May 27, 2005

Flitter of activity

I've had all these things to write about, but I've not had the time yet. So here we go...

Wednesday O and I went to a little party held by Amsterdam Weekly to celebrate them being chosen by London's Design Museum as an innovative project. Our friend, Steven, writes music stuff for the paper, so he sent us the invite. The do was held in the basement of the Post CS building, hosted by a gallery there called W139. It was a nice, atmospheric space, and there was free wine and food. Yay! Food was provided by Gary's Muffins, so lots of bagel sandwiches, as well as brownies and cheesecake. Later on, to add to the UK theme going on, they brought out portions of fish and chips for everyone. Mmmm, grease. In the background some good tunes were spinning, and now that I think about it, I think every band played might have been British. Add some nice chatting with friends and it made for a great event.

More chatting with friends took place Thursday night when a co-worker and I went out with a former co-worker who went back to her native Australia two years ago. She's totally missed the Netherlands though and was so happy to be back in Amsterdam. The plan had been to find a canal-side cafe table and sit out there all night, but the expected 30 degree weather disappeared by the evening, so we ate outside, but then dodged into the cafe because it was too cold and breezy out by the canal (and of course then today it stays sunny and warm...) But nevermind, we had a great dinner and drinks, and caught up on what's been going on in our lives for the past two years. It was great to see our friend again. Maybe next time I see her it'll be in Australia.

And yes, today's weather was lovely. Some might say it was too warm and sticky, but, granted, I was in a cool office building all day, and after last year's lousy summer, we needed this. O and I used our balcony for the first time (we moved here in October, so there's not been the chance yet), sat on our Ikea outdoor chairs for the first time, and had our summer salad for the first time in ages. (What is our summer salad?, you may ask: Cook a bunch of small tiny elbow macaroni, drain and rinse in cold water. Make a hard-boiled egg, if you feel like it. Chop paprika, tomato, pickles and egg (if you felt like making one). Don't forget a small can of corn, drained. Throw it all in a big bowl. Stir in Calve yogurt dressing. Eat directly out of bowl on balcony.) I hope tomorrow is reasonably nice still since we have to wander around town and get all the things we wanted to get last Saturday but were unable to (long story). Actually, I rather that Sunday be nice because we're going a co-worker of O's house for a barbecue, but it's meant to rain by then. The guy is Australian, so I guess it'll be my first Australian barbie. Except it probably won't be sunny. And it won't be on the beach. But, um, we can pretend.

May 20, 2005

How to drive your minions madder than they already are

Our building has a intercom system which I think has been purposefully used once, way back when we first moved in in October. I think it was used to say someone had left their lights on or something. Since then, we only occasionally get a reminder that the system even exists when the sound announcing that there will be an announcement is randomly aired, but nothing follows it. The sound is very annoying, an old-fashioned NBC-like xylophone tune of "boing, boing, boing, boing, boingboingboingboing", the notes going up in pitch. Actually, you do get a warning of the annoying sound before it comes on because you can hear a speaker buzz start first.

This morning, for the past 30-45 mins, the bloody noise has been coming on over the intercom system every few mins or so. It is really pissing me off. It'll be quiet, and then suddenly the noise will play a few times in a row, sometimes getting interrupted, sometimes not. And it's fairly loud and I don't have an office door I can shut to try to drown it out.

We usually never get any explanation for being bombarded with this noise at random, for no reason. I usually assume a receptionist hit the button by accident. The times when it sounds over and over again, like now, I think they just have nothing better to do on a Friday than drive the entire building nuts. This time though we finally got an email saying that they are having technical problems with the system and are sorry for the inconvenience. The least they could do is hand out earplugs.

May 19, 2005

New linky

As mentioned the other day, I've set up more of a Virtual Tourist page and added some recommendations, especially for restaurants. I only have info up so far on Antwerp and Barcelona, but I'm not gonna go back and recount every trip I've taken (though I've listed some places I've been). I'll probably put up some info about Jamaica and leave it there for now.

