Monthly Archives: June 2015

Trials and triumphs

As I write this I am sat outside at Bokaal, my Dutch local. It’s about 9pm local time and still very warm. I’ve got a delicious Witkap Dubbel, ( a dark 7% belgian beer) and am waiting for some food. The sun has dipped below the buildings but Rotterdammers are still out in force enjoying life on the pavements.


I got to Rotterdam on Sunday evening. It had been a hectic week supporting Java Dance, a New Zealand dance company, performing on a Transdev Lancashire bus for a total of thirteen performances across six Lancashire towns. (You can read more about this on the Culturapedia blog site.)

My new Rotterdam adventure started on Saturday with an email from They were not going to be able to deliver my mammoth order on Thursday as arranged. They would bring in on the following Monday instead. I won’t be here then but was unable to call them as their call centre wouldn’t be open ’till Monday.

I got to the apartment at about 7pm local time after a Flybe flight with rather loud, inebriated and inappropriate couple on their way for a birthday treat to Amsterdam. If anyone from Amsterdam is reading then I’d like to apologise for my fellow Brits. I suppose they spend money and the Amsterdam traders tut as they count the Euros.

I set to work painting the walls and ceiling in the spare room. On Monday the pallets of flooring were arriving and this was where I wanted them to put them while they acclimatised, ( I don’t really get this acclimatisation but that seems to be the system).

Monday morning. I nipped over to Jumbo, (local supermarket) for some breakfast things etc. I was early. As i came through the checkout i was told that as I was the fourth customer my purchases were free. ( I wish i’d done a big shop now). This was naturally much appreciated.

After breakfast I cycled over to the estate agents to pick up the missing postbox and bike store keys. I then called into Praxis for some paint. Getting back was my chance to explore the bike store. I has no idea which was mine and had to try all the locks. The last I tried opened to reveal the missing doors to the living room and the mini hall that leads to the bed and shower rooms. I think I’ll put these back but this is not a priority.

When looking around appartments I noticed that there are a lot of exposed heating pipes here in Rotterdam. The Pancake Street  apartment is no exception. It appears that the pipes were last painted when the heating was on. they were caked with lumpy cratered old paint. I tried scraping some of it off and found that the pipes are all chrome plated. Scraping off the paint wasn’t too hard. I followed this with some sandpaper and then polished them with some fine wire wool. They’ve come up a treat. I’ve painted the brackets grey and am very happy with the results. they add to the 50s industrial aesthetic.

I rang Ikea. They were so lovely I couldn’t be cross. I’ve rearranged the delivery for August.

The flooring was due to arrive between 1 and 4pm. I slaved to get the spare room clear. I also needed to lift the old floors from the hall the living room and the main bedroom.  I kept looking at the clock. The floor will be here soon.

The bell rang but it wasn’t the floor people. It was the postman with a box of tricks to get me on line and digital TV set up. Ziggo were early. I was expecting this on Tuesday. As the clock ticked towards 4pm I plugged it all in and it worked first time. I am connected. I can watch and listen to Auntie BBC from my Netherlands home.

At about 4:15, with still no flooring I rang the shop, only to get an answerphone. At 4:30 I changed from my splattered painting clothes and ran round the corner to see what I could find out. The shop was festooned in Red and white tape. signs in the windows said “Closed due to circumstances”. Looks like I’d been a victim of a company gone bust. My €370 deposit lost. No flooring delivered, no flooring fitted.

When we were here last we went and bought a fridge that, when we got it home, didn’t work. We had the van so took it back and exchanged it for another of the same model. We didn’t have time to test it and left it in the box. I unpacked it on Sunday night and set it up. I plugged it in on Monday morning. (you have to let them settle before using.) It whirred into action. I put things into it. I filled the ice tray with water, the light came on and after a couple of hours there was ice. Phew. A couple of hours later the gouda cheese was at room temperature and the ice was water.

First thing Tuesday I rang the shop and they said I needed to get an Indesit engineer. One is coming in the morning. I also headed off to find another flooring shop. I found one very close to the first. They seem much more professional and established. They are also more expensive. I do feel happier.  Hans is coming to measure up for himself in the morning.

I’ve persevered with the decorating though I no longer have the pressure of the bankrupt floor fitters.

When I arrived on Sunday I was thrilled to see my name on the door plate. It’s been a bit stressful but I know that I have a lovely apartment – In a great part of the great city. Sitting here at Bokaal with my beer I can see the  front door and am confident that everything will be alright in the end.


Planning ahead

This blog is called Life on Pancake Street – I feel like a bit of a fraud as I’m not currently experiencing Life on Pancake Street. I’m still in the UK working on a busy Summer for Culturapedia. This week we’ve got a troupe of New Zealand Dancers performing on a moving double decker bus across six Pennine Lancashire Towns.

