Sunday, September 26, 2010

De Hemel Photos Up

Sorry for the longish gap without a new set of pictures, I had a large test on Friday for my Assembly Language class, and as Jessica just reminded me I need to get back to work on other things. But, because I try to be timely with my uploads, I've just finished the final touches on my latest set, which features the restaurant De Hemel and our exquisite meal there. This restaurant is one of several residing in an old castle that overlooks the river Waal. What makes this restaurant unique, besides its location, home made beers and breads, and delicious menu items in general, is its unlimited course dinner. For 28.50E you receive an appetizer of breads and dips, followed by an assortment of courses brought out every 15-30 minutes as the chef prepares them. Once you have had your fill, you tell them that you are done with dinner, and in 30 minutes (after your food has settled some) they bring out dessert. Take a look at the pictures and share in our experience, though, even I must admit the pictures do not do the food justice.

Find the set here. I recommend viewing the photos in as large a size as possible, that's how I create them to be viewed. This link will take you to the set main-page if you don't like the viewbox.

Farrell & Jessica

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Comparative Studies 101

For an exchange student, life here in the Netherlands can be organized into distinct categories: expected differences, unexpected similarities, and unexpected differences. Based on background knowledge and previous posts it is easy to guess what belongs in the first two categories, but allow me to give a brief overview of the unexpected differences as of yet unrecounted.

1. The Architecture
Because of the limited land space, which is perpetually threatened by rising sea levels and sinking land masses, the Dutch must meticulously plan their cities, housing, and even the natural areas, to protect and conserve the environment and the unmistakable Dutch quality found in the city and countryside. With regards to the actual look and design of the buildings, there are common characteristics to be found in the old and the new. Roofs tend to be high and either orange or black, but tiled rather than shingled. Furthermore, houses have open floor plans with lots of windows to let it light, and people rarely have or use curtains because they are seen as unnecessary, signifying that the individual (and by extension society as a whole) has nothing to hide.

2. The Bike Roads
True, we expected bike lanes, but certainly not bike roads, and we definitely did not expect the bike lanes to be nearly as profuse. The reality, however, is a road system with abundant accommodations for cars, bikes, various motorized bikes (from motorcycles to motorized wheel chairs), and pedestrians. On the side of every road there is at least one bike lane. Yet, as the road becomes bigger, so do the bike lanes, often becoming two-laned bike roads on both sides of the road, which in many cases break off into independent bike roads that are actually short-cuts, allowing bikers to get to places much quicker. Moreover, these bike lanes/roads do not just remain in the cities, but extend beyond to the country and even along the highways to other cities (big and small) forming an intricate network of travel that is surprisingly vast, fun, and cheap -- the access fee simply being the purchase of a bike. Nevertheless, the most unexpected thing about the bike roads were all the different people using them, which brings me to my next difference.

3. Treatment of the Disabled
Interestingly enough, the Netherlands seems to be a great place to live for the physically and mentally disabled. It is extremely common to see someone in a wheel chair or motorized chair zooming down the bike lane next to you. There are all sorts of wheel chair/bike combinations that allow the person to pedal with their hands, or, perhaps just as often, the person in the wheelchair will bum a ride off their friend by simply holding on to the end of their bike. However, it is not just those in wheel chairs, or older people in motorized chairs, but even people with what we would consider severe conditions are able to take part in all this. There is one memory that always stand out in my mind, and that is of the paraplegic and his dog. One day I was out on the bike road heading away from the city and I came across a man walking his dog, although not how it is usually done. The dog's leash was fastened to the chair, while the man, who was clearly paralyzed from the neck-down, scooted along enjoying his Sunday afternoon and leading his dog, who was running, sniffing, and playing. I remember thinking then what a great place this must be, if even the most disabled are able to enjoy such a great degree of freedom. Even the mentally handicapped are able to enjoy more freedom and acceptance than I have ever seen at home. This country has a lot the U.S. could learn from with respect to acceptance and attitude.

Until Next Time,

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Little More Green

Green cricket friend living in mine and Jessica's flat
Green cricket friend
Originally uploaded by dfarrell07
So, I know I had promised that my next post would be about all things biking here in the Netherlands, but something far more pressing has come up: our flat has a pet. True, pets are not usually allowed, but we were allowed to make an exception for our cute, green, no-named friend. We have no idea where he came from, but one day this grasshopper just appeared, his bright green easily seen on the bright red walls. Interestingly (or perhaps it's more fortunate), he is missing one of his long-back legs, so he cannot make any of his annoying music, which works out well. How he survives, i.e. what he is eating, is a mystery, but he must like it here because he has been with us for a few weeks now, just popping in and disappearing again at will. It's fun though. We are always on the look out for our new friend, but he still surprises us sometimes. We have yet to find a name that suits him, so feel free to make suggestions!

