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Where to Go: Cycling in the Netherlands

Are you ready to explore new surroundings again? Spring is on its way, and a great way to get out and see the Netherlands in the springtime is on a bike (fiets in Dutch). With at least 32,000 km of cycle lanes and 3,300 km of long-distance bike routes (signposted as "LF-Routes", or Langeafstand Fietsroutes), there are endless possibilities to explore the country. You don't need to have a fancy road bike, but you also don't want to ride a great distance if your bike isn't in good condition so it's a good idea to have your bike serviced regularly to keep it working in tip-top shape. If you are very new to the Netherlands, and perhaps to cycling, you might want to start by exploring your immediate surroundings. You could begin by venturing out to a park that you aren't familiar with yet. Or you can just go in a direction that's opposite to your usual travel and see what you can find. If you are looking to take on a big challenge in 2021, there is even a route of almost 1,400 km around the Netherlands. If you complete the route (proven with photographs at specific locations), you’ll even make it to the Nederland Fietsland website's Hall of Fame.

Those looking for shorter routes (that's a relative term!) have plenty to choose from. Given our adopted home's flat landscape, there is little excuse not to hop on your bike and go for a ride. Even cycling to or from the different AWCA areas of Amsterdam, Haarlem and Het Gooi will give you plenty to see. From Amsterdam, you can find an excellent route for biking, no matter what direction you go in. To the northeast, Waterland offers some beautiful scenery to cycle through. Holysloot, which is technically part of Amsterdam-Noord, is a 45-minute bike ride if you start at the ferry behind Amsterdam’s Central station. The fishing village of Marken, also in Waterland, was once an island but has been a peninsula since 1957, when it was connected to the mainland; you can cycle through the equally picturesque village of Durgerdam on the way there. To the east you’ll see Muiden with its iconic castle, and the fortress city of Naarden is just a bit further east. Haarlem is a little over an hour to the west of Amsterdam; once you're there, the beaches of Bloemendaal and Zandvoort are easily accessible. One of the most well-known routes to the south for Amsterdam road cyclists is the Rondehoep, which starts in Ouderkerk aan de Amstel. The bike ride from Amsterdam to Ouderkerk is a good one on its own and, once restaurants and cafés reopen, it’s a lovely destination for lunch. If you want to head further south, you can ride through Abcoude toward Utrecht or a national park like the Utrechtse Heuvelrug National Park (website only in Dutch). If you don’t want to cycle the entire distance to a national park, try the Hoge Veluwe National Park, which has free bikes for people to use while visiting. Even though this park has 1,800 free bikes available at its entrances, that Dutch saying "OP = OP" (when they're gone, they're gone) certainly applies here. You are also welcome to bring your own bikes to use on the 40 km of bike lanes in the park; this is a great idea if you have children, because the park has limited sizes of kids' bikes. And speaking of park-like areas, Keukenhof is also a great place to rent bikes and cycle around the flower fields.

For every cycling route, you’ll find there are almost as many route finders and cycling apps. If you want to use your phone to guide you, make sure you have something to mount it onto your bike, or you could be fined €95 for cycling while holding your phone in your hand. Fietsknoop.nl has an app in English to help you find your way, as does Efita. Natuurmonumenten has cycling routes around their listed sites of important landscapes and areas of cultural heritage. Although Statsbosbeheer (The Dutch National Forest Service) primarily provides walking routes through their 273,000 hectares of protected nature, they also have some cycling routes on their website (you will have to check the box for Fietsen to filter for cycling routes). Holland Cycling Routes offers ideas for day trips or longer trips, and Holland-Cycling.com has guided cycle tours as well. If you have a paid subscription to the cycling/running/walking tracking app Strava, you can search for routes that others have made or you can create your own.

Is there somewhere you'd like to cycle, but it's too far away to get there and back in a day? There are options! You can take your bike on the train during off-peak hours with a special bike ticket (available to purchase online or in the NS app); you should also register your bike on the train in advance to make sure there is space. You can find the details here. Perhaps you'd like to take a few days for your trip? Vrienden op de Fiets is a guesthouse network for cyclists and hikers around the Netherlands. Once you've registered, you can stay at others' homes for a small fee. Want to make more of a vacation out of your cycling? Holland.com has some suggestions and links to various companies. Dutch Biketours offer self-guided cycling tours, including hotel accommodations and luggage transfers; all you have to do is the cycling. Boat Bike Tours offers cruises with cycling days in the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe.

Do you have favorite places to cycle that you'd like to share? In the American Women's Club members-only Facebook group, you can join the lively conversation! Not yet a member? We'd love to have you!

Where to Go: Walking in the Netherlands

by Marcie Asplin

New Year, New You? 

Walking — it’s something almost everyone can do, and there are usually few costs associated with this activity. It is something you can do with or without purpose. You can walk somewhere or you can simply meander aimlessly without a destination in mind. You can do it for exercise or for pleasure (this is sometimes one and the same). Unlike some sports, little special equipment is needed to walk in the Netherlands. Since the country is mostly flat, you can get away with walking in a good pair of trainers but if you walk regularly, it’s a good idea to invest in some proper walking shoes. You certainly don’t need any technical gear, since you'll come across few hills, let alone face a mountain in the Netherlands. Walking is also one of those activities that hasn’t been hampered by coronavirus regulations, so it could be a great way to begin an exercise plan if that’s on your list of New Year’s resolutions. You can go out on your own or adapt the number of people in your group to comply with the rules. 

Walking Routes

The Dutch love to walk, and if you search for wandelroutes (walking routes), you will get numerous pages of results and other search suggestions. There is even a Royal Walkers Union of the Netherlands (Koninklijke Wandelbond Nederland) and they offer suggestions for walking routes on wandel.nl. They also have links to non-KWBN affiliated websites that offer free walking routes, including NS wandelroutes (usually from one train station to another but sometimes in a loop), Staatsbosbeheer routes and Natuurmonumenten routes. There are hundreds of walking trails to choose from on these three websites alone. AllTrails also has thousands of routes and, after signing up for a free account, you can search by location. You can use the app to guide you in real time, but to download routes for offline use, you’ll need to upgrade to a Pro account first. If exploring cities is more your thing, GPSmycity.com has many options and, closer to home, Amsterdam Experiences offers free weekly walks when you sign up for their newsletter. 

I’ve created a Google map with some suggested walking areas I’ve read about in other Facebook groups or on blogs (via newsletters from outdoor goods companies such as Bever in the Netherlands or A.S.Adventure in Belgium). Most of the linked walks are to Dutch websites, but Google Translate can help if you need it. This map currently only has places to walk in the Netherlands and is by no means extensive but there are also loads of options in nearby Belgium (just a few are listed here) as well as Germany, for when traveling becomes a possibility again. If you are looking for something longer, the Gelukkigerwijspad (Happy Wise Way) is a modern pilgrimage of 125km around the province of Utrecht. It is divided up into six walks and has public transport suggestions to make day trips a possibility as well.

Organized Events

There are also organized wandelevenementen (walking events) throughout the year, however most events this year have been postponed, canceled or modified because of the coronavirus. You can find a coronavirus-adjusted agenda on the de Wandeldate website. There are several local events, one of which is the Dam tot Dam wandeltocht (Dam to Dam walking tour). This is a walk of 20-40 km from Amsterdam to Zaandam, depending on the route you choose, and it is usually held on the third Saturday in September. In 2020, it was called the Dam tot Dam Wandeltocht Thuiseditie (home edition) and the organizers created an app where you could record your walk and still receive a medal for participating. Other events that are easily accessible for AWCA members are the Amsterdam City Walk in October, the Urban Walk in Haarlem in November, and the 30 van Zandvoort in March. Many of these walks raise money for goede doelen (charities), although it is through optional donations when registering for the event rather than reaching a fundraising minimum to participate. Most organized events have different distance options. Some are as short as 5 km but some can be more than 40 km. 

Some events take place over multiple days. And some events fill up quickly once the registration opens, although this is more common for running events than walking events. The most well-known of these events is the Nijmegen Vierdaagse which takes place over four days. This started as a military event with a few civilian participants and is now a mostly civilian event with some military personnel taking part. You can choose to walk 30, 40 or 50 km per day for four days. It even has a training program for first-timers (Via Vierdaagse, organized by the KWBN), which guarantees you entry into the Vierdaagse. An offshoot of the Vierdaagse is the Avondvierdaagse. These local walks are often organized by schools and take place over four evenings. The distances are usually 5, 10 or 15 km per evening. You can read one mother’s funny account of the Avondvierdaagse here.

Are you interested in walking? AWCA has a well-established group in Haarlem that walks every Friday. You can check the calendar for more information about the group. There are other enthusiastic walkers, some with dogs, who are always up for a walk around a park. If you’d like to organize a walking group, you can reach out in our private Facebook group. In Amsterdam, there's a WhatsApp group chat ready to welcome new walkers; again, just ask in the Facebook group. You can also arrange a walking activity for club members (coronavirus regulations permitting) here. If you have any suggestions to add to the map, please let me know by email: editor@awca.nl.

