Jet lag day

I tried to get a good night’s sleep last night, staying up until about 11pm so I was tired and could hopefully sleep the night through, But your body clock is a funny thing. I woke up around 4am and felt wide awake, despite still being very tired. I stayed there but got up about 05:30 to start the day. I’ve now been awake all day and am very tired, so hopefully I’ll be able to sleep through to around 07:00 or so tomorrow.

I went to the supermarket as soon as it opened at 7am to buy groceries: milk, eggs, bread, fresh fruit and vegetables to restock on perishables, plus a few other things that were on the shopping list. I processed a few photos and put together a small album from the trip. These are all photos from my phone. I copied about 300 other photos off my SLR, but haven’t started going through those yet.

My wife and I took Scully for as long walk at lunch time. She’s settling back into the normal routine quickly.

And tonight I just made a quick and easy pesto pasta for dinner. I’ll cook more ambitious things in a day or two. Oh, I refreshed the sourdough starter, and it looks like it survived well.

New content today:

That day in Amsterdam and the voyage home

Going back in time to Monday:

We woke up late and prepared to go out for our full day in Amsterdam. The forecast was for morning showers, developing into steady rain after midday, but the morning was dry and although the sky was overcast it didn’t threaten any rain soon. We walked to the Albert Cuypmarkt to have a look at that and get some breakfast there. We bought some poffertjes to have as the first round of breakfast (see photo posted in the previous entry). These were served with a big slab of butter and a large sprinkling of powdered sugar. They were nice, but sweet, and we needed something else to add to make up a proper breakfast.

We hoped there would be some bakery stalls at the market to get some fresh bread or pastries for breakfast, but we didn’t spot any. It seemed much less of a farmers’ market and more the sort of market with fast food stalls and lots of stalls selling knick-knacks and souvenirs and clothing and so on. There were a couple of fruit and vegetable stalls and maybe a deli stall or two, but otherwise nowhere where you’d go to buy fresh food to take home. Instead we found a bakery shop in one of the buildings towards the western end of the street market. We got croissants, mine filled with ham and cheese. It was delicious, with nice flaky pastry.

From here we walked past the Rijksmuseum and admired the exterior architecture. But alas we didn’t have lots of time so we didn’t go inside, as visiting this world renowned art museum could easily have eaten up an entire day.

From here we walked north across various canals until we reached the Bloemenmarkt floating flower market. I was looking forward to this as flower markets are generally vibrant and full of colour, and make good photo opportunities. However I was rather disappointed to discover that there were almost no fresh cut flowers here at all. Almost all the stalls were selling flower bulbs and cuttings and seeds, as well as small potted plants such as succulents, cacti, and other random things. Most of them also sold touristy souvenirs. In short, it was nothing like what I had hoped for.

Continuing our walk, my plan had been to go down the main tourist drag towards Dam Square. But having done that last night, and had enough of this overly touristy area, we cut that section off and proceeded to the Nine Streets neighbourhood, which was supposed to be more elegant and interesting, with picturesque canals and streets lined with boutiques and eclectic shops. Well, it was okay, and there were plenty of nice views, but it wasn’t quite as nice as I’d expected. There was a lot of construction work in progress in various streets, which didn’t help.

So we finished traversing this area faster than anticipated, and then headed across the canal west in the Jordaan neighbourhood. Again, I’d read that Jordaan was worth exploring. It was a more residential area and looked like a trendy and moderately expensive place to live. The main street had a selection of slightly more mundane shops than the boutiques of Nine Streets, so it felt more lived in. We detoured around a bit to take in some of the residential vibe, but again this didn’t take too long.

We did find a great place for lunch. My wife spotted a delicatessen across the road and we went over to take a look. It sold deli meats and cheeses, but also had a sandwich bar. The woman behind the counter was very friendly and made M. a sandwich on a long thin wholegrain baguette, with pesto, aged gouda, cucumber, and tomato. When the lady asked which cheese my wife wanted, she answered gouda, and then the lady asked what type of gouda! Then she shaved off some bits of young gouda and aged gouda so we could try them. The aged was really nice, so my wife got that. I also had the aged gouda on a sandwich with ham and mustard. We sat on a bench in front of the shop window to eat our sandwiches. This was a perfect lunch – somewhere nice and local that the residents got to to buy supplies and the vast majority of tourists would probably never stop at.

From Jordaan, we continued west toward De Hallen. My original plan was that we would approach this area close to dinner time, and potentially eat in the food hall here. But we made it by early afternoon, so had plenty of time to spare. We arrived just as it started raining gently, so it was good timing. It turned out that De Hallen was also a kind of small shopping mall in what looked like a historical warehouse or something similar, but with a small number of fairly large and interesting things, including studios and a cinema. One shop had a large selection of eclectic and interesting artsy things for home decor or artistic inspiration, and we browsed in here a bit.

Across the interior hall from there was a denim shop and fashion design studio. The front looked like a jeans shop, but along one side were banks of sewing machines, with some people working at them, and along the other were large rolls of denim material. A man told us about the place: It was a design school for fashion designers and creators, to work specifically on denim wear. Students were there to learn and practise and hopefully go on to make their own fashion labels. Many of the jeans and other clothing in the shop were made by the students. And at the back of the shop and also upstairs were classrooms and more banks of sewing machines where students were busy assembling clothing. We were allowed to wander around and watch them working. Some of the clothing on display was very creative, using denim not just for pants, but also jackets, dresses, and so on.