Until Next Time,

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Layout, Blogroll, Polls

You may have noticed some slight revisions to the layout of the blog. The updates include going from two Google adverts to one, removing the 'Following' and 'Subscribe via Email' applets, style changes, and the addition of a Blogroll. Users who are already receiving email updates will continue getting them, but the system is closed to new subscriptions. It is also still possible to follow this blog as normal, there just is not a shortcut in the right pane. We implemented these changes to encourage users to visit the blog, leave comments, and get involved instead of simply reading our posts in their email clients. The Blogroll will feature external links to other noteworthy blogs, I suggest everyone check them out. 'Me, Myself and Ty' is a new blog by my friend and the editor-in-chief (retired) of NCSU's student newspaper, Ty Johnson. 'Cultural geography from SoCal to Nijmegen' is the travel blog of another friend and International Student at Radboud, Phil Gresham. The featured blogs will rotate irregularly.

Look for new site updates in the near future, including a few polls to help us learn about our users and provide more responsive content.


Two New Sets Up

Jessica at Piecken
Originally uploaded by dfarrell07
I've just finished uploading two small sets of pictures from around Nijmegen. The first is at Cafe Piecken, a local bar that hosts International Night every Tuesday. The second is of Jessica cooking a dish of her own creation. Both provide a little insight into our daily routine.


Thursday, September 9, 2010

Smoke and Mirrors: Why I Hate Banks

Mom and Dad taught me while I was growing up that hate is a very strong word, and that I should not use it lightly. Well, I have thought seriously about it for ~30 minutes, and I am now convinced that I am not making light of the term. I stand by these statements with somber conviction. This is not a rant.

According to Google's 'define' function, hate means:

"The emotion of intense dislike; a feeling of dislike so strong that it demands action."

Well, the action I have chosen this time is a blog post, hopefully leading to a little more awareness, and some bad PR for the objects of my hate.

As we have blogged before, we have been having considerable trouble getting Dutch bank accounts, as we have been trying to do nearly since we got here. We care so much about accounts because we are required to have a Dutch bank account before we can get a cell phone contract, and we are really hurting without any type of Dutch phone. We were told by the International Office that we would not be able to get a bank account until we had student ID's, or the papers we got the Friday before last, vouching that we will eventually get student ID's. The first thing we did the following Monday was go to Rabobank, chosen arbitrarily because they are the most prominent looking of the large banks on Nijmegen's massive central round-a-bout. We waited in the physically-short 'Student Accounts' line for 10-15 minutes before finally being addressed, told that we would not be able to create an account right now, and scheduled for a 6:00PM Wednesday appointment. So, condemned to wander unconnected a few days longer, we left in good spirits, thinking of Thursday morning, with visions of cell phones dancing in our heads.

So, Wednesday evening rolls around agonizingly slowly, and we make our meet. We have to enter via a small side door, as the bank is closed for regular business. We tell the guy in the suite about our situation and that we wanted to open an account, which he should have heard as:

'I want to give you money so you can invest it in sketchy business models developed by Ph.Ds of Mathematics. You will make about 6-7%, but you only need to give me around 1%. I only do this because I am forced to by my micro-economic system, but thats cool, I just really need an account.'

He politely told us that it would not be possible, basically saying:

'You're only going to be here for a year, and you are students so you don't have much money, so I don't really care about you. Humm, how can I reject you? You have every kind of identification paper I know of, from passports to immunization records, so check the creativity bonus for this one: your official, stamped paper from your University saying that you are a student, residing here, and pending a Visa, and that the University guarantees financially that you will get one is not good enough. You must have an actual Visa, which I know could take up to 3 months. BOOYAH!! Oh yeah, by the way, it's an official policy and my hands are tied, all of the other banks have the same policy.'

I argued our point, told him why we needed an account soon, told him why we are required to have an account by the end of September. But, as always when it comes to banks, you don't have any real power. If you want to live in the modern world, you minimally have to have a savings account. The only substantial choice is which billionaires you want to make richer.

So, we leave again, defeated, but still optimistic. We incorrectly believed that we would be getting our Visas the upcoming Wednesday (we are on this week now) when we meet with the Stadswinkel, the Dutch immigration authority. In reality we are told that it would be anywhere from 2 weeks to 3 months before we would receive our actual Visas. Incidentally, the lady we met with had no idea why the bank wanted a Visa. She had never heard of any bank requiring a Visa, and told us again that our letters from the University would be fine. Two other American students confirmed this, saying they had got bank accounts at ING and Rabobank without a Visa.

Today we marched out again, this time fully informed, to take from the banks what, in a rational, consistent system, they should be pleading with us to accept. First stop was ABN AMRO, another of the large banks in the central round-a-bout. We didn't even make it past the first, seemingly totally untrained, lady. If we had of been in the States, I would have accepted that she had no idea what she was talking about and moved on to someone else. Here, I'm not sure if that is appropriate, so with a massive round-a-bout full of other banks and time in short supply, we decided to try another. A quick search and 30 second bike ride later we found ING, another bank at which we know many international students have successfully gotten accounts. Closed. We had been recommended to try Rabobank again, as they have historically been the most international student friendly, and they where open until 8:00PM, so we gave it another shot.

