Monday, November 21, 2011
Living in Alkmaar - Pros and Cons
Serendipitous would be the word to describe how we arrived in Alkmaar. When we were looking for a place to live in the Netherlands, one of our Dutch contacts suggested Bergen, saying it was the place writers lived. Maybe, the Dutch Dan Brown or Stephen King, but not this writer, not with the cost of house close to a million euros. Alkmaar which was close by, on the other hand, was affordable.
Why we love Alkmaar in no particular order.
1. It's size. You don't find that stern look on people as they rush to get somewhere, as you would in a large city. But Alkmaar is big enough to have a vibrant downtown, some cool bars with good music, a surprising amount of diversity as far as population, which means that you won't be the only whatever you are here. Plus, there are more stores than we need in a pretty setting, and it's safer with less traffic, making it easier to bike everywhere with less distance to cross.
2. The people. The assistant at the rental agency who found our house, commented on the local population being a bit country, which I guess could mean that they lack sophistication. I have to admit, I haven't sat down and had any deep philisophical conversations with anyone. But I've found everyone here to be friendly and helpful. They're willing to speak in English when they discover your two year old is your translator. You pass someone on the street and they say hello. We've had our neighbors over and had coffee at their house without making an appointment. Maybe, they're not as cosmopolitan as you'd find in a major metropolitan area. But they're less pretentious and arrogant, which I prefer.
3. The Polder & The Beach. There's nothing more enjoyable than riding a bike through a green space, listening to the birds and watching the windmills spin. Meanwhile, twenty minutes on the bus gets you to Egmond where you can smell the salt in the breeze and listen to the waves crash while drinking beer at a BAD bar.
4. The cost of living. Like with most countries, the further you live from the big cities and places expats live, the cheaper life is. That means you can live in a bigger place, buy more food and enjoy a night out on the town more often.
5. Our House. It's a two minute walk to the supermarket, doctor and kinderkamer, and a five minute bike ride to the vets, city center and train station. Plus the layout is great. Our kitchen looks out onto a playground with the living room near the back yard. We've got three stories and a room for our bikes. I've got a great attic office, so on Halloween I can put on a gray wig and rock back and forth in a chair in front of the window.
6. Oudrop. It's the area we technically live. I don't know if it's like this in the rest of the Netherlands, but life harkens back to a different era here. There are always kids playing in the streets, being watched by neighbors and grandparents. Every block has it's own playground, each one different. Men like to make things like chicken coops and sheds on weekends. You're friendly with your neighbors and their pets.
7. AZ Alkmaar. When we travel and mention where we live that's usually the first thing out of people's mouths thanks to the local football team's participation in the Champions League. And this year they're top of the table! But I say no more less I curse them.
8. The History. Having lived in Spain, and particularly Catalunya, I find the connection between the two countries really fascinating. For example, if you've been bad in the Netherlands, you're punishment at Christmas is to be sent to Madrid. Much of Catalan Nationalism is what I consider Dutch envy, and I'm curious to know which flag came first the one from Egmond or Catalunya. Same colors, same number of stripes, but one is bent and vertical. Meanwhile, Alkmaar is where it all started, it's the place Barcelona so desperately wishes to be, the city where the local population turned the tide and kicked out the Spanish.
Now for the one and only negative.
1. The commute. The Netherlands is one of the few countries, I think, where you can move, have no idea about the language and still find a decent job that doesn't involve teaching English. Unfortunately, most of these jobs are in Amsterdam, so that means an hour and a half commute each way, extending your working day by three hours. Also, public transit is expensive and the trains don't always run on time, so hope the company that hires you pays the cost, which they've been known to do. But that doesn't make it less draining.
Posted by Jeremy Holland at 5:27 AM