Saturday, April 21, 2012

Bicycling in Amsterdam - Windmill Tour

The De Riekermolen windmill with its "fantail" in clear view (see below)
As I keep saying, while in Amsterdam, biking is what I like to do best.  Well, and a little beer drinking at the Gollem Bar after the rides. Consequently, yesterday I did the Park Tour and today with an eye toward finding a goal for a second day's ride I decided to visit a few windmills. Even though I had pretty much already done this in 2009, windmills are pretty awesome and continue to fascinate me. I was under the mistaken impression that there were only a few of those famous Dutch windmills left. However, while I was planning a route I discovered a Google Earth KML file that conveniently place-marked many of them — from it I learned there are hundreds scattered around the country. I edited it and then converted it to a format my GPS can read and downloaded it to my trusty Garmin 60Cx. I constructed a circular route that would take me to see some that were within riding distance of my hotel. By the way, bike rental outfits are everywhere and the shop keepers are eager to please. I paid 21 euro for a two day deal.
(Note added May 6, 2012: In retrospect,  as I look more closely at a map of the surrounding area I observe that my hotel is very close to the North Sea, only about 20 miles, that I really should have done a ride over there -- all the more reason to go back.)

The weather at 9 am was cold and windy with heavily overcast skies. After a few minutes in that wind I began to think I'd better head back to my hotel room for warmer clothes. I was again wearing a polypro hat and cotton gloves along with my old wind-proof jacket and long johns under my shorts but I had this nice wool shirt in my bag that I wanted. I talked myself into going on and after a half hour or so I was feeling fine. All you need is a bit of activity to stay warm and biking easily provides that. And I will admit to enjoying the feel of the crisp spring air after all those months in tropical Thailand.

De Otter

De 1200 Roe windmill and a typical Amsterdam bike path

My bike and I visiting Sloterpark
De 1100 Roe windmill
Built in 1757, the De 1100 Roe (as well as the others I've shown) is an example of a smock mill, a type called a grondzeiler ("ground sailer") by the Dutch, since the sails almost reach the ground. Notice also the "fantail", the small windmill set at a right angle to the sails, at the back. (You can see it more clearly in the top photo of De Riekermolen.) This device helps rotate the turret or cap of the mill so as to keep the sails facing into the wind. The long white poles are attached to the cap and help to turn it and possibly to brace the structure against the wind. This mill is set in a lovely spot and was actually turning when I was there. Quite impressive.

De Dikkert
Molen van Sloten
I rode about the same distance on this tour as yesterday's, about 28 miles. It was a fine ride. I stopped for lunch at the eponymously named Klein Kalfje, a lovely little restaurant near De Riekermolen on the Amstel River, and had some crispy deep fried chicken over salad greens with wasabi dressing. About 14 euro. The place was crowded and even though the temperature was still cool by any standard many of the outdoor tables were occupied by hardy Dutch folk. The weather doesn't keep them from going out hiking or biking whenever the opportunity presents itself.
As for me, I ate indoors ^_^

Here's the route I took.


View Amsterdam 2012 - Windmill Tour in a larger map

Tomorrow I'll  leave Amsterdam to hop over the Atlantic to Buffalo. I'll enjoy visiting family for the next few weeks but I'll miss Amsterdam. This is a city I could certainly enjoy living in for a month or two. Maybe someday I will ....

Monday, April 16, 2012

Bicycling in Amsterdam - Park Tour

I love biking in Amsterdam. The city is totally set up for bikes and bikers. There are separate paths, actually an entire alternate road network with its own dedicated traffic controls, running alongside virtually every street and road in the entire city. And here in the Netherlands, where drivers are never surly or in a rush and always obey the rules, you feel that drivers of motor vehicles sincerely respect you as someone having the same rights to use the roads as they do. They give you plenty of space and will even politely wait if you happen to be in an intersection when you shouldn't be.

