Immigration Dramas – Part 2

This is part 2 of the first immigration drama post from about a month ago. If you have not read that first, you should to get the basic background info.

We thought that all Femke needed was a 12 month contract for her job and we would be set. After working at her current job for a few weeks, she asked her boss for the possibility of an extension for her contract. They said they would think about it because it’s against policy and apparently there is a fee associated with breaking a contract. Fem’s work understandably did not want to pay that fee. We said well.. maybe we could pay that fee? That might make your decision a bit easier?

After a few days (now early Jan 2009) they come back to us saying they can’t do it as it’s against their company policy. Even our offer to pay the contract renewal fee was denied. Sigh. So what happens now? Femke needs to find a new job ASAP and it needs to be a 12 month contract. Ok.. Hmm my tourist visa runs out on the 1st of February so time was starting to be against us. We thought looking for work on the usual channels would have a very very slim chance of getting a 12 month contract.

The chances of me staying in the Netherlands after February were starting to look very slim….

Marijke called up Immigration again to complain about the whole situation and also to see if there was any other option. There was one possibility which was to get a work permit through an Australian company. But we would have had to provided a reason for the Australian company to send me to the Netherlands to work (and in great detail too) so that ended up being a dead end. Even with me working through my own consultancy was an option not allowed.

With looking for jobs in the paper or the internet or agencies not really an option we turned to people we know. Thanks to Fem’s aunty, there was a job going at a local school where she works. Fem applied for that role, but the initial salary was too low (for what need as a minimum for the residency permit). Fem applied anyway with an email explaining the situation. Ok we’ll see how that goes.

A few days later, Auke also checked with his old work and they also had a job possibility that had both the right salary amount and a 12 month contract. Awesome! Fem met up with them on Monday the 12th of January and while there is a good chance of getting that job we are currently still waiting for the official response.

I also checked with the company that offered me work to see if the job was still available and thankfully it is!

While waiting to hear back from that company I knew this was going to be cutting it very close. My 1st of February deadline is looming fast. I thought it would be a great idea to go through the residency permit paperwork very VERY carefully to ensure that all other documentation we needed we had or could easily acquire.

It turns out there were some things we missed. I thought we could get a registered partnership to streamline the paperwork needed for the residency permit. But it turns out in order to get the registered partnership you need a residency permit?? Talk about a catch 22… Sigh.

So we had to go for the paperwork heavy option. I needed a “No record of Marriage” certificate that can only be received from Australia and also my full birth certificate (which also had to be issued within the last 6 months). These two certificates also need an official apostille stamp of authenticity from the Australian department of foreign affairs and trade. Realising that this all should have been done in Australia before I left, I cursed my own stupidity and blind optimism at believing the NZ initial phone call saying that all we needed was Fem to have a job. Righto… so we have a 2.5 weeks deadline and I have to get documents from multiple Australian government departments AND get them shipped to the Netherlands in time. Sounds like a challenge!

Things I have learnt from this so far:

  • Assume nothing. Cross reference all requirements and paperwork. The Australian “she’ll be right mate” won’t work here.
  • if you are going to immigrate, check what papers you need BEFORE you leave the country.
  • Murphy’s law is very strong here. If an issue has two outcomes and one is bad/costly/inconvenient, then that will be the outcome that occurs.

So for the last 2 days now I have been reading web-pages and scrutinising PDF documents. This has also all occurred the day after I installed the Windows 7 beta as my primary OS on the laptop. (hey… I felt bored stupid daring). Luckily Win 7 is holding good promise as a worthy successor to Windows XP (I ignored Vista).

I am very lucky to have a very helpful and co-operative mother who is able to handle the running around to several government departments over the next week. After a few chat sessions and a lengthy Skype phone call things are progressing smoothly. Thanks very much for that! Also today Femke has made the official appointment with the Dutch Immigration on  January 30th for the residency permit interview. (my flight out of Holland is on February 1st) We also don’t have any final word yet on if Femke has the 12 month contract job yet. So we are cutting this incredibly close.

Today we were able to get two of the six pieces of paper that are needed. My two certificates from Australia will be the hardest. The rest is just filling in forms so that’s not too bad.

We have both been in tough situations before, often avoiding disaster by the skin of our teeth. So wish us luck and hope that the document gathering that’s happening over the next 2 weeks goes smoothly and that Fem gets that job!

Fingers crossed! (again)

Snowy Landscapes

We have had a bit of snow over the last few days and the temperature is always usually below 0 degrees. I was told that out in the countryside about 15 minutes drive from Waalwijk, you get frost in the trees which makes them all white and beautiful to look at. So today, I was just going to cycle to the dunes where there are a lot of trees there, but Auke offered to drive me around.

