Tuesday, 30 December 2008

cut the crap

Last night I was in Mulligans and met Collins and Marina Brekova who had been out to dinner. Marina works as a hairdresser in 'Cut the Crap'. I said that I was in dire need of a haircut again. When I do it myself I always get comments from the women that I've skipped parts. Well, I don't have eyes in the back of my head so I do miss some parts there.

Marina said she'd give me a haircut. I said she needed to do my beard too. This scared her: "I've never done beards before! My father does beards." Since Marina's father Shterion lives in Bulgaria that would be too long a trip just to get my beard cut. I told her not to fear, "if it looks horrible you can always shave it off completely". She submitted to my plea.

So today I got on the #3 tram to Haarlemmerplein where Cut the Crap has its shop.

cut the crap

Marina had told me to come around 15:15. I was a bit early, so she made me a coffee and continued to work on her customer.

marina at work

When he was ready she told me to get into the chair and got her electric clippers out.

marina in attack mode

It took Marina 45 minutes to do both my head and my beard. It usually takes me about 10 minutes, which is probably why I miss parts. I had told her to make my head look like something she would be willing to look at; when she kissed me good bye she had her eyes closed…

I liked it though, so it was a well spent trip. I walked back home along the Haarlemmerdijk.


Down the Nieuwedijk, through the 'Wallen' and down Waterlooplein. Then on past the Hortus.

bridge guard's bike

From there I walked down the Roeterstraat en past the OLVG. Joeri had reminded me they had put up a large pentagram above the entrance of the hospital. Onze Lieve Heavy Metal Gasthuis or Onze Lieve Wicca Gasthuis?

onze lieve heavy metal gasthuis

I got some sushi from the AH for dinner. I had counted on eating a portion of 'bitterballen' tonight at the range in Hoofddorp, but Jaap phoned me and said he was sick, so he couldn't pick me up. No shooting tonight, and no bitterballen. If I get hungry later tonight I'll have to see what I'll do. Maybe run down to Maxwell's and have some bitterballen there.

392 kcalories…

Monday, 29 December 2008

deep freeze ducks

Last night I went to the session in Mulligans where I met Kate. I had seen her business website in the afternoon and commented on the deplorable state of it. "It looks like some six-year old has been playing with a badly-written visual web editor," I said. "Thanks," Kate said, "I made it myself. Can you do better?"

I said I thought I could, and therefore this morning I threw a couple of hours into making a new website. It is online now (only for Kate) but I haven't heard back from her yet. Maybe she died of shock or is now in total denial en never wants to talk to me again. We'll see.

After working for Kate I went for a walk in Frankendael. It is really freezing now and the ducks in the Ringvaart must have pretty cold feet.

deep freeze ducks

The sun was low in the sky which gives everything a pretty colour.

frankendael park

I sat down for a cup of coffee in the Frankendael Villa. It was very busy there and there was only only one girl serving. It took her 35 minutes to take my order for a cup of coffee and then another 15 minutes before I got it. I drank it in 5 minutes and then had to wait 10 minutes before I could pay. Maybe they should get more staff.

When I walked out the sun was getting real low on the horizon.

sunset over damhattan

One of the ponds in the park had trees planted in it. I don't know if that is a good idea when it is freezing. Maybe they're special non-freeze trees. Or the park's designers count on global warming.

frozen trees

I zigzagged around the Don Bosco area and emerged at the Ringdijk where I saw Winston Churchill guarding a house. It has mostly been cut off by the frame, but in the original photo he's holding a .45 Thompson sub-machine gun. Who needs a guard dog when you've got Winston?

never mind the dog, churchill keeps watch

A few doors from Winston a new bar-restaurant is opening. Called the Quatpass, it is the sister-bar to Maxwell's, with the same owners. When I looked in they were still busy building the interior. Opening is on January 1st around 16:00. The owners said I was welcome to a glass of champagne when I show up. Sounds like a good idea to go and check it out. It's always good to have more 'classy' places in the neighbourhood.

Sunday, 28 December 2008


A couch day today; I played around with facebook, since that is where the other half of my friends seem to hang out. I am now a member of three social networks: Hyves, where my Dutch friends hang out; Facebook, where my English speaking friends hang out and LinkedIn, where my colleagues can be found. I absolutely refuse to add another social network unless it is the one where everybody hangs out. I spend more time trying to figure out on-line what my friends are doing than actually meeting them. I am beginning to feel that I'm living in a virtual reality…

One of my friends from a virtous reality, Nicole, made a bruschetta the other day and I thought it would be nice to give it a try. She had given the ingredients on her blog and it were all things I like, such as tomatoes, red onions, basil leaves, feta cheese and olive oil.