I will be back on Pancake Street on Sunday night, (28 June). I will be busy. On Monday I need to cycle over to my estate agents in Kralingen and pick up keys to the post box and the bike store. In the afternoon I have 50+ square meters of laminate flooring being delivered. It has to sit in the apartment for two days to acclimatise before it can be fitted.

20150530_132624We sorted this out last time we were there from a showroom just round the corner on Mariniersweg. I got a bargain. It was reduced and I’ve saved €5.00 per square meter. Rotterdam is a city that people live in. They live, en masse, right in the centre. They don’t have cars so the market comes to them. Also on Mariniersweg there is a Praxis, part of a DIY chain where we bought paint.

I will need to get busy with a paint brush. It makes sense to get as much paint on the walls as I can before the lovely new floor is down. I also need to lift up the floor that is still down in the living room and the main bedroom.

On Monday they will also transfer over the gas and electricity. I won’t need to do much there other than take meter readings.

On Tuesday I will still be painting and pulling up floors. Ziggo will be coming to fit a digibox and internet. I will be connected to the world. If they come before 2pm I will be able to join in the Culturapedia team meeting via Google Hangouts – live from the new Rotterdam office.

Wednesday, the floor fitter is coming. I will be no doubt moving things out of their way, making coffee etc. I’ve successfully fitted plenty of floors myself in the past including the rather nice bamboo one that we have here in the Culturapedia office. For speed and efficiency I decided to let a professional do this one. I won’t have all the tools and there’s plenty of other things I can do to make the place home.

On Thursday, at some point, A truck will be arriving from Last week I braved a Friday evening in IKEA in Warrington. The great thing about it being an international company is that they sell the same products everywhere and they always have the same silly names. I needed to sort out the big things that I won’t be able to carry myself or get up two flights of stairs.

Armed with phone photos and notes I got back home and set about filling a Winkelwagen, (shopping cart) on the website. Their Dutch website can be as difficult to navigate as their UK one -especially when it comes to finding individual components for their PAX wardrobe systems. I got there in the end.

If all goes to plan the truck will contain: a spare bed, mattress, wardrobes in multiple bits, a washing machine, curtain rails and curtains. Luckily are happy to deliver to apartments. (It is islands that they don’t like). I had to tell them what floor I was on.  This question was reassuring as the nightmare would be them turning up and dumping it all in the lobby downstairs.

There will still be things I need like some light fittings etc but these are things I can pick up in the city centre easily and none of them are urgent.  It makes sense to collect things once I am actually living in the place.

On Friday afternoon I will be flying back home having spent the morning with an IKEA allen key and finishing off bits of painting.

That will be my itinerary, Let’s hope it all goes to plan.

The writing on the wall of my new apartment

I think that it’s time to write something about my new apartment.

I have bought a two bedroomed apartment on Pannekoekstraat, (Pancake Street)  The Luftwaffe did a lot of damage to Rotterdam in 1940. The centre of the old city was more or less flattened in a 50 minute bombing raid. The city was largely rebuilt in the 1950s. Rotterdam is not a city of quaint bridges, windmills and fancy dutch gable fronted houses. It is a post war city of concrete and brick from the fifties and sixties and glass and steel ever since.

Don’t for one minute think that this does not have its charm. Rotterdam has a fantastic architectural aesthetic and there is plenty of water, as you’d expect in a Dutch city. The fifties retro look is very fashionable and the eighties brought some quirky cube apartments and a giant pencil shaped block. In the noughties everything was high, glass and steel with cantilevered top floors and last year brought the stunning, gigantic new Market Hall.

The new Market Hall is a stones throw from my 1953 apartment in Pannekoekstraat which is on the second floor with its own bike store in the basement. There is a lot to like about the area and the flat. The place has a really nice atmosphere. We’ve slept there a couple of nights and it is quiet and calm. It has fantastic light with enormous south facing windows along the entire frontage. There are two balconies, one from the main bedroom at the front and the other from the kitchen at the back. The kitchen is a separate room but has a large opening into the living room allowing light to pass right through the building.

Floor plan

Floor plan

Back in the 1980s, my parents had a business selling and installing central heating, kitchens and bathrooms. There was a showroom in Prestatyn and they worked across North Wales. They sold kitchens from three companies, one of which was a Dutch company called Bruynzeel. They weren’t very common in the UK. It gave me a warm sense of nostalgia when I opened a drawer and realised one in the apartment is a Bruynzeel one. It’s like new but it was installed in 2002. They’re really good quality – not flat pack. I remembered them being delivered to the company workshop in Prestatyn on big Dutch lorries.

My new kitchen has everything you’d need – cooker, hob, extractor, sink.. there’s room for a washing machine and dishwasher too.

The writing on the wall

The writing on the wall

The flat was last lived in by the daughter of the man we bought it off and came with a number of very personal features. One wall in the living room  was home to a long and passionate statement by Harvey Milk, written in Black marker. Another wall was painted matt black. Fine for her but not my thing. When we went over on our roadtrip we bought some one coat white paint. The marker pen took four coats to cover.

