Saturday, December 08, 2012

PHOTOS: Cologne, April 2012

I recently shifted back to my trusty iMac 24". It's been with me ever since I started Goodputty in 2007 and it's as awesome as ever. Even better than the lousy Mac Mini that I brought home from work that's, what, only 3 years old?

I had put aside the iMac since July, that is, since I started working from home for MERX and they provided me with the Mac Mini. And now that I no longer work there, I'm back to the iMac. Hence the discovery of old photos and things that I'd been hoarding before.

Among them, I discovered the photos from Cologne, Germany, from when Rik, Harry and I took a day trip there back in April. I searched my blog but found that I hadn't posted them or written about Cologne. Then I realised that it was in April, and Pim had just left us a month earlier. If you guys follow my blog, you'll know there was quite a long silence from me at that time because I was in mourning.

Anyway, although the photos are up on Facebook, that's not the same as writing it up in my blog. So here they are, 7 months later, our trip to Cologne.

First up, you absolutely cannot visit Cologne without seeing the Cologne cathedral. Literally and figuratively. It just stands out. It's a World Heritage site and one of the top sights in Germany and is very impressive indeed.

After parking the car, we needed a refueling of coffee and pastry. So we sat in the very touristy yet not too terrible cafe opposite the cathedral.

The only photo of me during the whole trip. We took this using the old-school timer method!

We didn't really have a plan for the day. Our aim for the trip was actually for Harry to buy German beer at half the price. So we just wandered around following tourist signs. We ended up here at the City Hall, which seems weirdly to be located in some back alley. There was a wedding going on.

Harry and Rik trying to blend into Karin and John's wedding party, probably for the free food.

Rik's going: Ermahgerd, Lergo!

Such a brilliant and colourful shop. In these bubbles you can pick up individual Lego pieces that you need. You just pick a cup size, fill it up and pay one price for whichever cup size you chose.

Just one of the many times we checked the map.

Rik and Harry were debating the map so I took a photo of where we were.

This was a lovely break from the walk. We had wandered kinda out from the centre and were getting hot and tired. I may point out here that it was only April, and in NL it was rainy and cold and you needed to wear leather jackets still. Then look at us here. Look at the sun shining onto Harry's arm. It was bliss.

Not a very interesting structure, but it was weirdly located in the middle of nowhere.

You know how you sometimes wonder if someone, somewhere looks exactly like you? Ahem.

Finally reached the shopping street!

Found the famous No. 4711. A verrrrrrrry old and famous eau de cologne company. I believe that's where the name Cologne comes from.

You can wash your hands in it and smell like 4711 all day.

I don't know what this means but I thought it just looked cute. It was tucked away on a corner wall upstairs.

The outside.

Map-checking again.

It was getting close to dinnertime, so we decided to start looking for the beer. Strangely, it was super difficult to find a supermarket or any beer shop. Someone on the street pointed us towards the station, saying there was a big supermarket there. But we still couldn't find it, so we stopped by this cafe to ask where the supermarket was. An asshole barista there cut us off mid-question, saying: We are not an information desk.


Eventually, we found the supermarket thanks to a girl behind the counter at a bookshop opposite the cafe. There wasn't any Paulaner, which Harry wanted, but he found the Vita-malz for Vicky.

Harry carrying it one-arm style like a hero, and the Cologne cathedral in the background.

We gave up on the Paulaner and decided to head to this brewery-restaurant that I found on Tripadvisor. It's supposedly the number one restaurant for people visiting Cologne, but not only that, it's also exceedingly popular with the locals because of its amazing food and Kölner - special Cologne beer.

But then whaddya know? Across the street from the restaurant, we found a little kiosk in the wall selling all kinds of things, like a mini market, and we decided to ask for Paulaner. And they had it! Not in a crate, but Harry didn't mind carrying 24 bottles of Paulaner in plastic bags :P We had the car just there anyway. So we finally had success!

This is the brewery-restaurant - Päffgen. I would recommend this to anyone visiting Cologne.

Inside is big. But they are so popular that even when we went in at 6pm there were already people at tables, and the rest of the tables were reserved. The only spot we could find was this little table in the hallway (they even had to make an eating space of the hallway!) nearly opposite the toilets.

The photo above shows the German dishes waiting to be served, unloaded from a dumb waiter, and a guy on the right serving kölner. They march up and down and around tables watching if anyone's glass is empty, and once it is, they just replace it with one of those full glasses and make a notch on your beer mat. Talk about efficiency!

The hallway towards the entrance.

My delicious delicious (big) wienerschnitzel.

Harry's, I don't know now... pretty huge dish of sausages.

And Rik's, I don't know either... pork cooked in beer and things like that.

Look how popular this place is! And it has such a genuine authentic feel to it plus great service. Surely a winner!

The kölner is so popular - each brewery brews its own kölner, and this is Päffgen's own - that from our special vantage point in the hallway, I could see them changing the beer barrels once every 10 minutes or so. And they had three big ones! See that barrel on the top right? That's not just decoration. I saw them hoisting it up, but I don't remember why now.

Cologne had one more surprise for us. When we finished dinner and went back to our car, we found this lovely white rose waiting for us. No note and no one else around. No roses on other cars either. Maybe it's one of those pay it forward good deeds kinda things. Or maybe they wanted to show appreciation for our eco-friendly Prius. Whatever it was, it was certainly something to remember of Cologne!

Friday, November 30, 2012

A smile in the post!

This morning, I was awakened by the postman ringing the doorbell. I answered the door in my pyjamas, but I don't really care about that.

To my delight, it was a little package from my mum! Check out the photos to see how she gave me a bunch of smiles today and for Christmas.

