Sunday, 17 October 2010

Best of both worlds

We've recently been to Australia - 2 years and 8 months after our previous trip. This is the longest duration between visits, and this time, the differences between the two countries seemed to be more apparent. During our holiday, I noted a few things that I think the Dutch could adopt from Australia, and vice versa. Here is just a couple that seemed to really stand out:

What the Dutch could adopt from Australia

1. Gold Class Cinemas
After having been to a Gold Class Cinema, I must admit it is hard to go back to the regular cinemas. It is like the business class of film viewing. The cinemas are small, seating only about 30 patrons, but everyone gets a reclining, lounge-type chair, with a small side table and the option of pillows and blankets so that you can enjoy the film in the utmost of comfort. These cinemas also offer a more comprehensive food and beverage menu (not just popcorn and sweets), and your order is brought to your seat. Of course these privileges do come at a price, but are worth it!

2. Up-front payment at cafés
We were of course eating out a lot while we were away, and many cafés make use of an up-front payment process. Sometimes, we were given a number to place on our table, while in other places the tables are already number and you just let them know where you are sitting when you place your order. The food is still brought to your table, but you don't have to flag someone one down to place the order or pay the bill. As it is not unheard of for people to walk out of Dutch cafés without paying the bill, such a system could be quite beneficial in the Netherlands.

3. Wine selection in pubs
It seems to be almost standard now for pubs in Australia to offer quite an extensive wine list. OK, there is the advantage of having such a large selection of local wines to choose from, but having said that, they are not skimping on their choices. The wine that is offered is typically of very good quality, although it is probably more expensive than the beer selection. However, I would be willing to pay more for a glass of wine in a Dutch pub, if I knew that I was getting a decent drop.

What Australians could adopt from the Dutch

1. Free Wi-fi in city centres
Admittedly, it is only recently that Rotterdam has established a free wi-fi network within the city centre. But they have taken that initiative, and it is fantastic. While we as locals often make use of this service, it also allows tourists to search for local attractions/restaurants etc within the city. Here's hoping that the construction of the National Broadband Network will facilitate more free wi-fi access across Australia.

2. Cookies with coffee
Go to any café in Australia and you will be inundated with cake choices, it is almost overwhelming. However, the cake servings are often pretty big, and there are the odd occasions where one does not want (or need) a large piece of cake. The Dutch have the perfect alternative - they typically serve a small cookie, piece of cake or brownie upon ordering a coffee/tea and in many cases it is just enough to satisfy the sugar craving while not overdoing it. It is a little treat, without the guilt :)

3. City-airport train links
The Dutch train network brings you directly to the Amsterdam airport terminal - and in less than 1 hour from leaving home, I can be checked-in and ready for the flight. We visited 3 cities (and 4 airports!) in Australia, only one of which has a direct train link to the airport. Sadly with this service, the last train leaves at 20:00, so those on later flights have to find alternative transportation to the city centre. Although a train link to Melbourne airport has been considered, it does not seem to be a high priority. Pity, as there is ample space and would be very convenient for accessing the city.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

The blender saga... finally over, almost 9 months after it began. It all started a few weeks before our house warming party, which was to be held the first weekend in December last year. The plan was to serve cocktails, but I noticed that there was a crack in our blender goblet. The blender was part of a Kenwood food processor, which was only about 3 years old. Needless to say, everything else was in working order, and the broken blender goblet did not warrant purchasing an entirely new food processor. So I began the hunt for a place that sold spare parts in the hope of replacing the blender.

There didn't seem to be any Dutch supplier of spare parts, and so I subsequently began my search in the UK. Although there were more options, many had strange payment systems or did not deliver to continental Europe. I then found to another UK on-line supplier of spare parts - they had the part, it would be €64 in total and would be shipped within 2-3 weeks. So I placed an order and just over a week later, received an email confirmation that the package was sent.

Given that deliveries from the UK typically take about a week to arrive, I expected my package to arrive within a few weeks, at most. But more than a month later and no sign of the order (and no blended cocktails at the party). It was getting close to Christmas at the time, and we received a number of packages, but not my spare part. After sending a few emails with no response from the vendor, I was starting to get a bit annoyed. And since the original confirmation email had no tracking number, I had no means of knowing what had happened to my order.