Saturday dawned cold and cloudy. It made me less than excited to jump on a bicycle right away so I did my computer chores, edited my blog, visited Facebook and did some exploring on Google Earth to put together some sort of tour of the city that I would then follow with my GPS. I had brought along the handlebar mount from my CBR because last time I was here I carried the GPS in my pocket -- not handy at all. My tendency was to pull it out and while driving one-handed to check for directions. The handlebar mount would make following my route easier and safer.

I decided to do another park tour, sort of like I did when I was here last. Amsterdam is a city just full of wonderful public parks. There are parks and green spaces scattered about in every part of the city. And after the sun finally came out on such a gray morning, people followed suit.

Vondelpark (N52.35925 E4.87226)
Climbing tree - Vondelpark
Two girls - Vondelpark
Spring is here!

Big hair meeting - Vondelpark

Boat racing at the Bos (N52.32580 E4.83550)
Here's the tour on Google Maps. Clicking on the link below the map will open a larger version in Google Maps.



View Amsterdam 2012 - Park Tour in a larger map

I covered about 30 miles on this tour and almost the same distance on Sunday when I decided to take a windmill tour. That's next  ....


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Thailand to Amsterdam

I left Thailand yesterday and after a long but very comfortable flight, I've landed in chilly, overcast Amsterdam. It's spring here and things are greening up nicely but after 7 months in the tropics my blood's gotten thin and I'm cold. My hands and feet are cold despite the fact that I'm indoors and wearing both a wool shirt and a polar fleece jacket as I write.  

Yes I said very comfortable. Somehow by the strangest quirk of fate, I got to sit in Dynasty Class on my China Airlines flight from Bangkok. Dynasty Class must be CAL's name for its business class seating because it was wide open spaces up there. You could move around, stretch out.

Here's a comparison I put together (thanks to SeatGuru!) from diagrams of both compartments in the 747-400 I flew. When I first checked my boarding pass I moaned -- how did I end up in a window seat? I was going to be terribly cramped and would need to crawl over two people to get out to stretch my legs or pee. I didn't pick a window seat when I bought the tickets, that's for sure. I would never willingly choose a window seat. But my boarding pass said clearly on it, Seat 10A. But  what a pleasant surprise awaited me there, upstairs in the Upper Deck penthouse. Not only were the seats super sized but 10A was an exit row seat that gave me probably 8 feet of legroom. Plus, it was a recliner. Almost as good as my old Lazyboy at home! How I got that seat is a mystery to me. So be it. I was glad to have it.


Upper deck left, Economy section right
China Airlines Boeing 747-400


I got off the plane feeling fresh and relaxed. My bag was one of the first ones out of the chute so I grabbed it and headed for the ticket counter to buy a ticket to Amsterdam Centraal. I plunked down a 5 euro note and got 70 cents change.  That's  $5 and a half bucks for a short ride into town on a packed commuter train. Another 2.70 euro got me to my hotel. I had picked this one online because at it was relatively cheap and near the Leidseplein and Vondelpark, two beautiful places I recalled from the last time I was here. Then again, it's plain that I should have paid more attention to the comments in those reviews I read. The Europa-92 was not perfect.  But it did have some good features.

Here are two views of the garden at the back of the Hotel Europa 92:




While the garden is pretty my room here is the smallest I've ever had. I'm jammed into a space not much larger than the tent I had at Maasai Mara except the ceiling is higher and it has a full private bath, something not many hotels here offer unless you're willing to spend over $100 a night. However, the room was spotless, the hosts friendly and accommodating. Amsterdam's a beautiful city and I love being here but everything is insanely expensive compared to Thailand.

The room wasn't ready when I first arrived so I ducked out for a quick lunch. I had a BLT because I love them and you just cannot get a good BLT in Thailand.The damn thing cost almost $10, which gave me sticker shock after being in Thailand so long. On the way back from lunch I stopped at one of Amsterdam's many bike shops to set up a rental. I'll be spend my time biking around both full days I'm here. Biking in this town is wonderful -- the streets and parks are crowded with bikers, polite, rule following bikers, polar opposites to the crazies you run into elsewhere.

