Tuesday, March 24, 2015

AMS Revisited

It seemed to us there were lots of changes in Amsterdam in the 3 years since we last visited.  Our Feb trip was our 3rd time.

The first indication was at breakfast on arrival.  The bakery cafe no longer accepted cash -- Only credit cards with a PIN.  We noticed through the week, many establishments, including supermarkets, have gone that way as well.   So we ended up with cash left over.  If you have a credit card that charges a foreign transaction fee on top of a foreign exchange fee, it can add up.

We also noticed the price increase -- A coffee, small freshly squeezed orange juice, 3 pastries came to 24 CAD.  Nowhere near big city Norway prices (would be double) but high for what we remembered from Amsterdam.  Perhaps along the same line, we noticed a great number of Teslas and other high end cars on the road.

When I inquired about the changes to payment options, I was told that it was considered safer and more hygienic for workers not to manage cash.  There seemed to be more emphasis on employee personal safety this time around, although we didn't notice any increased feelings of uneasiness around the city.   

Another thing was that 1 and 2 cent Euro coins were no longer accepted.  Found that out the hard way when I paid for the use of a washroom at a mall with change and was abruptly scolded.  How was I to know?  It is legal money after all.  Apparently it saves banks millions a year not having to process small coins...

A new venture started just days before our arrival in west Amsterdam called De Hallen.  Super artsy concept and food.  This was our neighbourhood the first 2 visits.  We think they have a real winner here.

We took our first canal cruise and really enjoyed it.  Recommend going on the last one of the day so you can watch the light change over the water as you go.  Makes it more magical.

D "manned up" and finally ate a raw pickled herring sandwich.  He had been working up to it every visit but couldn't do it until this year.  Actually thought it wasn't bad.  He may go for the sliced version, straight up next time.

Iberico ham, spanish tapas, Argentinian food were noticeably well represented.  There seemed to be more chain style restaurants (not fast food) too.  Ate lots of Iberico ham (made me miss Barcelona very much), freshly made Stroopwafels and poffertjes -- Will never go for the packaged kind again after that...

We stayed in a new to us neighbourhood this time around -- De Pijp -- Vibrant and trendy (for Amsterdam).  Would for sure stay around there again.   We don't go to Amsterdam for the food (sorry if I offended anyone) but for the atmosphere.

I almost knocked over a cyclist while walking along a typically narrow road (I apologized profusely).  It took a couple of days before I stopped using my ears.  Bikes can be incredibly silent.  I think I had become so used to noise in all the other countries I'd recently been to and assumed I would hear any signs of impending doom...

Last week, I heard back from a representative of the taxi company I sent my note to about the fare to the airport being charged twice.  She apologize for the experience we had with their driver and offered to transfer the 50 Euro back to us.

I was away and couldn't get the banking info back to her until recently so we will wait and see.  International money transfers out of Canada are a pain in the behind, takes weeks and costs around $35.

Hopefully their system sending it to us is more straight forward.  I cut and pasted my bank's instructions in hopes it will make sense to them.  Either way, I am pleased with the integrity the company has shown.  I wish I had the contact info of the fellow we rode with so I could tell him of the response.


 Our apartment door required 3 keys and they all looked like these.



Lining up for fries...










Huge claws on him.


Found our favourite dutch apple pie -- Cafe Papeneiland.
Fuzzy picture -- Too excited to dig in to re-take.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

