Category Archives: Nederland(s)

The life of the 300

R-NET can’t seem to decide where their buses go. Over the last six/seven months, I’ve seen the destination on a certain route’s destination boards change no less than four times, even though the line still goes to exactly the same place.

When I first moved to Haarlem, the line 300 service was advertised on the front of R-NET’s buses as heading to:

Amsterdam-Z.O. via Schiphol

“Z.O.” stands for “Zuidoost”, and Amsterdam-Zuidoost is one of the city’s stadsdelen (≈ boroughs). Once you know this, this destination wording becomes clear and unambiguous: exactly what one’s looking for on the front of a bus.

A couple of months later, however, the boards were changed to read:

Amsterdam-Z.O. via Airport

True: there is only really one airport in the region and that’s Schiphol. But I would assume that most passengers travelling to catch a flight or pick someone up from an airport would know the name of the airport their flight is due to land or take off at. But alright, “Amsterdam-Z.O. via Airport” is still clear enough.

But the destination board changed again around the beginning of June to:

Amsterdam via Airport

which is pretty much false advertising! Line 300’s terminus at Amsterdam Bijlmer Arena is 8 km south of Amsterdam Centraal. I don’t think you’d be very pleased if you went to visit central London for the day and found that your bus actually terminated in Seven Sisters. Buses to Amsterdam’s Marnixstraat bus station say “Amsterdam Marnixstraat” for this reason too, so I don’t see why R-NET should be any different.

I saw today that this has been changed once more to:

Bijlmer Arena via Airport/Plaza

We’re getting close to what we started with now but at least “Amsterdam” has been corrected. As a matter of fact, the central bus station at Schiphol airport is officially referred to as “Plaza/NS” or “Schiphol Plaza/NS” – NS being a reference to the NS station under the airport; so no doubt R-NET will be changing the front of their buses again in the near future.

The Netherlands and how I ended up here

This all started just as I was completing one of my National Diplomas in radio broadcasting. As a cyclist, I’ve been fascinated by the Netherlands and its cycling culture ever since I started reading about it: the posts on the excellent A view from the cycle path are probably what pushed me to finally go. I wanted to at least experience the infrastructure and cycling ‘way of life’ in the Netherlands, so I came up with an idea of using the course to my advantage to ask for a little work experience at an English-language radio station.

I applied just after the New Year for a short internship at the international station Radio Netherlands Worldwide – which is currently having large chunks chopped off of it. The management at RNW said that an intern staying for just two weeks (actually my fortnight-long Easter holiday) probably wouldn’t have been of much assistance. This lead to me into negotiations with my tutors at Cambridge Regional College and I managed to get what would have been the first week back after the Easter holiday off.

My father drove me to the Harwich ferry terminal to catch the 09:00 sailing to Hoek van Holland on 9 April 2011. With me was my trusty Challenge Hurricane recumbent bicycle (which is sitting next to me in my flat as I type) and four cycling bags attached. I set off towards the terminal, the ferry and a three week-long internship at an international radio station.

The 130 km cycle ride that followed disembarking the Stena Hollandica was, I’ll admit, not properly thought through. But I made it to my B&B-slash-campsite later that evening albeit exhausted and disorientated. I was staying in the small village of Lage Vuursche, which would be my “home” for the next few months; and it’s worth mentioning that the woodlands that surround Lage Vuursche have possibly the sandiest soil I’ve ever encountered. During the second or maybe the third week of the internship, the chain on my Hurricane snapped. This was most certainly the work of the sandy nature of the cycleways that I rode on as part of my daily commute through the Maartensdijkse Bos. A new chain would have set me back at least a hundred euro – the chain on a recumbent is roughly three ‘normal’ chain lengths – so I thought the best thing to do would be to leave my bike with the owners of the B&B, and return to the Netherlands to pick up my Hurricane (with a new chain in my pocket bag) the following weekend. Oh, and of course take the bus to work for the rest of my internship.

