Sunday, June 9, 2013

Might As Well JUMP!

I got tired of the traditional posed trip pictures in front of beautiful scenery or historic sites; so I decided to start a series of jumping pictures.  You can see a few of mine (and other jumpers) on a travel site called  I created a group on that site called JUMP Around the World; plus a few others EAT Around the World and WINGS Around the World.

I've got plenty of jumping pics from all over Europe and will eventually get around to doing something with them.  But in the meantime, here are some of my new favorite jumpers.  Taken at Gornergrat, Switzerland.  Enjoy.

What kind of crazy pictures do you take/make when traveling?

Might as well...

That's the actual Matterhorn, not the Disney ride.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

DannyZ Travels: Lake Como, Italy

In an effort to put up posts with details and pictures of our last few EuroTrips I decided to do short posts called "DannyZ Travels:"  That way I can get things up a little faster.  Here's my first entry; enjoy Lake Como.

Our Visual Memories from Lake Como, Italy

From May 9-12, Vicki and I visited beautiful Lake Como.  We stayed in a little town on the lake called, Tremezzo.  Centrally located on the lake, Tremezzo offered beautiful scenery, nice hotels (Villa Marie) and some very nice restaurants.    

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Wordless Wednesday: Maui Mountains

Photo Credit: My amazing photographically talented wife. Taken: Gornergrat, Switzerland; 8 May 2013

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Remembering Ireland

Sorry, I know this has nothing to do with the overall theme of this blog but I was feeling all "reminiscing like" this morning.  One year ago to the date, Vicki and I embarked on our first expat adventure in Ireland.

Never got around to completing an entire blog of our adventures there. #BiggestRegret But I tried;  see my tumblr: Polish Clover.  One day I might get around to documenting it.  In the meantime, here's a pic of the Guinness that launched my infamous "Guinness Count." I attempted to tally all the Guinness that I consumed during our time in Ireland.  I'd also write notes about where we were and who we were with that type of thing.  It became a pretty cool remembrance of our time there.

Final Guinness Count: 304 (+ or - a few).

Friday, May 31, 2013

Things We Liked/Didn't Like: An Expat Reflection

Living abroad for close to a year, first in Ireland then the Netherlands, gave us a new perspective on how freggin' big the world really is.  It also gave us time to appreciate the different cultural aspects of life in Europe.  Some we loved, some we found a bit off, and some just confused the hell out of us.  Our Dutch expat days concluded on 19 May 2013.  But I thought I'd do some reflecting with this post and write about "Things We Liked/Didn't Like" about our time in the Netherlands.

Things We Liked:

1.) Leaving Oss.  Just kidding, it's a fine town.  It was first referred to us as a "sleepy little village."  Well the "sleepy" part is accurate (especially during the week in the winter months), but by no means is this place a village. Oss had tons to offer: restaurants, cafes, shopping and more. Well, it's got all that to offer, when things are OPEN (see #1 of "Things We Didn't Like")  In addition, there was always some type of huge party organized in the town square with bands and karaoke at least once a month (check out my videos for Klunen, Carnaval, & Koninginnedag).

My Video Tribute to Oss here.

2.) Train Access.  We were just a short 10 minute walk to the Oss train station from our apartment.  This station was our starting point for amazing trips to Belgium, Germany, Czech Republic and Switzerland.

3.) Cafes/Restaurants in Oss.  Here were some of our favorites:
-Koozie: loved their bread plate & shared menu special, AYCE!
-Monterosso: of the three Italian Restaurants that we found in town (I think there's a fourth) this was our favorite for pizza
-Da Antonio: Italian, great platters, friendly owner
-Brasserie De Spieghel: great draft & bottle selection; owner/manager not the friendliest
-Deli France: nice people, great sandwiches
-Tweede Herr: very chill; leather couches, chairs, fireplace.  Great beer selection
-LaColline: great beer menu; nice outdoor seating; fell in love with the Kasteel Cuvee
-Brasserie De Serre: restaurant at the City Hotel, great service.  Try the steak on a stone.

4.) Carnaval. One word: Incredible. The parades and the parties were simply amazing.  Favorite part was the burning of the Ox in Oss to close the festivities.  If you have the opportunity definitely experience Carnaval in the Netherlands.

5.) Market Day. Every Tuesday & Saturday in Oss.  (Saturdays in Den Bosch) Vendors with cheeses, vegetables, breads, fish, & meats descended on the town to sell their wares.  Much different shopping experience than what we were used to in the States say at your local Wegmans, Acme, Walmart, etc.  Great prices and fun atmosphere.

