First Impressions of The Netherlands

It’s been a few months since I’ve moved to The Netherlands.
The first weeks were quite busy with paperwork and everything else it takes to settle in. Now the things are getting a bit more routine, so I am taking the chance to write down some of the first impressions before I get used to many things.

Weather

The thing I would hear very often in the first warm and sunny weeks in early October is how cold, humid and windy it is here. Now I blame it on the fraction of Italians among my colleagues.
The climate indeed is not Mediterranean, but nothing really terrible to my taste. It feels a lot like back home in St. Petersburg, but much milder and with literally no winter at all. What they call winters here are shorter and way warmer with hardly any snow, thanks to the Northern Sea.
Since my arrival in early October I even had a couple of chances to walk around in a T-shirt. It’s been raining quite a lot, but hardly ever for the entire day. The days here are a bit longer during fall and winter – it’s six degrees of altitude down southwards. Overall it feels a little more comfortable so far, really missing the snow though – +10 in late December is a bit too much.

Scale

I used to live in a big city. One-way commute to work would take me just under an hour daily. I would normally look forward for a trip time of about an hour for a destination on the other side of a city map.
I literally never use the same map scale here. Delft is about 100k people, and its central part is really small. I live in the opposite side of town from the university, and it’s only 30 minutes walking. Or some 10 minutes by bicycle…

Transport

…which everyone around town with. Most of the machines are old, rusty and noisy, but do the job. Cycling here is very convenient – every street with considerable traffic has a bike lane, often separated from the car lanes. Cyclists often have priority on the crossings. Many of restrictive traffic signs are marked “except for cyclists”, which means cyclists are free to pick almost any reasonable route. It is not the case for cars as smaller streets are all one-way. Very little parking spots are free of charge.
Public transport is decent and expensive. Trains operate 24/7, are comfortable and generally come on time. The network is dense – from my home outside Delft center it takes just 30 minutes to get to downtown Rotterdam, and even less to central The Hague.
One-way trip to Amsterdam by train is about 10 euro. Bus/tram ride is 1 – 3 euro, depending on the distance. There are options to save a bit for residents – I got a 40% discount in off-peak hours for one year for 50 euro.
A second-hand grandma-style bicycle in reasonably good condition can be found for 50-60 euro. Absolutely a must-have here. I don’t have a car, but heard of total cost of possession of about 200-300 euro a month. Plus parking.

Cost of living

Rent is not too cheap even in smaller cities like Delft. The demand here is massive, as about 15% of population are students. I pay about 600 euro monthly for a decent studio through a housing agency affiliated with the university. The house is in a green and quiet neighborhood some 10 minutes walk from the city center. One-bedroom apartments in the center start from around 800-900. Living alone in a self-contained apartment as a student seems a luxury here – a lot of people share flats to pay reasonable rent.

Groceries are more expensive, though not by much. Before the exchange rate dropped a few years ago, many things were probably even cheaper here than in Russia. I spend about 150 euro a month for groceries. Some examples of supermarket prices:

A lunch at the university canteen is 4 – 7 euro, depending on how hungry you are. A lot of colleagues bring their own food, so sometimes do I.
A dinner out in center is 12 – 20 euro plus drinks.
Alcohol is generally cheaper. Beers are decent and cheap, unless you go for Heineken and likes which are the same as everywhere else and very cheap.
I did not shop for clothes here a lot, but the basic chain store stuff is slightly cheaper.

Health insurance is mandatory. Basic package costs about 1200 euro per year with just under 400 euro of own risk to be paid on top of that.

All in all, surviving here would be way more expensive than in Russia – all the necessary expenses make up to about 1000 euro monthly. Eating out, traveling, electronics etc are on top of that. The good thing is, unlike back home, a PhD salary is totally enough to live comfortably here.

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