was not so helpful. He left me with the giant kennel, suitcase, and no trolley. As I was organizing my things and struggling with a trolley I found, an airport staff member told me I couldn't walk with K outside her kennel until after customs. What?! How am I supposed to push a 31kg dog in a massive kennel and a 27kg suitcase on a trolley that isn't big enough for either? I tried for about 5 minutes before a bunch of KLM staff were like "What are you doing??!" and when I explained why I was attempting the impossible, they said  "You don't have to follow that rule!" and "We're so sorry they left you alone like this!" Then, they proceeded to help me find "Arrivals 4" where the taxi van company I had booked was.
  • Kiara was so excited by everything that she went to the bathroom on the airport floor. Ugh. I was mortified - but then a lady came up to me and said, "Don't worry, she's probably just excited." Turns out we were right outside a makeup stand. She gave me bags, kleenex, disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer to clean it up. "See, everything's fine," said the lady, "She chose the best spot in the airport!" Wow. They are SO nice here!

The House (with 2 other dogs, 2 cats, 3 kittens and 7 people including 1 kid!)

Study time - Utrecht!
    I love the chair in my room!
Our bedroom for the next two months!

  • We arrived an hour later to the house in Utrecht-Overvecht. The people I'm staying with (7 of them in a 3 storey house!) all seem lovely and very chill.
  • Sharina, the girl that I found the house through on Airbnb has a Poodle Pekinese cross and her boyfriend has an Argentinian Shepherd cross - so gorgeous!
  • Their 7 year old kid, Sebastian, is cute, well-behaved and loves playing with something called a Hoverball; it's shaped like half a soccer ball and is basically an indoor ball  that claims not to bounce and is less damaging to your house

  • I haven't spend any time with the other housemates - everyone is out and about on the weekend, but I briefly met a girl from Portugal who will be doing a Masters here. Everyone seems to be fine with Kiara
  • Everyone except the two adult cats - the male, Carlos, looked like he wanted to pounce on her (but we've only seen him once. Cats kinda go in and out at their will and do their own things, I guess). Lily hates her. Kiara is pretty persistent in trying to get her to play and every time she swats and growls; hopefully K will learn!
  • The kittens, however, are another story. At first they were terrified that a giant beast wanted to play, but they are super curious - so are starting to get used to her.  The grey one, Abla is my favourite - she's adorable! I'd never actually seen a kitten before (I'm not usually around cats), but wow. So cute. The red one is called Abby, and the black one is called Rebel, which is ironic because he's the most shy.
Abla at the top of the stairs
Abla sizing K up (who is standing at the bottom of the stairs)
Look of wide-eyed terror when K's face is a few inches from hers
    Abby (and Rebel hiding underneath)
Dodo, the awesome Argentinian Shepherd Cross
Kiara on her 7th birthday - September 4th, 2016

Overall First Impression

  • A cleaner, friendlier England with better built houses, a greater love of pets, amazingly helpful people, and slightly better weather (although the whole pour like crazy and then be sunny five seconds later theme is definitely relevant)
  • Grocery stores don't take credit cards. WHAT?! Nor will they accept a foreign debit/Electron/Maestro card. Seriously?!! I was so fed-up today that I just withdrew a couple hundred bucks from my Canadian account to be my "grocery money". 
I think I'll settle into a routine here fairly quickly. I have the gym schedule saved, a lunch meeting with my host supervising professor tomorrow and classes start on Wednesday. Stay tuned for academic adventures as well as some day trips around Holland and perhaps a few words of Dutch! Tot later!