Life in Amsterdam

I’m Back!!! + Rando-List nano

Well, ladies and gentlemen, I’ve done it!  I’ve managed to procrastinate blogging to the point that I don’t even remember what I last wrote about.  I had to read my own blog posting just to refresh my memory.  Pathetic, I know…

But today is a new day, and as my wife keeps kindly reminding me, I need to get back to blogging.  So here I am.  Let’s give this another shot!

At this point, I have no shortage of material to cover.  My last post was regarding our not-so-recent trip to Prague, almost three months ago.  Since then, we’ve been keeping up the travels in a big way.  Over the next few weeks I’ll be covering our recent trips to London, Paris, Venice, and the Greek Isles.

In regard to our lives here in Amsterdam, it appears that I haven’t had much to say since my last Rand0 List post back in FEBRUARY!!!  While the insanity of Amsterdam has in no way ceased, I have grown more accustomed to this fine city’s peculiar ways.  Because of this, I’ve not been doing such a great job at documenting the crazy things that go on here.  I suppose I’ll promise to do better with my daily documentation if at least one of you will promise to read about it…  Seems fair to me.

Ok, on the meat and potatoes, as one might say.  Let’s ease back into things with a little Rando-List, nano edition!

Rando Nano Header

1.  The weather here in the Lowlands has been pretty horrible for the majority of the now eight months that have passed since we moved to Amsterdam.  Cold, wet, and windy is the name of the game when it comes to Amsterdam weather.  That being said, the locals have informed me that this is a particularly terrible spring, even for The Netherlands.  Typically the weather in May is at least a bit warmer than usual, with the sun peaking through the clouds on most days.  This year, we have seen this:

Ahh.. Spring time in Amsterdam!  cold... wet... cloudy...

Ahh.. Spring time in Amsterdam! cold… wet… cloudy…

Now, being the “silver lining” type, I do have one positive note to mention.  As you may remember, the winters in Holland are not just cold and wet, but also extremely dark.  During the winter months, the sun barely manages to make an appearance before 9AM and is almost certainly gone by 4:30PM or so.  Terrible, I know.

Now that spring is here, we are experiencing a pretty fantastic reversal of this situation.  I can gladly report that I have no earthly idea as to when the sun show’s up in the morning.  For the last few weeks, I wake up, and the sun is always up.  It’s great!  At night, I can honestly say that we are already experiencing 10PM sunsets.  Just last night, I stepped outside to snap this photo of what a 10PM dusk looks like.

Note the time on the clock tower:  10:00 PM on the nose

Note the time on the clock tower: 10:00 PM on the nose

2.  I have been intending on writing a little post about the “Green” initiatives that are so prevalent in Dutch society.  I have clearly not done this yet, but I’m going to.  I promise!

In the meantime, here’s a nice little scene I captured as I was heading out to run some errands.  To me, this is a very “Dutch” scene.  It’s also a pretty damned cool one too, if one was to ask me!

Canal, Boats, Tesla Roadster getting a quick recharge at the local electric car charging station...  Gezellig!

Canal, Boats, Bikes, Bridges, and a Tesla Roadster getting a quick recharge at the local electric car charging station… Gezellig!

Well, friends, I think I should stop there, lest this become a full fleged Rando-List…  I just wanted to let you guys know that:

a) The Mogridges are still alive and well.

and

b) I still possess the power of protracted pontification.

I feel my job is done here.  I’ll be back… soon-ish

Advertisements

I REFUSE…

So, in typical blogger style, I have allowed my blog posting to slow to a crawl.  Sitting on a treasure trove of stories and photos from my travels in Belgium and the Czech Republic, I feel that I have failed in maintaining this space in a way it deserves.  To be honest, my time has been commandeered most recently by the photography and design work that I’ve been doing for Lombardo’s Ambachtelijke Eetwinkel, a local sandwich shop specializing in handcrafted sandwiches, salads, and soups made from top quality local ingredients.  While I sort out my priorities, you guys should give a quick look at the work I’ve been doing for them in the past two months.

