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We’ve been living in Amsterdam for over two weeks now. We have a home, a local grocery store, and even some bikes. But I still don’t feel settled, or local. Lots of things contribute to that, I know, but one of the biggest is the fact that we’re on a stiff budget. Due to some messy reasons, our student loans have been delayed, my work hasn’t started yet, and we may have gone through most of our budget in our travels. (Oops.)

On an evening walk, near our apartment

So we find ourselves with a glorious city to explore, and no money to explore it with. Which is really hard, especially with so much free time and not much social life. Go to one of the many museums? Money. Sit in a cafe and sip a delicious latte? Money. Take a day trip to other towns in Holland? Money.

Explore the cafes and restaurants, taste-test beer, take a boat trip, meet new people at a bar, go out with the people we’ve already met… money! Even joining the public library here costs money, since you have to pay for a yearly membership.

In order to stay sane, here are a few things I’ve been doing while waiting for a bit more expendable cash. And for those worried (Mom and Dad): once our loans do come in we will be quite comfortable, within a budget. I figure this is the time that we learn to appreciate what we do have, like a warm bed, access to the internet, friends to Skype with, and the below list.

1) Cooking. We’ve been experimenting with some very Dutch things like rookwurst (smoked sausage) and potatoes, as well as trying out our old favorites in a new country. Grocery shopping is always an adventure when you try to read the labels. I bought what I thought was cornmeal, only to find upon opening it was gravy thickener. Oops.

2) Biking. Once we paid for them, the bikes were free! And they don’t cost anything to ride per mile (except for food, but if you pack a lunch…). As long as the weather holds I’ll be out exploring on my bike. I need to think of a good Dutch name…

3) Riding the Ferry across the IJ (the bay). It’s a free ride, and I’ve heard that while there’s not a whole lot on that side of town, it’s still pretty to coast across the water and consider how this town was wrenched from the sea. I haven’t done this yet, but it’s on my list!

4) Sitting in a park. There’s nothing lovelier than a sunny afternoon by a canal, watching the boats go by.

5) Free Festivals. There are a number of free concerts and festivals, especially in the summer, if you take the time to look for them. We took advantage of the harbor festival two weeks ago, and have a few more on the radar.

6) IJscuypje Ice Cream. Okay, this one’s not free, but at 1.50 euro a scoop, money really can by happiness, and it’s pretty cheap, at that. This ice cream store makes it the real “Dutch” way, with lots of real cream, milk and magic. A lot creamier than gelato, it reminds me of the Midwest’s custard. Delicious.

7) Practicing my Dutch. I’m not exactly at conversation level yet. More like pronunciation level–simply learning to say the words. So far the language isn’t too confusing, but the pronunciation is just crazy! Any G has a throaty guttaral sound, any J is a Y sound except when an I is in front of it, like IJsellmeer–then it sounds like eye. Also, vowels squished together are longer. So you have man and maan, which mean different things. Lovely.

8 ) Strolling the Nine Streets, or Negen Straatjes. Remember those G and J sounds! A cute area chock full of fancy shops with pretty clothes and curiosities. I just can’t get too tempted or it won’t be free anymore!

9) OBA, the public library. Though joining costs money, visiting their beautiful space, sitting in one of their many comfortable chairs, and even using their internet does not. Plus I get a fantastic view across the city.

10) Open Monument Days. Perhaps the best boost to our tourism comes from this event, a Netherlands-wide cultural event where buildings and monuments usually closed to the public throw open their doors. Part of Europe’s Heritage Days, the Dutch have fully embraced this chance to see history and unique buildings. Best of all, it’s completely free. This year a total of 64 buildings across Amsterdam are rolling out the welcome. There are walking tours, lectures, bike rides, and historical exhibitions… all in Dutch. But there are a small number of English tours (thank you, nice Dutch people), and our tickets are already reserved. We’ve got a full touring schedule this weekend, and it’s all for free!

By next week we should have a bit more cash, and I’ll be ready to explore museums and hunt down my favorite cafe! Until then I’ll keep practicing my Dutch in the park. Maybe I won’t even need those English tours!

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