June 07, 2013 22:15 +0000  |  Amsterdam History 2

It's one of the odd perks of living in a tourist destination. It's easy to be reminded that you live in an amazing place.

Every day I wake up and take the train into Amsterdam. I deboard at Amsterdam Centraal, a beautifully restored train station that's attempting to combine the nostalgia of the old with the function of the new. I hurry past the hordes of tourists and commuters to get to the office on time, and without fail, every morning, I blow past someone trying to take a photo of something: the station, the old exchange, Dam Square, a canal.

It's taken me this long to accept it: I live in a place steeped in history and beauty. This evening I strolled through Dam Square and happened upon a memorial for the massacre of 23-33 civilians two days after the armistace of WW2. Upon hearing of the Canadian advance and the inevitable liberation of the Netherlands, the people poured out into the square to celebrate -- they were gunned down by drunken German soldiers. Today street performers pose with tourists there, while the rest of us wander about eating poffertjes and buying clothes. The Vondelpark is the kind of place that would make Jane Jacobs proud, filled with benches and bike paths, gazebos and concert spaces. There's even a family of parrots, escaped from the zoo, that've taken up reisdence there.

I live here.

The Netherlands is centuries old, and with that age come its fair share of scars and beauty. I feel as though I'm just coming around to this realisation and it's had an honest effect on me.

To whomever is reading this, might I suggest the following: get up from whatever it is you're doing and go for a walk. Get to know the place you call home. Look up and take in the skyline, walk down the alleys and imagine what may have transpired there over the history of your city. We oftimes forget where we live, too easily falling into familiar patterns, but if you take a moment to look around, I promise you won't regret it.

October 02, 2011 11:38 +0000  |  Amsterdam Cycling Utrecht 0

Our route to Utrecht along the Amstel river'

Christina suggested we do a bike trip from Amsterdam to Ouderkerk with a steak at the end of the journey and I couldn't say no. The steak... well it was just ok, but what came after was just crazy: we decided to continue south to the tiny town of Nes, and beyond that... well why not just continue onto Utrecht?

We didn't know at the time, but after finishing the entire trip to Utrecht Centraal, we had travelled a total of 50.5 kilometres.

For some semblance of relative scale, that's like riding a bike from Vancouver to White Rock, or Toronto to Oshawa... and having a full, separated bike lane for roughly 95% of the trip (there were a couple spots where the road was really small, or the bike lanes were under construction).

In total, the trip took roughly six hours (OMG) and since my bike isn't adjusted for my height (oops) it was pretty damn painful. At times it was dark, or foggy, or spider-webby, and the sky was HUGE, with a red sun going down and an orange crescent moon. It was beautiful, and cold, and awesome.

April 07, 2011 20:01 +0000  |  Amsterdam Food Oxyor/Marketsims 1

I'm seriously considering stealing the CSS from a nice-looking WordPress theme and crowbarring it into this site. I just hate how unreadable it is.

So here's an update for those if you not following my Twitter feed:

I've found an apartment

It's in Bussum, the tiny town that plays host to my job. The people there are definitely more reserved than Amsterdamers, but they're still friendly, even when they think I'm American. The primary reasons for my selecting this location include the 10minute walk to work and the €800/mo price tag, which is incredibly low for the size and quality of place.

I'm making friends

I've managed to meet a few friendly people at some meetups around town, either through CouchSurfing or via an event on One of the people I met accompanied me to Zandfoort, a beach town on the edge of the North Sea, and then brought me to a party where I had the opportunity to meet a number of really cool people including some Romanian Expats who were impressed by my (very limited) knowledge of their language.

The job is Big

It's funny, during the interview, I really wasn't sure why they were hiring a full-time guy for something that really felt like a contract gig. As far as I knew, they just wanted a community site, with an e-commerce component sure, but it didn't seem that big. Well now that I've been treated to The Big Vision from the Head Cheese, I know better. This is going to be a very big, very challenging project -- made even more difficult by the fact that I'm the only web developer on the project. There's a few Java people, but no one working on the community project but me. I'm learning a lot about Django though, which is cool... now if only I can figure a way to integrate Android development and mapping, that would be pretty sweet.

