Sunday, March 29, 2015

March -- End

  • Guess what???  The money from the taxi company in Amsterdam came through yesterday!!!  My bank charged a fee to administer the transaction, so we ended up with about 56 CAD from 50 Euro but hey, we got the majority of it back.  Impressed with their integrity -- Staxi bv -- And have told them so in my follow up email.  I was torn as to whether to ask what happened with our driver.  In the end I didn't.  I hope it didn't cost his license.
  • I dropped D off at the airport a couple of days ago as he is spending 2 weeks out west working remote and trying out skiing for the first time since he hurt his back.  He has already gotten back on his bike with good results.  Fingers crossed the same will happen on skis.  (Update:  Day 1 skiing went great!  Sore legs but no issue with back!)
  • I was supposed to go for one of the weeks but something has come up with work and I need to be here.  This was supposed to be year I learn how to snowboard (4 day adult snowboarding camp) and will be the 3rd time I've had to change this poor flight.  Fortunate for me, Westjet only charges $75 each time.
  • It's interesting how different missing someone feels when you are the one "left behind" versus being the one doing the leaving and wishing they were there.  I find it harder. 
  • New office is starting to feel normal.  There may be a potential issue with parking.
  • My laptop is dying a slow death.  Now the touch pad is starting to malfunction on a semi-regular basis, requiring the use of a mouse.  Been slowly starting to look at a replacement but have been disappointed with what I've seen thus far.  I was hoping to find something new which weighed 50% less and costs $200 less...Not realistic...
  • D unfortunately couldn't save his iPod with a new battery. 
  • Saw this documentary recently -- Stunning scenery, captured my attention right from the start.
  • Managed to score a good deal on a new pair of winter boots to replace my current pair that has developed an irritating problem.   I don't know about you, but trying to find something that can seriously function in cold weather but doesn't look like I am planning to travel to the moon has been challenging.  Ditto with respect to sandals I can wear with a skirt but also walk/lightly hike in all day.  
  • Congratulations to those who recognized the iconic skyline from my last post.  I had been wanting to see the HSBC building ever since it graced the cover of Architectural Digest back when I was in high school.  Yes, it has taken a few decades but I still remember the day when my architectural drafting teacher brought the issue to class.  By the way, I was not at all impressed with the nightly light show.  Left after barely a few minutes.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

AMS Revisited

It seemed to us there were lots of changes in Amsterdam in the 3 years since we last visited.  Our Feb trip was our 3rd time.

The first indication was at breakfast on arrival.  The bakery cafe no longer accepted cash -- Only credit cards with a PIN.  We noticed through the week, many establishments, including supermarkets, have gone that way as well.   So we ended up with cash left over.  If you have a credit card that charges a foreign transaction fee on top of a foreign exchange fee, it can add up.

We also noticed the price increase -- A coffee, small freshly squeezed orange juice, 3 pastries came to 24 CAD.  Nowhere near big city Norway prices (would be double) but high for what we remembered from Amsterdam.  Perhaps along the same line, we noticed a great number of Teslas and other high end cars on the road.

When I inquired about the changes to payment options, I was told that it was considered safer and more hygienic for workers not to manage cash.  There seemed to be more emphasis on employee personal safety this time around, although we didn't notice any increased feelings of uneasiness around the city.   

Another thing was that 1 and 2 cent Euro coins were no longer accepted.  Found that out the hard way when I paid for the use of a washroom at a mall with change and was abruptly scolded.  How was I to know?  It is legal money after all.  Apparently it saves banks millions a year not having to process small coins...

A new venture started just days before our arrival in west Amsterdam called De Hallen.  Super artsy concept and food.  This was our neighbourhood the first 2 visits.  We think they have a real winner here.

We took our first canal cruise and really enjoyed it.  Recommend going on the last one of the day so you can watch the light change over the water as you go.  Makes it more magical.

D "manned up" and finally ate a raw pickled herring sandwich.  He had been working up to it every visit but couldn't do it until this year.  Actually thought it wasn't bad.  He may go for the sliced version, straight up next time.

Iberico ham, spanish tapas, Argentinian food were noticeably well represented.  There seemed to be more chain style restaurants (not fast food) too.  Ate lots of Iberico ham (made me miss Barcelona very much), freshly made Stroopwafels and poffertjes -- Will never go for the packaged kind again after that...