We went into the food hall nearby. This was an area with maybe one or two hundred tables for dinners, surrounded by about 30 or 40 different places selling food ready to eat, as well as a handful of bars selling drinks. We managed to find a table among the people and had a drink and a mid-afternoon snack. There was a place making bitterballen, and so I had to try some. They had about 7 or 8 different flavours. You could get 3 or 6 or 10 balls of one type, or they also had a sampling board with one of each of five different flavours. This wasn’t as economical, but I had to try the different types, so I got one of those. “Bitterball sauce” or mayonnaise were extra, but mustard was free for some reason, so I got mustard to go with them (also because I like mustard). The woman cooking the bitterballen just threw all the orders into the deep fryer at once, and then when she pulled them out in the fryer strainer she had to pick up and inspect each one closely before deciding what flavour it was and adding it to the correct order. There was quite a wait, as about 5 or 6 people had ordered before me.

We figured we could have a leisurely afternoon sitting here and snacking on things, rather than having a large sit down dinner later on. But my wife. wanted to get a coffee from a cafe that she’d spotted outside as we’d approached De Hallen. So we went out there, braving some spitting rain, and got seats in the cafe. She had her coffee while I went around another corner to get some ice cream at another place we’d seen while going out to the cafe. By now the weather had turned and besides raining it was chilly and windy. I now wished I’d brought my jacket to wear. But as the woman at the ice cream shop agreed with me, it’s never too cold for ice cream! It turned out the cafe owner was from Australia and the woman who was serving was from New Zealand, so we had a quick chat with her.

While going to get my ice cream, I’d noticed a large pet store just around the corner from the cafe. We went in here to look around and find a present for Scully. I found a soft plush toy in Dutch orange colour, which we got. Interestingly they also had “dog beer”, which came in beer-like bottles and two flavours: original and chicken. Both with 0% alcohol and various meat proteins and stuff. I assume they are like a broth.

Dog Beer!!

From here we began walking back towards our hotel, as it was getting to early evening and we had come a long way. We walked back a different way, going through Vondelpark, a large forested park and one of Amsterdam’s main attractions. It was beautiful, with gravel paths leading through dense forests, which opened out into ponds, lakes, lawns, and formal gardens in places. We passed along a stream to the rose garden, which contained dozens of varieties of roses in many colours, laid out in a pattern of hexagons. There were many birds too, and I counted about 14 different species using eBird. It was raining steadily when we arrived, but it eased off as we explored the park and had stopped by the time we left. We passed a lake across which were several very expensive looking houses that backed onto the lake. They must have incredible views.

We continued walking, getting quite tired and footsore by now. We still wanted something for dinner, though something fairly light as we’d eaten snacks in the afternoon. My wife spotted a place called Soup En Zo, which served a selection of soups, salads, and little bites like cheese pastry sticks and quiches. She got a Moroccan chick pea soup while I got the zucchini and parmesan. She also got a small pumpkin quiche, and we grabbed some chunks of bread to go with the soups. They were all really good. Again another local place off the tourist path.

A light dinner eaten, we continued on back to the hotel. It was quite a hike and we were exhausted when we got in. We gradually closed the thick curtains to block out the sunlight early so we could adapt to the dark and get some sleep before it got too late. Because we planned to be up at 06:00 tomorrow to leave and head to the airport for our flight, which is scheduled at 11:15.

There have been horror stories about Schiphol Airport recently, with enormous queues and waiting times of several hours to get through security. A friend of mine messaged me via Facebook that we should get to the airport five hours before the flight, as she was in some travel groups that were saying that the average waiting time was four hours, and she had a friend who had had to wait six hours! But I’d already seen signs at train stations and advice on the Schiphol Airport website saying that you should not show up more than four hours before your flight, because if you were there earlier they wouldn’t even let you into the departures hall, and you’d have to wait outside. hen there was other info saying that the queues were very long and in some cases the queues extended outside the building! And when I asked the hotel staff about how to get to the airport, they told me to catch the number 4 tram to Centraal Station and then a train from there, and we should aim to be there four to five hours before our flight.

Well, we didn’t want to get up at 04:00, so we decided 06:00 was good enough, as that should get us to the airport by around 07:00, just over four hours before flight time. That decided, we packed our bags and returned a bit early.

Tuesday 28 June

We woke up a bit before the alarm went off. I got up at 05:30 and did some stretching exercises, then got M. up. I checked our check-in state on the Singapore Airlines app, thinking we’d have to go to a counter to get boarding passes printed. But the app had generated boarding passes that we could load into Apple Wallet! So we did that, thinking how awesome it was that we could have the boarding passes on our phones instead of having to get printed ones that were easy to lose.

We were ready to go just after 06:00. We left the hotel and walked half a block to the nearest tram stop. It only took a few minutes to arrive, taking us to Centraal station where we got a train to the airport. We got off and went upstairs to the departure area. It was now 07:00, so 4:15 before our flight. We saw signs saying that you shouldn’t enter the departure hall more than four hours before your flight, but there was nobody there enforcing it, so we wandered in. We skipped the check-in counters since we had no bags to drop off and we had our boarding passes, and we went straight to security. I was expecting huge queues, but it really wasn’t that bad at all. They looked at our digital boarding passes and we went through security very quickly. Then came customs, where we joined a queue that looked long, but it moved very quickly and we were at the front in about 10 minutes. Our passports were scanned automatically, and then a customs officer simply stamped our passports and we were inside the terminal. We’d expected several hours of waiting in queues, but the whole process had taken only about 15 minutes.

Grateful for that, we headed to the Aspire lounge, where Singapore Airlines had a special section roped off just for Singapore customers. We were the first ones there, and had the entire section to ourselves, while other people crammed into the other areas of the lounge. We finally had some breakfast, bowls of muesli with yoghurt, and I added some fresh chopped fruit to mine. It was a nicer and more comfortable breakfast than we would have got outside in the main terminal area.

Here a strange thing happened. My phone rang, and it was a call from a number in the Netherlands. Normally I just decline calls from outside Australia as they are always spam, so I did so. Then it rang again. And then I got another call from another number in the Netherlands. I didn’t want to answer any of these, as that would activate mobile roaming and a high daily charge, and I was absolutely sure that nobody in the Netherlands knew my phone number, so it had to be spam. But it was an odd coincidence that there were several from within the country I was currently in.

