Sunday, June 29, 2008

I need a holiday

We are off to Santorini, Greece in less than 48 hours and I still don’t feel the holiday feeling flowing in my veins. So I thought, perhaps writing about it – blogging it, would help me get into the holiday mood.

I’ve managed to print a list of places to visit in Santorini and in the nearby islands of the Cyclades Islands-Region. They say that Santorini is the most beautiful, with breathtaking and unique views, and is the most popular island of Greece. The pictures make me look forward to the holiday but with many things to do before the actual flight, everything seems like a last minute run, a miasma of activities.


The kitchen needs cleaning and I don’t know where to start. Ugh, I swear I have failed housekeeping. I’ve never hated housekeeping this much until I came to live in the Netherlands. Dutchman promised to vacuum the place before we leave. He better do it as I am not in the mood.

I still have to pack! It’s not going to be quick mixing and matching clothes and accessories. Are my favorite clothes clean? I know Dutchman did a load of wash yesterday. You know that feeling that you must, in whatever circumstances, bring your favorite shirt?

And then there’s work. Right, work is preoccupying my mind right now. There are politics at work to be dealt with. There are things I want. I know what I want. I WANT IT. I swear. I WILL GET IT. I have to. I MUST.

It’s the end of the month, the end of the quarter. There is still 1 day to go and I am stretching myself far and wide even though I am way over my targets for the month, quarter, and year. I am never satisfied. I am a slave driver to myself.

I need a holiday right.

Friday, June 27, 2008

360-Degree Customer View

I’ve been in the IT industry for over a decade now and I have sold monstrous software applications in the past from ERP to CRM to DW and BI’s. In every company and customer I have dealt with the holistic pitch is always about having a clear 360-degree view of the customer in a single database. Every competitive organization aims for this dream, which unfortunately proves to be quite elusive in reality thus the proliferation of customer management tools and applications in the market today.

There is indeed raw power when all relevant information a company needs about their customer is stored in a single database, real time and online (or at least within a 2-4 week period) – information that can be extracted anytime.

Well here is the story -- recently I had a very interesting customer experience with the giant credit card company, American Express. This financial institution is a perfect example of a very large and successful organization that failed to capture the very basic information about their customer -- They were cold calling me, a customer! They thought I was a prospect?

Over a year ago Dutchman decided to take on an additional credit card mainly for the reason that KLM has a frequent flyer partnership program with American Express.

We are far from being die hard credit card users. We rarely use the plastic card. Europe as a whole too is not a credit card continent that feeds on credit. The real payment engine here is debit. The Dutch in particular prefers to pay their purchases through debit cards (which are almost equivalent to cash) or if they buy online, they pay through IDEAL, a local payment system. Credit cards here are an expensive method of payment as many establishments, mostly the online based, charges a hefty fee.

In addition, the Dutch mentality discourages credit, which I would say is probably the main reason why credit cards will never fly off in the flatlands. Credit cards will definitely be used, but they will never become a household thing.

Financial controls and regulations too are very tightly placed in this country. The infrastructure here is not just geared for credit.

For example, no credit card company will give you a credit card if you have no job. No credit card company will give you a credit card if you are earning below the required income. The government here will never allow financial institutions to hard sell credit schemes to naive debt ridden customers. And all credit card purchases are automatically deducted from your main bank account at the end of every month. This is a standard payment condition and loaning extra credit days are based upon the discretion of the credit card company, usually looking into your income = buying power.

Anyway, to continue my story...

On top of my Mastercard, I have the American Express card as Dutchmans extended card holder. Between Dutchman and me, I am the frequent user of the card – I credit any transaction as much as possible, which includes searching for establishments accepting American Express, in order to get the points. It’s all about the air miles. The frequent flyer points!

So yes, I was surprised, having been using the Amex card a lot when American Express called me trying to sell their credit card. Can they not see me in their system that I am already their customer?


Tsk, tsk, tsk...

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

In Baarn

We have been visiting Baarn lately, and our most recent visit was this morning when we met with a real estate agent to check out this vrijstand house with a 1930’s architectural facade design.

