We really didn’t feel like we “lived” in the Netherlands. We were only here for 5 weeks. It was more like a long vacation, that also felt kind of like hanging out at home. But once we talked about it, we did have some happy/crappy comments so here they are for you…
–Just like in Spain, the retail here is a challenge. You can probably find just about anything you want, but it’s not EASY to find. We literally had to search for a mall and even then it was unimpressive. Their retail areas are smack in the middle of some deep residential zone. The path to get to the closest Domino’s pizza was like a maze through apartments. They don’t seem to believe in strip malls. A major electronics store had exactly 10 parking spaces and the entrance was on a very small road that seemed more like an alley. The hours are also a little strange. On a Monday morning we thought we’d get some things done but the stores didn’t open until noon. They just don’t do retail well. And major stores will only take certain cards (Mastercard seems to have a stronghold here) or only cash. You’d think with only one suitcase each we would not shop a lot, but when you have just one suitcase, what you have has to be just right.
–Lots. Of. Smokers. And although we’d love to always sit in the outdoor cafes and people watch while we eat, the smoking forces you indoors. So that only smokers can really enjoy the outdoor cafes. And then there’s the guy who blows smoke behind him, where you are walking. That’s always nice.
–The portions of the drinks are tiny. Like, thimble sized for $2. We had to order about 5 bottles of water just to get us through a meal. And they were not cheap. And rarely came with ice. Oh Europe, when will you get fountain drinks??? And ice!?
–The customer service ranges from meh to outright bad. The employees don’t seem to care if you wait in line for 20 minutes, can never help you find what you’re looking for and you’re toast if you need to break a 50. They are just indifferent. And you have to bring your own bags and bag your own items at the grocery store. If you are too slow at bagging, the customers after you start piling up on you and waiting for you to finish. I hate the pressure. We had a few incidences of smooshed bread because we were in such a rush to clear the deck.
–Don’t get me started on the “bring your own bag” thing. I know it’s good for the environment and it’s getting more and more prevalent in the US… but UGH. I never seemed to have them when I need them. And I never seemed to predict how many I need for any given stop at the store. We ended up buying a ton of re-usable bags that will be donated to our Airbnb. I think I have bought hundreds of reusable bags since arriving in Europe. Hundreds.
–Amsterdam is a fascinating city but it is crowded, especially on weekends. Between the pedestrians and the trams and the buses and the bikes, you feel like you’re being accosted from all sides when you walk out of the central train station. Wow. Sensory overload. And weekends tend to bring out the young bachelor and bachelorette parties complete with drunken 20-somethings who do not care that you are trying to get somewhere or doing it with kids.
–The weather can be both happy and crappy. It changes a lot. There were more grey days than I would have liked, but towards the end of our visit there (late May) it started to get very sunny. But at the beginning of our visit it was coooold. Uncomfortably cold. So it’s just unpredictable.
–Margaret mentioned this in her post but wow there are a lot of tight spiral staircases that’ll kill you if you don’t pay close attention. Haley was our only victim and thankfully she’s young and spry so there was no lasting damage. And that was only because she refuses to touch handrails or grab stuff to steady herself, and on the way downstairs she decided to take two at a time. #tumblingteen
–There are no homeschoolers to speak of here, it’s not really allowed. So we didn’t get a chance to make any friends.
–Margaret also mentioned this but wow, those Dutch just don’t seem to need to use the bathroom. Finding a bathroom while you are out and about in the city is a real challenge. We perfected the art of “go where you can, hold it where you can’t”.
–Do not drive in the city. Just don’t. It was helpful to have a car for our little road trips but the few times we wanted to do some errands and they were in the city, the car was a burden.
–There were no movie theaters that we could find anywhere near us. None! We love seeing movies and we knew they would have them in English but nope. NO movies at all for the 5 weeks we were here. Sad Shermanos.
