Saturday, April 5, 2008

Girls just 'gotta have fun

The girls arrived yesterday, I don't think that they slept at all on the plane. They alternated two hour maps and two hour ooh's and ah's at the Netherlands for the rest of the day before collapsing with a movie about ten and sleeping through to mid morning.

It didn't slow them down when it came to Paris, though. Mine is on the left. It's going to be exciting keeping up :)




Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Idle chit-chat at mid-week

Nothing momentous on my mind today; just a few bits and bobs to share...

My daughter arrives tomorrow...

I'm finding myself acting a bit like my mother does when we visit: cleaning, buying food I think she'll like, thinking about things we can do together. I also remember that I usually disappoint my mother in this regard: it never goes according to script and there is never enough time to do it all. I'm deliberately lowering my expectations from "things to do" to "time I'd enjoy if she would": I am not going to let this become a marathon.

If bad things will happen, they happen in the first 10 minutes of the day. E-mail and text-messages were full this morning: My wife discovered a few half-empty liquor bottles in her room and, while there's no evidence that she's drinking them, it's heightened my sense of responsibility here. So, I've cleared out all of the liquor bottles that the apartment owner left. Unfortunately, my work-mates tell me that Dutch children can drink liquor at 18 and beer and wine at 16 (I'm sure my daughter already knew that).

Windows Live Writer fix

A couple of days ago, Windows Live stopped posting pictures to Blogger with an Internal Server Error 500. I tracked through Knowledge Base, posted queries on Help, and re-installed Writer. Finally someone on Windows Live Help pointed out that Blogger pictures are actually posted in Picasa Web Albums, which have a limit of 500 pictures. The fix is simple (thanks, Bruno at Simulacrum).

'Stupid of Blogger not to post this in their Help. It was also *miserable* trying to use the native Blogger posting interface all week: I'm so happy to be back to Writer.

Video on Demand

Although I subscribe to a "triple-play" UPC media package, the TV has always been a bit spotty. Channels sometimes break into digital pixels, several channels (Al Jazeera) never came in at all. Test Channel 999 revealed that the IP connection wasn't working, so I called UPC customer service. At 10 cents a minute, I got put on hold at multiple stations before being told to check the splitter. Indeed, the ground shield was shorting to the signal wire: my work improved but did not fix the situation.

Rather than continue to troubleshoot (at 10 cents a minute), I asked UPC to send out a tech ("He'll arrive between 8 am and 1 pm"). Definitely the right move: He spoke English, isolated the problem, replaced the splitter, checked all the cables, got the TV (and even the On Demand movies) working, and did not break the Internet. I celebrated by watching "The Firm" on-demand: perfect, and only 2 euros.

Renewing the Visa

'Paperwork went in March 19: there is a lot of evidence that has to be collected for the submission. I got the government bill today (188 euro), and notice that it will take two months to complete. Since my residency permit expires on May 1, this is a problem. Fortunately, the Dutch government will give an extension while they complete the processing: I need to appear in person on April 29. Still, no problems, fingers crossed.

...and the Ark is gone....

The full-sized Noah's Ark that was moored by the drug-rehab boat near Arnhem city center vanished aver the weekend. Unfortunately, the 40 days and 40 nights of rain took almost 3 hours to drive through the rain back from Schiphol this afternoon.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Arts and Waffles in Dusseldorf

Sometimes I overlook the good things lying right across my doorstep.

I almost skipped over Gary Bembridge's "Tips for Travellers" podcast on Dusseldorf: what could there be to say? I had passed through many times: my impressions from the airport and train station were of a charmless city, as compared to Koln or Dutch destinations. But Gary claimed that it was full of life, with wonderful arts, fashion, restaurants, and festivals.

Clearly, I had missed something.

So, as the rain moved back into Arnhem on Sunday, it was worth taking a spin over to Germany and check things out. Encouragingly, the clouds dissipated and trees came into bloom as the road ran on toward the rising sun.

The first destination was the K20 art museum, located next to the old city center. Critics praise the building's design, jet-black stone and curved facade, but I was much more impressed with the collection of paintings. The current exhibition, A Last View - The Collection's Masterpieces, shows many of Picasso's works in various styles (his versatility is amazing: he was always moving on when others were catching up), a wonderful room of Klee's colorful paintings, several of Kandinsky's "Composition" series, and diverse works by the Blue Riders, Chagal, Pollock, and Matisse. I've always liked the energy and creativity of the post-World War I artists, and the K20 galleries are well arranged and full of light. The guards are a bit twitchy, but this is really worth a couple of hour's visit. The K20 will close on April 27 for renovation until autumn 2009, so now is the last chance to see it.

Outside the gallery, it's a short stroll to the pedestrian core of the city. The Ko fashion area was closed on Sunday, but the 240 bars and restaurants that make up the Altstadt was jumping. I think that it was Football Sunday: the Irish pubs were doing brisk business with the Liverpool and Chelsea matches, and the streets and bars were crowded with couples and small groups. Strolling musicians (guitars and accordions) keep things festive, and there are restaurants to fit any imaginable taste and appetite.

A long line of people wound across the street from one dark archway where a small shop selling waffles was the focus. I joined the queue, and was rewarded with a really wonderful powdered sugar waffle. It was heavier than the Belgian version, and slightly undercooked in comparison to a US breakfast waffle, but the recipe was very good. Some people were eating them with ice cream and jam, but I preferred the simpler variety (very filling in any case).

The nearby Dussel riverfront was good place to walk off all the sugar. The city is set back from the rushing water, providing a wide walkway lined with restaurant pits that remind me of the Scheveningen beachfront. KD River cruises depart for Zons and Koln (a five-hour one-way trip), the fast current was making for tough sailing both for the cruises and the river barges, but it will be great on a sunny day.

Overall, I was really impressed with the ambience and activity throughout the area: the art was outstanding and the outdoor focus will really be good once the nicer weather arrives.