Sunday, May 29, 2005

Who needs sleep?*

So I just added a bunch of links to my Amsterdam posts, as promised. Soon I will be setting up a Flickr site and there you can see pics from Amsterdam (many of them are Randal's rather than mine since he has the fancy-shmancy new digital camera) as well as pics from previous trips and things (SE-Asia!!!). Been on and off jet-lagged this weekend...or just post-trip doldrums, who knows? Anyway, back to work tomorrow ... real life manages to trudge along like always. Rion misses his Auntie Jan - we don't take him for 2-hour walks every day - but he is glad to have his floor renovation project back (no such home-decor projects possible at Auntie Jan's).

And now, without further ado, I am dragging my sorry ass to bed.

* As the Barenaked Ladies would say :
Who needs sleep?
(well you’re never gonna get it)
Who needs sleep?
(tell me what’s that for)
Who needs sleep?
(be happy with what you’re getting
There’s a guy who’s been awake
Since the second world war)

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Never enough time ...

So it's my last day in Amsterdam. Blogging has been a bit harder than I thought it might be, simply because Internet cafes aren't as widespread as I had hoped. There have been Internet terminals in the two hostels we stayed at (we went back to the Stadsdoelen after the weekend at the Vondelpark) but expensive. 1 Euro (I can see the key for the Euro-sign on my keyboard but can't figure out how to access it) for 12 minutes, whereas at the Internet cafe we like to use it is 2 Euros for one hour. Much better. Except it's only open till 10:00 p.m., which meant we showed up after it had closed quite a few nights. (When Randal was here last a few years ago, it was open 24-hours.)

So Tuesday I was in the process of writing a witty post (but of course!) about all our adventures over the weekend, when we decided on the spur of the moment to go see Star Wars : Revenge of the Sith, which was playing right away at the theatre next door. In a nutshell, better than the first two by a long shot, but still disappointing compared to the original three. Hayden Christensen is nothing short of an awful actor. I did enjoy the Emperor, however - I must find out (when I get back home) if it is the same actor who originally played the Emperor because he is certainly bang-on.* Anyway, that was exciting and the theatre was beautiful. It looks like an old refurbished church, with a balcony level as well for seating. Nice plush comfy seats. Popcorn over here is strange, though. It tasted like the stuff you get at a Kernels store rather than Movie Popcorn. Still good, though.

So, since last time I posted in a nutshell.

Thursday evening we went to the Anne Frank Museum. Friday was the move over to the Vondelpark, plus we went to the Torture Museum (nothing short of fascinating). Saturday we hit a local market, then later in the afternoon went to the Amsterdam Historical Museum. Great museum, but you must go earlier in the day, we soon discovered. Sunday we exhausted ourselves at the Rijksmuseum, then in the evening had dinner-and-a-show with Boom Chicago, a comedy improv troupe of Americans who have been performing here for about 12 years. VERY FUNNY. Monday we exhausted ourselves at the Vincent van Gogh Museum - it was marvelous, though it turns out that when I was in France about 9 years ago, and some American guy told me that I had to go to Amsterdam in order to see the famous "Starry Night", well, HE WAS WRONG. "Starry Night", according to the friendly folk at the Vincent van Gogh Museum (and they should know!), is in fact part of the collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Figures.

Well, luckily my Amsterdam trip was not in vain, despite the absence of "Starry Night". We bought many goodies at the Museum. On Tuesday, we went back to the Amsterdam Historical Museum and spent the entire afternoon there (we still had to hurry near the end - it's one of the more comprehensive museums of that type that I've been in). And Star Wars that evening. Yesterday we asked about bike tours, since it was finally beautiful weather. But nothing really interests us. We did some shopping, and then at 5:00 went on a private boat tour of Amsterdam with a group called Sint Nicolaas Boat Club . They're a non-profit group who restores old boats, etc., that we found out about through Boom Chicago. If I had more time (my Internet money is running out!) I'd look for a website address. Maybe another time.** After the tour, we went back to Boom Chicago to see another one of their shows. And now we are here, Thursday, off to shop and wander one last time. Maybe a museum if some time. Leave really early tomorrow (have to be at airport by about 6:30 a.m.).

* Added Sunday, May 29 @ 11:01 by Julie : The Emperor is indeed played by the same actor (Ian McDiarmid) in both the original Star Wars movies and the new prequels.

** Added Sunday, May 29 @ 11:16 by Julie : As you will note, I found the website address and have added it! :)

Friday, May 20, 2005

Emails from a lonesome pup...

Received in my Inbox over the past few days :

Subject: Canine Comments
Date: Wed, 18 May 2005 19:57:34 -0400

Dear Randal and Julie,

So far summer camp has been okay but I miss you guys a lot. The first night you left me alone with these people, I walked around and around looking for you. So I was pretty tired the next day. The next night was just fine. Jan won't play tug and let me bite her hands - she is a bit of a wimp that way. But we do go for lots of long walks and I am trying hard not to lunge at birds and people. I did get to play with a Portuguese Water Dog. Jan seemed to think she was pretty cute but I didn't like when she stepped on me. And we played this "find it" game with treats in the grass. I liked that part. I also managed to eat a whole one of those rawhide sticks that I like so much in just two days but I didn't eat the kitchen floor so that's good. I hope you guys are having a good holiday. Jan says work still stinks and you are aren't missing anything.


