March 3, 2009

Reasons to feel at home

My unintentional break from blogging is (hopefully) over! The worst flu on earth has passed (almost three weeks being sick really, really makes me appreciate the simple things - like breathing) and I've been back to work and regular routines for a little while now. There are certain things that really make me feel at home in Amsterdam that aren't all about pretty skies and bicycles....

1. Having a doctor to call my own (or at least, a medical practice)
2. Doing my Dutch tax returns
3. Buying a 6-month membership to the climbing gym (woah, commitment!)

Going to the doctor and doing taxes isn't the fun part of life here, but even through my pounding-head-flu-haze, I still really, really appreciated the fact that when I went to the doctor I didn't have to fill out any forms or pay any money. All the doctors and staff spoke English, offered my test results (which were getting mailed to me) in English, and that picking a doctor didn't mean having to stay in any kind of special network - I just picked a doctor, called to make an appointment, and that was that.

I have several guests staying with me at the moment, which always makes me happy (the photo included with today's post was taken by one of them during sunset a few days ago). Having someone new in town always inspires me to go out and do something interesting/new/cultural, so this past Saturday we visited the Jewish Historical Museum (after having a coffee at the Waterlooplein market) to see the Bert Nienhuis exhibit. The Museum cards that were given to me by another friend got us in for free, so it didn't feel like a waste to only spend one hour in the museum. Lunch that day was prepared with fish purchased at the Albert Cuyp market, and eaten at home with good friends. Then, even though the temptation to stay home and nap away the big lunch and red wine that we consumed, I suggested a trip to an Amsterdam Nord cafe. I absolutely love taking the NDSM ferry across the IJ, and since the weather was cooperating (ie: not raining or too cold), it was really nice to stand outside on the ferry as we sailed across the river. We sat in a cafe for a couple hours, drinking beer by a fireplace in big, comfortable chairs. After the sun had set, we took the ferry back to the center (enjoying the view of Amsterdam by night), got some pizza from Cinema Paradiso, and spent the night ... well, we spent the night playing Risk with another friend, but that's not the point.

The point is, that entire day was pretty well packed from beginning to end, and cost almost nothing. The photo exhibit was free. The lunch was made at home with fish purchased at one of the most affordable markets in the city. Taking the ferry - which again, I think of as such a treat - is free. Sitting in a beautiful cafe for several hours, right on the water, with a view of the entire city, cost the price of two beers (€4.40). The pizza was actually the most expensive part of the day, but it was entirely worth it. We got around everywhere by bike, without any need to take public transportation.

Plus, I won the Risk game.

All in all, a pretty spectacular day.


Anonymous said...

TM wrote:

You live! well done :-)

Three weeks being ill -> that must have been a very foreign virus to your immune system. After this though you should be much better off. I'm very glad you had such a positive experience with the health care system, too.

> The point is, that entire day
> was pretty well packed from
> beginning to end, and cost
> almost nothing.


Mmm. You've pressed one of my buttons here. All the things you list - none of them are free. The air is free. A whacking great big ferry is not free - it's a very expensive bit of kit, to buy and to operate, along with the salaries of all the crew.

You *didn't pay to use them*, which is absolutely unlike *being free*. *Someone* paid for it, somewhere along the line, or it wouldn't be there.

In fact, of course, you did pay for it and to use them. You filled in your Dutch tax returns, right? you and everyone else.

Now, originally, that money belonged to you. You could spend it as you saw fit. So if a couple of different people decided to offer a ferry over the river, you'd select the service you prefered that day (cheapest? nicest? fastest?), pay your money and take your choice.

But that's not how it is. The State takes that money from you and provides a ferry service and there are no other ferry services and that's the one you *must* use. It's free to use, so no one else can offer a service, because they need to charge a fee.

And maybe that service is a nice, slow, expensive service, every day of the year. Maybe if you're not well off, maybe if you'd retained the money taken for that ferry, you'd have chosen on that day a nasty, slow, cheap ferry, because you *really* needed that money for food or heat or medicine or presents for your kids birthday.

Of course, that's just a ferry service and probably there isn't much difference between a nasty, cheap slow ferry and a lovely, fast, expensive ferry.

But when it comes to schools - or medical care - or getting to work every day of the year - then the differences can be significant indeed and a very large number of people are significantly worse off than they would otherwise be, because their money is spent inefficiently for them and their circumstances.

Right. Button now unpressed. Normal service resumes :-)

On an unrelated note, you've written about something which in general is true; it's *experiences* which bring happyness. Baby, you're a rich man too!

Jaap said...

next you take the ferry to my end of Amsterdam, do not go to the IJ-kantine, but to cafe Noorderlicht. it's a little father out, it is at the end of the old shipwharf-area... so much to see there! pity I can't make it tonight, but have fun!

Яша said...

I just found the blog but hey, welcome back :)