Oh, and I noticed this sign in the window of a nearby Thai restaurant. Almost $15 bucks for a bowl of tom yum? I don't think so....

I think I'll pass on this soup "special"

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Some Odds and Ends

This will probably be the last I'll write until I'm back in the states. We've taken a few rides on the CBR now that my time here is nearing an end. We drove the beautiful, twisty Samoeng loop again but threw in a visit to Khun Khan National Park, a small park about 10 miles west of Samoeng. These photos, taken by Nut, are from that trip. (N18.85287 E98.62118)






Spider - Khun Khan NP
Teak leaf roof - Khun Khan NP
Here is a short video clip from one of those rides. Nut shot it while riding pillion. The day was pleasant but you can plainly see smoke obscuring the view. The farmers around northern Thailand burn their fields every spring either to kill weeds and insects or just because it's an old habit. It's a major pain in the butt. Many complain about this, myself included, but as visitors we're obliged to make an effort to understand that the rural Thai people have been doing this for years and they have the right to burn if they wish even if it makes no sense to us. I have pleasant memories of the smell of burning leaves in the fall when I was a kid in Buffalo. I loved it and I miss it even knowing how bad it is for the air. Maybe the Thais love that smell too.


video

The outside temp's been peaking at about 100 degrees in the afternoon lately but our apartment stays fairly comfortable -- we've been staying in watching movies and TV series in the heat of the afternoons. We've watched two full seasons of Walking Dead, two of Dexter (Seasons 5 and 6), Game of Thrones, and quite a few movies. You can buy bootlegged DVDs everywhere (in point of fact, it's hard to find legal CDs or DVDs in Thailand or Cambodia) but I've been getting them off the Internet because the quality's good and almost anything you want can be easily obtained. (Dexter fans: What do you think about the ending of Season Six where Deb witnesses Dexter's Dark Passenger in full control? Season seven should be very interesting.)
Bamboo scaffolding

And I've been reading. A lot. I wrote about using my Netbook for an e-reader in a recent post. My "library" has grown since I got on board the e-book train and now contains 47 titles; the first one I bought was "Rafa" (Raphael Nadal's biography), the most recent "Growing up Amish". I'm reading everything electronically now and I sold the few print books I had back to the bookstore. I noticed somewhere online the other day that e-book people read 25% more books than those that read only paper books. I'm not surprised. My son Tuli is working on hacking a Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch reader so it will work with not only B&N ebooks but also Amazon's Kindle and PDF.  That will eliminate my last reason for resisting the ebook trend, that of being locked in to a proprietary book format. I'll be following his lead and when I return next fall I'll have a new ebook reader along.

Caution - Elephant Crossing
And I'll be retiring my Acer Netbook laptop. It's been a good travel companion that I bought because it's small and lightweight. But I've grown tired of its cramped keyboard and 1024x600 pixel screen. It uses a tiny Intel Atom CPU with a meager 1 MB of RAM, pretty puny. And I'm not doing as much "backpacking" as I anticipated when I bought it back in 2009 now that I've adopted Thailand as a second home. I did a few days research and bought a refurbished Dell XPS 15z laptop with a powerful Intel Core I7 64-bit processor, 8 MB of RAM, 2 MB of video RAM, USB 3.0, a backlit keyboard and a 1920x1080 (full HD) 15 inch display. This will be my main computer and now that I no longer have a desk in Alaska it will replace the old Dell desktop computer I've used for the past 4 or 5 years.