I’m a little sketchy on what happened next. I’ve tried to figure it out by going back through old tweets and checking emails from way back when, but …it appears we have a memory gap. Radio Netherlands some way or another offered me a second internship; this time working with the Earth Beat team. Earth Beat is a programme all about new and clever ways of interacting with the planet – the programme’s podcast is actually how I came across RNW in the first place; I mean I could have gone to another station somewhere else in Europe, or perhaps even stayed at home and relaxed over my Easter holiday (but that’s not like me). Unlike my first internship – where I was working ad-hoc as a journalist and editor for the station’s news site – the second internship saw me tackling the task of editing programmes for rebroadcast. My outright OCD approach to editing audio, which can slowly drive others insane, actually turned out to be extremely beneficial to this project – a sister station in Bhārat had selected a few dozen segments (there are roughly four segments per episode) from different episodes of the programme, and they wanted them cut down to precisely three minutes in length. But the length of a segment varies from four minutes to, I think in one case, fifteen minutes; so cutting already edited segments down further without them losing charm or being less engaging was a real challenge, but one I enjoyed thoroughly.

While heading into Amsterdam to meet my Parisian cousin – who was in town to visit her Dutch boyfriend – I knew I’d have a little time to spare, so I popped into the Mister B (NSFW) store on the Warmoesstraat for …well, I actually popped in for supplies. One thing led to another and later that afternoon when I got back to the B&B, I emailed them my CV and left it at that. I got an interview with the chairman of the company Wim and general manager Wouter over what I could bring to the company and what experience I had in the workplace (none), or what experience I had in the fetish scene (urmm…) – I’m surprised I even got the job.

I was hired as an assistant to the marketing department, and while the arrangements at work were a little unstructured at first, I was quickly assigned the task of processing mailorders – something I’m still doing to this day. After a few months, I got asked to do more and more design work (which is after all what I’m actually qualified to do) and at the moment, I split my time between designing web and print graphics for marketing, and the processing of the mailorders operation.

Even with a salary under my belt for the first time ever, I was still living in the tent for the first fortnight of my new job. I was very lucky to find a flat on Craigslist – since housing of any kind in the Netherlands comes few and far between – in the last week or so of the second internship at RNW, but I was unable to move in straight away. In total, 42 nights were spent in that tent and I can say with great passion that I am never under any circumstances, ever again going camping.

I soon (thankfully) moved out of the tent and into the suburb of Diemen, just outside Amsterdam – so close to my work in fact that I commuted many a sunny, warm August morning on foot. I remember spending quite a lot of my time walking in the Summer: the nearest decent supermarket was no less than a twenty-minute walk away but at least this meant I got some fresh air on a regular basis. That isn’t really the case in Haarlem (where I live now), though I do walk four kilometres a day to and from the station and an extra 2 km every other day to get to the gym; but I don’t really “go for a walk” anymore.

Autumn is kind of a blur to be honest – I remember that the weather was very changeable, but that’s about it. I moved up from Diemen to a small flat in Amsterdam-Noord; which I shared for a short time with a Scot, an American, and then an architecture student from the Basque Country. The thing I loved most about living in Noord – apart from being fifteen minutes from Amsterdam Centraal with next to no tourists (which is impossible south of the river) – was cycling to work. I do kind of miss doing that; and also while it was alright for a couple of months, I don’t think I’d be able to deal with the ferries across the IJ again – especially not with the new, earlier working hours I have.

I moved once more in December: this time with the intention of actually staying put for a while. I now live pretty much in the centre of the beautiful 13th-century capital of North Holland, Haarlem. The flat that I have now isn’t the biggest and didn’t come furnished in any way – other than with a sink and a small desk unit built-in to one of the alcoves – but it actually feels like home to me now, rather than feeling like just another flat. And that’s where I’ve stayed for the last four months – I’m still at Mister B and thankfully, someone else’ll be taking over my other roles by the end of the month, allowing me to focus on my design work; but my colleagues there have done impeccably well to put up with me for this long and I’d like to thank them so much for helping me learn Dutch, integrate a little into society here and of course for being outstanding colleagues to work with.

