Friday, June 22, 2012

Next

The last 3 weeks haven't been the easiest.  I ended up with the flu the first week back from Amsterdam.  The second week I was exhausted and for the first part of this week, I was plain old tired.  The last couple of days have been much more normal feeling.

I made myself get back to working out 1 1/2 wk ago because I was so sick and tired of being sick and tired and had to do something other than lay there recuperating.  I'm not often under the weather so I don't have much patience for it.  Not having a full tank of gas just plain sucks.
 
Those of you who were wondering if the real MW was kidnapped and replaced by some ghost writer, the truth is I've had more than the usual amount of down time.  Thus the plethora of posts. 

I've never written so many posts about one journey before.  Always knew I had a lot to say but even I surprised myself.  Although I have already written my 'Final Thoughts.." post, I am still remembering things I forgot to include.  Oh well, can't do it all.

I had enough time to finally read the Stieg Larsson trilogy as well as see the corresponding Swedish and American movies.  Normally I much prefer foreign films but I must admit, the first American version (Rooney Mara) did a better job at developing Lisbeth's character while the Swedish version provided a more complete rendition of the story with more striking scenary and colour tones.

It was a nice feeling to be able to recognize a lot of the districts and street names of Stockholm and Sweden mentioned in the book.  Especially in the first one, where there were so many references and location descriptions, it would be disorienting to just read the words and not know where in the city or country the story was taking place.

Ok. Enough whining.  I have to pull myself together because Norway is on deck and the fun begins this weekend.  The fjords will heal me!  The electronics have been charged and I'm 70% packed.  Back in a couple of weeks to tell you all about it.

I leave you with a couple of links I find inspiring...  Paul Ferney's Artist Statement puts a smile on my face.  It's honest, short, sweet and not overly wordy or trying too hard to be smart.  When I saw Sasha Prood's work for the first time and second time and multiple times after, it took and still takes my breath away.  What a talented Woman!

Happy upcoming July 1st to my Canadian Readers and July 4th to my American Readers.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Flight

In a recent post, I mentioned how much I appreciated the new SkyPriority initiative by SkyTeam.  They must be pretty powerful to be able to affect passport security procedures at airports around the world.  I'm so glad my style of traveling works well with this air alliance.

Like a lot of things in life, you have to earn your perks and in this case, you definitely need to continue to travel to get to stay there (yeah, like you have to twist my arm much...).  The program seems to make it easier to stay once you've reached a certain level.  D called it an example of  how "the rich get richer".

Check out this chart and you'll see what he means.  Because of the bonus points you get at the Gold level and up, assuming similar levels of travelling each year (enough to get you there in the first place), it is virtually impossible not to maintain status. 

It is jumping to the next level that requires extra or extraordinary effort as I like to put it.  I would have to quit working to be able to have enough time to travel often enough for Diamond status.  Even then, I question whether my body would be able to physically handle it all.  Those 12 - 14 hr travel days have simultaneously gotten easier (by the above) and harder (the dead airplane air, the awful food, the sustained seated postures etc).

We have started to take more notice of the type of planes we fly in now.  Previously it wasn't an issue but we are getting to know the ones we like (A330s) and the ones that may sound cool historically (747s) but have the narrowest amount of leg room even for someone like me (I'm not a big girl).  Seeing D who is almost 6 ft 1" get into the same seat, and he prefers the window, can be a bit hilarious.  Thus the upgrading to economy comfort. 

A plane that has a 2-4-2 seating arrangement is more spacious than the 3-4-3.  I'm finding it harder and harder to sit in 3 seaters (usually 747s or 777s).  As I prefer the aisle seat, you may find yourself interrupted often.  During a night flight, when you are trying to sleep, it can get bothersome, especially when I have to unwrap myself from the blankets and remove my noise cancelling headset etc.  (yes, I'm sure I'm a sight to behold) You will need to upgrade to get to the 2 seaters.  On short flights, less than 4 hrs, I don't care what type of plane.  Those flights are over in a blink for me now.

My goal is to maintain Gold status until I no longer wish to travel as often anymore.  Once I start adding Asia to my list of destinations, I may even hit Platinum status without having to breath too hard.  To solidify the Medallion status for the year, I've needed to add one more trip to this year's travel roster. 

