The mail system in the Netherlands is not what I was not expecting. Naturally, we are ordering various items for our new place so I deal with mail deliveries regularly. Letters come to our door (ok through the mail slot in the door). Mailboxes aren’t a big thing here. Although you may have a mailbox if you live in an apartment. Packages are delivered to you personally or (if you are out) to your closest neighbor who is at home. So far three of our packages were delivered to our neighbors while we were out. I am still getting used to this delivery method. One nice thing about the mail system is that you can opt out of junk mailers by putting a “Nee” sticker on your mail flap.
Mailing letters is not what I am used to either. The post system is privatized so you have to go to a place that sells stamps. Places that sell stamps have an orange PostNL sign outside. Often you can buy stamps at card shops and grocery stores. Stamps are labeled “Nederland 1”, “Nederland 2”, “Euro”, and “Wereld”. Which Nederland stamp you use depends on how many grams the letter weighs. The Euro stamps are for letters going to another EU country and the Wereld stamps are for letters going outside the EU. Once you have the appropriate stamp for your letter, you mail it in one of the orange PostNL mailboxes around town. Mailing packages is similar. However, just because you can buy stamps someplace doesn’t mean you can send a package there. Packages can be sent where there is an orange PostNL sign and a package symbol.
You may be thinking that it is a little late to post about Hanukkah but it is the right time for the Amsterdam Festival of Lights. Streets and buildings are lit up for the holidays. There are also a bunch of popup stalls with holiday goodies: oliebollen, wafels, stroopwafels, cheese, worst and sausages, beer and more. Below are some of my favorite shots from around the city.
Train station in Amsterdam
Around the holidays pop-up stalls filled with holiday goodies line the street.
Lights are strung between buildings across the street from each other. This is an interesting holiday message (yes this means the same thing in Dutch as it does in English).
Even the coffee shops get into the holiday spirit.
Ok, so this isn’t officially part of the Festival of Lights but there are lights on it so I am counting it. Oliebollen are similar to fried donuts.
Ok so trains aren’t a Dutch invention but the Dutch train system is pretty great. The trains will take you pretty much anywhere in the country. The system also connects with the buses too; the same pass for trains works for buses. Overall, an easy way to travel.
For those of you who aren’t yet aware, I am a bibliophile (this isn’t exactly a secret to those who know me). Unfortunately, I am also running low on new books to read on my Kindle so I did what every bibliophile would do: I checked out the town library or bibliotheek. The library is about a half an hour walk away and tucked back a bit from the road.
The first thing I noticed when I entered was the lack of a circulation desk. There were just shelves and a few computer stations. How was I going to get a library card or check out a book? I took an unofficial tour of the library and selected a quirky French novel and a CD. Amazingly there is a decent selection of English novels (about 4-5 bookcases, French has only one side of a bookcase) given the size of the library. Apparently, they also have a couple newspapers in English as well.
When I was ready to check out my selections I located a library assistant. He signed me up for a card and took my subscription for the year. Yes, you have to pay for library access here; no free libraries. How much you pay determines how many books you can check out and how long you can keep them. Media is basically rented from the library (with the exception of non-fiction) and there is no limit to how many movies etc you can check out. Checkout is entirely done by computer. You scan your card and books at one of the computer stations attached to a bookcase. You return your materials to these bookcases later.
The library also has a variety of familiar services: the staff help you locate materials, members get free internet access, community classes and events held at the library, pamphlets advertising local (non-library) events and places to visit, and there is even a café where you can read and have a koffie. I look forward to visiting the library regularly.
At the beginning of December, we moved into our new place. We got really, really lucky and ended up renting a townhouse for about the same price as an apartment. The house was built in the 1930’s and was completely renovated within the last 10 years. I love the character of the house from the winding narrow stairs to the leaded glass. The landlord and his brother installed beautiful cabinets in the kitchen and hardwood floors in the kitchen, dining room, and sitting room. There is an office with built in shelves; a guest room with built-in wardrobes (this is crazy rare to have a built-in wardrobe or a closet here); and a bathroom with a heated floor, bathtub with jets and a heated towel rack.
At the moment we have the following furniture: a desk, a few chairs, a coffee table, a couple dressers and an air mattress. Most of that was left by the landlord for us to use. So for the moment we have been spending most of our time in the office where there is the desk and chairs.
Our lack of furniture necessitated a trip to Ikea. Since we have no car (we took the train to Ikea) we are having our furniture delivered. We did pick up a couple odds and ends to carry back. I have to say knowing that you have to carry your purchases home (or in certain cases have them delivered) really makes you think hard before buying.
Here is the promised post about the palace. Sorry about the delay, we currently have no Internet and I am posting this from the library.
The palace was originally built as a town hall where the king heard complaints from the citizens and where the tax and treasury offices were located. Now the palace is used mostly for tours and official functions. Most of the offices have been converted into guest rooms that are still used by visiting officials. This palace is one of 3 available to the Dutch King, Willem-Alexander, and his family. The palace is closed to the public when the Royals are in residence.
This is the Citizen’s Hall (and where the tour of the palace begins). Maps of the earth and stars adorn the floor. The statue of Atlas in the back is the focal point when you enter the chamber. The chandeliers used to house gas lamps but they have since upgraded to electric bulbs.
Close up of one of the maps on the floor.
Former throne room. Disputes were heard here and marriages that could not be performed in a church took place here.
Chandeliers in the throne room.
Sconce in the throne room.
Bust of Louis Napoleon
A smaller room off of the throne room.
Treasury extraordinaire office converted into a guest room.
Treasury ordinaire office converted into a guest chamber.
Small office/meeting room.
One of the many ornate clocks in the palace.
Another meeting room.
Panoramic of another meeting room.
Supports for the chandelier.
If you are visiting Amsterdam you can visit the palace, for more information on tours (or just more information on the palace check out: Koninklijk Paleis Amsterdam. The palace is pretty close to the train station so it is
easy to find.