Tomorrow marks one year since I arrived in the Netherlands. I had a rather silly idea the other week that every year on 9 April, I should go back to Hoek van Holland with my recumbent and try to beat my record cycling to Lage Vuursche; but I’m glad common sense beat me to it on that one.

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A four-day weekend

I’m not going to make this a full-blown account of what’s happened this week but it’s coming to the end of a four-day weekend for me. I haven’t seen my parents since Christmas some three months ago – unless I have actually seen them since then and I just can’t remember, making this not a little embarrassing – and I promised that for my mum’s birthday back in early January that I’d pay to take her to the ‘Garden of Europe’, Keukenhof after it opened on 22nd March.

I’m not going to say I’m not a fan of gardens and while I was certainly impressed by both the flower displays and exhibits like the Inspirational Gardens, the gardens felt somewhat empty to me. Obviously, it’s themed throughout and that theme is Keukenhof; but I think that it could be diversified a tad more without losing the ‘bulb garden-cum-tourist trap’ vibe that brings almost a million visitors in just two months’ time every year.

We also went to see the Zaanse Schans: a museum village in essence, home to a few dozen windmills and buildings from the Zaanstreek region of Noord-Holland. Very quaint; very Dutch. We then returned to Haarlem to get gifts for various people “back home” before heading to Schiphol once more. After we’d said our goodbyes at check-in, I segued to the http://www.misterb.com (NSFW) store on the Warmoesstraat in Amsterdam and somehow ended up getting half my hair shaved off and watching the titleholder of Mister International Rubber (NSFW), Sly Hands (NSFW) squirming in a vacbed for a good twenty minutes. As you do.

By the way, Keukenhof’s open until 20th May. Even my manager at work – who isn’t a garden-y kind of person) was thinking about going this year – certainly when the weather brightens up a bit, hopefully in time for Koninginnedag.

Door sein- en wisselstoring

There was a failure at the ‘traffic control centre’ in Amsterdam this morning. It took me almost four hours to get to work; and being stranded at Utrecht Centraal (34 km south of my workplace) for a good forty minutes and sitting in traffic on the replacement bus from Naarden-Bussum didn’t help either.

The entire rail network of the Netherlands is, according to Wikipedia, controlled from just thirteen control centres. Closing small signalboxes because they’re cute and you want to be evil is all well and good but the effects if something goes wrong spread like wildfire.

Platform numberwang

When I started writing this particular post, the answers which I later discovered weren’t that obvious but I feel quite dumb for not seeing it sooner. I do do quite a bit of research for this blog’s posts but it really depends if the subject is something I can really get into—something closer to my heart, I know enough (e.g. specialist terms) to be able to search deeper and in more detail.

I’d first like to clarify something: I’m not a trainspotter. I’d also like to clarify that I don’t hate trainspotters and apologies for offending any of them fellow human beings by suggesting that it’s beyond acceptable to be interested in such things. We all have hobbies, and we have hobbies that other people either don’t understand or are disinterested in. I am however quite keen on the railways themselves: not so much the signalling and stations, but the tracks and how they all fit together are what interest me most. I’ve been drawing sketches of track diagrams for what, ten years now—just as doodles—and I’ve thought a couple of times of scanning them all in and seeing if they fit together in some way. This isn’t quite the same as when, as a child, I’d draw large town plans on A4 paper and deliberately ‘expand’ the town or village onto another page. There were ferry crossings (easy to draw) and really idiotically complex junctions, but never any houses for some reason; and I always stuck car parks underground (too much effort to draw them on the surface).

