Friday, 24 August 2012

Home again, home again.

I'm back at home now after having spent a week exploring and arranging my new home in Amsterdam.  I experienced as much of the great city as a person could reasonably hope to whilst simultaneously getting their room and studies sorted, so I'm going to break everything up into separate posts over time.

But the main thing is that I actually MADE it back in the first place. All melodrama aside, the drive, which I estimated to be roughly 300 miles altogether, wasn't as bad as I had worried it might be. It helped that the standard of driving in Holland is generally a lot slower and therefore, a lot better, so there were no near-misses or heart-stopping moments. All in all, it was a relatively comfortable drive. To anyone considering travelling across, particularly with large amounts of stuff, I would heartily endorse going by car.

Two things, however, I found may prove to be decisive factors.

Number one - the cost of the crossing itself. As I stated in a previous entry, for two adults with a car and a cabin on one of the legs, the cheapest option was £318. This is before you factor in the cost of food on the ferry (decent but honestly, extortionate) and the price of petrol (which has risen by 5p per litre in the week I've been gone). I mention this only as it is a cost you should prepare yourself for.

There are alternatives, of course, which include getting a cheap flight, train or ferry crossing as a foot passenger and having your possessions shipped (to ship five large boxes would have cost me £288.60 from Seven Seas Worldwide), or buying everything you need in situ.

Number two - the cost of parking when you get there. As a peoples, the Dutch are notoriously proud of their cycling culture and this is manifested strongly in both the huge promotion of public transport (something I want to go into further at another time) and the price of parking: to park outside of my apartment complex, it cost 3 euros an hour and 27 euros for a day ticket. So rather than pay this, I found great use of the Park and Ride scheme provided at various points around the city. It costs 8 euros per 24 hours up to a maximum of 96 hours and included in the cost is a return journey on public transport so you can drop the car off, free in the knowledge that your car is safe and return to it when you please.

Sloterdijk P+R - ten minutes from Amsterdam Centraal by train.

As I was staying for a week, I had to go back to the car and somewhat comically drive out of the car park, turn around and drive back into the same space in order to renew my ticket because otherwise, after 96 hours the rate returns to the normal rate - 22 euros per day.

If these are costs you feel you can take on though, the drive is fine and in fairness, P&O provide a pretty good service, even if it was more expensive than I had been hoping. Just, if you choose a day crossing, make sure to bring plenty of reading material.

Monday, 13 August 2012


It is a strong belief of mine that the plight of a person in search of the knowledge they need/crave/deserve (delete as applicable) should be funded accordingly, for the simple reason that as human beings, knowledge is central to a greater general well-being and comprehension. How a person chooses to derive said knowledge of a subject(s) is another matter entirely, but for those who seek it at educational institutions the world over, access should be universal with no exception.

Of course things aren't as straight forward as this, as is made painfully obvious by government policy reforms and student protests. But for the typical student, there are certain avenues available to help ease pocket-centric woes which should be made abundantly clear, something which I will aim to do throughout the course of this post and this blog as a whole.

Now I have applied for a PCDL, otherwise known as a Professional Career Development Loan. You can apply for anything up to £10,000 to be repaid over a period of between 1 and 5 years with the condition that a) your University is an accepted institution and b) your course is on a list of accepted courses.

You have to apply for the loan with a bank (either Barclays which takes up to 12 weeks, or Co-op which takes up to 8) and the Skills Funding Agency will pay the interest over the course of your studies. Upon completion however, you are liable to repay the loan with a rate of interest, which is currently 9.9%.

It does sound daunting but if you are committed to your studies and the line of career which you hope to pursue, its worth it, especially if, like me, you can't get the money elsewhere. I would strongly suggest however, that everyone should make this decision independently, as it is a huge one and the suitability of the loan is based largely on personal circumstances/preferences.

A great website to explore options you probably didn't even know you had is the postgraduate section of the Prospects website. Here you can search and filter through thousands of grants available all with various different stipulations and deadlines, applicable to a myriad of courses and circumstances. It is important to get in early though, as naturally most will close applications for the proceeding academic year with a few months to spare.

Similarly, Turn2Us provides a search system which can help you find various forms of financial assistance from charities or other grant-giving organisations.

Another option is to look for a grant through Family Action, a "leading provider of services to disadvantaged and socially isolated families since its foundation in 1869." This would seem to be available only to those wishing to study postgraduate degrees in Britain so is unfortunately not applicable to me but it should be mentioned regardless.

Each website will obviously go into greater detail about the services they provide and offer advice on aspects of financial troubles and postgraduate study (particularly Prospects) so I would advise that you visit each one and search thoroughly to see whether you can help offset the costs and pressures of completing what should be a fulfilling and enjoyable experience.

I would like to finish on an apology for a complete wall of text. 

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Road Trip!

... sort of. Mostly ferry really.

It's booked now and everything's feeling a bit more certain - there is finally some stable, if metaphorical, ground beneath my size tens.

