Vacation preparations

I’m quite busy with preparing for our vacation to Rome tomorrow, but it’s only the ‘technicalities’: at what time do we have to be where, and how are we going to get there. We haven’t given much thought about what we are going to see and do over there — but we have an excellent walking guide (of the same brand that got us through New York and Berlin), so we’re confident we’ll have a good time.

When in Rome…

We are thinking of booking a week-long holiday in Rome towards the end of April. There’s lots of hotels to choose from, all over the city — but I’m wondering where we should book. What’s the best part of the city to be? We don’t need to see the Colosseum from our hotel room window, but I don’t fancy having to travel half an hour by train to get somewhere interesting!
I’m also wondering about the weather. Are the temperatures bearable then?

And I know that some of you have been there (or even live there!) — any tips?

Berlin

So, last week we went to Berlin. We had booked a ‘loft’, which gave us enough space to relax when we were not pounding the pavements of the city. It’s located in the Prenzlauer Berg area, with lots of small and large eateries around. It’s also only a few minutes on foot from a stop on the U2 metro line — which stops pretty much everywhere you want to go.
We bought another city guide from the same type that had served us so well in New York, featuring lots of walks through the city, with key highlights pointed out. Again, the guide took us to interesting places — next time we go somewhere, I’ll see if they have a guide for that place too.

To me, Berlin seems a lot like Copenhagen. However, Berlin seems less… polished. It’s definately a city with a recent history (the Berlin Wall) in a country with a recent history (the division and WW2), and the scars of those events are still there. Near to the loft, on the Kastanienallee, there was a big building with “Capitalism kills” written on it in large letters — that’s not something that I would expect to find in Copenhagen, but it’s there in Berlin.
We had a good time, but we didn’t feel quite at home like we do in Tokyo or like we did in New York. I’ll recommend it to anyone, but I’m not sure if we’ll return any time soon.

We’re back at Stroom Rotterdam. We strongly suspect we have the same room as
the previous time. Now to go into the city centre for some shopping, and
some relaxing this evening.

In Denmark

Yesterday we drove through Lolland. I didn’t see any cats.

Also, the Benzaiten window is too large to fit on the screen of Kodama. That needs tweaking!

Weekend get-away

We left on friday, early in the afternoon, to Rotterdam for a weekend get-away with just the two of us. We had booked a ‘vide studio’ at Stroom, which is housed in/near the renovated building of the Schiecentrale — an old electricity plant. Stroom (“Current”) is hip and trendy — it’s meant to be action-packed, not for seekers of peace and quiet! Turns out that we could live with that quite nicely.

We arrived too early (as we were informed by the slightly bitchy girl manning the reception), so we parked our car and walked around. We spotted the Euromast and walked there — I had been there with O.’s stag party, so I knew about the oriental supermarket opposite there, which we visited. Stocked up with food we returned to the hotel.

Our room (which we had to reach by walking down a corridor with space-age decor) was a split-level studio: the ‘ground’-level was the bathroom, featuring such amenities as a two-person shower and a two-person bath. Up the stairs was a small sitting area (with only one chair) and the bed. The bed was equipped with a beamer, a 5.1 sound system and a DVD-player — downstairs was a DVD library. There was also a music system that featured an iPod adapter — you could borrow one downstairs that came pre-loaded with playlists with titles like ‘chill’, ‘afternoon’ and ‘move out’.
Some of the reviews we read before setting off were quite negative — stuff didn’t work, it was noisy, etcetera… But we managed to get everything working without too many problems.