We headed to our gate about an hour before, to give us time to walk over there, and to look at some shops on the way. There was also a Rijksmuseum gift shop and behind it was an actual display of paintings from the museum itself! The display was themed as “Woman Power”, and all of the featured paintings were by female artists contemporary with the great (male) Dutch masters. So although we didn’t get to visit the museum itself, this was a nice taste of the collection.

Boarding started at the expected time, half an hour before departure. Although here we had an issue, as they told us that the digital boarding passes on our phones weren’t good enough and we had to get printed ones. And they’d been trying to phone us several times to find out where we were as we hadn’t checked in to get boarding passes as they’d expected!

Once on board the captain announced that we’d have to wait for about an hour before pushing back from the gate, because Schiphol was extremely busy with departures and we were in a long queue to leave. Given we originally only had 1:20 to make our scheduled connection in Singapore, I hoped that we’d make up time in the air and arrive closer to our scheduled arrival time. We did not want to miss our connecting flight to Sydney and end up spending more unexpected time in Changi Airport!

Wednesday 29 June

We made up a little time, but by the time we landed we had just 40 minutes to make our connecting flight before it departed. Fortunately, while taxiing the captain announced that the flight to Sydney was waiting for us, and was at the immediately adjacent gate, so all we had to do was walk over and go straight on board. Compared to the 28 hours or so we spent in Changi last time, we were in the terminal building maybe 15 minutes at the most this time. Our second flight pushed back from the gate bang on time. It was so quick that I wonder how they managed to get all the passengers over as well as all the checked luggage. Fortunately for us we only had carry-on, so didn’t have any possibility of checked bags going astray.

The final flight landed about half an hour early, around 16:30 Sydney time. Sydney Airport was completely empty. We must have been the first plane to arrive for at least an hour, as there was nobody ahead of us at any of the immigration, baggage claims, or customs areas. As a result of this and not having any checked bags to wait for, we were out into the arrivals hall within just a few minutes.

We headed to the station and caught a train 3 minutes later. We were home and in the door by 17:30. We’d been in Amsterdam just 21 hours earlier. The entire trip form Amsterdam to our home had taken 7 hours less than we spent in Changi Airport on the way out!

We had quick showers and then went to Loki and Rachel’s place to pick up Scully. Family reunited, we came home and relaxed a bit in the evening before bed time, and hoping to sleep through until morning to get over any jet lag.

A day in Amsterdam

I’m not going to write such today because I want to get an early night so I can get up at 06:00 tomorrow to head to the airport for our flight home. I’m a bit concerned because Schiphol Airport is currently notorious for incredibly long wait times getting through check-in, customs, and security. A friend of mine advised me to get there at least 5 hours before the flight because she said 4 hours seems to be about the average waiting time going by experience from a Facebook travel groups she’s in, and that a friend of hers had to wait 6 hours. On the other hand, Schiphol Airport’s web site says you should not arrive more than 4 hours before your flight, because if you do they won’t even let you into the departure hall – you have to wait outside.

Given the luck we’ve had with travel on this trip so far… maybe it’s time for our luck to change and things won’t be so bad. As long as we actually make our flight, I’ll be happy.

Anyway, today I spent walking around Amsterdam with my wife. We saw and did a lot of stuff, but I’m going to write it all up on the plane rather than stay up late tonight. So here are some highlight photos:

Poffertjes for breakfast at the Albert Cuyp Market:

Poffertjes for breakfast

Monkey at the Rijksmuseum:

Monkey at the Rijksmuseum

Bloemenmarkt floating flower market:

Bloemenmarkt, Amsterdam

Monkey and a canal:

Monkey and Amsterdam canal

Monkey and a sampling board of bitterballen:

Monkey trying some Dutch bitterballen

A bridge in Vondelpark:

Vondelpark bridge

Some very expensive houses backing onto Vondelpark:

Vondelpark houses

‘s-Hertogenbosch to Amsterdam

We slept in a bit at our hotel this morning, before packing our bags and checking out. We left the bags to pick up later and went for a walk back into town to meet Jan again. We took a new route through Het Bossche Broek, shorter and more direct than yesterday. We reached the meeting point of the boat tour early enough to sit in the adjacent cafe and have a drink on the balcony overlooking the canal.

At 10:30 the boat tour started. We were in a small narrow boat with a capacity of just 12 people. The tour guide gave commentary only in Dutch, but gave us printed English brochures. And Jan translated some of the commentary for us. The tour was themed for Heironymous Bosch, the most famous resident of ’s-Hertogenbosch, and featured several fibreglass sculptures based on images form his paintings mounted along the edges of the canal in places. There was also an introductory video shown in the boat garage before we began the tour.

The tour took us along narrow canals between houses in the centre of the city. We could see the back sides of many houses whose fronts faced the street. Several houses and other buildings were built right over the canal, so there were many short tunnels. Some of them contained “bat boxes” and three species fo bats live in them. We saw several of what needed no translation from Dutch when the guide described them as “shit pipes” – brick sluices that emptied straight into the canal. Previously these were exactly that, for sewerage of the houses above, but all of them have been blocked and are no longer used. The water was in fact very clean as Jan told us, with fish living in there, and abundant reeds, lilies, and other aquatic plants in some places where the canal broadened out a bit. He said you wouldn’t drown in the canal as the water was only about 80 cm deep.