Free Coffee Machine at AH
6.) Albert Heijn (AH).  Not unique to Oss, it's a Netherlands grocery store chain. I spent A LOT of time here. Nice variety of food, decent prices and FREE COFFEE.  But most of my time there I was glued to my phone translating the produce aisle. By the way, a "wortel" is a carrot; you're welcome.  I also enjoyed causing scenes in the checkout lane and chatting it up with the Afghan fella that ran the Mediterranean Bar.

7.) The Fries. (aka frites and or chips).  They were just dam good everywhere; by themselves or with the sauces, including mayo.  And whether you wanted them or not, they were usually a side order that came with every meal you ordered.

8.) The City Hotel Staff.  The owners/operators of our apartment. Great folks, friendly and very accommodating. Go like them on facebook.

9.) Statie Fles. It's fun to recycle and you get a refund! The "statie fles" that you may see on your receipt is a surcharge or tax placed on certain glass and plastic bottles.  For more information on recycling in the Netherlands go here.

I'll miss you the most
10.) The Beer.  Just like they say the Guinness tastes better in Ireland (I can personally attest that it does) the Heineken tastes amazing in the Netherlands. Especially on draft and most especially at outdoor festivals under a tent in the town square.

Our time in Oss also gave me a whole new appreciation for the world of Trappist beers.  My favorite new find was the La Trappe Quadrupel, available for just €1.39 a bottle (including statie fles) at our local Albert Heijn.  I learned two things about this beer: 1.) Only Trappist label brewed in the Netherlands; 2.) It demands respect, especially at 10%ABV.  Didn't think I'd see her again once we got home but I was able to procure a bottle at Wegman's in Collegeville, PA the other day to help ease the repatriation process.

Our Bike.  Lots of trunk space.
11.) Biking.  Even though this is listed as #11 it was by far one of my favorite things to do.  The nice folks at the City Hotel allowed us to borrow a bike. However, I was hesitant to ride at first because of the snow and ice. I was also a little intimidated to ride because I couldn't figure out how to make a left hand turn.  After the ground thawed, and countless hours watching and studying how bikers turn left; I got over my fears and started cruising all over Oss, in all types of weather.

Things We Didn't Like:

1.) Business Hours- This was one of the hardest adjustment for us.  On one hand it's great, businesses shut down around 5pm, allowing employees to be home with their families, awesome.  On the other hand, what are two expats to do after dinner when everything is closed?

2.) Credit Card Acceptance-I've written numerous rants about this in prior posts.  I also get it; the Dutch aren't into credit cards. Judging by the way most Americans abuse this privledge I can see.  BUT, there are a small amount of us that do pay off our cards and those that look forward to earning points on their cards for flights, hotels, etc.  There is nothing worse than that feeling of helplessness when a server tries tirelessly to read your card, and I'm not even talking the typical American swipe card, we have a "chip" & sign VISA card through Hyatt, and that still didn't work at times. And not just in our small town, this happened in Den Bosch and even a pub in Amsterdam.  Word of advice, always be sure to have some Euros in your pocket just in case the credit card machine doesn't work.

3.) Location.  Oss is a little off the beaten path so we usually had to transfer in bigger train stations like Den Bosch to get anywhere.  But that's okay, the Den Bosch station had a Smullers.  Watch this.

Don't need all this, just some
4.) Customer Service- Okay, I'm not expecting over the top TGI Friday's flair covered service in restaurants, but a warm smile and a hello would be nice.  Hell, I'd just settle for a head nod and acknowledgement of my basic presence at your otherwise empty restaurant.  There have been times where I've said to myself: "No it's cool, I don't need another beverage, I can wait while you set up tables and clean glassware for an empty restaurant." (true story).  Now, there were exceptions to this lack of service, but most of the time our presence in some restaurants seemed to be an inconvenience for the staff. We get it, you're not working for tips, and we don't speak Dutch, but we like to drink beer, how about a refill?

In addition, don't expect much personal customer service from your bank or cell phone provider unless you are prepared to pay.  Most service companies charge a fee of a few euro cents per minute just to talk with a human. They'll even charge you to tell you via automated message that their office is closed when you call for help on a Sunday; true story.  My advice, get a twitter account, most companies have them and are responsive to questions, and that's free, well kind of, just costs you a home internet provider and or a smartphone data plan.

