Holland: Expat Life in The Hague

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Grand Hotel Amrath Kurhaus

Travelers Guide. 

For those travelers considering a short trip to The Hague, you won’t be disappointed in what you find there.  Beginning with Scheveningen Beach, an impressive strand on the North Sea, is the equally impressive Grand Hotel Amrath Kurhaus above.

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The next sight you may take in is the ocean liner shaped, covered pier.  If you are like me and don’t do extreme water sports, it is great for watching wind surfers and kite boarders take on nature’s turbulence while you relax in a protected indoor salon, offering refreshments and light entertainment.

The esplanade offers a vast venue of night life, recreation, clubs, and eateries.  You are bound to find something which appeals to your taste in music or entertainment, but for help getting started you might enjoy Crazy Pianos, a happening mad world of dueling Baby Grands. Many restaurants such as Simonis and Grieks Restaurant Eleni in Wassenaar, feature North Atlantic Seafood caught fresh daily.

Speaking of Wassenaar, it is an affluent inland village in The Hague, and home of quaint sidewalk cafes, bistros and pubs, fine shopping, and friendly approachable people.  You may be wondering about currency in The Hague; as part of the European Union, Holland currency is still the Euro.

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If you are from the U.S. and missing food back home try Broeder’s Bistro for a taste of American dining while out shopping for those little wooden shoes.

 

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Holland is a land of canals, windmills, and flowers, but also a nice area to raise children, with access to some of the finest education Europe has to offer. The Windmill de Windlust in the photo above, located in Wannesaar, is still in operation today.

Expats Guide.

 

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Madurodam Mini Dutch City

My mini vacation in The Hague was only a brief visit; however, a new friend and fellow expatriate, Ron Brown, in the photo on the left, offers insight into long-term living in this part of Holland.  When asked about everyday life in the Den Haag as it is known to local residents, he said, “Children in Den Haag begin English Language Classes in 4th grade, so language barriers are not a real problem for non-Dutch speakers because almost everyone there speaks English.” In regard to activities of daily life he stated, “The grocery stores have hours similar to here (Berlin),” in that they are closed on Sundays, and the shoppers must provide their own bags unless they choose to buy one each time they shop.  Ron mentions a place called “Kelly Expect, that commonly sells name brand foods from the U.S.A.” which he found very useful as an expat.  He described his firsthand experience with vision care as “better than anything in the USA!” He received fast treatment and no out of pocket cost because of his great health care insurance.  Other information I was able to gather from Ron is that immigrants and expatriates must register for residency in The Hague to receive a 5 year residency card.   You can read about that here.

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Ron also enjoyed the beach and activities at Scheveningen, but he highlighted his experience with the Central Railway Station in the following statement,  “Central Station in Den Haag is one of the largest in Europe and one can travel to about any place from there.  It was only 12€ to Amsterdam!  Nice trains, and fast.  From Central Station you can also travel anywhere in Den Haag, kind of like here (Berlin), but more up-to-date.”  Thanks to Ron, for sharing this information.  Holland in general is some of the most awe inspiring scenery in Europe, and a good location to add to anyone’s bucket list.

Berlin Tours You Don’t Want to Miss

Bus Tours

The Hop-on Hop-off Bus is a self-guided audio tour bus designed for tourist with a short amount of time to see a large portion of the city.  Locals can also benefit from this tour since it is actually an overview of popular attractions in the city you may want to spend more time on in the future.  You can buy a 1 or 2 day pass.   During that time you may get on and off the bus at stops along the route for as long as you like.   There are 18 stops on the tour including popular places for site-seeing and shopping.  Audio guides are offered in 13 different languages, and the cost of adult tickets are 20€ for 1 day and 24€ for 2 days.  If you are into museums be sure to check out Museum Island on this tour.

River Tours

If you have a couple of hours to take a boat ride along the Spree River, try out a River Tour.  The Spree River meanders around the heart of Berlin highlighting many features along the route for site-seers and shutter bugs alike.  Berlin has a man-made canal system built between 1845 and 1850 to control drainage in the city.  The word “Berlin” actually mean “swamp” according to the tour guide on The Fortune Pleasure Boat Bridge Cruise.  Berlin has more bridges than Venice, and this particular tour takes you past 32 of them.   Tours vary in prices depending on whether a full meal is offered on the cruise or if they serve A La Carte.  Each tour can take from 1 hour to 3 hours, and are offered daily and in the evenings during the summer.  Check the link for winter hours and reservations.

