Daily Dutch living

European elections 2019 (Or: Time to vote)

Well, time for Dutchies to vote that is. As an expat, I can’t vote. Every five years, European elections are held for the European parliament. 751 seats, of which 26 are for the Netherlands; 29 after UK leaves the EU.

Check out how long the candidate list is (!):

Voting list taped up at The Hague city hall

Voters receive the same list, just a bit smaller (but not that much smaller – it’s still almost impossible to fold back up!)

Only UK and the Netherlands vote today. The rest from the European lands vote tomorrow or in the weekend. Therefore official results won’t be announced until Sunday evening, although exit polls started coming in a few minutes ago. Should be interesting…

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Improvements by Albert Heijn (Or: Shorter receipts)

One of the better improvements for Albert Heijn, a local grocery store, is the option for self-scan. And not the version I’ve seen in the United States where you need to weigh each item as you scan it to make sure there’s no thievery going on. Here it is simply scan each item and then pay at the end. Though I do understand the need for the US system.

Self-scan at Albert Heijn is wonderful. It’s no longer horrible to go right after work, when its crowded and the lines are 5 to 7 customers long. Seriously – before self-scan I would always swear a bit if Marco asked me to pick up something after work, it was that bad. Those days are long gone, as I can count on one hand the times I’ve had to wait for an available self-scan register, and even that was never longer than 30 seconds.

The only problem with self-scan: You are required to print out a receipt, since you need to scan the receipt to allow the exit gates to open. I almost always said no to a receipt previously, when going through a “manned” line with a checkout worker. Why waste paper?

That is also now a thing of the past!

Longer, full receipt (for ONE item!) on the left, versus the short receipt on the right.

This week after paying I was greeted with the question “Would you like a full receipt, or only a short receipt to open the gates?” Very nice. You can see the difference above, with the bar code removed. A great improvement, Albert Heijn!

Oh, and for the people who read small font really well, yes, the receipt says “1 insecten”. I did not win or buy an insect, rather, Albert Heijn has a promotion where you can receive insect stickers and fake insect tattoos for every 10 euros spent. The receipt lets the worker know that I can receive 1 set because I’ve spent more than 10 euros.

Categories: Daily Dutch living, Everyday purchases | Tags: | 2 Comments

Time to vote! (Or: 2019 provincial elections)

Today the Netherlands can vote for the 2019 provincial elections and for the local water authority (English Wikipedia link). The first election is also indirectly important because the provincial members elected today will vote for the Senate members in May.

Voting at The Hague’s city hall

There are many places to vote, including 68 train stations (link in Dutch) as well as in the two Dutch parliamentary buildings (Eerste Kamer, Tweede Kamer, or Senate and House of Representatives in English). It’s the first time the Senate has been open as a voting location. But for me, I like the city hall as it is quite photogenic.

As you might have guessed, “stem” means vote.

Personally I can only vote for the local water authority, as the provincial elections are only open to Dutch nationals. This makes sense. But it is still nice to be able to vote for the water authority and (back in March 2018) the local government.

Voting was very fast – when I arrived there was no line. Of course, I deliberately waited until a bit later in the morning. When I left a line had started to form, so it is simply a question of luck.

There was also an elections desk where you could go with questions and for voting-related arrangements. I realized later that this was the help desk in the weeks leading up to the election (therefore it was not in use today).

Not sure what that apple is doing on the ground. When I took the photo I hadn’t even seen it.

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Gevulde speculaas time (Or: Who knew almond paste was so tasty?)

Last week Marco and I made gevulde speculaas (literally “filled speculaas”) which is a type of spiced biscuit filled with almond paste. In case my parents are wondering, this is what Marco and I brought over for Thanksgiving! The actual recipe came from a box of Koopmans mix.

One possible title for this one is “The day after”

The only thing we had a bit of trouble with was the thickness of the bottom and top dough. Easy enough to roll out, but then it was too wet to transfer it to the baking dish easily.

But was it delicious? Yes it was! Especially if you add a small spoonful of whipped cream on top, with a dusting of powdered speculaas spices…

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A small tribute to Chuck (Or: Near Central Station)

Not far from The Hague’s Central Station, a small monument for Chuck Deely has appeared. Chuck was a street musician who passed away two years ago today. Earlier in 2018 he received a mural on one of the tram tunnels (scroll down a bit to see the photo).