May 17, 2005


In the 3-day weekend that has just passed (for Pentecost; I had to Google was the hell that even was. All I know is it's our last public holiday til Christmas), O and I went on a little trip down to Antwerp. I'd been briefly before when my mom visited last fall, but we only went for a day, and we didn't see much because the weather sucked and my mom can't walk very much. So I made a mental note to come back in the spring, when there was better weather, with O, and see more of the city. I chose last weekend more for the freebie 3rd day off than the weather, which was forecast to be cloudy and wet. But in the end there was quite a bit of sun, so it made for a nice weekend away.

To be honest, we kinda were grasping for things to do to fill 3 days, and in the end we came back earlier than expected on Monday. But that was also due to our laziness and unwillingness to do things that involved a lot of walking (the zoo, Middelheim Open Air Museum), and our expectation that the weather was going to be crap. Sunday morning was cloudy and cold, so we aimed to do something indoors. We thought the aquarium would be fun and headed over there only to find that it was closed for renovations for 2 months. Gah. So we saw a movie, which I feel lame doing on vacation, but we really didn't know what else to do. We saw Layer Cake, which was pretty good and I was pretty proud of staying awake through the whole thing because I felt really sleepy when we got there. And then we came out of the theater and... sun! There was this lovely blue sky and it suddenly felt like spring. So we had a nice lunch outside amongst some leafy trees and later some sangria at a tapas place. Mmm...

Actually we ended up eating outside quite often. Even on Saturday night, when we were the only ones on the entire street stupid enough to sit at a table outside. But we hardly cared because we had such yummy, yummy food that night. We ate at a place called Lollapalooza on the Pelgrimsstraat, which was quiet and full of nice little restaurants. We both had one of Lollapalooza's wok dishes, a big plate of stirfried veggies and meat served with a side of fragrant rice that on its own made your mouth water. I left with a very happy tummy.

In a similar vein, on Monday, for lunch, we ate at Wok to Walk, which apparently has a branch in Amsterdam as well. You get a big takeout container filled with noodles or rice and whatever veggies, meat and sauce you want for about 8 euros. Heel lekker. We sat on their terrace, which was on a big square, listened to the interesting music of the Hungarian (?) group that was playing nearby, and enjoyed the sun that was warmer than it'd been so far. We just sat for awhile, enjoying some time of not needing to be anywhere else.

On Monday we also went to the Fotomuseum which was smaller than FOAM, but quite nice. They had a really interesting section that showed a history of photography, with lots of old cameras and photos. Then I loved the exhibit they had of crime scene photos from 1930s and 1940s Antwerp. I found those fascinating. First there was the whole LA Confidential 30s and 40s feel of it; the decor in the houses, the cars, men wearing suits and hats, all in black and white. Then there was the fact that you were looking at these real crime scenes and real blood and occasionally real dead bodies. Some photos were of reenactments to help the police figure out if the crime could have worked the way they were thinking it worked. The best of these was one of a woman, standing in a bedroom in which the bed had blood-soaked sheets, holding a big axe as if she were about to attack someone, heh. Fun job. I looked for any postcards from this exhibit in the museum shop, but, like FOAM, they didn't have much for sale that had to do with their current exhibits.

When I visited Antwerp with my mom, we went through one street on a horse carriage ride and I wanted to jump off and have a look, but instead I left it as one reason I wanted to come back for a visit. It was just full of all these hip-looking clothes and record shops, a whole street full of places I wanted to check out. So we found the street (Kammenstraat; bless the tourist office girl who knew immediately what street I was trying to find once I'd realized that I'd forgotten the name of it) and we promptly spent at least an hour in a shop called Fish and Chips that was full of retro and skater-y clothes, shoes and toys. A bit expensive, but O bought a nice pair of pants, and I found a cute t-shirt that I love, plus it was cheaper than most of their tees. In their big shop windows, they had a graveyard-themed display with headless mannequins in caskets and painted tombstones. One casket had a woman in a wedding dress in it, but it turned out to be a real woman. I had thought the hands looked a bit life-like as we walked closer, and my suspicion was confirmed when I could see her take a deep breath. I thought she was doing the whole lying still and then sitting up suddenly and freaking people out thing, but she didn't really seem to care about playing dead. Besides noticably taking breaths, she once totally shifted around and looked into the store. When we were on our way out we were watching her again and she opened her eyes and gave O a menacing look before breaking into a smile.

