Saturday, 5 April 2008

My first couple of days

Here I am almost a week into my trip and it’s a perfect time for my first blog entry.

The three flights that brought me here went fairly smoothly. The first flight from Vancouver to Seattle was a nice one as it was the only flight where I had a window seat. Since it was a propeller plane, it flew fairly low and gave a great bird’s-eye-view of the gulf islands and Seattle.

The flight from Seattle to Copenhagen was alright. I was on the isle seat in the middle row of four seats. Other than a gentleman on the other side of the row, the two seats between us were vacant, which gave us both more room. We had monitors in the seatbacks which allowed us to watch movies, helping to pass the time on the 9.5 hour flight. Three rows ahead of me were two babies, and there was another one a few rows behind me. For a good 75% of the flight at least of the babies was crying. During the descent, all three were wailing. I can’t remember ever being in such a hurry to get off a plane.

I didn’t really follow through on my plan to eat my way around the world. The family lunch last Sunday didn’t have too much food that would classify as Canadian or “typical” Pacific Northwest cuisine other than the salmon tartar. In Seattle I had a hamburger — fairly typical American food. On the flight to Copenhagen we had pasta and when I arrived in Copenhagen I didn’t have much of an appetite left. Not to mention, the food in the airport was extraordinarily expensive! Upon arriving in Köln (Cologne) Nina and I had a light dinner at the airport comprised on quiche and a caprese salad — French and Italian looked a lot more appealing than German food at that time.

Nina and I spent three days together, which was a bit of a vacation for both of us. She has been studying daily for an important exam in mid April and welcomed a few days away from her books.

Tuesday we did a few small errands, but basically took it easy as I was still tired from my long flight(s). Tuesday night, however, Nina had booked us at one of my favourite restaurants in the world. That’s right, some of the best food I have ever had is in a small German town of 60,000 people.

Maria, an Italian woman who opened a restaurant with her late husband in Herzogenrath, makes the most delicious and authentic Italian food I have had. It is every bit as good as anything I ate in Italy and at a fraction of the price. Her caprese salad is to die for, with a sweet vinaigrette dressing that makes all the difference. For my main course, I had grilled lamb with a mushroom sauce, which seems to be my staple whenever I am there. Now that I will be visiting Nina more frequently, we will be seeing Maria and indulging in her tempting dishes twice a month.

Wednesday we went to the spa, another indulgence I enjoy when I visit Nina. We spent the afternoon lounging in the different pools of varying temperatures (inside and outside) and even took part in a water aerobics class. One of the highlights at this particular spa is the oval pool with the angled water jets along the side. They create a current that pushes you around the pool; all you have to do is float along. After a few hours of soaking, it was time for an afternoon nap in the relaxation room on reclining deck chairs.

A travelling fair had set up in Aachen for a few weeks and Wednesday night we went to it with six of Nina’s friends. We enjoyed some rides, the fairway and the amazing food stands.

We started off the evening with crepes. I had Nuttella and banana which was delicious. After some more walking around we found ourselves in a beer garden where Nina and I each had a grapefruit beer.

They had an enormous BBQ where they grilled large fat steaks and served them in small rolls with onions. The steak dwarfed the roll and after a while it became apparent they were only there as a way to hold the meat without getting your hands dirty.

For desert I had a skewer of fruit that had been dipped in chocolate and left to harden. The array of sweets, pastries and desserts was phenomenal.

Thursday was a fairly low-key day. In the early afternoon we visited the market that sets up in front of Nina’s apartment every Thursday. There you can buy fresh fruits & vegetables, flowers, cheeses, meat & fish and leather goods. The highlight was the lady who makes and sells reibekuchen (large fried shredded potato pancakes). They are like latkes on steroids.

The rest of the day was spent preparing for my time in Amsterdam. I applied for a fair number of jobs through the many job sites I researched. I also helped Nina with her letter to UBC, making contact with possible advisers for next year.

Mid-day on Friday I left on the train for Amsterdam. I arrived and found my hostel, which unfortunately, is on the edge of the red light district. I will be in three different hostels over the next two weeks and I thought staying downtown for the first couple of days might make finding work easier. The price I am paying for that is noise 24 hours a day from outside and a smoking environment inside my room. I have taken the precaution of double-checking my reservations at the next two hostels and they are both a fair distance from downtown. I am eagerly waiting for Wednesday to come so I can get out of this part of town. The fact that I am fighting off a cold now is not helping much.

Upon arriving in Amsterdam, the first thing I did after finding my hostel was locating the tax office. There I will apply for my SoFi number, which registers me with the equivalent of a social insurance number. I have been told it is a lot easier to find work when you have that number. Unfortunately they closed early on Friday, so first thing Monday morning I will get that ball rolling

As more happens, I will write more… but right now, I have to go drop off a resume from an add I saw.