Memorial to Chuck Deely

This memorial can be found outside of the entrance to Rijnstraat 8. This building is across from the main entrance of The Hague’s Central Station, and houses many government ministries. After crossing the tram tracks and the small street, look for the white marble blocks on your left.

There’s no name of description of what this is, so you’d definitely need to be a local to know.

Categories: Daily Dutch living, The Hague | Tags: | 2 Comments

A quirk of Dutch television (Or: You mean I have to stay up until midnight?)

I don’t know, this probably happens in other countries too. However, the first time I remembered encountering it was after I moved to the Netherlands.

Last night, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York was on TV. It started at 8:30pm and ended at 10:30pm. Or so I thought… Around 10:20, I turned to Marco and said: “I don’t understand how this movie is going to end in 10 minutes. Kevin is just starting to prepare his offensive against those two robbers.” Marco thought for a moment and said: “Oh. I know what they are doing”, in a slightly offended tone. We looked it up:

Eek! It doesn’t end at all at 10:30. The TV provider just decided to skip a few programs in between. With a sinking heart, I realized I’d have to stay awake until 11:55pm to see the whole movie. I’m no spring chicken, so I decided there was no second half of the movie for me.

It’s not the first time this has happened – I remember our friend Roger mentioning how he hates that, since he would change the channel during the “intermission” programs and then forget to go back – but it was still annoying.

Oh well. My parents (and most of the US, who are able to watch the 24 hour TV marathon) will be happy to know there is a copy of A Christmas Story on the table, waiting to be watched. Repeatedly. It’s tradition!

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Cause and effect (Or: Train chaos by NS)

On Tuesday the train system here in the Netherlands, run by a company called Nederlandse Spoorwegen or more commonly NS for short, went to hell. Well, maybe not literally, but I am sure a lot passengers thought it was!

The craziness actually started around 17:45, when a 21-year-old shoplifter stole something from Albert Heijn at Schiphol airport and fled down the escalators to the train platform. As he noticed he was being chased – by the military police, due to shoplifting at a national airport! – he decided to jump into one of the train tunnels to get away. He was found and arrested anyway.

Amsterdam Centraal - stock photo from NS

Amsterdam Centraal – stock photo

But think about it – what happens when someone runs onto the tracks? The trains are immediately stopped, of course. Anything in the general vicinity. That was the begin of the chaos – Schiphol is an important hub for both travelers entering and leaving the country. But no, it gets even worse.

About an hour later, NS tweets there is a major issue with the railroad switches (which determine what direction a train should go in, this platform or that platform; this direction or that direction) in and around Amsterdam. Because of this, no trains can enter or leave the city. Amsterdam isn’t that far from Schiphol airport – about 15 minutes by train, give or take. Coincidence? Hmmm.

Around 20:00, NS reports that the situation has been fixed and they are bringing the system back online. Around 20:30, this proves not to be the case, with the train system around Amsterdam still down. By 22:00, NS has about 70,000 stranded passengers on its hands and is forced to shut down a train station at Amsterdam-zuid (Amsterdam south) because of overcrowding on the platform.

Passengers begin referencing a seldom used hashtag, #treinpoolen (car pools for train passengers) to try and get car pools organized for people to get in and out of the city. NS even references it in a tweet. It’s too complicated to bring in buses to get people home, since it is too overcrowded and most of the buses are in use elsewhere in the country for other ongoing construction projects. The NS does however promise to get the remaining passengers home that night, with roughly one train running every hour (manually) in each of the directions from Amsterdam. Around about 03:30 that night, the system is fully cleaned and restarted. The only hinderance left is that some trains might be shorter than normal Wednesday morning, since they aren’t in the right starting place anymore. The NS promises to look into the situation.

Later on Wednesday the report is released with the cause of the railway chaos (article in Dutch). It turns out that the thief running into the train tunnels and the major issue with railroad switches around Amsterdam are connected. Cause and effect. When the trains around Schiphol were forced to stop and remain in their current position, one of the trains found itself in a very unlucky place. It was sitting right above the area where the software determines whether a train goes this way or that way. The software thought that a train was repeatedly arriving, and so it repeatedly passed information about which platform to go to. Just over 32,000 times, or 32,768 in exact terms. With 16-bit software, this causes an integer overflow. At the same time, a worker tried to add a platform number by hand for this train. The two events together caused a minor meltdown. Here’s the official article about the cause (still in Dutch).

