Saturday, December 30, 2006

Random thoughts

There are so many lucid thoughts crowding inside my head right now that I would love to write about. And I mean write in this blog. WARNING, LONG POST AHEAD (as usual, lol).

Like, what am I actually thinking right now?

Hmm, let’s see... at this very moment, I am thinking about work. Yeah. Seriously.

As the clock ticks away slowly, the amount of work next week waiting for me just keeps piling up. Quite amazing, the rest of the world is actually still working?! *gasp*

The emails just came pouring in non-stop during the holidays. I know. I should have punched myself for checking them religiously. What can I do, I can’t help it. I have a disorder. I must take a peek into my inbox, ARGH. Can you relate? I told myself to keep my hands off from the ‘reply’ tab and get back to them emails on January 2.

I have also booked my flight to the US for work next year. Wait, let me correct that, next year is next month. No, next week! Oh my, time does fly so fast these days; it just seemed like yesterday was June, when it was my birthday. Another year to add; I am so truly getting old.

Will my Dutch mobile phone work in the US? I don’t even know if this is a tri-band phone?

And, there’s the crazy weather I am wondering about.

Mother Nature has been acting really strange lately. How can this be possible - temperatures above 10C during the day in December? The forecast seems to be worse.

What’s going to happen to our scheduled winter sport holiday in Austria?

There’s very little snow in the Alps right now. It was just on the Dutch news tonight that the ski resorts are not happy at all. They are panicking, and are now on their knees bowing frantically towards the horizon and chanting the promise of snow. I also received an email from an American blog acquaintance living in Austria that it has been a green Christmas there.

Where have all the snow gone anyway?

Dutchman kept saying, soon, soon, we will book our ski trip. He has been quite busy actually, surfing the internet for ski resorts and chalets, but truthfully, he is just waiting for the right timing. A last minute booking-trip when the snow falls. The daunting question: Will it ever fall?

Although I haven’t filed my vacation leave for this ski trip just yet, my boss knows about it.

I am thinking about tomorrow too.

Dutchman and I are going to Arnhem. I am looking forward to some Dutch cultural year-end immersion. The unfortunate Dutchman loathed the idea of another Dutch civilizing event. Poor him, since the let down last week with the German Christmas Markets, he is left without a choice. This is what I call ‘compensation time’.

For those of you who don’t know where Arnhem is, it is located in the east of the Netherlands, nearby the German border.

I hope we wake up early tomorrow though.

The sun shone by the way today. The Dutchman was flipped over when he came into the living room and saw the glaring light and the clear blue skies outside the window. He demanded why I didn’t wake him up early? Eh, huh? Like as if he is the easiest person to wake up. I would need a full bucket of cold water.

I’ve been meaning to try some appelbol [apple ball] earlier of the day too. That’s why after we did the grocery shopping, I invited the Dutchman to go to the Centrum and have tea at Graaf Floris Café in the Vismarkt area near the Dom Church.

When we arrived the place was full. There were a couple of people waiting before us too. The waitress, although being polite, couldn’t give us a reassurance of a table being freed in 5 minutes. Helaas then... We slowly retreated outside, walking towards the Oudegracht, to our normal hang-out, the Le Café Journal by the Neude Square.

My taste buds are still aching for some appelbol.

I also thought about the subject of dying --- I know... that it’s a morbid thought. You’d say, why would someone actually think about this?

The fact remains that, people actually do. People think about death. They think and wonder about dying. Perhaps, people just don’t talk about it. Like it’s all that taboo.

A few days ago, I had this discussion on the net with an old classmate from university who is now living in Perth, Australia. She is divorced with a son and is truly enjoying her single life. Nothing exaggerated; she is very mucho enjoying, wanton and all. She’s dating men and if you check out her picture, you would conclude without thinking twice that she can date any man she wants. She reads this blog by the way.

Well, Miss Oz said she doesn’t see herself getting old. So why would she worry about pension. We had a discussion going about pension and other types of getting old benefits; the kind of discussion when middle aged people are suddenly hit hard with reality. They wake up from their deep slumber and learned to deal with life’s vicious cycle of uncertainties.

