Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A few random updates and oh I bought a bike

Let's see, where shall I start from. Not that my life here is sooo more exciting than yours. But I like to share my quirk thought and Dutch findings here.

Well, first things first. Autumn has arrived. Rain and cold had preceded it, but leaves have just started to fall, and it's beautiful. Splashes of yellow and orange brightening up the streets.

You might also have heard that a couple of days ago a storm hit us..  It did not have a fancy girl's name as its US sisters, but was nicknamed "St. Jude," after the patron saint of lost causes. Ahah - how ironic. St Jude brought winds up to 160km/h and 20 to 40mm of rain in just 9 hours.
In Amsterdam, 2 people died, hit by a falling tree. It's so sad and tragic, because it's such a surreal and improbable death.
All trains to and from Amsterdam's central station were blocked and many flights in Schiphol were cancelled. 

Me, I did not even realize how bad it was. Except from a little difficulty cycling to the station in the morning, I spent the day at the pc and was safe inside.

Photo credits Tamara Bok
The weekend was nice. Lots of nice people, places and things do see and do.

On Sunday afternoon I decided to inaugurate my new Dutch grammarbook and I went to study to Utrecht University's Central Library.
It's such a beautiful place!
Back in my university days, I was studying in a small city of Italy, and the university buildings were all small, old and sad. I am not used to fancy classrooms and libraries. Imagine my surprise when I saw THIS!
Free wi-fi, a cool bar, couches, a beautiful view...the small-town girl that it's in me could not believe her eyes.

Here is another Utrecht highlight that I photographed on my way to the library: Nijntje zebra crossing! You cannot really tell from the picture, but the shape of the traffic light it's hers!

But here we come to the highlight of my incredibly adventurous life: ik heb een fiets!!! I have a bike!
I really needed to buy one after using J's bike for almost a month. I was looking for a classic "omafiets", one of those vintage bikes - the name literally means "grandma's bike" - that you were almost run over by while wandering one of Amsterdam's narrow streets.

I could not find the bike I wanted in one of the many second-hand shops in Utrecht, so my colleagues suggested that I check - the Dutch ebay. It's all in Dutch, but thanks to my friend Google Translator and J I was able to locate a few that I really like. The price is cheap, I paid 70 € for a bike in perfect conditions, and I was willing to pay more because I am a silly Italian fashion-victim who really wanted a pretty bike over a bargain ahah. Dutch people usually pay 30 or 40 € for a used bike, so I know I was naive, but I don't care! I love my bike!

Monday, October 28, 2013


(please note this post is a late translation of the BSN Italian post from 21st October)

It's here...finally!

My BSN has finally arrived!

This means that I finally EXIST. BSN ergo sum.

I can open a bank account, subscribe to a mobile service plan, get a Health Insurance, go to the doctor...

I know this kind of "bureaucratic" posts is not very popular, but I am posting it for someone who, in the future, might need to go through this process.

If you move to the Netherlands from another country, you have to register within 5 days after your arrival. You need to register if you are staying in the Netherlands for at least four months within a period of six months.

You have to register personally. Your partner and children also have to attend, if they are moving with you.

Documents needed for a BSN application:

  • valid identification (ID or passport)
  • a lease or deed of your house. If you do not have one of these documents, you must have written and signed permission from the owner of the property, together with a copy of his or her ID.
  • a recent birth certificate (when born abroad)
  • a wedding certificate (if and when married abroad)

If you do not have EU/EER nationality, you need to apply for a residence permit at the Naturalisation and Immigration office (IND).

If your stay is shorter than four months, you can apply for a ‘Sofi-nummer' (Tax and Social Security number).

To find out where you should go to apply for the BSN, google the website of the municipality where you are going to live, or check this link.

It's a good idea to call and schedule an appointment in advance, so that you won't have to wait. On the agreed date, just show up with all the documents and in 15 minutes you will be out again!

From the day you apply for the BSN, a countdown is started: for example you have 4 months to get a health insurance or apply for the 30% ruling.

The BSN is issued within a few weeks, but waiting times change a lot between cities: while Amsterdam is super fast (many acquaintances reported they got it on the very same day of the application!), in Utrecht I had to wait for 15 days. Keep that in mind when planning your relocation, as without the BSN you won't be able to get paid, and many companies have tight deadlines for your data to be inserted in their payroll.