The house was lovely from the outside. However, my first impression when I stepped inside the living room was nowhere near ecstatic. It was actually a bit of a downer. There were no sparks flying. No love at first sight kind of thing. Only the bathroom impressed me as it was so luxurious I could imagine myself lying in the tub with the bubbles.

Nevertheless, I would like to post some of the fotos I took in Baarn during our few visits.

 
Thatched roof shops in the Centrum.
Many mansions here...

De Generaal Cafe
What I love with Baarn is the exclusive, suburban, and living with nature feel. There are lots of trees, parks, and forest groves in the area. 

The famous Lage Vuursche forest where the Drakesteyn Castle owned by Queen Beatrix is located just right by the corner. Beautiful and stately mansions abound in the village that is now transformed into elegant offices. And Amsterdam is just half an hour away (without traffic) via the A1 highway.

Moi in a quite colourful emsemble

Very green here in Baarn

So even though the visit to this house in Baarn this morning was a bit disappointing, we will keep searching until we find the right house, hopefully in Baarn or somewhere else equally nice.

Visit Period: June 2008
Destination: Baarn (Utrecht), The Netherlands

Sunday, June 15, 2008

House Hunting

And I thought searching for a new house (read: my city girl days are over and I cannot wait to move out to somewhere green and quiet) would be an easy and enjoyable task. NOT!

We’ve just spent driving 160 kilometers back and forth today to check this house described as a little villa in the North Holland province in Avenhorn, 40+ kilometers from Amsterdam. Not bad, as I am 44 kilometers from Utrecht to my work in Amsterdam.

Initially, I was drawn to the large floor to ceiling French white windows in the living room (the whole front was glass!) that opens up to a wide patio with hard wood floors that goes down a few steps to a garden facing the water and an endless horizon of green. The whole setting, the design, everything, it was executed regally. Trust me, I am an Interior Designer in my previous life so I know.


On the fotos online the house was spectacular, dramatic; an oasis to look forward to after a hectic day at work. But when we saw the house with our own four eyes, my heart did not skip. Not a single beat.

We drove back to Utrecht with a heavy heart. Well, my heart that is. I would not spend that amount of money for that house I just saw. No way.

Then yesterday, we were in Doorn checking another lovely monumental house which is also called a villa by Dutch standards. Villas here are nothing close to what a villa is in other countries. Villas in the Netherlands are called villas simply because they are detached - free standing houses that are over a certain XXX amount in price, which are by the way already considered a luxury in the flatlands, especially if they are located in the Ranstad ring, the main artery of civilization of this country.

Built in 1916, I fell in love with this little villa in Doorn situated just by the edge of the famous nature park, the Utrechtse Heuvelrug forest. It was lovely; the house exudes a proud air of stately character. It looked like the perfect house that I ever wanted.


Dutchman and I were standing in the middle of the side street looking at the house and arguing with each other heavily.

“I don’t like those huge trees covering the back of the house. We need light in the house.”

My dreamy eyes twinkling in excitement, “Oh, I love to live in the forest!”

“No, no, it’s depressing. Trust me! During winter you will get depressed!” Dutchman insisted trying to convince the unrelenting me.

“But I love the neighborhood here! Aristocratic, low-key, peaceful, lots of green – the house is just right across the forest. I want to live here!”

“It does not have enough space at the back and I don’t like those trees blocking the light into the house.”


“Well, we will cut them!”

“Noooo, you need a permit from the city hall for that, and those other trees are from the next door neighbors.”


“Why do you always have something negative to say!?!?!”

The next day I woke up, sober from the heights of excitement about the villa in Doorn. I realized that this house is not going to be the one. As I was so ecstatic yesterday I was ready to call the real estate agent, Dutchman asked why the sudden change of heart.

I said the house didn’t have enough huge glass doors that lead to the yard and the kitchen I thought was choked up. I love space, the illusion of space, windows, huge windows, wide doors, floor to ceiling windows and glass doors.

