Tuesday, November 29, 2011

beater bikes

Of course, one of the things that I love about living in Amsterdam is the bike culture. I think its fantastic that the city centre streets are overrun by cyclists and that everyone rides one, regardless of weather or attire. I still have this enthusiasm for the bike culture even after a couple of good wipeouts, including a very impressive one last week where I was run off the road by a truck on the way to work. (Ban them on the Prinsengracht I say!)

One of the things I like the most is the complete lack of care and prestige that comes from one's bike. You see the most fashionable and wealthy people riding the worst, most beaten up bikes. It's almost a matter of pride that their old Gazelle is still ridable. As long as it rides, and doesn't make noise, it's all good.

Here's a photo of the bike rack outside my apartment. We don't live in a terribly low rent district, but you'd never know it from the junk that's outside.  

A fact I recently learned - the Dutch spend more per household on interior design than any other European country. Yet they ride beater bikes and plain cars. An interesting culture that believes in good design and quality, as long as you don't show it outwardly. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Signs around me.

I spotted this sign today about a block away from the office. It reminds me of the old SNL First CityWide Change Bank ad, which I can't link to because I live outside of the US and NBC doesn't share well. But if you do live in the US, check it.

I should go in and give it a try, so see if I'd get more than elsewhere. But something tells me they wouldn't have a sense of humour and wouldn't appreciate the thought. 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Ajax = Manchester United?

I'm still pretty new to this town, so I can't claim to be a football fan yet, let alone an Ajax fan. (For non-Dutchies the Ajax are the Amsterdam football team. And the one that I've been told is a good bet to support.) But I do know that if you want to get to understand a city and its culture you need to go to their sporting events. So this evening I went online to try to buy some Ajax tickets.

I tend to use Google Chrome as my primary web browser because it's got a tool that translates all the Dutch pages into English automatically. This is good, most of the time, but it can be challenging because some of the translations can be a little off. For example, yesterday it kept changing the letters UK to NL, which is a rather important distinction. I guess the software has the concept of a country down, but not the idea that differentiating between countries is important. 

So tonight, when I pulled up the Ajax page this is what I found in the ticket purchasing section:

I couldn't figure out why they'd be advertising for Man U matches. But hey, if Manchester was coming to town to play Ajax that's a match I'd be interested in seeing. But then I clicked on the "show original text" button and this is what I got.

No mention of Manchester United at all. It appears that Google Chrome has translated the local football club's name into that of Manchester's storied franchise. Fortunately, I'm not really a fan yet, otherwise I'd likely be apoplectic. This is the equivalent of changing the Vancouver Canucks into the Detroit Redwings, without any indication that some great mistake had been made.

Now, I know not to trust Google for my translations. But UK to NL and Ajax to Man U seem like pretty crucial nuances. One would think that, with all their ridiculous brainpower, they could figure this one out.

Parisienne Signage

Colleen and I spent last weekend in Paris. It was Colleen's first time, so we did all the proper touristy things - The Louvre, The Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, The Pompidou Centre.

I love walking around Paris. It's an absolutely beautiful city, with stunning views and buildings around every corner.

On our adventures there were a couple of signs that I particularly liked. This first one was in Notre Dame. Apparently if you're carrying a lot of sins around with you, then you must be tired and need a seat. If you're not ready to confess, then you'll just have to carry on. (Apologies for the not great photo.)

Then there was this sign at the exit of a parking garage. If you're stylishly wearing a red scarf, hat and carrying your umbrella, then you run a major risk of being clobbered over the head. It's a risk that fashionable people have to take.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Got gas?

When I woke up this morning I discovered that I had no hot water. I had a cold shower and went to work, hoping it would be working by the time I got home. When I returned home this evening my gas was still not working. I realized that it was probably time to figure out what the heck the card from the gas company that I got in the mail yesterday said.