Super convenient online purchases, not.
5.) Banking. "Wait, how much to cash a check? and how long would it take?" That was me after learning it would have taken 4-6 weeks to cash a check, AND it would cost about 16% of the check's value in fees. Hats off to the Dutch banking system for going paperless, but what's an expat to do with a refund check from their Irish Gas company?

In addition, the process for making online payments is a bit different. You are given a card reader (pictured right) that spits out a pin number for internet transactions.  It's supposed to be for added security. It's a bit of an added hassle because it's one more step you need to go through for purchases.  But once you get used to it, it's not all bad and as a victim of identity theft I can appreciate the security.

Lastly, our bank didn't make their policies regarding fees very clear for English speaking expats.  After setting up our account we specifically asked about ATM fees and were told "There were none." What they failed to mention was if we used our bank card abroad we would be slapped with a fee.  Oh, and if you want to find information on the fees associated with your account you have to go to their website.  Our bank did offer an English version of the website, however if you want to read about fees on the website you have to "check the overview of banking rates for private clients (in Dutch)."   Yeah, I still haven't found the link to this information on the site.  Bottom, line when setting up your Dutch bank account, ask questions and try to read the fine print regarding fees.  Perhaps I should have followed my own advice and tweeted them my questions.

ov-chipkaart with Dal "What a Deal Subscription"
6.) NS Rail Discounts/NS RailPlus Card.  We knew we'd be riding a lot of trains both domestic and international, but the trains weren't cheap. A roundtrip fare from Oss to Amsterdam cost €33.00 roundtrip per person.  That could certainly add up so we looked into the discount subscriptions offered by NS Rail (domestic trains) and NSHispeed (international trains) .  But figuring out how to apply for these discounts was a real pain.  It took countless hours of research, translations and tweets to finally figure out the best deal for the local trains.

Applying for the international train discount card, called the RailPlus Card, was equally frustrating.  I could not find how to apply for this discount program anywhere online.  The best info I could get at the time was from a Belgian rail site. Trying to avoid a per minute calling fee, I took to twitter to get some answers and it paid off.  The NSHispeed Twitter person got me the website, albeit the site was all in Dutch, but Google Chrome helped me through it.

Definitely follow @NS_online & @NSHispeed on twitter if you have any rail related questions. Both were extremely responsive and very helpful.  Oh, and you don't really need to tweet in Dutch, their English is great.

Also, special thanks to for their help in my research. They provide great tips on  on all things Amsterdam on their site and via email; great site for visitors and expats.

The final kick in the ass was right before we are ready to leave the Netherlands I saw that the cost for the subscription for the NS Dal Advantage, the subscription we bought, was slashed from €50 to €29.  However, I think at the time of writing (May 31, 2013), the price went back to €50.

[Blogger's Note: I'm hoping to have an entire post dedicated to Dutch Rail Discounts soon.]

7.) Smoking- Totally forgot how gross you feel after being in a bar/restaurant with smoking.  Should have invested in some EuroFabreeze.

8.) Techno Drive-bys- It was brought to my attention prior to our arrival that the Dutch had an affiinity towards the genere of music referred to as "techno."  They especially liked to rock out to this genere while driving (yes, some do drive).  Luckily for us we were living there during the winter and our windows weren't open much.  But there were times when our collection of beer bottles for recycling would begin to rattle because of the bass and the sweet beats.


As you can see, the "Things We Liked" about the Netherlands did out number the "Things We Didn't Like." And perhaps, some of the later were just due to cultural/societal adjustments. Perhaps if we had stayed longer some of the dislikes would have disappeared from the list. We have been very fortunate this past year and are extremely grateful for these all these experiences.  The little differences made our time abroad enriching and allowed us to see that there was a big world outside the windows of our Pennsylvania home.

For more of my ramblings and tips check out one of my early posts: "One Month, Ten Lessons: Netherlands."

Can any other expats relate? or I'm I just nuts?

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Two Different Scenes

Arriving to the Netherlands 15 January 2013                                   Departing the Netherlands 19 May 2013

Our departure from Amsterdam airport was a  somewhat different scene from our arrival; that is except for the gray dark clouds.  I always find it easier to leave a place when the weather is crappy; you don't feel as bad departing.

Monday, May 27, 2013

"Oss: Our Town. Our Memories." A Video Tribute.

How can you put down in words the experience of living in Oss?  I couldn't, so I made a video instead.  Enjoy and thanks for watching.