It has been exactly 3 years and 4 months since i set foot on the Netherlands and - as i get ready to leave this place - i can't help it but thinking about all the things i found, done, and learned while being here. This is my attempt at summarizing it, in no particular order. I apologize for the length but - come on, it's 3 years - there's no way i can write less to convey the same :)
Ever since i started following diggnation - back in 2007, i believe - i wanted to do a video podcast. To start with, i've always thought of myself as a camera-shy kind of guy so this was the perfect opportunity to both talk about technology and become more "videogenic" in the process. That was the motivation for two guys and a beer, a weekly show on life, technology, and everything, co-hosted with my dear friend Luis Soares.
My personal blog went through 3 different iterations, one of them completely written by hand using my newly found passion for dynamic languages and the web companions Python/Django. The latest iteration is a Wordpress installation because i don't feel like reinventing the wheel in those kinds of things anymore. And besides, there are plugins for virtually anything :)
Speaking of Python/Django, since i fell in love with skydiving, i figured it would only make sense to make a social platform for skydivers using those tools. And so jumperr.com was born: an online jump log book, where skydivers can keep track of their jumps and progress in the sport. I also implemented another little thing, this time to keep track of my texts and poems. It's naively named Text.me.
In the meantime, i did something that i wanted to do for ages: i open sourced my Java 2D game engine. It is currently hosted on google code and - although i haven't touched it in a while - is pretty stable and usable. Feel free to get the code and mess with it.
During these 3 years i had the privilege of getting to know a lot of interesting people, one of them having become my partner in attempts at starting my own company. Unfortunately both our attempts at YCombinator and Seedcamp ended up failing but we did learn a lot in the process of creating our prototypes.
It was also during this time that my passion for arts started to grow. I wrote a lot of poems and lyrics, started painting (even painted a pumpkin for a competition at TomTom which won the first prize), and also bought a lot of books on an endless variety of subjects - ranging from personal improvement, to psychology, going through a bit of fiction. Regardless, it seems the universe did not like my attempts at becoming more versatile, since the storage room i rented burned down - essentially taking with it all those creations and possessions.
No time in Holland is complete without experimenting with some more alternative medicines so, since they are essentially free for consumption, i did try Cannabis and magic mushrooms in various occasions (actually mushrooms only once). I have to say, in my humble small experience on the subject, that the case against light drugs is very overrated. Like everything in life, when consumed in moderation, there is no harm (and actually sometimes there are benefits).
Having been here for 3 years, i also had my fair share of house hunting and some contact with the housing agencies that work here. Most of them were pretty normal. One was not... at all! I still imagine the possibility of being awaken up in the middle of the night for someone to hide a body in my backyard - just because i rented a house from "the family".
I also got a cat. My adorable little tiger - Mangas - now lives with my mother in Portugal in the company of her cat (basically because i no longer wanted to have him go through the stress of airplane traveling). He is a cross-breed between an eastern female and a Dutch male. Despite being half-Dutch, he is still a normal cat :)
2009 was the year when i learned how to skydive and - though i did that in Portugal during spring vacations - i did have the opportunity to jump in a couple of Dutch Dropzones (what we call airfields where you can skydive). One of them has a particularly beautiful view from above (Texel island), too bad i jumped there only once because it's almost 6 hours round trip from Amsterdam. The other one - chosen for being closer - is located near Apeldoorn and is especially great because there is the chance of landing on top of cows if you miss your spot. I also had the opportunity to visit a wind tunnel (in Roosendaal) and work on my skydiving skills even with bad weather. By the way, if you never tried that (even if you are not a skydiver) you should definitely go, as it's a lot of fun for the whole family ;)
Speaking of sports, it was also during my life in Holland that i learned to snowboard. Besides using a couple of their indoor skiing facilities, i also had the chance to join some friends in the ski resort Les Trois Vallees, in France, one of the biggest ski areas in the world. It was great fun and - though i fell on my ass a lot - i got the hang of it in a couple of days and enjoyed most of the week going downhill like a mad man :D
In the meantime i found in tea the perfect replacement for coffee. I generally have a problem with coffee: it makes my stomach turn, especially if i drink it when it's empty. That's where tea came along. Green tea and some varieties of black tea now guide my body's attempt at illumination :)
Also learned how to rollerblade. Even though my rollerblades burned down in the Citybox fire, i did have almost 3 years of fun with them; between the crashes in the pavement and the initial constant fear of cracking my skull, i can say that it was an incredible experience. Especially when you can do it in a place so beautiful as Den Haag's Scheveningen, near the beach.