Dutch Healthcare

by Marcie Asplin

December is an excellent month to talk about healthcare and health insurance in the Netherlands, since it’s the month when you are free to change insurance providers or make changes to your existing policy. If you wish, you can cancel your current policy by December 31, 2020, and you have until January 31, 2021, to pick a new health insurance policy, which will be effective retroactively to January 1, 2021. Dutch law requires all residents to have health insurance, and lots of information already exists on the subject. This video is a great place to start if you need help understanding Dutch health insurance basics. XPAT.NL also has a series of articles on healthcare in the Netherlands, from finding and going to the huisarts (family doctor or GP) to visiting a specialist to what to do if you have other medical issues.

Coverage

All basic health insurance policies (basisverzekering) are more or less the same, the terms being set by the government. Costs vary between insurance companies, but each insurer must charge individuals the same premium. Although insurance companies are obliged to accept any applicant for basic coverage, they do not have to accept your application for supplementary insurance coverage (aanvullende verzekering). Where the insurers really differentiate themselves (in terms of coverage and extra cost) is therefore in the supplemental coverage they offer. Supplemental care includes physiotherapist or chiropractic visits, dental coverage or medical coverage abroad, among others. Alternative therapies such as acupuncture and homeopathy are also covered, although you need to find a licensed provider affiliated with an approved umbrella organization.

You can have different coverage levels for each paying adult in a household, either by the same insurance company or with other providers. The basisverzekering is free for children under 18 (including dental coverage), and children are also included free of charge on the most comprehensive parental aanvullende verzekering policies. For example, we knew our son would need braces, so we added dental coverage to my husband’s policy. My son’s braces were then covered up to a certain amount, which varies by insurer. Timing is also an issue, as sometimes you need to have the coverage for at least one year before you are allowed to submit a claim under it.

It’s a good idea, however, to check the math and see if adding coverage is really worth it. For example, unless you have a complicated eye prescription, it may not make sense to add €5 per month (or more) to your insurance rate for a payout of €200 for new glasses once every three years. 

Compare costs

The Consumentenbond (Consumers Association) reports that healthcare costs will increase an average of about €59 annually in 2021. There are several websites to use to compare the costs of health insurance policies. Zorgwijzer has a comparison tool in English and also guides you through the available choices. Independer lets you compare health and other types of insurance on their website (in Dutch). Zorgkiezer compares not only health insurance but also hospitals, GPs, physiotherapists and dentists as well (in Dutch).

Own contribution

Your personal contribution to the cost of your Dutch health insurance consists of the eigen risico (literally, own risk; otherwise known as your deductible or excess) and your eigen bijdrage (copayment or personal contribution). The eigen risico is fixed each year by the government when it presents its annual budget on Prinsjesdag (held on the third Tuesday in September each year) and is the same for all insurers. This amount was €385 per adult for 2020 and will remain the same for 2021. Care falling under eigen risico includes medicines, ambulance transport, emergency help, and hospital admission but does not include visits to your family doctor or the huisartsenpost at the hospital (pre-approved urgent care), midwife or obstetrician services, care for children under 18 years, and possibly other medical services. You’ll find a good explanation of eigen risico here. To keep the cost of your policy down, you can increase the amount for eigen risico. Your insurer may also give you a discount if you pay annually instead of monthly.

In general, you have three years to claim healthcare costs, although insurers can set different time limits. It’s always a good idea to submit claims before the end of the calendar year, to be on the safe side.

Receiving care

Illnesses don’t always happen at the most convenient times of day, especially where kids are involved. For after-hours care needs between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m. or anytime on weekends/holidays, you should call the huisartsenpost (after-hours general practice center) for help (contact info is here for Amsterdam, Haarlem and Het Gooi). You are advised to contact your huisarts or the huisartsenpost first, even if you think you need to go to the hospital. When possible, you need to provide your insurance policy number, BSN number, name of your huisarts and a medications list when calling the huisartsenpost. For life-threatening emergencies, call 112 for assistance or an ambulance. 

Suppose you want to share your medical information between the GP, pharmacy and any specialists you may see. In that case, you can give permission to the Landelijk Schakelpunt (National Exchange Point) to facilitate this. Without permission, each new specialist you see will need to request your records before they can treat you. 

The GGD (Geneeskundige en Gezondheidsdienst or Public Health Service), which has regional branches, is responsible for public health. They carry out well-baby check-ups for newborns up to age four, including scheduling vaccinations. They do childhood developmental checks at age five and ten. If you need travel vaccinations, you can arrange them at your local GGD for a fee. They are currently also providing coronavirus testing for people with symptoms and will likely play a role if and when there is a large-scale coronavirus vaccine program.

Differences with US system

There are differences between Dutch and American healthcare, which may take some getting used to. You need to register with a huisarts (preferably in your neighborhood) who serves as your first point of contact when you need care. The huisarts will write referrals if you need to see a specialist. Referrals are not required to see physiotherapists or midwives – you can contact those professionals directly. If you have several health issues or concerns, you can and should book a longer appointment with your huisarts. Walk-in appointments (during a GP’s spreekuur, or consulting hour, which may actually be only a half hour) are generally no longer than 10 minutes and are for one issue only. If you are pregnant, you won’t visit your huisarts for regular checks, but you will see a midwife instead. Internations has a good summary of pregnancy and childbirth in the Netherlands. Amsterdam Mamas has a series of articles on pregnancy, childbirth and the unusual concept of the kraamverzorgster (maternity assistant) as well. Each baby born in the Netherlands receives a certain number of days of in-home maternity care (kraamzorg), which provides postnatal care to a new mother and her baby in the eight to 10 days immediately after birth.

Dutch doctors do not provide antibiotics nearly as frequently as American doctors do. It is part of their strategy to reduce antibiotic resistance. They prescribe them when necessary, but in many cases Dutch doctors prefer to let the body try and heal itself first. When it comes to women’s health, exams like pap smears are generally done once every five years from age 30 and mammograms every two years after age 50. If you wish to have an exam more frequently, you will have to pay for it unless you have a medical indication to the contrary. For an independent mammogram, you can visit the Breast Care Center. Your huisarts can do a pap smear for you on request, or you can make an appointment at an independent clinic like the Women’s Healthcare Center in Amsterdam. 

When it comes to your body, you are your own best advocate. Sometimes you will have to be persistent to get the treatment you might need. If you have chronic or complicated health needs, get a copy of your US medical records before you move, if possible. Having evidence that your concerns are real is especially useful and your Dutch doctors will have a more complete picture of your health history. Being clear about your expectations and being able to thoughtfully present reasons why you’d like specific tests will likely create a more harmonious and productive relationship with your huisarts. If you are unhappy with your huisarts, you have the right to find a new one.

Thanksgiving is Saved

By Meredith Mani

Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving 2020 will be a chance for all of us to focus on the “thanks” part of the holiday and less on “giving” friends and family a lavish dinner. This year, we are allowed to celebrate with just family and maybe a friend or two. Paring down Thanksgiving doesn’t have to mean doing without. In fact, with a bit of creativity and planning, this might be your most memorable Thanksgiving yet.

Setting the scene

Whether this is your first Thanksgiving in the Netherlands or your 25th, this year is unique and offers an opportunity to celebrate this holiday as intended — from the perspective of gratitude. Set the scene for this gratitude by creating a table that encourages everyone gathered to express their appreciation for the bounty they have received over the last year.

Flowers are a simple and beautiful way to set the tone. Luckily, Amsterdam has fantastic and inexpensive flowers everywhere. Russet and jewel-colored flowers and branches make beautiful arrangements this time of year. You can also go out into nature and gather some large colorful leaves to scatter on the table or line a hurricane lamp.

Member Sherrie Zwail, a decorator, offers several resources for finding themed décor. “I usually buy autumn leaves at the flower kiosk next to AKO,” Zwail says. She also suggests ordering online from Beekwilder, Pipoos and Seizensdecoratie.

Zwail, who has lived in the Netherlands for years, has some creative ideas for setting a grateful table. “I ask everyone to send me a message ahead of time of what they are grateful for. I print each out and randomly place the message under each plate. During the dinner each person reads the message under the plate out loud,” relates Sherrie. She also collects small rocks and puts one at each place setting along with brightly colored nail polish so each person can write what they are thankful for and take home the rock after dinner. Sherrie also suggests printing out random Thanksgiving facts and putting those at each place setting, as well, then having people read them out loud during dinner. It sure beats talking politics with family!

Cooking your own bird

Dutch ovens weren’t built to cook large turkeys, so over the years, members have devised several clever ways to get around the problem of too-small ovens. Some will split open a turkey so that it cooks flat. Others roast a chicken or individual Cornish Game hens instead of a big bird. Karen Savage suggests trying the turkey hack of buying only the breast from your local butcher or market. Cornish hens can be found in many places; even Hanos and Albert Hein have them. Wonderful Cornish hens can be found at the Paul de Wit stand at the Saturday market in Oud Zuid.

If you’d like to try roasting a turkey yourself, Chris Kip at the Albert Cuyp market is extremely popular for fresh turkeys. The sizes of turkeys here in the Netherlands are smaller than the massive Butterball turkeys we are used to seeing in the States. Martha Canning has years of Dutch turkey-buying experience and says, “Slagerij de Leeuw is the Gold Standard when it comes to Thanksgiving, but there is a price attached! AWCA member Cyndee Rose uses Chris Kip and makes the good point that, “More than ever, we should support local businesses; these market vendors are still there everyday, doing little business.”

