Birthday weekend.

My birthday was this past Saturday and we went way for the weekend to celebrate the occasion,  hence the title. It  started off rather rushed as I had overslept a slight bit due to a work occasion the previous night, which was Thursday night as I took the Friday off from work.

On Thursday evening it was a colleague’s last day at work, so we went up to the roof of the office building for some drinks and snacks and the fact that we are an proudly beer selling company, the supply of top quality craft beers were not limited. Hence me missing my normal 7:00 AM gym session and sleeping in till 8:00AM.

Once we left Amsterdam station and were on the train to Antwerp, the rushed feeling and slight stress was immediately replaced with excitement.

Antwerp is a magic little town in Belgium, famous for one of the biggest ports in the world as well as a flourishing diamond trade, which both contribute to the cities wealth. Wealth which one can see, throughout the city and its residence, it has an air of ‘well being’ which is not easily experienced everywhere.

Antwerp is full of little squares surrounded by cafes and restaurants.

We arrived at the magnificent central station, known to be one of the prettiest in the world and quickly made our way to our AirBnb. It was a few minutes from central station and upon arrival we were met by the owner, Grethe, who sat us down for a quick Antwerp information session.

She was very sweet and just meant well but it felt like she was talking forever, elaborating about the history, the people, the food and she eventually called it quits, after sharing several restaurant and specific meal recommendations at the said restaurants.

When we greeted her she mentioned her age, 73, she looked no older than 57, maybe 59, good genes she said.

We circled Antwerp several times, looking for the perfect restaurant until we eventually settled on the restaurant recommended by Grethe and the food was delicious.

The rest of the day was spent visiting breweries, shops, parks and several historical sights in town. We ended the day with a delicious meal at a French restaurant, I had a steak and it was probably one of the best steaks that I have had in my life. Jytte had the vegetarian lasagne, to be honest, I am not a vegetarian but I would order that lasagne any day!

French cuisine.

We called it an early evening with retired at around 11:00AM. The next morning we were up bright and early and visited the city market. It was an amazing mixture of sights and smells, with the most delicious food and snacks that once can imagine.

What really grabbed my attention was the alcohol consumption, all around the market and surrounding restaurants, people were drinking anything from beer to wine to champaign. This must have been around 8:00AM in the morning and coming from a country where it is illegal to sell liquor before 11:00AM, I was quite surprised.

So I order two beers and a shot of tequila.

Just kidding but what I did order was a delicious Turkish wrap with honey, olives, cheese, sun-dried tomato and artichokes. It really hit the spot. Jytte had a few bites but it was not up to her tastes.

As the day before we spent the rest of the day eating, drinking and enjoying the amazing Summer weather. We also rented two cycles which I would definitely recommend, its so easy to get around on bikes.

Give a Dutch persona bike and the sun and you get that face of pure bliss.
Exploring Antwerp!
Antwerp from the sky!

The evening we decided on a piquant pizzeria looking out over a busy piazza surrounded by several restaurants. We both had pizzas which were equally amazing. I swear the food in Antwerp is just on another level.

Food!!!

We decided to have desert elsewhere and seeing that I am not entirely a desert person, I was in no rush.

At one stage Jytte got frustrated and said that the only reason that she wanted desserts was to ask them to put candles on it and then I could blow it out as it was my birthday. Super sweet!

Eventually we did find a place and Jytte went to place our order, 2 coffees and one creme brule, she also went to ask whether they can put the candles on the dessert.

She can back flustered throwing the candles on the table, telling me that they told her that they don’t do such things here like lighting candles. I almost told her  that we should just cancel the order and leave and she said “No, lets just drink the coffee”. Sure.

A few moments later the lights started flickering and I could hear the loud song ‘Happy birthday…. ” Ah, she got me…

So the staff did not agree to the candles but had their own sparkles! They marched through the restaurant singing happy birthday while the whole restaurant clapped hands. They messed up my name but that did not matter as the table of ten next to us, literally gave a standing ovation and kept clapping long after the song was finished.

It was great!

We returned home after this as we still had big plans for Sunday. The next day we went back to the market for some snacks and soon after left Antwerpen for Rotterdam. It was a great Summers day and the weather was even better in Rotterdam than Antwerpen.

For some city was buzzing with excitement and energy as there was a soccer cup final taking place later the day but for myself the excitement and energy translated to fear and anxiety as we were surrounded by hundreds of screaming, drinking and rowdy soccer fans.

The police detained the entire train whilst they got everything ready to search all passengers upon exiting. It was a scary experience seeing all the police and dogs and people being searched.

Once we cleared the search we headed into Rotterdam which is airy city which felt very green, spacious and modern and reminded me a lot of Pretoria, South Africa.

We walked through the city and eventually came to a street called “Witte de Wit”, where Jytte’s father once lived, many moons ago.