March

  • I have set up another savings account just for my volunteer travels to keep things organized as I've been kind of flying by the seat of my pants so far.  I'd like to keep a float of 5K in it for anything that pops up.  
  • D managed to prolong the life of my iPod by installing a new battery.  If you own one of the original ones like I do, note that there are 3 possible replacement batteries, unlike what the Apple site tells you.  We didn't find that out until the first one didn't fit.  Cost of replacement battery is around $15.
  • D also solved my Clarisonic Mia battery issue as well (all part of the Feb everything breaking down all at once event).  You can find videos online on how to replace the rechargeable batteries.  In my case, the contact for one of the batteries became disconnected leaving the other battery too weak to keep the unit working.  I'm so glad I didn't have to replace the unit.  That device has saved me a few hundred dollars a year in previous spa expenditures.
  • Staying on the facial theme for another moment; I'm simplifying my morning routine by using sunblock as my moisturizer, rather than moisturizer plus sunblock which I've found to be too much.  And I've found a really good organic moisturizer which comes with a much lower price tag (Kiss My Face vs. Eminence).  Didn't know they offer a sun line and just ordered more of my current stuff (Vivierskin) but will give it go next.
  • D couldn't save our microwave though.  It saw me through school, so it was time. We are not huge users so have replaced it with a small unit.
  • I'm astounded by just how stubborn some people can be when it comes to personal or professional growth. And I thought I was hard headed.  
  • My mentorship duties officially end this month.  The time has gone by fast.  I think he got a lot out of it -- That's what he tells me.  There has been less resistance to suggestions the last month or so.  I wish him well but don't really want to keep in touch and am systematically weaning the others off as well.  Time to move on to other things.
  • To this day, even though I "win" more than I "lose", it still irritates me when I purchase flights and find that the price drops the next day.  Petty but true.
  • So far, am enjoying the flow of this year.  I don't feel particularly rushed or full of "have to" moments.  It's nice.  The biggest challenge has been not to let my mind dwell on things too far ahead.  We've had to book our summer (and working on Christmas) holidays due to D's work schedule needing much advanced notice and also an appointment for me in the fall that required early planning. 
  • Tired of people who use the phrases "laid back" and "you may not chose to do things the way I do" as an excuse for having far lower standards than generally accepted.
  • My travel budget is slimmer this year due to the addition of extra trips last year.  I don't like the feeling of being restricted but that was the deal I made with myself.  There is way too much temptation.  So if I really really want to go somewhere, I'll have to dig into my points account.
  • Mortgage responsibilities to the bank will be completed this year by the end of Nov.  D's super excited about it.  He will concentrate on ridding the rest of the new car loan after that.  I'll continue paying $300 monthly towards it until that time and will probably top it up so that it can be done by Dec '16.
  • D still has contribution room in his RSP from previous years of work.  I've been putting 15K yearly towards it the last couple of years to help fill it faster.  Once the mortgage is done, half of what he had been paying will go towards his RSP.  It will likely take up to 3 years to completely fill depending on our level of aggressiveness.  Ditto with the approach to our tax free savings accounts.
  • I've taken more of a back seat with respect to household finances the last few years since I've stopped making mortgage payments.  It has been enjoyable mentally even though our finances are managed as a whole.  I don't miss those years of heavy mortgage pre-payments.  D is anxiously counting down.  
  • My thoughts on full out retirement are changing.  Have been trying to express what I mean in a post but it has stalled.  Am going to have time to think further on it as I have a couple of long flights ahead of me.  

Thursday, March 5, 2015

An Excerpt

...from a post that makes a lot of sense to me.

"...I think much of our fear ironically comes from not accepting the inherent insecurity of our existence. Society tells us the lie that we can create security, that it should in fact be our life’s work.

We buy into this mindset but secretly try to also comprehend that “one day” when all will be taken away from us – even our very consciousness itself. Something in the limited human mind might think we can hide from it, outsmart it, out-save it, out-eat or out-exercise it. I see how our health efforts as well as other “sensible” choices can obscure a desperate denial of mortality. We think if we just do certain things we’ll be kept safe for a little while longer. We’ll stave off the inevitable if we just do everything “right” to keep ourselves perfectly well and secure.

Yet, I don’t choose to live the way I do in order to be perfect or safe. I occasionally make compromises for things I really want to eat. I do “unsafe” (not the same as foolhardy) things all the time. Exiting a helicopter to snowboard a more amazing mountain, I’ll acknowledge, isn’t playing it safe. While I trust my own skill and limits, I also know that to a certain extent I’m taking my life in my hands when I do that. Yet, I have always been drawn to risk. It’s in my fiber. I think it’s part of all of us and what has moved humanity forward in its evolution. (I recognize at the same time that other people’s version of desirable, satisfying risk looks much different than mine.)

A full life is one in which I feel I’m living from my whole human and individual nature. That includes risk of many kinds. And I desire to live (my version of) a full life more than I desire to be completely safe. Security isn’t my aim. Actualization is. My goal isn’t to live to be 100. It’s to compress morbidity and enjoy the biggest life possible in the number of years I’m alive on this planet. I let go of the ultimate outcome in the interest of living well today. I can choose to not do stupid things, but I’m ultimately not in control. I let go of fear in order to function.

There’s a profound and maybe beautiful irony here. Just as our fundamental instinct for survival wants to nail down surety and safety, Life with a capital L obliges us to check our need for absolute security at the door. The truth is, we always exist on the brink. It’s the nature of life itself – a confoundingly complex puzzle of infinite moving parts – ever shifting between creation and destruction. We have the capacity to observe this rhythm, but we’re also fully subject to it. As they say, none of us are going to get out of this game alive.

When we accept this truth, we can let it work within us. We can learn to configure our lives within the fact that we’re finite, that every single day is uncertain. We can live a different life – a more courageous and expansive life in acceptance of that hard reality. Fear of death, just like fear of almost anything, can keep us small. We shirk risk and its rewards for the promise of time that may never come.

