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.