A Dutch life

Several people have asked me what it was like in Holland. How it was different to Australia. So i thought I would do up a blog post highlighting the main differences I found.

Country
Basically it’s flat. Very flat. The only time I rose up was when we drove over a bridge occasionally. It’s a little strange at first but you get used to it. There are some hills to the very south eat of Holland around Maastricht, but that’s it.  The Dutch call themselves “Nederland”. “Neder” in English is “Low”. Makes perfect sense. Australia should be called “HotandHugeLand” by comparison.

Weather
It does vary a lot between summer and winter and I (unfortunately) was only there for their winter. Most of the time it’s overcast, and the sun is not up for very long during the day. Sunrise was around 8am each morning and sunset was around 4:45pm. During midday it never got any higher in the sky that what Aussies usually think is about 3:30pm. In summer it is the opposite and you get large amounts of sun. But alas, I will have to find that out for myself some time in the future. While I was there I also experienced one of the coldest winter in Europe for about 20 years. Which was great for me as I did want to check out snow as I saw so little in New Zealand the previous year. It snowed a few times and there were frozen lakes. These were all good experiences for a Queenslander! The temperature was generally around 0 degrees outside most of the time. I found out I had to really watch my ears in the cold. They tend to stick out a bit due to my hearing aids and if it was 0 or less, my ears would go numb or start stinging if I didn’t have a big beanie on.

Sky
Since we are in Europe which is so heavily populated, there are always at least 2 contrails from aircraft up high in the sky. At anytime of any day (provided there was no cloud cover) you could look up and see several planes.

People
The Dutch people are pretty much the same as the general western people. I didn’t have any issues with anyone. There is a stereotype that the Dutch are sometimes arrogant or rude/blunt. I didn’t find that to be the case at all. I can’t say the same thing for French occupied Belgium thou.

Television
I reckon about half of all Dutch programming is English shows with Dutch subtitles. This is only a rough guess as I did not watch a lot of TV. This is  one of the reasons why almost everyone speaks English. They have the same sort of shows as we do, but curiously they also have shows from the 80’s such as the original Knight Rider and the A team. These were indeed a blast to watch! They are so crap they are funny! They also had Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares at 7:30pm on weekly totally unbleeped which was great! My ears were getting sore from the constant high pitched bleeping on the censored version. It’s also refreshing to be somewhere where censorship is not so noticeable. They can tolerate people saying “fuck” and “shit” occasionally without causing a big uproar like you get here in Australia from small minded but highly vocal minority groups.

Language
Just about everyone speaks English very well in Holland. As mentioned above, about half of the TV shows are American or British. A lot of the advertising in billboards and in shops as you walk around is in English too. It’s the same in music shops. Sure they have Dutch singers but most of it is the popular US/UK artists. So basically, a Dutch person would need to understand English to some degree in in order to understand all the labels and ads around then.

I did make a bit of an effort to learn Dutch. It was mainly the different types of food! 🙂 (Bosche bollen! Oh they are so yummy!) I was going to enrol in a Dutch speaking course once I got a job there, but that ended up not happening. 🙁

Traffic
Most cars in Holland are small. This is absolutely vital since there is hardly any space on the roads! It’s always very narrow in the towns. If I was there with my Holden Commodore I would have sheered off the side mirrors before the end of the first day! A lot of the traffic signs are printed down on the roads rather than on signs on the side of the road. This was a little confusing for a simpleton like me. When you throw in the fact they all drive on the other side of the road (compared to Australia) I was glad I didn’t have to drive anywhere. The first time I was driven around a round about I felt so uncomfortable as it felt like I was going the other way!!  There is also not a lot of car parks in towns/cities either. This leads to most people using bikes to move around.

Bicycles
Pretty much everyone in Holland has a bike. They are an awesome way of getting around. Since the land is so flat and there are hardly any car parks it’s just the ultimate solution! No impact on the environment and everyone gets a little exercise as well. You can also cram hundreds of them in a small space. The road network also caters for bike riders very well. A lot of intersections are areas reserved for bikes and there are a lot of bikes lanes next to the roads or on the footpath next to them. I was very impressed. You also don’t need a helmet. It was great to have the wind in your hair (what little hair I have left anyway) as you cycled down the street. Except for when it was very cold. Then it got painful!