I bought all this yesterday and added garlic and balsamic vinegar to the list.

bruschetta ingredients

I began by slicing and dicing the tomatoes, onions and scooping up the feta. I made all portions equal size, except for the basil leaves.

sliced & diced

Throw the lot in a big bowl, add about a teaspoon of garlic, two tablespoons of olive oil and a dash of balsamic vinegar.

mixed feelings ingredients

I toasted four slices of Hartog's whole wheat bread which were about to go stale and put the mix on top.

on toast

It tasted reasonably good. I think I made a few mistakes, though. I didn't skin the onions too well; hard pieces of the skin were left and didn't feel pleasant while eating. I had bought feta in herb oil. Next time I'll buy either plain feta or try mozarella as the cheese. The feta oil overpowered the extra virgine oil and the balsamic vinegar. It even overpowered the garlic! Still, a healthy lunch and there's bit left for tomorrow.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

no music

Yesterday I went for a walk to Betondorp, 'concrete village'. It is named that way because when it was built in the 1920's the architects prescribed concrete as the building material for a large part of the village. The village is an exponent of the 'nieuwe zakelijkheid', the 'new business style' of the Amsterdam School.

To get to Betondorp I had to walk through Frankendael Park. The restaurant in the villa was closed, so I couldn't stop here for a cup of coffee as I had planned.

frankendael gates

I walked along the Middenweg past the Frankendael Grand Cafe. Somebody had made a present of it.

the other frankendael

On the way I saw Vincent's new car (in red!).

hell on wheels

At the end of Middenweg is Betondorp, just before you get to Diemen. Half the village is built in brick, the other half in concrete. Veeteeltstraat is the dividing line. The strange building with the space ray gun on top is not a church, I think. Across the road from it is a Hindu temple which doesn't look like a Hindu temple. In Betondorp nothing seems to be what it looks like.

pow! zap! bzzz!

I emerged from Betondorp on the other side, on Rozenburglaan. By this time the sun was getting real low in the sky which gave a magnificent golden light to everything. This tree was really lit up by the sun.

betondorp tree

I made another photo of it which I turned into a black & white photo. It looks completely different this way.

betondorp tree in b&w close-up

I passed under the Gooiseweg motorway where the banks were covered in basalt-like stones. The low sun gave them a golden colour.

colour & texture

I walked along the canal to Amstel station.


From the station I walked across Maliebaan to the Nobelweg and across the Ringvaart. One more photo of the setting sun and I was home.

ringvaart at sunset

In the evening I went to the Cave, the heavy-metal bar on Prinsengracht. I got there by 22:00 because I had heard Artery was playing. Mulligans is closed on Boxing Day and I thought a crowd of people I know would gather here. € 5 to get in because there was a band playing.

Only, there wasn't a band playing and Huby (Artery's bass player who was the only one I knew in the whole bar) told me that another band had cancelled and Artery wouldn't play until after twelve. Huby had friends over from Bulgaria and he was going to show them around the Leidseplein before his gig started. I phoned Collins to see if he was coming out to the Cave. Collins said he wasn't. By this time I was alone in the cave apart from about 50 kids who could be my grandchildren, no place to sit and very loud music I didn't really like.

I walked out the door, got a 'kroket' from the Febo and took a tram to Linnaeusstraat. I walked down to the corner of Tugelaweg where Ed's band 'Chapeau' was supposed to play in the 'Ruk & Pluk' café. When I walked up to the door I heard a man singing very loudly and badly in a terrible Amsterdam accent. People were dancing the polonaise to the music. No Chapeau… I fled home.


Today I had a good sleep-in. It was freezing cold; the weather forecast is for freezing temperatures until after New Year. Ice skating on natural ice will be possible in a few days.

I don't skate, so I didn't have to get my skates sharpened nor did I have to do practive laps at the skating track. All I had to do is my shopping. I bought balsamic vinegar, olive oil, red onions, feta, basilicum, tomatoes and all sorts of other things that might come in handy when you're hungry.

The last shop on the list was Erik's delicatessen where I had a good look at their selection of French cheeses, but in the end decided on a 20+ Leidsche farm cheese. Yum.

french cheeses at erik's delicatessen

Tonight I'm going to Mulligans; 'Stargazer' is playing and I'm sure I'll meet some people that I know. I walked outside, froze off my butt and walked back in again. Nice and warm in my room. Maybe I'll go to the session tomorrow.