First time a parcel has been tied with a festive red ribbon!

A tube of hand cream and a present for under the tree! When it eventually goes up :) But what are those two objects at the bottom wrapped in paper?

These two cuties travelled halfway across the world to be with me this Christmas. They already look like best buds. Awwwww!

What should I name them??

Monday, November 19, 2012

Swedish Christmas Market 2012 @ Rotterdam

It's that time of the year again, when I get all excited about Christmas markets and all things cosy and Christmassy!

To start the season off, we went to the Swedish Christmas market at the Svenska Sjömanskyrkan - the Swedish church - at Zalmhaven in Rotterdam. Wayne and Martijn had planned to go as well, so we met them there. Zalmhaven is a really beautiful area, with fantastic old and big homes (which are mostly no longer homes as they are too expensive) and right on the Maas.

As Rik and I were early, we decided to take some photos outside with the nice autumn leaves.

Me and the Euromast.

Me in front of a pretty building.

The building of the Swedish church itself isn't very outstanding, but they have a nice plaque with their address on it.

It wasn't very big inside, with only about 10 stalls in total. But I found it better than the German Christmas markets in Düsseldorf that we visited last year. Well, those looked Christmassy and were really busy, but I was disappointed that most of them sold things that they bought from suppliers. It was really commercial and that's not what I like about markets.

At the Swedish market, things were definitely a lot more Swedish-based, some were handmade and some were just supplied, but it was super busy and popular all the same. Things weren't very cheap, which is unfortunate, as our purse strings are extremely tight at the moment, what with me being jobless and all. But we were definitely open for buying tea light holders to make the home cosy for Christmas/winter. There were paraffin candles in the shape of snowballs, which were super cute, but quite pricey at € 4 a pop. But at the same stall, we found two amazing holders made of crystal, that look like ice... also for € 4 per piece. So we bought them :) After all, they will last year after year, unlike the paraffin ones!

Looking really pretty on the windowsill.

Next week is the Finnish Christmas market, so I'm looking forward to that since I have absolutely no idea of Finnish culture!

Friday, October 05, 2012

A day out in Amsterdam.

One of my good friends moved from Rotterdam to Amsterdam earlier this year, and she still always makes the effort to come to our group's parties in Rotterdam. So we thought we'd repay the gesture and drop by Amsterdam one afternoon.

We decided to go to a cafe, IJ-kantine, in Amsterdam Noord, for high tea...

Okay, stop press. Every time I have to say "high tea" when I actually mean "afternoon tea", my stomach turns over and I feel a part of me disintegrate. Let me just make it clear to my readers.

"High tea" is a working class meal served after 5pm and consists of heavy dishes, such as meat, fish and vegetables.

"Afternoon tea" is what everyone else who doesn't know better means when they say "high tea".

But, as the menu at the cafe and all my friends who aren't familiar with afternoon tea call it "high tea", I shall have to use this term so as not to cause confusion.

(Still, you read it here. Afternoon tea is where the scones, cakes and light sandwiches come in. Please know the difference and don't call it high tea anymore if you can help it.)

Because the cafe is in Amsterdam Noord, we had to take a little ferry ride across the water from the train station. Here are some pics.

The cafe is right next to the ferry stop, so we were there within a few steps. But first, let's sit on a boat bench.

The interior of the cafe is very much like the typical Dutch grandcafe. One of those old factory or warehouse buildings that gets turned into a restaurant or a cafe. It's nice and modern inside. Unfortunately, the service is typical Dutch. Slow. They have one waitress for every 20 tables. Absolutely ridiculous. And don't forget that the waitresses have their own lives as well. They're not just waitresses. They have to chit chat and sigh and laugh and do whatever it is they do to prolong your waiting time for the menu.

On the whole, though, it was a pleasant experience, if you accept Dutch standards of service as they are.

Now a little behind the scenes story. During our Facebook discussion, when Lenka (the one who moved to Amsterdam) suggested for us to have high tea, we enthusiastically agreed. I then later checked the price of the high tea and discovered that it wasn't very cheap at all, especially for someone who's very soon out of a job. But because I had agreed to have high tea, I just closed one eye.

However, when we arrived at the cafe, two of the girls had no idea that we had agreed on high tea and they didn't know the price. Being students, they were worried that it was a little expensive, and there was a tiny bit of friction over us having agreed or not to have high tea (we have to book in advance for it at the cafe). In the end, it was sorted out to everyone's satisfaction.

Then the discussion about what high tea is came up. Lenka said that before that afternoon, she had thought that it was just tea being served with your choice of hard liquor. Yes, this is coming from the girl who likes to bring vodka in her bag to parties, just in case the hosts have nothing stronger than beer and wine. So, not surprising. Gave us a good chuckle!

And that is when Adél also admitted that she had thought that high tea was tea made with marijuana, much like space cake or space brownies. Well, that made a little sense, seeing as we are in Holland after all.

See? This is why it's called the elegant "afternoon tea" and not "high tea" (which, incidentally, is because the meal was served on a high table you could stand around). Makes a great story, though, right?

After our delicious meal - by the way, they only served normal cream and not clotted cream, the bastards - we hopped back onto the ferry and walked around the city centre, by way of the filthy red light district. And by filthy, I mean, the roads and the people dropping their shit everywhere. I was constantly afraid to be stepping on gum and spit. Ugh, Amsterdam.

Because we had no place in mind, I suggested visiting the relatively newly-opened Apple store, which is supposed to be the biggest in the Benelux or Europe or something. It was the morning of the iPhone 5's release and I'd been hearing about the queues.

Well, as you can see, the queues had cleared up by that time.

So we just acted like total losers and took photos in the Apple store, of all places.

The end.