Food
Fast food is not as noticeable in Holland as it is in Australia. Sure they still have McDonalds, KFC, Subway etc but no-where near as many as we do here. To make up for this shortfall the Dutch have gone all out on pastries, meats and cheese. They have incredible foods in these areas! From the absolutely yummy Bosche bollen that you can only get from Den Bosch to the many varieties of cheese to the many different cuts of meat and sausages you can get. With all this yummy food, you don’t really find yourself craving a Big Mac. 🙂

There are the occasional cheese speciality shop in Australia. In Holland this is the norm. Even their standard supermarkets have a massive cheese section filled with rolls and rolls of cheese. Ice tea is also a major drink. Soft drink is not. Most supermarkets have coke, a sprite, but only one or two other flavours and no-where near as much as the varieties of ice tea. Which is great as I do like ice tea that does not taste like crap!

I think this will do for now.. I might do some more blog entries on other topics of life in Holland if there is any demand. Is there anyone out there? ……

Visa Dramas: Chapter 2: “Femke migrating to Oz”

Well it has been a while since I have updated the old blog. So lets see what’s been happening Visa wise.

As you all know Visa Dramas: Chapter 1: “Matt staying in Holland” ended badly with me having to leave the country due to some stupid stupid Visa conditions.

So instead of Femke and I working and travelling around Europe for the next year or 2, we are having to skip that and go straight to the next stage which was to get Femke to migrate to Australia to live with me in sunny Brisbane.

At the ending of Chapter 1, I had this following high level list for getting Femke to Australia.

After several chats with immigration,  we both formulated the following basic (high level) plan :

  1. Matt will fly back to Australia. Femke will stay in Holland and continue work at her current job.
  2. Matt will need to get a job in Brisbane.
  3. Once I have a job we will finalise all the paperwork required. I will have to send “certified copies” of papers and general copies and forms to Holland.
  4. Fem needs to call the German Australian Embassy in Berlin to arrange an appointment (Netherlands has an Australian Embassy but they don’t have Visa capabilities – sigh)
  5. Fem goes to the appointment with all the papers. If everything is in order, then she will be granted a temporary spouse visa that same day. This is valid for 2 years.
  6. Fem organises and executes her move to Australia!
  7. After 2 years, we supply additional paperwork to immigration for that period to show us still being together etc and the temporary visa is upgraded to a permanent spouse visa.

Step 1.

Well, this step was pretty easy. There was some drama though. 😛

Step 2.

The first thing I needed once I returned was a job. Thanks to good timing and my previous work history I was able to secure a permanent role working for EDS/HP with the Bank of Queensland being our client.  I have now been working there for the last 3 weeks, and it’s going well so far.

Step 3.

So with the job established and finally some income to refill my depleted coffers, it was on to step 3 which is to go through all the paperwork that is needed for a Spouse Visa. Femke is collecting papers she needs. I am collecting papers from my end and then I will have to send them to Femke.

My list of papers, while daunting, is not too hard to get. They are basically:

  • Main Form of sponsorship from immigration
  • Proof of who I am
  • Proof of Australian citizenship
  • Proof of work and income for the last 2 years
  • Proof that Femke and I are in a relationship
  • Statutory Declarations (stat dec) from other witnesses (friends/family)  who can state and verify that Femke and I have been in a relationship.

Of course for each point listed above they break down to several different forms as well, but I don’t want to bore you with the extreme details. A lot of the papers need to be copy certified by Justices of the Peace (or equivalent) so I have been finding out a lot about them recently!

The stat decs took the longest to accumulate and I got the final one last night. I am very grateful to my father, Eva, Kasia and Allison for all their effort to help us out there.

Pending some copy certified tax papers which should be arriving this week, I will have all the documentation needed to send to Femke. I am hopeful of sending off all my papers to her this week sometime. Of course this package will be registered and with full tracking to ensure it never gets lost!!

So with my paperwork sorted out, lets look at what Femke has been doing.

She needs to supply similar items as per my list above, but also with:

  • Police check
  • Health checks

Femke has completed the health checks, no dramas there. But the police checks are proving to be an issue.

The requirement for the Police checks states: you will need a police check for every country you have stayed in for 12 months or more, within the last 10 years.

Now for most people that would just be a police check from their own country. Something not too difficult to get. But since Femke has travelled a lot in the last 10 years, this means she will need to get police checks from Holland, Australia, New Zealand and China! Yikes.