Friday, 26 December 2008

x-mas dinner

Yesterday, Christmas day, I mostly did nothing. I got up late, surfed the interwebtubes and, through Nicole's blog, happened on Craig365's blog. There I read something about a loan system he participated in, kiva.org, and that he had been paid back. I wondered what it was and went to have a look at the kiva.org website. It out to be a micro credit system for people in third-world countries.

The site couples third-world entrepreneurs who need money (micro loans, typically under $1000) with people who have money. This goes through local organisations who extend the micro credit and then try to fund it through kiva.org. The nice thing about this system is that you can see where your money goes; you don't donate money to an anonymous NGO, but lend it to a real person who (hopefully) will pay it back while bettering their live at the same time. You choose who gets your money, based on the loaner's business plan.

I had some money floating around from my Christmas bonus and decided to put it into action. I have funded 6 persons in different continents / countries with loans of $25 each. Loans are pooled with other people, so if a loaner asks for $250 you might get 10 people funding $25 each. On the website you can see when people pay back the loan and then that money is credited to you again to either take out or loan again to someone else.

I think this is a good system for us in the developed world to help those who are not so flush with money. Sometimes all it takes to make a difference between being dependent on hand-outs or being self sufficient is a few coins. If you, dear blog reader, have a few spare coins (or bank notes) lying around, why not do the same and join kiva.org? The money will come back to you, and if it doesn't, just think that you are still better off than the poor fellow who loaned it from you and can't pay it back!

The web site is http://www.kiva.org/; if you want to look at the people I've funded you can check my kiva profile.

And now for something completely different: the Christmas dinner.

Danny and Marion had planned to make a Christmas dinner for lonely starving bachelors. Gerrit K. and I were invited. Why Gerrit was invited I don't know, since he didn't look like he was starving. He was actually getting more belly than the last time I've seen him. Maybe there is some strange fat transfer going on in Amsterdam whereby I'm loosing it and he's gaining it…

I went to Marion's around 17:00, bringing the tiramisu I yesterday wrestled out of the demographically driven AH conglomerate. I was welcomed with a cup of green tea and a mountain of chocolates, most of which were made by Marion in her chocoholic workshop.

When Gerrit finally showed up (he got lost) dinner was served immediately. The sisters of mercy ladies had decided on a Chinese fondue. This is a vegetable broth in which you throw more green(ish) stuff. For protein there was salmon. It tasted very good. I did find out that you don't want leave your broccoli in the boiling broth too long as they get very soggy that way.

x-mas dinner

After dinner we each had 75 grams of tiramisu, which added 205 kcalories to the meal. It tasted not too bad, though. More calories were added in the form of whiskies, wines and crackers later in the night which we spent watching a feature-length cartoon, Surf's Up, and part three of The Lord of the Rings. All very comfy, cosy, gemütlich en gezellig.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

hunting tiramisu

I had been given instructions to produce tiramisu for tomorrow's dinner at Marion's. Tiramisu, for those who don't know it, is an Italian concoction made of savoiardi dipped in coffee and mascarpone cream. I had bought it in the past at the AH supermarket downstairs from me. A big box full of it at a reasonable price and good tasting. Down the stairs I went to buy a box.

I hadn't counted on the 'Kees buys at AH' effect which states that whatever I buy at AH more than once will be removed from their shelves. I had bought tiramisu more than once at AH and therefor there wasn't any for sale. I asked the shop manager what had happened to the tiramisu and he said that due to the demographics of the area (lots of Muslims) deserts with booze don't sell here.

I thought: if AH doesn't sell any, maybe the traiteurs in the neighbourhood will have some. On Beukenplein the South-African traiteur had gone, but a new owner had taken over. "Sorry, no tiramisu, but we have cheesecake". Not good enough, tiramisu is what I need. There's cheese in tiramisu (the mascarpone), so maybe Eric's Delicatessen & Cheese shop next door will have some. The shop was filled to the rafters with late food shoppers. When it was my turn they had to disappoint me. Tiramisu? Nah.

Amsterdam-East demographics is 60-80% Muslim so the chance of finding tiramisu here is between slim and none. I started walking. First to the Saladetuin, the Salad Garden. This is one of the better caterers in Amsterdam and we use them at work sometimes. "Sorry, can't help you". Next was AH on Wibautstraat. No big boxes of tiramisu; just tiny little cups with barely a mouthful, and only three of those. Dinner is for four.

I was thinking that it would have easier to make my own, but a) I had never made any before and b) I didn't know the exact recipe [update: I have now found a recipe at cookingforengineers.com, which I'll try at a later date]. So I made it to the next AH, the one in Sarphatistraat. This is a big one, in the city centre, open on Sundays, lots of tourists, etc. If there was any tiramisu in Western Europe it would be here. They had two of the little cups. No bigga boxes offa tha stuffa. I cornered the manager: "we get stocked again after Christmas, so on Saturday we'll have lots of it".