I told her that if she doesn’t arrange her own personal pension plan and set aside some savings, the pension the government will be giving her monthly after the age of 65 would be nothing. She will live a very basic life; a basic life that would equal to poverty.

But, right. Why would she have to worry when she thinks she will die young?

I don’t know though. The thought of her dying young sends shivers down my spine? But I applaud her readiness to face death and her contentment in life.

Speaking of which --- Saddam Hussein will be put to death in a few hours.

I thought that the best verdict for someone like him is ‘life sentence’ in jail. Let him rot behind the bars. With that, he is faced and tormented daily by his failures, and at the depth of his fall.

The other night, Dutchman and I were talking about how astronomically huge the universe is. We sat there in our leather sofa, in silence and looked straight ahead, past through the large windows, and into the dark glittering night.

“We are nothing but a speck of dust in the dark universe”, he said.

On the other hand, I wondered about how tourism on earth will be like in a 100 years.

The last 100 years was man’s greatest pride. What took men days, weeks and years to reach the other side of the world - we now, can reach in less than a day. It makes me wonder if 100 years from now... instead of airports, are we going to have ‘space(shuttle)ports’ to other planets?

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Spoorwegmuseum in Utrecht

After the 2 days of Christmas, we were faced with a challenging situation: We need to find a way to entertain the 3 little feral musketeers visiting us, so Dutchman thought of a nice plan – bring them to the Spoorwegmuseum [Railway Museum] and let them go wild!

The 3 little musketeers - just looking at their faces, you would know babysitting them is a real daunting task.

This foto was taken in the tram station, just a few minutes after we decided to go by car because it’s faster and convenient for the 7 of us. When going to the city center, we always take the tram, or we bike, and sometimes when the weather permits, we walk. However, the problem is, the museum sits in a nicely tucked pocket in town that taking the tram and bus would be a waste of time and energy. We just realized.
Spoorwegmuseum [Railway Museum] Entrance Prices:

Adults - € 13.50
Children - € 10.50 (3-12 years old; under 3 is gratis)
Senior Citizen - € 12.00
Museum Cardholders – Gratis

The Railway Museum is chiefly designed for the children. The themes and activities available in the museum are geared for the kiddie public, although for us adults, I must admit, I had a very nice experience in there. What more if you are a train fanatic.

So anywho, here it goes, I will flood this blog again with pictures!!!

Right, BUT, be rest assured that your computer won’t freeze. I know all you people are so damn impatient (just like me and everyone else, lol), so tadaaah... I made the foto bytes smaller. See, I am actually being nice now to everyone.

The Maliebaanstation in Spoorwegmuseum Utrecht designed in late 1800’s style. The next foto is one of the earliest forms of railway transportation adaption.
You cannot miss the saccharine indulgence of the kids - ‘Poffertjes’.

These tasty goodies are synonymous to ‘windmills’, ‘cheese’, ‘tulips’, ‘dikes’ and ‘wooden shoes in Holland. A children’s park is just not complete without ‘Poffertjes’. I didn’t buy any though.

One of the old cool looking trains staged in the museum; I believe this train serviced the Amsterdam to Rotterdam Maas route during the early 1900’s.

2 pretty locomotives - The left one is heavily bejeweled in Christmassy lights while the right one, which is made in England, was being polished when I took the picture.

Now, who would expect to find a cozy little zoo in the railway museum? We saw goats, sheep and even chickens!

On the left foto is an ice skating rink inside the museum. If you look at the foto closely, you will see a trio band serenading the skaters following them. Dutchman quickly made a decision and told us we can go further ahead while he stays behind - in the skating area. He hasn’t skated on ice for ages, so his feet were itching. He joined in with the other kids.

Fast toys not just for little kids but for adults too. This railway game track has a mini-version of the German ICE fast train. The next foto is definitely for the kids. The 3 little musketeers did not miss this ride!

The warm sphere inside the museum and the festive decors and lights. There were stage plays, a choir singing, a carousel, children’s bon-bon making activities and many more.