There was no wind (which was nice), but as you could imagine it was very cold! I was glad I rugged up well for these shots. It was great to be parked under the trees and have small snowflakes gently coming down on you. It was very still and peaceful and pure. I used a circular polariser to darken the blue sky and bring out the white landscapes slightly more. The views were incredibly stunning. Judge them for yourselves!

Snowy landscapes (main image)

Snowy landscapesSnowy landscapes

Snowy landscapesSnowy landscapes

 Snowy landscapesSnowy landscapes Snowy landscapes

Snowy landscapesSnowy landscapes 

Snowy landscapesSnowy landscapes Snowy landscapes

Snowy landscapesSnowy landscapes 

Snowy landscapesSnowy landscapes 

Snowy landscapesSnowy landscapes

Snowy landscapesSnowy landscapes

I also have a smugmug gallery up containing the full size version of these photos. You can get to that page here.

Many thanks to Auke for driving me around to see these sights!

Trip to Antwerp and Maastricht

Day 1: Antwerp

Since my Visa situation is still not resolved, we are trying to get me to see as much of Europe as we can in case I might have to go back to Australia in a few weeks.

On the long weekend of 2nd to 4th of January, Fem and I toured Antwerp and Maastricht. Antwerp is in Belgium so now I can say I have been to at least 2 countries in Europe 🙂

We took the train to Antwerp. The train system is pretty good here, although they have a first and second class. We were in second class which was not really any different. The first thing that hit me once we got out of the train at Antwerp was how massive the train station was.

Antwerp train station Antwerp train station Antwerp train station

There were 3 levels of trains arriving at the station. There was a glass cylindrical dome over the entire station. But the best part was the main concourse. It is one massive room, with very detailed and stunning statues on the walls and a gigantic dome for a ceiling. It would easily be about 12 stories high. Absolutely stunning.

So off we go to our hotel for the night. We learnt our first lessons for travelling by train: Always make sure the hotel is close to the train station.

We walked and walked and our baggage became heavier and heavier. We ended up in the Jewish section of the city. I have never seen so many Jews all dressed in black trench coats with black hats. Interesting to see. With our bags finally dropped off at the hotel, we walked back north into the main city to check it out. Naturally we were drawn to the main church in town. It was a massive one, as shown below.

Main church in Antwerp

It was pretty impressive inside. But again all these churches are very dark inside which make it rather tricky to get sharp photos without the aid of a tripod.

Antwerp church interiors Antwerp church interiors Antwerp church interiors Antwerp church interiorsAntwerp church interiors Antwerp church interiorsAntwerp church interiors

There were a lot of paintings inside this church. Some are rather well known. the most famous (according the church guides) is the one below. These are truly massive artworks. I have included a second photo with some people in it to give you a sense of scale. I personally know very little of artwork!

a big painting a big painting

For afternoon tea we had some genuine Belgian waffles. They were yummy!

In one of the main city squares they had a medium sized ice skating rink. There were plenty of people skating away around inside it . I was not game enough as it was too packed and fast flowing and I knew I would be shit at it. The city itself is more densely packed that your typical Dutch city. Plenty of narrow alleyways and side streets and shops really clustered together. It was very pretty though. I did enjoy it.

main square at Antwerpmain square at Antwerp

It started getting very cold, so we decided to go and see a movie. We saw “Australia”, which I thought was ok. The battle scenes on Darwin could have been a lot longer.

One thing I didn’t like was you had to pay to use the public toilets at all the places we went to. About 40 cents a go. This is something I am not to happy with as everyone “needs to go” at some stage. It’s not like you have a choice. Although at restaurants or McDonalds you didn’t have to pay. Ah well.

Afterward we caught a taxi back to the hotel as we we didn’t feel like walking in the freezing dark night.

Day 2: Antwerp to Maastricht

We had a relaxing morning, followed by our free buffet breakfast in the hotel. We then headed back into the city to get some Belgium chocolates before we headed back to the train station. It was frighteningly cold. We had to be rugged up big time and walk at a brisk pace to keep warm. My face which was the only exposed area was going numb and I found it a little hard to talk.

The chocolates were very nice and cheaper than I thought. We slowly ate them over the next two days. Yummy little treat 🙂

It was a very sunny day, so the train station looked a lot better than the previous day so I got a few more shots while waiting for the train to take us to Maastricht.

Sunlit shots of the train station Sunlit shots of the train station Sunlit shots of the train station

This was definitely the most impressive train station I had ever been in!

The train ride took 3 hours and we had to change trains at a small town in the French section of Belgium. We were there for only 30 minutes but saw a lot of French complaining and whining so we were glad to get out of there and back into Holland.

Maastricht is the southern most Dutch city and is very close to both the German and Belgium borders. Our hotel was right next to the train station so we avoided any long difficult walks! Once we were set up we then head into the city.