It will be a real eye opening one as it hits a couple of gorgeous places I've wanted to visit for a long time but are tougher to get to -- Cinque Terre and the Amalfi Coast.  My point of entry will be Barcelona as I had been yearning to return to La Boqueria ever since I first stepped foot into the market 6 years ago.  I plan to hit the Tapas bars with enthusiasm.  There's not a whole lot of time to get my Spanish on, but I have some ancient looking cheat sheets I made up years ago somewhere in my travel box. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Final Thoughts AMS & MUC

By all means go to the Red Light District if you want to see it.  During the day, it is pretty unremarkable.  The women working looked tired to us and uninterested.  Their outfits were meant to shine fluorescent under black light so in the day it looks bland.  The age of the women surprised us.  I think we were expecting much younger.  We also had to wonder how many people fall in the canal there at night after a few drinks as it was barrier free.

What about the drugs you ask?  Again, you may get a whiff of weed as you pass a 'coffee shop' but most of the time we didn't.  The people we were able to see inside looked pretty laid back, which is the point.  In the 2 times we were in Amsterdam, we've seen maybe 2 -3 people walk not too straight who smelled like they had partaken.  Stoned people are really quiet unlike some drunk people...

Our temporary neighbourhood had their own daily outdoor market.  You could not only buy fruits and vegetables but also household items as well.  There were some prepared food stalls.  The thing that struck us about the set up was the chaotic feel of it. 

People jostled and you had to be assertive to even pay for your food.  After standing there with money in hand to buy 3 melons, waiting to make eye contact, I had to walk around, wave my money before someone took it.  I didn't notice anyone do this, but it would have been easy to walk off without payment because no one took notice of you.

The presentation of the market was 'rougher'.  We are used to seeing beautifully organized fruits etc in France and Germany.  Here, it was just laid out.  The aesthetic appeal wasn't there.  It was purely functional, which is fine.  Kinda like the food we ate in Munich.

In the Viktualienmarkt (Munich), there were a few places you can buy homemade spicy kosher pickles.  I can only say be careful!  The ones we bought when I bit into it, sent a shock through my teeth!  It felt like I was chewing tin foil on a tooth with a filling! 

D kept laughing because I would say 'Ow' each time I bit into a piece.  Once I swallowed it was fine.  He calls them electro pickles and of course they don't bother him.  My teeth checked out fine at my last dental appointment so I don't know what's going on. 

I'm jumping all around the place here... 

Because the owner of the apartment in Amsterdam was a writer, she provided a good collection of books.   I read two of them:  The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera and Four Souls by Louise Erdrich.  Neither of them were what I would call light or happy reading but if you like delving into the psychology of motivation, give them a go.

Amsterdam does a bang up job with its underground garbage/recycling containers and removal system.  There isn't door to door garbage collection like we have at home.  I'm not going to elaborate on it, it is something to witness in person.

If anyone is thinking of going into the import/export business in Europe, I would suggest they consider importing old bikes into Munich because you'd make a killing.  We saw rusty old granny bikes for sale at 400 Euro! 

Comparatively, we saw very regular (almost Ikea like) furniture for sale in Amsterdam for ridiculous prices ie. put together yourself not real wood chair for 85 Euro!  Yes, this stuff got me all worked up. 


My preferred brand of Slagroom. 
I will not fess up to the total amount consumed...


There was nothing really remarkable about our Munich apartment.
So the only thing I have to offer is a quick sketch of a potted plant
done while D was finishing up his morning coffee.

I am working on a future post about our experiences with apartment rentals in Europe.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Amsterdam Travel Tips

