Moving to Holland is not easy, but it's worth the effort. This blog tells the story of shifting from American life in Pittsburgh to Expat life in the Netherlands,
and all of our European adventures that follow.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Bikes vs. Fries

I think I’ve always had the notion that Europeans were super healthy, and health conscious when it comes to the food they eat. I’m not sure why I thought this, or where that notion came from, but I’ve learned that this is not always the case. I also sometimes find it hard to make healthy choices here when there are limited options. When we arrived, I was surprised by the amount of fried foods that the Dutch eat: croquettes & bitterballen, kaas soufflĂ©, chicken nuggets, meatballs, etc. They also love to eat French fries (patat), dipped in mayonnaise. When bought on the street, fries are served in a paper cone with a ton of mayo on top. In restaurants, they are served as a side with almost every meal, even in nice restaurants where I would typically expect a baked potato, mashed potatoes or rice.

Historically, I think the Dutch have a similar culture to that of West Virginia. People used to do tough, physical labor for their jobs and required extra calories. West Virginian’s were coal miners and steel workers, and the Dutch were farmers and mill workers. But, now the habits & food traditions remain, even though jobs have changed. Still, given the similar histiries, you don’t see as many overweight people in Europe as you do in the US. Maybe it's because people walk and bike everywhere, and live a generally more active lifestyle. Or maybe it's just in their jeans to be tall and lean (the Dutch are the tallest people in the world).

Although they love their fried snacks, the typical Dutch person also eats a fair amount of 'simple' foods, such as bread, cheese, meats & fruit. A normal breakfast might simply be a piece of bread, possibly with choco spread or butter and chocolate sprinkles (this still makes me laugh). For lunch, a simple sandwich might consist only of bread with cheese, bread with lunch meat, tuna or egg salad. If in a deli they will add cucumber & egg slices. They will typically only eat one 'hot' meal a day, so if they have a warm lunch, they will have a simple, or cold dinner.

One other frustration for me is that it is very difficult to find healthy foods in the grocery store or food stores. Short of pure foods such as raw fruits and veggies, bread, fish, etc, there are not many healthy food choices. Most of the packages and prepared foods are processed & unhealthy. At the Saturday market, you can find some nice produce, grains, nuts or seeds, etc. It’s just nice to have these choices right in the grocery store. But, that is just one convenience that I will have to look forward to when we move back home.


Thursday, October 1, 2009

Rotterdam Events & Festivals

One of the nice things about living in Rotterdam is that it hosts many festivals and events. Luckily for us, we live in a great location to be able to easily take full advantage of these opportunities. In the summer months, there are numerous free concerts and festivals in the park just down the street from our apartment, Het Park. For example, it may be a music festival where they set up several stages throughout the park, each with a different band or type of music playing throughout the day. There are also vendors selling food, drinks, jewelry, clothes, etc. I even found my green jacket with the flowers on the shoulder and sleeve at such a festival.

There are also a few parades through the city center such as the Dance Parade, Summer Carnival, and others such as Queen’s Day (described in a separate post). On the Witte de Withstraat, a trendy, cultural street in the city but near our house, they often shut the street down to car traffic and host open block parties or festivals. Rotterdam also hosts an International Film Festival each year, and occasionally the North Sea Jazz Festival.

Each year, there is also the World Harbor Days (Wereld Haven Dagen), which is held along the river shoreline right next to our apartment. There are several large ships that dock that you can walk on and tour. There are displays on the river from the fire brigade and rescue crews, including a mock helicopter rescue off of a boat.

Speaking of large ships, there are often big cruise ships that come up the river to dock right by the bridge. You can really see how large they actually are when you compare them to the buildings on the shoreline. The ships are taller than most buildings, and are about 2/3 of the bridge height. It is also interesting to see when they turn the ships around using tug boats. The cruise ship takes up almost the entire width of the river.

Another interesting event by the river was the Red Bull Air Race, in July 2008. Unfortunately, they decided to change the free show to a paid show where you had to buy tickets to sit inside the barriers that they put up along the river. We could still hear the planes, and watch when they made the high aerial loop at the end of the route by the Erasmus Bridge.

Rotterdam also hosts the Bavaria City Racing each August. They shut down all of the major streets in the city center and held an exhibition for Formula 1 race cars. We stood on the side of the street and the cars were incredibly loud as they flew by. The city also hosts one of the fastest marathons in the world each year (probably because it’s so flat).

Ironically, just as in Pittsburgh, we are in an ideal location to see several fireworks displays each year. The Erasmus Bridge is “the” spot in Rotterdam for fireworks for many occasions and holidays. We can actually see the higher ones from our front window or balcony. If we want the full display we simply have to walk a couple blocks down to the riverfront.

Although I think Chad and I are growing a bit wary of living directly in the city, and all of the noises and craziness that comes along with it at times, we do like the convenience of being in the middle of the action. So, wherever we live in the future, although it might be further out of the city, we will need to ensure that there is an easy way to get to the action with public transport. That is a tall order in the US, but hopefully we can find a place like this.