In Amstelveen, Laura’s Poelier/Traiteur is one of the well-known places for sourcing your turkey. If you have children at the International School of Amsterdam (ISA), you will have had their Thanksgiving/American breakfast. Those turkeys are provided by Wagenaar Poelier Traiteur. Wagenaar Poelier is also famous for their chicken balls (they are addictive little things) and is located very close to the ISA.

For our members living outside the city, ‘t Gooi Area Rep Hélène Garofalo recommends De Larense Wildhandel. She swears this will be “the best turkey you’ve ever had!” Floor Poelier is also a good source for turkey, she adds.

Near Haarlem, Slagerij Rob in Zwanenburg has been the go-to turkey provider for years. Rob will order the turkey based on your size specifications, and he will even roast it for you in his large oven. He will stuff the turkey using his recipe or you can drop off your secret family recipe and he will use that. Pick-up needs to be arranged in advance. Taste of Home on Gedempte Oude Gracht in Haarlem has canned pumpkin and other imported American and English specialties!

Let someone else do the cooking...

Sometimes, it’s just easier and more efficient to have the entire meal delivered. Martha Canning continues her recommendation of Slagerij de Leeuw: “You can order a turkey from them [that is] free range from France, and it will be the best turkey you've ever eaten in your life — seriously. You can also have them cook the turkey for you, and choose between you delivering your homemade stuffing to them ahead of time to stuff the turkey, or letting them stuff it with their own stuffing. This is a great option for people with a small oven. They also offer side dishes, gravy, etc., so you can basically order your whole Thanksgiving meal from them. Be sure to order ahead of time, as last minute is not an option.”

There are also plenty of restaurants that would appreciate your business. Frank’s Smokehouse normally has a week of Thanksgiving-themed meals, culminating with a Sunday buffet. If coronavirus rules ease, Frank’s restaurant will be open for Thanksgiving. In the meantime, their deli is open and they are taking pre-orders for Thanksgiving delivery. They are still able to cook and deliver a complete Thanksgiving feast, offering turkeys in two sizes: 3 kilos (serving 4-6 people) and 5 kilos (serving up to 14 people). All the turkeys are imported from France and are organic, free range turkeys. They stuff them with a vegetable based, gluten-free stuffing or can leave the stuffing out. The turkeys are smoked, which creates a juicier, tender bird and will fill your home with a wonderful aroma. In addition to the turkey you will get gravy, a sweet potato dish, potato gratin, cranberries, and either NY cheesecake or pecan pie. They deliver all over the Netherlands so, no matter where you are, you can still gobble up this deal. Frank’s is also offering AWCA members a 10 percent discount on all purchases for the remainder of the year, including Thanksgiving. Just use the code AWCA2020 at checkout.

Pendergast is a smokehouse barbeque restaurant in Amsterdam — “inspired by the culture of Prohibition-era Kansas City” —  that is owned by an American. He offers smoked turkey and pecan pie all season long. Contact them to order if you’d like to try Thanksgiving from Pendergast. It might be fun to do something other than turkey since it’s been an unconventional year anyway. Maybe a Thanksgiving brisket will right the world again.

...or do it yourself after all

Love to cook and can’t imagine not providing the full spread yourself? We have your resources! Kelly’s Expat has a store here in Amsterdam and another in Wassenaar. But let your fingers do the shopping by ordering online and have holiday fixings sent to you. It’s best to order as early as possible if you’d like to snag canned pumpkin or Stove Top stuffing. Tjin’s in de Pijp also has Thanksgiving staples like marshmallows and pie filling. Eichholtz Delicatessen on the Leidsestraat sells products for Thanksgiving and all major holidays. Lindenhoff is a gourmet food delivery service and market that offers many items for your holiday table. Why not mix your American traditions with local Dutch products? Lindenhoff sells fresh cranberries from Terschelling.

And don’t forget the drinks!

What would Thanksgiving be without good wine and spirits? Fortunately for us, we have two members who are experts in this area. Julee Resendez is a Master Sommelier who will find wines that pair perfectly with your meal and deliver your order to your doorstep. “Wines, you can get through me. Rieslings, Zinfandel, Syrah and Cabs are great with turkey. We can even do American wines, and support wineries that need our support due to fires and Covid…everyone is hurting there,” says Julee. She added, “This month's box is female winemakers... so [it’s] quite a fun box.” You can contact Julee through her website www.vanbelleacademy or by messaging her on our Facebook site.

It’s been a tough year, so maybe you’d like something a bit stronger than wine. Member Bianca Kahlenburg has a line of all natural, no-added-sugar, gluten-free, infused vodkas. Her company, Starship Spirits, is offering AWCA members a special Thanksgiving Cocktail kit with all the ingredients to make your very own Pumpkin Spiced Mules at home. The kit, including a 70cl bottle of Starship Spirits Ginger Lime vodka and recipe card, can be delivered for €60 by emailing Bianca at vodkasodaamsterdam@gmail.com.

Be thankful!

Whether your table has a Cornish Game hen for one on it or a turkey for as many people as the law will allow, this year it is vital that we all count our blessings and be thankful for what we have. Be thankful you have the opportunity to live abroad, that you have your health, that you live in a world with technology that allows you to FaceTime and Zoom with loved ones far away, and that we are all in this together. Some of us have dealt with loss this year or are experiencing professional uncertainty because of Covid. Not every day is easy, and it can be hard to find gratitude when you feel things are out of control. Know that we at the AWCA are grateful to have you in our sisterhood. We are here to raise a glass in friendship or to lend an ear in hardship. Together, even during difficult times, we are here for each other and support each other. In the words of Mother Teresa, “None of us, including me, ever do great things. But we can do small things, with great love, and together we can do something wonderful.”

Shopping Survival Tips in Amsterdam (and beyond*)

This article was originally written in 2018 by past president Rhonda Jimenez and was focused on Amsterdam shopping. It has been updated for 2020 by Marcie Asplin. 

*Most of the stores mentioned have branches across the Netherlands and you can order articles from several of the others. For shopping tips beyond Amsterdam, please watch for a  more extensive article which includes information for Haarlem, Utrecht and ‘t Gooi.

So, you’ve just arrived in Amsterdam and you have no idea where to shop for what you need. If only there was a Target! Here are some basics to help you survive without that Target or Walmart down the road, and a few go-to’s and tips to help you find what you need — fast.

Groceries: You have probably already found Albert Heijn (AH), but did you know that they deliver? It’s so much easier than balancing your bike with a full load of groceries and then carrying it up two flights of stairs. Other grocery stores are Jumbo, Aldi and Lidl. For organic groceries, try Marqt (similar to Whole Foods, although not everything is organic but rather local, ethically-sourced or sustainable) or Ekoplaza. TIP: Many items you can’t find are usually shelved in strange locations and or have unique packaging. American peanut butter can sometimes be found in the wereldkeuken (world cuisine) aisle with Indonesian foods, not with the Dutch nut butters. Sweetened condensed milk is in the Asian food section. Evaporated milk is called koffiemelk and is found near the coffee, as is sugar (rather than the baking aisle). Bleach is called bleek (or dikbleek) and looks like toilet cleaner. Ask for help if you need it. You will slowly find everything you need.

American Stuff: If you still can’t find what you need in the grocery chains, try Tjin’s Toko in De Pijp or Eichholtz on Leidsestraat. Both international stores charge a big premium but offer things like canned pumpkin puree, Betty Crocker cake mixes and frostings, Pop Tarts, Lucky Charms, and many other American treasures. Newer to the expat food store scene are Kelly’s Expat Shopping (also with locations in The Hague and Wassenaar) and The Junior’s, both located on Ferdinand Bolstraat in De Pijp. Make a trip to one; it’s worthwhile! There are also small international grocery stores called tokos dotted around the city. They are great for pan-Asian ingredients and may also have some American ingredients (looking at you, Arm & Hammer baking soda). If your local searches don’t unearth what you are looking for, you can try ordering online from My American Market

Health and Beauty: Etos, Kruidvat and Da (drugstore is drogisterij in Dutch) are like CVS or Walgreens, except you can’t get prescriptions filled. TIP: Solid deodorants are hard to find, hydrogen peroxide (waterstofperoxide) is only sold in tiny bottles and Visine isn’t sold here, so if you use any of these regularly, you should probably stock up in the US before arriving or pick them up on a trip home. To fill prescriptions, you need to go to an apotheek (pharmacy), which you can usually spot by the neon green cross hanging outside. You will also need to register at a pharmacy so your doctor can (digitally) send your prescriptions there to be filled. You can’t just have a prescription filled at a pharmacy that happens to be closest to your location at that particular time. Holland & Barrett is classified as a drogisterij but focuses on vitamins and natural soaps/shampoos, and it has an extensive range of teas and alternative (baking) ingredients (including superfoods, vegan and gluten-free items). If you’re looking for a store like Sephora, Douglas and ICI Paris XL sell higher-end makeup, beauty supplies and perfumes/colognes.

