It’s always sunny in Amsterdam

If someone had asked me yesterday what my personal hell would be, I wouldn’t have known off the top of my head.

It seems like an easy enough question to answer – but those are the questions that are hardest to answer.

How many beans can you hold in your hand? No one’s ever asked me that, but tell me the type of bean and I can make a good guess.

What’s the capital of Ohio? I would probably think of it eventually. Those kinds of questions are fine.

But questions about yourself are tricky.

Answers to the questions about yourself are like feral cats, they sneak up on you when you’re alone and least expect them. And they rub against your jeans and you wonder why, and then you’re nervous to smell your jeans later.

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That’s why if someone had asked me yesterday about my personal hell, I probably would have just described the average personal hell. Maybe very loud construction, or being in a cab and realizing you don’t have enough money to cover the fare.

Last night I learned what my actual hell is because we had to try to sleep through it: constant daylight.

People talk a lot about the length of days in Amsterdam, and they complain about the short ones. They complain about how in the winter it’s dark all the time. Bring on darkness. I go to the movie theater and pay ten euros to sit in darkness. No one is paying ten euros for constant light, but here in the summer you get it for free whether you like it or not.

Last night I took a ton of cold medicine and got in bed ready to welcome sleep but the sun was still out, and there was daylight deep into the night until pretty much forever, until somehow it started getting even brighter. Then we called it morning and I got out of bed and changed from pajamas to work clothes and went to work with people who all witnessed the same thing, and we’re all pretending it didn’t happen.

There was no night last night. Can it even be morning if it wasn’t night? How do we know today is today and not still yesterday? How did anyone sleep? This doesn’t bother anyone else. And that’s what makes it a personal hell, I guess.

So, if you were going to ask, now you know.

Here’s a photo of a pigeon unsatisfied by the things it found in the trash:

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The first of probably many posts about bikes

Growing up in Minnesota there were two family sizes: regular car or minivan.

I was only eight when we became a minivan family so I don’t remember it clearly, but for other families, switching from regular car to minivan was a rite of passage. Whether you like minivans or not: four kids is too many to have in a regular car backseat. Unless one of them is only two inches tall and can sit comfortably and safely in a teacup or an Altoids tin. (Having a kid who’s only two inches tall seems really stressful. I’d much rather have two-inch-tall dad.)

I haven’t seen too many minivans in Amsterdam, but parents are definitely bringing their kids places, it’s hard to miss. And it seems like there is absolutely no limit to how many kids you can have on a bike. No matter how big your family is, it is a bike family.

The popular thing in our neighborhood is dads biking around with a small child in a little seat on the handlebars, and a larger child standing on the bar behind the dad’s back. It’s strange to see three faces stacked like that, all facing in one direction, all sort of grimacing because of the wind.

People also set two larger kids over the back wheel, sitting with their legs dangling on one side, like little ladies.

And then there are the bakfiets, where kids sit in little chairs squinting if it’s nice out, or covered in plastic like enormous leftovers if it’s rainy.

I haven’t taken any photos of people, so enjoy this family of models in a bakfiets:

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Do you like that photo pretty much exactly as it is, but wish the kids were wearing helmets? No problem:

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Other popular ways to cycle include holding an umbrella with one hand, reading something on your phone, or listening to music. This morning I saw a woman biking without using the handlebars, because in each hand she was clutching a tote-bag sized bundle of lettuce.

Then there are the people who look just like everyone else, but I bet if you look closely you can see a little bit of hair peeking out of the pocket of their backpack, and tiny little fingers, it’s their two-inch-tall dad, on his way to work.

Ghost apartment

Our new apartment is great, I’m not complaining about it. It’s so great that it has a fancy thermostat, the kind you control not only by adjusting the display on the wall, but also via an app you can download.

The apartment’s former tenants used the app to set the thermostat on some sort of schedule, but we don’t have the app yet. It’s only available in the Dutch iTunes store, which we need a Dutch credit card to access, and the bank won’t give us credit cards until we’ve been receiving paychecks for 90 days. So for the next 40 days our thermostat adjusts itself as it pleases. It’s like living in a great apartment with some very finicky ghosts.

Our invisible roommates will get very warm, maybe they’re doing ghost workout videos or baking ghost bread, and they’ll turn the thermostat down to 16 degrees.

We put on sweaters and go to sleep but the ghosts wake up in the night, peckish and FREEZING, and they the thermostat up to 22 degrees to make themselves comfortable.