I’d recommend giving a look at the website I’ve been designing and maintaining:

Lombardos.nl

Click to check out the Lombardo’s Website.

As well as checking out their Facebook Fan Page where I’ve been posting some of my most recent photography work:

Click to check out the Lombardo's Facebook Fan Page.

Click to check out the Lombardo’s Facebook Fan Page.

Why don’t you give it a LIKE while you are there!  😀

Anyway, I REFUSE (see, it makes sense now) to let this blog become the stereotypical “one post every other month” type of blog.  I promise, and Captain Hook never breaks a promise!

If I don’t post a new article in the next 7 days, I’ll be sending $10 checks to everyone on my followers list, and that’s a guarantee!

Until next time!

P.S. Now might be a really good time to click that follow button…

 

Rando-List 3.0: Mogridge’s Revenge

Fear not, my friends!  You have not been abandoned!  I am just lazy!  Things have been a little crazy recently here in Amsterdam, so I’ve been a tad negligent in my blogging duties.

Fear not, my friends, for I have returned!!!

So, without further ado, I present to you:  RANDO-LIST 3.0!!!

1.  First, let me start with a few things that my Facebook friends have already seen.  Check the image captions for more info and as always, click the image for a larger view.
2.  Our shower had a small leaking issue a few weeks ago.  Water was dripping through the walls and coming out of the lighting fixture above our dining room table.  Not fun!  Turns out that it was my fault for not cleaning a small filter that I was never told to clean (or that it even existed, for that matter).
Drip, drip, drip...

Drip, drip, drip…

3.  I was visiting with some friends here in Amsterdam when I suddenly found it necessary to use the restroom facilities.  I was not prepared for the utter awesomeness that I encountered in what can only be described as “The World’s Greatest Home Restroom”.

A quick look to the left and all seems normal.

A quick look to the left and all seems normal.

A quick look to the right and one quickly realizes that this is no ordinary home restroom.  Am I in Narnia?  What world is this?

A quick look to the right and one quickly realizes that this is no ordinary home restroom. Am I in Narnia?!? What world is this?!!?

Indeed!  Your eyes have not deceived you! A home restroom…  WITH A URINAL!
Not only convenient for the man, but a real marriage saver too!  Never again argue about keeping the restroom seat up or down!  Wondrous!

4.  I ran across another film premier at the Pathé Tuschinski.  This time it was for a Dutch film called Verliefd op Ibiza, a sequel to the 2001 film Costa!.  While I don’t know much about either film, I do know that they both share the common trait of never having been heard of outside of the Netherlands.

This premier was nowhere near the size of the Skyfall premier event we saw a few months ago.  There were perhaps 20 or so people taking pictures and that was about it.  It probably didn’t help that Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands announced her abdication of the throne about 5 minutes after I took this photo.

RANDO 11

Lame… I know.

5.  I found a new place to get a haircut!  At first, I was encouraged by the old school atmosphere, but I quickly learned that the hunt for my perfect Amsterdam haircut must continue:

6.  Our cat is transforming into some form of cave troll…  with laser vision.

RANDO 16

7.  I found this odd vehicle parked outside of my apartment a day or two ago.  I’m not 100% positive about this, but I think it has something to do with nuts, sacks, and Gotye.  Then again, I did zero research to find out if I’m wrong.

RANDO 15

De Nootzaak Gotjé delivery “truck”

8.  Finally a note about why I’ve been neglecting this little corner of the web:  I’m currently doing some photography and design work for a local eatery.  Here’s a taste of some of the things I’m doing for them:

Buisiness Card Front 1

Additionally, I’ll be updating my photography website in a few weeks with some of the photography work that I’m currently working on.

Look for more updates on this endeavor in the following weeks.  Keep your peepers peeled for the  de-de-details!

Alright!  That should do it for now.

Coming later this week/weekend:  Antwerp Beer Trip!

Views from Around the World

To my 8 or 9 devoted followers, let me say thank you for visiting my little corner of the net as often as you do.  In all honesty, I enjoy looking at my site stats every now and again to remind myself that people actually read the crap that I write.  It keeps me motivated to write more.  I appreciate it.