The street was a mix of trendy bars, cafes, clothing stores and restaurants lined with green trees almost forming a roof above the road. We headed over to “Paneke Bar” of which Jytte knew the owner, who I then met and we enjoyed a cold beer. The owner , Wim, was slightly nervous as he was not sure what type of crowds the soccer game would attract and apparently it can get pretty messy.

Our last stop for the day was “Felix Food Factory”. This is a sort of market in a old shipping building right on the water. One can buy all kinds of food and drinks there and then sit on edge of the river enjoying the food and the view.

We bought an amazing cheese platter and two craft beers and sat with our legs dangling over the piers edge. We could see “Hotel New York” from where we were sitting which is an old hotel which looks like it came right out of a Wes Anderson movie.

Jytte’s great grandfather was actually a project manager and worked on constructing the hotel.

So back to the title of this post, birthday weekend. As you can tell I did indeed have an amazing action packed birthday weekend!

Hotel New York, straight out of a Wes Anderson film.
Beautiful Rotterdam!

Midweek beers and midweek cheers.

 

I never made it to the gym this morning, as I had planned, but one needs to be ok with the fact that things do not always work out the way that you want it to. It is like my old college Cedric always said:

“The secret to life is that you should really want something, have an intense burning desire for it, but if you don’t get it, you should be happy with that too.”

This is great advice and it stretches way beyond missing a gym session or not getting retweeted by Beyonce.

The universe has a way of working both with you and against you. It is a lot about what you put out there and then in contrast what you internalise.

Lets use a metaphor:

Good grapes make good wine, good soil make good grapes, good nutrients make good soil… And one can go on and on but I am sure that you get the drift.

Lets get to the title of this post. In all honesty, I have absolutely no creativity when it comes to the titles, it is really the first thing that comes to mind, so in this case, it is Wednesday, which means it is midweek and I am drinking beers. Therefore, Midweek beers and midweek cheers.

Normally I would not be drinking beers on a Wednesday but a college of mine had a motorbike breakdown, so I hung around with him waiting for the tow truck and once he and his bike was loaded, I returned to the office to finish some work and do this blog post.

With that said, its about time I head home!

 

 

 

Tiring Tuesday

I am struggling to keep my eyes open as I type this, today has been one really long day, starting at 05:30 with some ready, meditation, a brisk nine kilometre run and followed by a gruelling ten hours of work.

I wish that there was someway to get a bit more out of a day, with that I mean, I wish that I did not get tired, fatigued, lose my concentration and maintained consistent high energy levels throughout the day.

I strive to realise this wish, through healthy eating, consistent exercise and limiting the amount of carbs and sugar that I consume but I am yet to achieve optimal performance. I have also started taking some melatonin to succumb to a deeper sleep which may also lead to better energy levels.

But as of yet, its still constant experimenting, tweaking and self medicating to try and get the most out of each day.

Art gallery in Eindhoven.
Art gallery in Eindhoven.

So today was great, I love my morning runs to work, I do not do it everyday but at least once a week, I will run both to work and back. The nice thing is that Amsterdam is flatter than the top of Table Mountain, making running a fun and relaxing activity as opposed to Cape Town and its tumultuous ups and downs, mincing away at your legs .

I run with a backpack which is normally stuffed with work clothes, toiletries, several notebooks, work shoes and my laptop. It slows me down but I also think that it makes me stronger as I run with at least an additional five kilograms weighing down on my calves.

I think that it was this morning during my run that I realised that Amsterdam can really become my city, I mean where else can you live on the one side of the city and still be able to run and cycle to your work on the other side of the city? Definitely not Hong Kong.

Apart from the ability to run to and from work, the charm of the centuries old architecture, the long Summer days and the beers on the cafe terraces are really also growing on me.

I think I shall start looking to buy an apartment real soon, my lease on the current place that I am renting expires in the next four months, which gives me a perfect window to start looking for a place to buy.

Blossoms in Springtime.
Blossoms in Springtime.

Monday the long day

I am one of many expats at my company. Out of the 38 employees, I would guess that around 15 are not Dutch, which makes sense as we are an international company, operating across several different countries.

We currently have online stores in the Netherlands, Belgium, France, the UK and Germany with plans to expand to several more European countries in the near future, we may even take on the Asian and American markets one day.

With that said, the company has been kind enough to have gotten us a Dutch tutor to teach us the Dutch language. The only condition is that we pass the entry level Dutch language proficiency exam or else we pay for the lessons ourselves.

The lessons start at 17:45 and end at 20:15, hence the reason that Monday is so long, especially if you arrived at work around 08:15 AM, then you clock in a solid 12 hours. But I guess it is relative as I have had many jobs where working a 16 hour day was the norm.