This hanging locomotive is the first thing that will catch your attention upon entering the main museum area. Really very pretty and striking; especially with the play of lights, it gave the piece a spectacular theatrical look. Next foto is the main museum hall with the row of trains on show. Some of these trains you can go inside.

Paintings depicting early railway life in the Netherlands. Next foto is a locomotive’s early scale model.

The museum houses many locomotive and modern train scale models, complete with description, details and history available via a special computer stand in each cabinet display.

On the left foto is a steam locomotive, just right outside the museum hall, in ‘steamy’ action.

Me, of course, who else! Right foto are the little specialty shops inside the museum hall. Some were selling woodcrafts, stonecrafts, dainty clothes, and even Dutch dried sausages.

On the left is another old green piece collection guarded with 2 interesting looking snowmen, lol.
There were many fascinating and attractive pieces in the museum. To take a foto of them all and place them in this blog would require a lot of work! So, I hope these are enough ;-)

Foto below is a pretty and shiny black container locomotive and on the right is a charming open carriage. The carriage I think used to service the Utrecht – De Bilt - Zeist route in the early days, perhaps in the 1800’s.

The museum also have an impressive 4-Worlds attraction for the children. Since we didn’t have enough time, we chose the ‘World 2: Dream Travel’, a stage play inside a very pretty theater designed and inspired with the orient influence in mind.

An old poster hanged outside the doors of the ‘World 2: Dream Travel’ theater... and inside the theater, with the curtains still down...

And voila, the actual theater stage play – with the theme of traveling with the Orient Express train from Holland to Paris to Constantinople.

A question was thrown at the audience during the act ---

Should women be allowed to travel alone (in the train)? In the year 1899? What do you think? What would be your opinion?

Well, discover here how a woman dreamt of traveling to the Orient alone... despite all the sexist negative feedback and pressures. Quite an inspiring play by the way; it’s definitely worth the watch.

Spoorwegmuseum [Railway Museum] address:

3581 XW Utrecht

Website: Spoorwegmuseum
By the way, parking spaces are available in front of the museum - for €3.50 per day (this is cheap already considering that parking elsewhere would be close to that amount, but per hour).

Sunday, December 24, 2006

23rd of December

We’ve been quite busy lately – we had visitors and will be expecting a family with 3 kids next week. Thus left without any choice we badly need to fill up our cupboards and fridge the necessary food items to feed these visitors, especially the 3 little wild minions.

This might be a bit strange, but we’ve never really had a full fridge in this house. It is not necessary anyway when it’s just the 2 of us... that also happen to struggle with losing weight, ha-ha. So an almost empty fridge, the better it is! With the holiday season, the full fridge is an exemption because I am feeding a bunch of hungry stomachs. I am therefore far from having any form of whatsoever guilt.

Christmas Market disenchantment

A typical Christmas Market when snowed in. Foto from

On other news – yesterday Saturday, we were supposed to go to Germany and visit the German Christmas Markets. Dusseldorf was my plan but I found out they were closed early on the 21st. And although a bit farther, Cologne was the other option I had in mind. The last open day was yesterday. BUT, I had a real huge problem...

Upon hearing - German Christmas Markets, I could see the poor Dutchman’s face twisting in agony, like he just experienced an unexpected heart attack. He does not want to come with me and is sticking to his guns like a spoiled brat on the loose. The usual pointless discussion of why am I tormenting him, dragging him to these “touristy” and “historic” places in Europe; places that doesn’t appeal to him a little bit, nor would he give a freaking care about --- and I know, the locals here, and I mean the natives, would agree with him too. Uh, what can I do???

He is also not looking forward to the looooong drive – yeah, he-he, I will be drinking all the gluhwein (warm mulled wine) there so he doesn’t have much choice but to drive, at least in going back.

But... alas... Saturday was a big disappointment. *Sigh* Although bearable, my heart sank. *Sob*

We never made it to Cologne’s Christmas Markets but I promised myself that come high and low, I will drag the Dutchman to the German Christmas Markets next year, and it doesn’t matter which tail of him I drag along!