  • From a logistics perspective, you cannot get it much easier than Amsterdam Schiphol Airport.  Once you make it to the main gathering area, it is an easy (15 min) and inexpensive train (under 5 Euro) ride into the heart of Amsterdam, Centraal Station.
  • The train station area at Schiphol is a mini mall as well, with restaurants and actually useful shops.  D particularly likes the airplane shop (not an example of useful) with its real KLM airplane landing gear in front. 
  • We prefer connecting via Amsterdam compared to the other major hubs in Europe like London, Paris or Rome.  Passport control is relatively pain free depending on the time you land.  There are supposed to be lines but it ends up being a big mass of people all over the place.  That has changed as SkyTeam has been introducing their SkyPriority Line of services.  We flew via Paris to Munich and got a chance to experience it and it was fabulous.  I will be maintaining my status level in order to keep this perk. 
  • There is a mini extension of the Rijksmuseum on the second floor of the airport.  They were featuring floral paintings this time. 
  • If it is your first time at this airport, it may seem unorganized.  In North America, we are used to big signs and symbols pointing the way.  You won't get that here.  But, you can only go one way to get out of gate area. 
  • Amsterdam canals are concentric and streets and city districts are built to work with them.  The first time I saw a map of the city, I decided I was going to have to get used to being lost.  As it happens I found it not to be difficult at all.  Everything seems to bring to you back to the center, just like the airport.
  • Most shops are closed on Sundays and a lot of them are closed Mondays.
  • I love seeing all the different things you can buy at various supermarkets around the world.  Amsterdam has great meat.  You can buy freshly ground jalapeno pepper burgers and many different types of marinated meats.  I found prices to be fairly inexpensive.
  • If you are into walking, this is one of the more perfect cities for it.  The views are beautiful.  It can be so quiet and romantic.
  • In contrast, the Leidsplein area is very touristy with frequent bad busker music. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Generational Humour

I am interrupting my travel posts marathon because a funny thing happened the other day at work. 

Clients of mine who are in their 80's got talking about a family member who just opened a clinic up north as a Nurse Practitioner.  I commented on how smart that career choice was considering the need for medical care up north and the lack of Family Doctors plaguing Canada. 

Somehow that morphed into how old I was and how many more years I have left to work before I can start collecting my work pension. 

I don't get a work pension. 

For some reason, they believed all health care workers because of our Universal Health Care system in Canada got government pensions.  That's why they thought I could afford to work part time!? 

When I told them outside of nurses working for a hospital (unionized), teachers, fire fighters, police officers, government workers, some businesses, most people do not get pensions at all.

You mean you have to save up for your own retirement, like rrsps?

Yes!

OMG, the outrage that poured out of this lovely couple.  They were indignant that I did not receive a pension.  No wonder we are losing so many health care workers to the States!   I believe they were ready to get a petition and rally going on my behalf.

Why, there are many other things you could have done that wouldn't have involved as much education that pays more and pays a pension!

Er, I'm not as sure about that.

The husband of the couple is a retired professor and his wife, like many of her generation did not have a career. They have a pretty comfortable life.

What does your husband do?  (she asks)

I tell her.

Oh, you'll be alright then dear...

Yes, I think I will be.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

AMS Cont'd

Amsterdam is one of those cities whose reputation precedes it.  For us, it drew us in, again, not out.  Munich drew us out and we found we couldn't spend enough time outside whereas Amsterdam is great in doses and we were happy to wind our way either east or west of the center to get back "home" again.  It's not a negative thing.

People are drawn there for various reasons.  Looking at the walls of people coming out of Centraal Station, there is an expectancy in their faces.  Maybe the city will thrill them in the way they've imagined?  The energy of this particular city at least in the core, is very influenced by travellers.  To feel what the city is for its residents, go around and outside of the core.

We like the Oud West area.  It is residential and a pleasant stroll to the main canals.  My favourite corner and houseboat is located at Elandsgracht and Princengracht.  Plus it is only a short walk to Winkel, where you can find some yummy dutch apple pie. 

Being we like to stay in less touristic areas, we don't bump into too many tourists nor do we hear English.  I was on mental autopilot one afternoon at our neighbourhood grocery store and I thought I was being asked if I wanted a receipt or not (you don't automatically get one). 

So I said no and the cashier just stopped and stared at me.  Then I realized she must have asked me if I had the correct change so I said yes and started rummaging through my purse.  Then she asked me something else and by that time my brain had ceased to process anymore dutch and English wasn't getting spoken by either party so I paid and left.  It was our last day of the trip so I took it as a sign it was time to come home.


We had a ground level apartment with a back yard. 
Outdoor living spaces in Europe are a big deal.



My favourite houseboat.
Should I happen to come across a few million, I would buy one.


On our way to our favourite square to people watch.