I copied the notice into Google Translate. Here's what I got: 

"Dear Sir Madam,

related work on the pipeline and / or replacing your gas meter, your gas supply has been interrupted. Before you can use gas again, it is necessary for the following acts:

a) close all faucets and open the device at the meter gashoofdkraan:
b) insert the gas, preferably the cooking stove. If there is no gas pressure mustact a. wait 15 minutes and repeat. Then continue with action b:
c) let the gas burn 5 minutes and make sure it really stays on (there is some airin the pipe have been);
d) fire up your other devices

If problems arise, the need to contact the National toringsnummer gas andelectricity, from 0800 to 9009. This number is available 24 hours a day."

With instructions like that for reconnecting your gas line, what could go wrong?

The Punisher - continued

So not only is Gaudi the punisher, but Harley seems to have "appropriated" his image.

I spotted this while walking through the Zurich airport train station last weekend. What do you want to bet that Harley didn't pay full usage rights for this?

To those who wrote me asking "what the hell is the Punisher?" after my last post, I hope this inspires you to go look it up.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Gaudi is The Punisher

Colleen and I had a terrific weekend in Barcelona at the end of June.

One place we visited was one of the Gaudi designed homes - La Pedrera.

In the elevator / lighting shaft in the middle of the house was this window venting system combo.

Which I think looks remarkably similar to the logo used by The Punisher.

Coincidence? I doubt it. I think Gaudi was the original punisher.

(I never promised that my blog posts would all be good and meaningful.)

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Dutch banking

A key part of moving to a new country is getting a bank account set up.

In many places deciding who to bank with can be a tough decision because there are so many options. Fortunately, that's not a problem here, as there's only one bank in the country that has a web site and online banking available in English. So ABN AMRO it is.

Coming from Canada I actually find this somewhat amusing, since Dutch-based ING is pretty well established in Canada as a primarily web based retail bank offering services in English. But here in their home land it's Dutch or nothing. That's too bad, because I've kind of always liked the angry Dutch guy in the Canadian ING ads.

Of course, I do see opportunity in this situation, since I am the GM of a digital marketing company that builds web sites in lots of different languages on behalf of our clients. In fact, for one of our clients we're currently building a site that will be rolled out in over 80 regions. So if any Dutch bankers read my blog - call me, we can help.

There are many other interesting things about the Dutch retail financial sector that I'm still learning. Like how credit cards aren't really credit cards. And how the PIN card works. I'm sure I'll write about these later but, to be honest, I haven't figured them out myself yet. Which is a little scary, since I am using a Dutch credit card now.

But the one other adventure with Dutch banking that I just had for the first time today was dealing with online banking. Apparently just entering your account number and pin code isn't enough here. You also need to have your e-dentifier with you, to insert your card into when you log in, so that you can verify exactly who you are.

Now, this isn't the worst idea I've ever heard. It's a nice bit of added security. But it certainly does hamper the convenience of online banking. Now that we're in a "what you want, when you want it" digital era restricting the use of online banking to situations where you've actually got to have, on hand, a clunky device that's larger than most SmartPhones feels somewhat regressive. But, like the lack of English web sites, this feels to me more a market opportunity for competition than it is a real problem.

The other added challenge of the e-dentifier is that it doesn't come with instructions in English. That shouldn't be surprising, and the English portion of the web site should explain things, but it doesn't do that terribly well. After plugging the e-dentifier into my laptop with the supplied USB cable, I couldn't get it to do what the site said it should be doing. Only when I searched for other information did I learn that I shouldn't have plugged it in. The USB connection is completely unnecessary. So, why does it come with a USB cable? I have no idea.

But I eventually figured it out. I'm all set up and am semi-aware of my financial situation. Just one more step in getting set up in our new home.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Sunday morning garbage in Amsterdam

A bit of a negative post today. Sorry to be a downer:

Amsterdam is such a beautiful city. I simply don't understand why they can't come up with a better way to deal with their trash.

On Sunday morning Colleen and I headed over to Dirk, our local supermarket, to take our recycling in. When we got there, we discovered a great pile of garbage strewn around the bins.

This is a result of the standard Amsterdam proces of garbage collection, whereby people just put plastic bags out on the street, for it to be collected periodically. Clearly, this process doesn't work very well.