I walked down the Sarphatistraat to the AH on van Swindenstraat. Full demographic effect: no tiramisu whatsoever. By this time I was switching to panic mode and hit every place that looked like it might have tiramisu. Bakeries, supermarkets, cake shops, coffee shops, Italian car dealers; you name it, I was there. The demographics worked against me.

I walked past the AH on Linnaeusstraat and straight into Kwekkeboom, Amsterdam's best known cake and sweets bakery. They didn't have any. Across the road in Pretoriusstraat is a C1000 supermarket. No luck either.

I thought: "what the hell, I'll give the AH on Linnaeusstraat a try. It probably won't work but if you don't try you'll never know for sure." They had one box of tiramisu. Not the old style 'big' box, but a new style AH 'Excellent' (i.e. more expensive) 300 gram box of tiramisu. Glorious tiramisu.

The label on the back says that one portion of tiramisu (75 grams) is 205 kcalories. I've walked four kilometres to buy this box. That burned 400 kcalories. Eating tiramisu is good for weight control if you live in the east of Amsterdam.

Have a good Yuletide!

merry christmas!

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

teflon ice

I had a good night's sleep and got up late. Not much in the larder, so I ran down the stairs to the AH and got a litre of yoghurt. Mixed with my nuclear muesli from Poland (still the same I got for my birthday!) it made a good breakfast.

Later in the morning I went for a shopping walk-about to the AH on Wibautstraat and Hartog's bakery.

AH wibautstraat

I walked back through Oosterparkstraat where I got some nice ham and meatballs from the butcher. I saw a yellow Deutsche Post bike parked here. I didn't see any of those last weekend in Germany.

deutsche post

The graffiti in the neighbourhood is Copyright by the Walt Disney Company.

© walt disney

In the evening I heard loud music coming from the square. When I looked out of the window I saw they had installed a skating rink on the square. I walked down for a better look.

It was one of the initiatives to take back our neighbourhood from the dealers and junkies. These people don't like it when there's a lot happening in their sales area, so things are organised to attract people to the square.

It worked; no dealers and junkies to be seen on the square. What could be seen was a lot of kids (Moroccan, Turkish and Surinamese) learning how to skate. I talked to the guys who had set up the rink and heard that they couldn't afford a real skating rink with real ice, so they had brought a teflon floor and special skates. The kids were having fun anyway, learning to skate (and how to fall).

teflon ice skating

The skates had special irons, not sharpened in the normal 'hollow' way, but with a flat bottom. This way you can skate on a smooth surface such as teflon. Real ice is a lot more slippery and is better for skating, but this works, too.

red skates

I saw more kids on the skating rink in 5 minutes than I've seen on the square in the last 5 years. The project works.

trip to hamburg

Reante and Torsten had invited us to come to Hamburg for a mediæval banquet, so on Saturday morning Danny, Marion, Janneke and I set off at an ungodly hour in Janneke's car to drive to Germany.

We took the Autobahn (motorway) to Osnabrück and then the A1 to Hamburg.

autobahn, germany

Renate had found us a pension in Buxtehude, a small town about 30 km from Hamburg. Another friend, Ute, lives here and picked us up around 15:45 to drive us to the banquet.

pension meyer, buxtehude

The banquet didn't start until 19:00, so before we sat and talked. The food was excellent; the chef, Michi, had started out as a hobby cook, but has gone professional in the last two years as a caterer for re-enactment and LARP events. He cooked us a mountain of food… Marion was very happy that the vegetarian section wasn't 'just a normal meal without the meat' but a special treat for her: a soft goat's cheese from the oven, topped with shaved almonds in a honey sauce. I had a bite and it was delicious!

mediæval banquet

After the banquet Ute drove us back to the pension and we were in bed around midnight.

We got up late on Sunday and, after a good breakfast, took the S-bahn to Hamburg. This metro train takes about 40 minutes to get from Buxtehude to the Hamburg Central Station.

s-bahn #3 to hamburg, danny on the right

The station was lit up with christmas decorations.

hauptbahnhof hamburg, janneke on the left

Marion spied a pink T-mobile pay phone and had to check if the colours matched her pink scull beanie.

pink phone, marion in the middle

Walking out of the station we hit the Weihnachtsmarkt, the Christmas Market. This is a big thing in Germany; every city, town and village has a Christmas market where people try to sell the most horrible looking kitsch and other people jump at the chance to buy it.

christmas market

Unfortunately, the weather was bad. Saturday was sunny and dry, Sunday it was raining the whole day. Not nice if you're walking through town. It was raining so hard the city's Christmas tree stood on an island…

christmas tree on the 'binnenalster'