One other memorable story about the trip was having a guy on his stag night come up to me in a bar we were at and asking if I could give him a tampon or pad. I was probably more embarrassed by the whole thing than he was. I couldn't understand his Belgian accent though, especially in a loud bar, so it was kind of weird for this guy to come over, talk to me all "blah blah blahblah, blah" and then he held out in his hand a tampon that he'd already collected. I was a little confused and weirded out, to say the least. I wonder what the poor guy had to do with the things.


Mostly due to finding some great restaurants on our recent trips to Barcelona and Antwerp, I've set up a Virtual Tourist page so that I can gather my recommendations in one place. I've only just started it last night, and I have no places up yet, but when I have it a bit more set up I'll add a link to the sidebar.

May 12, 2005

You're in high school again

Lunchtime at work has a way of making me feel like a loser in ways I've not felt in years. Normally all is good, I go down with a friend of mine and sometimes we join other people from our company that we run into. But then there's the days when she is gone, or doesn't eat in the cafeteria, and then I have to hope that I'll find people I know and catch them before they've eaten too much of their lunch. Sometimes I go with people from my department just to save myself the worry, even though they eat too early for my comfort. But a lot of the time, like today, I just take a gamble that I'll find a good group to sit with. Today, I thought I was safe. As I got my food, I ran into a few other people from my company who were together, people I like. I thought, cool, I can join them. I even gave what I hoped were some nice little eager-but-not-too-eager, mind-if-I-eat-with-you smiles as I passed these people in the food-getting area. They all got their food before me, and then I went out to the tables to find where they'd sat. After a bit of searching, I finally found where they were. And they were at a table that had no more spots to sit at. All sitting there smiling at and chatting with each other. I wandered through the tables some more, but I didn't see anyone else I knew. I felt so left out and unwanted, and I slunk over to a seat near the window that was at least in the sun so I could drown my gloom. I think tomorrow I'll be taking the safe route of eating with my department....

May 11, 2005

Google, where are you?!

A definite case of not realizing what you have til it's gone. At work, we have not been able to use Google for a few weeks now. We get this big Forbidden message with a bunch of code at the bottom and tips on info to give if you want to contact Google about the problem. After a day or so of it being shut to us, our company's IT department finally let us know why it was blocked. People from our company were running unauthorized automated queries. I hardly know what that means, all I know is that it's not allowed, Google found out about it, and now we're blocked. So apparently someone somewhere is dealing with getting our access back, but it's been awhile now. I keep being away from work for awhile and am shocked when I come back and it still doesn't work. It fucking sucks. People in my part of the company have been using a go-around that at least still lets you access Google, but not in its normal, full form. I've gotten into the habit of using Google as a dictionary, and in this bastardized version, you don't get the usual bar at the top that links to a word's definition. It also doesn't give you suggestions for what you probably meant when you spell something wrong. Anyway, it's just not right to make us work in such lame conditions for so long.

May 6, 2005

My baby

No photos yet from Barcelona, but since I mentioned that our trip photos were taken by my SLR, I thought I talk about my camera since I love it to death and feel lucky to have found it.

My camera is an old school Minolta SRT201, which was probably made in the late 60s or 70s. I've had the camera since 1998, but I only rather recently finally researched the camera online and came across this handy site that details the features of the entire SRT line. As you can see from the ratings, the 201 does pretty well. In my research, I even found a PDF of my camera's original user's manual. I love when the internet gives you more than what you expect.

So, the history of how I got the camera. In late August 1998, I was hitting a lot of thrift shops, buying stuff that I would need for my first apartment at college when I went back in the fall. In one place, as I waited in line at the cashier, I noticed a decent looking SLR camera sitting in a case. I'd been wanting to get into photography for a couple of years, but it was a bit hard without a camera. I assumed the camera would be expensive, and I was pretty low on money, so, as I waited, I debated what the maximum was that I would spend once I asked at the register how much the camera was. $10? $20? Could it really be that cheap anyway? I finally got to the register (with my other purchases of a bunch of random, mismatched silverware and a pasta strainer) and I asked how much the camera I saw in the case was.... $7.95. Fucking hell. I pointlessly asked if the camera worked, to which the cashier said "I don't know" while doing a bit of looking through the viewfinder, but of course I was taking it. I've always felt it was an incredible steal.