One thing i never fully realized, probably because it's not common in Portuguese companies, was that there is actually a need for software manual testing. Meaning, real people actually testing the crappy software you just wrote. Typically, in the Portuguese companies i worked for, testing was just - you know - software tests, unit tests, integrations tests, but software nonetheless. It was a pleasant surprise arriving to TomTom and discovering this whole new world of organized software development and testing.
Another thing that happens when you travel to another place (and actually live) there is that you meet *a lot* of new people. You meet people in all aspects of your life and, no matter how rich it already is, it only gets richer. From the insane TomTom parties every last Friday of the month, to having music jams with friends, enjoying soft drugs and getting completely drunk, or starting entrepreneurship attempts, i have learned immensely from the people i interacted with during these years and made a lot of awesome friends. I'm not going to name them, but you know who you are, guys :)
One thing that positively surprised me was the fact that the streets in Amsterdam are actually pretty safe. I mean, one would expect that - with all those drugs and tourists and prostitution going around - the city would be a pit of chaos, destruction, and crime. Let me tell you this: it's the complete opposite. In three years in this country, there was only one attempt at robbing me and those people were clearly tourists out of their minds in the middle of the red light district. I dare you to walk at 3-4am in Chelas, Amadora - in Portugal - and try to get out with all your clothes on. You can - and most people - do that all the time in any place in the centre of Amsterdam.
Speaking of red light district, i had the pleasure (not in that sense, you twisted minds) of living there for half a year. If you can find an isolated spot like i did, it's something that i advise since it's near pretty much everything in the city. If you can only find something in streets that have a lot of movement in the night (scout for it before getting a place there) then i would not advise it; there are a lot of tourists screaming in the streets, especially Fridays and Saturdays.
One of the things i noticed when i first arrived in Holland was that the public services work really well. If i try to go to the tax offices in Portugal i can expect to realistically have to wait for at least 30 minutes / 1 hour until it's my turn. In the Netherlands the maximum i waited in line was 10 minutes, because i was there 5 minutes earlier than the opening time. In complete contrast, the private services typically suck. I'm sorry, that's just the way i perceived it and of course it doesn't happen everywhere but - in general - that's how things are. I'll give you an example: a good friend of mine once, while we were at a very well known bar (Club 11), was waiting for 2 employees to ask him what he wanted for 5 minutes - while they were talking about their lives among themselves. When my friend asked them if he could get some service (he wasn't rude, i was there and saw that) one of them turned to him and said: "i will get to you when i finish talking to my friend". Now, i don't know how it is in the rest of the world, but at least in Portugal the customer *always* comes first, especially if 2 employees are discussing their *private* lives. This is one example that highlights general behavior, but there are very good exceptions.
But let us get back to the good things; i love the multicultural environment! To learn bits of other languages, especially how to curse in Polish, Greek, and Shona? is priceless. You also learn a lot about how other people react to certain situations in a completely different way than the one you are accustomed to. That will definitely surprise you, in a good way i hope :)
And now that i mentioned behavior, let me tell you a couple of Dutch traits that i picked up as soon as i stepped foot on this country: They love elevators. They are so eager to get into them that they will be waiting in front of the door to get in. The only problem is that, hey, there are people trying to get out :). But fear not, the same also happens in other types of doors. Tram doors, for instance. There is also that cool, unpredictable trait which is the ability to stop and start talking in spots that are clearly places where a lot of people has to go through. Say you have a small alley where a lot of people walk in. Chances are you cannot get out without asking for someone to move out of the way. It's all very funny actually, unless you just had a really bad day :)
Oh yeah, speaking of Dutch, i am sorry girls but - generally speaking - you are all very very male. The voice just does not match the looks, and the language doesn't help either. You see this beautiful blonde angel coming towards you and you think to yourself "wow". Then she starts to speak and there goes the awe factor down the drain. Like all rules, however, there are exceptions. I'm just not going to mention any :P
Did i tell you about the Queensday? Man, i never saw a bigger party in my life. Amsterdam is literally packed with people on the streets. Traffic is closed the entire day and you basically do one of two things: If you have a family (and kids) you will be on the streets selling old stuff that you no longer use. It is allowed during that day to claim a bit of space on the street and show off your goods (so to speak). If you don't have any kids, chances are you will be drinking and partying all day. Until you drop on the floor or get in a fight on the streets. One of those.
