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Lisbon & The Algarve, Portugal

Expectations are a funny thing. I’d heard so many good things about Lisbon that I expected to love it. It was almost a disaster. First, our flight from Amsterdam was scheduled for 7:50am, meaning we had to be at the airport around 6:15am, which is before the main public transport is running. Therefore, we had to take the night bus. We stayed up late the night before packing and cleaning, and went to sleep around 12:30am. The alarm was set for 4:45am. No big deal, I stumbled out of bed and got ready. We walked the 3 blocks to the bus stop, and got in. It was full, so we had to stand for the entire 45 minute ride to the airport. Then, our flight was delayed, as the cabin crew didn’t show up. Eventually, we made it to Lisbon, which was experiencing a cold and windy snap. Not the best start to the trip.

The apartment we rented from airbnb.com was nice, and in a decent neighborhood. We ended up walking around a bit, and taking the 28 tram around the city to see the sights. The internet wasn’t working on my phone, which was frustrating to me. We were dead tired, staring out the windows of the tram like zombies. After a quick nap, we tried to go to a nice neighborhood for dinner, but ended up getting lost. Not having internet on my phone just exacerbated the matter. Back at our apartment, we agreed that Lisbon was not living up to the hype.

Oh what a difference a day makes…

The next day, refreshed from a good night’s sleep, we set out once more. The sun was out, and we stopped at a bakery for a quick breakfast. From there, into the main part of the city, where we sat on the waterfront and soaked in the sunshine. Over the next 24 hours, I saw what all the fuss was about. Lisbon is a unique city. Some parts of it seem to be crumbling, like Venice, but other parts have beautiful buildings. The city is built on hills, and has many narrow windy streets, with barely enough space for the tram to take the corners, much less with the pedestrians scrambling to get out of the way. Some awards ceremony was happening, and we hundreds of people line up outside, the men in tuxedos and the women in every sort of dress you can imagine. Lots of fur coats. Meanwhile, beggars and homeless roamed the streets looking for handouts. All on the same street. Lisbon is a city of extremes.

Having now been there, I’m not sure if I want to go back. I would, but it wouldn’t be at the top of my list. After 2 nights, we hopped on board the train to Faro, and spent the rest of the trip laying on the beach enjoying the sun. Photos below.

The buildings of Lisbon

The buildings of Lisbon

Inside of Lisbon's old tram 28 as it crawls through the city.

Inside of Lisbon’s old tram 28 as it crawls through the city.

A large garden in the center of the city.

A large garden in the center of the city.

A tram rides by the Lisbon Cathedral in the evening.

A tram rides by the Lisbon Cathedral in the evening.

The walls of St. George's Castle at night.

The walls of St. George’s Castle at night.

A statue at night, with a monastery illuminated on the hill in the background.

A statue at night, with a monastery illuminated on the hill in the background.

A scenic overlook of the city.

A scenic overlook of the city.

The city beach in Lagos, Algarve.

The city beach in Lagos, Algarve.

The Lagos beach from another angle.

The Lagos beach from another angle.

An old fort on the Lagos waterfront.

An old fort on the Lagos waterfront.

The farmer's market in Loule.

The farmer’s market in Loule.

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Posted by on May 29, 2013 in Photo Posts, Travel

 

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Autumn in Amsterdam

Today, while taking Churchill for one of his daily walks, I really noticed how much autumn has hit Amsterdam. The leaves are all changing colors and falling off the trees, giving Amsterdam an extra splash of color. I think Amsterdam is already a beautiful city, but the leaves just amplify things. I had to run some errands over lunch, taking me into the Jordaan district, which is one of the prettiest in the city. I took a few photos in Instagram, and here they are.

Bikes, benches, and leaves along the Amstel River in the Weesperzijde neighborhood.

Vines can have colors too.

A boat is sinking while leaves are falling.

A canal flows quietly in the middle of the busy city.

 
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Posted by on October 24, 2012 in Life in the Dam, Photo Posts

 

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Gay Pride 2012

I’ve attended several parades here in Amsterdam. They’re always fun because they’re done on the water via boats rather than on land-based vehicles like most other cities. Ever since seeing my first parade here, I’d hoped to one-day be on a float rather than on the sidelines watching.