And today Sunday was another disappointing visit in Avenhorn.

Sigh – this is going to be a daunting task ahead.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Geweldig!

Ohhh mijn godtt! The Orange fever is unstoppable! Holland did it again and took France to the cleaners with a score of 4:1!

Look what happened to Leeuwtje, he is so happy with the win against the French last night his orange hairs stand in excitement, they look like cat’s whiskers now. LOL


Who would have thought the last title holder of the UEFA Championship (we were in Greece when we watched this a couple of years ago), Italy, would be defeated by the Dutch with a score of 3:0, and now the runner up title holder, France beaten with an impressive 4:1?

I will post some videos from Youtube when the fans in Berne have sobered up and posted their videos from last night’s win against France. For now, Dutchman wants me to post this very, very, very typisch Dutch humor (ha-ha).

It’s nice to see the Netherlands football team coming up in shape again. I am not really a football fanatic but the game last night was one of the best so far in this European Football Championships. Now the Dutch has painted Berne in full glorific orange and the reserved Swiss have never seen so much partying in orange before in their lives, lol. This is very typical for the Dutch by the way as they love their biertjes and everything about gezelligheid. Het is altijd een feest!

Too bad we are going for our summer holiday in a week’s time. We’ll be missing all the fun but we will be watching the games from our little island down the Mediterranean.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Leeuwtje de Welpie is heeeel blij!

The European Football Championship and Oranje fever has gotten into me. I got myself a Welpie (little lion mascot of Holland) from Albert Heijn at work! For every €15 purchase at Albert Heijn you get a free Welpie and I made sure yesterday to get me one =)

My little
Welpie in support of the Dutch football team sitting on the phone; I call him Leeuwtje (means little lion). The Lion is the Dutch mascot - its national mascot for everything.

With the Dutch’s great start yesterday taking Italy to the cleaners with a score of 3 against 0, who would be mad not to join the Oranje raucous?

UEFA website: Euro2008 Championships


...............

Oranje fans in Bundesplatz Berne, Switzerland during the first match of the Group of Death, Netherlands vs. Italy.

...............

Dutch invasion in Berne, Switzerland. The mayor is so happy as every minute 30 liters of beer were consumed (and the fans had only party and getting drunk in mind, no hooligans!). He enjoys the party but more so the €€€€€€€. Check on Youtube for more videos and query - Oranje fans 2008 or Dutch football fans 2008

Dutchman and I actually switched channels because we can’t bear to witness who will score first -- then we heard the neighbors scream. “Holland scored! Holland scored!” shouted the Dutchman whilst fumbling for the remote control switching back to the live footage of the game.

It was a great match, at least for the Netherlands as they were on the offensive side. Italy on the other hand was acting strange. I have not a single clue what ever happened to them? Did they had too much pasta for dinner they all look lethargic?


I know the Dutch as a whole are a pessimistic lot when it comes to their national football team. Don’t be misled by the thousands of Orange-clad supporters recently invading little villages and camping grounds of Berne, Switzerland. The Dutch in reality are phlegmatic types who can’t stop examining themselves from within. I really think they have a good chance in winning the Championships, that is if they always get their act together just like yesterday.

So with that, let me say, Hup Holland Hup!
.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Weekend in Amsterdam

Lately I have been spending a lot of time in Amsterdam, and well not really for work as I work in Amsterdam anyway, but for other things.

Here’s a few fotos I took last Friday and Saturday, luckily I took them as sometimes I get into the spur of the moment and forget to take fotos. This basically wraps up my weekend as today Sunday, we just decided to stay at home enjoying the beautiful weather outside with a glass of chilled wine.


Friday

On a Friday evening, passing through Keizersgracht pretty lofty buildings towards Rembrandtplein.

The nice thing during summer in the Netherlands is there is daylight until late in the evening. Currently sunset is around 10:30PM and I think it will move up to around 11PM in the middle of June, which is really fantastic!

We dined in a Tapas Bar in the popular gay street nearby Muntplein. Their best tapas was the sardines - forgot to take a foto, too bad.

