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Posts Tagged ‘Dutch words’

This past weekend, I rode my bike for the first time in more than two months, and sadly, neither my bike nor I were in the best shape after our short hiatus. My bike has a bit more rust now, the tires were rather spongy, and the chains were a little sluggish. And I was a bit winded and had a sore butt after my ride!

Despite this, it was great riding around Amsterdam again, and it made me realize that biking will be one of the things I really miss when we eventually leave this country. I love living in a city where the best way to get around is by bike—I don’t think you can truly understand the bike’s superiority in Amsterdam until you’ve been here, but I’ll try to explain it anyway.

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I was riding Tram 14 a couple weeks ago, heading home from my volunteer job, when I spotted a sign that caught my eye. When I realized that every sign in the tram was exactly the same, it gave me a sad chuckle. The sign that was plastered all over the tram was for a discount of 80 percent on the purchase of an OV-chipkaart. “OV” stands for Openbaar Vervoer in Dutch, and it means public transportation in English. A chipkaart is basically a debit card, and in this case, it’s a debit card for public transportation credits. The OV-chipkaart is relatively new to the Netherlands, and it’s supposed to replace the ubiquitous strippenkaart, which is the current per-trip, paper-based payment system.

From what I’ve read in the papers and online, the main reason the whole country is moving to this new system is to crack down on people who ride the trains, trams and buses without paying. Of course the public transportation companies are marketing it in a more positive light—that it will soon be possible to travel all around the country using just one pass. (A strippenkaart works on all the trams and buses, but not all the trains.) Unfortunately, the OV-chipkaart has been controversial since it’s introduction to the public a few years ago, mainly because it seems worse than the current system.

The Netherlands began a phased rollout of the card in Rotterdam in 2005, and it has slowly extended this to other cities over the past few years. During this time, however, the card has been plagued with problems and negative publicity. A little over a year ago, German hackers cracked the transport card’s security system, enabling them to alter cards and travel for free. And last spring, students in Nijmegen (a city near the German border) accessed the data stored on the disposable versions of the cards. Neither of these developments has put Dutch travelers at ease with the new system.

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On Friday, I finally took a tour of the Portuguese Synagogue and the Jewish Historical Museum, which are located in the east of Amsterdam. I say ‘finally’ because I lived relatively close to them for more than four years and went by regularly without ever visiting. It was a very cold tour though, since it was a sunny but cold day in Amsterdam, and the synagogue has no electricity or heating.

Exterior of the Portuguese Synagogue

The Portuguese Synagogue is a beautiful long structure, built in the 1670s, with a wooden interior and many chandeliers to hold the approximately 1000 candles used to light the interior in the evening. It’s specifically a Portuguese synagogue, because it was built for the large Jewish population that immigrated to the Netherlands from Spain and Portugal during the Spanish Inquisition. Even the Spanish immigrants called themselves Portuguese Jews to avoid being identified with Spain, then at war with the Dutch.

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It’s been a really cold winter so far in the Netherlands, which I’ve actually enjoyed somewhat since it’s meant little rain and sunny skies. The Dutch have become particularly excited, because these few weeks of cold temperatures are freezing the canals and lakes across the country.

The Dutch love to ice skate—and not just casually around a rink—a surprising number of people speed skate. Every winter, I’ve seen skaters out on small rinks around the city and speed skaters at a large outdoor rink in the suburbs. And while they enjoy skating at these places, they really love to skate outside on the canals. Unfortunately, they haven’t been able to do it much in the past decade, since the winters in Western Europe have been relatively mild. But this winter is changing that trend.

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During my first year of college at Notre Dame, I became good friends with some of the other freshman girls who lived in my dorm. Despite some differences, the 10 of us remained friends throughout our years at school and long after. We still keep in touch regularly; and, every year, we do a Secret Santa gift exchange for Christmas.

This year, as in previous ones, I tried to find a gift for my randomly-chosen friend that’s interesting, unique and Dutch. (Since all of the others live in the U.S., I hope that coming from the Netherlands makes the gift pretty unique already.) I headed out to shop today, and I ended up browsing the stalls at the floating flower market on the Singel (the Bloemenmarkt).

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The days are getting shorter and shorter in Amsterdam now, and it’s getting more and more difficult to pull myself out of bed each morning and stay up each evening. I checked online this morning, and the sun doesn’t rise until almost 8:30 a.m. now, and it sets at about 4:30 p.m., giving us precious little daylight. When you add the general gray-ness of the Netherlands to that, it can make your outlook pretty bleak. The flip side of this, of course, is that summer days in Amsterdam are seemingly endless, but last summer already feels long gone, and next summer feels like an eternity from now.

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