While I’m not a believer in the afterlife, that doesn’t mean I don’t feel the significance or weight of the end of life. I tend to lean toward the concept of detachment. The ultimate fear we conquer is the fear of death. To accept our own finiteness is perhaps our final work in this life. The more we cling to ourselves, the more painful the prospect of dying is. The more we identify with a larger context than ourselves, the less suffering, despair or fear we face. We may not be immune to dark thoughts, but we put them in a bigger container.

I think over time we grow into our mortality as we do our maturity. That said, I’ve seen 70- year-olds who grasped desperately to the bitter and fearful end. Likewise, I’ve seen 7-year-olds dying of cancer accept their death with a knowing grace that both stuns and humbles. When we can emotionally as well as intellectually place ourselves within a larger storyline and accept life as the grand primal epic that it is, we find a right place within life – and perhaps make peace with death as a meaningful dimension of it.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

February

  • We've had a slew of things suddenly need replacing this month.  From a poorly made cell phone case to a kettle.  Hope this cycle has passed for now.
  • Office move imminent.  Am somewhat apprehensive and will likely have to take charge with some issues to get further things done but in the end, probably the better location, probably...Not making a decision (being on the fence about going) wasn't so good for me.  But I had to mentally "get over" a number of things first.  Had certain expectations of how things would be that just isn't going to materialize.
  • The neighbourhood featured in the pictures of Istanbul I posted recently were from the Fener/Balat area (UNESCO).  The row houses may look run down but foreigners have been snapping them up at around 800K a pop and renovating them.  It is an up and coming trendy area.  I saw dozens of photographers taking pictures.
  • I read an article about the ridiculous cost of food in the Canadian North while I was in Yellowknife ironically after finding that the supermarket costs weren't so different from home.  In our far north, it is outrageous.  I've started supporting a local group who is making a difference and want to work with them directly this year.
  • Experienced our first taxi scam.  Can you believe it was in Amsterdam?  After all these years of travel, to countries known for scamming, nothing, until now.  And at the train station, in a city where the concept has never registered with us.  I did take photo of the driver's registration and have sent a note to the company.  They replied and have started an investigation.  I realize it is a "he said she said" situation but wanted to let the company know what happened.
  • I'm noticing what I think are the lower fuel costs having a positive effect on flight prices.  No complaint here.  My frequently flyer strategy has changed in light of the points devaluations started this year for Delta.  I'm looking to pay the least amount to maintain my target status level. 
  • As much as I had been hoping to see the Northern Lights over the years, I noticed that I wasn't as "in to" them as the other travelers I met who had arranged their entire trip around seeing them and slept most of the day so they could be up for hours at night outside with their extensive photography equipment.  Whereas I was the first one up at our B & B and took off as soon as it was light enough.  Didn't know that in Japan, to see them was a good life omen. 
  • One of them invited me to join them on a walk to a viewing point one night.  I went and after about 45 min, I decided I had had enough of just standing there and started to walk back.  Got turned around (new part of town for me, forgot my map) but remembered enough to gage general direction.  
  • Ended up knocking on the door of this art gallery (saw lights and took a chance even though it was around 12:30 am) and met some of the welcoming people ever.  I ended up being offered tea, chocolates and driven back (via the ice road!).  I was heading in the right direction but they insisted of giving me an orientation tour en route.  The next afternoon I stopped by and offered to take them out for lunch as a thank you for their hospitality and ended up staying for tea afterwards.  They told me that in Yellowknife, people help each other and I wasn't the first one who knocked at a late hour to ask about directions.  They love meeting new people.   
  • While I was walking on the ice road one morning, I heard someone ask me if I was warm enough.  It was a man living on a houseboat who maintained the one trail I was walking on.  I told him I was warm and got an invitation to stop by on my way back.  Thought about it and decided I wouldn't go in but would stop and thank him for letting me use the trails.  I knew he was watching me from his window.
  • His houseboat was about 12 ft x 12 ft -- Small bed, desk, cooking area and wood stove.  His boat was out back.  I did stay once my gut told me it was OK and we chatted for a while.  He had been up there since the late 70's and help build many of the buildings in the city.   I sensed a lot of sadness from his past.   On my last morning, we bumped into each other again on the lake and he offered to take me on a snowmobile ride but I was heading to the airport shortly.  
  • The fellow who invited me on the walk (above) was from Hong Kong.   At first he bugged me a bit as he kept knocking on my door to ask questions, when I was looking forward to a quiet reflective trip.  He meant no harm but was a bit nervous as it was his first solo trip, planned 1 1/2 yr ago (friend of his had to bail last minute).  I ended up asking if he wanted to join me on a hike I was doing to an ice cave because it was obvious he really wanted to go.  
  • He is 47 yr old and has been working for his current company for the last 11 yrs and that translated to 1 day off per year of work...He was spending all of it this year in Yellowknife to hopefully capture the Northern Lights.  It was my turn to be speechless.  
  • After I recovered, it was his turn to be shocked when he found out that I take on average 10 weeks off a year.  And my trip had been decided only 3 week prior.  That I would show up without a real camera and actually wanted to walk on a frozen lake (couldn't convince him).  It was he who told me about the night vision app for my phone.   