We stayed in a new to us neighbourhood this time around -- De Pijp -- Vibrant and trendy (for Amsterdam).  Would for sure stay around there again.   We don't go to Amsterdam for the food (sorry if I offended anyone) but for the atmosphere.

I almost knocked over a cyclist while walking along a typically narrow road (I apologized profusely).  It took a couple of days before I stopped using my ears.  Bikes can be incredibly silent.  I think I had become so used to noise in all the other countries I'd recently been to and assumed I would hear any signs of impending doom...

Last week, I heard back from a representative of the taxi company I sent my note to about the fare to the airport being charged twice.  She apologize for the experience we had with their driver and offered to transfer the 50 Euro back to us.

I was away and couldn't get the banking info back to her until recently so we will wait and see.  International money transfers out of Canada are a pain in the behind, takes weeks and costs around $35.

Hopefully their system sending it to us is more straight forward.  I cut and pasted my bank's instructions in hopes it will make sense to them.  Either way, I am pleased with the integrity the company has shown.  I wish I had the contact info of the fellow we rode with so I could tell him of the response.

 Our apartment door required 3 keys and they all looked like these.

Lining up for fries...

Huge claws on him.

Found our favourite dutch apple pie -- Cafe Papeneiland.
Fuzzy picture -- Too excited to dig in to re-take.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015


  • I have set up another savings account just for my volunteer travels to keep things organized as I've been kind of flying by the seat of my pants so far.  I'd like to keep a float of 5K in it for anything that pops up.  
  • D managed to prolong the life of my iPod by installing a new battery.  If you own one of the original ones like I do, note that there are 3 possible replacement batteries, unlike what the Apple site tells you.  We didn't find that out until the first one didn't fit.  Cost of replacement battery is around $15.
  • D also solved my Clarisonic Mia battery issue as well (all part of the Feb everything breaking down all at once event).  You can find videos online on how to replace the rechargeable batteries.  In my case, the contact for one of the batteries became disconnected leaving the other battery too weak to keep the unit working.  I'm so glad I didn't have to replace the unit.  That device has saved me a few hundred dollars a year in previous spa expenditures.
  • Staying on the facial theme for another moment; I'm simplifying my morning routine by using sunblock as my moisturizer, rather than moisturizer plus sunblock which I've found to be too much.  And I've found a really good organic moisturizer which comes with a much lower price tag (Kiss My Face vs. Eminence).  Didn't know they offer a sun line and just ordered more of my current stuff (Vivierskin) but will give it go next.
  • D couldn't save our microwave though.  It saw me through school, so it was time. We are not huge users so have replaced it with a small unit.
  • I'm astounded by just how stubborn some people can be when it comes to personal or professional growth. And I thought I was hard headed.  
  • My mentorship duties officially end this month.  The time has gone by fast.  I think he got a lot out of it -- That's what he tells me.  There has been less resistance to suggestions the last month or so.  I wish him well but don't really want to keep in touch and am systematically weaning the others off as well.  Time to move on to other things.
  • To this day, even though I "win" more than I "lose", it still irritates me when I purchase flights and find that the price drops the next day.  Petty but true.
  • So far, am enjoying the flow of this year.  I don't feel particularly rushed or full of "have to" moments.  It's nice.  The biggest challenge has been not to let my mind dwell on things too far ahead.  We've had to book our summer (and working on Christmas) holidays due to D's work schedule needing much advanced notice and also an appointment for me in the fall that required early planning. 
  • Tired of people who use the phrases "laid back" and "you may not chose to do things the way I do" as an excuse for having far lower standards than generally accepted.
  • My travel budget is slimmer this year due to the addition of extra trips last year.  I don't like the feeling of being restricted but that was the deal I made with myself.  There is way too much temptation.  So if I really really want to go somewhere, I'll have to dig into my points account.
  • Mortgage responsibilities to the bank will be completed this year by the end of Nov.  D's super excited about it.  He will concentrate on ridding the rest of the new car loan after that.  I'll continue paying $300 monthly towards it until that time and will probably top it up so that it can be done by Dec '16.
  • D still has contribution room in his RSP from previous years of work.  I've been putting 15K yearly towards it the last couple of years to help fill it faster.  Once the mortgage is done, half of what he had been paying will go towards his RSP.  It will likely take up to 3 years to completely fill depending on our level of aggressiveness.  Ditto with the approach to our tax free savings accounts.
  • I've taken more of a back seat with respect to household finances the last few years since I've stopped making mortgage payments.  It has been enjoyable mentally even though our finances are managed as a whole.  I don't miss those years of heavy mortgage pre-payments.  D is anxiously counting down.  
  • My thoughts on full out retirement are changing.  Have been trying to express what I mean in a post but it has stalled.  Am going to have time to think further on it as I have a couple of long flights ahead of me.  