I think that same afternoon I went and bought a 12 exposure roll of film to try the camera out with, but I ran into the slight problem of not knowing how to load film into an SLR camera. I was missing the essential step of sliding the film into the spool on the other side, so it wasn't being pulled across at all. I "developed" two 12 exposure rolls before deciding I should stop wasting money on film, but hoping nothing was wrong with the camera.

Everything looked ok with the camera, and it is indeed in near-perfect shape. The body has no scratches or dents, all the mechanisms work fine, nothing is broken on it. I've always just used the lens that was on it when I bought it, and though it didn't have a lens cap when I bought it, the lens is not scratched or damaged (probably could use a clean though). A few weeks after getting the camera, a friend who knows photography showed me how to load the film, I tried again and voila! Photos! Rock on.

Ironically, once I had a camera, photography lessons never followed. I always put it off or didn't have time or money, or, after coming to Amsterdam, gave the excuse that I didn't want to take classes in Dutch. Then O bought his digital cameras and really learned what he was doing and amazingly I didn't feel jealous that he was learning what I'd meant to for years, but rather I just kinda left the photo taking to him. I fell more and more for the instant feedback of digital so that, while I love my Minolta, I didn't feel like dragging it with me on a trip, when O's camera could take much better photos and without all the costs associated with film. It was nice to use it again in Barcelona though. I just hope the photos came out well.

I've always wondered what value my camera would have, based on the condition it's in and its age, etc. I guess the SRTs aren't too rare and expensive if you come across one in a camera shop. On ebay, you can get one with a flash and such for under 50 bucks. Though I've seen a similar old Minolta, body only, in a camera shop here for nearly 100 eur. Ah, I just found this site that gives a clear idea of the camera's value. So yeah, I got a good price for it. ;) Though the site I referenced above, in the section headed "Professional Models", talks about SRTs made in a "Professional" black finish that had a higher price, though the black finish doesn't hold up as well under heavy use since it was just painted brass. Mine is all black, unlike the ones usually pictured online that are chrome on top, and it has no scratches or brassing, as mentioned can happen. Perhaps then it is more rare and has a higher value? =)

Regardless of what it might cost, I love the thing. I love that it all works mechanically; it only has a battery to run the internal light meter (I might want to take those photography lessons to ween myself off of the light meter since I see in stuff online that the battery it uses is not easy to come by anymore since it is a mercury battery that isn't made much anymore for environmental reasons. I may not be able to use the meter forever...) Right after I bought the camera, and I didn't have film in there, I would play with all of the settings and buttons, and it was great to see the physical connection between turning a dial and what the lens would do. It's a good way to learn, in a concrete way, the relation between film speed, shutter speed and aperture. Not that I've learned it so that's it's second nature, but it helps me to visualize it all if I'm trying to fiddle with the settings.

May 2, 2005


O and I have been gone for a few days to Barcelona, the trip being my birthday present from O. It wasn't our first time there, we first went in Sept/Oct 2002, but I think this was our first time back to a place we'd been to before, not counting Portland. We loved it so much the first time, coming back with grand ideas of moving there someday, that it made sense for O to choose a trip back for a birthday present. We had a great time, though all too short, and a bit exhausting. The first day was exhausting because our flight was at 6:20 in the morning. That's when the flight left. We were up at 3:30 and we were only able to be up that late because we'd already checked in online. I didn't sleep on the plane like I'd hoped, so when we got to Barcelona, no amount of taking it easy or napping was enough to really recharge my batteries. Damn, did I sleep well that night though.

Since we'd been to the city before, and since we were there only a few days, we focused on seeing a few things we didn't see before, along with a couple of old favourites. The old favourites were the Sagrada Familia and Park Guell, as well as bumming around La Rambla and the waterfront. The new things were hanging out at Barceloneta, the city's main beach; popping into the sensory overload that is the Mercat de la Boqueria; wandering around more of Montjuic, including visiting the stadium from the 1992 Olympic games; and going to the city zoo that is part of the Parc de la Ciutadella (we visited the park last time).