Home goods: Blokker has most items that you would find in a Target: supplies for cleaning, kitchen and bathroom items, small appliances (personal care and household), and some home decor. HEMA also has home and office items as well as food and clothing basics. Action, Wibra and Zeeman are similar to Kmart, selling inexpensive clothing and some home/kitchen goods. Big Bazar is like the Dollar Store, as is Xenos, which also has a Pier1 feel to it.

Appliances: MediaMarkt, BCC and Expert sell all things electronic — from irons to video games to TVs and refrigerators — much like Best Buy back home. They have physical stores in many locations. Coolblue (which also has 10 stores across the Netherlands), bol.com and Amazon.de are good online sources for electric appliances as well. Recently, Amazon.nl came online but their offering is still limited in comparison to Amazon.de.

DIY stores / Garden centers: Praxis, Gamma and Karwei are the Home Depot equivalents; most sell garden supplies, and larger ones will have plants and flowers, too. You can search for a bouwmarkt + (the name of your city) to find the DIY store closest to you. There are also places to rent tools and equipment for building projects; Boels and Bo-Rent are two of them. There are also large garden centers around the country if you are really into plants and gardening. Search for tuincentrum + (city) for the garden center nearest you. Intratuin has several locations in Noord Holland and Tuincentrum Osdorp is one of the larger garden centers near Amsterdam. DIY stores and garden centers also sell holiday decorations as well as live and fake trees if you celebrate Christmas.

Fashion: The trendy Nine Streets and busy Kalverstraat are always fun shopping destinations. But when it’s wet or cold, try the Stadshart mall in Amstelveen. There is a large De Bijenkorf department store in the mall. Closer to Amsterdam you’ll find the Gelderlandplein shopping center in Buitenveldert. They have free underground parking for the first 1.5 hours. 

Furniture: Ikea is a mainstay, but stop by Loods 5 and the outlet behind it — together, they take up a full block — for a huge selection of furniture. There is also a woonmall (home furnishings mall) called Villa ArenA located near the Amsterdam ArenA — you’ll experience long waits, but also good quality custom furniture. In the Bovenkerk area of Amstelveen, there are several furniture stores to be found, including De Troubadour, Leen Baker, Kwantum, and more. Online, try Woonexpress and Wehkamp

Outlet Shopping: Not an outlet per se, but the T.K. Maxx discount store has arrived in the Netherlands. There are a few locations, including Osdorpplein in Amsterdam. There is also a huge outlet mall about 1.5 hours away in Lelystad, called Batavia Stad. The outlets will remind you of home, with many of the same outlets you know and love — from Nike to Michael Kors. There are other similar outlet malls in Roermond and Roosendaal, as well as Maasmechelen Village in Belgium. 

School Supplies: HEMA and Gebroeders Winter have stores all over the Netherlands. Big stores like Office Depot do exist (OfficeCentre is one) but you need to have your own business to become a customer. 

Sporting Goods: If you’ve got kids, or are a sporty person yourself, chances are you’ll need sporting goods of some kind. You can find shoes, clothing and equipment for various sports at places like Decathlon, Intersport, Sport2000 and Bristol. Hockey District in Amsterdam and Special Sports in Amstelveen specialize in field hockey equipment and also carry clothing for some clubs. Voetbalshop.nl is a great place to find football basics online, and your (child’s) club may get their uniforms from there as well. If you are a runner, Runnersworld has stores in Amstelveen, Bussum and Utrecht (among others), and Run2day has stores in Amsterdam, Haarlem, Hilversum and Utrecht. Bever, with stores across the Netherlands, is the place to look for your hiking and camping needs. You can also shop for those things online at Trekkinn or A.S. Adventure.

Second-hand Shopping: If reducing, reusing and recycling is more your style, there are lots of places to find second-hand goods. A thrift store is a kringloopwinkel in Dutch. A second-hand (children’s) clothing store is a tweedehands (kinder)kledingwinkel, some of which are consignment shops. There is a list of stores in central Amsterdam and, to find a second-hand store near you, check Alle Kringloopwinkels. There are also consignment shops in Amsterdam Zuid that offer designer clothing, like Mooi and Freddy’s. For children’s clothes and toys, you can try Lino & Moos, JunJun and Kids & Queens (which also has some women’s clothes). Boomerang in Amstelveen has clothing and accessories at one location, and another location a few blocks away sells furniture and home goods. Rataplan is a large thrift shop which has household goods, appliances, clothing and furniture. They have three locations around Amsterdam. If you are moving and have things to donate, they will come and pick it up by appointment (there is often a wait for pick-ups, so book your appointment in advance!). Online, Marktplaats is a cross between Craigslist and eBay; you can find almost anything you need or want there (also from businesses)! While plenty of items are offered by genuine, individual sellers, there are also some dishonest people selling items there, so it is better to (agree to) buy something you can collect in person so you can check that it’s legitimate (certainly for big-ticket items like secondhand phones). There is also Facebook marketplace, where you can set your location and then search based on a certain distance to find items you want in your area.

Good luck on your next shopping adventure: you will survive! Remember, look carefully — and you can probably find it!

 

Getting Situated

It’s not easy to arrive in a new country and figure out how to arrange everything right away. You are overwhelmed by newness — a new city, a new language, a new home, probably a new job (for at least one family member) and, if you have children, new schools. If you are lucky, you may have a relocation company helping you to settle in. If not, we will provide you with some information here to help you get your new life organized. 

Before we start on the nitty gritty, here is a random fact you need to know right away: The Netherlands has a public warning system that is tested at noon on the first of Monday of each month, except on religious or national holidays, including Remembrance Day (May 4). 

For basics on day-to-day living in the Netherlands, in English, IamExpat and I amsterdam both do a fantastic job of providing information. I amsterdam has a lot of helpful information on settling in and life in Amsterdam. For official things like registering with the gemeente (municipality) when you move here or getting a BSN number (burgerservicenummer, which is like a Social Security number) or a DigiD (digital identification used to access government websites), the two websites cover these topics and more. It's worth exploring both websites to see who you need to contact for what and what you need to do if you are moving here without any relocation help. 

For dealing with Dutch resources, Google Translate is handy online and has a useful app. You can type in words, scan them with your phone’s camera, or even use the microphone for a verbal translation. If you install Google Chrome on your computer or phone, it can translate entire websites for you.

There are a few things worth pointing out, however. 

Official Administration

The Gemeente

You will inevitably have to take care of some official administration at the gemeente during your time in the Netherlands. You have to register (inschrijven) within five days of arriving in the Netherlands if you plan to stay for more than four months. Similarly, you will have to deregister (uitschrijven) before you permanently leave the country. If eligible, you have six months to exchange your driving license (rijbewijs) for a Dutch one. Read this article to see if you qualify; if not, you will have to take the theory and practical driving exams to get a Dutch license. If you have a car, you will often need a parking permit (parkeervergunning) depending on where you live. To find parking information for your specific area, check your local gemeente website. This is usually town + .nl (amsterdam.nl, haarlem.nl, etc.), and if not, you should be redirected to your gemeente when you try it. 

IND

The IND (Immigratie- en Naturalisatiedienst or Immigration and Naturalisation Service) is the department that handles immigration, i.e., work and/or residence permits. If you stay long enough and decide you want to make the Netherlands your permanent home, they also handle permanent residency and citizenship applications. You usually need to have documents like birth and marriage certificates legalized with an apostille for work and residence permits. It is best to arrange apostilles before you arrive in the Netherlands since it has to be done by the authority which issued the document. You can find contact information for each US Secretary of State here, but it is often the Department of Public Health which actually issues the apostilled document. 

It is critical to know that all Dutch-issued identification belongs to the government (residence permits, driving licenses, passports, etc.). If yours is lost or stolen, you will need to file a police report before applying for a new one. You will be asked to turn in your old ID when getting a new one. Also good to know is that everyone over the age of 14 must carry ID at all times. For non-EU citizens, this can be a passport, Dutch residence permit, or, in some cases, a driving license.

SVB

One agency that might slip under the radar is the SVB (Sociale Verzekeringsbank or Social Insurance Agency). Most people working in the Netherlands have social insurance contributions taken out of their salaries (see svb.nl for exemptions). Since the Netherlands has a social insurance treaty with the US, most Americans working in the Netherlands are entitled to receive quarterly child benefit payments (kinderbijslag) for their children up to age 18. The SVB should automatically contact parents of children born in the Netherlands within a few weeks following the registration of the child's birth at the gemeente. If your child was born elsewhere, you can also apply for child benefit.

Banking / Credit Cards / Tikkie

Banking & Tikkie

The banking system here is very different from that in the US — for starters, checks don’t exist here. Many stores no longer accept cash (contant), only debit cards (pay by pin). It’s common here to pay for purchases via bank transfer (overmaken), so there is no need to be suspicious if someone asks for your bank account details. Once your bank account is set up, you can use your bank’s app to manage most payments and transfers, but some payments or amounts may need to be done online by logging in to your bank’s website. Direct debit (incasso or machtiging) is a very common way to pay utility bills or other monthly or recurring payments. You may also receive requests to pay bills or invoices by bank transfer. You can also easily pay friends back for things (such as a movie ticket, splitting a lunch bill, etc.) the same way, using your bank’s app. When people owe you money, you can use Tikkie, an app that helps you request payment from someone. Anyone with a Dutch bank account can use Tikkie, and some banks also have their own in-app methods of requesting payment from someone (such as ING’s betaalverzoek). When shopping online on Dutch websites, you’ll find that iDEAL is a common payment method for transferring money directly from your bank account to a merchant. Once you are used to the system, you will wonder why something similar is not used in the US.