I woke up late too; I guess I am partly to be blamed.

As a consolation, Dutchman treated me to a nice movie yesterday evening.

Supporting charity: 30 Million Landmines

It was darn icy cold last night. Dry, but the wind chill makes you shiver like a chicken. Bbbrrr... chilly.

The streets were smoky; the atmosphere of the city center looked a bit eerie with the thick cloud of white luminous (due to the lights) fog hanging suspended above. People were out and about though, and so are we.

The temporary erected glass house in Neude Square, Utrecht that houses the DJ’s raising money for the landmine victims.

We first went to the Neude Square to have a quick look if the fasting DJ’s in the glass house have fainted or what. Serious Request 2006 : 30 Miljoenlandmijnen, daar kun je niet omheen is a charity cause in partnership with 3FM and the Red Cross with the objective of helping landmine victims all over the world.

This is the insurgent DJ that was fired in his previous job. Reason: he hired a prostitute and they did the oral job, believe it or not, while he was on air working and screaming oooh, aaahhh, and ooohhh, lol.

DJ’s Giel Beelen, Gerard Ekdom and Sander Lantinga (just don’t attempt to pronounce their names) are not eating anything for a week, while they are locked up inside the glass house, working, pleading to the public for donations and playing music that will help the landmine victims. The DJ’s will be released tonight from their fasting, after raising about 2.5 Million Euros.

How does this cause work? To request a song, you must donate. A 3-minute song can go as far as 500eu. Companies can be sponsors. They also collect old mobile phones where the proceeds will go to the same pot. As a good citizen, and a trying hard to be a better environmentalist, I gave away and deposited my old Nokia phone 2 days ago at the site.

Harry “Balkenende” Potter, the Dutch Prime Minister, visited the glass house a few days ago too and made a public announcement that the Dutch government will donate an additional figure of 1 Million Euros.

A bizarre film - OBER

The “Ober” film by Alex van Warmerdam, winner of 2 awards.

Anyway, while we walked towards the cinema called ‘t Hoog, which is right in the corner alley of the Neude square, Dutchman suddenly had this uneasy feeling - he is unsure if the film he reserved online earlier was actually shown in ‘t Hoog.

We went inside the restaurant cinema and asked. His doubts were correct. He is indeed wrong, the Dutch film, “Ober” (means: Waiter) is shown in Springhaven cinema which is in the other side of the Centrum.

When I heard this, I was like – “Eh, I am in my damn high heel boots!?” Walking another 10 minutes to reach the other side of the Centrum in this brick and stony roads is near utter persecution. Why do my feet and my boots need to go through unnecessary labor and distress? “Don’t ever make this mistake again!!!” I grumbled with a heavy heart following the Dutchman grinning sheepishly.

Finally we arrived, just in time for a few minutes of coffee moment before the show begins. The 10 minute tip-toe walk (yes, you really need to tip toe a bit, otherwise your heels will fall in between the brick and stone cracks, and may get stuck) and the chilly night made me truly enjoy the hot cup of coffee. I’ve never felt so relieved, relaxed, and filled after the drink.

My “Ober” movie review: I would give it 4 stars out of 5. It is a tragic comedy film, quite special and alternative that you would need to have a distinctive taste in films to really enjoy it, let alone for others, understand it. If you are into the mainstream Hollywood movies, then this is definitely not the film for you.

The setting is a parallel of 2 worlds that reached to a confusing fusion - a writer, writing a story, and while he writes, the words he wrote into his laptop transforms into the actual scenes of the film.

This is the Springhaven cinema where we watched the film. This is not a joke, this is how small and cramped the traditional cinemas in the Netherlands are. Funny thing, the Dutch love them just the way they are and would not trade these ‘gezellig’ cinemas with the large modern ones, although they do exist here too.