The weather was overall gorgeous. A bit breezy and chillier on Friday, but Saturday and Sunday were lovely and warm and sunny. We always ate outdoors and came back with some slightly toasted arms and noses, but it was worth it. We didn't drink as much sangria as planned, but it was hard to get it in smaller amounts, and O and I just weren't feeling strong enough to tackle a liter between the two of us. I wanted to try chocolate con churros, but I couldn't find it when I wanted it. I also missed having paella again. But I did have many a tortilla espanola like I did last time, they are just so simple and yummy.

We did much better on the restaurant front this time, finding two really good places for dinner. Because that is one thing I found hard about Barcelona, that a proper restaurant is hard to find, one that serves good, diverse food that isn't tapas and isn't too touristy. Ok, we did see a few Chinese and Indian places, but we weren't in the mood for that. So, two places I can highly recommend: The first we came across on the touristy, sort of stuck up Placa Reial, which is off of La Rambla. We decided to head to that area since it has a ton of restaurants, and we were making our way around the square checking out each restaurant, when I spotted a restaurant hidden off in one corner called Sidecar. It was really quiet there, pretty much empty, but it had a hip vibe and served international dishes, many of which sounded yummy. We found out it's actually more of a club with a restaurant, which explains the hip look. I had a tasty vegetable couscous and O had some delicious-looking Indian chicken. The waitresses were really nice, even though they always hovered just inside the front door which was a bit off putting. A poster announced that there was an indie rock night Fridays and Saturdays, which I would have loved to have gone to, but with a starting time of 12:30, I don't think we would have managed to be awake enough to go. We're such old farts.

The second place is a restaurant above the Centre d'Art Santa Monica, on La Rambla not far from the waterfront. It had a funky sloped outdoor seating area and a varied menu with simple but delicious food.

An interesting thing we came across on Montjuic was an area where clubs for radio-controlled cars and airplanes meet. In the model car area, some guys were racing a couple of cars around a dirt track complete with bumps to jump and lots of twists and turns. In the airplane area, we watched a guy spin a sort of plane around on a rope, speeding up more and more, like a hammer thrower in track and field. The sound coming from the plane thing was incredible, getting louder and higher in pitch til it sounded like one big scream. Kinda freaky. Oh and there were some guys in a prep area playing with a device (engine?) that threw out huge flames. Cool.

I guess it seems a bit weird to go to a zoo on holiday, but it's a trend we are continuing that we started in Budapest. It's interesting to go to a zoo in other countries and it's fun to see the animals. I think I had more fun at the Budapest zoo though, but I think that might have had to do with the fact that we were there on a weekday so the amount of people and kids was less, and the kids that were there were, on average, older. We went to the Barcelona zoo on a Sunday and there was many a loud, screaming, whiny young child, and after a few hours (well, maybe a few minutes, actually), it was really getting old. I know. Kids and zoos kinda go together. But still. Plus I was getting physically tired of walking so much, and the zoo was kind of old and had some depressingly small areas for the animals. The highlight by far though was the dolphins, which I don't think I'd seen in a zoo before. We watched them do the usual jump-and-trick show, but we watched it through the underwater windows since the line to sit in the stands was endless and we weren't about to stand in line for ages when we'd just been in a line for half an hour to get into the zoo. And it was probably more exciting seeing it from underwater. You could just see the energy they had and the ease with which they did everything. It was kind of like standing backstage.

So yeah... It was a fun little trip. There was one major downside, and that was that O forgot his camera. Major doh. He didn't realize it until we were already on the train to the airport, so it was way too late to do anything about it. He was quite heartbroken. I fortunately took my SLR film camera, which I haven't been taking on holiday with me lately, mostly because I leave the photo taking to O. I basically only took it because I found I'd stuck a roll of film in there the last time I used it and figured I may as well take some holiday photos. So we do have some photos, which will be put up somewhere, sometime, but first I have to develop them and scan them... Yikes, all that old-fashioned shit.