Before you get your local bank account set up, it’s good to know where you (and future visitors) can use your U.S. bank cards. Dutch debit cards (PIN cards) work on the Maestro network. You can find ATM locations here where you can use a US bank card on Mastercard, Maestro or Cirrus networks. To use a US bank card from the Visa or Plus network, look here. You can use cards on the Plus network at ABN AMRO and Royal Bank of Scotland ATMs. You can use cards on the Cirrus network at ABN AMRO, ING and Rabobank. If you need to transfer money to or from a US bank, Transferwise is good for large sums. PayPal can also be used to transfer smaller sums for a small fee. 

Credit cards

Credit cards are less common here and do not work in all stores (especially grocery stores). They are more likely to be accepted in restaurants or at hotels. Usually used for larger purchases or on international websites, credit cards issued by Dutch banks are paid off monthly like charge cards, unlike true American credit cards where you can just pay a minimum monthly amount. To be able to repay over time with interest, you have to specifically request this credit feature, called Gespreid Betalen Faciliteit in Dutch. ICS is a major issuer of Visa and Mastercard cards, and American Express (AMEX) is also available in the Netherlands. AMEX has various cards for KLM Flying Blue members which help you accrue KLM miles. To read more about obtaining a credit card in the Netherlands, click here.

Utilities

Nationwide

In the Netherlands, you have a choice of providers for most utilities. Easy Nuts (nut = utility) is a free service for expats to help them select trusted utility providers; they also provide flexible contracts. You can compare prices from energy companies, mobile telephone providers, TV and internet providers, and insurance companies. Partner Pete is another free service to help you set up utilities. They specialize in helping expats arrange mobile phone contracts as well as internet and energy connections in their new homes.

There are several choices among energy (gas and electricity) providers. Each one has different rates, energy sources, etc. Gaslicht.com lets you compare your options and helps you sign up for the best option for you (it’s free). You can switch every year (or when your contract is up for renewal) to get a better rate, and Gaslicht can help you do that (and send you reminder emails). Typically, you pay the same amount each month, based on estimated usage, and at the end of 12 months you will either owe the energy company a bit more or they will give you a refund. You only pay for what you use.

Prijsvergelijken.nl (prijs = price, vergelijken = to compare) is just one of many websites that you can use to compare rates on phone, internet and TV services, and insurances, but it’s only in Dutch. Ziggo is the largest cable provider; they also can provide internet. T-Mobile provides home internet, and will discount your rate if you also purchase cell phone service from them. KPN is another popular TV, telephone and internet provider. 

Amsterdam

Waternet is the only home water provider in Amsterdam. Depending on your individual setup, it may be a flat monthly rate based on apartment/home size and number of occupants or a variable bill each month based on a smart meter.

In addition to the cost of water itself, Waternet will also send a tax bill to everyone registered in the municipal register (bevolkingsregister). This bill includes a wastewater purification tax (zuiveringsheffing) and a maintenance fee for maintaining the sewers and monitoring the dikes and other components of the Dutch water level (watersysteemheffing). Municipality tax (gemeentebelasting) also contributes to the cost of this.

To register with Waternet, contact them on telephone number 0900 93 94 (local rate). Make sure you note the water meter reading when moving into a new home and also when moving out. It is also possible to give Waternet the meter reading online.  For problems with the sewers, call 0900 93 94 (local rate).

Beyond Amsterdam

Outside of Amsterdam, glass fiber internet is fairly widely available from a number of providers. It’s really fast!

Vitens provides drinking water in the provinces of Flevoland, Friesland, Gelderland, Utrecht and Overijssel, as well as in some municipalities in Drenthe and Noord-Holland. 

Garbage, Recycling and Donations 

Each gemeente has its own procedures for waste collection and recycling. To find a local afvalbrengstation (garbage dump) and to see what you are permitted to throw away or recycle there, search on your local gemeente website. What can be recycled is similar around the country, although some gemeenten collect recycling on a regular basis rather than having underground collection containers. This excellent article from xpat.nl provides a thorough overview of all things recyclable.

Gemeente Amsterdam

Amsterdam replaced regular weekly garbage pick-ups with underground containers in many areas. There are recycling containers for glass (glas), paper/cardboard (papier/karton), plastic and textile (textiel) all over the city and some areas also have containers for leftover garbage (rest or restafval). The theory behind the underground containers is that birds and other animals won't be able to pick open garbage bags (which results in garbage strewn across the streets). Depending on the population density of your neighborhood, the containers may fill up quickly. You should then find the next closest container and deposit your garbage or recycling there. However, sometimes people leave trash next to the container, which is forbidden. Workers from the gemeente will go through improperly disposed of waste, and if they find out who it belongs to, there is a minimum fine of €95 for the offender.

For a complete overview of garbage sorting and bulky waste collection, please see the relevant links for your neighborhood: Centrum, Nieuw-West, Westor Zuid. For other areas, please visit the Gemeente Amsterdam webpage about household waste.

If a container is full or broken or there is another sort of incident to report (bicycle wrecks, loose pavement tiles, noise from bars/restaurants or people on the street, broken traffic lights, lampposts and clocks), you can use this online form (in Dutch) or call 14 020.

Other Gemeenten

Amstelveen has a mix of underground containers and waste collection. You will find information (in Dutch) about waste and recycling, including a calendar and information about waste collection frequency. Haarlem has different rules and procedures for dealing with garbage, which you can read about here (in Dutch). 'T Gooi also has its own rules about waste (in Dutch). If you live in a different gemeente, search for the name of your town and afval to find out more about how to get rid of trash and recycle in your area.

Donations

One person's trash is another person’s treasure! If you have items in good, clean, usable condition that you no longer want, there are several ways to get rid of them. Clothing, pairs of shoes, accessories (caps, hats and handbags) and household textiles are just a few of the things which can be donated in closed plastic bags in Sympany containers around the country (they are often above ground and green, but not always). You can read this for a complete list of what’s accepted in the containers (in Dutch). Damaged clothing may also be donated. These items get recycled rather than reused. Packmee is another way to get rid of unwanted textiles. You box up your unwanted items, print out a free shipping label, take your package to the nearest DHL counter and off it goes. Packmee only accepts items that can be reused. The few things on their exclusion list are work clothes, foam blankets, chair covers, ski boots and dirty, damaged or torn clothing. If you wouldn’t use it or wear it, please don’t donate it! Rataplan is a kringloopwinkel (thrift shop) that accepts clothing, toys, furniture, appliances and more and can even pick up your items (by appointment only, so plan in advance). Of course, you can always offer your giveaways for free (gratis) on Facebook Marketplace and also on Marktplaats (a Dutch eBay/Craigslist hybrid).

Religious services in English 

With all the chaos that can come with moving, you may be looking for a familiar house of worship to put routine and comfort back into your life. The Netherlands isn’t a particularly religious country, but you can find services in English in many cities. Iamsterdam has a list of religious services in Amsterdam, including Christian churches and synagogues. For a thorough list of Christian church services across the Netherlands, including locations in Haarlem, Hilversum and Utrecht, read here and here; you can find a list of synagogues here. (Note: The accuracy of these websites is not guaranteed, so please check links to individual houses of worship first.) If you are looking for foods certified as Kosher, read here for brands available at supermarkets nationally. To find information on other religions, you can search these maps for a mosque (moskee) or look for Buddhism (Boeddhisme) or Hinduism (Hindoeïsme).

Have any questions or comments, or want to share more ideas? In the American Women’s Club member-only Facebook group, you can join the lively conversation! Not yet a member? We’d love to have you!

How to: The Postal Service

Post Offices and Receiving Packages

Postal services

When you first arrive, you may want to send postcards of your adventures to friends and family back home. But how do you do this? PostNL is the main company that takes care of the mail in the Netherlands. Sandd is another mail delivery company, so you may have different deliveries of mail at different times, depending on who brings it and how frequently they operate. There are no longer any stand-alone post offices, since all have been transferred to postal counters/desks inside various shops, such as grocery stores and office supply shops. You can use the PostNL location finder (in Dutch) to find the closest post office counter to buy stamps, send a package or even transfer your car title after selling your car (yes, this is done at the post office!). Stamps can also be purchased at the customer service counters of Albert Heijn and Jumbo. PostNL also offers the ability to purchase postage stamp codes online, which replace normal stamps. You need to know how much your letter weighs to purchase the correct postage (yet another reason to buy a digital cooking scale), and you receive a nine symbol code made up of letters and numbers, which you write on your letter in place of a normal stamp. You can find the rates for letters and packages here.   

