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Jan 29, 2007

I Amsterdam

"Been there... done that..."

Amsterdamers love bicycles. There are very few over-weight people there.

If there ever was a list must-see PG-13 guide to Amsterdam, I'd probably be able to answer with that unmistakable phrase. One weekend was definitely not enough to explore this city of contrasts - the deep historical cultures and modern expressionisms, the aristocratic and the sleazy, the order and chaos, traditionalists and liberalists. This city has just about everything for everyone in this world.

One of the over 7000 canals in Amsterdam

We rolled our way into Amsterdam after a 3.5hr train journey from Aachen. Have I complimented the public transport system in Europe yet? I wanna stress again how efficient this system is... trains, buses (and Amsterdam's trams and canal boats) arrive and leave exactly on time. One can almost synchronise one's watches to this system. The city greeted us with a dready low lights and a chilly wind. After scouting around for possible accommodation, we eventually chose a slightly dingy hotel with common toilets (managed to set a new record time in colon block during my stay in Holland). For budget tourists like us this was perfectly fine.

Madame Tussards in Amsterdam. The tram rails were everywhere...

We hit the streets after dumping our stuff in our rooms. Though the intention was to check out the place, the general vector was towards the infamous Red Light District (called RLD from now on to minimise the shock factor). We had to see what all the fuss was about... :) A few hours and space brownies later, all was clear. Window shopping has never been this mind numbing. The brownies took their time but the effects were evident. The city comes alive in the night. There was a gentle mix of races, genders and ages in the RLD. The area was clearly demarked with raised platforms with red LEDs. The smell of weed that floated lightly in the air was mildly intoxicating. I remember gentle hallucinations while catching up with sleep that night… :)

The Dam built during prosperous Amsterdam. The Dam square is popular with street soccer in the night.

We spent the Saturday soaking in the culture of the city. Visited the Rembrandt and Van Gogh museums. It was refreshing to find the art museums filled mostly with young people. The Historical museum provided a fascinating insight into the history of Amsterdam. The first true entrepreneurs of the world were the Dutch East India Company (VOC) – their vision and influence in the world and in their company at the time can be none other than inspirational. Rembrandt was a meticulous artist who served the rich traders of the Netherlands and lived and died following his genius in art. Van Gogh was a demented genius who couldn’t break out of the mould around him and thus resorted to personal affliction to define his journey in life. 2 ‘stars’ of the cultural city that is Amsterdam.

Another spectacular palace on the banks of the River Amstel

We visited a few other museums (;)) and did the canal-boat tour of the city. The houses and canals that connect its residents to each part of the city were the most striking parts of the tour. We rounded the long day, avoiding speeding electric trams and cold winds, with a visit to the Dam amongst many other places…

Amsterdam's RLD. An intriquing mix of beauty and sleaze.

Sunday morning was spent collecting souvenirs and planning the trip back to Aachen. Calf muscles and the skin on the tip of my nose were worn out, and my back was aching, but this trip will always be in my mind. I will definitely come back to this city of contrasts. Amsterdam has without doubt left a mark in me. I Amsterdam.

The bicycle shelter next to the train station. Probably around 500, maybe more.

Watching the Daily Show with Jon Steward on Comedy Central - the host has hilariously slaughtered George W. Bush's state of the nation address last week... These guys are just brilliant. Three cheers to Freedom of Speech.

Jan 23, 2007

In Aachen, Germany!

One of the many types of beers on offer in Germany

Eventually the Gods smiled upon me, and I managed to pry out a company-sponsored trip to Germany (the real reason's M-PBN training). The training is happening in the company's training offices in Aachen, Germany. This little town is situated around 15 mins from the border to Netherlands in the old West Germany, further west of Bonn and Koln (Cologne).

The weather has been a tad different that the warm, sunny 20 degrees of Johannesburg, with the average temperature around the 2 degree mark. The locals describe the weather during the last few days a little chillier than usual with snow expected anytime soon.

Dusseldorf Flughawen bahnhof

We landed in Dusseldorf on Sunday afternoon with no idea how to get to Aachen around 2 hours away. The signs weren't really helpful, and colleagues had warned us against the attitude of Germans against foreigners. Our first experience wasn't that that great with the irritable Hofbahn information operator directing us to a German ticket machine with no option to change languages. I remember being quite angry but after reflection, I'm now thankful he made it difficult for us, 'cause its how we learnt how life works around here...

I now enjoy 'conversing' with the Germans. My mixture of Afrikaans with the few German words I've learnt seem to do the trick. We all have a big laugh after our conversation wondering how on earth we managed to get our points through. The people seem to warm up to tourists attempting to join them in their daily lives.

A massive gate in Aachen - remains of a fort around the city

A funny moment happened earlier this evening when we stopped for supper at the many 'Doner Kebaps' (hugely popular Persian/Turkish eat-outs that serve varieties of schwarmas and wursts) - I was trying to explain to the waiter that I was looking a typical German dish (he was light-skinned and had a typically Persian look). First attempts at Afrikaans and English failed to put the point through, so I resorted to sign language. All this while he and I were exchanging laughs at our attempts at understanding each other. Eventually he said something in German and I managed to pick out the words 'Indian' and 'sprekend'. I assumed he wanted to know if I speak any Indian languages so I started with Malayalam and moved on to Hindi (...nothing was working so what the hell!) A bit of broken Hindi seemed to do the trick as I discovered he was Pakistani. After attempting all the languages I knew, it seemed the least obvious one did the trick. He recommended a really delicious dish and gave us complimentary Turkish sweets (really delicious, may I add)...

A side of a cathedral in Aachen - don't let this poor pic fool u, this building was huge!

I'm really enjoying this country and town. There's a lot of history in this place, and the culture and people just add to the charm. Many really massive cathedrals, gates and renovated palaces. The weather is unfortunate but there are too many positives to even think of that. The machine that is the public transport system is truely inspiring.

Hoping to do Amsterdam this weekened. More on Germany later (hopefully better quality pics too)...

Jan 11, 2007

FPS in Javascript

Found this cool site with links to First Person Shootout code in Javascript... nice!