The Food is Amazing

And lastly, I'd just like to take a moment to talk about how fabulous the food is here. Have I done that yet? OMG FOOD. For the most part, the primary cuisine here is in some sort of sandwich. Meat + cheese + bread = awesome. But how is this awesome? We do have those things in Canada after all. Oh no my friends, no we do not. The bread here, even the white bread from the grocery store for €0.50 is flavourful. And the cheese! OMG cheese. Simple, plain, and super-tasty. Even the slips of meat you buy wrapped in plastic taste great. Croissants, puff pastries, doughnuts... you guys, it's as if my whole life in Canada I was walking around with chalk on my tongue. Yes, it's that good.


When I got home today, there was a letter from IND on the table. They have my BSN (finally). I have to go get it though, which is kind of lame, but I really can't complain. Soon, I will be a Real Person in the Netherlands!

March 20, 2011 15:43 +0000  |  Amsterdam 5

I suppose that this could become a sort of tradition. Here's a video clip I shot with my phone this afternoon of where I live. Enjoy :-)

February 28, 2011 06:15 +0000  |  Amsterdam Language Learning Transit 9

I think that I'll make this part of a series, though if I'm right, the number of parts will be in the hundreds before I'm through here.

After the brunt of my jet lag had passed, I took a day to do some exploring. I needed some raw materials for some Grandma Soup, an needed to get my bearings in the city, especially with the transit system. In my day out, here's a list of what I learnt:

  • Language:
    • klanten-service == customer service
    • Hele kip == whole chicken
    • trekken == pull and duwen == push (of course, I learnt these the hard way
  • The area of town referred to as Niewmarkt is an actual farmer's market where they sell all kinds of fresh fruits & veggies. I bought what I thought was a parsnip, and though it was tasty, I'm not convinced that it was one.
  • The transit system here is multi-tiered, managed by multiple companies, but unified under one payment system by way of the OV-Chipkart I mentioned in a previous post:
    • Busses serve routes from the outskirts of the city into the core and around the suburbs.
    • Trams run throughout the downtown and into the suburbs.
    • The Metro is mostly above ground and serves much of the suburban space.
    • There are also inter-urban trains that run from metro hub stations into the more independent suburbs like Naarden (where I start tomorrow).
  • Google Transit is available here, which is awesome, but the directions appear to be broken when it comes to the Metro lines. While it maps the correct route, it gives you the wrong terminus station, so navigation can be tricky.
  • Dutch Pepsi tastes like Canadian Coca Cola, and the grade of aluminum used is higher than back home.
  • They have carbonated iced tea here. It tastes like Canadian iced tea (not like American, ew)... it's alright.
  • I'm passively learning basic numbers in Dutch. When people ask me for €5, I don't have to translate it.
    • The language-learning process is strange to behold. Like an outsider, I can feel my brain learning a word, and consciously working to translate it into English, even though, I've already comprehended the meaning. As an example, in the push/pull case above, I figured out that "trekken" meant "pull" when I saw it above the handle and I couldn't push the door open. At that point I understood what it meant, but still made the mental note "ah, trekken == pull". It's very odd.

February 26, 2011 08:06 +0000  |  Amsterdam 3

I've gone and done it. I've moved to Amsterdam. The sum total of my worldly possessions have been whittled down to a few bags I took with me, and 3 boxes of keepsakes that I left back in Vancouver with my grandparents. After saying my various goodbyes, and a long "last walk" around the Vancouver Sea Wall, I hopped onto a plane for a couple days with my parents in Kelowna where I managed to de-stress in preparation for an even bigger Ball of Scary. Wednesday morning, I said goodbye to my parents, and boarded a flight back to Vancouver, where my brother, his future wife (hi Shawna!), and their dogs met me at the airport and shuttled me to Delta to pick up my stuff. We had Grandma Soup, said goodbye to my grandparents and then Butthead drove me back to YVR for the big flight over the North Pole.

The flight was as comfortable as you'd expect any flight with FIVE children younger than 2 years old only a few seats away. Luckily I had a pair of those nifty silicon headphones, so the screaming wasn't as painful as one would think. Those, coupled with the Gravol and sleeping mask, and frankly, I don't remember much of the flight.