Some light fittings need atention

Some light fittings need attention

The retro shower room

The retro shower room

On the whole it’s in reasonable nick – paint and wallpaper will spruce it up nicely. There is an old and faded laminate floor, with some gaps, in the main bedroom and living room. It has already been taken up in the second bedroom. I’ve arranged for a new floor to be fitted throughout next time I go. I’ve fitted flooring successfully myself in the past but this time I’ve decided to pay someone else to do it. I won’t have the time or the tools to hand. It has to be delivered 48 hours before being fitted to acclimatise – this will give me time to paint more of walls.

The toilet and shower room will, ultimately need some attention. They function and are clean but are dated and tatty. The tiles are almost vintage and the sink in the shower room is almost as big as a bath. This will need to be a job for after I’ve moved in properly. They are, as I say, serviceable.

There is plenty of storage, in addition to the store in the basement there are large built in cupboards in the second bedroom and another next to the bathroom. The main bedroom, has plenty of room for three meters worth of Ikea wardrobes – more than enough for just my clothes. These will need to be ordered after the floor is fitted.

I’ve not yet seen the bike store. The previous occupant still had to clear it out. My estate agent has the keys. I go back on June 28 ready for a few days of painting and sorting things out. It’s is going to be a great place to live.


Warning! This route crosses through Belgium

Last Thursday – the 28th of May – was our wedding anniversary. Eleven years, which according to Google was our steel anniversary. To mark the occasion I romantically gave Sue the opportunity to spend the day in a steel box with dinner on a large steel vessel. We are busy people and as we had to be in Rotterdam on Friday to complete on the apartment on Pannekoekstraat we thought it a good opportunity to do a roadtrip with a van full of stuff.

Safe in our hired Intack Self drive steel box, we headed off at 8am to Dover with some CDs and a packed lunch.

You may be thinking – why Dover when you can get a ferry direct to Rotterdam from Hull? The answer is cost. It is eye wateringly expensive. It would have cost about £800 (€1120) as opposed to £190 (€266).  It was bad enough having to pay the extra to take the van overseas.

The road trip in picturesOur DFDS ferry to Dunkirk was at 18:00. We got to Dover, having sung along to at least four compilation albums, a couple of hours early. In time for a walk on the beach and an icecream.

We were put right at the front of the boat between two wagons. The LWB HighTop Transit that had looked enormous in our drive looked tiny. We sat in the restaurant on the crossing and watched it being sprayed in seawater like a pebble wedged between two boulders.

Google maps had detailed a route for us with a strange warning. An ominous yellow triangle containing a forbidding explanation mark and the legend THIS ROUTE CROSSES THROUGH BELGIUM. What could this mean? Would we be safe in our Ghent Campanile hotel room we’d pre booked? Would the streets be lined with beer brewing monks bombarding us with waffles and chips dunked in mayonnaise. A bit disappointingly, no – The only Belgians we spoke to worked at the Campanile and were lovely. They didn’t even tie us up in red tape.

I love Schengen. Crossing borders with no hassle is very civilised. The checks in Dover were easy. The French seemed happy to let us in even if we never put our feet on French soil. I do think they need to mark the borders better though. How about an arch over the motorway with flags and examples of national identity. Onions, wine and fromage for France; Beer and waffles for Belgium; bikes, clogs and tulips for the Netherlands. Given the British fear of Schengen we could be represented by barbed wire, queues and suspicion – oh, hang on – that is what greets you when you enter the UK.

While we were travelling, Mr Cameron was in The Hague meeting with Mark Rutte, the Dutch Prime Minister. No doubt in perfect English.  We mentioned this to Ernst and our Notary when we were finalising the apartment purchase. They laughed and said – Oh yes – he’s trying to change Europe. We joked and said that first on his agenda was to get everyone else driving sensibly on the left like we do. We joked but…

Whilst on the continent, Sue adopted the role of driver whilst I navigated. This suited me down to the ground. Sue is a much better driver than me. As a team we did really well. We navigated the motorways and the urban streets of Rotterdam without hitch. We didn’t fall out once. Parking by the apartment is expensive, (50c for 18 minutes). The van was also rather large and finding space would have been tricky. Luckily there was a temporary loading bay and Rotterdam has an extensive park and ride scheme.

Our road trip concluded on Monday with a marathon drive from Rotterdam to Dunkirk and then from Dover to Blackburn – about 12 hours including the ferry trip. There were a lot of trucks on the two lane Belgian motorways and we were victim to a lot of elefantenrennen. The only real fly in the ointment was the embarrassment at how non UK nationals must feel as they get checked, grilled, searched and checked again before they are permitted to tread on British soil – At least we should do it with a smile. I fear that this will only get worse as all the emotional arguments ahead of an in-out referendum seem to be coming from the little islanders. The ones who’ve forgotten two European wars in the last century and think that those foreigners should do what we tell them or we won’t be in their gang. It might be alright once Mr Cameron has explained which side of the road they should be driving on.