I would love one of these houses too. 
It's pretty cool the ground floor has been gutted to be a garage.


We got to witness moving day at the start of the month.
Those steel things at the top of the buildings are for pulleys.
People were hauling couches etc. up to top floor apartments. 
Pretty cool to witness.




Cannot imagine how fun it would be to go to univerity there.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Rijksmuseum

The Rijksmuseum is still under renovations and they are saying it will fully be open in 2013.  We were in the area looking for canal.nl, a company that offers paddle boats (canal bikes) for rent after seeing a few along the Prinsengracht the day before.  The boats ended up looking a bit gross so I passed and we decided to go across the street to see what was showing at the museum.

The open gallery area is over 2 floors and tickets are at a reduced price (14 Euro) because of it.  We were fortunate there were no lines as the small space could definitely be a problem if there were school groups.  It took us barely over 1/2 hr to see all the works.  You are allowed to take pictures as long as you do not use a flash.  A lot of the paintings had what looked like a Plexiglas overlay.

After our visit, we stumbled upon a photography exhibit by Daido Moriyama.  The prints were the size of whole walls!  The grainliness made the photos look much older, as if he was using a manual camera.












Friday, June 8, 2012

Welcome to Amsterdam!

I thought I wrote a review of Amsterdam last year when we rented a houseboat there.  But after searching frustratingly for it (I apologize for all the vague subject labels in blog version 1.0...will endeavor to improve from now on), I only found pictures.  So I must have wrote it up in a dream or something.

We both loved Amsterdam last year.  It isn't all drugs and hookers.  They make up such a minute part of the city, it's almost laughable.  You'd be surprised at how many young families there are.

You'd also be surprised with how most people ride around in granny bikes (one gear only) with an infant in the mini seat attached to the handle bars and a larger kid in another attached seat behind Mom/Dad, all without helmets.  Or the number of families teaching their young to ride along busy, busy streets wobbling away, 3 across. 

You wouldn't find that happening around here.  We are so safety minded in NA, we'd likely judge those parents as incompetent.  But in Europe, it works.  We've only seen one accident involving a tram and a cyclist.  The cyclist was in error.

Cyclists in Amsterdam have a bit of a God Complex.  They will ignore traffic signals and will tear around corners without slowing down.  It takes a couple of streets to get into the groove as a pedestrian.  In reality they can be more dangerous than cars as they can be silent.

Most will ring their bells but when bikes from both directions are, you will have to figure out who and why they are ringing.  Plus their traffic lights aren't always the same frequency as automobiles so you really do need to look.  D's parents will be heading to Amsterdam this summer (first trip to Europe) and he is worried for their lives.

We arrived on the eve of a long weekend and the number of people there were staggering.  In hindsight, it was very much like game weekend in Munich.  It caught us off guard as we remembered the quiet slow serene Amsterdam that we fell in love with.  Both of us wondered if we'd still feel that way after a week of trying to weed our way through aimless crowds.  Luckily after the long weekend, it mostly reverted back to what we knew.

After stopping for fries at Manneken Pis (not the best, in my opinion, Vlaamse Frites further down the Damrak is better) we weeded our way towards our apartment.  Then it happened.  We took a side road to get away from all the people who were slowing us down too much and ended up at what I believed to be a known intersection.  D felt we should turn left and I felt we needed to turn right. 

For about a minute, we were 'that couple' you see arguing at a street corner, maps out, pointing in opposite directions with people giving us a wide berth.  Normally I get deadly calm when I engage in debates but when you add heat (it was really warm that day), having travelled for 7 hrs already and maybe a bit of dehydration, my patience just evaporates, especially when it was looking like we were running late.  And I hate being late.

And when D gets that certain 'tone' in his voice, somewhere between condescending and know it all, I start raising my voice (how dare he?!).  He actually accused me of suffering from 'pork deprevation' and 'I would be happy to admit I was wrong if I was' (crap).

