Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Back in Amsterdam again

I have been back in Amsterdam for just over 2 ½ weeks and I have had some time to reflect on my trip to Vancouver.

I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but I had a few ideas. I thought going back would be a little odd; familiar, yet distant at the same time. Vancouver is full of memories for me (33 years worth) yet I would be seeing the city through eyes that have grown accustomed to Amsterdam. I thought it might be like being awake during a dream.

It wasn’t like that at all! It was familiar and comfortable instantly and I felt like I was picking up where I had left off. Like I had been away for only a month or two. That shocked me a bit. So, I figured it might then hit me coming the other way and be a little strange coming home to Amsterdam again after seeing my family, friends and the setting of my past life. But it was instantly familiar as well. Two cities, polar opposites in many ways, and both felt right.

One of the things that hit me the hardest and was a complete surprise was how comfortable I felt with my nephews and niece. I have never felt at ease around children. But something was different this time and instead of analyzing it, I just went with it. It resulting in many hours of enjoyable time spent playing with Toby and Isaac and smiling at Elliott and Harper. But, before you all get a little too excited about what this may mean, let me be clear: I was happy to leave them behind a few hours later and return to the quiet confines of a child-free apartment. This doesn’t mean I want kids! But, it does mean I can enjoy the company of my niece and nephews during future visits.

Upon arriving back in Amsterdam work kicked in at full tilt. With the amount of work assigned to me, it appeared as if Stefan hadn’t been working at all during my two weeks away. Basically, he hadn’t! He had been putting all his energy into a side venture he was exploring and had fallen 2 weeks behind on The White Door’s responsibilities. It’s a good thing I didn’t have jet lag on the way home (oddly, I didn’t have it on the way there either) because I had 1 day to recover and then hit the ground running.

While in Vancouver I had lunch with Wayne. For those of you who don’t remember (or don’t know) he is a franchise consultant who I did my industry project with to complete my Technical Writing degree at BCIT. We worked well together and he then contracted me last July to work on a documentation project for a client of his that required a set of operations manuals.

During our lunch I mentioned, in passing, how I would really like to start focusing my energy on performing usability audits on websites. I had done a few in the past and this caught Wayne’s attention as he was working with a client who had an outdated set of sites. I sent him a copy of one of my previous audits to show him what I can do and he was impressed. We hashed out the details as I arrived back in Amsterdam and had 10 days to complete the project.
This project involved writing a report on the usability, consistency and all other problems with an outdated corporate website as well as the websites of four of their brands. I then had to create a sitemap and a general blueprint for a complete redesign for all five sites, focusing on the marketing and franchising aspect as well as usability. I submitted my 27 page report on deadline and Wayne was really thrilled with the end result, so hopefully it will result in similar work in the future.

Between Wayne, The White Door and the terminal I have essentially been working full-time since arriving home. I have been so busy, I haven’t had as much time as I would have liked to go out on my bike. But the time I have had has been spectacular.

When I took my bike out of storage in Vancouver I had it tuned-up before shipping it to Amsterdam with me. The process at the airport was tedious, but in the end we got it all organized. As Mom and I had arrived at the airport a good three hours before the flight, I was all checked in (bags and bike) in no time. So we left and went for a tour of the Olympic speed skating oval in Richmond to kill time. I have to say, that is one impressive structure.

When I got on the flight I ended up sitting next to a Dutch couple who had (ironically) been at the counter when I had been going through the hassles of checking in my bike. They sympathised with the process of unwrapping it (even though we had been told to wrap it up) so security could investigate it, then rewrap it. This was one of the first flights in ages where I sat next to chatty people.

This couple had flown into Calgary from Amsterdam and rented an RV. They spent the next four weeks driving across the Rockies and through BC. We had some great conversations as we were each coming from different perspectives: A Canadian appreciating the Dutch way of life and two Dutch people appreciating Canadian scenery.

The bike made it relatively unscathed save for a few scratches and one smashed reflector. I quickly Dutchified it with a jet black bell (to match the body paint) and set out on my prized procession. I thought I might miss the hills and geography of riding around Vancouver, and I do, but riding here is a genuine treat. Finally, after all this time, I have a real bike again.

My bike sports 24 gears with a spring-loaded quick shifting mechanism making gearing up or down much faster than on “traditional” bikes. It has disk breaks, much like on a car, which are the most reliable breaks you can get on a bicycle. It has front suspension that can be turned on or off easily with the twist of a switch. Another switch lets me soften or harden the suspension depending on the current terrain. It’s lightweight and on smooth flat surfaces (The Netherlands) can cruise at 30 km/hr. It’s like being in a Porsche in a city full of Pintos.

My office has secure bike parking in the cellar of the building, so I have been riding to work. On average I am on my bike 3-4 times a week. Every time I go out (on a ride for fun, exercise or to go to work) it’s like being in a race where I am always the winner.

I am one of the few people who sports a helmet when I go for my long rides, making me stand out a bit. I don’t mind as mine is one of the few bikes that goes fast enough to warrant it. The sports model of a Dutch bike has three gears and can reach 20 km/hr when the wind is blowing from behind. Mine, on the other hand, was built for speed.

At the end of this week Nina will be travelling to Leicester to meet the professor and get more details on the project he is offering. I am hoping she will then know where she wants to go and make a final decision. In the following weeks the details will be hashed out between herself and the professor and we will hopefully be paying a visit to secure an apartment in early August. I have already given my notice meaning I will be homeless as of Sept 1st.