Packages

PostNL delivers packages, but so do DHL and DPD (among others). If you’ve ordered something online, you will usually receive a tracking number so you can check the expected delivery day and time. If PostNL is doing the delivery, you can (also) find this info in the PostNL app. That doesn’t mean, however, that the delivery will always arrive during the stated window of time. As a result, you can expect your packages to be left with neighbors and vice versa. If you are often at home during working hours and your neighbors do a lot of online shopping, you may find that you are becoming a substitute for the local post office branch! If you miss a delivery, you should receive a slip that tells you either when delivery will next be attempted or where you can find your package (with a neighbor or at your nearest pick-up point). Some delivery companies are better about this than others. It is also not unheard of to receive an email informing you that the company was unable to deliver your package, even though you waited at home all day to receive it. You will then need to pick it up, usually at the nearest pick-up point. You can often choose to have a package delivered at a pick-up point instead of your home to ensure you don’t miss the delivery. Be aware that packages must be collected within a limited period of time. Often you only have seven days to collect a package before it is returned to the sender.  

Good to know

Additional information that will make your daily (postal) life in the Netherlands easier:

  • Basic Dutch postal vocabulary:

(post)zegel: (postage) stamp

brief / brieven: letter / letters

kaart: card or postcard

volg je pakket: trace your package

postcode zoeken: search for postal code

adres zoeken: search for address

iets versturen: send something

PostNL-punt: PostNL pick-up point / counter

ontvanger: recipient / addressee

frankeer (frankeren): (to) pay postage

voornaam: first name

tussenvoegsel: insertion (van, van der, etc.) or surname prefix

achternaam: surname

bedrijfsnaam: company name

straatnaam: street name

huisnummer 

   en toev.(toevoeging): house number and addition (A, HS = huis, etc.)

postbus: post office box or P.O. Box

antwoordnummer: freepost number (free to send to these addresses)

woonplaats: city or town

postcode: postal code

  • To address a letter or package, use this format:

First name, prefix (van, van der, etc.), surname

Street name, house or building number / PO Box for a business (sometimes)

Postal code, city/town

Example:

My Friend

Marktstraat 15

1234 AA Amsterdam

  • Click on these links to find an address or postal code (in Dutch) once you know one but not the other.

Have any questions or comments, or want to share more ideas? In the American Women’s Club member-only Facebook group, you can join the lively conversation! Not yet a member? We’d love to have you!

Getting Around

It’s easy to get around the Netherlands, which is great because there is lots to see and do. Residents and visitors alike enjoy an extensive bike lane network, public transportation is reliable, and the roads and highways are generally in great condition. But to be properly prepared before you leave your new home, one of the first things you need to know if you are walking, cycling or taking public transportation is how to check the weather. Weather websites and apps like Buienradar, Weerplaza and Buienalarm can help you decide whether you need that rain jacket / umbrella, which brings us to owning appropriate clothing. Rainproof jackets and pants are a must, especially if you plan on cycling. Gore-tex clothing (and possibly shoes) are worth the investment before arriving in the Netherlands, since you will be using them quite a lot. Inexpensive rain pants and jackets are available at HEMA and at other stores all over the country.

Walking

You would think that this one would be obvious, but there are actually a few things you need to know for safe walking in the Netherlands. When walking, make sure to do it on a sidewalk and not in a bike lane. Bike lanes generally separated from sidewalks, although they may also be elevated like sidewalks. Bike lanes are often paved in red or laid with red tiles. Sidewalks are closer to buildings, and bike lanes are closer to the road (sometimes between buildings and parking spaces, sometimes directly on the street). If you are walking in a bike lane, you can be sure someone will ring their bell and yell at you to get out of the way. Now that you know the how, here’s the why: A pair of comfortable walking shoes and a map are a great way to explore a new city. If you feel like taking a train somewhere and then walking or exploring, NS (Dutch Railways) has walking routes from station to station. There are maps for each route, but the website and detailed directions are in Dutch only.

Cycling 

When looking around the city streets, it’s clear that bikes are a popular transportation method in the Netherlands. In 2016, there were about four times as many bikes as cars in Amsterdam. Although it may sometimes seem that there are no biking rules, since cyclists have been known to run red lights and make other unwise moves, there are safety rules for cyclists. When cycling, be sure to use hand signals so everyone (car drivers, other cyclists and pedestrians) knows your directional intentions. You can be fined for several things while cycling, including holding and using your mobile phone. If you need to use the map on your phone, invest in a phone holder for your bike frame to be safe and save yourself a €95 fine!

Bikes do get stolen frequently, so it is important to have a good lock (or two). It’s best to have a bike that doesn’t look too nice so as not to attract the attention of thieves. There are plenty of places to buy secondhand bikes, including many local bike shops. There are many Facebook groups dedicated to selling bikes and you can also find them on Marktplaats (a Dutch cross between Craigslist and eBay) as well. New bikes often seem expensive compared to US prices, but they actually hold their value and you can easily sell a bike if you move again. BikeFair is a website dedicated to selling used bikes that are verified as non-stolen. And have you noticed a lot of bikes with blue front tires? Those are from Swapfiets, where you pay a monthly fee for a bike of your choice (there are three models to choose from in the Netherlands). If your bike breaks down or is stolen, they will replace it. Sometimes bikes aren’t stolen but instead have been removed by city workers. In Amsterdam, improperly parked bicycles can be impounded. If that happens, you will have to go to the Bicycle Depot (fietsdepot) to collect it after paying a fee. The address and more info can be found here.

Public Transportation

The public transportation network in the Netherlands is good and generally reliable. There are trams, buses, ferries, metros and trains to get you where you need to go. GVB runs the trams and metros in Amsterdam. Connexxion operates most buses in Noord-Holland (especially between Amsterdam and the surrounding areas of Aalsmeer, Amstelveen, Schiphol, and Haarlem and between Amsterdam and ‘t Gooi). The NS runs most trains in the Netherlands, although there are local train companies in some parts of the country. 

Except for children under the age of four (who travel free), a valid ticket or electronic fare is always required to use public transportation. You can purchase single-use tickets, but it is easier and cheaper to travel with a public transport chip card (OV-chipkaart) if you are staying longer than a few days. There are two kinds of cards. Personal cards have your photo on them and can be linked to your bank account for automatically topping up your card balance. Anonymous cards must be manually loaded with a prepaid amount (so you will have to check the balance before you use the card). They are good to have on hand for visitors or if you use public transportation very infrequently. Age-related discounts, student discounts, service subscriptions or season tickets are only available with a personal public transport chip card, not anonymous ones. See which kind of card you need.

When using all forms of public transportation, you will need to check in and out with your public transport chip card or ticket. On trams and buses, swipe your card in front of the card reader when entering and exiting. To ride metros and trains, you need to swipe your card on the reader to pass through the gates (poortjes) to enter and exit the platforms (most, but not all stations have gates). To use your public transport chip card for train travel, you must have a €20 minimum balance for an anonymous card and a €10 minimum balance for a personal card. A personal card is more useful in this case because it is linked to your bank account and can top up automatically if your balance is low. You can read on the OV-chipkaart website how to set up automatic top-ups on your personal card.

If you have a personal public transport chip card, you can purchase seasonal or subscription tickets (an abonnement) if you are a frequent user. Kids between the ages of 4 and 11 can travel for free on trains with someone aged 12 or over if they have a subscription called Kids Vrij. If you take GVB trams, buses or metros in Amsterdam to go to work or school, see the GVB's web page about subscriptions. If you take NS trains to work or school, read here about flexible season tickets or here for traditional season tickets, including those along a fixed route (not available as part of a flexible season ticket). Up to four people can travel together by train at a 40% discount during off-peak times if only one of you has a subscription. For more information on how to get this combined travel discount (samenreiskorting), read here. If you want to take your dog or your bike (during off-peak times only, except during July and August) on a train with you, you will also need to purchase specific tickets.

For traveling outside of Amsterdam, there are several websites or their corresponding apps that may come in handy, such as 9292 (door-to-door information about transportation throughout the entire country), NS Reisplanner (the official app for Dutch Railways), and the official Schiphol Airport app. Google Maps also provides public transportation directions between destinations, where available.

Driving

People do also drive cars in the Netherlands, but with trams, buses, cyclists and pedestrians to consider, it can be a daunting prospect. There are lots of options for getting cars — leasing, buying, renting and even car sharing. You can also import your car when you move but, according to one AWCA member, it may not be worth the time, cost and hassle. If you do want to bring your car with you, read Angloinfo.com’s article on how to register a vehicle in the Netherlands. Once you yourself have registered in the Netherlands, you are able to drive on your American (or other foreign) driving license for only a limited amount of time. If you have a license issued in another EU/EFTA country (and a few other countries), or have the 30% tax ruling, you may exchange your foreign license for a Dutch one within 185 days of registration. You can do this at your local municipality (gemeente) office. Read which documents are required to exchange your license. If you do not meet the conditions for exchanging your license, you must take the Dutch theory exam and pass the practical driving test. Information can be found on the CBR website (in Dutch) on how to go about getting your Dutch license. Even if you don’t need to take the driving test, it’s a good idea to review the rules of the Dutch road to familiarize yourself with the differences — and potentially prevent an accident due to confusion about right of way! There are several online websites in English to learn the driving theory, including Theorie Examen (much of the content is free and in English). If you have a car, you will also need to check with your local municipality to see whether a parking permit is necessary. You will definitely need one in Amsterdam, and you can find information online regarding permits and waiting list times.