This weekend just gone, my girlfriend very kindly booked our ferry tickets from Harwich to the Hook of Holland and back, travelling there overnight on the 16th and back again on the 23rd. The privilege of such a journey (including a car and a cabin for the night on the outward journey) cost us a reasonable £338 with Stena Line.

There were other water-faring options, including driving up to either Hull or Newcastle and getting the ferry straight up to Amsterdam (with P&O and DFDS respectively). But taking factors into account such as petrol consumption and time of arrival, it worked out far more cost effective to drive the ninety minutes up to Amsterdam and risk a touch of oncoming traffic.

Because I am not driving in France. Mandatory breathalyze my ass.

In other news, I'm part way through applying for PCDL which, if successful, will roll the proverbial boulder from upon my chest. But I'll write more on both my journey and financial status at a later date.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

My box by the river

Prior to starting this blog, it is safe to say I went through my fair share of turmoil trying to find a roof to shelter my slightly larger than average head for the academic year to come. Upon learning that the university charge a finding fee of roughly £370, I promptly snorted in indignation and turned to the internet for answers (herein lies another aspect of the whole experience that might have been made clearer to me beforehand).

After days of scouring various websites in search of more pocket-friendly alternative, I realised I had 3 options:
  1. start paying just to see the listings on agency websites, with no guarantee of finding anything suitable.
  2. enter some bizarre kind of lottery in which you hand over your money and wait to see if you have, effectively, "won" a place.
  3. give up and pay the uni and consequently, the agency, a frankly extortionate fee.
So, I went with the latter, favouring ease and certainty over the possibility of living in a tree. I can't say much, or indeed anything at all, for the effectiveness of the first two options but if they seem more appealing to you, be my guest. But when they warn you on the university website that "it isn't easy," they aren't just having you on in some underhand ploy to steal your hard-earned pennies - it really... isn't... easy.

(On a side note, this is another aspect of the university lifestyle I feel could benefit from some sort of forum on which people can provide listings, advice, experiences etc.)

Begrudgingly, I paid the fee.

When I was told the last possible date by which I might get an answer was the 15th of August, two days before I'm due to collect the keys, I did start to worry slightly.

But today, I can inform you, o venerable reader, that I am wholly satisfied by the results. I was sent a clear outline of where I have to be and when, how I confirm my interest and details of the room itself. Although pictures weren't included, I did a little bit of excavating and found that it is centrally located and near the river in a part of Amsterdam called Westerpark. 

The walking route from my prospective place to the university.

Now I have the unfortunate disposition of being slightly superstitious, so I don't want to spout off about how amazing it looks, but I will say that I'm pretty happy.

If we go into street view... get an idea of exactly the kind of accommodation I'm dealing with here. While I will assume there are those among you who may turn their noses up at this, the prospect of living in a student village again excites me to no end. It will be more about the atmosphere and community than the luxury aspect and having lived most of my life by considerable but no great means, I anticipate enjoying this.

Having seen a few pictures of the rooms, the majority of which I shall spare you, one example in particular really showed me how a bit of effort and elbow grease can make any living space, even these (apparently 25m2) rooms, an interesting and comfortable place to be.

While I think the method of finding a place to live in the first place leaves a lot to be desired, I can't really argue with the end result. It looks as if either way you go about it, you'll end up spending money trying to find somewhere. While there are some websites with free listings, I found them (usually) to be searching for rents somewhere in the region of 800 euros pcm+. 

I look forward to moving in and showing everyone my room.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Allow me to introduce myself

Recently I was accepted to study my Masters at the University of Amsterdam. I write this not to brag, (if you think that's impressive enough to merit admiration, then thank you anyway) but to set this blog off in the direction I'm wanting it to take immediately. Because after the few minutes of excitably bouncing around to totally blank looks from my family, I realised a) that they'd inexplicably typed the wrong name on the acceptance email and b) I had no idea what to expect from the approaching year.

After having cleared up the former, I set about educating myself on the latter.


No forums, no message boards, no facebook groups full of people to offer friendly advice on accommodation, restaurants, travel, the courses, the buildings. Like I say, nothing.

So I am writing this blog to set right this tragic wrong. In this modern age, when everyone's face is being pushed ever closer to the luminescence of some computer screen, why should I be left in the dark? Alas, it must be so.

From now on, I will document my experiences as a postgraduate student in Literary Studies at the University of Amsterdam - from living abroad for the first time and making my way around a strange city, to what type of bread to buy and which pubs serve up best liver damage for your dollar - through photographs, quick paragraphs, long essays and interpretive dance videos (maybe). All in the faint hope that someone will pick my lowly blog up and get a better shot at this than the running leap I'm taking, learn from my mistakes etc etc.

I am due to travel out to pick up my keys mid-August and move out for good at the start of September, so although I won't be able to provide much of a first-hand account as of yet, I think the preparatory stage is probably just as, if not more important.

On top of this, somewhat inevitably as I am indeed a literature student, I intend to share any ponderings, opinions or ideas in whichever form I may choose, verse or prose, as that is the price you are going to have to willingly pay for my sagacious words.

Fare-the-well for now.