What I like with the movie is the strange and whimsical way, albeit quite realistic, how the writer and his characters come alive together. It was amusing when the characters, that are supposed to be fiction, visit him in real life – while writing the story, and demanding that he change the turn of events in the next scene. The plot thickens too. When the girlfriend of the writer tries to intercept and change the story. In fact, she locked him up inside the toilet and hi-jacked his laptop leaving the characters with nowhere else to go.

The movie is in Dutch. So if you want to watch it, you can, but only in the Netherlands and Belgium, and perhaps in other European countries - subtitled.

So, moving forward, t
omorrow is the first day of Christmas (we have two days of Christmases here in Europe) and we are expected at the sister in laws’ for a special dinner together with the whole Dutch family.

Outside is cold and misty. I see nothing a block away from the window but white. It really now feels like Christmas... I hope it snows.
I’m calling my other home, the Philippines, tonight. Enjoy your Christmases everyone.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Brugge Weekend

The Belfry Tower [Belfort Tower] in the market square. I took this foto from the inside courtyard of the tower. This tower also has a market hall annexed to it where I bought 2 silver windlamps for my dining table.

Write ups about Brugge exclaim proverbial praises of its ooh-so romantic atmosphere. In addition to that, travel enthusiasts have coined the assertion that Brugge is the little Venice of North Europe. My opinion? In all honesty, I can’t really say the same thing. Paris would have been far romantic, although, rationally speaking I don’t consider Paris as that romantic of a city. And what about the somewhat confusing title: The little Venice of North Europe? Uh, give me a break? Whoever made this declaration is nowhere near the truth and must be high on something. The number of canals in Brugge, I can easily count with my own set of fingers? There’s more water in Amsterdam, I say.

I guess its all about perception and taste?

This is a row of pretty medieval structures in the marktplaats (market place/square] with the typical ladder and gable roof design reminiscent of the Dutch-Flemish architecture. They say the Flemish builds this ice skating rink (in the right foto) in the square every Christmas season.

Despite all the misleading statements about Brugge, I can still say, it is undeniably a remarkable, very pretty and very charming historical little city that exudes a lively and warm cultural appeal with an exclusive character of its own. I even thought the city was far prettier and more charming than Brussels and Antwerp.

These are scenic canals and stone bridges in Brugge. On the left side foto is an entry port going into the city center (taken by MadamE inside the car]. As mentioned in my entry, Brugge is a fortified medieval settlement that can be quickly isolated from its enemies, well before the trebuchet and ballista were engineered.

Perhaps because of its compact urban planning design, Brugge come across as an impressive and cozy city to the normal visitor like me. The city truly brings us back to the middle ages settlement when people relied on walking and easy means of transportation, i.e. bike, to reach point A to point B, and cities are fortified in massive stone walls with watch guard towers surrounded by a moat, and the only way to go in and out of the city is through the archetypal representation during the castle era, draw-up bridges.

The fortification of cities by the way is prevalent in the past when invasion meant civilization.

Here are some of the things we, MadamE and I, noticed and experienced in Brugge:

I think this is a very attractive and charmant petite bistro. Don’t you think? Mid foto are the ubiquitous Belgian chocolates, this time they came in big breasted, ha-ha. On the right foto is an arch extravagantly detailed and ornamented. This gateway leads towards the square called “The Burg” that dates back to the 13th century.

>>> The drive to Belgium was an eventful experience. Q: How could Belgians manage not to curse in the highways?

Firstly, the Belgian road signs are old and rusty. They also do not follow a sense of uniformity, which I must insist is a very important factor for drivers to stick by because it helps smoothen the driving experience and make long rides comfortable. On top of that, it also provides proactive safety measures. Secondly, they do not put up enough traffic boards and signs in the highways and in the provincial roads. If there are, they are on the right side of the road and not above the highways where drivers can easily see and follow. It is extremely irritating to second guess your next move, whether you must change lanes or turn somewhere. Most especially when you are driving at 100KM-120KM per hour. Thirdly, due to the lack of these road and directional signs, there is no sense of anticipation.