Thursday, March 5, 2015

An Excerpt

...from a post that makes a lot of sense to me.

"...I think much of our fear ironically comes from not accepting the inherent insecurity of our existence. Society tells us the lie that we can create security, that it should in fact be our life’s work.

We buy into this mindset but secretly try to also comprehend that “one day” when all will be taken away from us – even our very consciousness itself. Something in the limited human mind might think we can hide from it, outsmart it, out-save it, out-eat or out-exercise it. I see how our health efforts as well as other “sensible” choices can obscure a desperate denial of mortality. We think if we just do certain things we’ll be kept safe for a little while longer. We’ll stave off the inevitable if we just do everything “right” to keep ourselves perfectly well and secure.

Yet, I don’t choose to live the way I do in order to be perfect or safe. I occasionally make compromises for things I really want to eat. I do “unsafe” (not the same as foolhardy) things all the time. Exiting a helicopter to snowboard a more amazing mountain, I’ll acknowledge, isn’t playing it safe. While I trust my own skill and limits, I also know that to a certain extent I’m taking my life in my hands when I do that. Yet, I have always been drawn to risk. It’s in my fiber. I think it’s part of all of us and what has moved humanity forward in its evolution. (I recognize at the same time that other people’s version of desirable, satisfying risk looks much different than mine.)

A full life is one in which I feel I’m living from my whole human and individual nature. That includes risk of many kinds. And I desire to live (my version of) a full life more than I desire to be completely safe. Security isn’t my aim. Actualization is. My goal isn’t to live to be 100. It’s to compress morbidity and enjoy the biggest life possible in the number of years I’m alive on this planet. I let go of the ultimate outcome in the interest of living well today. I can choose to not do stupid things, but I’m ultimately not in control. I let go of fear in order to function.

There’s a profound and maybe beautiful irony here. Just as our fundamental instinct for survival wants to nail down surety and safety, Life with a capital L obliges us to check our need for absolute security at the door. The truth is, we always exist on the brink. It’s the nature of life itself – a confoundingly complex puzzle of infinite moving parts – ever shifting between creation and destruction. We have the capacity to observe this rhythm, but we’re also fully subject to it. As they say, none of us are going to get out of this game alive.

When we accept this truth, we can let it work within us. We can learn to configure our lives within the fact that we’re finite, that every single day is uncertain. We can live a different life – a more courageous and expansive life in acceptance of that hard reality. Fear of death, just like fear of almost anything, can keep us small. We shirk risk and its rewards for the promise of time that may never come.

While I’m not a believer in the afterlife, that doesn’t mean I don’t feel the significance or weight of the end of life. I tend to lean toward the concept of detachment. The ultimate fear we conquer is the fear of death. To accept our own finiteness is perhaps our final work in this life. The more we cling to ourselves, the more painful the prospect of dying is. The more we identify with a larger context than ourselves, the less suffering, despair or fear we face. We may not be immune to dark thoughts, but we put them in a bigger container.

I think over time we grow into our mortality as we do our maturity. That said, I’ve seen 70- year-olds who grasped desperately to the bitter and fearful end. Likewise, I’ve seen 7-year-olds dying of cancer accept their death with a knowing grace that both stuns and humbles. When we can emotionally as well as intellectually place ourselves within a larger storyline and accept life as the grand primal epic that it is, we find a right place within life – and perhaps make peace with death as a meaningful dimension of it.

