Amsterdam

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Day One

Again, we took the train. Again, it was a little weird how little security or ticket-checking there was. We arrived in Amsterdam in the afternoon, eventually figured out how to use the tram system to get fairly close to our little hotel (the Owl). We walked there, checked in, were amused at the comical tininess of the elevator, and were alarmed at the total lack of air conditioning despite the mugginess (turned out OK with cool nights and open windows).

We walked around somewhat aimlessly looking for beer and/or dinner. We quickly noticed that there was a very recognizable aroma that seemed to be characteristic of Amsterdam, in little pockets in many places, often centered in front of or near coffee shops. We were amazed at the quantity of bicycles, the complexity of the crosswalk signals (I honestly have no idea how they’re supposed to work), and the fact that apparently the cops have no problem tearing down the sidewalks with lights and sirens blazing, and trusting to pedestrians to get the fuck out of the way.

We eventually settled on a collection of places around a square that seemed to have joined together to fill the square with seating, umbrellas, and heaters. We got a Dutch sampler plate and some local beer. Then we wandered around some more, looking at shop fronts and canals and houseboats.

Day Two

Breakfast at the hotel (nothing special, but not bad). We rented bicycles from the hotel, because everything we planned to see was a bikable distance (walkable, but long) from us, and the tram seemed slow and cumbersome. Biking is also non-trivial — navigating, trying to understand traffic, and watching out for the many exciting disturbances that can disrupt a bicycle. We went to an area near the Rijksmuseum where the “I Amsterdam” letters are, took pictures with them, got tickets for a canal boat tour and the Van Gogh museum and Moco, had a snack and wandered around the park area nearby, and then went to see the Banksy and Salvador Dali exhibits. They were neat.

From there, we went to Food Hallen, what appeared to be a converted warehouse filled with upscale eateries. We had four different things for lunch, followed by fancy pastries. It was very good. Then we discovered a flat tire on one of the bikes and walked back to the hotel to replace it.

Then we rode out to Brouwerij ‘t IJ for beer and snacks. It was nice. Then we rode to the Delirium Cafe for beer and snacks. It was nice. Then we rode to boat canal tour. This was also fun. The guy operating the boat was good-natured and friendly (which I’m sure is a requirement for the job). The tour came with two free drinks (rose, white wine, Amstel, and Heineken were available). He immediately said, “Drink as much as you like. I don’t care.”

From there, we went to De Bekeerde Suster, another brewery. We had good but not exciting dinner, and good beer. We wandered around some more and headed back to the hotel to sleep.

Day Three

Breakfast at the hotel again (it was convenient and we thought it was free). Primary transportation for the day was bicicles again. We went to the Van Gogh Museum, which was very cool, but we weren’t allowed to take any pictures. I don’t know much about art, but it’s interesting to see how skilled and talented people construct pictures from colored paste.

From there, we went to a nearby parkish area strewn with various outdoor sculptures. It was something called Artzuid. This was not as impressive, but some of the sculptures were pretty interesting.

Then we went someplace for dutch pancakes. It was very small, and there was a line, but the pancakes were very tasty. We then went to some black licorice shop that was recently featured on some food or cooking channel.

We then found an outdoor market somewhere, which had pickled herring (haring, much better than the first time) and fried cod (kibbeling). Then we stopped at a bar called Gollem and shared a bottle of Rodenbach Alexander while T Dog wandered nearby taking pictures.

Finally, we rode to Brouwerij Prael, where we were meeting with Frans, a Dutch friend who used to work for a different subsidiary of my parent company and spent a year at my company. He met us at the brewery for a beer (we had already finished the bitterballen), then we walked to his choice of Indonesian restaurant. We went all out on the dinner, getting something called “rijsttaffel”, which ended up being something like 50 different dishes, all of which were very good.

Then Frans walked us around the Red Light District (on a Friday evening, it was pretty hectic), also through some quieter neighborhoods. He tried to teach me how to pronounce a little bit of Dutch, which is hard, again due to unfamiliar sounds.

We parted ways, and when we rode our bikes back to the hotel, it seemed crazy. At least one square that we went to either had a major party or some kind of demonstration going on — people were running and screaming, some flares were burning. It made me really uncomfortable.

Conclusion

We left the next day. We took a bus to the airport and wandered forever before finding where we needed to go, and found some more interesting stuff to eat and a few more things to bring home.

Overall, I think I enjoyed Brussels the most again. There were still so many things we skipped in both London and Amsterdam, not to mention that big city England and Netherlands (and Belgium) is certainly not the whole story — so there’s plenty more I’d still like to see.