’s-Hertogenbosch canal tour

At one point we turned in an underground T-junction of tunnels, into the so-called “Hellhole” tunnel. This is about 100 metres long and completely dark. In this, projectors mounted on the front of the boar projected images from Bosch’s paintings onto the walls and ceiling of the tunnel, transforming it into a vivid moving image of Hell, in a way very reminiscent of the boat scene in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Images of devils and tortures gave way to rampant flickering flames. But towards the end, when we saw the literal light at the end of the tunnel, this transformed into scene of flying angels and stars. This was based on one of Bosch’s paintings, inspired by this very tunnel, in which he depicted for the first time in history of art or literature the metaphor of light at the end of the tunnel as an inspiration and saviour.

’s-Hertogenbosch canal tour

The tour let us off at a small stop near the Heironymous Bosch art exhibition, which was included in our boat tour ticket. This is a grand old church converted into a permanent exhibition of reproductions of many of Bosch’s works, plus works by other artists inspired by Bosch, The originals of all the works are held in major art museums all over the world, so that’s why this exhibit has only reproductions, but the advantage of this is that you can touch and handle the exhibits, which is very useful for the folding triptychs that Bosch is known for.

After looking at many of these reproductions, we used the lift to ascend about 7 floors to the top of the bell tower, for panoramic views across the city and surrounding landscape. I commented how flat the land was and said that where we lived was very hilly. Jan said they have hills here in the Netherlands; you only have to travel about 80 km and there’s a hill, about 30 metres high. I said that just walking from our home to the local shops was an elevation gain of 50 metres!

We walked back from the Bosch art centre towards the Sint-Janskathedraal, which was open now and so we went in through the side entrance. However there was a service in progress, so we didn’t stay or explore too long. Leaving the main entrance, we emerged near the square. Here we took a table in a cafe for lunch. After a chicken wrap, I had a bossche bol, the signature sweet of ’s-Hertogenbosch. It’s basically a giant profiterole, filled with whipped cream instead of custard, and dipped in dark chocolate. Jan had one of these for his entire lunch, while I had one as dessert after that enormous wrap! Jan showed me his technique for eating them, which he said he’d learnt from someone else but which was not the standard method. He picked up the chocolaty ball in his fingers and turned it upside down, showing the flat bottom through which the cream is injected, bare of chocolate. He said eating it by hand upside down meant the cream didn’t squirt out, and the only down side was chocolaty fingers. Many other people attack them with a fork, sometimes also a knife, but this he considered messy and gauche. So following his technique I devoured mine by hand. It’s a good thing I like whipped cream, because there was an awful lot of it! Overall it was nice, but not something I’d want too often.

Bossche bol

After lunch we walked back to the spot where we’d started the boat tour and said goodbye to Jan, until next time we see him. We walked back to our hotel to pick up our bags and then walked all the way back to the station with them. We’d hoped to catch a bus, but Jan said the drivers don’t take cash and we couldn’t figure out any easy way to get tickets, so I said we could just walk. The walk took us an hour and 15 minutes, but we went some back ways that we hadn’t see yet rather than along the main road, so it wasn’t unpleasant.

We got to the train station and checked the departure board, and saw a train for Amsterdam was leaving in just 1 minute. But we had to find our tickets and somewhere to scan them and then reach the platform, and by the time we could stop to think or get there, the train had left. We still couldn’t find a place to scan the QR codes on our tickets so we went to the office and asked. The lady there said they were only for opening gates, and weren’t needed here. I also asked when the next train to Amsterdam Centraal was, because there were none listed on the departure board. She said that trains weren’t going directly there due to staff shortages, so we had to go to Amstel and get a metro train. She said our tickets would allow us to use the metro as well. The next train to Amstel left at 15:48, in about 15 minutes, so that wasn’t too bad.

The train arrived and we scrambled for seats upstairs, managing to get some, so that was good. The trip took less time than I expected, just under an hour. We got off at Amsterdam Amstel station, and we only had to walk across the platform to the other side where a metro train was arriving in 2 minutes to take us 2 more stops to Weesperplein. There we got off and tried to exit the station, but the exit gate scanners rejected the QR codes on our tickets. A station attendant saw us standing around wondering what to do and came over. We explained that the rail staff at ’s-Hertogenbosch had told us we could use the metro, but this guy rounded on us and told us that we should have bought a metro ticket because they were two different train companies. But he let us out, thankfully.

We walked a few blocks from there to our hotel and checked in. They have upgraded us to a better room, with a balcony that looks out over the street and canal below, so it’s pretty nice.

After dropping our things we set out for a walk into the centre of Amsterdam. We followed the main road to Rembrantsplein and then took the main pedestrian route heading north to the central station. This was extremely touristy, lined with shops, and packed with people. We stopped in a few shops to look at stuff and buy some souvenirs and gifts to take back home.

Near the station, we started looking for somewhere to eat – somewhere that wasn’t a tourist dive. We’d passed a lot of bad looking eateries on the way, and wanted to find somewhere nice, where we could have a quiet meal and glass of wine, not surrounded by noisy tourists. We ran across a nice looking place called Celia, which looked like it had plenty of tables free. But when we went in to inquire, the waiter asked if we had a reservation and when we said no he said he’d have to check with the manager. He came back a minute later and said they weren’t taking anyone without a reservation. I asked him if he could recommend another restaurant with a similar ambience, not a tourist place. He immediately had an idea, but asked how far we minded walking. I said we were fine to walk, and he suggested Restaurant Olijfje, and showed me where it was on Google Maps on my phone. It was about halfway back towards out hotel on a slightly roundabout route, so we decided to go there and try it.

We walked over that way, passing some other interesting sights as well as some non-touristy areas. When we got there, the place looked nice, and we managed to get a table inside, fairly close to the door. Soon after, we saw the staff turning away several other people who came asking for a table, so it looks like we got lucky. They served “Mediterranean” food, which in Europe is code for Middle Eastern. They had a sharing platter for two people consisting of selections of ten different cold and hot mezze dishes, and the menu said it could also be ordered vegetarian. So we did that! They brought out complimentary bread and olives to start, and then our mezze platter arrived. It was amazing, with 9 small square bowls containing different things, and a couple of fried cheese cigars on the sides, making the tenth dish.

