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Posts Tagged ‘amsterdam

Pink Fiat in front of Westerkerk.

An unexpected lesson from my family vacation was Uber-based.

Our Uber ride from home to Changi Airport went without a hitch. But I felt cheated once I arrived in Amsterdam.

My apartment host advised me to get a cab or private car from the Amsterdam Centraal Station (the train station at the city centre). I decided to take his advice since I did not have the lay of the land.

When we arrived at the train station, I used the Uber app and received a confirmation almost instantly. However, the Uber driver always seemed to be “one minute away”. I messaged the driver twice to confirm our pickup location, but did not receive a reply.

In the meantime, a host of cabs appeared in front of us as if to mock my attempt to hire a private car. I gave up waiting after 10 minutes and had to pay an 8 Euro penalty for the driver’s time.

I think that the driver wasted my time. I suspect that it was his strategy to make a quick buck — or euro in this case — by being just out of reach, but I cannot confirm it.

So we switched to a cab. I showed the driver the address of the apartment, and since he was not sure where it was, he used Google Maps. I double-checked with him by asking him the distance and time to the apartment, and also looked at his screen. He went the wrong way as he had a similar address, not the exact one.

We pulled over about a minute into the ride and got the address right. I recognised the route as I had seen it in Google Maps previously. I also saw the exact street when it matched what I saw in Street View.

The lesson: Being technology-savvy is not just about knowing how and when to use technology. It is also about working around it. What is often around it are changing circumstances and fickle people. Being savvy is a combination of leveraging on technology to be prepared, to react to circumstances, and to reflect on experiences.

The quintessentially Dutch #bicycle. Spotted near the #annefrankhouse #amsterdam

A post shared by Dr Ashley Tan (@drashleytan) on

Like jet lag, some takeaways from my recent trip to Amsterdam only just hit me.

Take trash days for instance. I opted to stay in someone’s entire apartment and we had to take bagged trash out to the street every Tuesday and Friday. There were no trash bins on the road, but everyone seemed to understand the importance of preparing and arranging the trash responsibly.

The instructions to use the washing machine in the apartment were in Dutch. This was despite the assurance I got from owner that they would be in English. Thanks to a speedy Internet connection and phones, we got translations on the fly.

Collectively, these reminded me that some of the best ways to learn are by embedded experience, close observation, and just-in-time information.

Coffee sign.

Before my trip, I read about the differences between coffee houses vs cafés. If I wanted actual coffee, I had to visit a café. Marijuana was sold at coffee houses.

Lesson? It is one thing to read or hear about coffee houses vs cafés, it is entirely another see — and smell — the differences in person.

Bonus factoids and still open questions:

  • During my trip, I was told by a guide that Amsterdam had the highest per capita coffee drinkers. I took that as fact. Now I realise that I should have asked him which plant was involved.
  • I also discovered that quite a few cafés and eateries play reggae music. I do not know if this is a homage to pot culture.

Yesterday I shared some simple and general things I learnt from my visit to Amsterdam. Today I share what I learnt about the people I met and even those I did not meet in person.

The Dutch seem to possess a dry wit. I know this from the way street artists and window dressers expressed themselves.

In the windows and walls of #amsterdam #jordaan #funny #creative

A post shared by Dr Ashley Tan (@drashleytan) on

In the windows, walls & bikes of #amsterdam #jordaan #funny #creative

A post shared by Dr Ashley Tan (@drashleytan) on

The people I dealt with — from the public transport ticket agent to the sandwich lady to the SIM card guy — were very direct. Their mindset could be represented by this sign I saw at a knick-knack shop: Be nice, or go away.

Sign: Be nice, or go away!

I was nice, so I did not go away. But in being nice, I used phrases that did not work. For example, I revisited a sandwich shop that I chanced upon and discovered that the friendly old man was replaced by a seemingly uptight lady.

As I was there at opening time, I asked, “Are you open for businesses?” The lady replied, “Well, the door is open.”

Me: I mean… Are you ready to serve?

She: Let me wash my hands.

Me: (Waiting silently, looking at all corners of the store)

She: (At the sink area) You can order. I am not facing you, but I can hear you.

I made conversation about meeting the old man who told me that they were going to sell piccante, a spicy meat. I ordered two piccante sandwiches and my wife wanted two small slabs to bring home.

While the sandwiches heated up, the lady cut a few slices of piccante for us to nibble on.

I not only learnt where the best sandwiches in Amsterdam were, I also learnt how to be more direct with the Dutch.

The Dutch in the service industry were also prompt. Very much so.

