I remember my time in Germany fondly. Life in general is easy. Everything is organized, cities are clean, public services are outstanding, and people are generally quite energized, albeit in an understated manner. After over two years, I have managed to get these photos up. With (very little) thanks to Apple’s brand new iWeb application, my magnificent photos of Muenster can now be viewed online. They include spectacular night scenes from the Altstadt (the old city enter), and some nifty pictures of the Eurofest, which was a fairly new excuse for a big city party.
Some cities are cool. They just are. Cologne (Köln) is one of them. It seems as if there is always something cool happening there. There are the regular events, like the Karneval and the Christopher Street Day (gay pride event), but there are cool events like this massive art exhibit at one of the open spaces by the magnificent cathedral in Cologne.
The exhibit consists of over 1000 statues standing in perfect formation. They are all painstakingly made out of trash. Some entirely out of Coke cans, others from waste computer parts, and others from waste cannisters of food and household improvement products. The sheer size of the installation and the level details were striking. The location next to one of the most magnificent structures on continental Europe was breathtaking. For what it means, read this article about the exhibit and the artist, HA Schult.
The two most valuable commodities in life are good friends and free time to spend with friends. This weekend in San Sebastian had the added bonuses of a spectacular setting, and great music. Miguel brought Camilla and me to this amazing city on the north coast Spain (not too far from the French border) for the start of the annual jazz festival. The music was superb, the weather was perfect, and the cuisine was even better.
It is difficult to imagine a more spectacular setting for a jazz festival. The placement of a modern form of music in an old city made for a combination of sights and sounds that cannot be easily erased from one’s memory.
The sights of Bilbao, the gorgeous city one usually traverses en route to San Sebastian, were equally pleasing, though decidedly more modern. Returning to Germany (or the US, or Sweden) one is inclined to wonder why one is embarking on the return journey. It is an experience like this that makes one grateful for possessing the two crucial commodities: good friends and free time. Miguel, maybe I’ll repay the debt in Iran sometime?
It’s a rondvaart. You ride a boat around the city in the canals. The familiar places look completely different. The city takes on a new character. It’s just another way the city transforms itself into a completely different place. This is why Amsterdam is impossible to resist. When you are here, you are everywhere.
So, in the first week of March (2005), Amsterdam received heavy snow for every day over a week. According to many, it happens once every few years. It was, therefore, a privilege of sorts to see the city covered in so much white snow. The energy of the city changed, as did the entire complexion. Public transit was shut down for part of a day, and car traffic was reduced dramatically, as some cars could not even get out of their parking spots.
So, I trekked out with two good friends, walked about Amsterdam on a cold March night, and caught some memorable images on disk. It was a wonderful time.
I was sent to a small city in Belgium called Mons to work for a week. The experience was a blast. I worked with extremely nice people in a very famous computational chemistry group in one of the most charming little towns in the world. Of course, it helped that in this francophone part of Belgium it is customary to kiss everyone hello and goodbye. I just made sure I was available when it came time to greet and to bid farewell to the babes.
It is hard to describe just how beautiful this small town is. It is striking in daytime, but it is even more impressive at night. The complete set of pictures is here.
In Mons and in Belgium in general food is simply terrific. The French influence is everywhere, and one notices it immediately after coming from, say, either the US or Amsterdam where one is generally served overpriced tripe with an attitude. Restaurants are often the owner’s home. Hospitality is a highly prized commodity. Therefore, one is treated incredibly well when walking into a restaurant. And, boy, is the food good. Especially the mussels.
I spent the weekend in Brussels on the way back from Mons (which is a half hour by train from Brussels) in hotel exactly 30 seconds from Grand Place, thanks to Expedia. It’s been 26 years since my first visit to Brussels. My memories are extremely vague, but this time around was quite nice. Brussels has a lot of culture. It’s very laid back. It’s a great place to live. Alas, after being designated one of the EU capital cities, Brussels has become somewhat overpriced and a bit crowded. Nevertheless, it’s more manageable than most European big cities.
What is nice about Europe is the stark difference between northern Europe and southern Europe. The former is populated by stoic people and has poor weather in summertime and even worse weather in wintertime. The latter has temperamental people, much better food, and a much warmer climate. So, if a cold February in Amsterdam has you down, then all you have to do is board a plane to any one of the destinations in Southern Europe for a warm, relaxing weekend. The other nice thing about Europe is that it’s tiny. Everything is very close. As a result, this flight does not take long, and thanks to a slew of cheap airlines, it does not cost much, either.
Barcelona is one popular and warm destination, but on the particular weekend over which this visit to Barcelona took place, it was damn cold. Nevertheless, the city was sunny and inviting enough to entice one to hit the pavement and see the virtually infinity of sites the city has to offer: parks, museums, architectural gems both modern and ancient, churches, beaches and much, much more. Click here to see the picture gallery. This is about a fifth of the sites. The rest perhaps you should see for yourself.
Here is the third set of pictures from Amsterdam. The Royal Palace is an interesting place to visit. The Amsterdam Historical Museum makes the Royal Palace a little more interesting. On it’s own, however, it is still an interesting place because it gives you exactly how the Dutch thought of themselves and what sort of image they liked to project at the time when they were most powerful economic power on earth.
The Royal Palace is built on the site of the first dam on the river Amstel (I think I have this right)–hence, the Dam–and it remains the main place for public happenings. In other galleries you will see how the square is transformed alternately into either a skating rink or a full-blown amusement park. There is a Dutch word for living such a carefree and fun life: gezellig. It can’t be translated, but it can be felt whenever there is a party.
And, a big one was soon after the Asian tsunami hit. You can also see a movie of this particular concert at the Dam in the Movies section. It was a loud and rowdy concert. It is in crowds this big when one gets a good whiff of how rude Dutch people can be. But, the concert did raise €160,000 on that night, and presumably many times that in the following week because the concert was followed by very heavy advertising on all media outlets for some weeks.
The anchor leg of the concert at the Dam was run by DJ Tjesto, one of the hottest Dutch DJs. DJs are very hot in Europe right now, of course, and Amsterdam is one of the major hubs for the art form. As such, one would expect some pretty snazzy nightclubs, and one’s expectations are duly met here. Just avoid any place where there is a surfeit of Brits (usually touristy places like Leidseplein and the red light district) and you will find them.
Here are some additional pictures from Amsterdam. Living here is quite nice if the bureaucracy is not bugging you. A 5-minute walk takes one to many, many interesting places.
Here is the first set of images from Amsterdam. The first few are from the east coast of the U.S.