The Netherlands so far March 24, 2022 on Drew DeVault's blog

I moved to Amsterdam in July 2021, and now that I’ve had some time to settle in I thought I’d share my thoughts on how it’s been so far. In short: I love it here!

I did end up finding housing through the hacker community thanks to my earlier post, which was a great blessing. I am renting an apartment from a member of the Techinc hacker space, which I have joined as a member myself. One of my biggest fears was establishing a new social network here in the Netherlands, but making friends here has been easy. Through this hacker space and through other connections besides, I have quickly met many wonderful, friendly, and welcoming people, and I have never felt like a stranger in a strange land. For this I am very grateful.

There are many other things to love about this place. One of my favorite things about Amsterdam is getting around by bike. In Philadelphia, travelling by bicycle is signing up for a death wish. In the Netherlands, 27% of all trips utilize a bike, and in Amsterdam it’s as much as 38%. Cyclists enjoy dedicated cycling-first infrastructure, such as bike lanes separated entirely from the roads and dedicated bike-only longer-distance artery roads. The city is designed to reduce points of conflict between bikes and cars, and even when they have to share the road they’re almost always designed to slow cars down and give bikes priority. The whole country is very flat, too, though Dutch people will be quick to tell you about The Hill in their neighborhood, which is always no more than 2 meters tall.

Getting around without a bike is super pleasant as well. I have my choice of bus, tram, metro, long-distance train, or even free ferries across the river, all paid for with the same auto-recharging NFC card for a low price. Every line runs frequent stops, so during the day you’re generally not waiting more than 5 minutes to be picked up and at night you’re probably not going to be waiting more than 15 minutes at popular stops. When it gets really late, though, you might wait as much as 30 minutes. The inter-city trains are amazing — I can show up at any major station without a plan and there’s probably a train heading to where I want to go in less than 10 minutes. Compared to Amtrak, it’s simply mind boggling.

Little things no one here even thinks about have left an impression on me, too. I see street cleaners out all of the time, in a little squad where workers use leaf blowers and brooms to sweep trash and dirt from the sidewalks and squares into the streets where sweepers come through to pick it up. The trash and recycling bins are regularly collected, and when one of them in my neighborhood broke, it was replaced within days. There are some areas where trash does tend to accumulate, though, such as near benches in parks.

Isolated accumulations of trash aside, the parks are great. There’s a lot more of them throughout the city than you’d get in a typical American city. I live close to two large parks, Rembrandtpark and Vondelpark, plus the smaller Erasmuspark, all of which are less than 5 minutes of cycling away. I like to cycle there on cool summer days to read by the lakes or other water features, or on one of the lawns. These parks also typically have a lot of large cycling-only roads which act as little cycling highways throughout the city, which means many of my cycling routes take me through nature even for intra-city travel. Several of the parks also have public gym equipment available, with which you can get a pretty good outdoor work-out for free.

The layout of the neighborhoods is quite nice as well. I have not just one but four grocery stores within walking distance of my house, and I visit one multiple times per week to pick up food, just a 3 or 4 minute walk away from my place. Thanks to the ease of accessing good (and cheap) produce and other ingredients, my diet has improved quite a bit — something I didn’t expect when I moved here. I can’t get everything I want, though: finding genuinely spicy chili peppers is a challenge.

The infamous Dutch bureaucracy is not as bad as people made it out to be. Going through the immigration process was pretty stressful — as any process which could end with being kicked out of the country might be — but it was actually fairly straightforward for the kind of visa I wanted to get. Public servants here are more helpful and flexible than their reputation suggests.

Something which is proving to be a bit of a challenge, however, is learning Dutch. This surprised me given my existing background in languages; I thought it would be pretty easy to pick up. I was able to quickly learn the basics, and I can conduct many everyday affairs in Dutch, but I found it difficult to progress beyond this point with self-study alone. I enrolled in a formal class, which will hopefully help bridge that gap.

I could go on — experiences outside of Amsterdam and throughout the rest of Europe, the vibes of the FOSS community and other communities I’ve met, serendipitously meeting people I knew in America who also moved to Europe, and so on — but I think I’ll stop here for this post. Every time I’ve paused to reflect on my relocation abroad, I’ve come away smiling. So far, so good. Hopefully that doesn’t start to wear off!

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