As far as city architecture goes, Amsterdam and Utrecht are an orientation nightmare. All the buildings look alike! It's extremely easy to get lost trying to get from one point to the other. I know i did. In more than one occasion, i might add :) Den Haag and Rotterdam are a different reality. The latter was heavily bombed during WW2 which means that pretty much all buildings are new constructions. I believe there was only a couple of buildings still standing in the end. By the way, Rotterdam has a pretty cool tower where you can get in a rotating room (that moves up and down) that allows you to have a panoramic view of the entire city. I believe it's called the EuroMast.
Back to the bad news: when i moved out of my previous apartment, i had to put all my furniture in a self storage facility in the north of Amsterdam (did i mention the Dutch will take the laminated floor of their apartments with them, when they move out?). Back in November i received a phone call saying that the entire storage facility had burned to the ground. How's that for news? In a way it was actually a good thing, since now i would not have to sell my furniture and floor anymore. Unfortunately, like i mentioned previously, i also lost a lot of books, my paintings, and all my poems and lyrics in the process :(
But back to the Dutch culture and all it's interesting details. There are tons, and i mean tons, of bicycles in Amsterdam. They have parking spaces just for bikes. Looking at one of these locations when i first arrived was just mind blowing, to say the least. And let me tell you something: they have the greatest variety of bikes that i have ever seen. You have foldable bikes, bikes with a big wooden cart in front (by big i mean most of the bike is the cart), bikes with multiple seats and mini seats for the kids, bikes with closed seats covered with plastic covers (also for the kids), etc. Basically every way you can imagine a bike to be, chances are the Dutch have them.
There is another thing i love about their culture, though: their caring for animals. I don't know if it has something to do with their apparent egocentrism towards people, but they do love animals. You find a lot of parks with animals in the cities (at least Den Haag is filled with them). And not just any animals: deers, cows, sheep, rabbits and more types that you don't typically find in city parks. The most we have in Lisbon, Portugal are ducks and swans. Oh, and pigeons. I once lived in Scheveningen, Den haag, and there was this awesome park with ponies. How great is it to be able to rollerblade close to those beautiful things? Priceless!
Shopping centers: absolutely no contrast with the parks, because the Dutch don't like shopping centers. Either that or city halls do not allow them to be built. How many shopping centers can you find inside the A10 ring of Amsterdam? 2? How many do you find in Lisbon? A bunch. The good news is that, for groceries, you have *a lot* of smaller supermarkets (Albert Heijn being the most common - and most expensive also) spread all across the city. It's very hard to find a place to live that does not have a supermarket within walking distance. I loved that.
And now my favorite part: The weather absolutely sucks! Getting to work on my bike every day agains't wind *and* rain is something that i don't want to do ever again. There is only so much water a person can handle on his face. Mix that with the fact that the summer is made of about 2 weeks of actual good weather and you have a recipe for fast approaching insanity. At least for southern people. At least for me.
To conclude this extremely big post, for which i am again sorry, i want to announce that last Friday i was given the awesome opportunity of continuing to work for TomTom from a remote location. I will be able to get the best of two worlds: the good weather (and food) of Portugal, and the great work philosophy of Holland. I will still be coming back for a couple of days every month (meetings, meetings :)), but the bigger part of my time will be spent elsewhere :)
Thank you to everyone i met in Holland, i learned a lot from all of you.
See you around ;)