To cut a long story short, things on the railways like the stations don’t usually interest me—fine architecture: yeah, sure but everyone enjoys the sight of a nicely built 19th-century station every now and then(!)—but there is something which has been catching my attention since I moved to Haarlem, the provincial capital of Noord-Holland. I take the train to work and pass through a few stations with, quite frankly, odd platform numbering schemes. At this point, you may leave if you want to. Haarlem itself doesn’t have platforms numbered 2 or 7; Amsterdam Sloterdijk begins numbering platforms at number 3; Amsterdam Muiderpoort has a set of platforms—2 and 3—on one side of the station but another set—platforms numbered 8 and 9—on the other.

Now this is all pretty trivial but I found it pretty strange that some stations didn’t have certain platforms. Or more correctly, platform numbers. And that’s when I started to feel pretty dumb.

In the United Kingdom, we would use the word ‘platform’—a train stops at a platform, you board a train from a platform, and it’s "platform 1 for the …". The Dutch word used, however, is ‘spoor‘ which translates as ‘track’. There is a word for ‘platform’ but this refers more to the physical object itself: ‘perron‘. It’s just that the Dutch noticed that a train could be at more than one platform, in principle, but only ever on one set of tracks. I think; I’m not sure which country has the better system.

But there is indeed a track between the ‘platform 1′ track and the ‘platform 3′ track at Haarlem, called ‘spoor 2′. It’s used by trains to bypass platforms 1 and 3, which makes sense, but it doesn’t have a platform of its own—think of a sandwich with three cheese slices: the bread is/are platforms, and each cheese slice is a different track. But what’s more interesting is why I’m asking you to imagine a cheese-and-platform sandwich.

Amsterdam Muiderpoort also now makes sense: from west to east, the first viaduct to be built supports tracks 1–6 including platforms serving tracks 2 and 3. When the line down to Utrecht was built later on, its viaduct carried tracks 7, 8 and 9 and platforms serving tracks 8 and 9; track 7, I believe, has been lifted but the tracks are still numbered in sequence. Amsterdam Sloterdijk does have two tracks to the north of the track serving platform 3 that I guess could be considered part of the station’s area, but not part of the station; I think they’re only used by freight traffic but they could well be numbered as tracks 1 and 2. Will investigate.

And just for trivia’s sake: Nijmegen has the highest numbered platform in the country, platform 35; pretty good going considering Nijmegen only has four platforms in total.

Stages of learning Dutch

Dutch: a language renowned for its synthetic compound words and as many velar fricatives as you can shake a stick at. It’s a beautiful language and much, much less complicated than English—which is, frankly, a collection of hacks.

I never really had a roadmap when I started learning Dutch. Between Christmas and April last year (2010–11), I was learning it as a hobby more than anything else. When I landed in the Netherlands all those ten months ago, my knowledge of Dutch was pretty basic—I’d learnt quite a few words, but had no real knowledge of how to put them together; but I was only planning on staying in Hilversum for three weeks. Ten months later, I’m still in the Netherlands with a full-time job and a flat to furnish; I think it’s about time I settled down and planned on staying here. So, like I do, I thought about it while commuting and jotted a few notes down and came up with a few milestones I’d like to accomplish:

Stages of learning Dutch

Now clearly, I’ve left out a number of things that other people might find more important, but these are the things that I‘d to accomplish.

I try to speak Dutch wherever practical but sometimes, it doesn’t always work out how I expect. My supervisor at work Nelson, for example, speaks a lot of English to me—”[he’s] always spoken English to [me] before” and it’s now become a habit for him to switch to English when speaking to me. Team meetings can and regularly do get quite confusing at times; with alternating sentences in Dutch and English.

(Quickly) on Dutch society

The Netherlands is a very interesting place. It appears to be quite unregulated to most outsiders; but it really isn’t. Dutch bureaucracy is like nothing I’ve ever seen. It’s taken me nine months (seven of those with a full-time job and a taxed salary) just to be recognised as a resident.

But I plan on staying here. I don’t think I’d be very comfortable going back to the UK—I’d certainly miss krentenbollen, the cycleways, HEMA, and the cheap and reliable railways too much. Plus, and no offence to my brethren, but I never really got the British.