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Feb 18, 2015





These kids were having the time of their lives sliding down the road, 
on plastic bags, cardboard, plexiglass, whatever they could get their hands on.

Monday, February 2, 2015

January

  • D met up with his cycling group for a few drinks and it did wonders for his training focus.  He is still hoping to join them in a spring cyclocross race...
  • I've been concerned about my buddy R.  Hadn't heard from him in a long time and from previous experience, silence has traditionally meant crisis.  I reached out and we tried to connect at his home airport while I was there recently on a 3 hr layover but he ended up not being able to make it last minute.  Life is still difficult as his wife has had her 6th/7th? surgery and is still not feeling any improvement. 
  • Recently started drinking "bulletproof coffee".  Not bad at all.  However, "bulletproof green tea" made my stomach turn within 30 min.  Not doing that again.  Thankful for Pepto Bismol.
  • Forgot to mention in the Habitat post about our homeowners' repayment of build loan.  The loan cost was 8460 USD total with a monthly payment of 106 USD from a monthly military income of 493 USD.
  • Our new-to-us car battery gave out during a particularly frigid week.  I found out that we can reasonably expect them to last 3 - 5 years now due to the elaborate electrical needs of more recent vehicles.   That would put us at just over 5 years.  Turns out that 2nd highest rated battery can be purchased from Costco (first rated one is more suited to rally car racing).  D was able to replace it, saving us 50% compared to what the dealership had quoted. 
  • It's difficult to explain the exhilaration I feel when you plunk me down in a cold stark place.  From the moment I emerge from the plane, breathe in that cool air, to the walk down the ramp across the tarmac into the main building.  There were many gasps of shock from the sudden burst of cold.  I think I was one of only a few who were grinning.  It's been a long time -- 2014 was about heat and humidity.  This latest getaway allowed me to test out my winter A-Game which led to the discovery of a few areas that needed upgrading.  The weather wasn't as cold (-38C) as it was supposed (-45 to 50C) to be this time of year so I have some work to do for next time.  At least ice wasn't enough of an issue that required my yaktrax.
  • I feel exhilaration of a different kind in Asia.  More from the chaos and not knowing what you are going to see due to the unpredictable nature of life there.  And also maybe a touch of having to keep an eye out for your life due to lack of structure and safety standards as we know it.
  • My office move has been delayed.  The contractors were not finished enough for my liking.  I was quite angry that they did not give any warning when I felt it was obvious.  It's a pain, didn't appreciate the last minute discovery and having to re-contact everyone when they had been notified a month ago and reminded just the day before...such is the life of a business. I've been actually having thoughts of not returning as where I am now is pretty good.
  • D is working from home 3 days a week now and enjoying it.  He's putting in longer hours so I'm happy he doesn't have to commute all week.
  • Had a higher than normal number of recent interactions with people who have difficulty with time management.  Last minute requests (not small either), not getting back for weeks or at all, being ultra casual in emails, like they are texting...Bothers me.  Makes me want to shout "Please get a grip and take ownership of your life!  Don't try and slather your drama all over me.  It's not my responsibility to solve all of your issues."
  • Did have a real breakthrough with deciding not to be more concerned (than they seem to be) with, or feeling the need to mention consequences of, other people's timing even if it looks like an impending train wreck.  
  • I think the above behaviour seems to bother me more now than prior because I see it as so preventable and unnecessary compared to stuff I've witness over the past year.  It does concern me that I currently feel that impatient.
  • I'm ending this summary with this article and some related pictures from Jordan.

migrant family housing/village


2nd, 3rd, 4th generation refugee settlement/small city

refugees from Syria working in fields picking tomatoes

 UN tents

Amman views



    Friday, January 30, 2015

    The Light






    This is what a cell phone camera can capture with a night app.
    Without it, or a tripod with a camera capable of manual mode,
    the results would be black.


    It's also worth mentioning that cell phone touch screens
    will frost over, meaning I had to scrape it, even when it had been in my pocket.
    And the touch screen became very sluggish while typing.


    Know that a real camera will be more sensitive than the human eye.
    So the gorgeous pictures often seen of the Aurora will appear brighter than personally witnessed,
    unless the Aurora happens to be showing at a really high level.




    Snow storm.


    Frozen bay.
    Deceptively difficult to walk on.






    One of many houseboats iced in on Great Slave Lake.
    Ice road to Dettah.


    Walking the ice road in the early mornings
    quickly became a much anticipated activity.
    The feeling of expansiveness was incredible. 




    Do you see them?