My reply:

Sent: Thursday, May 19, 2005 5:39 AM
Subject: Re: Canine Comments

Dear Rion,

Glad to hear you are settling in and having a good time at Auntie Jan's. Here, Amsterdam is nice though a bit cool. We have seen lots of dogs, though none as cute as you - even a terrier/daschund mix (we think it was a Jack Russell). Lots of tall skinny buildings, etc. Amsterdam is a very pretty city - maybe someday dogs will be allowed to visit too (but then you'll have to take a very long plane trip, and I don't think you'll like that too much).

Anyway, I am going to post some info about our trip to date on my blog ( - you can read about it there!

licks and bites,
julie :)

And then today:

Subject: RE: Canine Comments
Date: Thu, 19 May 2005 17:32:24 -0400

Dear Julie and Randal,

I had a great day today. Auntie Jan came home early from work just so we could go out side – something about a *&&^%%$&^% file she said. Any way, we walked way far along the river and I was learning not to bark at rollerbladers and skateboarders. Then Auntie Jan was giving people treats so I would not be shy. It's funny that all the people I met were nice looking, clean shaven men in their 50's. Hmm, that's an interesting coincidence. Any way, right now I'm flaked out on the floor in the sunshine with my ball and kong close by.


Thursday, May 19, 2005

The Road to (and around) Amsterdam ...

So it's Day 3 in Amsterdam.

The trip got off to a, uh, stellar start before we even left. Friday was my last day of work before vacation. On Saturday, Randal and I had a bunch of errands to do - we decided to go for breakfast first. Which is when Randal discovered his wallet was AWOL. We'd gone for dinner with some friends the night before and he had paid, so he'd had his wallet then. But no longer. We ransacked the apartment searching for no avail. Back to the Royal Oak on Bank Street, where we'd had dinner the night no avail. The wallet was gone. All of Randal's cards, about $200 in cash that he'd taken out as funds for our afternoon in Toronto plus - the bus tickets to Toronto. Gone. Luckily, no one had used his cards. He got them cancelled, we bought new (expensive!) bus tickets, and I took out $200 instead.

Sunday we dropped Rion off at my friend Jan's place. Poor puppy. All by himself without his mummy and daddy for two whole weeks. He is forced to amuse himself with his Auntie Jan. :)

Monday we left for Toronto. Good bus ride up. Neither of us had had much sleep the night before. I snoozed a bit on the bus. In Toronto, it was crazy. We had a few errands to run : I still needed travelers' cheques, Randal wanted to look at digital cameras. So we split up for a bit - I had to hit FIVE banks before I found one who sold Euro TC. So, many Euros, digital cameras and toothpaste tubes later (we hadn't brought the toothpaste with us), we no longer had time for sushi! Why else bother going to Toronto if there is no time for sushi!!! It was very sad. But we drowned our sushi-less sorrows in Swiss Chalet chicken at the airport...and finally, at about 9:30 Monday night, were sitting on the plane.

Flight was good. We left around 10:15 p.m. local time. 7 hour flight. Arrived in Amsterdam at Schiphol International at about 10:30 the next morning (again, local time). Got our bags back. Bought train tickets to Amsterdam's Centraal Station. Got in a cute little cabin on the train. Pull out of station. Conductor comes by to punch our tickets and it seems there are two problems: (a) we are sitting in first-class and should be in second; and (b) we are on the wrong train. When we inquired further as to this second more disturbing "problem", we were advised, "No, you are not headed toward Amsterdam; you are headed to another part of the land." Um, that can't be good. So we were told where to hop off the train...and warned to read the train signs more precisely this time. Which we did. :)

Finally in Amsterdam, a bit of a hike to our hostel. Right now, we are staying at the Stayokay Stadsdoelen Youth Hostel in Amsterdam in a 20-person dorm. It's right near the city centre. When we arrived, we had bookings there for Tues-Thurs nights. We have since further booked rooms at the other Stayokay in town, the Vondelpark for Fri-Sun. After that, who knows? These are both hostels Randal has stayed at in the past, about three years ago when he was studying in Maastricht and spent some time up in Amsterdam.

Anyway, Tuesday we crashed around 2:30 at our hostel for a "short nap". Which lasted to about 6:00. Out by 7:00 and then proceeded to wander. We made our way over to the Jordaan area of Amsterdam. (Perhaps at some point I will post a map, but no time right now.)* Found some good eats at a little restaurant called Cafe het Paleis. I had a chicken-avocado sandwich and Randal had grilled salmon with veggies. Yum. More wandering, but we were exhausted so crashed back at the hostel by 11:00.