After chilling a bit (watching The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which ingiechan hadn’t seen yet), we set off in search for food. Yes, Stroom is also a restaurant, but after reading the reviews we decided we wouldn’t be trying our luck. We had seen something that looked interesting when we were exploring the area before, and we managed to find the entrance too (after a bit of wandering around…). Turns out that this was Restaurant Ivy. Just when we stepped in, we looked at each other: it was that kind of restaurant, where the pages of the wine menu outnumbered the pages of the food menu, with lots of trendy people, big plates and little food. The people manning the front desk were a bit incredulous we had ‘just walked in’ without a reservation — it’s not exactly in a high-traffic area and they had just opened the week before!
I had my credit card with me, so I thought we should just experience something like this once in a while! We chose the five course dinner and took the suggestion of the wine arrangement, and we didn’t regret it! The food was delicious and creative. The wine complemented the food very nicely. The ‘extras’ like the appetisers were very good as well. The service was professional but personal, and we felt really at home. OK, so you do pay almost ten euros for a cup of tea — but the assorted (home-made!) sweets and the presentation mean you also get a lot too.
At the end, we were quite full and quite tipsy. It’ll be a long time before I spend 10% of my monthly income on a dinner for two again, but if you’re willing to splash out for something really special, Ivy is certainly not a bad place to do it!

After we got back, we had a bath together. We had planned to watch ‘The Lady in the Water’ after that, but we fell asleep soon after…

The next day, we first visited the Euromast. On Friday the weather was kind of drab, so we couldn’t see very far, but on Saturday it was a bit better. It wasn’t very crowded (yet), so we had all the time to take a good look around. Fun times.
After that, we took the tram to the city centre to do some shopping. We managed to spend a full hour in a store selling artistic supplies. Stocked up on brush-markers, paper and some cutting tools. I asked for rubber carving blocks (stamps cut out of erasers aren’t made for eternity because they tend to break sooner or later), but they didn’t have those — they suggested cutting the design out of a sheet of rubber instead and mounting that on a piece of wood. I’ll have to experiment on that (and I did buy the sheet of rubber, obviously).
The city centre of Rotterdam is just like any other — lots of the same stores, so there wasn’t much that overly interested us. Of course, we stayed on the main drag, which is too expensive for most ‘specialty’ stores, but since we didn’t know where we were supposed to go for the more interesting stores that was all we saw.

We went back to the hotel and booked a table at Bla-Bla, a vegetarian restaurant in the historic part of Delfshaven. The food was delicious and plentiful, and the service was so upbeat and personal that we didn’t mind (much) almost getting overlooked twice… I’m thinking that gertvr and xaviar_nl would have a great time there. A bit cramped though, but certainly a good place to dine!
Then, after an evening stroll through Delfshaven, we went back to the hotel, had another bath and then finally watched the movie before falling asleep soundly again.

Today, we checked out and after dumping our stuff in the car, we went to the Dutch Architecture Institute. We arrived too early, so we had a stroll through the park and a cup of coffee at the restaurant of the Kunsthal before going in. ingiechan is more of an architecture nut that I am, but it was very interesting to see how cities have been conforming to Big Plans since the Housing Law of 1902 obligated municipalities to plan their own expansion. Also interesting to see how high-rise flats were designed with the best of intentions — but no-one wants to live there anymore because as a social experiment that type of quarter has failed.
We spent all day in the Institute, and I wasn’t bored for a moment. Fun fact: they have a large table with lots of Lego, so that you can design your own building — and I only saw adults playing around with it. All the kids were at the top floor making their own scale models of fantasy building, no time to play with Lego! 🙂

And now we’re back home. I’m actually quite tired and my feet hurt. As a way to get some much-needed rest, this short break was a total failure. But as a way to see and do new fun things, it rocked!

