24 June 2013

I Heart Holland: Reason #12 - The Museumkaart

Our visitors arrive today, so I thought it was time share another reason why I Heart Holland: The Museumkaart.

The Museumkaart is a pass that you can purchase for free or significantly reduced cost of admission to over 400 participating museums throughout the country. Currently, the cost of the card is €44.95 for adults and €22.50 for children (up to 18 years old) and the card is subject to an additional €4.95 administrative fee per card. (The price of the Museumkaart is subject to change but there seems to be quite a bit of warning before the increase happens. Starting 1 July 2013 the adult cards will cost €49.95 and child cards will cost €25 before the administrative fee.) The cards are valid for 1 year and are non-transferable.

The Museumkaart

We purchased 2 adult cards and 1 child card, and while the cost is a bit steep, we've already made up the cost by the number of uses. Since buying the card in mid-March we've been to the Natuurmuseum Brabant (right in Tilburg's city centre) 4 times, the Spoorwegmuseum in Utrecht twice, the Groningermuseum, the Noordelijk Scheepvaartmuseum and the Universiteitsmuseum in Gronigen, the Nationaal Bevrijdingsmuseum in Nijmegen all for free, and the Museum het Princenhof in Delft for €1 - had we paid straight out of pocket, the total for all those visits would have been €152.50. Since the total cost of all our cards was €127.25, we've already come out ahead - and we've got lots of museum plans with our visitors over the next couple of weeks and another 9 months before the cards expire.

If you live in the Netherlands, it's definitely worth considering the purchase because of the potential return that you get on your card. And if you can only spend an hour in a museum, you still feel like you've gotten your money's worth when you use your card regularly. I'll leave you with a look at some of the cool things we've seen thanks to the ease of the Museumkaart.

Digging for "fossils" in the Dinosaur exhibit
at Natuurmuseum Brabant

Stairwell at the Gronigermuseum

Whale skull at Universiteitsmuseum

Little Man reenacting Dr. Strangelove at the WWII exhibit
at the Spoorwegmuseum.

21 June 2013

IKEA Vrijdag: Kex Biscuit/Cookie

No, you did read the title correctly. IKEA makes cookies and today I'm reviewing them. If you're thinking I'm hungry, you're correct. If you're also thinking that I'm not as motivated as I normally am, you're also correct. We're preparing for the visit of Little Man's Grandma and Grandpa in addition to having a full schedule this week, so my mind isn't totally focused. I'll also put in notice that we'll be posting infrequently while we have our visitors and that IKEA Vrijdag will also take a vakantie (vacation) during this time.

IKEA produces various food tasties that are available for purchase. Usually, you schlep all your new, heavy purchases through the checkout line and the "pantry" is right in front of you, convincing you that you should probably spend a little more money. Generally, I find their food inexpensive in comparison to grocery stores (in the States and in the Netherlands); and, despite revelations of some ingredient "inconsistencies" earlier this year, the food is pretty good for being cheap and processed.

The Kex biscuits/cookies are also cheap and tasty. They're similar to Nilla Wafers in flavor and size, though not in shape. IKEA "cleverly" uses this subliminal messaging in their shapes to have you continue to think about where you got the product.

There's no assembly required unless you want to spell out "IKEA" or "EEK," but you will have to open a cardboard box to get to the product. I have no idea what the shelf-life of the product is because cookies don't last too long in our home.

Kex Biscuit/Cookie

We give the Kex Biscuit/Cookie a rating of 4 Swedish meatballs on our 5 meatball scale. They're pretty good as far as store-bought cookies, but they're only store-bought cookies.

Life in Dutch Rating for Kex Biscuit/Cookie:

19 June 2013

I'm Still Doing Laundry in Dutch (Kind of...)

One of my most-read posts is How To Do Your Laundry In Dutch (Kind of...). It's quasi-informative, but mostly tongue-in-cheek since at the time I wrote it, I had very little idea of what I was doing. Recently, I started to realize that the Google search for "doing laundry in the Netherlands" draws a fair amount of visitors to this site and I thought I'd add a little more real information for those trying to do their laundry in Dutch. I've divided the information into Essential Vocabulary, Machine Basics, and Pro-Tips - and don't worry, I still add my personal brand of snark alongside the information.

Ready, set, wash! Preparation for doing your laundry in Dutch.

