Thursday, June 28, 2012

Your first day in Appsterdam

So you've been inspired to visit Appsterdam, perhaps like me you heard Mike give a talk at a conference and have found yourself planning a trip to Appsterdam.  What's next?  How do I get around? Where is everything? What do I need to do to survive my first few days in Amsterdam?

Here are some tips for those arriving in Appsterdam.

Before you arrive

Get involved in the meetup group

First things first, join the Appsterdam Meetup group and introduce yourself. Check the dates for the regular sessions (weekly lunchtime lectures and weekly evening drinks every Wednesday) and look for upcoming guru sessions and speakers club meetings. RSVP well in advance for these as they fill up fast.

Consider timing your arrival so you can get yourself sorted (see below) and then meet everyone on the Wed lunchtime lectures and/or Wed evening social meet up.

Follow some Appsterdamers on Twitter

Add some of the @appsterdamrs (Official Twitter Account) to you twitter such as @bmf (Mike Lee) Mayor of Appsterdam, @pauldarcey (Paul Darcey) CEO of Appsterdam, @judykitteh (Judy Chen) Chief Community Officer, @spllr (Klaas Speller) COO of Appsterdam and the many others using the #Appsterdam hashtag.

Learn at least a few words of Dutch  

Knowing the local language is not 100% necessary because the Dutch speak excellent english but any effort you put in will help you feel more comfortable here.  I've had some luck with the Pimsleur digital dutch lessons. I downloaded them to my iPhone and listened to them for 30 mins each day for the month before I visited. I wished I had started earlier as I only made it to lesson 8 of the 30 in that time.

Book some Accommodation

Accommodation in Amsterdam is expensive and generally a little difficult to arrange.  I had a lot of success with the AirBNB service.  You should get someone in your social network to provide a reference on airbnb if you can.  A similar but sometimes less expensive accommodation booking service is run locally by Frederic Rent a Bike.

For short term stays try Eden Rembrandt Hotel.  For longer term accommodation you'll need to brave the fragmented and chaotic real estate market. Try the following agents as a first point of call: Barney at Housing Rentals and  Martijn Schneider at Housing Agent.    

Download the essential apps

You’ll probably not have a data plan on your phone when you arrive, so until you obtain a sim card (see the section later on how to get one) you’ll probably find an offline map useful for getting around. I use the CityMaps2Go app for my iPhone in Amsterdam, as the open source map data for Amsterdam is excellent, has offline search, shows your compass heading, and has bookmarks.

For public transport info (trams, trains, busses, ferrys) you can’t go past the 9292ov Pro app.  It works in english, has search, planning and maps.  As an online alternative, Google Transit is excellent in the Netherlands.

For finding places to eat or drink Foursquare has been pretty useful. You can use the lists of favorite places from other users to discover Amsterdam.

Getting yourself sorted on your first day here

Navigating the Airport

The airport is huge. Be prepared for a long walk from your arrival gate and pass through immigration.  Once you have your luggage don't forget to use your credit card to get some local currency (euros) from the ATM machines.  You'll use this currency in the next step.

You'll want to catch the train to get from the airport to the city, Central Amsterdam, it's cheap, fast and frequent.

Get a chipcaart for use on public transport

Find the train station and line up at the big ticket counter so you can acquire your amazing OV-chipkaart.  This is a touch-on / touch-off card similar to London's oyster card or a working version of Melbourne's myki card with the bonus of working everywhere in the Netherlands and on all form of transport including busses, ferries, metro, tram and train. The card itself costs € 7.50 and you will need to put at least  € 20 on the card to be allowed to use it on trains.

Platform 1 has the trains to the city.  On the platform walk along until you find the chipcaart reader and check in (touch the card to the reader).  Board any train going to Amsterdam CS (central station) other than the "freya" as this train requires a special ticket.

At central station you will need to check out (touch the card to the reader again) at the exit of the station rather than on the platform.  Try not to forget to check out otherwise you will be charged additional fees on your card.

Find a tram to your accommodation

The trams are fast and frequent and only surpassed by using a bike to get around (see later for how to acquire a bike).  Your accommodation host will typically tell you what trams you can catch to your place.  Have a look at the official simplified tram map to see how the trams work.

Get a sim card with data

Being offline is a real problem. After a little research I settled on T-Mobile’s pre-paid sim card with a 1GB data bundle. It’s a small fee for the sim card and you add € 14.95 for the internet. Ask the friendly staff at the store to activate your internet for you in the store, and to change the telephone system default language to english.

Use your offline map to find a T-Mobile store, here is an online map of the T-Mobile stores.  I went to the small city store at Nieuwendijk 200 near the corner of Gravenstraat. You can save this address as a pin / bookmark so you can find it offline.

Visit Appsterdam Centraal

Now you are online and can find your way about, get yourself to the Appsterdam Centraal HQ located in the co-working space called BounceSpace.  The address is Weteringschans 28.  Here you can hang out, use the wifi and meet some appsterdamers.

Getting a Bike

And finally, to become a true appsterdamer you need a bike.  Grab an appsterdamer from the HQ and head out to a market. I went to the second hand bike place at Waterlooplein Flea Market.  Take a bike for a test drive, make sure they adjust the height of the seat to suit you. Make sure they add on the front and back lights, at least one ‘better quality’ lock (locals use two locks) and a bell. Negotiate a price for the whole lot (not each individual part).  Expect to pay between €80 and €100.

Update 11th July: Accommodation and bike rental tips thanks to Judy.

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