Saturday, 27 December 2008

Pancake heaven

I love pannenkoeks and little koffies for breakfast!

Amsterdam bikes

Here's one of the few bikes I didn't want to ride...

Den Haag

Today we went to The Hague. We couldn't sleep till morning, so we woke up, talked, and watched some TV. We took the second morning train to the Hague, the sun came up just as we got there. The train left at 7:41am according to the lady who sold us a ticket, and it did to the minute. It took 50 minutes on the dot to get to the Haag Centraal, exactly as she said too. Unfortunately since we were early, it was 2 and a half hours of checking stuff out by walking until anything opened.

Binnenhof is the Dutch parliament building or something like that, it's a big old looking castle type thing with a lake out front, hopefully the attached picture comes through. Rather picturesque, lot's of ducks and white swans hanging out there. We only wandered in a maybe a 5km radius from Haag Centraal where the train dropped us off, so I can't speak for the suburbs, but something about this place tells me there aren't too many rough neighbourhoods nearby. Up and down the quaint to our north American eyes streets, the building office signs were dominated by international consulate offices and other rich or high society sounding places. Everything is ship shape, I haven't seen anything (here or Amsterdam) yet that's derilect, run crummy or even run down.

Once 10:00 came we went for breakfast - original Dutch pancakes for Tori and I had a fried egg sandwich. We washed that down with 2 coffees and 2 hot chocolates and had a grand time relaxing.
11am was when the Maurits Cornelis Escher museum opened. I think we spent a full three hours in there, talk about a cool place. Not only did we get to see his life's work, but also videos, computer simulations/decompositions that illustrate the logical jumps that created his work that are impossible (for me) to see without animations bringing them to life, after which they're still basically impossible to grasp. There's also computers to play with and a floor of hands on activities and videos (mini wraparound imax style screen) to bring it to life and help understand it. To say it was a mind stretching experience is probably an understatement, it was so awesome. The final touch was that the ceiling lights in the basement cafe were giant blown glass bugs.

The ride home let us sight see more. Nice farmland, nice bike paths along the train line, lots of garden plots along the train tracks, and of course it's full of canals and dykes. Pretty neat to see the amount of effort put into maintaining the land and country.

Evening we went for a pizza at an Italian restaurant wanted to go, then just chilled out for a few hours. Big day, we were tired at the end of the day.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Relaxing day

We woke up late despite going to bed early, just the clock confusion thing. It's hard to claim we did much today, but it sure was a good time. Went to the Rijksmuseum for a few hours, will hit up the Van Gogh one later in our trip. Van Gogh's stuff is a little more accessible to me than the other period works, although they're all cool. So is the free hot chocolate outside.

Watched a packed skating rink but didn't join the melee, played around on a bike skateboard ramp without a skateboard, went for coffee in Vondelpark, window shopped, drank more coffee, etc.

Tori said she likes seeing all the women riding bikes in nylons and high heels. Although we might be approaching this from different angles, I'm glad we agree on something. Among many other neat-o people watching moments, we saw a family of 5 on two bikes, dad had two kids in a low bucket thing on both sides of front wheel and one on a seat over back wheel, mom just had the one on back. Rather impressive over minivans and SUVs. Nobody wears helmets, I'd suspect the crash rate is low - the cars know there's more bikes than cars, the bikes have their own lanes, and they have way more roads to go on anyway since many of the streets are too small for cars. People don't go too fast on those bikes either.

We watched a little Chinese kid (they seem to spell it Chinees I think here, rather phonetic if I'm remebering the restaurant signs right) playing an old guy at chess on a life size chess board in a square. Fun to watch for a while.

After that Tori got her first ginger coffee while we took a relaxing break from our tough day of walking around and relaxing.

The plethora of city bikes is cool, lots of them have crappy sounding gears. This seems like an ideal place for that NuVinci friction fluid internal "geared" without gears hub to catch on. The bikes are utilitarian, which is fine - they don't need to be blingy - but they all seem to crummily maintained. Too many flats or underinflated tires. Too much squeak and rattle. Like, even if it's "just" a utility bike, I'd tighten up those rack bolts, throw some lube on the chain, and pump up my tires.

Amsterdam touchdown

Upon landing we began our little foray into European ways of doing things [efficiently].

We stopped at a mini grocery store in the airport to pick up a few items to insure ourselves for food in case stores were closed on Christmas. Calling it a convenience store would be only half accurate - it was convenient, but it's goods wouldn't fit into a 7-11. Natural unsweetened juices, salads, produce, baked goods, cheeses, and a couple of chocolates, but not chocolate bars really. Healthy stuff like a grocery store.

From there we went to the train station. My pre trip research showed taxis to downtown were like €40, but the train went to 150m from our hotel (another way of saying I tried to pick a hotel close to the Amsterdam Centraal station), and the train is €3.60 and takes 15 minutes with no stops. It's simple to take once you're on the right platform, but considering it looks like we can get anywhere in the country via train from the airport, it took a while to figure it out.

