Cologne: Dom City

What makes Münster tolerable is the great access it offers to so many European cities. Düsseldorf and Köln (Cologne) are two very nice cities in Germany. Cologne is the largest city in this region of Germany, and it is by far the most fun to visit for a weekend because one can go to many museums, walk along the river, have great food, listen to great, cutting-edge music, and drink until morning every night. The proximity to Cologne has helped a great deal in preserving my sanity.

The biggest highlight of the city is the famous cathedral (the Dom). It is massive, gigantic and detailed beyond description. Click here for the pictures. Cologne need not be your primary destination in Germany, but it is such a nice place to visit and live.

Boat Ride in Amsterdam

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.

Click here for the pics.

Amsterdam in White

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.

Belgium: Mons and Brussels

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.

Tsunami Benefit in Dam Square

Tsunami Relief Concert. Amsterdam, December 2004

Soon after the Asian tsunami, there was a major concert at Dam Square to raise money for the victims. (Click here for the movie, which is 6.4 Megabytes and in Quicktime format.) It was flashy and on the whole tasteless, perhaps, but it did raise awareness and money for the problem. It’s difficult, therefore, to find fault with those who carried it out.

Stories of how people in over-regulated places tend to let loose abound, and perhaps the Netherlands is no different in that respect. Whatever the reason, at events like this, there are no rules, and it can be annoying as much as pleasant.

Amsterdam III: Royal Palace

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.

Amsterdam II

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.

Amsterdam I

Here is the first set of images from Amsterdam. The first few are from the east coast of the U.S.

Signs of Maturity in the U.S.A.

Maturity is a quality that remains absent–at least, elusive–in American culture. Some time ago, people were shocked by a covered nipple. Consequently, they were protected from vulgar wit this year.

BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Stones ‘agreed song censorship’

According to this article, a few lyrics from “Start Me up” and “Rough Justice” were cut from the Rolling Stones’ Superbowl halftime performance. The censorship proceeded according to an agreement between the NFL and the band.

Inside sources provided a glimpse of this agreement. Apparently, it limited the lyrical content of the Stones’ performance, but it provided them with unlimited smack, coke and hookers backstage.

Jagger hinted to this provision in a press conference before the game. (NYTimes article) “America [is] almost unrecognizable and it’s very hard to imagine what the United States was like 40 years ago…Hopefully, though, both of us still have our core values intact.”

Indubitably. Certainly, ticket sales for the current Stones tour was not stellar. This article delineates the Stones’ motivation for doing the show and agreeing to censorship: ticket sales.

The core values of America and the Rolling Stones are indeed still the same.