December 16, 2003

A Day in Cologne

I love the Christmas markets in Germany. I went to one in Heidelberg at the end of 1999, and it just felt so cosy and very much of Christmas, more than any other place I've been during the season. Perhaps it's the look of the cities in Germany, or maybe it's the Glühwein to keep the stomach warm whilst browsing the market. Whatever it is, I couldn't resist a day trip to Cologne with Snow.

The NS (Dutch railway)had a special promotion on, and we got two return tickets to Cologne for EUR80. After getting into the station at 8am, the lady at the ticket office told us that the latest train we could return on was the 5pm train as the 8pm one was full. What we werent told was that it was only all the reservations that were taken. Nothing would stop us from hopping on the 8pm train without a reservation as our actual ticket only had a date on it. I had a feeling this was Dutch culture in action again - "Oh you couldnt possibly go on a train without a reservation!! That's too unorganised!!".

On leaving the staion at Cologne, one is immediately standing next to the large Dom church, which towers over the city centre. The exhausting 500 stair climb left us totally worn out, but the views were quite something! Aside from enjoying the view, we were able to see where the markets and shopping streets were located - useful as we did not have a map with us.

Wandering around one of the markets, we dug into a few little delicacies - sugar roasted almonds, Glühwein, waffles, bratwurst, and anything that seemed fitting. The christmas markets tend to sell arts and crafts, and naturally, Christmas themed stuff. One seller we came across got my attention with a familiar accent - an Aussie surfie-looking guy selling in a German christmas market! I never expected anything like that but was quite chuffed.

Making our way away from the market, we wandered down the main shopping street. A lot of familiar shops lined the steet, thanks to most of these also being present in Holland. But there were plenty of new ones also, as well as a few with great bargains to be had. Snow almost bought a few cheap clothes but got a little disheartened by the queues! At the end of the street we came across another market, and spent a while wandering around, buying a few things here and there (dried fruit - yum).

Eventually we had seen it all and were getting very exhausted. We'd been up since 6am and had sclaed a 500 stair tower, walked all around two markets and a long shopping street. A nearby U-bahn took us back to the main station. I get a little kick out of trying the different underground/metro systems in different cities and Cologne was no exception. Returning back to the station, we downed a kebab and waited for the train. As expected, the train was full. Without reserved seats, we found a place at the bar and sat there for the whole journey back to Utrecht. And the lady at the ticket office said we couldnt get on - Ha! When checking our tickets, the conductor didnt say anything so we proved her wrong!

Back in Hilversum, it would have been a nice ride on the moped back home. If only it hadnt rained and shorted out the ignition. Thanks to a wet HT cable I couldnt start it, and we had to push the bike all the way back home - about 40 minutes of walking again! It was such a relief to get home finally, after a long but wonderful day in Germany...

Posted by Ben at 12:24 AM | Comments (2)

December 09, 2003

Best photos of 2003

This site has what could be described as some of the best photos to have been taken this year. Bext one in my opinion has to be the plane in front of the moon, but then again I'm also tempted by weather photos...

Posted by Ben at 02:02 PM | Comments (1)

December 08, 2003


you are lightgoldenrodyellow

Your dominant hues are red and green, so you're definately not afraid to get in and stir things up. You have no time for most people's concerns, you'd rather analyze with your head than be held back by some random "gut feeling".

Your saturation level is very low - you have better things to do than jump headfirst into every little project. You make sure your actions are going to really accomplish something before you start because you hate wasting energy making everyone else think you're working.

Your outlook on life is bright. You see good things in situations where others may not be able to, and it frustrates you to see them get down on everything.
the html color quiz

Posted by Ben at 02:42 PM | Comments (0)

The t-shirt

Slogan spotted featuring prominently on a colleague's t-shirt at work today:

"Where the Fuck is my medication?!"

Only in Holland can you get away wearing this in the offices of the incumbent telco.

Posted by Ben at 01:27 PM | Comments (0)

December 07, 2003


It's getting darn cold around here. Right now it's dipping below freezing according to the mercury (actually in this case it's silicon, but I digress.) No snow has fallen yet (you yanks have it lucky), and none forecast. Which is quite a shame really, as it's the only way I can enjoy the cold.

A trip to Naarden Vesting today on the moped was only marred by the temperature, leaving our legs almost unusable. That's what going 40km/h in 2 degree temperatures tends to do - but I think by now they've thawed out.