The Dutch check has already been completed. The Australian and New Zealand checks have been processed in the mail and we just need to wait for them to be sent back to Holland. (they are expected in about 1 or 2 weeks from now). So far so good…

However the China check is proving difficult. There is no way to request a police check via mail or internet, in fact, the only way is either to go there in person or get an authorised person to do it on behalf. Double Yikes!

Femke has been in touch with her employer at the horse school where she worked to see if they can help us out. Luckily they have agreed to help us! Phew! We were indeed very grateful! We are now just working out the details for how to process and handle it all. Our worry is that it’s going to be a time consuming process. Fingers crosses we get a speedy resolution to it all!

So our initial high level plan looks like this as of today:

  1. Matt will fly back to Australia. Femke will stay in Holland and continue work at her current job.
  2. Matt will need to get a job in Brisbane.
  3. Once I have a job we will finalise all the paperwork required. I will have to send “certified copies” of papers and general copies and forms to Holland.  – in progress
  4. Fem needs to call the German Australian Embassy in Berlin to arrange an appointment (Netherlands has an Australian Embassy but they don’t have Visa capabilities – sigh)
  5. Fem goes to the appointment with all the papers. If everything is in order, then she will be granted a temporary spouse visa that same day. This is valid for 2 years.
  6. Fem organises and executes her move to Australia!
  7. After 2 years, we supply additional paperwork to immigration for that period to show us still being together etc and the temporary visa is upgraded to a permanent spouse visa.

Stay tuned for the next part of Chapter 2! 🙂

Journey back to Australia

I am now back in Australia.

I am glad to be back, but I just wish it was under better circumstances and that Femke was with me. 🙁

After a great weekend at Scheveningen, sadly it was time to go. 🙁

On Sunday the 1st of Feb, we all drove out to Amsterdam airport. After checking in the bags we had a final lunch at the airport. Fem and I spent some time together at the lookup at the airport when it started to snow lightly. It was like Holland was saying farewell.

We met up with her parents again and we all had a tearful goodbye. I then went through customs and eventually I was on the plane to Bangkok. We left about 2:30pm Amsterdam time.

This first leg of the journey was 10 hours and I was in a comfortable seat. I could not really see the main TV screen which ended up showing chick flicks back to back (including the movie “The Women” where Meg Ryan has interestingly almost completed her metamorphous into the Joker from Batman), so I spent most of the time reading.

We arrived in Bangkok and then had to wait about 1 hour before the transfer to Taipei. Then it was another 3.5 hours to Taipei. I was in the same comfortable seat and the seat next to me was vacant. Yes! So I enjoyed that part of the flight as well.

We arrived in Taipei and I confirmed that I had an exit row seat on the isle for the final leg, and then had to kill time for 9 hours. I walked around the Terminal 2 and had some Subway. It was nice to see that Subway’s order to put as little food on the subs as humanly possible was a global one. I was going to object to the 2 tiny strips of lettuce that was put on my foot long sub, but decided not to out of pure apathy.

There were some free internet terminals so I was able to check my emails on there. My internal body clock was now at 5am in the morning and I started to get very very tired. I didn’t want to go to sleep on the couches in the main concourse as that meant someone could steal my bags or put something in them. So I decided to go up to the Evergreen Hotel and paid about $AU80 for a room for 5 hours. I went into a deep sleep which was very good.

Thankfully I woke up in time and freshened up and went down to wait for the plane.

I boarded the plane and went to sit in my seat and realised immediately that I could not fit properly width wise.

“WTF?” I thought. I had come over on this same plane when I had first come to the Netherlands and I was fine? I asked the air stewardess if I could change seats and she said the plane was full.

“Oh… so what can I do?” I responded.

“Just stay in your seat for take off and we’ll sort it out in the air”

So for the next 30 mins I was very uncomfortably crushed into this damn seat. Once the plane levelled out, I took of the seat belt and just stood there reading a magazine. After a little while a stewardess approached me and said that no-one in the isle rows wanted to swap. I remember thinking “You have asked everyone? Hmmm I don’t think so”. I said that I was been sitting on the seats on the other side of the isle on the way to Europe without a drama. We asked the passenger there to get up while I tried his seat and I realised I fit ok in that one. “ahh so I just need to be in this seat.”