Mezze sharing platter at Olijfje

The food was all delicious and we left very satisfied.

We walked slowly back to our hotel, along various roads and canals, enjoying the late evening sunlight.

Magere Brug

Amsterdam houseboats

Cologne to ‘s-Hertogenbosch

Our fortunes with travel connections on this trip continue. Our plan was to catch a train from Köln at 07:25 to Mönchengladbach, where we would have 5 minutes to transfer to a train to Venlo. We set our alarms to wake up at 06:30, to give us time to do final packing and leave the hotel, walk over to the station, and grab some breakfast before catching the train. But when we got up I checked the Deutsche Bahn app and it said our train was running 15 minutes late… meaning we’d miss our connection and have to wait almost an hour in Mönchengladbach for the next train. We could have rushed and tried to catch an earlier train, but I didn’t want us to have to race over to the station and not have time to get something to eat, so we relaxed a little and resolved to be late.

I sent my Dutch friend Jan a message saying we’d be an hour late into ’s-Hertogenbosch. We took our time to get to the station where I got another one of the porridges from Haferkater, while my wife got a coffee and a croissant. On the platform it said our train was only running 5 minutes late, but this updated to 10 and finally to 15 minutes late. Eventually it arrived and we made our way to Mönchengladbach. The train made up some time on the way, but we still missed our connection to Venlo at 08:25. The next train was supposed to be at 09:25… but this was cancelled! So we had to wait all the way until 10:25 for another train. I sent Jan another message saying we’d now be two hours late.

We exited the station at Mönchengladbach and found a BackWerk bakery to sit in for a while. Being before 09:00 on a Saturday, pretty much everything else was closed. We just grabbed a bottle of water to drink and I had a chocolate croissant. At 09:30 the department store across the street opened, so we went in to wander around a bit and use the toilet. This cost 0.50€, and I took the opportunity to rid us of a pile of 1, 2, and 5 cent coins. When I dropped the handful of shrapnel in the tray next to the attendant, she laughed.

Our second train eventually took us to Venlo, where we had a 16 minute wait for the third and final train to ’s-Hertogenbosch. Only this train was also disrupted! Thanks to staff shortages, it was only going as far as Eindhoven, and we were advised to change trains there for a connection to ’s-Hertogenbosch. This added yet another 15 minutes delay to our journey. Of a 3-train journey, every single leg was disrupted, and in a different way: lateness, cancellation, and early termination. Fortunately I managed to message Jan when I had WiFi and he knew not to get to the station too early to wait for us.

Finally, we made it to ’s-Hertogenbosch around 12:20, a total of two hours and fifteen minutes late. Jan met us there and directed us to the adjacent bus stop where we waited for a number 1 bus to take us most of the way to our hotel. Guess what? The bus was about 10-15 minutes late; I lost track exactly. Anyway, we finally managed to make it to our hotel, where we dropped our luggage and set out immediately on a walking tour of ’s-Hertogenbosch.

Jan guided us past a supermarket where we grabbed some lunch to go. We walked through Het Bossche Broek nature reserve, a large low-lying area of mixed grass and wetland, dotted with walking and cycling trails. This was very scenic, and a chance to spot many different types of birds. I did a count with eBird, and by the end of it we’d recorded 21 different species of birds that we could identify, and there were also a few tiny flitting birds that we couldn’t identify. We went along a bike path and then a pedestrian-only path along the edge of the Dommel River. At the end of this we used a small hand-cranked chain ferry to cross the river. This is called the Pontje ‘De Moerasdraak’, which means “the swamp dragon”.

Looks like the Netherlands

From here we walked into the city centre, via a shady tree-covered footpath along the west side of the Dommel, looking across to the old city wall on the east side. This was also a beautiful walk, which didn’t feel especially urban until we emerged at the far end in the heart of the city with the bustle of people. We walked back over the river into the heart of the city. We went down some pedestrian streets hemmed by old buildings and found a cafe-bar to sit in and have a cool drink out of the sun for a bit.

After resting a little, we walked into the market square, where the market was in the early stages of packing up. We got freshly made stroopwafels, which were hot and delicious – not as sweet as the packaged ones you can buy in supermarkets.

Making stroopwafel

We walked around the Sint-Janskathedraal, but we couldn’t go inside as they seemed to be just closing for the day. This cathedral has a strange mix of Gothic stone and brick architecture. Jan said it was based on the design of Amiens Cathedral (as was Cologne Cathedral), so we might observe some similarities with that of Cologne. Indeed there were some in the shapes of the exterior, but Cologne’s version is just so much bigger in size.

We ended up in the restaurant Tante Wonnie’s, which has Surinamese food. The menu mostly seemed to be influenced by Indonesian cuisine, which seemed a bit odd. But the food was delicious and had an interesting range of spices.

After eating, Jan grabbed his bicycle and took us to the main road back to our hotel, where we could walk back while he went home.

Cologne meetings, day 5

It stormed overnight. I heard the heavy rain and thunder briefly in the middle of the night, probably some time after midnight. A bit later it had stopped, but the room was so hot that I was sweating while trying to sleep. I got up and opened the window to let in some cold air, which helped. But I had to close it again a short while later to keep the noise out. It had cooled the room down enough to allow more sleep.

When we went out for breakfast it was cool and overcast. I thought it didn’t look like imminent rain, so we didn’t take umbrellas, but this turned out to be a mistake. We sat outside at the same cafe as yesterday and by the time we were finishing our muesli it started raining, lightly at first, but steadily getting heavier. We followed the lead of a pair of women were were sitting at an adjacent outdoor table and dashed inside to wait out the rain before returning to our hotel. However it looked like it had set in, so we decided to make a dash for it when it became at least a little lighter. As we were about to leave, the cafe owner appeared with an umbrella and said we could borrow it and bring it back tomorrow. I was about to say we wouldn’t be around tomorrow, but my wife reminded me that her plan for the day was to walk north past Eigelstein to Agnesvierteil and Nippes, so she’d be walking right past the cafe later this morning. So that worked perfectly.