Essential Vocabulary:
The first few times I did laundry the process took much longer than I would have liked simply because I didn't have the vocabulary for the items or processes involved (and my manual didn't have an English section). Here are what I consider some of the essential terms for doing your laundry.
  • was - wash/laundry
  • wasmachine - washing machine
  • voorwas - pre-wash
  • wasmiddel - laundry detergent.
  • wasverzachter - fabric softener
  • katoen - cotton
  • synthentisch - synthetic 
  • centrifugeren - spin/centrifugation
  • spoelen - rinse
  • kort programma - short/express program
  • kleur - color
  • wit/witte - white
  • zwart - black
  • kleding - clothing/clothes 

Machine Basics:
I'll start this section with my disclaimer that this information is based on my personal wasmachine (Samsung WF8604NHWG) and that every machine is labeled differently and/or comes with different settings and abilities. Likely, you're machine will have similar types of settings.

My machine's program and setting options

Your machine will either have a drainage pipe installed on the wall, or you will have to place the drainage hose in your closest sink when the machine is in use. If bought new, your machine should come with a hard plastic mount so the drainage hose doesn't fall out of the sink. You don't want to mop up an entire load's worth of water from the floor - so make sure to check this before first use.

The plastic sink mount - mine's still in the package since I have a drain installed.

It's not uncommon for people to turn off the water source by their machine when not in use. If you're renting a property with a machine, it can't hurt to check the faucet knob - remember: righty-tighty, lefty-loosey. If you're in a hostel, I wouldn't worry about it unless management informs you otherwise.

Righty-tighty, lefty-loosey. Yes, the faucet is
upside down - that's a long story.

If you really don't want to learn much about your machine, you can get away with only ever using the kort programma (possibly labeled express programma). This express cycle will most likely be the shortest full-wash cycle available on the machine, and most machines allow you to adjust the temperature within each program type. My machine allows me to change the intensity of the spin/centrifugal cycle at the end of the wash - the bigger the number, the harder things will be spun around. 1400 revolutions a minute is great for jeans and even your whites, but not recommended for your dainties.

I use the synthetisch program for our colored clothing as they seem to get more use and pick up more mess (usually from playing). This is a longer cycle, but I would recommend it if you have the time and have things that are a bit dirtier.

The voorwas setting is an additional setting that you can add on to some programs to get extra clean out of your clothes. My machine doesn't allow the 30 minute voorwas setting on the kort programma because that would defeat the purpose of an "express" option. But if you're feeling like your clothes need a bit of help, the voorwas setting is good to give everything an extra boost.

Some of these are general laundry tips that are worth repeating, but some are specific to my Dutch laundry experience.

  • When in doubt, use cold water. It's better for the environment anyway, but water set too warm can shrink your clothes. 
  • Fabric softener is a good idea. Many homes do not have a clothes dryer like you find in the States, so you air-dry your clothes. This also means that your clothes don't feel as "fluffy" when they're dry, so softener helps, especially with cottons. However, since softener effects the absorbency of towels, don't bother using it when doing a load of towels. To ease my eco-guilt (because softener is sometimes worse for the environment than detergent), my preferred brand is Ecover.
  • The door on a front-loading wasmachine will lock. If you forget to get an item into the machine and realize at the very beginning, just stop or turn off the machine and wait a minute or so for the lock to turn off on it's own. If you realize 1/3 or 1/2 way through, just wait until the next load.
  • In a pinch, HEMA has cheap laundry detergent for just €2.00 a bottle (I think it's good for 20 loads). It's not my favorite, but if I really need detergent and my favored brands aren't on sale, I will pick up a bottle. 

Hopefully, you can find these laundry tips helpful and informative. If you feel like I missing something important for doing laundry in Dutch - please leave a comment for others slogging through their own mountains of wash!

18 June 2013

Visitors of the Familiar and Royal Variety

Last week, we had visitors! Little Man's Great Grandma and Great Grandpa came to stay with us for a few days. They've been to the Netherlands and seen Amsterdam before, so we had the opportunity to show them around our place and some other cities in the country. It was just a short visit, but we managed to pack in quite a bit.

Great Grandma and Great Grandpa arrived on Monday afternoon after taking the train from Paris. They arrived in time for snacks and playtime before dinner, and even brought a new book featuring Scooby-Doo!

Tuesday was a good day to explore. The weather was great (warm and sunny) and worked out perfectly for checking out Nijmegen while Mark presented at a conference at the university there. We've been to Nijmegen before, so it was nice for me to be able to act as a tour guide rather than totally winging it as we went along. Once we arrived in Nijmegen, Mark grabbed a bus to the university and the rest of us started walking to Valkhof Park, the park overlooking the river and bridges made famous by Operation Market Garden during World War II and A Bridge Too Far.