Up and out by 10:30 Wednesday (it was a slow morning, still jet-lagged). We wandered like it was going out of style. Over to the Vondelpark hostel to book ourselves some rooms for the weekend. Up the main drag. Up side-drags. Etc. Nice lunch at a weird little place called Foodism (in the Jordaan again). Wandered past the Anne Frankhuis (we plan on going there later today). Past the Rijksmuseum. Past the van Gogh museum (augh!). It was so tiring. We also went to the Sex Museum! It was very interesting - though mostly entertaining rather than informative. Dinner on the Rembrandtplein at a lovely little restaurant called Szmulewicz. Coffee shop, then some wandering in the Red Light District - how surreal.

Today we are looking at a few markets, and then over to the Anne Frankhuis around 4:30 or 5:00 (our discount tickets are good as of 5:00 - it's open till 9:00). Maybe a boat tour. Maybe more Red Light wandering tonight.

When I have more time, I will try to give some impressions of some of these places (esp. the RLD) rather than just name-dropping in this manner. And links. I'd like to add links. But for now, no time. Must run!

* Added Sunday, May 29 @ 10:48 by Julie : Here is a basic map (from Lonely Planet) of Amsterdam. If you are very keen on geography, here is a more detailed one.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

A little home improvement DIY, just like the experts do it

So I've never been very fond of the ugly linoleum flooring in the bathroom. It is a large sheet meant to look like small rectangular grey-and-white specked tiles. Quite ugly. But ignorable.

Well, apparently I wasn't the only one who found it ugly. Friday, I come home from work, go into the kitchen, greet my ever-ecstatic-to-see-me dog Rion and then step into the washroom. My jaw hits the floor. It seems that Rion has gotten bored and decided to undertake some home renovation. How sweet. A giant patch of floor is missing. Where there used to be floor tile, there is now only whatever the underflooring is made of. The hole in the flooring is about two feet in length and one foot across. I also would like to note for the record that I found less than the equivalent amount of flooring lying scattered around the room, making me fear for the intestinal integrity of my poor little pooch.

Though I am happy to announce that while linoleum flooring is not a recommended substitute for dog food, it is not lethal. A little bit of upset puppy tummy has been experienced but it hasn't stopped Rion from nibbling on further bits when our backs have been turned.

ps. As I was about to post this, it turned out that in Rion's latest smelly deposit, there was a fully-intact ear plug. I don't even know where he picked that up, and I'm not going to think about it anymore. Oi vay.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

3, 2, 1, ........


After long days of trying to find flights and trying to find decent prices for aforesaid flights, we are finally going away on vacation to Amsterdam. And soon! We leave Monday, May 16 (Robert's birthday!), from Toronto and then back (to T.O.) on Friday, May 27. So just under two weeks of holiday. And I have oh so much work to do between now and then. It will be crazy. But so worth the panic of the next 12 days. I'm so excited!!!

I guess this means I should finally break down and get a new battery for my camera, eh? It died just before Christmas, and I simply haven't gotten around to it.

Dōmo Arigatō (Mr. Roboto)

So last night I had my first Japanese class. I have wanted to take Japanese for a while - I almost did in my first year of undergrad but took German instead - and finally enrolled in a beginners course at Algonquin College. Of course, all the way down on the bus, I had the aforementioned Styx song stuck in my head.

My Japanese teacher is soooo hyper. She's maybe in her mid-30s, from Kyoto originally (sigh) and just way more hyper than anyone should probably be. However, it was great. She drilled us and drilled us first on phonetic Japanese and then with simple phrases. I am already starting to dread the moment when she will spin around in my direction and fire off an entirely-too-rapid "Gambatte kudasai" or "Anata wa gakusei desu" in my direction, at which point I start scrambling through the handouts she has given us and my scrawled notes on them in order to find the appropriate response ("Hai, gambarimasu" or "Iie, watashi wa gakusei dewa arimasen" respectively).*

General introductions and counting to ten (ichi, ni, san, yon, go, roku, hachi, nana, qyū, jū). We learned a bit of Japanese culture. For instance, there are four types of bowing, depending on how formal an occasion. Men keep their hands at their sides when bowing, but women should have theirs clasped in front of them. In the last half-hour, we watched some videoclips from Japan: a commercial for some creamy refreshing drink with Brad Pitt ("Dare desu ka?" / "Brad Pitt desu"); a clip from a wedding with a 10-metre tall cake; a shogun talking to his court (meant to demonstrate the word "Sā" which means "I don't know" - a good thing to know! - and always done with a tilt of the head); the Empress getting her hair done (2 hours) and getting dressed in her wedding kimono (over 20 minutes to put it on); and a bunch of sumo wrestlers eating al fresco in Vancouver ("Kanpai!" or "Cheers!").

Anyhow, it was fun and oh so different from any class I have taken in years. It's been almost two years since I was last a student (I love going to class! how can I get back???), and learning a language is way different than databases or administrative law. Challenging, and fun.

* For the linguistically-challenged in the group, this would be "Please do your best" - "Yes, I'll do my best" and "Are you a student?" - "No, I am not a student." Also note that where a word ends in a "u", at least so far, the "u" is not pronounced, and there is no "r" sound in Japanese (hence Japan's reputation as the land of "flied lice"), so all "r"s are actually pronounced as a cross between "l" and "d" (or for the Westerners among us, who have trouble doing the proper sound, an "l" sound is fine).