If you are moving to the Netherlands and are not sure you will need a car, there are other options besides renting, leasing and buying. Car-sharing companies can provide an easy and hassle-free option if you think you may only need a car occasionally. Share Now (formerly car2go, only in Amsterdam), Connectcar (in Amsterdam and Haarlem, among other cities), Greenwheels (available in 100 cities around the Netherlands), and Sixt Share (a new option, and available in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Den Haag) are just a few. SnappCar is also a car-sharing service, but car owners rent out their private vehicles to other individuals. If you do want to buy a car, you can read Driving a Car in the Netherlands from XPAT.NL and Expatica’s article on Buying a Car in the Netherlands to find out what you need to get started.

No matter how you choose to travel in the Netherlands, all of these options put together will enable you to get out and about and explore your new home country in no time at all!

Looking for more? Members of the American Women’s Club of Amsterdam have access to a wealth of additional information, including web resources and a members-only Facebook group with a long archive to search and plenty of willing help.

For more information about the American Women’s Club of Amsterdam, check out our website or drop us a note. We are an active, diverse club that welcomes new members with open arms, whether you’ve been in the Netherlands for 20 minutes or 20 years.

Going Out

For a tiny country, there is surprisingly no shortage of things to do in the Netherlands. From cinemas to live theaters and concerts to comedy, there are plenty of entertainment options in Amsterdam and beyond. American Women’s Club of Amsterdam members have access to a full calendar of great in-person and virtual events. But beyond the club, how do you find out what’s going on? We aim to provide you links to find out what’s happening, plus a bit of Dutch vocabulary to help you when Google Translate isn’t available or doesn’t work well.

For a general overview of what's happening in Amsterdam, go to www.iamsterdam.com. You can search for upcoming art, music and theater events up to one month in advance. For Haarlem, check the www.visithaarlem.com page (although not everything is in English; you can search for upcoming events by date) or the Haarlem Guide. The events overview for ‘t Gooi can be seen (with some translation) on their Dutch website: Select Uitagenda (events agenda) and, in the filter area, choose between ‘vandaag, morgen, dit weekend, kies datum’ (today, tomorrow, this weekend, choose date) to see what’s happening when. You can also filter on Regio (region). Google Translate works well with this website, so it’s worth checking out, especially if you live outside of ‘t Gooi and want to explore a little. For our Utrecht members, we have some AWCA member-recommended, evergreen ideas for Utrecht on our very own travel blog.

Cinema

Films in English or foreign films with English subtitles

Most cinemas show a mixture of films in Dutch and English. The listings below are for independent theaters in Amsterdam that show arthouse films in the original language with English subtitles.  Most of these cinemas are part of the Cineville group where you can use a monthly unlimited pass for €17.50 (up to age 29) or €21 (age 30+) per month.

Cinema Amstelveen, De Filmhallen, De Uitkijk, FC Hyena, The Movies, Studio/K may also show English language films but do not have special information about them in English. They are listed in the normal agenda online and in the film description it should say [Gesproken] Taal: Engels ([Spoken] Language: English) or will list where the film was produced. Verenigd Koninkrijk and Verenigde Staten are the United Kingdom and the United States, respectively

Other movie theaters outside of Amsterdam with some films in English include: 

Pathé theaters show the latest Hollywood films. Pathé has theaters all over the Netherlands, including Amsterdam, Haarlem and Utrecht. The majority of films are in their original language, English. Children's films are often shown in Dutch and in English. Children’s films that are dubbed in Dutch will be listed with NL or Nederlandse versie (Dutch version) after the title. For films from the US, they will be in English if Originele versie (original version) is listed. The Pathé agenda is available in English.

Live Performances

*Note: When you look at the Dutch agenda for many of the venues listed below, you may see Verplaatst or Afgelast for some performances due to Covid-19 regulations. That means those performances have been moved or canceled.

To keep informed about upcoming concerts and theater performances, it’s a good idea to sign up for newsletters from the venues listed below. Ticketmaster.nl will also notify you when upcoming event tickets are going on sale if you register for their newsletter. Most larger venues sell their event tickets through Ticketmaster.

Eventim is another big-name ticket distributor for theater, musical, and concert tickets and even sports (horse riding, ice skating) and family events. Most theater performances will be in Dutch, but sometimes there are English subtitles, and occasionally they are with an English-speaking cast. Some performances are at the Amsterdam RAI. Cats played in the RAI Theater in 2019 and some form of Holidays on Ice is an annual event at the RAI, so there is a large variety of events available. Other theaters include the Stadsschouwburg Haarlem (English website), the Beatrix Theater in Utrecht, and Spant! in Bussum.

Live Music in Amsterdam

  • Melkweg (1,500 capacity): A venue with multiple halls for concerts (from up-and-coming artists to famous bands), exhibitions and occasionally film and theater performances 
  • Paradiso (1,500 capacity): Mostly concerts, also occasional lectures 
  • Concertgebouw: Classical and jazz concerts as well as family concerts. There are free concerts on Wednesdays at lunchtime. 
  • The Ziggo Dome (17,000 capacity), AFAS Live (6,000 capacity) and Johan Cruijf ArenA (54,990 capacity; Ajax football [soccer] matches are played here) in Amsterdam Zuidoost are all big venues for well-known music concerts. Tickets are usually available through Ticketmaster.  

Live Music in Other Areas

Haarlem

Patronaat has live concerts and club nights on the weekends.

Lichtfabriek sometimes has dance events.

Hilversum

Cafe de Kaars is a bar/restaurant with live music on Saturday evenings.

De Vorstin has two halls for concerts.

Utrecht

Tivoli Vredenburg has several concert halls. The website has limited information in English and the agenda is in Dutch only.

Theater and Other Stage Performances: Amsterdam

Outside of Amsterdam

Speeldoos Baarn has live theater performances ranging from musicals and concerts, dance and opera to cabaret and comedy. The Peking Tuin in Baarn also has an open air theater that is used for outdoor movie screenings and live music (all currently canceled due to coronavirus). The Beatrix Theater in Utrecht shows musicals, concerts and other stage performances. At the Stadsschouwburg Utrecht (City Municipal theater), you can search for performances that are labeled “language no problem.” English Theater Utrecht offers amateur theater productions in English. STET is one English-language theater company in The Hague, and another is the Anglo-American Theatre Group. Stadsschouwburg & Philharmonie Haarlem has “language no problem” performances of music, dance and theater. Spant! in Bussum (agenda only in Dutch) presents a variety of performances in its large and small theaters.

Nightlife

You can find a list of Amsterdam bars and clubs here (this also includes The Hague, Rotterdam and other larger cities) and here. The Haarlem Guide has a list of different types of bars (beer bars, regular bars, music bars) and nightlife.

For comedy, there are some well-known venues in Amsterdam, such as Boom Chicago, as well as Toomler and other clubs. LiveComedy.nl promotes international comedy performances at venues all around the Netherlands. You can also find nationwide comedy events listed on Ticketmaster.

Museums

Museumkaart: Valid for one year, the The Netherlands Museum Pass (museumkaart in Dutch) gives you entry to over 400 Dutch museums. It can be purchased online (only in Dutch) or you can purchase one in many museums. You can also find information about current exhibitions and activities in museums around the country on the museum pass website. See the Haarlem Guide for a list of museums, historical monuments and statues around Haarlem.

This is a long but not exhaustive list of entertainment options around the Netherlands. If you have any suggestions to add, please let us know!

Looking for more? Members of the American Women’s Club of Amsterdam have access to a wealth of additional information, including web resources and a members-only Facebook group with a long archive to search and plenty of willing help.

For more information about the American Women’s Club of Amsterdam, check out our website or drop us a note. We are an active, diverse club that welcomes new members with open arms, whether you’ve been in the Netherlands for 20 minutes or 20 years.

Where to Go Shopping: Markets in Amsterdam and Beyond

Amsterdam Markets

Before Covid-19, Amsterdam markets used to be crowded, bustling places. Now stalls must be spread out, and many vendors are operating with fewer stalls. Check the market status before visiting, and be sure to follow current government guidelines for the coronavirus.

  • Albert Cuyp Markt — This famous market is open Monday through Saturday from 9:00 to 17:00. It is one of the largest markets in Amsterdam, with produce, flowers, food vendors (fresh stroopwafels and Belgian waffles, yum!), clothes, household goods and more.
  • Dappermarkt — With over 250 stalls that offer fresh produce, clothes, plants, and specialty foods, this market is open Monday through Saturday from 9:00 to 17:00 on the Dapperstraat in Amsterdam East.
  • Flower Market — Floating on the Singel canal, there are probably more souvenir stalls here than flower stands these days. It is open daily for your shopping pleasure, Monday through Saturday 9:00 - 17:30 and Sunday 11:30 - 17:30.
  • IJ-Hallen — Located in Amsterdam Noord, this is “Europe’s largest flea market.” Unique products such as home furnishings and clothing are offered, but it’s a good excuse to take the free ferry from Central Station. There is an entrance fee to the market, however.
  • Museum Market — Usually held on the third Sunday of the month from 10:00 to 18:00 on the Museumplein, this market has lovely, quality goods and international food stands, too. 
  • Noordermarkt — Three markets in one! Open on Saturday from 9:00 to 16:00, the Noordermarkt offers antiques, decorative objects, art, textiles, books and more. There is an organic market, as well, with food and goods, and the Lindengrachtmarkt has fresh fish, flowers, fruits and more. The Noordermarkt is also open on Monday from 9:00 to 13:00.
  • Pure Markt — This market travels between three Amsterdam parks (and occasionally Hilversum) every Sunday from March through November. Most stalls are food-related, and the other 30% are a mix of home, lifestyle, fashion and accessories. 
  • Sunday Market at Westergas — This is a great market for art, fashion and design. There are places to eat indoors and out, and there is live music. Set within the Westerpark, it makes a great outing for the entire family. Open the first Sunday of every month from 12:00 to 18:00.
  • Ten Kate Markt — This market is open Monday through Saturday from 9:00 to 18:00 in Oud West, next to the Food Hallen. Stalls sell produce, flowers, freshly prepared food, household goods, and other products.
  • Waterlooplein — The oldest flea market in Amsterdam (and the Netherlands) is located near Amsterdam City Hall and takes place Monday through Saturday from 9:30 to 18:00. It features a truly eclectic mix of junk, treasures, and everything in between.

