Well, it’s been a few days now and I think we have started to get the hang of the Groningen/Dutch lifestyle. To keep things a little more straightforward, I’ll just break it up into days. This may turn out to be a long post, as we have a fair amount to share.
*Warning: Don’t expect posts of this length for the entire 4 years we will be here. We’ll stick to big adventures and stories as time goes. I’ll pick up where Whitney left off:
Ascension Day, the 40th day of Easter. This means that everything in the city is closed. Although our apartment did come fully furnished, there were still numerous things we needed (mostly for personal comfort). So knowing that everyone is home from work today, we made the smart decision to go to IKEA. Although only a 15-minute walk from our apartment, IKEA was a bad idea. The entire population of Groningen had the same idea that we did and they were in no hurry to move through the store. These two, fast-paced Americans are certainly going to have to adjust to a slower paced lifestyle. Aside from the mass of slow-moving humanity, IKEA was interesting for other reasons. First off, as most of you that have visited an IKEA know, all of the product names are in Swedish and therefore a little complicated to read. Try adding Dutch descriptions to those Swedish names and things get really interesting. As with everything else thus far, we shopped by pictures and looks. The other interesting IKEA factor here? We don’t have a car. Therefore, everything you buy has to be carried 1.3km home. The solution to this problem? Rent a bakfiets (bike with giant basket/cart on the front) or pay to have it delivered. We chose the second option.
Following IKEA, we met briefly with my new P.I. and chatted about life in Groningen (for clarity: P.I. means principal investigator and I will likely use it frequently in future posts. It’s typically how graduate students refer to their boss, at least in the US. I’ll have to figure out how it is here).
Today was a big day in our Dutch lives! We bought bikes! Not having a bike in Groningen is like not having a car in the United States. Walking is not an issue at all, as most places are only 10-15 minutes from us. However, once you jump on a bike and make that same 15-minute trip in 5, you gain a new perspective. The bike buying process was fairly easy (I think we had both secretly dreaded taking that step as we didn’t really know what to expect). There is a bike shop a few minutes from our apartment so on one of our many trips into the city center; we decided to just go for it. Half an hour later, we walked out with two used bikes. Whitney was able to get a very nice bike, complete with lights and a bell (both of which are required here or you get a sizeable fine, ~80 euros). Mine is a little more ‘used’ but it was cheaper and still works fine. I have a bit more bike riding experience than Whitney so we figured it better for her to have a good one so she can focus on the riding part. Bike theft here is a big issue, so we each had to get heavy-duty chain locks. Basically, from what we have been told, if you leave your bike unattended and unlocked, it will certainly get stolen. Those chain locks will get plenty of use…
After getting our bikes, we made the trip out to IKEA again (because you never get everything you need in one trip) and it was a breeze. I have to admit, I spent most of the ride laughing at Whitney but we made it with no issues. Let’s just saying that she is improving every time we ride.
One final story for the day: As Whitney mentioned in her last post, we live above a flower shop. The owner of the flower shop is our landlord so we stopped in to meet him. His name is Wally and he is very cool. He told us about the Chevrolet trucks that he and his son drive and how he recently made a trip to Pennsylvania, complete with trips to the junkyard for parts. We certainly made an impression on him. I say this because as we were leaving, Whitney (ever graceful) stepped in a puddle of water, slipped, and nearly took out an entire wall of flowers. As we went out the door, we heard Wally and his daughter saying “oh….”.
For those of you that know us, food & cooking are a major part of our lives. You have probably even heard us tell stores about our butcher in Pittsburgh and how Saturday mornings were our ‘butchin’ days. Well being that it is Saturday, we had to find a way to butch!
We started out by heading to a local, organic butcher shop. It’s about 5 minutes from our apartment and it wasn’t bad. Ordering cuts of meat, like everything else, is an adventure. First off, we can’t read the signs so we just have to go by looks. Secondly, we use the metric system here (thanks America for being different) so we have to order by grams/kilograms. This will take some getting used too.
Following the butcher, we visited De Vismarkt (the fish market) and it was amazing! It is a huge open-air market that has everything. And when I say everything, I mean everything! All types of meat and fish, any fruit or vegetable you can imagine, nut/seeds, eggs (chicken/duck/something we couldn’t figure out), spices, bread, cheeses, and too many other things to name. The best part of it all? It was cheap! Spices were certainly the highlight of the trip as they were only 1-2 euros for a very large bag. Another highlight involved Whitney getting very excited over fresh spinach and ordering a ‘kilo’ of it. Know how much a kilogram is? 2.2 pounds. We have 2.2 pounds of spinach and only paid €1,50. I reiterate; the market is amazingly cheap. We will be shopping there from now on.
So there it is: way too much detail for our first few days in Groningen. As I said at the beginning, we won’t be doing every post like this. I just wanted to share our first couple days here since a lot of you have been asking and it has certainly been exciting for us. Work will be starting next week, along with interviews for Whitney (fingers crossed!), so things will be settling down significantly. All in all, life in Groningen is good. We have bikes, we found a place to grocery shop, and assuming we can adjust to the time/daylight (it is daylight from 5am to after 10pm here, ridiculous), we will be just fine.
Until next time,
P.S. Vegetables from the market are much larger than we are used to. Take this carrot as an example. This is 100%, unedited, straight from the market (we didn’t realize it until we got home and unpacked). Sorry mom…..you have to admit, it’s pretty funny.