I’m really glad Les and D were able to take care of the kids for us while we gallivanted. This sort of trip would have just been unpleasant if we had to spend all our time looking for things the kids wanted, and had to go to bed at their bedtime, and otherwise had to live within the limitations of parenthood.

But it was really nice to see the kids again when we got back. And it was actually nice to get back into the regular daily routine, as well.

Posted by snaotheus in Photo updates, 6 comments

Brussels

Brussels, Belgium

Day One

We left London early in the morning. I planned to have a pasty for breakfast from the pasty shop in the train station, but despite the internet’s assertion that it was open 24 hours a day, it was not open. I was disappointed. We went from Victoria station to St Pancras to get to the international station for the Eurostar train to Brussels through France. St Pancras is also the home of “Platform 9 3/4” of Harry Potter fame. We stopped for a quick photo opportunity (surprise!), and then I bought a pasty from the pasty shop there that actually was open 24/7.

The international train was strange — I think the only time our tickets or passports were needed were for immigration on exiting London. We could have gotten on any of the trains. Nice two hour ride to Brussels with a couple stops beforehand. It’s strange to be in three different countries over the course of two hours. Also, I guess I’ve been through the chunnel now.

Getting from our arrival station to Brussels Central was more complicated than it should have been. We don’t know why. We couldn’t talk to anyone or read anything. But, we got there. Then walked to the hotel (Warwick), checked in, were frustrated by the elevator that wouldn’t let us operate it, were frustrated by the air conditioning (at the end, we discovered it was barely capable of cooling the room one degree per day). Then we went out to look around and find lunch (and were frustrated by our inability to settle on a place to eat). We eventually found Bourse, with beer (of course), mussels, veal stew, and construction across the street that really elevated the ambiance. I liked it.

Then we went for waffles and street beer (drinking in public places is fine in Brussels — when you buy beer at a convenience store, they ask if you want it opened), and went to see the Manneken Pis. We were suitably irreverent and P Dubs and T Dog were suitably unimpressed by his diminution.

We wandered some more and looked around in chocolate shops. We found chocolate tits and dicks, as well as surprisingly realistic tools, such as a pair of vernier calipers and a nut and bolt that threaded together.

We went to Monk for beer (repeat from last time, where I found Westvleteren 12 cheaper than any stores) and the nearby St Catherine’s cathedral. We had Snack Family Doner Kebab for dinner. We dropped back by the Grand Place on our way back to the hotel (they’re very close to each other).

Day Two

We went to breakfast at Peck 47 (repeat from last time) and P Dubs also got coffee at the nearby Corica, whose barista was super friendly and helpful. We walked to Cantillon from there, where we listened to the founder’s “great great great grandson” (not sure how many greats were in there, and he looked like a teenager). We were suitably awed by the brewery and proceeded to taste most of the available beers. We spent 4.5 hours there. We also bought a ton of beer, which I had to carry back. We bought 18 bottles there — 12 gueuezes, 3 krieks, and 3 Rose de Gambrinus (raspberry).

We went back to drop them off at the hotel and then went back to Brussels Central to find an ATM. We also noticed the military presence — a military vehicle and at least three fully uniformed and armed soldiers walking around. This seemed to be the case every day, which is sad.

Then we went for waffles and street beer (I had Chimay blue). We went to the Little Delirium. We saw St Michael’s Cathedral (I’m not sure why I like this building so much — I mean, it’s just another incredibly impressive European cathedral). We saw a tuba as a street instrument (first time for me, excluding marching bands). We had more waffles. We had frites.

We went to a bar/restaurant named Poechellekelder, where we had more Cantillon and some other beers. We had dinner at Aux Paves de Bruxelles – steak and picadillo, pork shank, mussels. We went to Moeder (another repeat visit) for sour beers (I had more Cantillon). We went back to the Grand Place for some night time photos, which turned out well.

Day Three

We had breakfast at a pastry shop named Aux Merveilleux, including stroopwafels, and went back to Corica for more delicious coffee from the friendly barista. Then we did more general sight seeing, such as actually entering the square in the middle of Town Hall, the largest and most impressive building there — the first time I’ve seen it open. We stopped at Hard Rock for lame souvenir grabbing. I played with the camera and tried to freeze bees with high shutter speeds.

We packed up beer. My little suitcase was very heavy. KrisDi’s big suitcase was also heavy. We went to the Drug Opera (no idea why it’s called that) for lunch and beer. Then we went back to a convenience stores with Westvleteren XII in their fridge and bought some street beers. It’s ridiculous to walk around with a bottle of this 10.2% world-renowned beer. We went to the little park in front of St Michael’s Cathedral to chill and drink them.