Other Tours

Other types of Berlin tours which I haven’t been on, but wish to, include:

If you like to do things on your own some places offer self-guided walking tours that you can download to your smart phone.  Two of them are:

  • Detour
  • Ullmon:  CityMap2Go

 

Bavaria: A Nature Lover’s Dream

Modes of Travel
The beauty of living in Europe is the convenient access to multiple countries and cultures within a short flight or leisurely train ride.  I recommend going by train, even though it takes longer, because you can see more of the countryside along the way.  You may also rent a car, but be prepared.  Although, it is a thrill to ride 140 mph (226 Km/h) on the autobahn with no speed limit in some areas, it would be helpful to familiarize yourself with German traffic signage.  Signs can be overwhelming when trying to manage a vehicle in this kind of traffic.  Traffic jams are also common when traveling by car.
Places to Visit
Modes of travel are plentiful in Europe, so for now let’s focus on destinations to visit.  This week it is Bavaria, the southernmost region of Germany, bordering the Austrian Alps.  Bavaria is rich in German history and culture.  The people are friendly, the food is superb, and the beer is cold and plentiful.

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In particular, the city of Oberaudorf is an outdoorsman’s paradise offering areas for hiking, biking, fishing, swimming, and snow skiing.

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One of the first structures you see upon entering Oberaudorf from the north on A9 (the autobahn) is Kloster Reisach.  A monastic order of the brotherhood of Discalced Carmelites.  It is host to an annual beer festival in the Spring, and is well-worth a visit any time of the year to see the 18th century architecture.  It is an active church only open at certain times, so schedule a public tour to learn about the order and see the Baroque Period artwork and design.

Where to Stay
Our stay in Oberaudorf was made even more memorable by our new friends at Gasthof Keindl, a hidden jewel in the Bavarian foothills, and a family owned and operated hotel.

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Gasthof Keindl has many fine guest accommodations nicely assimilated into the Bavarian culture taking nothing away from the local ambience.  Accommodations include 38 beautiful guest rooms, a wellness center for easing away the stress and pains of a long journey, a guest pavilion for seminars and business meetings, a butcher shop which provides the freshest meat entrees in the area, a great restaurant with the finest chef, and, of course a beer garden where many locals come as regular guests.

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Rasa Gorbane, one of the friendly hotel staff, made us feel comfortable and welcome from the day we arrived until the day of our departure.

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We booked a master suite with a view overlooking the Kaiser Mountains, a mountain vista that had “The Sound of Music” playing in my head.  This gave me the “itch” to go hiking and start snapping photos right away.

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We arrived just in time for a visit to the beer garden before dinner where Junior Chef Josef Waller paid a personal visit to our table giving us a warm Bavarian welcome.

Where to Eat
The dining experience at Gasthof Keindl was excellent. The two entrees I tried were Wiener Schnitzel with Roasted Potatoes and Fresh Garden Salad, and the Ox Filet with Potatoes Au Gratin, Kohlrabi, and a Vegetable Medley.  The great food came in very large portions of deliciousness which called for some physical activity soon after we ate.

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We also had lunch at a location called “Auszeit” which provided a great view of the Kaisertal (or Kaiser Mountain Valley) just outside the front door.  Each entree offered there was a bouquet of flavor, but not your common Bavarian fair.  You may like it if you are not a picky eater and looking for something different.

Things to Do

Fortunately, our hotel was within ½ mile walking distance of the local pub and hangout, Rolleria.  Although it is a small establishment the employees are friendly and it is always a buzz of activity.

Hechtsee/Baden

The next day we traveled just a short distance south by car across the Austrian border. There we found free public access to scenic walks, bike trails, mountain lakes, and beautiful scenery.  We took a short hike around Lake Hechtsee which is spring fed with crystal clear water and monstrous fish.

Our trip ended on day three with a trip to the Bauernmarkt (street market) held annually right outside of our hotel.  The market offered works from local craftsmen, carvings, baskets, canned jellies and preserves, linens, books and fresh bread. Unfortunately, it rained and we didn’t get to stay long.
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My awesome husband picked up a hand crafted basket for me there which I love.

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At checkout we were graciously thanked and invited back again by Anca Cracium in reception.  She was genuinely kind and helpful throughout our visit.

If you are looking for an enjoyable authentic Bavarian cultural experience, Oberaudorf,  Gasthof Keindl, and the many outdoors activities in the surrounding area are all worth checking out on your next travel adventure.

5 Things to Do in Berlin on the Cheap

Once you get settled in to your new temporary home in Berlin as an expatriate or long-term traveler what will you do in your spare time?  If you have a family of five, going sight seeing every week can certainly be costly and a drain on your resources. Surprisingly, there are several great inexpensive or free activities around the city for families and individuals alike.

I started with number 1 because I happen to live nearby, and it was the first thing I did on my own when I came to Berlin.  You should feel free to explore these at your own leisure and convenience.  Click on the name of the sites in bold for more information.

  1. Charlottenburg Palace Garden The fee to enter the palace itself can be pricey with a family of five, but entrance to the grounds is free.  The palace garden boasts shady walking and biking paths, places to take your kids to play, toss a frisbee, walk your dog, or if you are into it, practice Haiku.  There are fantastic picnic areas, and great places to spend a sunny Saturday lying in the grass sun bathing or reading a good book.