We stopped in at the hotel and then split up for the day. I went south towards the cathedral.

Cologne Cathedral in the rain

I had about half an hour to spare before needing to catch my train, so I took the chance to go into the cathedral briefly. Even though we’ve been in there many times, I like to have a quick look at least once every trip.

Inside the Dom

Then I caught my train out to Horrem for today’s closing sessions of the ISO meeting. On the train I spotted a couple of birds which I used Merlin to identify as common wood-pigeons. This brings the number of species I’ve managed to spot and identify here up to 7 as recorded in eBird (but 8 if I also count some mallards at the beer garden on Tuesday night).

The meeting today was all of the closing administrative details, going over action items, resolutions, planning for the next meeting, and other stuff like that. My lunch today was cheese spätzle.

After the meeting business and saying goodbye to all the delegates, I caught the train back to Köln and was back in the hotel room about 3:45. We went out together to get some cake, because oddly enough I hadn’t had a chance to have any cake in Germany yet on this trip! My wife led me to a cafe she’d found with lots of good cakes: Cafe Printen Schmitz. We sat inside, being the only ones to do so, when everyone else was sitting out in the sun. We want to avoid both the sun and the cigarette smoke, so we often end up being the only ones sitting inside at places here. I had a slice of cherry cheesecake, while my wife had some of the house-made gingerbread. The cheesecake was good, but the gingerbread was really excellent – full of ginger flavour and firm and hearty rather than soft.

Having taken care of dessert before dinner, we walked over to the laundry to pick up our clothes that we’d dropped off yesterday. The man was very friendly again, and said he’d given us a 10% discount because we’d said we didn’t need them ironed. I guess that’s part of the normal service and it must be unusual for people to say don’t bother.

Then we wandered slowly towards Henne Weinbar where we had an 18:00 booking. We were a bit early, so stopped to browse in some shops, including a really amazing and large second hand clothing store that sold clothing by weight. We’d also passed a ceramics store the sold tableware and other ceramic items by weight too. Some of the plates looked really good, but we resisted because there’d be no way to carry them home safely.

We arrived at Henne Weinbar just before 18:00 and were shown to a table set for 4 people. We sat on the same side against the staircase so we could both look out into the room. We tried several of the wines, and slowly worked our way through several small sharing dishes, as well as some excellent bread. The food was delicious and inventive, with unusual combinations of ingredients. We had the burrata with dukkah pesto, turnips, basil, and mint; corn croquettes with parmesan lime aioli and pepperoncini; zucchini flower with cacao e pepe stuffing and spicy coloured tomatoes; and the pike perch dumplings with rice bisi, peas, ham, and beurre blanc. M. finished with coffee and we shared a plate of chocolates, which were hand made and had the following flavours: apricot and basil; verbena, raspberry, and cucumber; nut butter, popcorn, and sea salt; kombucha and caramel; and coconut, cashew, and gochugaru (Korean chilli pepper). Overall it was an amazing meal, and a great way to end our stay in Cologne for this trip.

We walked slowly back to our hotel where we had to pack our bags for a quick departure early tomorrow morning, catching trains to ’s-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands.

Cologne meetings, day 4: Laundry dramas and too much good food

This morning my wife and I went out to have some breakfast at the cafe near Eigelstein-Torburg that opens at 09:00. They had two choices of muesli: Nußmüsli and Früchtesmüsli. Both had nuts and fruit in them! We ordered one of each, and when they arrived it seemed that the major difference was actually that the nut-muesli had toasted muesli chunks, whereas the fruit-muesli had raw rolled oats. There was no indication whatsoever of this difference in the menu listings. They were generous serves with yoghurt, a very filling breakfast.

After eating we went back to our room to pack some laundry into a bag for me to take to a laundry we’d found in Ehrenfeld yesterday. We left the room and my wife left me at the station, where I caught a train to Ehrenfeld. I found the laundry and asked if they spoke English, but the woman there said she only spoke German. I tried to indicate that I wanted the clothes washed for pickup tomorrow, but we had a miscommunication that I only realised after I’d left. She thought I wanted them this afternoon, not tomorrow afternoon, and quoted me a high “express” price, and said I couldn’t have them before 16:00, which was too late for my planned pickup time tomorrow. Also, she said they’d only do pants and shirts, not underwear and socks. And the quoted cost was 31€, which was way more than I wanted to pay. So I ended up leaving without dropping any of the laundry off, and only figured out the communication error on the train to Horrem.

At the meeting I had the same peanut soba noodles as I’d had on Monday for lunch. I enjoyed it on Monday, and felt it was healthier than the chicken schnitzel option we were presented with yesterday when choosing our lunches. Technical sessions today were on camera resolution measurement (which included a technical presentation by Bosch on difficulties they had measuring wide angle automative cameras using the ISO standard), the RIMM and eciRGB image file formats, and a new project on pixel-related camera specifications.

After the meeting I went back to the hotel. My wife was waiting for me at the station, having found another laundry where we might be able to drop our clothes. It was on the way to walking to dinner tonight, and open until 17:30, so we had time to go back to the hotel and drop my bag before heading there. This was a much better result, as the guy there spoke English and he was fine to was everything, although he insisted on having to do it as two loads to separate the lights and darks. Even when we said we just wash them together he said he wouldn’t because he’d be responsible if any of the colours ran. Anyway, he said we could have them back around 15:00 tomorrow, which was perfect. I can probably pick them up on the way home from the meeting tomorrow.