About a week and a half ago, I jumped on WordPress for my weekly stat check, and was extremely surprised to see a modest spike in readership.  Expecting to see the usual 4 or 5 views per day, I was quite shocked to see the following:

2012-12-13-2That’s right, the site went from 5 or fewer view per day to just under 200 per day.  That’s well over a 3000% increase.  I must say that when I first saw this, the first thing to go through my mind was, “Great!  I’ve been hacked!”  In addition to a huge increase in hits, I also noticed that the hits were coming from all over the world.  I typically see hits coming from two places.  I see hits from my friends in the US and hits from my friends in the Netherlands.  That makes sense to me.  This is what I saw when I looked at the location stats:

2012-12-13-3

Yeah, that’s right. 5 hits from the Republic of Tanzania.

Having NO interest whatsoever in figuring out what was going on, I shut my laptop and went about my business.  A few days later, I checked the stats again, to find that they had continued to be WAY above what I was accustomed to seeing.  Curiosity got the better of me, so I decided to do a little investigating.  Looking deeper into my stats, I found that most of the hits were coming from Google searches and heading straight to my article about Zwarte Piet.  Since Sinterklaas was just around the corner at the time, I assumed that people were just reading my post to get the perspective from an American living in Amsterdam.  Who knows?

After looking a little deeper, I realized that the hits were not just coming from Google, but Google Images.  Doing a Google Images search for Zwarte Piet gave me this:

2012-12-13-1

That’s the #2 image on Google Images that links to my blog.

You can’t tell in the screen capture, but that is the second image that pops up in a Google Image search.  I know absolutely nothing about how Google’s search algorithms work, but they found an image that I stole from some other blog and decided to tell the web to come visit my page.  They even earned me a rather tame tongue lashing from a real Zwarte Piet in the comments section.

Anyway, now that I write this, I realize it’s not that interesting of a story.  Oh well, I wrote it so I’m going to post it.   You wont realize it’s a waste of time until you get about this far into it either, so we can share the experience together!

Here’s a pretty cool slight of hand video for wasting your time! Enjoy!

 

How do I get to Amstel 194?

“How do I get to Amstel 194?”

This is the number one question I get asked on the street.  Tourists asking for directions is something that you have to come to terms with if you live in my neighborhood.  Living in Rembrandtplein, it is typical to see more tourists walking around than locals.  The tourists are quite easy to spot:  staring up at the buildings, map clutched in hand, and a general lack of direction as to where they are going.

The reason for the huge numbers of tourists in my neighborhood is the great many attractions that are in the area.  Some of the great sights in the area include The Hermitage (current home of the city’s Van Gogh collection), the Willet-Holthuysen Museum, the National Ballet, the Jewish Historical Museum, the Tuschinski Theater, the Bloemenmarkt, the Portuguese Synagogue, and the park at Rembrandtplein.  All of these are within a short walk from my front door and this is by no means a comprehensive list of all the things worth checking out in the area.

That being said, the number one tourist attraction that I get asked for directions to is not on that list.  Back to the original question, “How do I get to Amstel 194?”.

At this point you are naturally asking yourself, “What’s is this Amstel 194 you keep speaking of?”.  Well my friend, Amstel 194 is the address for a great historical canal house that sits on the bank of the Amstel River.  With a wonderful view and a prime location, this home has become, from what I can tell from the number of people trying to find it, the premier tourist attraction in Amsterdam.  “What’s so special about this house?” you may be asking.  Well…  It’s no longer a home.  It’s not some great museum.  It’s not a sex shop or coffee shop.  The lovely canal home at 194 Amstel has been transformed into the Xtracold Icebar Amsterdam!!!

Yes, that’s correct.  A lame gimmicky ice bar is the number one thing people are looking for in my neighborhood.  How depressing.

 

I’ve been asked ONCE for directions to the Hermitage.  I’ve been asked ONCE for directions to the Tuschinski Theater.  Once, I overheard someone asking for directions to the Bloemenmarkt.  I have been asked for directions to the Xtracold Icebar no fewer than 10 times!