The BSN is nothing more than a number. Weirdly enough, it will be sent via standard mail, not e-mail. It's sad that they are waisting such a useless amount of paper in a civilized country like the Netherlands...but in this respect the country is not as advanced as I would have thought...for example they do not separate their rubbish! And, they always ask you if you want a receipt in shops, but they'll print it anyway, and throw it away if you say "no"...what is this???

Lol, enough for today, see you soon!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

About Rain

Everybody I met here, from colleagues to housemates and friends of friends, has been asking me why I left Italy (pictured as a fairytale land where the sun is always shining) to live in the Netherlands. Most of them believe that the weather here is shit, and when I point out that so far it hasn't been that bad they smile a sardonic smile and tell me "wait and see".

We indeed had a few days of non-stop raining, but the sky is almost always dry on evenings, and today not a single drop was shed.

It may be true that things are gonna get tough when the winter kicks in and the rain will be paired with strong winds and icy temperatures: but I hope by then my immune system will have raised its guard. And after cycling under the rain for a few days, I must say it is not as bad as I thought, but not a pleasant experience either ahah :/

The worst part of it - I am gonna be totally honest with you guys - is that rain makes my hair go curly. No joke here. This, for me, is the worst thing. I have been fighting a battle of brushing for years against my sloppy curls, and it is quite frustrating to be defeated by the weather. Imagine spending 30 minutes of your time brushing, combing and straightening your mane with surgical meticulousness, then after 10 seconds of closing the front door watching your silky and perfect locks turn into a wild frizzy mass that is more intricated than a rastaman's dreadlocks. I am horrified.

The second worst thing is not being able to use an umbrella, A. because it could dangerously function as a sail and drag the bike (and you with it) to smash against a pole or a garbage bin, B. because the umbrella is gonna be all torn and bent by the wind and you might as well throw it away. So, what do you do? You wrap your scarf around your head (Ducth people don't even do this) and then everything smells like rain and wet wool. Plus, you get a sore throat for having your scarf on your head and not your neck.

Using an umbrella on a bike is not a good idea

The third worst thing is putting your buns on the seat to find it soaking wet. You can feel the wet sensation extend rapidly through the layers of clothing until it reaches the soft skin of your butt. Not nice. Then you sit on a white suede chair at a friend's place and leave a dark wet stamp (true story). Definitely not, not nice. Please don't tell me I should wipe the seat before sitting on it, 'cause unlocking the bike under the water is not a fun experience and I would not want to double the torture by having to carry aroung a wet towel or wet seat cover.

The fourth worst thing is having your hands wet and full of dirt after you unchain the bike which was left under the rain. Pair the dirt under your nails to your hands being red and swollen from the cold, and you'll get the perfect desperate homeless look. Maybe I should get some waterproof gloves, or just give in to the weather and do as Dutch people do: ignoring the rain and pretending is not there. The only concession they make is some technical water-proof jacket, but I am not surrendering my fashion sense to bad weather.

My next purchase will be a nice vintage cape, which will make me feel oh-so-cool and oh-so-hipster while I succumb to the rain.

Maybe I am gonna succumb for real, like, I mean, falling with the bike and everything into a canal due to a sidewalk landslide. Sweet. Picture taken on my way home from work.

Have a nice water-proof day!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A weekend in Utrecht

It's been more than a week since my last post, a quiet week without surprises, which is why I had nothing new to post.

Time flies, and my second weekend in Utrecht came and passed. I was planning a quiet weekend at home, with a good book and a cup of tea, since rain had been forecasted. On Saturday morning - to my big surprise - the sky was showing some blue between the clouds. I did not feel like wasting the day, so I took my bike and cycled towards the city-center for a nice breakfast.

My first stop was Sector 3, a café that - despite the horrible name that makes me think of a sci-fi B movie - is very nice and cozy. It is also a bakery and they make some delicious croissants. I sat on a couch right under the big windows facing the main canal of the city, and I spoke my first undying words in Dutch: Mag ik een latte macchiato en een croissant, alstublieft (which very mundanely means "I'd like a latte macchiato and a croissant please").