Tethering


We have wi-fi here at our apartments but it can be used by only one of us at a time. Nut isn't a computer junkie but since the birth of her granddaughter she's been spending quite a bit of time on Skype and Facebook. Wi-fi access is common here. Almost all hotels and coffee shops offer it and it's free. Although ours isn't free it is quite good, is inexpensive and fairly fast. I was paying about $90/month back in Alaska for a DSL line that provided only 1 Mbps download speed. Highway robbery. Our apartment wi-fi provides speeds of 4 Mbps down (0.5 Mbps up) and costs $9/month. When I left Alaska last September one of my greatest pleasures was telling ACS Alaska to cancel my DSL account, permanently. The bastards were charging me $26/month simply to hold my DSL line while I was away.

Seeing as 3G Internet access via cell phone is also quite cheap here (isn't everything?) I looked into tethering as a way to use my Samsung Galaxy Android smartphone for those times when we both wanted to be on. Tethering is using your phone's Internet connection to access the Internet signal which you then provide to your computer via USB cable. It's pretty cool. That means no matter where I am, as long as there is a measurable telephone signal I can access the Internet on my laptop. The speeds are quite reasonable too; 2 Mbps down and 0.250 Mbps up. Here 3G Internet costs about $10/month for unlimited access, i.e., with no data cap. I was able to do Internet on my smartphone before tethering but typing anything other than short text messages on its virtual keyboard required more patience then I could muster.

The application I'm using for tethering my phone to my laptop is called PDANet. It's free to try and $15 to buy, which you'll want to do after a few weeks because it will eventually refuse to connect to secure sites unless you pay. It requires a lightweight client on your computer and one on your Android phone. The app is available in Android Market and doesn't require your phone to be rooted. (Rooting is the process of taking control of your phone's operating system and will void your warranty among other things.)

Back in the states and depending on your provider you may be prevented from tethering, or have to pay extra if you do. I just called AT&T to reactivate my U.S. phone and learned that if I want use tethering it will cost me an additional $50/month. Ain't that just peachy? Plus, I've been reading about how most if not all stateside providers recently invoked data caps that limit you to a certain number of bits per month depending on how much you want to pay. That shows you just what you can get if you pay lobbyists enough to make the FCC bend over backwards to protect cell phone providers instead of helping consumers get a fair shake. Hah!

A Fascination with Maps


And this last item is crazy and in the end pointless, but I felt compelled to do it regardless.

Facebook deserves part of the blame.

I tried to edit the silly Bing-hosted Facebook map provided within the new Timeline feature (ugh!) in order to update my current residence, and became so frustrated I decided to do my own thing and create a custom Google Map. Then I thought, why not make it a map of all the places I've lived? It was a nice project for a map junkie like me. Why Facebook's programmers continue to "update" its interface, chose Bing's maps over Google's, and otherwise continually screw everything up mystifies me. No doubt they're looking for perfection. In the meantime we're at their mercy and the Facebook UI remains a far cry from perfection.

The rest of this compulsion I can't explain other than to say that I'm a confessed nostalgia junkie and this is grist for my mill. I love maps and enjoy exploring with Google Earth. So here are 34 places I've called home during the past 68 years. Click on the link below the Google Map map for a larger version or download this KML file if you prefer to view them in Google Earth.


View Places I've Lived in a larger map

We're both trying to stay cheerful knowing that this time our separation will be shorter -- about 4-1/2 instead of 6 months -- but I can get down about it at times. I'll work on getting a "long stay" visa for next season so I can come and go from Thailand as many times as I please. Now that I have a nice bike and my teeth are fixed and we've moved from Bangkok, there will be more time for travel and I can return to my studies of the Thai language. At least that's the plan.

On the road to Chiang Mai - February 2012
I'll be in Amsterdam in a few days enjoying some Brigand IPA and quite possibly some legal aromatic herb from the Mellow Yellow or some other friendly "coffee shop". (see Biking Around Amsterdam 2009 for more). I'll hit the states on the 16th after an absence of just about 7 months. It'll be tough leaving my sweetie here but as they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Later...