There are plenty of parades here, including the winter parade. I’d always assumed that Koninginnedag, while technically not a parade, would be my best chance. As a straight man, imagine my surprise when the opportunity arose to be on Gay Pride Parade float.

Through meeting other Expats, I’ve come to befriend a number of folks who work for Google, and YouTube was sponsoring a float, so I was invited along. We were all requested to dress in red & white, so I hunted around town for a pair of red pants. This is not as hard as you might think, as red pants are a somewhat common item to see Dutch males wearing. I guess now I can fit in even more.

After a bit of a snafu regarding what time we needed to arrive to board the boat, we finally hopped on near Westerpark. We floated down to the holding area where the authorities all organize the boats into their proper order before the parade begins. Some light rain passed over us for a bit, but quickly dissipated, so we thought all might be well. Hah! Right as we began moving our boat towards the parade route, the skies opened and it absolutely POURED rain for about 10 minutes. We did stop under a bridge for a bit, but were forced to move along to keep up with the floats in front of us.

The pouring rain at the beginning

The crowd tries to stay dry under a bridge

After the rain stopped, the sun came out, and it turned into an absolutely beautiful day. It took us about 4 hours to traverse the entire parade route, with a DJ spinning tunes the entire way. We had plenty of alcohol, snacks, and cameras aboard the boat, though I had only my iPhone to document the experience.

The Westerkerk displays their pride.

Somewhere near the Westerkerk, our boat’s engine decided to stop, and we sat in the middle of the canal for about 15 minutes, with no way to get moving. The authorities tried pushing us a bit, but their boat was not powerful enough to move us fast enough. Finally, some spectators on the side of the canal started up their boat and offered to tow us the rest of the way. Probably 10 floats had passed us in the meantime, but we were once again under way.

After finishing the parade, we walked to the nearby houseboat of a friend and watched the last few floats go by. It was a fun day (even if I’m not really much of a dancer), and a very unique way to see Amsterdam.

Lots of folks dressed up in costume, even those not actually on a float.

Some costumes were a bit more revealing than others…

 
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Posted by on August 6, 2012 in Life in the Dam, Photo Posts

 

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Photos: An Evening in Amsterdam

When I lived in the US, I, like most Americans, took good weather for granted. Occasionally I’d go to the park with my dog, and I was in a few sporting leagues (softball and sand volleyball), but that’s about the limit of my time spent outdoors. Even when I’d grill in my backyard, I’d take the food inside to eat. Part of that was because of the heat, humidity, and mosquitos, but part of it was because I always figured I could enjoy the weather “some other time.”

Living in Amsterdam has taught me that that is not always true. The next “nice” day may not be for a few weeks, and may not fall on a weekend, so you have to enjoy them when you can. We’ve actually had some pretty nice weather here over the last few weeks. Sunny, warm, just a light breeze. I even saw some people swimming and sunbathing on the Amstel river a week ago. Amsterdammers know, when the weather is even somewhat nice, you go outside and enjoy it.

Our apartment has a nice terrace deck on the back, and we finally got around to ordering furniture for it, as well as some cushions for the wooden bench that is already out there. Delivery was scheduled for yesterday, so we waited anxiously, since it was actually a nice day (if a bit on the cool side). The delivery time kept getting pushed back farther and farther into the afternoon, until it finally arrived at 16:15. The delivery man got lost, and then once he found us, he informed us that he “doesn’t go upstairs”, so he left all the furniture on the sidewalk outside. We carried it in, and began assembling it.

Once we were done, it was still warm enough that we sat outside and enjoyed the weather. I’ll let the photos tell the rest of the story.

Churchill and I wait for the furniture to be delivered

The new furniture (complete with large umbrella, for when the weather isn’t quite so dry, plus one of Churchill’s beds and his favorite toy.)

Furniture assembled, time for a beer in the sun!

What do you do when it’s nice outside on a weekend evening? Grill!

After the sun set and the weather turned cold, we moved inside for some Dutch Appeltaart (apple pie), and chocolate chip ice cream.