So I bring out the you 'half German half Scottish bull head' (yes we resorted to name calling).  'I may not be able to locate an airport from the air but I know my street maps.  I think all the beer you drank in Munich killed one too many brain cells...I'm not going to keep standing here looking like an idiot.  I'm going this way.  If the next street is Overtoom, then it's the right way, if not then you are right.'  So with a defiant look, D followed.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Munich Travel Tips

  • There are 2 train lines from the airport to the main train station.  Get on either one.  The time difference between the 2 are just a handful of minutes so don't sweat it.  It will take about 45 min each way. 
  • Get your ticket at a counter as the automated ticket machines were a pain (very un-German) for us.  It took longer for me to buy 2 tickets than it would have had we just got into the line.  Note the tickets we got out of the machine were too wide for the validation machine so we took a chance and got on the train.  You are Always supposed to validate tickets as checks occur randomly and they will fine on the spot.  We didn't get caught and next time I would try folding it and sticking it in and hope it doesn't get stuck.  Otherwise I have no other ideas for you.
  • The ticketing area for the train station in Munich is not intuitive.  It is located on the far right side (if you are facing the station), to the right of the info counter (which won't face you), in its own boxed in area.  You have to take a numbered ticket and wait until your number shows up on the screen which will direct you to a counter.
  • This was our second visit to Germany, first was Berlin.  And we are starting to see the same trend.  We don't think Germans cook much in the cities.  It is near impossible to find supermarkets.  We love markets but it is handy to be able to pop into a supermarkets for stuff like water and snacks.  You are probably thinking 'how could she have room for snacks when it looks like she eats like a pig?'  To which I answer, 'there is always room for snacks', especially when they are pepperoni (spicy pepper) potato chips.  The best I've ever eaten.
  • It is also near impossible to find chicken or beef in Munich.  Pork rules.  I finally found a stall in the market that sold chicken a week after we arrived.  Duck is found on some menus as well and it was good.
  • We found the tap water to taste too much like water softener for our liking.  So we existed on sparkling mineral water.  Best deal in town, at 39 cents for 1.5L.  No way we could buy that at home.  If we were to buy still mineral water, it would have cost 19 cents.  Crazy cheap.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Spargel

So what is the deal with Spargel (white asparagus) found all over the place in markets and little market stalls?  After seeing my 7th stall, I had to know.  So after lunch I decided I would find out more and buy some of this precious produce.  There were signs telling people not to touch/handle/choose/pick.  It was selling for 7 euro/kg.

We lucked out and ended up at a market table looking at apricots.  After I bought said apricots, I asked to buy some spargel.  There were 4 prices.  The newest most beautiful and long fresh crop, the next group which has been harvested a few days ago (still looked great to me...), the somewhat shorter next group as the drying ends have been cut off and the last group of mostly half lengths.

The spargel are handled liked newborn babies.  Their ends are lovingly wrapped in a damp cloth, away from the sun and proudly displayed in boxes partially covered with a light clear plastic wrap.

White asparagus aren't common found in our area.  We have loads of the green type currently in season.  Ironically green asparagus is a novelty in Munich and demands a crazy price because of its rareness -- 12 Euros and up per kilo. 

The lady we spoke with (in English, after our broken German broke down) turned out to be from Chicago originally.  Migrant workers from Romania and Poland mostly do the work of harvesting.  It is quite a skill as the asparagus is buried with troughs on either side.  The spargel is prized for it flawlessness. 

She shared with us her secret cooking method.  After peeling them, bake (not boil) with butter, salt and pepper, cover with tin foil.  We modified by using olive oil, a frying pan and lid.  Our spargel melted in our mouths like butter.  It was delicious.  So much so we went back the next day and the day after and the day after that to tell her so.   Unfortunately we never found her again. 

We are now hooked on the white asparagus.  When our trip moved on to Amsterdam, I can tell you that the native Holland spargel does not come close to the German handling or quality.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Ins & Outs of the Biergarten

So what are Biergartens and Bier halls?  They are indoor and outdoor spaces full of seating (mostly picnic style tables with movable benches) for people to gather to drink and eat.  There are lots of staff dressed in traditional clothing to welcome you and take your order. 

There is no pressure to eat or drink lots but of course we did it anyways.  Some halls come with their own bavarian band.  Though I have to admit, of the ones we heard, the playing wasn't so good.  It probably sounded better the more you drink.  It was fun to cheer along with everyone. 