I don’t know if it’s just that hard to find or there are really that many people who want to spend €20 to spend 30 minutes in a -10 degree room knocking back the two tiny beverages.  I truly don’t see the appeal.  I will be the first to admit that the Dutch have a tendency to keep it a little too warm for my liking in their bars, but substituting one extreme for another is just silly.

Although I don’t see it in my future, if anyone ever decides to drag me into that place, I’ll be sure to update this post with more icy details.  In the mean time, don’t hold your breath.

Urilift

Just like every other major European city, Amsterdam considers it a privilege to urinate.  Restrooms are generally for paying customers only and even then they will often charge half a euro or more to use the facilities.  I understand the need.  Businesses can’t have a steady stream of tourists popping in just to use the toilet, cluttering up the aisles, and not purchasing anything.  I get it.  I truly do.

Because of this, most major municipalities in Europe have provided those of us who need to pee with public options.  Many major cities have “full service” pay toilets that cater to men and women for a small fee.  In Amsterdam, we have free public urinals.  Now, by “we” I mean “men”.  I have no idea what the ladies are expected to do…

Now, as you can see, these toilets are a bit unsightly and only serve one person at a time.  They are also almost completely unnecessary for most of the day, as they are most frequently used by the late night bar crowd.  To solve this problem, the Dutch decided to utilize their old friend technology.  From the very beginning, ingenious uses of machinery have improved the state of Dutch life.  In fact, much of what is now Holland was once the sea floor.  The inventive Dutchies used their technological skills to catch the wind and use windmills to pump the sea water over the dykes freeing up much needed farm lands.

Today they are using technology to improve the peeing experience for one and all (except women).  I now introduce you to the URILIFT!

This modern miracle is a public urinal that not only serves THREE people at one time, but can also be stored underground when not in use.  It took me a while to actually see one of these in the wild, as they spend much of their time underground.  As it turns out, there is a Urilift just a few meters away from my apartment in Rembrandtplein.  I haven’t had the pleasure of using it yet, but it’s nice to know it’s there for you when you need it.

I mean, really, what will the Dutch think of next?

 

 

 

A bit depressing…

Image

Before we moved to the Netherlands, I was aware that there were going to be some big changes coming my way.  Foreign languages, odd foods, and strange customs are obstacles that any reasonable person would expect when moving abroad.  Generally speaking, the transition has been relatively easy in regard to those differences.  In fact, I am beginning to find some of the differences to be quite nice. The one change that I don’t think I will ever become accustomed to is the lack of sun.  I’m not talking about the ever present cloud cover that hangs over this city almost every day, no no, one could deal with simple cloudiness.  I am talking about the fact that the sun set at 4:30 today.  The sun rose this morning at 8:45.  As you are all aware, this means that you don’t get any direct sunlight until 10 or later and it starts getting dark around 3 in the afternoon.  It sucks.  End of story.

Movies in the Netherlands

The wife and I decided that as things get colder here in Amsterdam we will need some indoor entertainment.  Ideally, we were looking for something cheap, outside of our apartment, and didn’t result in a hangover the next day.  We had heard that the local movie chain, Pathé, offered an unlimited movie viewing pass.  Deciding that it was worth giving a look into, I dug through the Dutch website and found that indeed, unlimited movie tickets PLUS 10% off food and drink could be had for the low low price of 19 euro per month.  What a deal!  It’s extra convenient because we have two of the best movie theaters in the Netherlands just a five minute walk from our front door.

After a couple of weeks using the pass, I can say that it’s a great deal, but my reaction is mixed.  Our first viewing experience was pretty amazing.  We saw Skyfall in the Grote Zaal (Large Hall) at the spectacular Pathé Tuschinski.  We arrived late to the showing because we couldn’t figure out how to get to our assigned seats (yes, they give you an assigned seat in Holland), so I couldn’t get any photos of the auditorium,  but it is quite awe inspiring (see below).  Although our seats were in the second balcony, we still enjoyed the experience enormously.