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Tennis


I've been playing a bit of  tennis lately, which is nice, and which is good for me. I've hooked up with a group that meets at the nearby 700 Year Stadium three times a week. I'm playing lousy at the moment but I know from past experience that things will get better as the season wears on and I get my strokes working again. The Chiang Mai group is a mixed bag of farangs, some English folks, an Aussie or two, a few Japanese and Thais and I'm enjoying getting to know them. Dtoi, a Thai man, is one of my favorites -- he's a total joy to play with. He's a good player who laughs constantly even after blowing a shot. I'm trying to be more like him on the courts because I've learned that putting a smile on my face can really make a difference.

Chiang Mai's 700 Year Stadium complex (Google Earth image).
It's about 2 miles north of our place  (N18.841351, E 98.963204)
Here's a link to a Google Map that shows where the stadium is in relation to our apartment.


Aki
Dtoi, a man with a great attitude
Gene hits a return
Norm sits one out, Peter is in background left, Steve on right
Oui (left) and Paul
Orange juice "highball" and watermelon
The stadium was built for the 1995 ASEAN Games and named for Chiang Mai's 700th anniversary. (And I used to think of the Union Oyster House in Boston as old -- it dates from about 1820.) The tennis courts we use were renovated a few years ago. It's a fairly nice facility and seldom crowded. You can hire a "knocker" for a few dollars an hour and coaching costs about $6 per hour, a far cry from what you'd pay in the states. A knocker, by the way, is a guy who knocks balls you hit to him back to you, almost like a ball machine but better. I've hired young Nick a few times to hit with me. He's a friendly Thai guy who possesses almost perfect ground strokes. And he gets everything back that I throw at him. Easily.

Summer's coming on fast and after these workouts in the ever increasing heat I'm always powerfully thirsty despite drinking almost 2 liters of water at the courts. I've taken to drinking a mix of orange juice and bitter-lemon soda water over ice. And Nut often has some cut up watermelon ready to go along with it. We play in the morning to beat the heat. And finish much too early for beer.  My little creation is a perfect alternative.



I woke up this morning feeling nervous about what's ahead:  In about a week I'll be leaving Nut. And then there's the traveling, the deadlines, the long hours in airplanes, my return to Alaska. I'm really not much of a traveler. I like staying at home, or at least in a place that feels like home. And for now, this is it. I've a few things to do before packing my bags but they won't take long. I'll need to live out of a suitcase for a while, unless I luck into a living situation in Homer that will allow me to unpack some of my stuff and hang my hat for a spell. The way things have turned out at this point, I could say I'm more or less living in Thailand and visiting the United States, rather than the other way around.

My relationship with Nut has provided me a great deal of satisfaction. She's made my time here both interesting and enjoyable and has been an almost perfect companion. I've joked with friends about the likelihood that the language barrier I sometimes fret about has perhaps made our relationship easier. We never get involved with second guessing one another nor do we have those analytical discussions about what we're doing together. We have no conflicting goals or agenda. It's fairly straightforward, a simple but unspoken contract; if I take care of her she will take care of me. We've become good friends during the past two years and I grow fonder of her every week.

Much has been written about the nature of Thai-farang relationships but what I said above does a fair job of summarizing ours. Naturally, there's more to it than that. Nut hopes to have a small home of her own someday, one with a vegetable garden and a few chickens running in the yard. Although she has never pressed me on that subject, it's something I do think about from time to time. Even if I had someplace in the U.S. other than Alaska where I wanted to live, a guy getting by on retirement income alone cannot easily start over in the states. But he might just pull it off over here. Living in rural Thailand definitely wouldn't work for me but maybe there's an in between place that could meet both our needs?

Anyway, at first our separation will be harder for Nut than for me. I'll be visiting family and friends while she will be alone in a city that's still new and largely unknown to her. Later this month she'll travel to Betong to spend a month or so with her daughter and 2-month old granddaughter. Then too she'll visit her family in Bangkok now and again -- before long it'll be September and I'll be back in Thailand.