Sunday, March 30, 2008

Amsterdam by canal

Have I mentioned that it has snowed here a few times since my arrival? After our return from Budapest, I went over to compare Atlanta Jim's apartment (old brewery storehouse with walk out window to the Brouwersgracht - Brewer's Canal) to my options, and on the walk back was caught in a full-on blizzard. I may have considered this a beautiful scene, had I not been battling the winds in ballet shoes with no socks - not to mention any hat or gloves - and dodging little evil boys' snowball attacks. Note to self, learn how to say brat in Dutch.
Thursday night, Tom and Heather invited me over for dinner. We were joined by three ex-coworkers. After a nice tour of Tom & Heather's perfect (great neighborhood, modern interior, nice furnishings, lots of storage...basically exactly what I want) apartment, we went on a nighttime canal cruise. Seeing Amsterdam and learning lots of it's quirky history from the water was just amazing. I particularly liked the dancing - aka sinking therefore leaning - houses we learned about during the tour.

The big experience of this weekend was a visit to the movies to see Juno. The Dutch subtitles and clinking of beer glasses & coffee cups weren't too distracting, but the 10 minute intermission, and possibly the lack of popcorn, sure were.
Had a pretty uneventful Sunday, just battled the hordes to do a little shopping for my big trip this week and explored Rembrandt Square. Shops close here at 6pm every night but Thursday so the weekends tend to turn into a human traffic jam on the main shopping streets. Interesting Dutch observation, I have noticed a a few guys listening to iPods and singing their hearts out while cycling around. The first one I assumed was just crazy, but as I saw the next, then the next, I've come to decide the Dutch have an innate craving to be rockstars on bicycles. For those of you that are anxious for more exciting updates just stay tuned......
tomorrow it's off to DUBAI!!!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A Hungarian Easter

Gerry, Atlanta Jim, and I arrived to snow flurries in Budapest Thursday afternoon, and after we checked into the swanky New York Palace hotel we sampled the guylas (goulash), which interestingly in Hungary it’s a delicious soup and not a casserole, at the lobby café. Following our snack, I had a great workout in the cave gym - it was a bit difficult to see the buttons on the machines but I managed - and then a relaxing bath. At dinner I met the local partners I will be working hand in hand with for all of Eastern Europe. The intros were a big success and my new partners, Gabor, Sandor, and Marton were great fun. And the traditional Hungarian dinner we had was fantastic, fried (Easter) chicken with boiled potatoes and some surprisingly tasty local wine.
After work on Friday, we had another tremendous dinner with Gabor – this time duck breast – then met a bunch of our coworkers at a very cool warehouse-type club called Corvin Teto in Blaha Square. The Eastern European scene was very much what we expected, an incognito entrance, funky techno-type music, fencing & gates separating different rooms – it was extremely cool.
On Saturday we walked the sites of Budapest, first stop was for a fantastic pizza (who knew!) then by the Szent Istvan Bazilika (St Stephen church, a tribute to Hungary’s first king) on our way to the Danube river to check out the castle on the Buda side and the medieval Szechenyl Lanchid “chain bridge.” Unfortunately there wasn’t enough time to go into the castle so I will have to wait to experience the underground labyrinths on my next trip. Back on the Pest side of the river, we enjoyed a coiled, cinnamon & honey pastry on the walk back to our hotel.
Saturday night visited the 400 year old thermal baths at Rudas Gyogy furda. There was a large tiled central bath surrounded by four smaller hot-tub sized baths ranging in temperature of icy-cold to super, super hot, and two saunas, one wet & menthol and the other dry – both temps were 200 degrees at minimum. The baths did not open until 10pm and this particular one is only for men throughout the week but women are allowed in on Friday & Saturday night. We did not get home until 3am!! It was a very different experience, but very relaxing and interesting.
After we closed the show on Easter Monday, which is a day off in Europe, Atlanta Jim and I found a wine tasting festival we had heard was going on in one of the city squares. It was amazing to see that Hungary produces such tasty wines! After the wine fest we met our colleagues for dinner at a very trendy, contemporary Hungarian restaurant called Menza. My friends told them it was my birthday so I would get a dessert with a Roman candle in really is the little things that excite me. The city was just amazing, the company with me fantastic, and my first international business trip very memorable & successful!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Crazy climate

The sun shined brightly down on my way to Centraal this morning, departing the station via train 10 minutes later, I noticed it had rained while I was inside!