Markets near other AWCA areas

Haarlem There’s an organic market the first Saturday of each month from 10:00 to 15:00. The Grote Markt takes place on Monday and Saturday from 9:00 to 16:00. It’s got a bit of everything: food, flowers, household goods, etc. 

You’ll find the Botermarkt on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, generally from 9:00 to 16:00, and each day features different products. Second-hand and vintage clothes are offered on Mondays, Wednesdays feature books and antiques, and a wide variety of organic wares are for sale in the farmer’s market on Fridays. On Saturdays, it becomes a general produce market with a wide range of flowers, vegetables, fruit, cheese and bread. 

For occasional markets (special antique markets or Christmas markets) in Haarlem, you can check Haarlem’s special market page.

Heemstede has a market each Wednesday from 9:00 to 16:00 on the Valkenburgerlaan.

‘t Gooi and Nearby

Amersfoort — There are several markets in this lovely city.

Baarn — The Brink market is open on Tuesday from 8:30 to 14:00 and offers fresh fish, bread, produce, prepared foods, and home goods.

In Bussum, market day is every Thursday from 8:00 to 16:00 on the Wilhelminaplantsoen. Market Day in Naarden-Vesting is on Saturday from 7:00 to 13:00 at the A. Dortsmanplein. Great to combine with shopping at the quaint boutiques on the adjacent Marktstraat!

Hilversum — This twice-weekly market (Wednesday and Saturday, from 8:00 to 16:00) is an easy 5-minute walk from the main Hilversum train station. It offers cheeses, bread, fish/meat, produce and delicatessen items as well as other typical market products, such as clothing/textiles, flowers and household goods.

Utrecht On the Vredenburgplein there is a farmer’s market on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and an organic farmer’s market on Fridays. The oldest flower market in the Netherlands is every Saturday from 8:00 to 17:00 at the Janskerkhof. There is a massive fabric market (lapjesmarkt) every Saturday from 8:00 to 13:00 on the Breedstraat (for everything from clothes to curtains and upholstery). For more information on exact locations and times, visit Gemeente Utrecht.

Do you have any questions, comments, or more markets to share? In the American Women’s Club member's only Facebook group, you can join the lively conversation! Not yet a member? We’d love to have you!

An Update from Audrey: Where to Go This Summer in The Netherlands

By Audrey Mezas

A Very Dutch Summer

We’re all used to freely choosing where to go and what to do during our summer vacation, but what does that mean for us this summer? The “new normal” now means having to do your homework ahead of time and find out what is possible, which locations are not overcrowded, and which are clean and safe. I want to share some of my favorite places in the Netherlands with you, some of which may fit your wishlist. 

Please call a location ahead of time to make sure that all health precautions have been taken care of, as prescribed by the Dutch government. Prime Minister Rutte has requested that we please try to book our vacations outside of the Dutch school vacations, if possible, which means in late August and/or in September of this year. He also advises that you check your travel insurance to ensure you are covered just in case changes are made by the government before your departure.

Please regularly consult these links to stay up to date.

Unique and wonderful places to stay

Dutchen holiday homes in luxury parks

Dutchen’s website has made many of my friends very happy. They offer more than 100 luxury vacation villas for you to choose from, located all over the Netherlands. There are options in every size, ranging from single occupancy to 20 people.

Hoogenweerth Castle

There are ten beautifully designed suites, located next to the beautiful Hoogenweerth Castle in Maastricht on the bank of the river Maas. A beautiful grand terrace sits on the riverbank and provides a fantastic view.

Treehouse in Drenthe (Dutch site)

This is one of the hidden treasures in The Netherlands – an amazing treehouse for a maximum of six persons on 29 acres in the middle of Drenthe! It is located next to the tiny village of Anderen, which has only 250 inhabitants. On the same piece of land, a small vacation cabin for two persons is also available to rent. The kids can ride the little ponies and enjoy nature. Total relaxation while enjoying many trails in the countryside.

B&B ’t Poorthuys

This beautiful B&B, built in 1530, is located in the heart of Middelburg in the province of Zeeland. The B&B has eight rooms and several spacious suites. There are bikes available for rent, and amazing city tours can be taken, either on foot or by boat.

Book a houseboat

BookaHouseboat has houseboats for rent in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, several cities in Europe, and even in Canada and the United States. There’s nothing more special than opening the windows of your houseboat and being right on the water.

Oesterdam Resort

This holiday park is in Tholen, in the province of Zeeland. The vacation villas are located right on the water, with a Marina Beach Club, a restaurant, boat and canoe rental and much more. They call it “Ibiza in the Netherlands”.

Landal GreenParks

The Landal Group has been around for many years. I have personally stayed at many of their parks, which range from beach houses in Zeeland to unique private villas in Friesland with a private boat in front of your vacation home. Landal even has a food delivery service that delivers your groceries to your vacation  home upon arrival. Boat rental, bowling, bike rental, and plenty of activities for kids and family members of all ages are readily available.

The Oostwegel Collection

If you’re looking for luxury, then let me tell you that the Oostwegel Collection of luxurious hotels, villas, residences and restaurants in the Netherlands is something you should not miss. Whether it’s celebrating a special anniversary or getting away and spoiling yourself, you’ll have difficulty choosing from these extraordinary locations and experiences.

Windmill Cottage

If you haven’t stayed in the Windmill Cottage, then you have missed an authentic Dutch experience. The cottage is located next to the Vrouwgeest windmill, which was built in 1797 in Alphen aan de Rijn and is only 30 minutes from Amsterdam. Your family of four will be able to enjoy the cows in the countryside, go hiking and/or biking, and explore the quaint villages nearby.

I’m looking forward to hearing if any of these beautiful and fun parts of the Netherlands have made your eyes twinkle enough for you to book a vacation there. Maybe you’ll even send me an old-fashioned postcard!

Have a wonderful, fun and safe summer!

Audrey

Audrey Mezas is the AWCA Club Liaison and is owner of a niche relocation company called Expat in Amsterdam®.

D E S I G N details: Levenslicht

by Sherrie Zwail Enderman, SZIdesign

Photo credit: Daan Roosegaarde, www.studioroosegaarde.net

As some of you may know, design is my passion and I couldn’t be happier about living in the Netherlands, where the local design is constantly inspiring me. I am excited to introduce you to creative and inspiring design, designers, projects, trends and exhibits right here in our backyard. 

I first wrote about Daan Roosegaarde from Studio Roosegaarde a few years ago. He and his team create many amazing projects. Daan is a designer who is regarded highly for his creative use of light, ultraviolet lamps and glow-in-the-dark paint. One project of his that I highlighted in the past was the Van Gogh Path, a bike path made up of thousands of illuminating stones and inspired by Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night.  This project won several international awards, as it was technically advanced and creatively stimulating.

Another project that Daan Roosegaarde worked on was in honor of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of German Nazi concentration and death camp Auschwitz. Here Daan was asked to design a monument to honor the 104,000 Dutch Holocaust victims. In collaboration with the National Committee, he developed LEVENSLICHT (Light of Life). 

Photo credit: Daan Roosegaarde, www.studioroosegaarde.net

Levenslicht can be viewed in 170 locations throughout the Netherlands. The project incorporates 104,000 illuminating stones in memory of each person killed. Stones have a very significant meaning in the Jewish religion, as it is typical to place a stone instead of flowers near a gravesite to honor the deceased. Stones are also significant in the Roma and Sinti communities, whose members were also persecuted. Therefore, stones were the natural catalyst for Daan’s inspiration.

The Levenslicht installations consist of a circle of granite stones, coated with fluorescent ink and lit with an ultraviolet lamp, in all the locations in the Netherlands where people were sent to concentration and extermination camps in the Second World War. The hope is that Levenslicht will provide "a place for contemplation about the Holocaust and the broader importance of freedom" for the people of the Netherlands. "Levenslicht is not a traditional static monument in which people are purely observers; it asks social participation," said Roosegaarde. "Light is life, light is hope: Levenslicht."

The main location of Levenslicht is in Rotterdam, but the installations can also be seen in another 170 municipalities in the Netherlands. You can visit these installations from January 16 to February 2, 2020.

Keep your eye out for Daan Roosegaarde. You won’t be disappointed in his commitment to use beauty to make our world a more humane place to live.