We walked slowly onwards to our dinner at Belgischer Hof – a place we’d eaten last time in 2019 and thoroughly enjoyed. We had some time to kill before our booking, so we stopped in some fo the trendy and funky shops along the way, looking at art, photography, homewares, books, and antique kitsch.

At Belgischer Hof, we were shown to a small room up the front, different to the large room out the back where we’d eaten last time. Our waitress spoke decent English and we ordered the Vorspeisenvariation, a mixed appetiser platter for two people, plus flammkuche. One had brie, radicchio, green onions, apple, and almonds, while the other had Reblochon cheese, tomato chutney, rocket pesto, and shiitake. Quite the mix of ingredients! All six of the flammkiche on the menu were completely vegetarian, so we had plenty of choice. The appetiser board was amazing, with three small jars of differently spiced salads made with lentils, chick peas, bulgar wheat; some dark rye bread; a fish tartare (I suspect it was herring); curry waffles; a green salad; a goat’s cheese and tomato brûlée; pickled beetroot; slices of ham; and small chunks of some sort of roasted meat (I suspect pork) with mushrooms. We were getting full already after this, so it’s lucky flammkuche are not too heavy!

Appetiser board

Stuffed to the gills, we walked home slowly. We were lucky to beat the forecast thunderstorms, which were predicted earlier to break around 20:00, but now we’re back at the hotel the forecast has been pushed out to around midnight for the onset of the storms. Hopefully they will cool things down a bit, because it was too hot today.


Minoritenkirche, Cologne

Cologne meetings, day 3

We slept in later today, getting up a bit after 07:00, which felt much more normal than yesterday’s 04:00. We decided to walk up to the area round the Eigelstein-Torburg just north of our hotel to find some breakfast. There were some cafes around, but the only one open only had a choice of a “schnell” continental breakfast, or eggs. We really wanted some muesli or something. We settled on grabbing some bakery items at a BackWerk, which is a cafeteria style bakery with sandwiches and pastries. I had a falafel sandwich on a Turkish roll and a cherry danish while my wife had a chocolate croissant. They were really fresh and good. After that, she grabbed a cappuccino at an Italian cafe that we’d spotted, but which didn’t open until 09:00 – we had to wait a couple of minutes until it was open. They had muesli for breakfast, but again not until 9am.

It’s a very weird cultural difference to Sydney, where all the cafes are open and serving a wide variety of breakfast menu items from 6am.

After a quick stop back at the hotel for me to pick up my bag for today’s meeting, we left together to catch a train to Ehrenfeld, which I’d found as a neighbourhood worth exploring. We walked around some of the streets there, and it was okay, but not especially interesting. I’d suggested to my wife that she could maybe explore this area by herself after I left for my meeting, and then catch the train back to the Hauptbahnhof herself, but it seemed we’d seen everything by 11:00, so we both went to the station and caught our trains in different directions at the same time.

I arrived at Horrem for my meeting a bit early, but a few people were there already. Technical discussions today were on imaging noise, image flare, autofocus performance, and depth sensor measurement.

During the meeting I searched for some nice places to eat dinner on Friday night. I found a wine bar called Henne Weinbar in the Belgian Quarter which does tapas style dishes for sharing. It looks good and has good reviews, so I booked it.

The meeting finished a bit early today as some of the technical sessions ran short, so I left a bit before 15:30 to catch a train back to Cologne and meet my wife. We decided to go to the Roman-Germanic Museum quickly to have a look in there before it closed at 17:00. I wanted to have another look in there after our first visit many years ago, and it promised the bonus of being air conditioned so we could escape the heat of the day a bit. The weather today was 30°C and there seem to be precious few places with air conditioning to get out of it. Unfortunately, the museum seemed to be closed for renovation or something. So instead we walked over to the adjacent Museum Ludwig to look at some modern art instead. The good thing was this museum was open until 18:00, so we could take a more leisurely approach.

We finished a quick tour of the galleries a bit after 17:30, and then began walking to the restaurant Klaaf for dinner. We took a seat inside, though most of the tables and customers were outside. We wanted to be away from the sun and the cigarette smoke, although a lot of smoke drifted in anyway. My wife had a daily special which was a cast iron pan filled with fried potatoes, mixed vegetables, and topped with two fried eggs. I had the bratwurst with fried potatoes and mushroom sauce.

The food was decent, but the meal was spoiled when the previously polite waiter wanted us to pay in cash and looked offended when we asked if we could pay by card. He reluctantly got the card reader machine and then as he handed over the receipt he said pointedly that “the tip is not included”. I assume he must have mistaken us for Americans and assumed we’d be leaving a big tip. But we’re well aware that Germans don’t normally tip and had not been intending to do so. So we left quickly, a sour taste in our mouths.

I stopped at a gelato bar across the square to get a cup with scoops of pomegranate and lemon gelato. Then we walked back to our hotel for the night.

Cologne meetings, day 2

My wife and I were awake about 4 o’clock this morning, due to going to bed early and being partly jet lagged still. I searched online for a cafe or something open early for breakfast, but many places only open at 10 o’clock or thereabouts. There were only a few places at the main train station open that early. I found a place called Haferkater that made hot porridge, with various toppings. That looked good, so we went there and got some and took it to eat sitting on a bench in front of the vast Cologne Cathedral. It was chilly, so the hot food was good.

After eating, we went to see the Wochenmarkt farmers’ market in Apostelnkloster. This opened at 07:00, but we arrived a few minutes earlier while the stallholders were finishing their set up. It was a small market, with a couple of large fruit and vegetable stalls, a couple of flower stalls, a cheese truck, butcher’s truck, and seafood truck, and a baker with cakes and cinnamon rolls, plus a bread baker.