Photo op on the way to Valkhof Park.

The view from the park is spectacular, and because the surroundings are so peaceful, it's hard to imagine what transpired here during the war.

View across the Waal River from the Valkhof Park.

Luckily, Great Grandma was ready to help Little Man enjoy the view.

Nijmegen claims itself as the oldest city in the Netherlands, dating it's settlement back to the establishment of a Roman military camp that remained inhabited through the years as the military kept it's strategic location and a village developed around the camp. In celebration of the 2000th Anniversary in 2005, this interesting sculpture was installed, with Dutch, German, and Latin writing (none of which I can read).

Commemorative sculpture installed in 2005 for the 2000th Anniversary.

The details are beautiful.

Yes, that is a turtle on the top. No, I don't know why it's there.

From the Valkhof Park, we made our way over to the Stevenskerk, a church built during the 13th century in Nijmegen's city centre. In general, I think these old churches are beautiful, and I stand in awe of any ancient buildings that continue to stand.

Just look at that organ and those chandeliers! 

A sample of some of the very old interior paintings that have survived.

Outside view of the main entrance.

Stevenskerk did suffer quite a bit of damage during the Second World War - not only was it victim to the fighting that took place in the city, it was heavily damaged when American fighter pilots mistook Nijmegen for a German city and leveled a good portion of the city centre. Some of the "old" part of the city centre was spared, and the shops and cafes down that stretch are quite nice. We spent some time drinking delicious coffee in the beautiful garden patio of the Smaakrijk (Flavor Empire) cafe after our tour of the church. The staff was excellent, the coffee was excellent, and Little Man enjoyed playing with the rocks.

After Mark finished his conference, we headed to Utrecht to go through another beautiful old church - the Domkerk - and to enjoy drinks and snacks at one of Utrecht's well known cafes, Winkel van Sinkel.

Enjoying the atmosphere of Winkel van Sinkel, Utrecht.

The next day was less traveled, but just as exciting. A friend that lives in Oisterwijk told me that Koning Willem-Alexander and Koningin Maxima were coming to town. Not wanting to miss such an opportunity we made sure we were there to see it - and we were not disappointed. The streets where the King and Queen walked were lined with banners made by school children, people handed out the national flag to anyone that wanted it, and people were buzzing with excitement. Gildes from the towns of our province (Noord Brabant) had their representatives there with their flags in view, and then laid the flags on the ground close to the old gementehuis (city hall building) for the King and Queen to walk on.

Gilde representatives laying the flags.

It was crowded, but we all got right up front and had an amazing view.

It doesn't look like it here, but Little Man was very excited.

And then the King and Queen walked through, and then they were gone.

Koning Willem-Alexander and Koningin Maxima, Oisterwijk, 12 June 2013.

We were able to briefly meet our friends in Oisterwijk, and then headed back to Tilburg for a good meal at home. Little Man got to recap the day's events with Great Grandma looking at pictures on the train - a good distraction for a tired boy.

Looking at pictures with Great Grandma.

Great Grandma and Great Grandpa had a very early departure time on Thursday so they could catch their flight out of Brussels. Their time with us was brief, but we enjoyed it immensely! Now we're looking forward to the next set of visitors for the summer and a vacation in Germany.

17 June 2013

A Little Bit of Nature Outside Your Door

I'm getting a post ready about our visitors that were with us last week - but as you wait for that, enjoy a bit of a photo montage.

In our neighborhood (the Reeshof of Tilburg), the houses and businesses have been developed in a way to maintain as much of the natural surroundings as possible. The best part about this is that nature is accessible and it's easy to find all sorts of animals right outside your door, which is Little Man's favorite part of the neighborhood, right after the many playgrounds. Today has gorgeous weather so we took advantage of a sunny morning walk to find animals before the afternoon session of peuterspeelzaal. Here's a little glimpse into our daily wanderings about the neighborhood.

The Woodpigeon - the slower, dumber cousin of the street wise city pigeon.

It's spring and the babies are out. Here are some of the Canada Geese with their large gaggle.

Theoretically, we could see falcons here. We haven't spotted one yet.

The Scottish Highlander cows are all over the place. Here's one of our favorites - a kleintje (little one)

Mallards are in abundance, and now we can find plenty of chicks. The yellow chicks will grow to be white or very light brown in color.

The Common Coot - They're funny looking and they sound like squeaky toys.

Wild Foxglove - Don't worry, we know not to touch it, but it's still pretty to look at.

The Great Crested Grebe and chick. 

The common hare, or konjijntje (bunny) 

A beautiful little blue butterfly.