My day was not quite 12 hours as I arrived a little late this morning. The reason I was late was due to a gross miscalculation of distance on my part. Instead of checking the distance between two locations on Google maps, I just did an estimate based on how far they looked from each other on the map, which was a huge mistake and I realised this as soon as I arrived at the first location which I estimated to be no more than two kilometres from the second location but it ended up being a bit more than twelve.

See here in Amsterdam, you take your bicycle everywhere and with everywhere, I mean really everywhere… Clubbing? I will cycle. Job interview? Let me get my bike. Dinner with the in laws? Let me just hop onto my bike. Emergency and need to go to hospital? Let me just find my bike keys… Moving homes…

You get the point…

Unfortunately my bike was stolen last week, so this morning I wanted to go to the gym before work so I borrowed my girlfriends bike, which was not at her house or at mine but at a bus stop which I assumed was close to the gym (location one), this was the first mistake, as the bus stop was eight kilometres away from the gym. The second location is my work, which was twelve kilometres away from the gym.

This would have been ok if the bike was any good but the bike of my girlfriend was salvaged from the pre European Union era and not much has gone in the way of care and maintenance, causing the bike to creak and crack with each peddle and as soon as one settles into any kind of rhythm, the chain slips off the gears, leaving you with no way to stop as the bikes only way of breaking is peddling backwards.

Needless to say, the careful biking and stopping to replace the chain, turned what Google maps promised to be a thirty minute journey into a fifty five minute slog.

I arrived at work sweaty and my hands covered in oil from replacing the chain.

When I explained to my colleges, they were happy that I made it to work in the first place, as the area where my bike constantly “broke down” was apparently not the best neighbourhood to be stopping with a laptop on your back. Luckily all was well and I was only about twenty minutes late.

So what did I learn? Plan better, read maps better, double lock your bike to protect theft and several Dutch words and phrases.

It is now 20:37 and I have ran out of time for today as I literally have eight items on my to do list. As per yesterdays post, on quieter days I will back peddle and write about the past but whenever something slightly significant happens it shall take president.

P.S. The photo is of my old bike, the one that was stolen last week.

Amsterdam Month Four

Tomorrow will mark my 10th week in Amsterdam. It genuinely feels like it was yesterday, when I was waiting for my passport in my tiny bedroom in Hong Kong, all packed and ready to go.

It makes sense that time flew, it normally does when one is very busy and I really hit the ground running, in less than a week after my arrival in the Netherlands, I had already started at my new job, not leaving me with much time to settle in, especially considering that I had caught a horrible flu just before leaving for Amsterdam which ultimately caused me to spend the better part of my the first week, bed ridden.

So far so good.

I nervously walked into the office on my first day of work, it was a semi industrial looking open plan space, walls lined from the floor to the roof with beers from all over the world and the area buzzing with mostly twenty something year olds, all busy with some Tweet or some task.

Luckily the first person with whom I had made eye contact with, was exactly the person that I was looking for, namely Roel, my new manager. At this point we had spent no more time getting to know each other than a twenty minute Skype interview, so to say that I was not sure what to expect, is a glorious understatement.

After some small chit chat, Roel showed me my desk and introduced me to the team, thereafter, we had a one on one where he talked me through the ins and outs of the business and what exactly where I fit in.

I was burning to get started. Some people say that South Africans have a great work ethic which I can definitely related to, regarding my own standards.

I mean I just wanted to get going and be productive, no matter for who I work or who the client is.

I was (still am) hired as a Senior Frontend Developer which pretty much means, I build the front part of the website, which is http://www.beerwulf.com and after about an hour or two at the new job, I was already poking and prodding around the website trying to get a feel of how things were done.

So the thing with Front End website development and any software development for that matter is that there are literally thousands of ways to get the job done. Actually tens of thousands of ways, the reason for this is that there are so many software frameworks and libraries and languages out there, which can be used individually,  separately or even integrated to do the same job, so even someone with several years of experience may walk into a job and would still need to spend a few weeks getting a feel for the project.

Luckily for me with this job, I was familiar with most of the technologies used and got orientated within the first day at the job. At this stage there was not really that much for me to do yet but I spent most of my time filling in some technological gaps and helping out my colleges where I could.

Sometimes at a new work, you feel kind of useless the first couple of weeks as you are onboarded and getting the hang of things, here it was not the case and actually at my previous work neither. I was pretty much productive after a day or two but I still believe that the onboarding process at most companies are not complete and there can be a better of doing it than sitting employees down and giving them a brochure or Word document to read but that is a story for another day.

So I always commit to trying to blog more and I am going to try for a post a day, eventually catching up to the present day, then I want to go back in time a bit and write more about Hong Kong, then maybe even go back a bit more and write about isolated incidents in my life but who knows, writing one post a day might deliver some awesome content. Till tomorrow.