After polishing off the breakfast and reading a few pages of my book, I left the café and walked to my second stop: the Utrecht Centraal Museum. The building where the museum is located is very beautiful, with old red-brick walls and a contrasting modern and eclectic interior. The collection though is not as interesting as the location, with the exception of the famous Rietveld's De Stijl chair. Another interesting item is the 1000-year-old boat that is kept in the museum's basement and which really smells terribly! The strong smell is due to the preservative substance used to treat the wood, which is the same used for rails (that indeed smell bad, too). The boat is animated by an artistic but gloomy installation with creepy sounds and lights which made me run away in no time.  The rest of the collection is temporary exhibitions and a few paintings bu the Utrecht Caravaggisti (who, as the name suggests, were inspired by the Italian painter Caravaggio).

The third stop was cute: the price of the Centraal Museum also included access to the Dick Bruna Huis, a little museum dedicated to the character of the little rabbit Nijntje (in Italy it is known as Miffy) and her creator Dick Bruna, who was born and bred in Utrecht.
I really LOVE Miffy! The museum is full of toys, drawing materials and books that kids can use freely. The Netherlands really is a children- friendly country: you see a lot of them around, and there appears to be a large number of places and activities for kids everywhere.The best part of the museum is a documentary about the work and life of Bruna, which also shows his drawing techniques: he draws the outline of the image on a transparent sheet, and then colours it using hand-cut coloured cardboard in just 5 colours - green, blue, yellow, orangey red and sometimes brown. He draws inspirations for his work from Matisse and Mondrian.

After leaving the museum I thought I would have a little walk. Down by the Oudegracht canal I run across the Saturday flower market: it is not as huge as the one in Amsterdam, and during the autumn the variety of flowers is somehow limited, but it is truly stunning. It was fun hearing the peddlers shout just as they do in Italy at food markets!

I then entered Hema, the iconic Dutch department store where you really can find anything: from bycicles to makeup and clothing. The Hema has a reputation of selling the best smoked sausages in the Netherlands, and I could not help myself! I bought a mixed pack of sausage + stamppot (mashed potatoes with cabbage or other vegetables) and I left with a smile on my face!

On that night I had planned a girls' night out with my housemate J. After a nice dinner and a home-made mojito, around 11pm we cycled under the rain to a bar on the Oudegracht. The place was a sort of Irish pub with a lot of people standing and drinking beer before they headed to some club. It was very busy and we were sharing a small table with some very social Dutch guys with whom we had a chat. We then went to a small club where we danced the night away. It was good fun! I am lucky to have J. as a housemate.

On Sunday I had lunch at Mr. and Mrs. M, my Italian colleague and his wife (but I should say friends by now!). Mr. & Mrs. M are sweet and kind people who have helped me a lot with settling down in Utrecht. They've become an important reference in my new life. On top of it, they are generous and wonderful hosts and Mrs. M is an amazing cook! On Sunday she had prepared hand-made gnocchi for us. It was a lovely lunch with some of their friends as well, who are also fun and interesting people. I had good fun!

Thumbs up for this second weekend. Now I am looking forward the coming one, which will also be filled with love, friends and merry gatherings!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Cycling around Utrecht

First weekend in Utrecht. Yesterday I went cycling around Utrecht with my housemate H., who promised to show me "something very Dutch". The sun was shining, the temperature was perfect, the meadows incredibly green.

It was a beautiful day...

Friday, October 4, 2013

Ladies and gentlemen, the Netherlands!

It's amazing how many things happened since the last time I posted.

Over the last 5 days I moved to Utrech, I got settled into the new house, I tried the thrill of being an immigrant queuing outside the town hall, I cycled like a real Dutch girl in a new city which was also (incredibly) full of sun, I made friends, I started to work in a new company, read signed and approved tons of paperwork.

But let's go in order.

On Sunday I found my housemate H. and some of her friends waiting for me at the airport. We had a beer, then H. and I got on the train to Utrecht, to fin J. at the station waiting for us with her car (and saving us a long walk home with the luggages...yay!). Janne also prepared a fusion dinner with pizza, kroketten and frikandel. What lovely housemates!!!