I understand that just putting the garbage out on the street in plastic bags is a standard way to deal with it in many major cities around the world. It just seems so unhygenic and nasty. What about bins? What about garbage cans?

This is a picture perfect place. I don't really get why this garbage situation can't be easily solved.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Way to Work

I love my ride to work in the morning.

First, just riding to work seems terribly civilized. You arrive refreshed and more relaxed than normal. Of course, it doesn't hurt that I arrived here in June, not in the middle of winter.

One of the first things I pass is a mineral / fossil shop. It's been closed for most of the time that I've been here, so I haven't been in. And I can't imagine that they do a lot of business, being a rather niche category. But it's a wonderfully interesting shop window full of odd bits. I often think of my nephew Cameron and his passion for rocks and geology when I'm passing here.

Right after the fossil shop I cross over a canal. The water is so calm and peaceful. And on the way home there are often people out for evening boat rides with their friends, having little picnics as they go along.

A bit further along I pass the Rijksmuseum. I haven't been in here yet. I'm waiting for visitors, so I can visit with them for the first time. But I hear that it's pretty amazing.

In front of the Rijksmuseum is the apparently iconic I amsterdam sign. All day, every day, there are people posing on the sign. I don't know the history of it, but it's at the end of a long pond in a park. A nice piece to ride through on the way to work.

The bike lanes are so civilized. They're well marked, with their own traffic signs. Bikes seem to have the right of way over vehicles and pedestrians here. I've been told that on your bike you're in the right, even if you're in the wrong.

 I cross another bridge just before work. Lots of tourist boats going out for the day. This bridge is a little higher, requiring a bit of a push at the end. (OK, a very small push. But with no gears it requires a small pedal.)

And then, I'm at work. The office is located at Max Euweplein, beside the Hard Rock Cafe and the Amsterdam Casino - So pretty touristy. There's a big outdoor chess board. In this photo there's no one playing, but during the day you get pretty big crowds. Or, at least, pretty big crowds for people watching an outdoor chess match.

All that takes between 5 and 10 minutes. Quick and easy. And, on a sunny day, it's a great way to get to the office. I'll let you all know more about the commute when winter comes and we've moved a bit further away.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Go play on the canal.

Riding our new granny bikes around town yesterday we came across the most interesting location for a playground ever - across three moored barges. I love the Dutch approach to making the most out of every square foot of land, or pseudo-land as the case may be.

Probably hard to see in this photo, but the best part is the cage to climb between the middle and far-right barge. Super fun for the kids.

But of course...

This being Amsterdam, I should have known that any excellent thing for pedestrians would have an equivalent for cyclists. 

But the guy on the bike seems to be so much more cavalier with his button pushing than the guy on foot. Clearly a Dutch hierarchy.


Friday, May 27, 2011

Focus on crossing

Crosswalks in Amsterdam are a bit chaotic, what with the extra lanes for bikes going every which way.
 One thing I do appreciate is the signs that they put up to indicate that one should push a button if one wants to cross the street. I love how focussed the guy in the sign is on pushing the button just so. And he's got that classic looks that feels so 1950s Euro.

Monday, May 23, 2011

A big move / A new country

Hello all.

It's been a long time since I posted here. Life has been crazy. It has included the end of TBWA\Vancouver, meeting with potential new employers, getting an awesome new job managing Blast Radius Amsterdam, taking a few weeks off including a trip to Nicaragua, and most recently moving to Amsterdam.

We arrived here on Saturday. The trip was relatively painless. Air Transat isn't good, but it certainly isn't bad either. We spent a couple of nights in the Hotel Vondel, which is great if you don't get their standard tiny room. (We upgraded after a night.) And then yesterday we moved into our temporary home in De Pijp. Photo of the street below.

I also started my new job in Amsterdam yesterday, after a week of training in Vancouver. All went well, but there's much to be done.

I hope to post updates here for friends, family and the curious over the coming months. Today we're off to the Hague to register with the consulate and take care of immigration issues. It's a short train ride away, but it should be interesting.