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  2. The Tier Garten.  Another great park and free to the public.  It is near the center of the city, and has all of the things I mentioned above. This park is also accessible from the Berlin Zoo as well as from public access points.   A family could plan a day of picnicking in the park watching the cruise ships pass through the locks, or visiting the surrounding historical sites such as Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag Building, the Holocaust Museum, Hitler’s Bunker, Checkpoint Charlie, or the Victory Column.img_1121
  3. Brandenburg Gate.  Free tours are available for this area of the city; however, it is  good form to tip the guide.  It is open access to the public and many activities and celebrations take place here throughout the year.  This area is rich in historical background with many cafes and public vendors throughout the square.
  4. The Reichstag Building. A short walk from the Brandenburg Gate is the seat of German Parliament The Reichstag.  There’s and entrance and sometimes very long lines, but tickets may be purchased in advance online to avoid the waiting.  The view from the Dome at the top is amazing.img_1098
  5. The Victory ColumnIf you are up for a challenge, another site you won’t want to miss is The Berlin Victory Column. Challenging because there are 300 stairs from street level to the Golden Victory Angel at the top.  With an entrance fee of only 3€ it can get rather crowded, but you can snap some great photos once you reach the top.

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First 10 Things for Expats in Berlin

What are the first 10 things that come to mind for someone who is planning to move to Germany permanently or just on a temporary basis?  Probably not the things I have on this list, but these items can have you feeling right at home in no time.  Just a bit of pre-planning can provide a smooth transition to this beautiful country.  I hope you find them useful and encourage suggestions and corrections.

  1. Learn German. Learning a foreign language can be intimidating and take a lot of time, but just a few keywords and phrases can be very helpful.  Many Germans speak some English and they appreciate your efforts to learn German.  Thanks to online services like Rosetta Stone , and by devoting a few minutes a day, you can learn quite a lot.  Countless inexpensive or free apps are also available on smart phone App Stores teaching the basics.  If neither of those are an option English/German phrase books are easily found at local book stores or the airport.
  2. Establish German Residency & Apply for a Visa. It is important to establish residency in Germany at the earliest opportunity because there is a 90 day window in which to apply for a Visa.  Residency must be established before applying.  It is best to do this prior to coming to Germany if possible, but never fear, if you’ve already made the trip just start with Step 3: Find an Embassy.  Click here to learn more about Getting a Resident Permit in Germany .
  3. Find an Embassy. If you are a United States Citizen visit US Embassy & Consulates in Germany .  Not only can you find out what is required to apply for a German Visa, but a host of other information is here to help you.
  4. Start a bank account. Starting a bank account in Germany can be tricky, but it is possible.  The rules for personal bank accounts in Germany are different from accounts you may have in the United States, so if possible keep your U.S account open until you have a firm grasp on how to use a German Bank Account.
  5. Find an apartment. There are many fine real estate and rental agencies located in Berlin which are found easily by searching the internet.  Many of them are happy to line up rentals for you to see.  Things to keep in mind when apartment or house hunting are the location in relation to public transit if you don’t plan to drive, does the rent include utilities as well, and is renter’s insurance required.
  6. Use the Mass Transit System. Germany has a wonderful mass transit system called BVG for the Underground and Surface trains, trams, and buses in Berlin, or you can plan a trip around most of Europe on the Express Surface Trains (Sbahn).  Metro Berlin is also a free smart phone app which helps you plan your route on the Ubahn.
  7. Find a doctor or Get Help in an Emergency. The U.S. Embassy saves the day again with this List of University Hospitals and Clinics, Local Hospitals and Clinics with English speaking services and emergency numbers and points of contact.
  8. Buy Groceries or Over the Counter Drugs. In Germany many stores are closed on Sunday’s, especially grocery and drug stores.  However, some remain open, but finding them may take some pre-planning.  Grocery carts usually require a 1€ deposit, and stores charge a fee for grocery bags.  It is wise to invest in reusable grocery bags or a grocery cart for those who don’t drive.
  9. Living in Germany. Time, Telephone Etiquette & Recycling are viewed differently in Germany.  Punctuality is considered polite, being late is a definite faux pas.  All calls have a toll here, so it works well to lead with your identity rather than just saying “hello”.  Following the rules of recycling prevents annoyed neighbors while also helping the environment.
  10. Things to See & Do. Of course, the first thing many people want to do in Germany is see the sites, take a trip on the train, enjoy Oktoberfest, and cruise up the Rhine into wine country, but after you’ve seen and done it all you may want to pursue other interests. You might Join A Club , participate in Sports , ride a bike, or join a gym.  Germany is a physical fitness mecca, so enjoy!