I always like arriving here and being reminded that part of my brain is vastly inferior and underdeveloped - the langauge part that is. Yes we all speak Dutch here, but yes once you say Hi to us we'll just accomodate you with perfect English, or French, or German too.

Downtown is nice on our first walkaround. Lots of tourist stuff availabl, seems busy, and no worries of not having stores open. The foods/restaurants available remind us that this city has a long, long history of world commerce, the variety is impressive.

Despite me oogling all the pancake houses, we got some sort of food I haven't had before, don't really know what it's called. Kind of Mexican.

Walked past some churches on the side of the red light district back to our hotel for a good night's sleep.

Best Trans-Atlantic flight ever

I can't say enough good things about these fully flat bed seats, man that's nice. Some sleep without my spine being compressed and my neck tilted, and my feet aren't all puffed up. Awesome!

I've finally learned to layer enough to survive the thermostat they always seem to set to "roast these poor people" on planes, I wore a very light cycling Defeet undershirt as my first layer so I could peel right down to that. Whomever runs the thermostat obviously hasn't been biking to work the last two weeks in -25C weather!

I'm totally digging the carry on luggage thing, I need to find a way to do that with a bike, maybe send it in advance. Airports are way less of a hassle that way. The new Timex is all plastic and is one less thing I have to take off to go through the scanners, now all I need to find is a lexan belt buckle.

We're flying home with the flat beds too through Frankfurt, I'm pumped.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Christmas is here

I finally feel like Christmas is here. Our work Christmas party was bordered by work both before and after, so I didn't really feel the Christmas buzz yet. the past week was more of the same.

Then before I knew it, bonus day snuck up on me. This year wasn't a pink slip, and it wasn't a boom market cheque like the past. I wonder sometimes if it really even matters.

Then I had a few fun parties this weekend, including Warren's annual tacky sweater party, where I saw some friends who have all come home for the holidays, but who aren't here often.

Next thing I know, Tori and I booked a trip to Amsterdam, totally looking forward to it. I booked a hotel, and between a few online sites and contacting the hotel directly, we're paying about 40% of their posted nightly rate and also got upgraded a few levels on room quality. Hope that works out well, seems it's a sign of the times.

I did my last minute shopping, un-investment banker-like bonus spending like a new Timex Ironman watch and a new wallet to replace my aging "Bad Mother Fucker" Pulp Fiction replica. I also found a new shower/shave kit bag at the Bay that suited my liking in that it was quite trim, but it had no price tag. The lady sold it to me quite cheap by just making up a price.

Did a lunchtime workout, then went for a massage. Talk about a nice day so far. I was smiling as I laid down on the massage table because my new Timex has plastic straps instead of metal ones like my old one - that old one has been pulling the hairs on my wrist for 5 years. It's always the little things!

That's a Seinfeld like day of absolutely nothing happening of consequence in my life, and now we're boarding our flight.

Tori and I are looking forward to Christmas in a way we're unfamiliar with once again.

Monday, 15 December 2008

White Party

Our Christmas party was a "white party" this year - meaning wear whatever you like, as long as it's white. Could turn out classy and fit right into the Banff Springs hotel... or maybe not so much. Here's a few no names, non-incriminating photos. Costumes were great, fun night!

White moustache.

Pearly white smile.


Religious harmony.

Pope dates angels.

Pope and whipped cream.

Kokannee girls.

Iceman and a beautiful princess.
Gleaming white.
Elvis sighting.
Doctor and chef.

Cyclist, sailor and whipped cream part 1.

Cyclist, sailor and whipped cream part 2.

Colonel Sanders.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Saturday Epic

Devin, Craig, Keith and I met at Cadence at 10 with the idea to ride, explore and have fun. Each was achieved in quantity.

We rode through Bowness, where a little slip caused trouble with Craig's derailleur housing. It shredded and gave no shifting support, although he made it to west of 22 before it needed attention. We fixed it well enough to keep going, and at that point Devin elected to turn around. Maybe his crystal ball was working.

We rode out to the Shell Jumpingpound gas plant, where I had a route figured out that clearly got us to a road I'd ridden before on my motorcycle. Unfortunately some detail was missed, so we put the "cross country" back in cross country. Well site roads, hay fields, cow trails, bushes, doubletrack, indian reserve, and hopefully staying on the right side of the elk/bison fence. I think it's safe to say this route to Cochrane had never beed ridden before - I also don't think it's ever taken me 3 hours to get to Cochrane.

Zone of exploration.  Note large square area between roads.  It has been explored.

2 mochachino's and a day old muffin got me going for the remainder of the ride, while Craig and Keith doubled up on cheese bun and carrot cake. It's funny, that was actually the only food I ate all ride, no on bike snacks or anything, the energy just flows from within.  Rather pleasant actually. I feel way to good on the bike for this time of year, talk about odd timing.

We dragged Keith back home the scenic way - most of the route was new to him... Retreat Road, Glendale Road, Symon's Valley. Not a bad change of scenery for a day's ride to the same town we ride to all summer long.

My door to door time was about 5.5 hours of riding time, I'm not sure what the hike a bike section added up to. Sun up to sun down.

Unprecedented route for an unprecedented day!