Before we had the apartment I stumbled across what I deemed the best omen one could ask for. It was Monday 19 September. The first day of apartment hunting and we had just dropped the kitties off at the cat hotel. Slowly walking along a canal en route to our first appointment I looked on the ground and saw it. Cha-ching. Money. Free money right there on the grass. I swooped down on the folded bill and held it high in my tight fist while letting go a savage cry. AAAAAAAAAAHAHAHAAHAHA!!!! Look at that, Amaia! Things are going so well in The Netherlands that they are just GIVING AWAY money!! The bill was folded and blue; at first glance I thought it was a twenty spot but upon closer investigation it was a damp fiver. Whatever, that’s two Grolschs or one Duvel at the pub compliments of 4% unemployment even amid the worst crisis since the Depression.
Since my lucky first day I have kept a close eye on the ground but I suppose I caught the tail end of the free money give away because I haven’t seen so much as a nickel since. Despite not being able to fill my coffers as I had hoped with free Dutch money, Amaia and I have been exploring this beautiful city and learning about the Dutch way of life.
The Dutch, by and large, do things similarly to most other Europeans. Just they do it on bikes. After our first full week as residents of The Hague I can confidently say that this is perhaps the most terrifying place to live ever. The terror factor of being plowed over by a very tall person on a very tall bicycle is slowly diminishing but recent arrivals beware: by the time you hear the single “Bing” of the bike bell, the front tire of the bicycle has already climbed your buckled leg and is now gaining purchase on your back.
Crossing the street is chaos so we do it as little as possible. In fact, the whole of the city is utter chaos to the outsider, but more on that later. Overcoming our fears of death or, at the least, of constantly almost being hit by bikes, we venture out to see some more of our neighborhood. Our street is lined with eateries, cafes, butchers, bakers, cheese shops, fruit stands and bars. It is truly European in the sense that you can do all of your shopping, not in one store, but in a series of smaller, more expensive stores. I can’t wait to stand in line six separate times to get my basic foodstuffs.
Transportation for those of us who are still sans fiets (two-wheeled death machines) is great. A robust system of buses and light rail trams is ready to take you anywhere in the city. We just got set up with our OV-chipkaart so now all we have to do is check in and out of the bus or tram. No more fishing for change, or in the case of San Francisco, spending five bucks for a bus ride because no change is given. Between the walk-ability of the city and the convenient public transportation to many of the key areas, getting around in The Hague is quite easy.
We have eaten out a couple of times and have had generally positive reviews of the fare. But coming from California where everyone is becoming increasingly foodie and from Spain where food is revered and mealtimes are events, it is hard not to be a bit underwhelmed by Dutch cuisine. The general mentality is that food is fuel; plain and simple. This bleak observation may be unfair but it is something that I noticed in my first two weeks. The positive to take away from this is that The Netherlands is a wealthy country therefore good, tasty, high quality food, albeit not national food, exists. Former colonies usually are a good source of food and in The Hague a thriving Indonesian population has brought its exotic flavors. Many Japanese restaurants can be found as well as Chinese, Italian, Korean and Thai.
Having said all that, I had a hankering for some not-so-good-for-you food and went down to my local snackbar. Sure it’s not terribly healthy but a falafel shawarma and french fries was hot, tasty and supremely satisfying. Best of all, it did not body slam my bank account into oblivion.
I am sure there is way more to living in The Hague than what I was able to scribble down over the last week, but we will surely get to those points later. Until then, has anybody experienced any surprises (good or bad) when moving to a different country? Mine was discovering that the Dutch have engineered a presentation shelf in their toilets. No other details are necessary.