Finally, Torii the cat demands play-time.

 
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Posted by on June 3, 2012 in Life in the Dam, Photo Posts

 

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Algarve, Portugal

The old city walls of Faro


After our previous trips to cold Venice and cold Dublin, when my wife asked where we should go in May, I said “I don’t care, as long as it’s sunny and has a beach.” I love Amsterdam, I really do, but sometimes the weather can get you down. It rains here a lot (though usually it’s just a light rain), and it’s frequently pretty cloudy as well. Rare is the sunny day, and I needed some sun.

Roxy did some searching around, and finally settled on the Algarve region of Portugal. The Algarve is the southernmost area of the country, with hundreds of kilometers of beaches. She found a nice apartment on 9flats.com (similar to airbnb.com, but smaller and cheaper) in the little city of Quarteira.

We flew from Amsterdam direct to Faro, Portugal on Transavia.com airlines. It’s the budget carrier owned by KLM, and flies mostly to vacation destinations. Upon arriving in Faro, we rented a car (a Diesel Ford Focus, with a stick-shift). There was a slight mishap at the parking lot, as Roxy went to stand in front of the car to tell me how much room I had. I thought I put the car into reverse, but really it was in first gear, so I ended up running into her. She’s got a bit of a bruise on her leg. Oh well, what’s vacation without adventure?

View from under the umbrella


We drove the 30 minutes from Faro to Quarteira, and found our apartment. The hosts were an older couple with limited English, but were very nice and helpful. By the time we arrived, it was 8pm. We made a quick run to a local supermarket, and then found a place on the beach for dinner.

The next day, our plan was to go bask in the sun, but the winds were blowing at over 30kmh, and we lasted about 5 minutes on the beach before we had to hide from the blowing sand. We drove back to Faro, and explored the city for a bit.

The next day, the winds were still blowing, so we drove the opposite way, a little over an hour to Lagos, where the winds were much calmer. We found a nice beach right outside the city, Meia Praia, and laid there under a grass umbrella for 5 or 6 hours. On the way back, we stopped in the touristy city of Albufeira and had dinner.

Driving again was quite an odd experience at first. I can’t even imagine what it would have been like for my wife, who hasn’t driven a car in almost 2 years now. At least I got to drive last fall when I went back to the US. I was nervous at the beginning, but soon got comfortable again. Roundabouts still concerned me, but over the course of the trip I drove through probably a hundred of them, so I do feel better about them now. Time to work on getting my Dutch license.

A little restaurant right off Meia Praia beach.

The final 2 days we spent in Quarteira just laying on the beach enjoying ourselves. One of my favorite parts of the trip was my morning ritual. I’d wake up, throw on my swim trunks, then go sit outside on our balcony with a bowl of Rice Krispies and the laptop and just enjoy the warm air. We also found a nice little cafe/snack-shop right on the beach that we went to every day for sandwiches and drinks. Portuguese beer is perfect for laying on the beach, as are plenty of Mojitos and Caipirinhas, which is a rum, sugar, and lime drink.

Naturally, since coming back to Amsterdam, it’s been cold and rainy. I already miss Portugal. We will definitely be going back.

The best way to spend vacation.

 
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Posted by on May 17, 2012 in Photo Posts, Travel

 

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Celebration: 100 posts, & Koninginnedag

This is my 100th post to this blog. Wow, that feels like a lot for someone who isn’t a writer, and doesn’t post that often. Anyway, on with the blog….

Yesterday was Koninginnedag in the Netherlands. Every blog about living in the Netherlands covers it, and indeed I posted about it last year. Thus, I’ll save you the re-hash, and just get right to it.

We met up with some friends, and started the day with pannenkoeken. From there, we just randomly walked around. This year, all big outdoor celebrations were banned from within the city-limits, so all of the DJs and big parties went outside of the city. That opened up some of the outdoor spaces, such as Marie Heinekenplein, Museumplein, and Leidseplein, for people to just walk through. Lots of people took blankets to Museumplein and just laid out in the sun.