For those of you who haven’t been thinking about Celsius thermostats as much as I have lately, which is hopefully everyone, 22 degrees is very warm. I’ve been thinking about thermostats a lot. The goal of a fancy thermostat might be to think about the thermostat less, but ours makes me think about it almost constantly. I don’t mind. I like our ghost roommates, they’re helping me get the hang of Celsius way faster than I anticipated.

Our apartment has floorboards that used to match up, but right now there are quarter-inch gaps in between some of them because the apartment is a little bigger this year than usual. The apartment’s size fluctuates a bit, because of wind or because the entire city is built on sand.

Sometimes we’ll be sitting at the table and everything will adjust slightly, and sometimes I’ll wake up in the night because the ghosts have turned up the heat, and I’ll hear all kinds of shifting sounds.

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Downstairs penthouse

One morning a few weeks ago Boaz and I had two appointments to look at apartments.

The first place was just a couple blocks from work and a confident man with ear-length black hair showed it to us. He was wearing a gray v-neck t-shirt, jeans, and the green Stan Smiths everyone on earth is required to wear this year.

It wasn’t a great apartment, and the bathroom smelled like something bad had happened in there that the entire building would need years to recover from. Boaz thanked him and we walked to the next place, which was a 30 minute walk south.

We checked the address, rang the bell, and I swear the same realtor opened the door. He told us he had a different name, and he gave us a different business card, but how did he get there before us? Did he take the tram? It was the same guy.

This apartment was on the ground floor. In Amsterdam lots of apartments are on the ground floor. And unlike a ground floor apartment in Portland or any other American city I’ve lived, there is no yard giving you a few feet of space between your living room and passers by. My nose is inches away from a Dutch family sitting down to dinner, a boy petting a cat, a guy laughing at something on his laptop, a couple making out on a sofa.

A ground floor apartment is essentially drawing a chalk line on the sidewalk and saying the general public needs to be on this side of the line, but we’re all going to be sort of sharing the space together.

The upside of ground floor apartments is you can set up things in your windows for people to look at, or even touch. I mean really people are right there, I don’t know how to explain that I am not exaggerating a little bit about this.

When we tried to tell the realtor that we weren’t interested, he didn’t let us leave as easily as he’d let us leave the other apartment. Everyone in Amsterdam would kill for a ground floor apartment, he told us. In America sure, you want the penthouse. But here no one wants to go up and down with the bags and the bikes. You walk in, you’re home.

You’re lucky to find this ground floor, he said. And I’m sure he was lying.

But was he?

Now every time I’m walking somewhere and I accidentally make eye contact with someone sitting just inches away from me in a ground floor apartment I think of those realtors who are identical twins and I want to ask the people inside what the real story is. I wish I had a little sign I could hold up in ground-floor windows. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF YOUR APARTMENT? IS THIS A HIGHLY-COVETED FLOOR TO BE ON? THUMBS UP FOR YES.

I might wait until I know a little more Dutch.

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I haven’t taken any photos into people’s ground-floor apartments (you’re welcome) so here’s a photo of a light bulb store sign that I like.

Where are they bringing all that gravel anyway

Is the word “heren” German, and does it mean men or women? Sometimes it’s on bathroom doors, but I can never remember what it means.

Last weekend I was thinking about it as I walked across a bridge, but it was hard to concentrate because there were SO many people screaming. It seemed like everyone around me was screaming, everyone except for one guy, who was holding up a cell phone and videotaping me.

I looked to my right, toward some red flashing lights and a siren, and saw a woman in a raincoat waving her arms all over. That’s when I noticed I was the only person on the bridge, everyone else was on one side or the other screaming at me to move so that the bridge could go up and a boat covered in gravel could go through.

I ran back and stood next to a woman who told me that these bridges take everyone a while to get used to. She didn’t know that last week I moved here from a city that also has raised bridges, and I didn’t tell her.

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Boaz took this photo, in Portland. Don’t show it to nice women you meet by bridges.

When the boat had gone by and the bridge was back down and we all crossed, the videotaping man was still there on the other side and still recording me. He held his phone out with both hands to get it close to my face as I passed.

I winked at him, which would have been a cool and confident way to end an embarrassing (and poorly filmed, I bet) YouTube video, except I’m terrible at winking so it probably looked like I’d just gotten sick. But I think winking is like crossing bridges. You just have to keep trying to do it until enough people scream at you to stop.

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