–We hear that you have to be careful of pickpocketers and indeed the warning signs were in most of the public transportation stations, but we were not victims of that crime. We did manage to allow someone to steal one of the bikes that belonged to our Airbnb. Even in the small town we lived in outside of Amsterdam, you need to lock up your bike. Oops. #carelessteen
–I loved the buildings. In the city of Amsterdam they tended to lean. I don’t like to live in leaning buildings like we did in Mexico City, but I love looking at them. Some leaned to the side due to the unstable foundation, but others leaned forward on purpose. The buildings are so skinny and have the crazy spiral stairs which makes it impossible to move in large items like beds and tables. So they all have these cool hooks at the top of the outside of the house that enable you to raise up your furniture and bring it in through an upstairs window. If the building leans forward just a little, it allows the furniture some clearance to not hit the side of the building. So practical, those Dutch.
–The bike culture was awesome, as long as you remembered to always look for bikers when crossing the street or basically, just moving at all. ALWAYS be looking for a bike barreling towards you. And if you didn’t, you would hear a frantic ringy dingy bell to warn you to get out of the way. But I love how you can literally get on your bike and go ANYWHERE on a dedicated bike path. We bought Zoe a bike but the rest of us used bikes that came with our house. It was so easy to get into town or go to the train station or even Ikea. The only downside is that there seems to be some unwritten set of rules that bikers follow regarding when they pay attention to traffic lights and standards and when they ignore them completely. When biking I never knew who had the right of way or what I was supposed to do at an intersection.
–If you didn’t feel like biking you could just take the train pretty much anywhere. We became so good at taking the train to any place we wanted to go. It was easy, comfortable, clean and fast (except when it’s hot… then it feels like you’re riding a nonstop train to the sun). Sidenote for crappy: they were not cheap.
–Everyone spoke English. They usually started in Dutch but would always switch to English when we stared at them blankly. Their English tends to be fantastic too.
–I mentioned the weather in “crappy” but it deserves a mention in “happy” too. It can be beautiful. Warm and sunny with gorgeous blue sky.
–I absolutely loved the canals and bridges. Each one was so different and you didn’t have to go looking for them, they were everywhere. So pretty.
–They have good roads for the times when we did travel by car. Logical exits, well maintained, mostly clear of massive traffic and wide. Panama and Mexico need to take notes.
–We loved some of the food they had here. Every blog post I’ve done from the Netherlands had some mention of food. Two words: Frite Sauce. Wow.
–The girls loved the freedom they had here. We lived in a small town so they could hop on their bikes and go to town for groceries (usually involving sugar), or they took the train into Amsterdam by themselves, or even went on bike rides together or separately. It was wonderful to let them explore on their own and they usually came back and insisted we go out and see the new places they discovered.
–I mentioned retail in “crappy” but we did find a few gems. We found a ukulele store that specialized in ukulele sales and instruction. That was so fun for Zoe to get her birthday present and have a few lessons, which we will continue on Skype.
–The people watching was fantastic. All the cafes positioned their chairs to look out and it was so fun to watch all the people / bikes / dogs go by. The people on their bikes with dogs were triple bonus points. We loved seeing all the different ways people transport their goods on bikes. The little kids in carseats in bike baskets were super cute too.
–We had a very good Airbnb outside of the city with great, stable internet, room for us all to spread out and a fantastic neighbor who had dogs that loved Zoe. It was not our most spruced-up Airbnb but it was really great for the space, natural light, location and internet so it was one of my favorites.
–The transportation watching was also fantastic. They use the canals as a transportation method as well so it was fun to see all the different boats go by. On King’s Day it was packed with cold partiers wearing orange. There was really good people watching that day too. And then you can find all kinds of other forms of transportation including mini cars that go on the bike paths and even Segways.
–The country was beautiful, especially because we were here at tulip season. The fields were green, or totally decked out in colors from the tulips, and the cows and sheep and horses were everywhere, but had plenty of room to roam freely. The Dutch countryside is just beautiful. And you stumble across windmills naturally as well.
So all in all, did we like it in the Netherlands? Yes, I think we can all say that we did. For 3 of us it’s our current favorite country. Dan said he can’t fully love a country that doesn’t have fountain drinks.