I landed in Schipol with more energy and clarity than I expected, re-charged the T-Mobile SIM card I acquired last time I was here, and called Tineke, my to-be-landlord to let her know that I'd landed and would be arriving soon. I grabbed a cab, showed him the GoogleMap location of where I needed to go, and €58 later, I was hobbling through the front door of my new home.

My lodgings are... well they're small, but Tineke is really quite friendly. She left fruit in the room, and some fresh squeezed orange juice the following morning. The rent is pretty good though considering (€450/mo) and I'll likely be here for a month or two while I get my bearings and look for a more permanent place to live.

The jetlag though... it's been brutal. I stayed up until 1900 the first night and woke up at midnight. Most of that day was a write off, and today I awoke at 0400. I'm feeling a little better though, so I'm going to do some more exploring today. On my todo list: buy an umbrella and purchase an OV-Chipkaart (a transit pass) while getting used to how to get around the city.

Now the bad news: the new job isn't where I thought it was. I could swear that I'd seen it on a map, checked the address, but that must have been a different company. MarketSims is in Naarden, a suburb of Amsterdam about 22km from where I want to live. Now thanks to the wonders of transit in this city, it's not that big a deal in terms of my commute (about 30min door to door) but the realisation was rather unsettling when it came.

For the graphically inclined, here's a Google map of where I am:

Lastly, for those of you interested in following my travels in a more real-time way, You can check out my Gowalla page or better yet, follow @travellingjack on Twitter, an account I created after Melanie suggested I take her little stuffed Jack Sparrow doll with me and take pictures of his exploits ;-) Should be fun.

February 11, 2011 22:19 +0000  |  Amsterdam Employment Job Hunting Moving Netherlands Unemployment 6

For those of you who follow my life on Twitter or Facebook, I apologise for taking so long to post the details of the recent changes to my employment status. Stuff's been kinda crazy these past few weeks, so I've had other priorities that I'll talk about in other posts.

So here's the full story: On January 18th, I responded to a job ad for a web developer at MarketSims that I found on an online job posting board, possibly monster, but frankly, I don't remember. The application included my usual fun-sounding cover letter and a PDF copy of my CV along with a link to this site.

That same night, I received a response asking about my preferences for CMSs and/or frameworks and we had some good dialogue about why one CMS might be chosen over another, and why I prefer frameworks in general etc. etc. We also talked about my salary expectations, volunteer work, and outside interests as well, all over email. He thanked me for the info and said he'd get back to me.

Then he got sick for about a week so I didn't hear from him for a while. When we reconnected on the 31st, we talked about doing a Skype interview and settled on a midnight gig on the evening of the 4th.

The interview was with the CEO, CTO, and COO and covered in greater detail what they're looking for. Basically, they're looking to unify the many sites they have into a single managed solution as well as build a portal site for people in their industry. We talked about options and preferences and I made no secret regarding my preferences for Python/Django -- something I was happy to hear was positively received. The interview was largely non-technical, and when it was finished, the CEO said that they'd like to talk about me privately for a while and get back to me... in about 20minutes. A little surprised, I said thank you and we ended the call.

About 15minutes later, the CTO called me back and offered me the job. I'll start March 1st.

The pay sounds good, though it's tough to tell when you don't really know the cost of living over there. Regardless, it works out to a lot of money in Canada, so that doesn't suck. There's lots of vacation time, as European standards more or less require it, and they're accessible by transit. The CTO may even be able to hook me up with some inexpensive temporary housing with some friends while I look for a place of my own once I know the neighbourhoods better.

All-in-all, things are looking pretty good, though I try not to get too excited. Contracts etc. don't get signed until I come in for my first day and somehow, all of this doesn't feel like it will be "real" until then. I'm definitely leaving though. I've already bought my flights:

Vancouver » Kelowna Feb 21
Kelowna » Vancouver Feb 23
Vancouver » Amsterdam Feb 23

If the temporary housing doesn't work out, I'll look into Couch Surfing, then hostels, then hotels, in that order. Obviously, that's a rough route to take, but I'm not sure how else to do it. I will however endeavour to blog the process, if for no other reason to chronicle how very painful this kind of thing is.