Why am I here?

Some of you have asked what am I doing in the Netherlands and others who is this Renate person. Well, the answer is the same for both questions.

A woman!

The lovely Renate is mijn meisje, a girl from Holland who couldn't find a suitor in her native land. One January three years ago she came to New Zealand and found one almost next door to her cousin Martin (that was handy).

Since then we have played a giant game of leap frog jumping back and fourth across the worlds oceans a couple of times a year. When we can, we spend several months together either traveling or exploring each others cultures.

So, "Why am I here?", to spend time with the one I love. To better know her family and friends, the Dutch culture, language and experience more of Europe.


Sooooooo cold....

The thermometer on my computer says 2 degrees, the one outside 25 degrees. I know which one is correct as the steam escapes from my mouth. I think Renate uses this old thermometer to make her feel better about the cold telling herself "it's not that bad".

Riding to school at lunchtime on Thursday felt like I had just eaten an entire tub of ice cream. I'm used to the cold and I love it but its a different sort of biting cold, the sort that freezes creatures in fantasy movies. Maybe it was the fact that I was traveling along the road at about 20kmph into a head wind that I was afraid to breathe for fear of my lungs freezing. Before leaving the house I thought "I shan't need my beanie & gloves" (I won't make that mistake again). I found out later that night Renate permanently has gloves in her jacket.

On Sunday we went for a walk in the woods near by to get a bit of fresh air and interrogate Jorien's (Renate's sister) new boyfriend. On the way back it started hailing but not the normal hail we are used to in New Zealand but a white hail with less mass. Later that evening I got my first taste of snow in the Northern Hemisphere but c'est la vie it didn't last.

When the sun is shining which is most of the time its rays are strong and warming but as soon as they cease a blank of cold returns.

As a welcome gift Renate presented me with a pair of klompen pantoffeltjes (clog slippers). They have certainly kept my feet warm at home.

Renate's place is riddled with pipes and radiators to keep the place warm. As they heat up the place gurgles as if its getting hungry. I don't know the last time I used a heater.


Party Party Party!!!

On Saturday it was Renate's birthday. She had arranged for some family and friends to drop in for the afternoon and evening. What she had failed to mention beforehand was that it was also a surprise welcome to Holland party for me!

As everyone arrived they also wished me a happy birthday for Renate which is the done thing here.

It started quietly with taart, koffie and thee (pie, coffee and tea) and as the evening came on more and more people started arriving. Most of the people I had met before but it was good to chat to everyone again filling in some of the blanks.

The dinner was a buffet style like we do in New Zealand where every brings a dish. This isn't the norm and was part of the New Zealand theme. Huge amounts of great food from Dutch worst (sausage) to pizzas, quiches and wraps. We still have some left overs in the fridge that I'm working through each lunchtime.


Settling in nicely

As well as St Patrick's day, Renate's Birthday, Issjah's birthday and Stella's birthday today also marks one week in The Netherlands.

I've been fighting off a cold for the best part of the week. Something I picked up in Auckland before I left but matured somewhat due to the interrupted sleep. It comes in handy having a doctor on hand so the antibiotics were quickly dispensed fighting off the bug.

The week has gone quickly getting everything organised from finding an office chair, signing up for Dutch lessons and registering with the local government so that they know I'm living at Renate's place with her permission (Everyone needs to register where they live).

On Tuesday, Renate had planned a belated Valentine's day and took me to Brugge for the night. We stayed in a B&B very close to the centre sampling the chocolates and beer on offer and taking in the old town and canals. After dinner we walked around the city again taking in the beautifully lit up buildings.

Even though the language is the same and they used to be part of the same country you certainly can see the difference when driving across the border and countryside. Everything is neat and tidy in Holland and their road signs are logical :-)

This week also saw the start on my Dutch lessons. Not on how to be a good Dutchy but how to speak the language. Peter, the tutor calls it the Chinese of Europe in that it's the hardest European language to learn. What have I got myself in for? It's a small class subsidised by the local government with a united nations of people from Estonia, Turkey, Thailand, Iraq, England, Croatia and Nieuw Zeeland. I'm coming into the class 2 months down the road so I'm going to have a bit of catching up to do. Pooky (sp?) has already invited us to a Thai meal in Germany with her Dutch husband.

This afternoon and evening we have a number of Renate's friends and family coming over for her birthday so that will be nice. I can practice some of my Dutch.

 "Mijn naam is Antony", "Ik woon in Nijmegen", "Ik ben in Nieuw Zeeland geboren".

Back to driving on the wrong side of the road and happy birthday to everyone having their birthday today. It is supposed to snow on Monday so I'm looking forward to it.


We are currently at Home Land Security threat level Orange

One of the many such announcements blasted out over the PA system feeling like I was in Bladerunner or the 5th Element. All my recent travel has been through Asia so this was the first time I have experienced the paranoia of the US security forces.

After the initial scare on the plane that I didn't have a smartchip passport things went relatively smoothly taking my finger prints, photo and emptying the contents on my day bag. I did however forget to empty my bottle of water between the flights and I just drank it in front of the officers. No security officers with guns this time which I felt weird, after all it was threat level orange.

Anyway, I'm all unpacked, bike assembled ready to go. I've even done a couple of hours work already :-)

It was great to see Renate again after such a long time. We didn't get up to much yesterday as my flight arrived late but we are venturing out today to see some of her family. Tomorrow I'm off to the bank so sort things out there, buy an office chair and an evaluation for Dutch lessons.

Thanks Yvonne for the great seat!


The final countdown

Only 4 sleeps to go now trying to get the lot of chores out of the way before Friday. My battle with the insurance company is hopefully over with them deciding to settle on only part of my camera. They wouldn't pay out fully because I'm not sticking around for 3 weeks just to have it repaired. By the way my insurance company for another 7 months is IAG through ASB :-)

Nice to see everyone yesterday for Yum Cha as its going to be a while before I see most of you again. I hope to see a few of you over in Europe later this year.

I would like to sincerely thank my company Acquire for allowing me this opportunity. You guys are fantastic!

I'll be flicking an email around shortly with my contact details while I'm in The Netherlands (Holland sounds better).