And my favorite wild animal: The Little Man, enjoying fields, rocks, and nature.

14 June 2013

IKEA Vrijdag: Lekman Bak/Box (Complementary Item for the Expedit Series)

We're back on the Expedit accessory kick for IKEA Vrijdag! Sometimes, you just need a box to dump a bunch of junk in, but you're dresser drawer isn't going to cut it, and cardboard boxes aren't practical or pretty. Little Man doesn't have a toy box in his bedroom, but he does have plenty of odds and ends that he cherishes at any given moment, and we have no desire to step on them when making our way through his room. Since we purchased the 2x2 Expedit as a toy station, we also decided to purchase 2 boxes for the bottom compartments to catch all of the treasures that wouldn't easily pile up on the shelves, and we bought the Lekman bak/box - one in red and one in blue - to take care of the loose items in the Little Man's room.

2x2 Expedit with blue and red Lekman bak/box

Lekman bak/box in blue and red

The Lekman is made entirely of SAN plastic and a bit of polypropylene and specifically designed to fit inside the Expedit compartments. It comes in a flat package, and you have to snap everything into place. IKEA also provides some strips to put along the bottom to make sliding the box in and out easy without scratching the Expedit. Putting the box together is easy enough (it's just a cube), but I will say that the plastic material feels like it's capable of shattering if dropped on a wood or tile floor. It's not the softer plastic you find in most plastic drawer sets, and it feels potentially brittle. Little Man's room has carpeting, so there's a little give, and he's not in the drawers every few seconds, so we haven't had any problems, but if this were in use by more children and/or on a hard floor, I think I would go with a soft box, like the Drona Bak/Box. But on the bright side, it's plastic, so you just have to wipe it clean with water (and maybe some soap) if you have to, and it holds a fair about of things since it fits the entire compartment.

Lots of treasure!

You'll notice on the website that IKEA only lists red, black, and white as the available colors. This was also the case when we were initially searching for the boxes, and we were happily surprised to find blue in the store. So it your heart is set on these boxes and set on the color blue, go ahead and take a chance by looking in the store. Because these are small items, they are available in the showroom/display area and not the warehouse - so keep this in mind if you want to make the purchase.

We give the Lekman Bak/Box 3 Swedish meatballs on our 5 meatball scale. Overall, it gets the job done, it's cheap, and it's easy to put together, but I'm not particularly impressed by the quality of the material.

Life in Dutch Rating for the Lekman Bak/Box:

10 June 2013


We have some visitors, who are great because they read books.

07 June 2013

IKEA Vrijdag: Risor Scheidingswand/Room Divider

We've been a little busy with things, so I offer this short and sweet review rather than potentially and accidentally abandoning the IKEA Vrijdag reviews for a few weeks (again...).

Today we look at the Risor Scheidingwand/Room Divider - a contemporary version of the classic privacy screen. It's a bit of a long story of how and why it's there, but we have a fair amount of things in storage on our top floor that no one really wants to look at, particularly when using that space as an office or guest room. The simplest solution was to buy a room divider to block that stuff from view with something that didn't look silly or out of place. Luckily, IKEA has a few solutions in this area, leading us to the 7 foot tall, 6 foot wide Risor. It's available in white with a solid pine frame stained a dark brown/black - a color similar to the 2x2 Expedit we purchased.

Risor Schedingswand/Room Divider - this thing is so big, the picture doesn't
do it justice. Especially because I don't want to show off the junk it's hiding.

The best feature about this item is that it came 100% assembled - an IKEA furniture first for us. All we had to do was open the box and stand it up. IKEA didn't even feel the need to include the ubiquitous allen wrench. It was beautiful. Because we had IKEA deliver this and several other items to our home, we did run into a brief issue when we took it out of the box. Someone in a work boot had clearly stepped on the box (the huge footprint proved this) and a corner of the white polypropylene filler had been popped out - but Mark was able to pop it back in without a problem. This isn't the fault of the product - just the person who stepped on the box.

Fun Fact: This particular IKEA item has been part of the Doctor Who set for the 2011 Children in Need promo. I came across the ad by chance a little while ago and immediately recognized the room divider, and the ad is funny, so that's a bonus. Doctor Who fans, the video is embedded at the bottom of the post - enjoy.

We give the Risor Scheidingswand/Room Divider our first awarding of a full 5 Swedish meatballs on our 5 meatball scale. It does its job and didn't require us to do anything, so I couldn't be happier.

Life in Dutch Rating for Risor Scheidingswand/Room Divider:

Enjoy, fellow nerds.

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