My companion, MadamE, was highly tensed up all throughout the ride, like she was driving half of the car with me, “Instead of anticipation, I am going through precipitation and palpitation!” she blurted out while helping me search where we need to turn because we took the wrong exit – what else, there were not enough signs from the exit road that points us back to the nearby settlements! Now, start thinking creatively what precipitation would mean, lol.

I am indeed pampered that I have become so spoiled with the Dutch orderliness and uniformity in the roads.

Another pretty row of ladder and gable roof structures, and me holding the lamp post. On the right foto is MadamE resting in the sidewalk and caught in photography action, by me.

>>> There are boat trips in Brugge city center but there was always a long queue of excited tourists waiting in line. This is the same case with the popular horse-drawn carriage ride in the market square. The impatient side in us couldn’t be bothered so we decided to explore Brugge by foot. A lot better, it was.

Yours truly in the market square, with the Christmas Markets, Ice Skating Rink and Brugge’s Provincial Court (town hall) in neo-Gothic design.

>>> To those who are Dutch speakers, have you ever heard of the phrase, “Zoete dromen...”? Well, our amiable Belgian hotel owner, who speaks by the way 4 languages, Dutch, French, English and I believe German, and a charming one to add, parted us with this statement after dinner on our first night - “Zoete dromen dames…” [Sweet dreams ladies] he said, with a trail of the distinctive Flemish accent that I needed to get used to with during our short weekend getaway. We were like - Woah, what was that? What did he say again?

Umm, how shall I say this? In my 4+ years of living in this country, I have never ever heard of this phrase being casually said in the Netherlands. The Dutch would instead say, welterusten or the shortcut ‘trusten [have a good nights rest] or slaap lekker [sleep good]. Try googling zoete dromen and you will notice the hits are mostly Belgian websites. So when we heard it, MadamE and I giggled. A lot. We couldn’t stop giggling in our room.

Busy Christmas markets, well food markets I should say. I ordered gluhwein (mulled or glow wine) and a prawn kebab. Lekker (delicious)! On the right foto is another scenic representation of Brugge’s canals.

>>> The Belgian sales lady in the store where MadamE bought cookies was very taken at the fact that we speak Dutch and with a Dutch accent to boot, ha-ha. She said - not many foreigners would volunteer to learn the local language, which is obviously an issue in the Netherlands too.

>>> We were also just right on timing --- Last weekend was Kerst Shopping Weekend [Christmas Shopping Weekend] in Brugge. Needless to say, we came home with a couple of bags stashed away at the back of the car. I felt guilty for spending but with a persuasive, positive and energetic shopping companion like MadamE, all my guilt vanished right in front of me. Amazing it is. Now, I do not know if having her around is a plus point, or a ..., lol.

The horse drawn carriage ride is one of the popular ways for tourists to get familiar with Brugge. Vaulted arches in the outside hallways of the Belfry Tower.

>>> What is with the ATM’s in Brugge? ING and AXA do not accept international cards. I’ve always thought that Belgium is a stone’s throw away and is quite like a half twin sister of the Netherlands but why is it that my ABN Amro card does not even work in their ATM’s? Huh? (ABN Amro of course has a strong presence in Belgium). At any rate, you can quickly tell which ATM’s allow international card transactions, because they all have a very, very long queue of disgruntled looking people. You could actually take a nice and relaxing pedicure and manicure while waiting for your turn.

>>> I have not seen a supermarket in the center? MadamE and I wanted to buy the savory dried sausages the south of Belgium is famous for, but we couldn’t find any?

MadamE and I taking time to pose up for a souvenir foto; the right one is taken by this huge, modern, and quite impressive statues of fountain in ‘t Zand square (which is right above the underground parking place).

>>> Lastly, we just couldn’t believe our luck. The weather has been terribly dull, dreary and wet lately but during the weekend, we only had marvelous weather – lots of sun, clear blue skies, albeit a bit chilly, still, it was the perfect weather for the time of the year and for the weekend. The next day Monday, mister merry weather retired back to its dull, dreary and wet nook. Now, that’s what I call, real great timing!

Travel Period: December 2006
Destination: Bruges (West Flanders), Belgium

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