St. Patty’s Day

My first weekend in the Dam was, well, sort of uneventful. On Saturday I checked out the neighborhoods of the rentals I will see Wednesday. The first location, 57 Keizersgracht, was love at first site -- quiet, safe, close to loads of shops, Centraal station, and just blocks from Steven’s & a few other coworkers homes. I can’t wait to see this place and find out if it is anywhere near as nice on the inside as it is on the outside!
Since I was so close, I stopped by Steven’s to share my excitement and see the weekend market that takes place on his street. They had everything! Produce, cheese, clothes, jewelry, BIKES! How cool it would be to live by this....
After a brief visit at Steven’s, we walked to O’Reilly’s Irish pub to watch the England vs. Ireland rugby with some of his friends that I met at Thanksgiving. It was really great seeing some familiar faces and knowing there is really good network of Expats living here.
Sunday I was slightly "under the weather" so I spent the day watching the “Hogan Knows Best” - English, but with Dutch subtitles – marathon on MTV and nursing myself back to health.
Monday was back to the office, but it was a short day since my boss had to get home and prepare for the St. Patrick's Day dinner party he was hosting. My coworker, Jim M. and I met Tom – Heather’s husband (she’s out of town for work in Italy) - at his AMAZING loft for Irish stew and Guinness. There were eight of us, my boss Gerry, his Dutch wife who was just lovely, three of their friends – one Dutch, one English, and one Irish, and the three American coworkers. It was a night of delicious food, great conversation, and some good laughs….a wonderful, multi-cultural, way to spend my first holiday in Amsterdam.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Finding a home

Today’s fun was apartment hunting! My realtor, Besim, a 30-something man, dressed in a pin-stripe suit drove me and my Settle Services consultant, a nice Dutch woman named José (pronounced – YO– SEY) around in his silver Peugeot, with hands free cell phone that worked through the dashboard (clever Dutch!), to my options. Stop number one was a first floor apartment near the Heineken brewery and the Rijksmuseum, the national art museum of the Netherlands. It was an old building with furniture that did not suit my taste so I ruled this one out almost as soon as I heard the owner’s barky terrier. Our next stop on the Geldersekade was amazing...hardwood floors, stainless steel appliances, leather furniture, a beautiful canal view, etc. The drawback was location - just 2 blocks from the seedy red light district. When I realized there was a four person, exposed plastic pee station for men at the end of the block it was pretty much a no-go! The final stop was Javakade, a very spacious & to-die-for furnished place with an absolutely incredible view/balcony overlooking the water, but again location was an issue. This one was on an island that had only recently been developed so there wasn’t much there but apartment buildings. I decided this isn’t the spot for me right now, but maybe after I’ve spent a few years in the city centre I will want the peace, quiet, and space that location offers. Needless to say I’m not feeling a fit with any of the places we saw today so we’ve scheduled another viewing tour for Wednesday. Hopefully I will have more luck then. Tonight I'm off for more Mexican with an ex-coworker friend, who is in town through end of May. Should be another good night catching up with some old friends in my new town!

Friday, March 14, 2008

First day at the office

This morning brought a reunion with my good friend Steven at Centraal station…was really good to see him and to know we would be working together once again. We ran into my boss, Gerry, and his boss, Rob, who was visiting from the states, and all hopped the 9:30 to Schiphol airport and 20 minutes later were greeting my other new colleagues at the office. Charles, our European PR Manager, was very helpful in showing me around – we got coffee at the world’s worst & slowest Starbuck’s and breakfast at a grocery store in the airport. I didn’t have much work to do, so I spent the morning chatting with the guys (have I mentioned that I’m the ONLY female in my new office) and hearing about the different stuff they have been doing. After another nice lunch at Ginger’s, it was time for my big meeting with Gerry to discuss what markets I would be handling. On the list so far, Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Romania, Poland, possibly Belgium, and….drum roll please…..DUBAI!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Already this transfer is exceeding all of my wildest dreams and allowing me to explore parts of the world I have not yet been.
We wrapped up the day around 6 and headed back to the city where everyone went their respective ways. One colleague, Jim M, lives close to my hotel so he showed me the tram system to get back from the station. After a little rest we all met up for dinner at Margarita’s Mexican café. The enchiladas aren’t quite the same as home, but the guacamole was pretty close. Only a few of us went out for a night cap afterwards, but since the Irish pub closed at 12 – surprising for a Thursday night – we trekked to an American sports bar in Leidseplein…I can rest easy now that I won’t be missing the Super Bowl next year!


