Wednesday, May 16, 2012

March in Amsterdam

Enjoying spring in Amsterdam
March was not the easiest month for me. As I've said, beginning again here in Amsterdam has been harder than it was to settle down in Luxembourg. On the one hand, I'm working a lot more and enrolled in a very time-consuming German course, so I'm much busier than I ever was in Luxembourg and spend less time sitting around broke and bored.

Picnic with the kids at the local playground
I also like the small-town feeling here in Badhoevedorp - having parks, the post office, shops, swimming pool and library within walking distance means I get out and about a lot more with the kids. However, being busy means I spend less time socialising and meeting new people, and I'm finding it harder to make friends here than I'd hoped. Luckily I have met a couple of cool people, and anyway I'm pretty set on buckling down, working hard and saving some money while here to continue my travels.

Ollie found my lipstick, so I let him do mine too!
My new work routine is - home with Ollie on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday until Pepi is home from school, then I've got both of them until Jacquie is home from work, and then I help with dinner, bath and bedtime. Wednesdays and Fridays I have Ollie for a hour or so in the morning, and I do a couple of hours one weekend morning, plus babysitting. I'm enjoying the new deal, while I'm working a lot more and am finding it hard to fit everything else (including this blog!) into my free time, I like being at home alone with the kids, as I can set the tone and organize whatever I like for the day, and I love having a big part of the day with just Ollie - we can do things that I can't while I've got both kids.

being a fireman at a playground
He's a really different kid now he's getting so much more one-on-one time than he's ever had before. Even after just a week with Pepi at school he'd already picked up so many more words and become much more talkative and attention-demanding, now its hard to be out and about with both of them trying to draw my attention to things and have conversations at the same time. We did have one eventful week here in which both parents were away, and I had all three grandparents in the house in stages throughout the week. While its nice that the kids see them more often now, I think it would be less stressful for me to just cope with the kids alone! This same week, Ollie decided that 4am would be a good time to start the day a couple of times - I was not impressed with him, and not impressed with the grandparents who didn't give me a break during the rest of the day either, it was a really long week!

He's started using the big-boy swing!
One of Ollie's cutest new words has been 'freckle'. He can spend ages just pointing at 'more freckle, more freckle, more freckle' on my arms. We've really spent a lot of time exploring Badhoevedorp. We frequent several different parks, the scariest of which is, in true dutch style, bordered on three sides by water, and we often pop down to the supermarket or the bookshop, or to feed ducks in the numerous canals around here. The neighbourhood is, like almost everywhere in the Netherlands I think, filled with flowers, both lining the streets and in people's gardens and homes, and spring has truly arrived here, so Ollie has also become obsessed with the word 'flower'. Again, I get 'more flower, more flower, more flower' as he points to each individual one when we walk past. Pepi seems to be going well at school, he's made some friends and has frequent play dates, and it tires him out, but his dutch is apparently much better (at the expense of his english) and he seems a bit more mature now.

St Patricks Day at the Tara
I've met some couchsurfers here, having attended a casual meet up of just a couple of people, and run a couple of events myself. Anissa, a german-born, singapore/canada/netherlands raised woman and Carmela, a spanish au pair have been awesome to hang out with, we went out with a bunch of other CSers for St Patricks Day, they've introduced me to a couple of bars that are starting to become favourites, and they both went out with me for my birthday. I'm getting particularly fond of the Brouwerij 't IJ bar, a small brewery and bar located in an old windmill, and the Tara, an Irish pub that differs from all other Irish pubs I've been in by having many different rooms with strikingly different decor, from ultra modern to vintage. We started a pub-crawl of irish bars here on St Patricks Day, and went on to visit a couple more before calling it a night pretty early. I have to say, St Patricks Day was a bit of a disappointment here, I guess the Dutch just don't have as much Irish in them as New Zealander's do and didn't see it as a reason to don green and down Guiness, with the exception of all of the tourists.

My birthday cupcake at Vondelpark
My birthday was about as cool as a birthday can be when you're in a new place! I had the day off work and biked into the city for the first time with Jana. Biking into the city itself is pretty easy, you just go straight until you hit the centre. It's a bit over 8km and takes maybe half an hour, so I'm definitely adding to my exercise regime! However this day, we also went on a wild-goose-chase for a town hall, and that, combined with not having a map, made things a big stressful. Most of the way in is on a decent seperate bike path, but in the city the roadway 'bike path' doesn't stop you from having to dodge car, taxi and bus drivers, along with trams and pedestrians. Luckily, bikers outnumber everyone else here and seem to get priority, and everyone else is pretty aware and considerate of bikers. Still, I got Rogier to get me a helmet and I put up with everyone elses ridicule and wear it everywhere - I've had enough near misses with idiots not to want to take my chances.

Out with Anissa on my birthday
We eventually made it to Vondelpark, a popular park in the centre of the city, and had a little picnic under the first grey skies of the month. Pepi had helped me bake cupcakes the day before, so we lit one for me to blow out, and then quickly biked home again in the freezing cold. Later that night I went and had an awesome home-cooked curry with Anissa and her flatmate Willem, and the Carmela joined us to go to one of the bars in the WesterGasfabriek, a former gas plant that is now a big park with different bars, galleries, cafes and other cultural and artistic businesses set up in the various old factory buildings. It's very cool, and we picked a bar with a kind of swing/jazz band playing to a lively crowd and had an awesome night.

Me on the famous I AMsterdam sign
As I mentioned, I'm taking a German course here. I'm studying with the Goethe Institut, a German government run centre that provides really high-quality courses. I'm hoping to get some basic german under my belt before I move there in September, but the course is hard - its only one session of 2.5 hours per week, but its really intense, so there is a lot to memorize at home and not much time to practice listening and speaking. The vocabulary we've encountered so far is overwhelming, but I'm feeling ok about the grammar - I think listening and speaking will have to wait until I get to German to perfect!

More photos are here.

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