Lighthouses and f-signs

British embassies being advised how best to deal with expats without cash. British banks preparing for a eurozone collapse. You’d think the UK was part of the eurozone, the amount of scare stories it’s been pumping out this past week. A eurozone collapse and subsequent break-up isn’t around the corner — the phrase “Meanwhile in…” is particularly relevant here; the Netherlands isn’t massively worried about the whole thing and it seems that the only government shitting themselves in fear is the British. But — and I’m stressing the word ‘but’ like a Boeing wing undergoing testing — let’s assume that one morning, the Netherlands wakes up and the euro’s ceased to exist overnight. The most plausible plan of action would be to reinstate the currency we had before 2002: the Dutch guilder; a currency with some of the most colourful banknotes I’ve ever seen.

250 guilders (gulden) banknote

A ƒ250 banknote from the 1980s. © De Nederlandsche Bank; scan © http://www.banknotes.com; fair use CDPA 1988 §30.

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→ Blackfriars new design

David Hembrow writes:

The LCC’s proposal looks not entirely different to how some Dutch provision might have looked 30 years ago. There was a lot to like about 30 year old Dutch cycling infrastructure, so this isn’t entirely a bad thing. However, in the second decade of the 21st century, I really think that London should be copying 21st century solutions and not looking quite so far backward.

I haven’t been keeping up with the Blackfriars Bridge news as of late. It seems to have all quietened down in my Google Reader. But I’ve just had a late look at the London Cycling Campaign’s proposals and by god: they almost look European.

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Moved

I haven’t written anything for a while. I’ve used the “I’ve been too busy at work” excuse before so I’m not going to bother to repeat myself. Apart from the downpours and the possibly strained muscles in my torso and left arm, moving was a success on Sunday and I’m proud to be one of the newest residents of Amsterdam-Noord. The idea of sharing a flat with roommates has never bothered my mind and I’m pleased I didn’t go down the “forever alone [when it comes to accommodation]” thinking route. I was in and out of the house on Sunday with getting things done, so I didn’t get to properly introduce myself to Shaun and Robyn until Monday evening. I won’t turn this into some kind of diary entry with comments such as “OMG me and Robyn have the same camera model” but they’re good eggs; that’s what matters. The matter of what I do for a living came up, as it does, and there’s always that moment of actually explaining what it is the company I work for actually does. While I’m by no means ashamed of where I work, there are unfortunately some people on this planet who are disgusted, even offended, by certain practices – even if they have nothing to do with it personally. I work as a designer for a fetish wholesale business operating from Duivendrecht, Amsterdam; a magical and colourful job it is, with output that can be summed up in the words of Matt of Kink Engineering fame:

Not safe for work, unless your work is awesome.

Explaining where I work is always best explained with the catalogue we produce. It’s interesting to judge people’s reactions: more people are curious and intrigued by the content than disgusted but, then again, this is the Netherlands.

Back to LA-born graphic designer Robyn and I’ve noticed I don’t use paragraphs very effectively, if at all. The company she’s currently interning for has – for the last few years – designed a series of “design and architecture […] yearbooks”. I must say: I knew Germany was at the forefront of such industries but there are a lot of submissions from German students. Germany and the United Kingdom. One entry I’m taking interest in is that of the “pictorial communication language” Picol – I wonder just how complex the art of designing universally- or near-universally-recognisable pictograms is; I assume it takes a hell of a lot of research. Robyn’s off on holiday for the next few weeks to Italy before returning briefly to Amsterdam and then flying back to the United States, which is disappointing to say the least.

My other roommate at the moment is Dundee-born Scottish sweatheart Shaun, who’s finishing an internship with an architectural firm this week. I haven’t really talked to him much; I feel more comfortable conversing with women than men—het homoheid, natuurlijk. On the day both Shaun and Robyn move out, a young Spaniard will be arriving; people moving in and people moving out gradually all this week but I work 09:00–17:30 so I’m not exactly in the house much during the day.

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