And then we headed to the train station to head to Amsterdam.

Takeaways / Other Stuff

Throughout all of our wandering, I kept going into convenience stores and specialty stores looking for Westvleteren XII and checking prices. Lowest I saw I think was 13.50 euros, but it was stored in direct sunlight; highest I saw was 18. I bought six to take home; P Dubs bought one. We bought three to drink while walking around. I think we bought them at three different stores altogether.

I loved the night time pictures we took in Grand Place, and I totally attribute them to the new camera. I think with the old camera, we probably could have gotten comparable pictures by meticulously fiddling with settings and maybe using a tripod or something — but this thing was literally just point-and-shoot.

I love Brussels. Not sure (aside from the beer) what I love so much about it.

 

Posted by snaotheus in Photo updates, 1 comment

London

London

Part one of our European vacation was in London.

Day One

Chilkoot was quietly weeping in the car on the way to drop us off at the airport. KrisDi’s parents were in town to watch them while we were out of town. We got to hang out at the United club in Seattle and eat free food and drink free drinks. We had lunch in Chicago during our layover — Reggio’s deep dish personal pizza and an Italian beef. Generally, travel was fine — we were worried about the mother with two small children — but they were awesome. There was a screamer somewhere else, though. Immigration in London was super slow. Took the Heathrow Express to Paddington Station (where I also found 50 yuan), found an ATM to get some local cash, and then the underground to Victoria Station, and then walked to our hotel. Getting around London was actually super easy with the tube.

We went to Camden Market for lunch, which had like thirty thousand little food stalls and/or shops of various varieties. We had a wide variety to choose from. We had arepas — thick corn meal “bread” with seasoned meats on them for lunch, Chin Chin liquid nitrogen ice cream, Ethiopian Coffee. Then we walked to BrewDog, where we waited out a brief but intense downpour.

We went back to the tube and went to Piccadilly Circus, where again it rained a lot, and we took shelter (and beer) in the White Horse, a Sam Smith focused pub. We walked from there to Green Park (including a search for a toilet, which wasn’t free), and visited Buckingham Palace. Then we walked to Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and the Houses of Parliament. On the way back to the hotel for the evening, we eventually found dinner at the Barley Mow, a pub. Fish & Chips, Steak & Ale Pie, and beer.

Day Two

Our first full day in Europe. We struggled to find breakfast at 7:30. We ended up buying tickets to see the Tower of London and wandering nearby until we found All Bar One, where I had the Full English Breakfast. Afterward, we walked back to the Tower of London, where we eventually determined the “Guided Tour” was actually more like a “Roughly Unidirectional Mob with an Unintelligible Costumed Shouter” and self-guided ourselves around the vicinity. Lots of interesting stuff there. Then we wandered around a small street market just under the Tower Bridge.

We went to a pub called Hung, Drawn, and Quartered for lunch and a beer. The we walked to St. Paul’s Cathedral, where we decided 20 euros each for entry wasn’t worthwhile.  Then we walked to the Globe Theater (just saw the outside), and to the Borough Market (which is awesome). We had exotic meats (including zebra and kangaroo!), and raclette — basically, toasted cheese on baby potatoes. Delicious (unlike the zebra and kangaroo).

We took a train to the London Eye, but the line and the price were unacceptable.  We walked some more to Trafalgar Square, where we helped each other climb on top of the giant lions. We wandered some more, looking for food and/or beer. We stumbled onto St. James Palace.

We walked some more until we found the King’s Head (Nicholson’s). We ate dinner which was OK, and we had sticky toffee pudding, which was really good.

We walked around in a circle before decided to visit the Goat (Greene King) for beer and more snacks. Then walked and tubed back to the hotel, where we continued to endure shitty internet connection.

Day Three

Our last full day in London. We decided that rather than searching for breakfast, we’d get room service. The Full English Breakfast was again a good choice. Lots of delicious stuff.

Then we headed out to Abbey Road for the Obligatory American London Tourist Picture. From there, we visited the gift shop affiliated with the dude who actually took the picture for us, and then we walked to Kensington Gardens and saw the palace there. We didn’t go through the palace, though.

Then we walked to the Albert Memorial, across the street from Albert Hall. We loitered around for a while before visiting Churchill Arms, a very old pub that has somehow grown a (very good) Thai restaurant in the back. However, when we arrived for lunch, their gas was broken, so there was no cooking. Just as we finished our beers, however, they got the gas back, and we ate delicious Thai.