Sunday, March 1, 2015


  • We've had a slew of things suddenly need replacing this month.  From a poorly made cell phone case to a kettle.  Hope this cycle has passed for now.
  • Office move imminent.  Am somewhat apprehensive and will likely have to take charge with some issues to get further things done but in the end, probably the better location, probably...Not making a decision (being on the fence about going) wasn't so good for me.  But I had to mentally "get over" a number of things first.  Had certain expectations of how things would be that just isn't going to materialize.
  • The neighbourhood featured in the pictures of Istanbul I posted recently were from the Fener/Balat area (UNESCO).  The row houses may look run down but foreigners have been snapping them up at around 800K a pop and renovating them.  It is an up and coming trendy area.  I saw dozens of photographers taking pictures.
  • I read an article about the ridiculous cost of food in the Canadian North while I was in Yellowknife ironically after finding that the supermarket costs weren't so different from home.  In our far north, it is outrageous.  I've started supporting a local group who is making a difference and want to work with them directly this year.
  • Experienced our first taxi scam.  Can you believe it was in Amsterdam?  After all these years of travel, to countries known for scamming, nothing, until now.  And at the train station, in a city where the concept has never registered with us.  I did take photo of the driver's registration and have sent a note to the company.  They replied and have started an investigation.  I realize it is a "he said she said" situation but wanted to let the company know what happened.
  • I'm noticing what I think are the lower fuel costs having a positive effect on flight prices.  No complaint here.  My frequently flyer strategy has changed in light of the points devaluations started this year for Delta.  I'm looking to pay the least amount to maintain my target status level. 
  • As much as I had been hoping to see the Northern Lights over the years, I noticed that I wasn't as "in to" them as the other travelers I met who had arranged their entire trip around seeing them and slept most of the day so they could be up for hours at night outside with their extensive photography equipment.  Whereas I was the first one up at our B & B and took off as soon as it was light enough.  Didn't know that in Japan, to see them was a good life omen. 
  • One of them invited me to join them on a walk to a viewing point one night.  I went and after about 45 min, I decided I had had enough of just standing there and started to walk back.  Got turned around (new part of town for me, forgot my map) but remembered enough to gage general direction.  
  • Ended up knocking on the door of this art gallery (saw lights and took a chance even though it was around 12:30 am) and met some of the welcoming people ever.  I ended up being offered tea, chocolates and driven back (via the ice road!).  I was heading in the right direction but they insisted of giving me an orientation tour en route.  The next afternoon I stopped by and offered to take them out for lunch as a thank you for their hospitality and ended up staying for tea afterwards.  They told me that in Yellowknife, people help each other and I wasn't the first one who knocked at a late hour to ask about directions.  They love meeting new people.   
  • While I was walking on the ice road one morning, I heard someone ask me if I was warm enough.  It was a man living on a houseboat who maintained the one trail I was walking on.  I told him I was warm and got an invitation to stop by on my way back.  Thought about it and decided I wouldn't go in but would stop and thank him for letting me use the trails.  I knew he was watching me from his window.
  • His houseboat was about 12 ft x 12 ft -- Small bed, desk, cooking area and wood stove.  His boat was out back.  I did stay once my gut told me it was OK and we chatted for a while.  He had been up there since the late 70's and help build many of the buildings in the city.   I sensed a lot of sadness from his past.   On my last morning, we bumped into each other again on the lake and he offered to take me on a snowmobile ride but I was heading to the airport shortly.  
  • The fellow who invited me on the walk (above) was from Hong Kong.   At first he bugged me a bit as he kept knocking on my door to ask questions, when I was looking forward to a quiet reflective trip.  He meant no harm but was a bit nervous as it was his first solo trip, planned 1 1/2 yr ago (friend of his had to bail last minute).  I ended up asking if he wanted to join me on a hike I was doing to an ice cave because it was obvious he really wanted to go.  
  • He is 47 yr old and has been working for his current company for the last 11 yrs and that translated to 1 day off per year of work...He was spending all of it this year in Yellowknife to hopefully capture the Northern Lights.  It was my turn to be speechless.  
  • After I recovered, it was his turn to be shocked when he found out that I take on average 10 weeks off a year.  And my trip had been decided only 3 week prior.  That I would show up without a real camera and actually wanted to walk on a frozen lake (couldn't convince him).  It was he who told me about the night vision app for my phone.