Our second movie going experience was a matinee viewing of Seth MacFarlane’s magnum opus, Ted.  We had planned on seeing the movie when it came out in the States, but in all of the chaos of the move abroad, we missed it.  When we first arrived in the Netherlands, we were happy to see that it was still in the theaters here.  Move ahead two months and the film is STILL being shown in theaters.  The movie was being shown around the corner from the Pathé Tuschinski at the Pathé De Munt theater.  While the Pathé De Munt offers a more modern multiplex experience, featuring 13 auditoriums, the viewing experience could not have been more different from our visit to Pathé Tuschinski.

Because Ted had already been out in the Netherlands for two months, we were expecting the “private showing” experience that you sometimes get when you go to see an old movie in the middle of the afternoon.  This was not the case.  The theater was PACKED.  Not only was the theater nearly full, but there we a large number of young children in attendance.  I was curious if their parents had no idea what the movie was about or if they knew and didn’t care.  It’s hard to tell sometimes about what the Dutch consider appropriate and inappropriate for children to see.  Regardless, I’ve seen enough Pixar movies in theaters full of children to know that they add very little to the movie going experience. Ugh.

Beyond the fact that I was in a full auditorium filled with children, I was looking directly at the smallest movie screen that I had ever seen.  In all honesty, I think I’ve been in home theaters with larger screens.  It’s not that we were expecting Ted to be one of the big summer CGI spectaculars that requires a massive screen, but I have to say that I was a little disappointed.  I think I would have been a little ticked off if I had paid the full 10 euro ticket price to see the movie on such a small screen.  Part of the reason that I don’t mind paying what is honestly a very high price to see movies in the theater is because you get an experience that can’t be had at home.  If the screen is tiny, the room is packed, and I’m surrounded by kids, I might as well wait a few months for the DVD.

In the end, I have to say that most of the negative aspects of the Pathé De Munt theater turned out to not really matter once the movie started, but I still can’t give it a five star review.  I’ll be back, but hopefully all of the auditoriums at the Pathé De Munt aren’t the same.  Next on the movie going agenda: Argo.

Bon Iver at Heineken Music Hall

On Tuesday, November 6th, Shari and I attended our first concert here in Holland.  Not knowing what to expect from a Dutch concert, we decided to get there a little early.  That turned out to be a most fortunate decision.

I left the apartment around 6:40 to meet Shari at the Bijlmer Arena Metro station near the venue.  I sauntered out into the typically dark, wet, and cold Amsterdam evening.  I hopped on the train and spent the twenty minute journey trying to stay awake.  I had gotten up quite early that morning, and I was definitely feeing the sleepies coming on.  Arriving at my destination, I was surprised to see such a large group already assembling for the show.  I got off the train and found the wife waiting for me near the exit.  We were planning on getting a bite to eat before the show, but finding so many people already filing into the arena, we decided to skip it and head for the show.  We entered the Heineken Music Hall and I immediately noticed the differences between Dutch shows and American shows.

1.  The crowd was organized, civil, and mostly quiet. (This may be due to the nature of the people that go to Bon Iver Shows.)

2.  I immediately noticed that people were enjoying odd drinks.  Before seeing anyone with a beer, I saw people drinking champagne, coffee, and Sgroppino.

3. The restrooms were SUPER CLEAN and stayed that way throughout the entire show.  No puddles or trash anywhere to be seen.

4.  The food was very Dutch and not so good.

5.  Any purchases in the arena require tokens that must be purchased at kiosks around the venue.  An hour before the show, lines were 3-4 people deep.  Thirty minutes later they were 30-40 people deep.  Get there early!

6.  The venue is all general admission.  There are seats at the rear of the arena and a balcony above.  The rest of the floor is standing room only.  If you are old geezers like Shari and I then you’ll want to get there early to claim a seat or you’ll be standing behind the typically tall Dutchies.

7.  While you can naturally purchase food and drinks along the concourse area outside the arena, I was surprised to see that there were two bars inside the show space on either side of the arena.  Quite convenient to be able to purchase a drink without missing any of the show.