After lunch, we went to The Muffin Man, hoping for “traditional” (“tourist”) English Tea with crumpets or cakes or scones or something — which they had, and it was delicious. We went back to Kensington Gardens to take a nap in the grass, and then walked through to Hyde Park and the Marble Arch.

We then wandered a while before hitting the Lowlander Cafe for Belgian beers. For dinner we wanted Indian, having heard that London is a great place for great Indian. However, we struck out at three different places — Dishoom, Masala Zone, and Punjab either had ~2 hour waits or reservations only (with no reservations available). So we found a pub — the Crown and Anchor — for a desperation dinner at 8 PM. Then back to the hotel.

Takeaways

  • I love the naming convention of two random nouns — “The Crown and Moose”, “Iron and Music”, “Fire and Mayonnaise”…I could go on and on.
  • It’s surprisingly hard to find an independent pub in London (at least in the areas we were). Almost half we saw were associated with Greene King, most of the other half were associated with Nicholsons, one or two were associated with Fullers, and the White Horse was associated with Sam Smith.
  • I like carbonated beer more than I like cask beer (in general).
  • The Tube is awesome.
  • Food was better than rumored, on the whole.
Posted by snaotheus in Food, Photo updates, 1 comment

August Part I

August Part I

We had our company picnic. Clowns, petting zoo, and bouncy house were hired. Children were delighted. Colleagues brought their own kinetic sculptures for test drives and impressive Lego Mindstorm marble machines for demonstrations. Bunnies were disappointingly absent from the company picnic this year due to heat. We didn’t win anything, but other people did. It was a good time, like it usually is. Chilkat remembers it from two years ago, and has been asking about it.

We went to KrisDi’s online friend’s kid’s birthday party. I had an interesting conversation about it with Chilkat when we were leaving. “Did you remember to say thank you to the birthday boy’s mom?”

“Why? We only came because Mom came. We weren’t invited. We don’t know the birthday boy.” Or something to that effect.

“Well, did you get a gift bag? Did the balloon guy make you things? Did you get food, candy, and cake? Weren’t those all nice things that you enjoyed?”

“OK, fine.”

Our washing machine sprung a leak. Googling around, it seemed the door seal was the most likely culprit, and step one was to try cleaning it. In cleaning it, I found a hole big enough to stick my finger through. Putting duct tape on the hole did not slow the leak. I ordered a new seal, but it didn’t arrive until just before we left the country. Luckily, Les can’t help but work on things like that, so it was fixed by the time I got home.

We went camping at Seaquest State Park, out near Mount Saint Helens. For a bit, the kids were freaked out about the volcano, but they quickly forgot about it. This was our first two night camping trip (good idea — one night means 50% of your time is spent setting up or tearing down). The False Alarms also came camping with us.

We brought our telescope, because we specifically wanted to see the Perseid meteor shower. However it was cloudy as hell the whole time (we couldn’t even see the moon). It poured on us as we tried to pack up on Sunday (gee, 50+ day dry streak is broken when I’m trying to put away a tent).

KrisDi prepared much fancier food than the False Alarms did. Toasted ham and cheese croissants versus instant ramen. Breakfast burritos versus microwave egg and sausage breakfast substance boiled in a pot of water.

We hiked, drank, played, ate, burned things, and generally had a very good time. On the way back, we stopped at a couple breweries. No meteors, but a very nice long weekend. It seems like we’re getting better at camping. We still bring a ton of stuff, but the truck seemed less full for this two day trip than previous one day trips, and I don’t think we were missing anything at all.

Posted by snaotheus in Family, Photo updates, 1 comment

July 2017 Part III

July Part III

During Elder Brother’s visit, he tried to make coffee, but left out a key part of the coffee machine, resulting in 12 cups of coffee running down our counter and into the cabinet area where KrisDi keeps recipes, coupons, random stuff, and a lot of her favorite artsy things produced by the kids. We separated all of it and spread it out all over the garage floor and the dinner table to dry, and meticulously re-sorted it and put it back where it belonged. Of course, it’s damaged, but at least it’s still intact.

Mom came down to visit and see two sons and four grandchildren simultaneously. I think she had a good time, although all of us were pretty busy running around at the time.

We took them to the Space Needle. This was an expensive and rushed visit — we needed to leave at a particular time so we could get my brother’s car to the shipping company to get it to Guam. I think we spent 20 minutes on the needle, and 45 waiting in line, and another 45 or so climbing and playing on the park equipment outside.