Saturday

Then yesterday Saturday I went back to Amsterdam to do some shopping with a girl friend. This is probably the first time after a loooong period of time (exclude the Italian Riviera trip with shopping) that I have scheduled a shopping activity, well mainly because its nice weather so far, and this girl friend previously asked me to go shopping with her which I turned down as I had something else on my agenda that day, so this time I am returning the favor. This means Dutchman and I have to wake up early in the morning to do our grocery shopping which spells major struggle as we are not morning types. I had to drag him out of the shower with my shrilly voice as it was already 11AM and we still have to take our brunch and go to the supermarket and my appointment with my friend is at 12! Ugh! Dutchman swore he has never seen me run so quick that morning, in and out of the supermarket like the speed of a bullet. A record, he said. Ha-ha!


The American Hotel in Leidseplein offers yummy Mojitos (although its not the best I have had - best I had was in Edinburgh) and its also a great place to sit down and people watch. On the left foto is a group of waiters tossing one of their colleagues in the water. I was told its a tradition in the Dutch Horeca (hotel, restaurant, and cafe) industry to get dipped when its your last day at work.

Girl friend and I had lunch in a trendy cafe in PC Hooftstraat. There were loads of chic and fabulous people around and it was fun to people watch. Barbie look-alikes strutting down the street clad in their expensive signature clothes and flashy accessories including pimped up bratty little dogs, while the Kens drive down the busy narrow street, gleaming pompously behind the wheel of their €100K worth shiny cars. PC Hooftstraat on a Saturday is a fashion and car show runway. Well, I don’t know why I forgot to take fotos?

Terraces in Leidseplein and our dinner as we did not want to eat a lot, the Leidseplein platter: tempura, tortilla, chorizo with bacon, spinach kroket, and cheese filled pepper -- really really tasty.

After shopping, girlfriend and I sat down in Leidseplein, this time in the main square with the multitudes of cafe terraces.

It rained for an hour in Amsterdam that’s why the parasols in the foto above are in full bloom, but even though it rained, it was still gezellig in Leidseplein. Always a lively place to be.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Portovenere, a lovely Italian surprise

Portovenere was not really in our agenda, however when we were in Riomaggiore (one of the five villages of Cinque Terre) checking out the cliffs, we found this boat service going to Portovenere. The man behind the counter says it’s only a 20-minute boat ride. It’s very tempting indeed considering the Dutch mother was very enthusiastic about the place. She said it’s very pretty. Oh dear, decisions, decisions.

Let’s just say that in the hurl of the moment, Blondine and I bought re-tour tickets. Get on board, ahoy!


Rounding the cape of Portovenere as we sail towards the harbour, we see the imposing old Church of St. Peter on its promontory looking more like a watchtower than a church.

Arriving in Portovenere was quite dramatic. This once upon a time fishing village is by the way now a UNESCO’s World Heritage Site. From the distance we could see the gothic inspired Church of St. Peter, circa 11th century, rising with pride above the isthmus, the white clouds and bright blue skies behind completing the whole backdrop. Beside the church are the remains of Doria Castle, and further to the left, on top of the intimidating, rugged and massive boulders, we caught sight of Lord Byron’s Grotto. The whole setting is so picturesque, so dramatic—oops, I was feeling a bit nostalgic, he-he.



Portovenere and the Doria Castle in the background.

The dark and intimidating rock cliffs with the ancient architecture sitting on top were a grand sight to behold. Everything looked so breathtaking from the sea, and I could hear the oohs and aahs and the wows from fellow passengers.

When the boat curved around the cape, we sighted the town, and very typical of the Mediterranean, a long line of tall and lean beautiful pastel and terracotta coloured buildings clustered together fills the marina as well as immaculate white luxurious yachts. Welcome to Portovenere!