30 minutes later we were in front of another suit's desk, this time female. She seemed totally cool with our paperwork and lack of Visas, but manged to successfully turn us away again! In her thoughts:

'Its 5:30PM now, and we close at 8:00PM. These two will not require identically the same series of inane data entry I do all day, so I really don't want to deal with them. I'll just give them an appointment and let someone else deal with them.'

In words, she offers no explanation as to why we could not possibly get an account in the next two and half hours. She just takes it as an assumption that she is not going to work with us, and moves on from there with the appointment scheduling.

'No appointments available Friday, how about Saturday at 10:00AM? Going to be in Germany you say? Ok, how about Monday? Don't want to wait that long? Really need one soon? Yes, you can just walk in tomorrow. Yeah, anyone sitting in these seats (motions to her seat and the three around her) will be able to help you setup an account.'

What is her job anyway?! People go through the process to get a bank account, the process she tells people to do, ending in her suit-desk, like she said it would, but if she does not feel like it she just kicks them to rung zero? Is this real!? Dutch students are getting bank accounts at the desks all around us. She has two and a half hours. You would only need a few 100 million monkeys smashing on a few 100 million keyboards to setup a bank account in two and a half hours!! (?) But, because we have truly no other option, we are going to go try once again to give them money in the morning. Banks are not members of a free market!! For a free market to be real, you have to have a real choice. Sure, they definitely offer some random free junk when (Dutch) students sign up, and yes, they sometimes have very small differences in how little of a pittance they give back to you, but those aren't choices, just slightly more clever smoke and mirrors.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

False Starts and Fresh Foods

Well into the second week of school classes are surprisingly still largely undetermined for many students. It is hard to describe, but the Dutch University system is extremely easy going, but not in the way you would think. For example, University started last Monday and most people (other international students included) assumed that classes started that day as well, but this simple, common sense conclusion was completely wrong. Monday was simply the start of the new school year, which was marked with opening ceremonies, not school, a fact that the international office neglected to tell us and one of the first sign that things were most certainly going to be different here.

As for the classes themselves, you are expected to always be prompt and prepared (perhaps even more so than back home), yet for many classes times and classrooms are not fixed. So, for some classes you meet the first day and the professor explains that this is actually not a good day for him and enquires when/if the students would be available to meet at other times, on different days. Or, in some instances a first meeting is not even scheduled and the professor contacts everyone by email to see when the students would be available for class. Then, when you add into this mix classes that actually do meet at a fixed time and date, as well as the very limiting factor of only being able to take courses in English, it is a daunting task to find a viable class schedule. Fortunately though, Farrell has been able to work out his classes completely, and I am only waiting on two of mine to see if they will be moved or cancelled. So, I am very happy to say the ordeal is almost over. Of course, that is not to say we have not enjoyed the past few weeks. Yes, it has been stressful, but it has honestly been more entertaining than anything else. Plus, we both really like the classes we are taking...of the ones that have started anyway. Oh, and most classes here only meet once a week for around two hours, rather than two or three times a week as is the norm back home. Needless to say, it will be interesting at the end of all this to see which system we end up preferring.

On to another point of interest, it is surprising how cheap it is to eat healthy. Or, perhaps better wording: it is surprising how healthy it is to eat cheap. The least expensive foods here are fruits and vegetables. On Saturdays and Mondays there is a market in the city center that sells fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, cheese, meat, bread, etc. and it is all so affordable. Last time we went we bought 4 limes, a bag of red peppers, a bag of onions, bananas, a kilo of mushrooms, and two large hunks of specialty cheese for 10 Euros (give or take a Euro), with the cheese being the most expensive at a grand total of 5 Euros. Interestingly, at the store just one hunk of cheese is anywhere from 5-7 Euros, depending on the type. At this point though, the only need to go to the store is for pasta, milk, bathroom essentials, and items of that nature. Regardless, while everything else may be more expensive here, eating healthy at home is extremely affordable.

Things to Come
As this post has already become longer than anticipated, be sure to check back in the next few days for a post largely dedicated to exploring Nijmegen, its outskirts, and our ever-improving cycling abilities.

Until Next Time,

Monday, September 6, 2010

'Moving Pictures' - Now Available!

So, I've finally branched out into publishing series of pictures that appear to move, instead of simple single-images and text. I've had a YouTube account for years, but it was a very old username I don't use any more. Perhaps more importantly, I had never actually created any content under that account. With the goal of remedying the first problem, and the first video content I am willing to share pressuring me onward, I created a YouTube account I could take pride in.

Check out my Chanel, essentially a YouTube equivalent of a home-page or main-page, here.

As of this posting I have uploaded 26 videos of International Students from 25 countries, working together by home country, performing a song of their choice for the rest of the International Students and Mentors. It has taken just over two weeks to edit the videos, figure out what codecs YouTube plays nice with, get them into those codecs without losing video quality, upload everything, add tags, titles and descriptions for everything and setup my user-account satisfactorily. It was really an effort of scale - 26 is not a big number, but it is a lot of videos.

If you have a YouTube account, subscribe to my channel for further, possibly not travel related, video content.

Creative Commons License