Chilkoot also had his four year doctor appointment that day. He’s a healthy little boy.

That night, we drank and hung out. I didn’t drink as much, knowing I had to work the next morning. Actually, I didn’t end up working — I took the kids up to day care by work, and then came back down to help get my brother’s family to the airport, then drove back up to work and got a call a mile away from day care saying Chilkoot had a fever of 101 and was acting lethargic. So, I went into the office long enough to announce I was going home and reschedule some meetings, took Chilkoot back home, and spent the rest of the day there. Basically, he was fine, but couldn’t go to day care because of the fever. KrisDi had to stay home the next day. We think it was just a reaction to the vaccines the day before.

When KrisDi stayed home, she took the kids to Build a Bear, basically an unplanned Mommy Kids Day. Chilkoot stepped on the “stuffed animal filling machine”, teaching the operator that yes, he really should turn it completely off when he doesn’t have an empty stuffed animal attached to it.

KrisDi had her work picnic. Nothing particular to say — it was a little chilly, the kids had fun, played at a park, tossed eggs, were suitably adored by those in attendance.

Chilkat figured out how to climb trees. Well…one tree. One close to the facility where they take piano and tumbling lessons. It has a wide branch structure, close together and close to the ground. She really enjoys it, though, which I’m totally happy about.

The Popes’ younger daughter Sharkey was diagnosed by a rheumatologist with “polyarticular idiosynchratic arthritis”, which explained her stiff left leg when walking and lack of running. Poor girl. Hopefully she’ll grow out of it.

The False Alarms’ younger daughter B had her birthday party at Pump It Up — not a lot to say. Kids played and played and jumped and jumped. I had fun playing with the fancy camera’s low light high speed capabilities. I got decent (but not stellar) pictures. During the party, we got updates on the False Alarms’ plumbing issues: They had a friend volunteer to help replace the kitchen sink; they removed the kitchen sink, and then he disappeared. Meanwhile, False Alarms decided to also rip out a bunch of existing piping, resulting in zero water in the house.

After the birthday party, we went to the Family Fun Center, a high end Chuck E Cheese type of place. One of the things they have there is kind of like bumper cars, but boats with squirt guns. Chilkoot and I were in one both with Chilkat in another, so we got to putter around trying to soak each other. But, Chilkat’s tiny, and she can completely duck into the boat and leave nothing to hit. I, on the other hand, am like a tower. I’m hard to miss.

Of course, our help with the False Alarms’ plumbing was requested before we left the Family Fun Center. So, we went back to the house to grab a random selection of tools (not knowing what I might encounter or need, having no idea of the situation and no experience with plumbing), and heading all the way back down to Tacoma to help (would have been more effective to ask for our help at the birthday party, or better yet, beforehand…).

The situation we encountered: They had good reasons for ripping out piping. They have an old house, and the pipes were thoroughly rusted on the inside. The planning involved in it was nonexistent, however. The recommended replacement piping is Pex, but this requires a crimping tool that was not available at the hardware store two miles from their house. So, GFA decided to wing it and use PVC, which is apparently not generally used for house water piping (maybe for sprinklers or pools). No crimping required — but it’s a stiff, thick pipe and all the joints are hard and have to be epoxied together. Another friend, let’s call him Dan (a carpenter, also not a plumber, but closer than me) was along for the ride. He had a sneaking suspicion that PVC was the wrong technique. I just shrugged and played along, not knowing one way or the other.

We did not come to a resolution the first night, although we stayed pretty late.

Eventually, after 437 trips to the hardware store and with the help of a lot of beer and some green materials that are legal in this state, Dan got shitfaced and we got stuff put together to the point where we thought we could turn on the water. We did so, and we had minor leaks for about 30-45 seconds, at which point a cap blew off quite thunderously and yielded a lot of loud yelling that scared the kids and a moderate wet mess in the basement.

Then someone drove the extra 5 miles to another hardware store and bought the Pex crimping tool, I ripped out all the PVC, and by the afternoon of the second day, the False Alarms had water again — although hot and cold were swapped. I think Mrs. False Alarm enjoyed the heated toilet, though.

A few days later, another friend came along to help them switch the hot and the cold back to normal. As far as I know, they still don’t have a kitchen sink. But at least they can bath and flush.

KrisDi got another haircut. Her last haircut most would consider extreme; you might expect that she got a small trim, but instead she got another haircut that most would consider extremely.

In between the plumbing adventures, we went to see a musical production of the Little Mermaid. Both kids loved it.

Posted by snaotheus in Family, Photo updates, 2 comments