Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Back To USA

After the 17-hour trip, I got back to Wisconsin on this past Saturday night. I am still trying to overcome the jet lag. I think my body has completely adapted to the European time during the 3-week stay there so it is much harder this time to adjust back. Picture taken at the Detroit airport during the dinner between the change of the flights. That was the souvenir bear I got from Belgium.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

First Professional Football (Soccer) Game!

Thanks to my co-workers here that I was able to attend my first professional football (soccer) game ever. It was PSV (Phillips) Eindhoven vs Spartan Rotterdam. We had the dinner at a Chinese restaurant close to the Philips stadium where the game was held. The dinner was great with 3 dishes and the ice cream as the dessert. We did have to rush a little during the dinner because we started to see all the people moving toward the stadium outside the window. Good thing was that it was a clear night but windy and around 35'F (3'C).

The stadium was decent size and could accommodate about 35,000 people. There was even a special train station directly connected to the stadium for the football fans who took the train to get to the stadium. Of course, the station was closed usually unless there was a game. When we got out of the restaurant, there was already a traffic jam on the road to the stadium. The entrance was controlled by an electronic rotation gate. Once you scanned your ticket card in the front of the sensor, you could push the rotation gate and got in. We waited in line for about 5 minutes and all got in.

We had a pretty good seats way up on one side of the stadium. As a matter of the fact, our seats were right on the top of the top floor entrance to the stadium. The seats were very small (even smaller than the airplane coach class seat) and slopes that with rows of seats were very steep. I would say it was at least 70 degree angle. One of my co-worker was afraid of height and he had to grab the back of my seat through the whole game to stop feeling that he was going to fall forward off to the bottom rows of the seats . That was how steep the seats were located. The space between rows were like the crowded airplane but your feet were easily above the head of any 6 feet tall guy sitting in the row in the front of you. Good thing that nobody sat behind us so we did not have to worry that people would kick or step on our heads during the game.

The fans were very into the game, especially, for those who were in stand seats. I have never seen anyplace in US selling standing seats for any main professional sports. Anyway, they sang and cheered through the whole game. Lots of people were throwing paper trash in the air. Kind of strange. The game was a little boring since the visiting team (Spartan from Rotterdam) was no competition to the local team (PSV) at all so it was slow most of the game. Both teams actually scored one point in the last 5 minute when half of the fans in the stadium had started to leave. Local team won 3-1 at the end. It was chilly when wind blew during the game since it was an open stadium. Fortunately, there were a big rows of heaters on the extended roof that covered the audience seats (see those red things in the picture). Overall, it was a great experience and I would not mind doing it again.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Rainy Weekend - Search For Local Windmill

It has been a very wet weekend so far. It was rainy and windy all yesterday. It got a little bit better today but still rained lightly from time to time. But the gusty wind still made it hard to enjoy any outdoor activities. Basically, the bad weather ruined my original plan to visit Amsterdam and Delta Works (Netherlands engineering miracles to prevent the flood from North Sea). I really don't want to spend the money and time to go to those places and cannot see anything due to the rain and cold wind.

However, it was really boring to stay in the hotel and doing nothing. There were only several Dutch TV stations here and nothing was interesting on. Besides, I don't understand Dutch anyway. So, I still went out in the rain to walk around the town of Eindhoven anyway. Not surprisingly, not a lot of people outside. The wind was so gusty that it destroyed my umbrella so I had to walk in the rain. I was able to get to the famous local art museum, Van Abbemuseum. However, It was not open when I got there. I was already soaking wet so I just wanted to head back to hotel and get dry. And that was the only adventure I had on Saturday.

Today, it looked like the weather improved. At least, it was not the pouring rain. I almost decided to jump on the train and headed to the Amsterdam. However, on my way to the train station, the wind and rain picked up again so I gave up that thought pretty quickly. I remembered that I saw a windmill on the side of the road during my last trip to here last year. However, I didn't remember the exact location of the windmill. I only remembered that it was on one of the roads to work and it seemed to be about 15 or 20 minutes away from Eindhoven downtown. So I decided to have a walking trip to search for it.

