What I learned from moving to Amsterdam

5 years at VBAT — a review

Written by Marcos Cruz
Creative at VBAT

Some impressions of enjoying Dutch lifestyle. By Marcos Cruz

Imagine, walking on a cold rainy day, lost, dragging a broken suitcase through slippery and bumpy old streets whilst trying not to get killed by cyclists coming from all directions.

This is me arriving in Amsterdam 5 years ago. Definitely not the best welcome-card from the old charming Dutch capital.

At the beginning everything was new and although I arrived with some previous international experiences, all of it felt like a big swirl of excitement, freedom and insecurity.

The job was actually the main reason that brought me here. Joining VBAT, a branding and packaging design company which I admired since the beginning of my career and becoming more specialised in packaging design seemed like the perfect step in my career.

I was ready to start my new adventure, but I needed one last thing, a Dutch bike.

Having a bike means the freedom to go everywhere in this town and country and like a very old Johnny Cash song says, “I’ve been everywhere man”.

And that’s what I did:

I’ve been…

…in East, West, North, South, De Jordaan, De Pijp, De Baarsjes, De 9 Straatjes. Westerpark, Vondelpark, Rembrantpark, Sarphatipark, Street-markets, Neighbourmarkets, Sunday market, flea market. Museumplein , Dam square, Red light, Green Light. On the boat, on the train, on the tram, on the bike.

Being on a bike in Amsterdam gives a totally different living experience. Here I just need to cycle around and absorb everything that this city has to offer from street-art to architecture, graphic design to music and nature.

However, (to enjoy it fully,) I really needed to step-up in my bike skills. My biggest achievement so far was to carry somebody on the back, together with a crate of beer. Nothing to be proud of compared to what Dutch people can do on a bike though.

I’ve tasted…

…Bitterballen, Haring, Stroopwafels, Frikandel, Oliebollen, Kibbeling, Poffertjes, Stamppot, Pannenkoeken, Kroketten. Edam kaas , Boeren kaas, Gouda kaas, Maasdamer kaas. Heineken, Amstel, Grolsch, Hertog Jan, Brand Bier, Jopen Bier, Dudels Bier, Oedipus Bier.

There is loads of beer brands in this country from big brands to craft brands.

I’m not a real beer connoisseur and I still love the good old Portuguese Sagres, but I did became quite addicted to looking at beer labels and bottles. A strange behaviour for most people, but for me as a designer at VBAT an easy and fun way to do research and get inspired.

I’ve seen…

…Sun, hale, fog , snow, ice, drizzling rain, heavy rain, freezing rain, lots of rain.

Talking about the weather sounds pretty much like a cliché anywhere else. Here it is not only a fundamental topic of local conversation, but there is actually a lot to talk about. The weather is much more unstable compared to sunny Portugal. This brings more contrast between the days and seasons, transforming these supposed to be boring flat lands into a magical place of contrast and colours.

I’ve met…

…Italians, French, English, Russians, Brazilians, Spanish, Polish and of course Dutchies.

There is a lot to say about Dutch people but one thing I still find quite remarkable after these 5 years: opportunity.

Since the beginning I felt that The Netherlands and especially Amsterdam is a place full of opportunities, attracting people form all parts of the world. I especially enjoy the fact that living in such a diverse community enables you to meet all sorts of people and creative minds.

I’ve made…

…Sketches, drawings, songs, coffee, designs and redesigns.

At VBAT, the redesign of Canei Frizzante Originale is one of the projects that I feel most proud of. Not only because of it’s design, but also because I received the 2018 Best Packaging Design award in beverages in The Netherlands for this project!

I also had the opportunity to design and develop a very special project, the Strum Coffee Brewery. A small brewery built to produce cold brew coffee, one of my favourite Summer coffee refreshments.

Looking back it has been a great roller-coaster of experiences. A journey with curves that make you sick, bumps that make you fly and loops that give you the most unexpected sensations.

Not so long ago it was just another cold rainy day. I was in an Old Amsterdam Cafe together with my Dutch girlfriend. We were having a beer and sharing a small portion of bitterballen when I say out loud “gezellig”. This doesn’t necessarily mean I’m doing great in my Dutch lessons, however I suddenly understood the full meaning of this word in harmony with what was around me.

I understood that I became part of this world. I became part of Amsterdam.

I realised that perhaps I haven’t been everywhere, but for now I also don’t need to go anywhere.


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written by Marcos Cruz, Creative at VBAT
edited by Connie Fluhme, PR at VBAT