Now on to the show itself.  I like Bon Iver quite a bit, but I must admit, their music can be a little melancholy and has a very strong sedating effect on me.  It sort of hits my like a big cup of Sleepy Time Tea.  Before the show, I was genuinely concerned that I would be spending the night trying to keep my eyes open.  I could not have been more wrong.

The show was absolutely amazing.  From the first song until the end of the encore, I was really impressed by how good these guys are.  Every single song simultaneously sounded exactly like they do the albums yet entirely new.  There was an energy in the live performance that never came across on the albums.  Maybe I was never listening to them loud enough.  There would be moments in each song that were so quite that you could hear someone in the audience clearing their throat and then seconds later you things would be so amped up that you wouldn’t be able to hear your own thoughts.  It was really something to behold.  In fact, I was so captivated by the music that I only pulled out my camera once.  I took about 20 shots in a row and decided to piece them together.  This should give you an idea of how dynamic Bon Iver can really be.  Absolutely magnificent.

Wings and Things II

So, after a long search, I came upon a local source for my precious American hot sauces.  I found EICHHOLTZ!!!

Overlooking this place many times, I found a site online that suggested they might have what I wanted.  Eichholtz specializes in American and British foods that can’t be found elsewhere in the Netherlands.  This had to be what I was looking for.  This place had to be the answer to my wishes!

Upon entering, I was blown away by the selection.  It was like walking into a tiny American grocery store.  Kraft Mac & Cheese, a cornucopia of Jello flavors, Jif Peanut Butter (Crunchy and Creamy!), all sorts Kellogg’s Cereals, KC Masterpiece BBQ Sauce, and a modest section dedicated to of all of my favorite hot sauces!  Heaven… Louisiana, Texas Pete, Crystal, a plethora of Tabasco varieties, and a small row of tiny Frank’s Red Hot Sauce bottles.  Eureka!  I’d hit gold… or so I thought.

In an attempt to ensure myself that I had not happened upon a mirage in this mighty Dutch food desert, I picked up a bottle of Louisiana Hot Sauce.  It was real enough, but what was this?  Could this be right?  Could they really be charging eight euros for a $1.15 bottle of hot sauce?  That’s more than ten dollars.  That’s almost a 1000% mark up!  All along I had thought I was in a food shop and not at the snack counter at my local multiplex.   Surely someone had mislabeled this single bottle of hot sauce. Upon further inspection I found that almost everything in this tiny shop was marked up beyond belief.  It’s not that I didn’t expect to pay a premium for food imported from the US, but this was not going to work.  I was desperate, but I’m not stupid.  There was no way I was going to pay that price.  No.

So the hunt went on.  Remembering what I used to do in the US when I had a taste for Chicago style giardinera, I gave Amazon.com a look.  In Holland we can’t use the US site, but we had used the UK site before, so I gave it a try.  Sure enough, they had exactly what I was looking for.  Frank’s Red Hot Sauce!  Individual bottles, three packs, and even a one gallon jug of the stuff.  Now we were in business.  The prices weren’t great, but good enough.  Seven pounds for three 12 oz. bottles of liquid nirvana.  After the sticker shock I experienced at Eichholtz, I had no problem dropping the cash.

Three days later, I was roused from my slumber by a buzz on the intercom.  It was here!  I dashed out of bed like a kid on Christmas morning, slapped the button to buzz up the delivery guy, and sprinted downstairs to receive my prize.  I tore through the no frustration packaging and opened a bottle.  One sniff and I knew that my odyssey nearly over.  I immediately set off for the local market to get the ingredients I would need to finish my quest for my hot wing dinner.

Not wanting to dine on wings alone, I waited for the wife to return from work.  I presented her with the following:

One steakhouse style wedge salad with BACON, homemade Blue Cheese Dressin’, and five perfect American Style Buffalo Wings.  In no way was this a fancy Haute Cuisine meal, but it was absolutely perfect.  Best homemade meal I’ve eaten since I’ve been here, no contest.