But the fool didn’t want to swap with me. I didn’t catch his reason. I think it might have been something like “Because I am a stupid moron”.

We checked with the other passenger on the other isle seat and he didn’t want to swap either. “Sigh”.

I said how about I just sit on the floor in the emergency row where there was a lot of room? Not ideal, but way better that my initial seat. This lasted for about 15 mins before the head stewardess came over and said I had to move as I was blocking the exit row. I was starting to get annoyed now.

“So where can I sit?”
”How about your seat?”
”I don’t fit there.”
“I’m sorry but there is no-where else, try sitting on the edge of the seat.”
“I would rather just stay here, I’m not in the way.”
“I’m sorry sir, but that’s against the rules.”

I eventually relented and tried sitting on the seat edge and that was also very uncomfortable. I tried to alternate between standing up and sitting on the edge of the seat. I could see this was not going to work too well either.

I started getting desperate and I began to think “Hmm this is a early morning flight, most people will be asleep soon so maybe I’ll just sit in the toilet they had from time to time.”

After one hour after take off, I got a tap on my shoulder. There were two American twin girls of Indian appearance. They had been watching this whole thing for a while and they were frowning.

“They can’t treat you like this!”
“I know! but what can I do? I know I’m a big guy but this is just horseshit.”
“Can’t they find someone to swap with you?”
“They said they have asked people. But I don’t think so.”
”Ahh that’s crap. We’ll ask around!”

So these girls then asked some people on the isles if they wanted to swap. The first two said no, but the girl directly behind eventually agreed after a lot of persuading.

Ahh a breakthrough at last.

So we swapped and I was able to put up the arm rest to be seated in relative comfort. My leg room was not the best, but I was able to just fit in. I was then sitting directly next to the two Americans. I gave them my deepest thanks for their efforts, they said they would have gone all around the plane if they needed to. This brought a big smile on my face and my respect for yanks went up one notch.

They both then went soundly asleep and while I was awake after my 5 hour rest at the Evergreen Hotel so I just watched 3 movies back to back to pass the time.

The rest of the trip was uneventful. We landed in Brisbane 9 hours later.

The total flight time was 22.5 hours, but I was now back home.

My mother was there to greet me at the airport and so was the now infamous Brisbane heat and humidity. I was very glad to see my mother again, but not too glad to experience the humidity!

I am back.

Scheveningen

On the weekend before I left Holland, Fem and I decided to go away for one last weekend together. We went to Scheveningen which is on the coastline near The Hague. This is a very popular spot to go to in summer for it has some great beaches here.

We were staying in the Kurhaus which is one the most exclusive hotels in Holland. It’s website is here if you want to look at it in more detail.

All of Femke’s friends and family have heard of the Kurhaus but none have actually stayed there. They were happy and jealous for us when they heard we were going to be there for one night!

So on Friday 30th of January, we woke up, got ready and caught the train and then tram to Schevenigen.

The hotel itself was stunning!

Kurhaus sideKurhaus front

Hallway to our room

The insides were very fancy and elegant so we really enjoyed it. Silly me didn’t get any photos of the main dining area where it is truly stunning. So you’ll just have to go to the website for that.

After we settled in we went for a walk along the strand which is the beach front directly behind the hotel. It’s a very long walkway with lots of eateries and restaurants all along. It was nice but it was so cold and there was a strong north sea breeze blowing. There was even frost on the sand on the beach (in the shade)! Frost? On Sand? Never seen that before!

Frost on the beach? Us on the beach with the Kurhaus behind us The pier on the beach The front of the Kurhaus at night

After a long walk we then went to a popular sauna next door to the Kurhaus and spent several relaxing  hours there. After that we had a very enjoyable meal in the main dining section of the Kurhaus. We spent half the time time chatting and the other half of the time just looking up in awe at the size of the room. Very impressive indeed!

We decided to go for a stroll along the strand again at night, but I had left my beanie behind (stupid stupid stupid) and my ears were starting to go numb. There was also hardly anyone else out there as it was so cold and windy. Needless to say it was a short walk!

The following morning we had an incredible buffet breakfast in the same area where we had dinner the night before. I was annoyed that I was getting full so early as I wanted to try more of the plentiful food!

We went back onto the strand again and this time walked out along the pier.

Looking north from the pier Looking out on the pier itself Looking south from the pier

It was a great day, but again it was rather cold!