Jet lag hit this morning, I woke up at 8am, decided to shut my eyes for “ a few more minutes” and awoke 2+ hours later to the maids knocking on my door. Thank goodness for them, or else I would have missed my introductory meeting with the relocation agency. My consultant, Elma, and I had a great conversation about what to expect from living in Holland and tips on day to day life. She gave me a handy Dutch phrase book, a nice coffee table book of Holland, bank information, public transport schedules, maps, a “Food Shoppers Guide to Holland” and a “How to Deal with the Dutch” books. After digesting some of the info she gave me I called Heather to meet for lunch. We got some tomato soup and melted mozzarella & pesto “toasties” that were incredible and just right meal for the dreary, rainy day it was!
Once our bellies were sufficiently full, we strolled down the Singelgracht (canal) to the local Albert Heijn grocery store and had a quick spin around so I could get familiar with the products. It was very small, but all the basics were there including Pringles and, much to my pleasant surprise, peanut butter (although no Dutch brand could ever compare to my JIF)! After our grocery exploration we ventured to a little hidden nook the relocation consultation told me about called Begijnhof, an enclosed courtyard of beautiful private homes that dates back to the early 14th century. There was an amazing calm & quiet despite the hustle & bustle of the busy shopping district just outside.
We enjoyed our find for a little while then moved on to the Kalverstraat, a main shopping street. There we visited a HEMA, similar store to Target, and Blokker a lower quality version of the same. We strolled along the various shops, stopping in at an English book shop to compare prices to the states – at 15 euro average, approx $23 US, they were pretty pricey!, and looking at the street vendor’s beautiful tulips. We continued window shopping all the way to Dam Square, the most central square of the city, and then on to Centraal Station were Heather gave me a crash course on catching my daily train to work. On our way back we stopped in at the Coffee Company for a Moka latte and chocolate cookie. After a little break at our respective homes, we met for dinner at Rancho, an Argentinean steak house. As we finished up our red wines, I noticed a cat prowling around the restaurant. Heather explained that Amsterdam has mice problems so most places have a resident cat for rodent control. This cat sensed my apprehensions, because it sat next to our table and gave me the evil eye for what seemed like forever. Both parties finally got bored and he moved on.
We stopped for a pint at a small pub called Hoppe, which we learned from a fellow patron, named Dykstyk, that it is one of the contenders for the oldest in the city. Had fun meeting some local eccentric Dutch (the bartender could have passed for Albert Einstein’s brother), but had to call it a night around 12 so I could get a good night’s sleep before my FIRST full day in the office!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Amsterdam - my new home

Have only been in the Netherlands a few days and already I’m feeling right at home! Flights were fantastic - saw some incredible icy scenery on my 1 hour lay over in Iceland (fun fact–total population is only 313,000 and over 75% live in the capital city, Reykjavik) and just a few short hours later I was gazing down at the lush greenery of my new home.
After collecting my 80 lbs of baggage I found my new boss, a Dubliner named Gerry. He took me to our offices in the World Trade Center, which are connected to the airport, where we met another co-worker, Atlanta Jim and had a nice chat about the work I would be doing. I learned that Eastern Europe will be my territory and that I am already traveling to one of my new cities, Budapest!!, next week. There was mention of me possibly handling Dubai and Cyprus – a tropical island country close to Greece. I’m jumping out of my skin with excitement….already this situation is working out to be beyond my wildest dreams.
A few hours later we called a taxi and a very friendly Dutch man, named Erik, in a sharp silver Mercedes arrived to take me to my home for the next few weeks --- NH City Centre Hotel on Spuistraat, just a few blocks from one of the main shopping streets (how perfect!!) and Dam square, the center of Amsterdam.
In my room I had a long, hot shower and fell into my bed for a 2 ½ hour nap. For dinner I met Atlanta Jim & Heather, another co-worker’s wife at an Indonesian restaurant where we had rijsttafel – a Dutch colonial adaptation of "rice table," 13 spicy mini-dishes such as chicken satay, sweet & sour cucumber, coconut salad, pork in peanut sauce, etc. and Dommelsch beers. Everything was delicious and the conversation with my new friends/urban family was enlightening…I have a lot to do to get fully settled in my new city, like buy a bike and learn all the rules of riding & parking it (you could end up fined if you ride without your nightlight or towed if parked illegally!), but I am very, very happy to be here!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Made for business class

I feel a little out of place in my Nikes and zip up fleece, but I nonetheless I can get used to the jet-setting business class lifestyle. Arrival at JFK was a breeze!! No line at the “business class only” counter and after initial skeptical scrutiny from the check in counter, received directions to the private lounge area and whisked my way through security. The uber exclusive Terrace Lounge was the place to be. Inside I was greeted with the most gracious hospitality…a closet to deposit your jacket and carry-on, tranquil fountains, refreshments (open bar!) FREE for the taking, and a wonderful view of the tarmac from padded lounge chairs --- I felt an instant calm despite the 3 hour wait ahead. Am keeping an eye out for any potential celebs, this is NY after all, but so far only suits, tight t-shirt wearing Euros, a tormented artist type with unwashed hair & cowboy boots, and a few rock-n-rollers in top to bottom black leather. This big adventure is off to a running start, and in just 9 hours I’ll be an official Expat living in Amsterdam!!! For now I’m off for some complimentary snacks and hob knobbing with my fellow business class passengers…

On board....
First on, first off….am greeted with a nice glass of champagne, a menu in which to order my dinner, and real cutlery & glasses to enjoy my food. I’m never going back to economy!

Monday, March 3, 2008

1 week and counting

Well, my car is sold, the Boston market torche has been passed, and the apartment is empty --- my European adventure has nearly begun. Still not sure what countries I'll be working in or where I will be living (for the next 3 weeks it will be the NH City Centre Hotel), but I am bursting with excitement. Not much more to share today but stay tuned for the Amsterdam arrival update next week!