The Christmas markets were all over the 'altstad', the old town. In front of the City Hall, the 'Rathaus' was one that specialised in food.

city hall ('rathaus')

A Cossack Choir from Rostov was singing on the bridge leading to the Rathaus square.

cossack choir

At one of the food stalls we bought a big bag of roasted chestnuts. I had never eaten these before; the taste was not bad, but I think it is a bit overdone to eat them every year. Once or twice in a lifetime would suit me fine.

eating hot chestnuts

After walking around the food and bling stalls for a while, Janneke —who was getting mightily bored— suggested going to Speicherstadt. This is a part of the old town that was built between 1883 and 1914 as a dedicated warehouse area. In spite of the 'old' looks of the buildings they were far ahead of their time with innovations such as electric light and electric hoisting installations long before the rest of Hamburg had electricity.

speicherstadt (storage town)

The area is home to a number of museums and exhibitions. Janneke went to the Spice Museum; this is an exhibition of what was stored in the warehouses at the turn of last century: spices. The museum has information on all the different spices, their horticulture, transport, sale and use as well as their place in the history of Hamburg.

Marion and Danny went to the world's largest H0 model railway. This railway takes up the top floors of two warehouses, all 1,150 m² of it. At this moment the total length of track is 12 km, but an extension is planned to bring the length to 20 km on 2,300 m². The different sections of the railway depict Southern Germany, Hamburg and the coast, America, Scandinavia and Switzerland. Danny and Marion loved the railway and said they could easily have spent a few more hours looking around.

The Speicherstadt is also great for photographers, as every corner yields 'gothic' industrial looks.

block g

While the ladies were soaking up culture and roofed-over warmth, I was walking through the area, looking left, right, up and down.


I was sorry I had only brought my dinky little pocket camera instead of my DSLR with lenses and tripod. One of these days I'd like to back and spend a day (and evening) there.

harbour sunset

After the sun had set the lights were coming on in Speicherstadt and the whole area turned into a gothic 'cité noir' set.

brookfleet after sunset

Sunset in Hamburg in this time of year is around 16:30. We met each other again at the café near the Model Railway at 17:00 and made our way back to the Central Station. Here we took the S3 back to Buxtehude in search of an evening meal. Buxtehude, since Hamburg only had Glühwein and Bratwurst stalls. All the restaurants we saw were closed!

In Buxtehude we walked from the station to the shopping area in the 'Altstadt'. We were pleasantly surprised with the number of restaurants that were open and finally decided on a place on one of Buxtehude's canals, the Labyrinth on Westfleth. It was very quiet inside, but its redeeming quality was that their vegetarian menu was fairly large, which made Marion emit little shrieking sounds like a happy hamster :-)

westfleth, buxtehude

After the dinner (which tasted good) we went back to the pension and hit the sack. The next morning (Monday) we packed our gear in the car and drove to near the 'Altstadt'.

westfleth, buxtehude by daylight

The ladies had seen a yarn shop near the restaurant and wanted to check it out in daylight. More happy hamster sounds… I walked around a bit and made some photos.


After stocking up on enough wool to knit jumpers for a whole herd of sheep we walked around the old town some more. The night before we hadn't really explored, but there were lots more little restaurants than we had originally thought.

flethenkieker, sculpture by carsten eggers

The scenery of the old town was nice, too.


Hamburg, of course, was bombed during WW2 and thus has a 1950s look to it. Buxtehude on the other hand still has buildings from its rich period as a Hanze town in the 14th to 16th century.

fuhrmannshaus, fisherstraße

One of the buildings that was built only as late as 1911 is the 'Heimat' museum, the Museum for Regional History and Art. The whole building is built in what in Germany is called 'Lebkuchen' style. The whole façade of the building looks like it is made out of 'Lebkuchen, German pepper cakes. To a 21st century computer nerd it looks as if it is pixelated…

heimatmuseum, pixel perfect…

We had a quick lunch of coffee, 'käsekuchen' (cheese cake) and 'mohnkuchen' (poppy seed cake). By the way, this was a recurring theme in the weekend: hot chocolate with Baileys for the ladies, coffee for me and cake for all. Yummy, but not conductive to a weight loss regime.

autobahn sunset

After lunch we drove off towards Amsterdam. We made a stop in the Weser shopping mall in Bremen where Renate had pointed us to a textile shop. Janneke found a couple of meters of woollen cloth there, while Marion and Danny found more knitting wool. I found a bratwurst in the snack bar around the corner.

We were back in Amsterdam around 19:00. A good weekend.