We stopped to look at the bread stall and the senior woman there began talking to us about their bread. She was very keen to tell us all about it, mentioning that they had sourdough starter over 100 years old, and most of their bread was made using rye flour. She asked if we’d like to try some bread and before we had a chance to answer she starting slicing a large loaf and spreading it with butter for us. She had us try the plain rye loaf, and one with walnuts in it, and then she cut a slice of a loaf with small bits of ham baked into it – she asked if we were vegetarian and offered it to me when I said that my wife was was. All the bread was really good.

She told us a story about how when grandmothers in Germany used to bake bread, they would hide it in a cupboard for a day and only let the family eat it the next day. She said that developed the flavour, but also it was because if they let the family eat it fresh out of the oven then the entire loaf would go in no time. She told us a bunch of other stories about the bread. They also had big trays of various slices with crumble toppings: apple, berries, and poppy seed. She grabbed some of there loose crumble topping and gave us a handful to try, then started cutting some of the poppy seed slice. Before she could offer us some of that to taste I said we’d like to buy a full slice of it. It was a large piece and cost only 2.20€. I asked if we could take some photos of the stall, and her and her junior assistant posed for a photo for us. And then she cut us two slices of their loaf with fruit in it – figs and other things – and put those in a bag to take with us as well! It was really good to have such a nice chat with a stall holder like that.

German poppy seed cake

After the market we went for a long walk, around a couple of neighbourhoods that I’d found recommended as interesting places to see in Cologne. We went first to Rathenau, near the University of Cologne, a trendy student district. This wasn’t as interesting as I’d hoped, seeming like any random district. From there we walked north to the Belgian Quarter, which turned out to be much nicer and more interesting. It had some nice parks and a lot of quirky and curious shops. Unfortunately they were all still closed, since it was still early.

We walked back to the centre of town along a street with more shops. My wife marked the area to come back later today when I was in my meetings. We continued east all the way to the Rhine River, and walked back to our hotel along the water. Here’s the church Groß St Martin, behind a row of picturesque old buildings:

Groß St Martin church

During our walks, I spotted some birds: plenty of feral pigeons, some common blackbirds, a couple of carrion crows, and a Eurasian magpie. I used eBird to record them, but realised I needed to download a European bird pack to get it and Merlin Bird ID to work properly. Not being familiar with European birds, I had to spend some time later confirming the identifications of the blackbirds and magpie. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen (or at least consciously noticed) a Eurasian magpie before – I didn’t expect it to have such a long tail!

Back at our hotel room I picked up my gear and went off to my meeting, leaving my wife to explore by herself for the afternoon. I caught a train to my meeting. Lunch today was chicken gyros with rice. Technical discussions were on: A new proposal to start work on technical stability of camera support systems (such as tripod mounts); image stabilisation; and a new high dynamic range and wide colour gamut image format.

After the meeting today, we had a group dinner with all of the delegates from the meeting. My wife was also invited to come along. We went to the Biergarten am Aachener Weiher. We took a U-Bahn train from Breslauerplatz to Neumarkt, and then a tram from there to Moltkestraße, which was a short walk from the beer garden. All the others were there already. We had a good time chatting with the other delegates and eating food and drinking beer. I had a Wienerschnitzel, which was okay, but nothing special.

After dinner we left as the gathering broke up. We walked all the way back to the hotel as the sun slowly went down. It provided perfect twilight for photographing the cathedral and the Hauptbahnhof, so I snapped a few photos with my phone.

Kölner Dom twilight

Hauptbahnhof Pride

Hauptbahnhof sunset

Cologne meetings, day 1

It’s Monday, the first day of the ISO Photography Standards meeting that I’m here to attend. We still have several delegates unable to travel due to COVID, so we’re doing a hybrid online meeting, with roughly half the people attending via Webex (a virtual meeting app like Zoom). So rather than the usual 3 days of 9-5 meetings that we do for a regular face-to-face meeting, we’re restricting the hours each day for the sake of people in middle-of-the-night time zones, and doing 5 days of meetings from 12:15 to 17:00. And from the discussion today it seems we’ll be staying in this agenda format for at least a few more meetings, until most people can attend fave-to-face again.

We began the morning waking up early in our room in Würzburg. It was difficult to sleep because of how hot it was and the fact that the room had no air conditioning. I had an icy cold shower last thing before getting into bed, which helped and I got some sleep, but woke up in the middle of the night hot and sweaty. I opened the windows wide to let in cooler air, which helped a lot until the sun started brightening the room around 5am.

We got up at 6am, half an hour before we’d set the alarm. This gave us time to have showers and pack our bags before leaving the hotel early and finding some breakfast before catching our train at 7:32. We found a cafe/bakery and had some croissants, then bought some bottles of water and an apple for the train.

The train delivered us to Cologne a bit after 10:30 and we checked into our hotel, which is very close to the station. Our room was available already, so that was good. We dropped our bags and left straight away, because I had to catch another train to Horrem, where my meetings are. My wife said goodbye and went to explore Cologne by herself until I return this evening.

The first day of meetings went smoothly. It was good to see some of the familiar faces in person again after nearly 3 years of Zoom meetings. We had a dozen or so delegates present in the room, plus a similar number attending virtually. The host provided free lunch – today was choice of soba noodles with salad and a spicy peanut sauce, or some pasta which looked like lasagne, but I didn’t get a close look as I chose the noodles.

We finished almost an hour early for the day. I went back to the hotel and met my wife there, after she’d spent the afternoon getting reacquainted with the city centre. We walked north to the Ebertplatz area to get dinner at a restaurant called Feuer & Flamme (Fire & Flame). They specialised in flammkuchen and had a big selection of vegetarian options.

Monkey and flammkuche

And after sharing a couple of delicious flammkuche we decided to try one of the sweet dessert ones:

Dessert flammkuchen

Overall it was really good!

We’re both still pretty tired after the day, and adjusting to the time zone, so we’ll get another early night.