Yesterday was a little warmer - about 5 degrees. Which by my Aussie standards is bloody freezing, but Holland has desensitised me to cold weather. We dashed off to the Black Market in Beverwijk - a large market covering several huge halls - and did a bit of shopping. We ended up buying loads of fresh spices at bargan prices, and a few fresh veggies (not to mention a shopping bag full of fresh chillies for EUR1.50). A couple of winter warmer cardigans later, and I'm prepared for a bit more of this bitter cold.

Oh I wish I still had a fireplace.

Posted by Ben at 10:16 PM | Comments (0)

December 04, 2003

GSM unlocked!

I've had an old Nokia 3310 phone sitting around for over 2 years now, and haven't been able to do anything with it as it's a prepaid phone with a sim-lock, preventing me from putting another simcard into it. And the prepaid sim has expired, so essentially the phone was dead.

Thankfully I was browsing around last night, and came across a site that shows how to unlock older Nokia phones. All it needs is the phone, a data cable, and a windows box. All of which I have! So I gave it a go (after trying to get a serial port running under VMware) and SUCCESS! I have a working unlocked phone now at last!

Useful for me? Yep - it's handy when I go back to Aus to be able to buy a local SIM and have a decent phone to use it in.

Posted by Ben at 09:06 PM | Comments (0)

Desperate smoker

We're currently mid-move at the office today, and the floor is slowly being cleared out as we move to another wing of the building. The office currently consists of myself, 10% of the others are left, and a few moving people shifting things for people who've already gone. And there are people removing and installing walls around me, with the great din of power tools. But now I can have my music running - I'm still here until tomorrow.

In my wanderings around whats left of the office, I was heading past the lifts, when out rushed a woman who worked at the cafeteria three floors below. There was a hint of desperation in her voice as she clutched a pack of cigarettes, asking "Where is the smoking room?!". I didn't know, sorry - I don't smoke, so she muttered a "shit" and looked for others who might know.

Someone obliged and pointed out the way, and she hurried off in that direction, already grabbing a cigarette out, as if it was her first smoke in days. I wonder if nicotine is that powerful?

Posted by Ben at 01:14 PM | Comments (0)

December 03, 2003

Recipe #4 - Curry in a hurry

Time for another recipe at last.

This quick chicken curry has a well rounded flavour and is a surprisingly tasty dish given the quick preparation time. I reduced the amount of coriander, as I find too much gives a very earthy flavour.

Get the following:

  • 400g chicken pieces
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • 2 tsp cumin powder
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • 1 red capsicum, in strips
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tbsp ghee or butter
  • 1 tsp ginger

Do the following:

  1. Heat the butter in a frying pan, and fry the onions and garlic for a few minutes until brown.
  2. Add the chicken pieces and fry for about 5 minutes, adding a little oil to keep the pan from drying.
  3. Stir in all of the spices and fry for a further 2 minutes. Add the capsicum.
  4. Add about 100-150ml water and stir well. Cover and let simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Leave the lid off for the last 5 minutes to thicken the sauce up slightly, then serve.
Posted by Ben at 09:03 PM | Comments (0)

Beer on the job

I noticed this article which mentions various attitudes to drinking during working hours, and how it's viewed in a few countries.

Naturally, the British are the most lax, and around half the English will gladly get a beer during lunch. Other countries are less lax, and at the other end of the scale are the Dutch, where 86% frown on beer during work hours. I can definitely vouch for this - it's almost impossible to convince anyone to have a beer at lunch - milk is the norm.

Ironically, my own building has a beer tap installed right in the foyer, and it's even hooked up a lot of the time. The just don't use it during business hours - such a waste...I need to convince more colleagues to come out for a beer at lunch, but it's not really the season for it.

Posted by Ben at 08:58 PM | Comments (0)

December 01, 2003

Fear my 17 inches

After some months of consideration, I finally splashed out and got myself an 'e-yama' LCD monitor. My trusty old Sony 17" is about 5 years old, and whilst it still has a pretty good picture, it can only display my preferred resolution (1280x1024) at 60Hz, which gives me too much flicker. Very annoying.

The screen came from a huge computer exhibition/market that is on in Utrecht each year. I only heard about it on Saturday, and headed there on Sunday. Sort of an impulse buy, but I had been thinking about it for some months beforehand. And so far it's very sweet. A much clearer picture than a CRT, and it actually handles most resolutions thrown at it, something that older LCDs couldnt deal with.

My desk seems a lot bigger now...

Posted by Ben at 09:35 PM | Comments (1)