If you are following me on Instargram you'll have seen that my place is absolutely LOVELY: my room is small but cozy, and there are a big living room and a dining room decorated with great taste.
I took some pics which I wanted to post, but I've had some problems with my laptop, and I haven't been able to download them. As soon as I fix the computer, I will post them!

On Monday morning at 9 I had scheduled an appointment at the Gemeente Huis of Utrecht for my BSN.
I already had all the paperwork done (including the much logned for address statement) and at 8.48 I was already outside the building, waiting. The door opened exactly at 9 o'clock, and by 9.15 I was outside again. The Netherlands is no game for Italy and its wearingly slow bureaucracy...but not so much, as I will only receive my BSN within 2 weeks from the application :(

Sooo, without a BSN, unable to subscribe to a mobile provider, opening a bank account, or doing anything else, I just cycled around and had a slow breakfast in a beautiful café overlooking a canal. Then I went for groceries, unpacked, took some pictures of the house, and STUDIED DUTCH (ghghgh) until my homies came home and we had dinner together.

The next day I was up to a bigger first day of work at the new office!

The fateful day started with me snoozing the alarm (set at 6.30) and opening my eyes half an hour later. My resolutions of straightening my hair calmly, having breakfast calmly, packing my lunch calmly and leaving home calmly were blewn off. But I still managed to do all od that, and at 7.55 I met with my Italian colleague to cycle together to the station, from where the company shuttle leaves.

My first great cultural shock was parking the bike at the station. The picture below shows my bike (actually J.'s bike, who very kindly lent it to me) while it's being loaded onto the upper level (UPPER LEVEL) of the bikes rack.

Yes, it was about to fall on my head

You cannot compare the size of these bike racks to those of Amsterdam's station, but it's still quite an impressive view.

They're all bikes!

The bus was full of young people from different nationalities, and this had a nice feeling to it. The sun was shining outside and the view outside the window was all green and tidy...could you ask for more?!

Once we go to the office I met some of the new hires and together we waited for the HR to pick us up from the lobby, where we were entertained by a Britney Spears video.

A good beginning makes a good ending

We spent the first hour with the HR team, handing in some documents (I was the only one not having done them yet :( ...), briefly going through company policies, and soon enough off we go to our team! I was greeted by smiles and handshakes, then my boss introduced me to the company, the organizational chart, the team, etc etc... He gave me a bi-weekly planning of my training, with names, topics, times and rooms...I was surprised by how accurate it was. He had even prepared an organizational chart of our team, the e-Commerce team, with pictures of my colleagues! Mine as well! "This wasy it should be easier to remember their names" he said. Love it!

It was soon lunch time (12.30). Together with my team we went to the company canteen, where (for just 3 €) I bought a tartare hamburger, an apple and a bottle of water. You can also pack your lunch and eat it there, use the microwave and condiments, buy the ingredients for a sandwich, or just buy a hot meal. Awesome.

I noticed what they say it's true: Ducth people think of food as a source of energy, they don't give it the same important we do as Italians. Two slices of bread with some cheese is a proper meal, so the lunch break is quite short (half an hour). At 1pm we were back to our desks, not before we all had free coffee (and chocolate, and tea)!

The afternoon was heavier, as my boss showed me some complex reports, but it was pretty interesting and you could tell that he was putting a lot of passion in it. Passion and dedication, but never excessive: at 5pm everybody goes home, and that's just normal.

The bad thing was that at the end of the day I was feeling sick, either it was the cold or a virus, I started to feel nausea, headache and a burning in my throat and eyes. After work I went straight to a sort or supermarket/drugstore - but of course I could not understand a shit of what was written on the boxes, so I made the mistake of trusting a shop assistant/pharmacist, who gave me some expensive homeopathic pills who didn't have any effect apart sweetening my mouth...

At the shop, still full of hope

Luckily J., who's a nurse, gave me something that made me feel good at once!

Then some cake and a tea before going to bed set me on foot again.

The rest of the week passed by quite quickly, things at work are still slow, but I feel I am gradually adjusting to the new environment.

My goal for the weekend is going out, doing something pleasant, and studying Dutch. Let's see if I can get it all done!