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!

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.