The biergartens open from mid May to end of Sept.  The other times of the year, you retreat to the warm atmosphere of the indoor halls which varies dramatically.  Beer halls are an extension of the brewing company. 

People choose their favourite spot based on the beer they like, not necessarily on locale.  Many are located in ancient stone buildings.  As I had said before, they serve good food, even though what shows up on your plate may not look that good.  The tastes continued to surprise us.  Not all the beer halls have english menus.

In the spring, you get to enjoy your beverage under the shade of blooming chestnut trees.  Thus the need for stein lids.  If it is a busy time, you just take an open seat and greet everybody.  It wasn't busy at our first stop.  It is much more fun when it is, like the first picture from yesterday. 

A couple of other pictures I posted were of a tunnel and a brilliant green forest view during our walk to our first biergarten (one of 4) located at the Englischer Garten.  Hard to believe shortly after exiting the uber modern tunnel, you are greeted with such lush surroundings. 












Monday, June 4, 2012

Munich in Pictures


Mini Biergarten in Viktualienmarkt.  Very pleasant hum of contentment.


There are so many types of pork products we had
to use this market bag to bone up on our smoked meats vocab.


Typical bill from our favourite meat shop, pictured 2 below.
We bought bacon, smoked pork loin and the German version of prosciutto.



The choices were bewildering.





Spargel, or asparagus, especially the white ones, are highly valued. 
I'll share our spargel story in another post.


When I decided I simply couldn't leave Munich without enjoying a
slice of black forest cake, it was the beginning of the end
for my dietary restrictions...notice the mutilated container of
whipped cream...I had gotten to it before D suggested I take a picture.
And that isn't beer I'm drinking.  It is my apfelschorle
which has the surprising consistency and temperature of beer.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Munich: First Impressions

Munich was a huge surprise for me.  My expectations weren't very high because of its image associated with Oktoberfest and being pretty much a non drinker (especially beer).  I figured I would just be wandering the city on my own, looking at architecture and galleries after my first and last biergarten experience with D.  I know how it feels to be the non drinker at a party full of drinkers.

Imagine my surprise when I became the one looking up the locations of the top biergartens and wanting to go because of their menus!  Yes, they serve some great food and we have never eaten so much pork in our lives than that week.  Munich draws you out and we barely cooked at all.  Who knew that bier halls and gartens do cater to us non drinkers.  My favourites were johannisbeere (blackcurrent/cassis) and apfel (apple) schorles.  Sure, it cost the same price as beer...

Our first sign of things to come was on the train from Munich flughafen (airport) to the hauptbahnhof (central station).  When we started passing a number of posters about an upcoming football game (soccer) the first Sat of our trip between fc Chelsea and Bayern Munich (Champions League Final), we knew we were going to be walking into some fun.  Football is huge in most of the world except North America and the fans did not disappoint.  

Here is D's first attempt to use the video function on his camera.  Enjoy but excuse the extreme amateur-ness.  At no time did we feel unsafe.  Team supporters were very spirited but under control.  Even on a big game weekend, we never saw people wandering around or passed out drunk.  Their alcohol culture is very different from NA, more relaxed, without the drink just to get pissed drunk ideology.  It just took a long to time get to places in the core, that's all.  (game day, May 19, 2012  location Marienplatz, on our way to lunch)


video

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Food First

Catching up after being away for a couple of weeks now involves syncing my Blackberry with my computer and in some cases, re-entering log in information and passwords.  It takes an hour or so before everything is 'normal' again.  Actually I look forward to it.  It's strangely comforting.  I know you already know I'm a bit different...

Because I travelled with my tablet this occasion, I had to change country designations on various sites in order to check banking and get proper pricing info which means my home laptop needs me to verify I am really who I am.  Yes, I did end up booking a trip while I was gone.  More on that later.

I also look to see if my flight points got posted -- They did and I can fly to Europe for just fees very very soon.  Any online holds at our local library gets taken off.  Been keeping an eye on the Norway Boat Pilot strikes and am happy to report they have been called off last night.  My voyage up there is coming up fast.

I'll post some pictures and feedback about our trip very soon.  It was a great time with some surprises.  We have to get some fresh food in our fridge pronto first.  It's good to be away and it is also super to be back.  I've missed you all and writing.