On our way back to The Hague we got off the tram at an attraction called Madurodam. This was a large miniature village. It had most of all the landmarks in the Netherlands. I thought it was a good way to see some of the things I would miss. We spent a while there just walking through and checking out the structures. They were very well done! There were a lot of structures that I had seen in real life and I was impressed with the attention to detail.

Minature worldDen Bosche church Fem in oversized clogsMe in oversized clogsA tall building! See our reflection? Minature world The RijksMuseum in Amsterdam The Dam Minature world Minature world ING headquarters Palace for the Queen Us at Minature world

After we finished up there we continued on to The Hague. In The Hague right next to the train station was one of the buildings that was in the miniature village. I took some photos of it and below I have one from the miniature village and one of the real thing. Can you tell them apart? 🙂

Is this a model or real?Is this a model or real?

When we returned to Waalwijk, we met up with Erik and Elske who wanted to say goodbye to me and they had a nice present as well. 🙂

I then had to pack up all my stuff for the plane trip. While I was doing that I found my beanie. It was in the outer pocket of my camera bag. Which I took with me to Scheveningen.  So I had it on me the entire time and didn’t know it. Sigh…

We then had a farewell dinner with Femke, Marijke and Auke at a good local restaurant. It was yummy food as usual! I received some farewell gifts from them as well. It was a nice dinner but a shame it would be the last one with the four of us for a while.

The following day I had to go back to Australia. 🙁

Visa drama fizzles out. A new chapter begins.

Well. the last few weeks have been fun.

With all the paperwork in place, the only thing that was needed was for Femke to get a job with a 12 month contract. After the few remaining possibilities closed off to us one by one (some to our surprise too) we were out of options. I have to go back to Australia. 🙁

So why did this fail? Basically it’s very hard to sack an employee in Holland. There is a lengthy process to follow so employees are keen to get the right person for the job at the start. By offering a 6 month contract it gives them a get out of jail free card by being able to remove that person if they are unsuitable for the company. Other than that, it’s not like Australia where you can say “Sorry, but we have let you go” with relative ease. So giving someone new a 12 month contract from the start is rare unless you know the new employee well.

Another reason we think, is the current economic crisis. Companies are not hiring as much as usual. Most companies seem to be shedding staff worldwide and a lot are also going under. Not really the best time to be looking for work!

<rant>

The thing that really annoys me is that I can understand the requirement for a 12 month contract job in the “typical” case for a couple who are living by themselves and would probably be having trouble making ends meet. But in my particular situation:

  • Femke had a 6 month contract
  • We were living with her parents which are more than happy to co-sponsor me as well to guarantee I would never need the welfare system here.
  • I had a job waiting for me.

I really feel that the combination of those three factors should have made the IND more lenient on the 6/12 month job contract length issue, since I would not have been a burden to the government in any way.  But they would not budge an inch, even after multiple calls pleading our case.

</rant>

I had to inform the company who offered me work that I would not be able to make it. The job was still there, and they were sad for me, and did say to keep in touch if I ever come back to Holland. This was nice to hear.

Back to Australia

So instead of now relaxing and enjoying Europe for 1 or 2 years, we now have to look at the visa situation for getting Femke into Australia. Thankfully the immigration website is rather well put together and they have booklets and checklists you can use for your paperwork. The bad news is they require a hell of a lot more paperwork that what was needed from the Dutch point of view. So what’s going to happen?

  1. This weekend I will fly back to Australia. Femke will stay in Holland and continue work at her current job.
  2. I will need to get a job in Brisbane.
  3. Once I have a job we will finalise all the paperwork required. I will most likely have to send some “certified copies” of papers to Holland.
  4. Fem needs to call the German Australian Embassy in Berlin to arrange an appointment (Netherlands has an Australian Embassy but they don’t have Visa capabilities – sigh)
  5. Fem goes to the appointment with all the papers. If everything is in order, then (hopefully within a few weeks) she will be granted a temporary spouse visa. This is valid for 2 years.
  6. Fem organises and executes her move to Australia
  7. After 2 years, we supply additional paperwork to immigration for that period to show us still being together etc and the temporary visa is upgraded to a permanent spouse visa.

It sounds so simple when you look at it at a high level! 🙂

Steps 2 and 3 will be the tricky/painful ones. But other than that, it looks pretty good. Here we go again. Round 2.