Short holiday

Friday, we left for a short vacation. On our way to our destination, we decided to stop to do a multi near the largest waterfall in the Netherlands. However, we got stuck at the first waypoint: we found a yearnumber that followed the pattern in the description, but the calculation for the second waypoint made no sense with those numbers…
We wanted to see the waterfall anyway (hint: don’t go there if you’ve been to Iceland or any other country with actual waterfalls — you’ll be dissapointed), and then it occured to me that the second waypoint was described rather extensively, as well as the route to it. So we followed the path in the hopes of spotting it — and we did! Measuring back, we could reconstruct the year…
And so we followed the hints, found the clues and performed the large variety of tasks. A great cache (I added it to our ‘recommended’ bookmark list), but it’s a bit longer than the advertised 5.5 km — we regretted not taking anything to eat with us on the hike.
When we got back to the parking, we saw another geocaching team stand around the first waypoint. We were about to tell them the correct year (that we had deduced), when they pointed out there was a year mentioned on a little sticker on the other side of a sign — I had to look twice to see it. All is well, then! We ate some fries at the stand on the parking (hmmm, parkeerfriet!), and were on our way.

We had a wonderful time at our B&B in Kampen, which was recommended to us by xaviar_nl and gertvr. It is a little house, rebuilt in traditional style — and leaning against the side of a church no less! The apartment had every luxury one could imagine — bubble bath, steam cabin, tanning bank, net-enabled PC…
We grabbed a quick bite, and when we got back home we watched The Avengers — a dreadfully bad movie. I didn’t even last until the end, but ingiechan who did, said that she liked the opening scene best…

The next day, we went for a city walk through the historical town. It also happened to be the day of the yearly Stripspektakel. ‘Strip’, as in ‘comic book’ — we didn’t see anyone undress in public. 😉
We did manage to score quite a few interesting books — there was a stand that sold 5 hardcover comics for EUR 10. Considering that one could scrounge up a whole series (or at least, anything that had been published for that series) from the buckets, and that a single volume carried a suggested retail price of EUR 14, one can consider that a lucky find.

And today, after another great breakfast and packing our things, we went to Schokland, a former island. It used to be a peninsula, but due to peat harvesting, it became an island. The island got smaller and smaller, until in 1859, all people were evacuated from the island because it was sinking into the sea. Only the church was allowed to stand on the abandoned island… But when the Noordoostpolder was ‘exaquated’, Schokland was once again accessible. It is now a world heritage site, apparently.
We walked around there for a bit, but then went onwards, to the Waterloopbos. This is a forest that houses lots of waterwork models, that were used for studies. Some for fundamental studies, others were scale models of particular harbours or dams. With the advance in computer simulation, the models aren’t needed anymore, and the whole forest was sold/given to a nature preservation foundation. There’s a walking route through the forest, visiting most of the scale models. You will all have to wait for ingiechan to post her photos — suffice to say that the combination of decaying scientific models and nature is very beautiful. This one also is recommended!

And now we’re back, and ‘decompressing’ a bit before returning to work tomorrow.

We visited Italy in ’99, and spent a lot of time with locals muri_san and his wife in Milan. We met a few of their friends, and they took us to Gioca Modena, a games convention. I did my Amber Vikings game, and then we went for a walk around Modena with a very small Italian girl and a dog twice her size. Afterwards, I played in a ‘Four Musketeers’-game of OnStage as the Duke of Buckingham. (Note the ghastly not-quite-short hairdo I had at the time.)

A year later, we visited the sister of the small girl in Wageningen — she had gone there to study, I think. It was the first time we had home-made Tiramisu. There was talk of an RPG campaign, but due to the vaguaries of travel and time, that never got off the ground. I think we saw her one time later, because ingiechan had made her a pair of pants.

And yesterday, I got a mail in broken Dutch from an Italian mail adress. It was an invitation to attend Gioca Modena ’07, because they would also have part of the program in English. Quite a surprise — apparently we are still in the books there!

The vaction post

So, about that vacation in Denmark we had…

I'm sure you want to know all about it...

Things I learned:
– The mapping and autorouting of the GPS saved our hides quite a few times. It made navigating the city feasible, instead of panic-inducing.
– The new car almost drives itself. Cruise control, automatic windshiel wipers, stuff like that. All you have to do is turn the steering wheel.
– Ticks suck. Literally.