Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Fiets: check!

I think I already bothered everyone I talked to in person during the past couple of weeks with this fact but: The dutch language is sometimes onomatopoetic in a simply adorable way and this shows especially in the words for bike and motorbike:
A bike is fiets in Dutch. And a motorbike is a bromfiets!
(You might have to read this one out loud..)

So, one of the basic clichés about the Netherlands is not only a cliché: Really everyone here is going everywhere by bike in probably every kind of weather and I was told some people even move house by bike. And, having left my faithful old bike back in Karlsruhe, I needed one, too!

Fortunately one of the activities during the Introduction Week hosted by the university was the Expedition Hashtag, a sort of scavenger hunt through Amsterdam. On three different locations, we were given several hints according to which we had to find small cards with a hashtag sign. The first 5 people for each location to find one of these cards won a customized university bike, as easy as that.

My subconscious seems to have been quite eager to win something, as it presented me the night before the Expedition with a classic nightmare that ended with me missing the expedition since I was late and didn't have the shirt we had to wear. Yay.

I was quite relieved when in reality everything went well for me: I was on time at the meeting point behind the main station, did not drown when we took the ferry and managed to find one of the first cards at our first location in Amsterdam Noord. Hello new bike!
The other locations where we had to hunt were Jordaan and the beautiful Vondelpark - both were not so pretty in the cold, cold rain. Once we were done (apparently we were the fastest group they had had, probably due to the rain) we went to a belgian pub, to warm ourselves from the inside with a beer or two.


Today I could pick up my new means of transportation and was provided with the best possible weather to take my little beauty for a first ride! Since we had to collect the bikes at the VU campus down south in Uilenstede, my way home took me along the Amstel river, past Amstel park, and through some rural areas with sheep, cattle, ponies and lots of flowers. And I saw my first windmill!

On a side note: as it might be possible to glimpse from the photos, the bike, as most bikes around here, does not have any gears and no hand brake. I'll definitely have to get used to that.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Arrival in a new home...

View from our temporary apartment
(was able to catch a stretch of good weather)
So, on Monday evening we finally arrived in our new home city - later than we had planned, thanks to the Deutsche Bahn which as usual did its best to present us with a variety of excuses why we had accumulated yet another hour of delay.

These first days have been quite busy and it is only today, with the rain pouring down since the early morning, that I manage to find some quiet time to write down some first impressions.
Ah, the rain, I guess I'll have to get used to it: with more than 200 rainy days per year in Amsterdam we decided that our strategy should be to be happy every time the sun is shining instead of complaining about the weather. Buying a rain-cape is on our list as well. The last days have been rather Irish, with fast changes between sun, clouds and rain...while today it's just rain and thunderstorm and I don't feel compelled at all to leave the apartment (not even to check out the cake store around the corner someone on Twitter recommended!).

On Tuesday I went to see my university for the first time (yes, I applied to VU without having ever been to the campus!), and got enrolled at the International Students' Office Arrival Days. Finalizing my enrollment, a short chat with a faculty advisor about choosing my classes and signing up for the ESN was all I could do there unfortunately: In the dutch system, a lot of official things (creating a bank account, mobile phone contracts, ...) require you to have a burgerservicenummer (BSN), which is obtained during the registration at the municipality (Gemeentelijke Basisadministratie Persoonsgegevens/GBA). This registration is only possible with a valid adress and a rental contract - since we haven't found an apartment yet, I'll have to sort out the bank account and some insurances myself, and couldn't profit from having all the companies and the municipality officer there at the Arrival Days. But the important thing is: I'm enrolled and now officially a student again!

Wednesday passed quickly as well: Introduction day at the university, with several welcome presentations by university faculty and alumni, a campus tour (of course) and a short dutch language class. Among the international students, Brazilians, Germans and Italians seem to present the majority, but that might be just my personal impression. I was able to find several of my classmates for the MSc CS, from what I was told we will be about 80 students all in all, distributed over several specialization topics. And I was told that (although I'll only believe this once I see it myself) there will be around 40% girls in the Computer Science Master, ha!

Iamsterdam logo in front of the Rijksmuseum