Portovenere Marina scenes

We had our late lunch here in a pretty restaurant in the marina, and ordered a set of seafood tapas which turned out to be a real delight. YUMMY. The anchovies were simply excellent (I want more lol), it was the best of all the assorted seafood tapas we ordered. A thick 5 stars out of 5! You know, you can never go wrong in Italy when it comes to food.


Yummy seafood tapas; those achovies seasoned with pepper, extra virgin olive oil, and lemon squeeze were grand! 


 Narrow alleyways filled with charming shops inside the old town of Portovenere.


Genius, a pasta penne curtain =)


The big square going to the church on the promontory.


Last picture together for the day in Portovenere.

Trivia: Did you know that the trademark of the locals, doesn't matter if they are teenagers, grandmas, a man, a woman, an executive or cleaner -- huge, if not flashy sunglasses is what distinguishes the truest to form (and stereotype) Italians from the foreigners. No joke!

We were really glad that we took the spontaneous chance to visit Portovenere. When in Liguria and visiting Cinque Terre and the Portofino area, Portovenere is a highly recommended stop to combine.

Travel Period: May 2008
Destination: Portovenere (La Spezia - Liguria), Italy

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Happy Travels! Enjoy Life =)

Monday, June 02, 2008

Liguria, Italy: The Bay of Portofino

Well, hello there... ciao Bella. Here we are sailing towards.... can you guess?


Approaching Portofino...


Blondine and moi still on board the boat with the famous Portofino Bay and its rustic yet quite charming pastel and terracotta coloured old buildings crowding with each other in the background.

Portofino

Just like the jet set leagues of Saint Tropez, Cannes, and Monte Carlo, Monaco in the French Riviera, Portofino is the equivalent for the Italian Riviera side and considered to be amongst the most beautiful ports in the Mediterranean. Quite famous that Tokyo DisneySea in Japan and Universal Orlando Resort in the USA recreated a mini Portofino.

Portofino is also widely known to grace intimate weddings (for a max group of 50) at the San Gregorio Church that sits on a promontory watching down to the village square. And I guess a perfect place to honeymoon too.


Smaller yachts anchored at the bay of Portofino. It takes about 15-20 minutes by boat from the port of Santa Margherita Ligure to Portofino. 

This little bayou is peppered with high-end signature shops such as Louis Vuitton, Hugo Boss and Chanel where the moneyed can sit back, relax, throw away their cares, enjoy and shop a bit on the side.

Anyway, Blondine and I feasted our eyes on this really chic jet black Chanel leather handbag but lo and behold, lightning struck. Ah, hallelujah, it brought us back to our sound senses. Too bad, we are too Dutch to even consider buying it (for now perhaps).


After the much-needed window shopping, and well yes, we managed to buy shoes. We succumbed to consumerism. But Blondine and I are head over heels in love with the shoes we bought! We could not wait to wear them, but first things first, we need to relax and feel the Portofino vibe.

We found this terrace in the middle of the square facing the bay area. Ah, time for some chilled chardonnays!

We love the good life... if you haven't noticed that yet =)


Cheers! Proost! Blondine and I were raving about how the wine glasses were looking so elegant.


Blondine was teasing me that I have rosy cheeks so I took a picture to see if it is true. Well, it is not just my cheeks that are rosy but my whole face I guess?

Aside from the expensive boutique shops, Portofino is a lovely place to chill out, sit on an outdoor terrace and people watch. There are also many restaurants here so a perfect place to have a lovely lunch or a romantic dinner with a faultless view of the colourful little fishing boats, the elegant white yachts anchored in the bay and the mansions hidden amongst the thick lush of green in the mountain cliffs overlooking the village.

I think we spent HOURS sitting back at the terrace in the piazza, watching people and letting time pass by whilst sipping chilled wine and making sure the waitress did not forget to refill our glasses. I reckon this is the best thing to do when in Portofino, right?


The outdoor terraces here were very busy.


To finish up we had some real Italian treat, gelato.


Travel Period: May 2008
Destination: Portofino (Genoa - Liguria), Italy

Keep in touch and follow me on Facebook: Travel & Lifestyle Diaries by Dutched Pinay Travels
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