Newsletter Number Eight - Feb, 2004

As spring struggles to make an appearance in the northern part of the world it is time for to come out of hibernation and pen another newsletter. Most news centres around things local rather than travellers tales from around Europe. So, for your reading please here is the Readers Digest version of my last few months (in no particular order).

Budapest in August

Yes it has been a long time since the last newsletter thus we have to go back to August last year to catch up. Every now and then KLM has deals of 50% frequent flyer discounts to choice locations, like Budapest. The city is supposed to be the new Prague of Eastern Europe, however it lacks the beauty and charm. With the country's desire to join the EU there is substantial investment in hotels, buildings, roads etc etc. Give it a few years and the city will be covered with terrace cafes and restaurants designed to lighten the load and wallets of any traveller. Although trying to break the shackles of communism the visa process still requires two photos, details of lights and hotels, 5 days to prepare, €45 and a family tree that goes back at least 3 generations (OK I made that bit up). There are a few photos in the gallery section for your enjoyment.

Once nice aspect of the trip was that I met Andre & Rene who live in the south of The Netherlands in Breda. Quite handy when we head out to Antwerp for a night on the town!

Dutch Moment Number - I have lost count...

Those of you who are astute would have realised that I now have new email and web addresses. During December I moved from The Hague to Amsterdam (more on that later) and so began the joys or another relocation. I must say that all went remarkable smoothly apart from when I wanted to switch from cable internal to adsl. The way the Netherlands is set up there are different cable providers with dedicated areas about the same size as Canberra. Thus a move of 63km meant a new provider.

I asked the not so helpful help desk at Wanadoo if I could transfer my account from Casema cable to Wanadoo ADSL (you with me so far?). Their response was that it would be better to completely cancel my account and create a new one but I would not be able to keep my previous email address or home page. Now I thought that this would be a simple request in this hitech age of modern technology. But ooh no! It seems that unless the account is cancelled Casema keeps billing even though that are not providing any service. Hence the whole reason for wanting to stay with Wanadoo was negated - as was my custom! Then came the saga of cancelling my subscription. Although you can apply online or via the phone, the only way you can cancel the service is a letter to Casema: no fax and no phone call. The joys of Dutch paperwork.

Thus, I have decided to use xs4all and must say so far so good. So, you will all need to update your bookmarks and email addresses.

Heading North to Amsterdam

Well as I mentioned above I bit the bullet and moved to Amsterdam in December. I had been thinking about it for quite some time and with a change of position in Shell meant that it was possible to make the move. Although my office is still in The Hague I am able to work from home a few days a week and am also travelling to Chester in the UK regularly. After a little searching I was lucky to find a fab apartment not on one but two canals. The flat is located right in the centre of the city and has a roof terrace with magnificent views across Amsterdam. To make you all envious and encourage some of you to visit below are a few snaps of the view.

Split over two levels the flat has a lovely large open plan feel even if quite narrow, which is typical of Amsterdam housing. Some of the houses are extremely narrow yet deep. The reason is that at one stage the council charged taxes based on the width of the street frontage, not total area or volume. Thus you have these very narrow, deep and tall houses. Having three bedrooms is a great bonus in the centre. I have converted one into a study/office and the other is the guest bedroom. The most bizarre aspect is that the flat comes with two bathrooms and a sauna. Yes a sauna! Now I know that it gets cold in Amsterdam, but I am yet to be sitting on the couch and think "you know, I feel like a sauna right now. I think I will heat it up and go sweat for a while!". The interior pics do not do justice to the apartment so you will have to just come and see it for yourselves. Bookings are essential if you wish to stay!

Now I owe a huge thanks to Alex and Sue from Sydney who came to visit me in December. Little did they know when arriving that they would be staying at the same time as I was moving. Although I paid for the services of a removalist company, the two were great help when it came to unpacking.

Parisian Weekend Away

 

During December I also had a weekend in Paris, as you do! One thing about living in Amsterdam is that it truly is an international city, if not rather transient. I was fortunate enough to meet a lecturer from Mexico city who comes over once a year to teach at Maastricht. Roberto & I headed joined two friends of his for a lovely, relaxing weekend of doing very little in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It also gave me a chance to revisit some of the sites that enjoy as well as indulge in good food!

 

A Family Gathering

2004 has started extremely well for me. The highlight in January was having my parents visit for a week and a surprise birthday for my Uncle in the UK. Seven of us flew in from the US, Australia and Amsterdam to help Ian celebrate. For me it was a great opportunity to meet the "US family" for the first time. The couple of days we had together were wonderful. After the festivities I escorted Mum & Dad to Amsterdam where we had a lovely time together. Apart from a wet and cold day in Antwerp it was a great chance to spend some time together and explore Amsterdam.

 

In Our Next Edition...

The next couple of weeks are quite hectic for me. Next weekend I am catching up with friends in Antwerp (and hopefully the weather will be kinder) followed by a weekend of theatre, galleries and parties in London. At the end of March I am helping a friend celebrate is birthday in New York. For me it will be my first trip to NYC and a US city outside of Houston.

And so we come to the end of a short, yet sweet update on my happening over here. Hope that you all where ever you are all well and that 2004 has started in style. Take care.

Mark

 


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