Maastricht river Maastricht river

We crossed the Maas river and into literally thousands of people shopping. Maastricht to me seems like a very stylish city with old architecture and lots and lots of shopping.

Maastricht main square statue with a flame

There was a carnival in the main city square so we browsed around there. There was a rows of restaurants and I felt like spare ribs again so we went to a place that apparently specialised in them. The dinner was yummy and afterwards we walked through the carnival again. There was another ice skating rink and yet again the temperature dropped like a rock. Luckily the 50D has very good high ISO performance so I was able to get these handheld shots with out too much motion blur.

Ferris wheelIce skating at night

Us at the park Nice lighting on a resturant

Day 3: Maastricht

Yet another very cold day. We woke up and packed up and left our bags with reception and went back into the city again. Being a Sunday morning the city was deserted.

We didn’t have a free breakfast this time so we just had a cheapie feed at McDonalds. After getting some more shots of the bridges over the calm river we then explored the old fortified walls to the south of the city.

View from our hotel Cool statue in the street

Bridge over the river Maas Houses along the river Fem posing on a cannon IMG_1939_resize

The walls of Maastricht A frozen pond

Canals in the city Fem listening to the statue

We went back to the Carnival and went on the Ferris wheel to get some higher view shots of the city.

Church view from the ferris wheel City view from the Ferris Wheel

Then it was off to the main church in town for some shots and sightseeing.

While it was indeed an impressive church, we both found ourselves quickly becoming “churched out”. So we didn’t spend as long as the other churches.

There were some interesting things though. I could swear the statue in the image below left has horns on him. Click on the image to zoom in and see if you if you agree!

Does he have horns?? Impressive detail on the archway

Below you can see the main chamber of the church. There was a rather macabre image of Christ on the cross and for most of the stained glass windows in these churches are the traditional type. I noticed that one of them was rather modern. You can see the differences yourself by clicking on the two images below on the right.

The main area in the church What a weird painting? Modern stained glass window Traditional stained glass window

After that and some more looking around, we had had enough. After a short walk back to the train station we caught a train and then a bus back to Waalwijk. Overall it was a great weekend away. Plenty of churches, cold weather, Belgium waffles and chocolates and fine food. A great time!

This weekend we are off to Amsterdam for the weekend. Stay tunes for more soon!

More snow

Yet again we shivered in Waalwijk with below zero temperatures recorded each day in 2009. It snowed a reasonable amount during the morning of the 5th of Jan. However it didn’t melt away like before. It stayed there. I have heard reports that tomorrow it will go down to –9. This will make cycling to swimming (indoor heated pool) rather tricky. You have to watch out for the slippery iced sections.

The backyard I guess the car was there when it was snowing

Fem's backyardClose up of the garden

Today I cycled to a small park close to the centre of town. Not many people had walked or cycled through it so I was able to get some great untouched snow shots.

So while the majority of my readers are in sunny hot humid and sweltering Brisbane, I offer you some photos from the north end of the world. Hopefully looking at these photos might make you feel a little bit cooler. 🙂

Pond at the park Snow on flowers at the park

snow on treesThe Park 

Ducks at the park snow on tree

Signing my name Snow at my feet

Ice Skating

This winter has been rather cold even for Holland normal standards. So it is unusual at this time to have full frozen over pond. We were having a relaxing day on the 1st of January (recovering from the awesome fireworks!) so Fem and I cycled over to this donut shaped shallow lake. The weather has been below zero consistently for the last week now and the lake has been frozen over.

This was the first time I have been on a naturally frozen lake, so it was pretty cool.

a Frozen Lake Fem and I on the ice

The only rule we found was that Fem and I could not stay close together for too long otherwise we hear a crack! The second time this happened I felt the ice I was standing on crack and then drop by about 5 mm. This of course scares the crap out of you when you are about ten metres away from the shoreline!

So I decided to stay close to shore so if I ever broke it completely I would just get my shoes wet.

I walked along the edge where it was clearer. Unknown to me at the time this means the ice is weaker. I took one step on the clear ice and saw about 6 crisp cracks snake out from under my foot. Oohh! back back back…

Me on the ice Femk on the ice

We walked to the other end of the lake via land, as I was really not trusting the ice anymore. Even though lots of other people were on it I was just too unsure. On the other side Fem convinced me it was ok as long as we didn’t stand too close to each other. So we walked back on the ice and I enjoyed it!

From the land path Walking back on the ice itself. Plenty of people here

Matt, Nga-chi and MarkI was glad to get back indoors in the afternoon as it was damn cold outside.

Fem’s older brother Mark and Fem’s friend Nga-Chi dropped by that afternoon. Here you can see the three of us together. No Nga-chi is not actually that short, but she certainly appears that way when standing next to me and Mark!

That evening Fem and I got ready for our 3 day trip to Belgium and Maastricht.