Newsletter Twenty Four - April 2008


What do Cologne, Montreal and Morocco all have in common? Me… Although not all by plane, over the last two months I been the guest of KLM on too many occasions hence the above photo.

Cologne

Cologne Catherderal It has been a few years since I had visited Cologne hence time to get reacquainted with this German city on the Rhine. The nice thing about Cologne is that it is only a few hours away by train from Amsterdam meaning you can avoid the mayhem of airports – more on that later. This was the first weekend away together  for Michael and I. "Michael who" I hear some of you ask? Well, those of you who read my December newsletter would have been introduced to Michael, my local guide when visiting Haarlem. Well he did such a good job that he has been promoted to boyfriend status. You will see more of him in both this and future editions of my newsletter.

Our weekend turned into one of trials and tribulations. It started when we checked into our hotel and were given a twin room. It took a little explaining before the hotel realised that we wanted a double. The next morning we started out early to find a nice little cafe for breakfast. We found a sumptuous little brasserie in one of the more trendy areas of Cologne which proudly displayed a sticker promoting the above average hygiene practice of the staff. Unfortunately no one told the long haired brunette in the kitchen who added a strand of her locks to my omelet. This was on top of not being able to use our museum card at one of the local museums although listed in the card, encountering a waiter who thought he belonged in a 3 Michelin star Parisian eatery and arriving at a restaurant at 3.50pm and not being able to place our order until 4pm when the afternoon kitchen opened - German timekeeping of course! Despite all of this, or maybe because of it all,  we had a wonderful time together...
The picture to the right shows the Koln Cathedral in the background withe the courtyard of the Cologne Philharmonic Hall in front. A piece of brilliant urban planning means that anytime there is a performance taking place guards patrol the courtyard ensuring pedestrians do not walk over the top of the hall. See the picture to the right for more details...dahhh

Avoid the omelette for breakfast - you have been warned!

  Montreal Mayhem

Oh how we love KLM – sorry to all my KLM friends. In mid March I headed to Montreal for a project at the local refinery. Two colleagues and myself left Schiphol on the Friday with the aim of arriving in Montreal on Saturday afternoon followed by a leisurely Sunday to recover from the flight before work on Monday – well that was the plan. Due to record snowfalls over Montreal we had to divert to Toronto airport. The snow was so heavy and winds so strong we were surprised that the Captain was able to put the plane down, well at least a controlled falling out of the sky. From here our troubles began. I’ll save you the full ordeal and just share the highlights in bullet point:
The snowfalls during March broke all previous records. The upside was that the snow was perfect for play. On the weekend of our visit we headed 90min out of Montreal to try skidooing. The 3 feet of powder snow on the lake was perfect for these speed machines. I was able to get mine up to 108km/h when traveling in a straight line. We then made our way through some of the local trails.

 To top off my Canadian experience we were taken to that local national sport of ice hockey. Although we were guests in the company box we still enjoyed beers, hot dogs, pizzas and burgers. Click on the picture to the right to see more of my Montreal adventures.


In The Skies over Greenland

The flight path to Montreal (or should that be Toronto) took us quite north over Greenland. I was able to take these pictures from up high!

Off to Morocco: With two nights at home to run a few loads of washing and reacquaint myself with Michael it was time to head back to the airport and fly off yet again. This time it was a 6am start at Schiphol airport. At least we had a full day on arrival to immerse ourselves in the mayhem that is the Medina of Marrakesh.  

It is true what they say in the guidebooks, just allow yourself to get lost in the souks of the Medina and when all hope is lost you suddenly find a landmark to guide your way back to familiar territory. The shopping is overwhelming with too many offerings of the same thing. After a while it is sensory overload although the haggling can be fun – well expected. I have never had so many friends in one place calling "my friend you come look, no need to buy – just don’t smile, come and see".
The Medina is a heady mix of sweet and noxious smells, wonderful colours and a cacophony of sounds. It certainly is an experience to remember. The King of Morocco is pinning the growth of the economy on tourism. The down side is that there is constant begging or asking for money, pushy sales techniques and cruelty to animals. It is almost impossible to take a photograph without someone asking to be paid even if the subject of the picture is a tree. One person was overheard claiming that it was there tree so pay. Despite all of this it is certainly worth a visit if you have the chance. Some of our best moments were just sitting together in a square off the tourist goat track enjoying some mint tea and watching the old ladies go by.
After three days in Marrakesh we took possession of our hire car and headed east over the beautiful Atlas mountains towards Ouarzazate. After a night at the Royal Ouarzazate Golf Club we continued towards Erg Chigaga where we were picked up in a 4WD to be taken to the start of our desert safari on camels. Let's just say they might have lovely eyes but that is where their beauty stops! The night in the desert was amazing, so quiet with a brilliant show of stars, the likes I have only otherwise seen in the Australian outback. It was a truly magical (and romantic) evening. Our journey ended with a night in N'Kob before heading back to Marrakesh for a final night and early plane back to Amsterdam.

I must say that I was pleasantly surprised by the holiday. In general the people we very friendly, the food great (however I do not want to see another tagine for quite some time) and although lots of nothingness the country side fascinating.Rather than overcrowd this page with photos you can see some of the 450 pictures Michael and I took in the gallery section or for even more photos see my picasa gallery.. Now, if anyone ever erases or formats the memory card on their digital camera we now know how to recover the pictures - Michael will never do that again - will you!! 

And Finally...

As interest rates go up in Australia, stock markets come tumbling down and economies go into a recession I decided to buy a house in Sydney. After months of virtual searching I took the opportunity of being in the region to make a quick trip to Sydney. After viewing a few places - some dream houses and other nightmares I finally had an offer on 3 bedroom, two storey place in Paddington accepted. I hope to be able to welcome guests when I finally move in to the house in about 2012. Till then any rental offers are more than welcome!


Next Time

In our next edition I should be able to share with you:
Till then take care
Mark 

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