While I was trying to find another way of contacting the vendor, I came across a forum with not so glowing stories about this particular on-line supplier. Furthermore, the stories sounded very familiar - orders not received, no response from the vendor and no indication if and when they would get their part. My heart sank. What to do now.

I decided to send a formal letter to the vendor, but also contacted the European Consumer Centre. They act as a mediator in trying to resolve issues related to purchase within the EU - and this service is free! And they were very willing to help get to the bottom of the situation. So while they started their investigation, I continued to try to get in touch with the vendor.

Early in March, I finally received an email from the spare parts supplier that the package had been returned to them with a note saying that it had not been picked up, although a card would have been left in our box requesting us to do so. Despite receiving a number of packages in December, I don't think we missed the card from the postman. The on-line supplier then mentioned that they would have to charge me for redelivery. At this stage, I just wanted my money back and certainly didn't want to pay another €19 to have the package reshipped and run the risk of it not being delivered, again. So I requested a cancellation of my order and a full refund.

Their response was that the postage and handling is not refundable and they would be deducting a 33.3% restocking fee - thus the refund would be approximately €25. What!! A restocking fee!!! For a part I never received let alone used!!!! I was livid. About the same time, the ECC had also had got in touch with the vendor, to which they received the following response.

Even in this day of pampering consumers to the detriment of suppliers, surely she has to take some responsibility for her lack of action when this card was left (which it undoubtedly was - TNT are a reputable organization and would not have said they tried to deliver if this was not the case)?

Given some of my more recent experiences with TNTpost, I am not sure that they deserve such praise ;) But seriously, isn't this vendor's whole livelihood dependent on consumers? And is refunding my money pampering me? However, we came to an agreement. I would waive the postage and handling but receive a full refund for the part I ordered. The next catch? They only refund by cheque, which Dutch banks charge a fee to deposit. Upon receiving the cheque, I did notice that they had written the address incorrectly; they had put the number before the street, while the Dutch convention is the reverse. Could this have been the initial problem?

So after many months of blood, sweat and tears to get my blender goblet or money back, I ended up being out of pocket €40. In the meantime, I did eventually find a Dutch spare parts supplier (although I am sure they didn't exist in November). On Sunday, I placed an order with them for a blender goblet - it was in stock for €28 (including shipping) and would be sent within 24hrs of placing the order. Today, we received it! And so ends the saga.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Breakfast and brunch

I was asked by a friend the other day if I could recommend a place for breakfast in Rotterdam. This question really stumped me as it is not often that we go out for breakfast/brunch these days. I always had the impression that not many places in Rotterdam do breakfast and I don't hear many people suggesting to meet for breakfast or brunch.

When I consider the other cities in which I have lived, I was spoiled with breakfast/brunch possibilities. Melbourne even has a whole website dedicated to the breakfast spots in different areas of the city. In America, the breakfast options were almost endless, from breakfast burritos and huevos rancheros in New Mexico to all day breakfast at places such as Yours Truly. It was nice to know that every once in a while, I could treat myself to a breakfast out.

So what are the breakfast options in Rotterdam? The Irish pub, O'Shea's, offers an all day Irish breakfast (from 12:00 noon!) and the rumour is that the new Urban Espresso Bar West will also serve an English breakfast. Cappucino, Bagels&Beans, Bagel Bakery and Mockamore serve bagels while Dudok and Picknick have quite extensive breakfast menus, served well into the afternoon. For a Turkish/Mediterranean breakfast, there is Bazar and de Olijventuin. But of all these places, only a few are open before 9am during the week and 10am on the weekend.

As I have the impression that the Dutch are going through a gastronomic revolution, I can't help wonder whether there may also be an increase in breakfast and brunch spots in the near future. Here's hoping...

Monday, 1 March 2010


It has been over a year since I wrote anything on this blog. In part, this is because of a lack of focus. The original intention was to use it to discuss the things that struck a chord - things that resonated with me - which included my research, food and Rotterdam among other things. However, a year ago, I started a new job where I could no longer discuss my work publicly. Also, we moved house, and were putting a lot of time and effort in to getting that all set up. But now, a year later, when things have settled down a bit, it seems a good time to revive it.

Yet, there is still the question of what to blog about? Any suggestions?