Oh yes, the sun. The weather had been nothing but cold and rainy for weeks now, but yesterday it was absolutely glorious. The Queen could not have ordered better weather. It was 70 degrees F and sunny all day long, with nary a cloud in the sky. It’s back to being rainy today, but I’m happy we got 1 good day.

We visited Vondelpark, but it was overwhelmed with families, so we headed elsewhere. Upon leaving the park and going towards the Overtoom, we saw some creative decorations:

Legs

We stopped for a quick snack at Cafe Toom, and then headed towards the Jordaan district. As we turned onto the Prinsengracht canal, it was madness. Orange people everywhere, and boats floating by pumping out music.

Koninginnedag 1

We had some friends who were having a party, and they happened to have a roof deck right on Prinsengracht. Score! We stopped in, and watched the craziness from above.

Koninginnedag 2

Eventually, a drunk Dutchman came up onto the roof and started shoving people around, accusing us of pouring beer onto his baby down on the street. Nobody did, but he got us all off the roof and into the apartment. Still not a bad view, and a great way to wind down the day. We then biked home, and Roxy passed out on the bed while I grabbed a pizza from the Italian restaurant next door. The day was pretty much perfect.

This last picture has nothing to do with Queen’s Day, but I’ll share it anyway. It’s a variety of different Heineken bottles you can buy at the Heineken store between Waterlooplein and Rembrantplein.
Until next year!

Heineken Bottles

 

Venice, Italy


The Grand Canal, as seen from the top of the Rialto Bridge

Since last fall, we had planned on taking a trip somewhere in February. You see, February 4th was our 10-year anniversary as a couple (married for almost 5), and combine that with Valentine’s Day, a short vacation seemed like a good idea. We struggled with where to go, though. A variety of locations were suggested, until I stumbled on 1 magic word. That word convinced me where to go, and when I first broached the subject with Roxy, she liked the idea of Venice (we’d been wanting to go for a while), but wasn’t sure if this was the best time of year. It was then that I pulled out the magic word: “Carnival”. She was in.

Little did we know when we booked the trip that Europe would end up experiencing a massive cold-spell. Our first day in Venice was sunny, and we even took off our gloves and hats for a bit. It was to be short-lived, though. The next few days were dark and cold. We rented a small apartment 2 minutes walk from the Rialto bridge, and while it was cute (and right on the canal), the 2 small radiators just could not cope with the cold. We ended up putting 7 blankets on the bed to keep warm at night. After the 2nd day, we took to boiling water on the stove when we were there just to warm the place up. The cold marble floor became my mortal enemy every morning when getting out of bed, while I sprinted into the kitchen to turn on the stove.

Nevertheless, Venice is a beautiful city. Beautiful in decay. Italy itself is interesting, as it seems to exist in 2 extremes. When I think of Italy, I think of old buildings, their plaster crumbling in the sun. Old roads made of stone that have existed for centuries. Then I think of their modern cars and fashion. Everything in Italy is either very old, or very new.

Among the things we did in Venice: Eat lots of Gelato (naturally), drink lots of Prosecco (it kept the cold away!), see lots of folks in full Carnival attire, visit the glass-making island of Murano, take a gondola ride, ride a traghetto (it’s a gondola, but with all the seats removed. You stand, and the ride lasts only 2-3 minutes, as they are used to ferry you from one side of the Grand Canal to the other, in places where there aren’t any bridges.), and walk.


Views from our gondola ride through the city

One of my favorite things to do when visiting a city is to just wander around. Plan on getting lost. Get out of the tourist areas, and walk among the locals (though, there aren’t many non-tourist areas of Venice, nor are there many locals). Venice is perfect for getting lost, as it’s almost impossible to keep track of where you are via a map. We got lost several times, but always managed to find our way back.


Street vendors getting ready for Carnival

While the cold definitely put a damper on our trip, ultimately I enjoyed Venice. It’s not tops on my list of places to go again, but I would. It’s a unique city, and one of the places that, if I didn’t get to visit while living in Europe, I would feel that I missed out on an essential experience.


Murano glass-maker demonstrating making a glass horse. Very interesting.


Silhouette of a boat in the lagoon.


The Bridge With No Ramparts / aka, no side railings.

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2012 in Photo Posts, Travel

 

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