I only exchanged emails with the host of my apartment. He said that he only had a landline, but I suspect that my emails to him were rerouted through an app on his phone or computer. Our email exchanges quick that they felt more like being on WhatsApp.

Montage of some screenshots of a display at the #vangoghmuseum #amsterdam

A post shared by Dr Ashley Tan (@drashleytan) on

I also emailed the Van Gogh Museum because I wanted to get tickets in advance. I had an I Amsterdam card that allowed me to get into the museum for free. However I noticed that:

  • There was an online time slot booking system
  • People queued to get tickets in one line
  • The same people queued again in another line to get in
  • Some people used their phones to skip the first line

I wanted to know if I could get a mobile-based ticket by choosing time slot online with my I Amsterdam card. I emailed the museum and got a reply. The bad news was that I had to queue twice. The good news was that the reply arrived within an hour.

Some folks here take pride in being efficient or productive. I challenge that notion with the museum example. I also provide evidence of how slovenly we can be by comparison.

Upon returning to Singapore, I learnt that my telco had disabled access to my account information. This was true for the mobile app and the web-based portal.

StarHub app access denied.

I emailed my telco three days ago and have not received a reply. Not even an acknowledgement.

In learning about others, we learn about ourselves. When we look in that mirror, do we like what we see? Do we do something positive about it?

I am adding to my irregular “getting connected” series where I share my processes and thoughts on getting prepaid SIMs when travelling overseas.

I recently travelled to Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and did my homework first on how to stay connected. In the past, I shared how I either sought prepaid SIMs once I arrived or rented a travel router (mifi device) with SIM from Changi Airport. I skipped the rented travel router as I had my own and the rental unit was not worth the cost.

This time around, I also had to factor in my telco’s own offering of 4G roaming data. It has taken local telcos several years to partner foreign telcos to offer seamless roaming data. However, I quickly rejected my telco’s offering because the convenience did not outweigh the cost. I had to pay SGD40 for 2GB of data in one bundle or SGD50 for 3GB of data for another (see DataTravel Global).

I found one service at Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands, Airport Telecom*, that offered 7GB of data for 35 euros (about SGD56). While this cost more than my telco’s offerings, it had more benefits because I:

  1. Got my new local phone number in advance by email
  2. Planned to use the prepaid SIM in either a spare phone or mifi device to tether the data
  3. Wanted to share the data with my family members

*Side note: This store was located in Arrival Area 2 and located in a tight triangle of the I Amsterdam store and AKO bookstore. The former was useful for information and collecting my pre-ordered I Amsterdam card (GVB travel and museum entry); the latter was where I picked up other travel cards (GVB and train.)

Lyca mobile prepaid SIM package.

Getting a local phone number in advance was convenient for making calls while in Amsterdam. It lowered barriers if local contacts wished to call or text me. The image above was the package I collected– it had my name and number on it.

I initially planned on using a spare phone as a travel router by tethering data, but I also brought a mifi device along for the ride. The latter had a long-lasting battery, better range, and more security options. I could not make calls on it, but I found out how prompt the Dutch were via email.

I also found out that Dutch law enforces tethering to maintain competition between the telcos there. The sales representative was also very knowledgeable and helpful in setting up the connection.

I initially used the spare phone for setting up and transferred the SIM to the mifi device. The sales rep had ready-made slips of paper with APN settings for Lyca mobile:

  • APN: data.lycamobile.nl
  • Username: lmnl
  • Password: plus
  • Note: Turn on data roaming

In hindsight, I was glad I took the Lyca prepaid SIM and mifi option.

I was in Amsterdam for a week and on the second-last day I received a text notification that my family had used 80% of our data. If I had gone with either of my telco’s plans, I would have run out of data and started paying per MB roaming prices.

We were able to quickly get directions, translations, and information on the go. What modern traveller does not need to do this? While most places we visited offered free wifi, those connections were never as reliable as the mifi.

If I could do something different it would have been to order a local SIM and have it sent to a local address. Why? This cost even less and I already had the address of the apartment I was staying at.

I found out via a wiki that free prepaid SIMs are typically mailed to local addresses. I calculated that the equivalent of my 7GB data plan could have cost just 25 euros (SGD40) instead of 35 euros if I had done this. The cons of doing this are not having a prepaid SIM enroute to the apartment and having to set everything up myself. The extra 10 euros I paid was a convenience and comfort fee!

There is much and varied planning that must happen before going on a trip. My telco tried to simplify one component, but a bit of homework about local offerings saved me money and helped me learn more about the way other systems do things. I got to travel before I travelled.


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