The crash caused some corruption in the data. Around 20:00, the corrupt data seemed to be removed, but when the system was re-started this was not the case. By 03:30 that night, the system had been fully cleaned and brought back online, just in time for the morning rush hour.

Categories: Amsterdam, Daily Dutch living, Transportation | Tags: | 4 Comments

Heat wave (Or: This isn’t the Netherlands, right?)

So… the Netherlands finally figured out how to do a good summer. Although it might be doing it a bit too well, actually. We haven’t had any rain in about a month and a half (with some crazy exceptions like Twente getting more than a month’s worth of rain yesterday – yikes!) and it has been warm for the Netherlands. Admittedly nothing the US hasn’t seen, but still. I need to apologize to Marco as I always complain about how summer lasts less than a week in this country.

Today it was about 95F here in The Hague, with 96-97F predicted tomorrow. And that’s not even close to the highest temperature recorded in the Netherlands today. Another city called Almelo registered 38.9C or 102.02F at the height of today. Almelo is on the east side of the Netherlands, not too far from Germany.

And how do Marco and I stay cool in a country that doesn’t have much air conditioning in homes? Well, besides water and fans…

Mr Freeze freezer pops or ijslollies

Freezer pops!

The first is freezer pops, or ijslollies in Dutch. A blast from the past and great for the nostalgic feelings.

Iced cappuccinos.jpg

Iced cappuccinos

And the other way is iced cappuccinos. Lekker!

Random links:

melted asphalt in Groningen, in the north (some cities have been salting the roads to prevent this issue)

fires in the dunes

a satellite image comparing July 2017 with July 2018

some bridges in Amsterdam (and other cities) close for the foreseeable future due to the heat

One more day of heat, and then some relief (high of 78F) and perhaps a bit of rain Saturday morning. Maybe. No end in sight to the drought, though.

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Voting at city hall (Or: Local elections 2018)

Today Marco and I visited city hall after work to vote for the local elections:

Voting sign in The Hague city hall

To the voting area!

The Hague has 286 places to vote if my math is correct. Unfortunately the Central Library wasn’t a place you could vote this year. You could vote in a special tram (link in Dutch) however. I would have loved that. But it’s not a tram line I’d ever take, and it was running as a normal tram at the time. Imagine missing your stop!

Line of voters at The Hague city hall, 2018

Pictured: about half of the line

It didn’t take us too long – about 10 minutes at the most to get to the front of the line.

Number of voters by hour, The Hague, 2018

Live updates of the percentage of voters who had already voted, by hour

Admittedly, the number of voters is lower than 4 years ago when it was 51% at the close of voting (9pm). As of 8:15pm now it is 45.2%. The results are not expected until around midnight, give or take.

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First time voter in the Netherlands (Or: Local elections tomorrow)

Tomorrow most of the Netherlands goes to the polls for local elections. This will be the first time I can vote in the Netherlands! This is because I have lived in the Netherlands for five uninterrupted years.

Here is a picture of my stempas (voting card) with personal information greyed out:

Stempas or voting pass for The Hague, 2018

The card arrived in the mail a few weeks back, automatically. In the Netherlands every person is required to register with the municipality in the Basisregistratie Personen (BRP)  or the Personal Records Database. I did that within a few days of moving to the country. It records life’s big moments – birth, marriage, divorce, and death, along with address changes. The database is used to determine who can vote for what. (In my case, I can vote for the local elections but I will never be able to vote for anything higher unless I obtain Dutch citizenship.)

There are some good sites available for voters, both in English and in Dutch. In this case, I tend to seek out information in English due to the nature of what I am reading, but I also supplement it with information in Dutch. For example, DutchNews.nl has some information and links available for expat voters.

There are, of course, various polls available to see which party matches your interests the best. For example, Stemwijzer Den Haag (knowledge of Dutch required).

Finally, here’s a look at what the ballot looks like.

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