The good thing was that I did remembered all the intersections and the name of the roads. However, it turned out to be much further away than I thought. I kept walking and searching but just could not seem to find it. It got worse when it started to rain again. Finally, after walking in the rain for almost 1 hour and 10 minutes, I finally found the only local windmill. It looked very interesting outside.

However, it looked like that it was deserted judging by the look of the room on its base. The gate to the main entrance of the windmill was locked so it apparently was not open to public so I could not go inside to check it out. Aw, well, it took me another one hour and 10 minute walk back to hotel in the rain. On the way back, I did get a chance to check out local people's garden. Well, they really did not have that much space here so most of the garden was barely the space of a parking lot in US and most of them only had one or two trees. Of course, it is winter now so no annual flowers for sure. I did find several houses using the interesting structure shown in the pictures to support the growth of some kind of fruit trees (for decoration). Wonder what it would look like in the late summer when the trees were full of fruits on those structures. Well, that concludes my rainy weekend!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Belgium Adventure Part 2 - Antwerp

After leaving the Grote Markt, I started to walk toward the port direction to view the river. In addition, "the Steen" was there too. 'Steen' is the Dutch word for 'stone'. It was the name of the little castle on the border of the river Scheldt. The castle is called that way because it was one of the earliest buildings in Antwerp constructed with stones. The Maritime Museum was next to the castle but I did not have time to go inside the museum.

As I described before, Antwerp is the second largest harbor of Europe (after Rotterdam). There were quite a lot of ships along the piers. After walking through the "Steen" castle, I saw a big cargo ship docked right next to the wood walking path extended from the castle. I could see the staff of the cargo working on the docks. It was really quite interesting to see different a working cargo ships in that close distance.

The weather was really nice and sunny even though it was a little bit windy and chilly. But at least it was not rain so I could have a great view of everything. After the visit of the river, I walked back toward all the Grote Markt directions since there were lots of old beautiful churches worth visiting.

I specifically picked some back alley roads to avoid the tourist traffic on the main routes. From time to time, some houses would have an interesting statue on the attic or so.

I finally got to the famous Carolus Borromeus church. Due to the lighting in the church, my cell phone really did not take good pictures of the interior of the church. It was said that Rubens played an important part in the decoration of the facade and the pinnacle of the tower but especially of the interior. However, thirty-nine ceiling paintings, the work of his studio, were lost in a fire in 1718. The present interior, sculptures and wood carvings were all created much later.

It has started to get dark when I came out of the Carolus Borromeus church and it was almost dinner time. Since I was told that Belgium chocolate was one of the best in the world, I was wandering all the market place to sample and compare delicioys hand made chocolates from different shops. After some hard "shopping efforts", I finally bought enough chocolate for all friends, family and co-workers back home in Wisconsin.

And I was very hungry then as well. The lady who worked in the chocolate shop recommended me to try to the restaurant, "de Pottekijker". It had this cool candle stand cover with all the old melting wax that made it look like a water fall. I ordered a cup of hot chocolate first then fennel butter salmon. It was declious. Of course, the dessert was even better - the black berry, green apple, and passion fruit sorbets. That great dinner concluded my visit to Antwerp. I walked back to the hotel after the dinner to get some rest for the visit to Brussels on the next day. ...to be continued.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Belgium Adventure Part 1 - Antwerp

This is the second time that I come to Europe. Since I will be here for 3 weeks, I decide to take the advantage of the weekend to explore the different cities here. The first choice is naturally, Belgium, since it is just next to Netherlands. The two biggest cities to visit are Antwerp and Brussels.

Antwerp has the second largest port in Europe and it has quite a lot of interesting buildings, most of which date from the 16th (the golden era of Antwerp) and the 17th century. Antwerp is second largest city of Belgium and has about a half of a milion population. It is about 1.5 hour train ride away from Eindhoven.

My alarm did not go off on time on Saturday morning so I missed the 10:00am train. I had to change 3 trains to get to Antwerp. Again, it was an interesting experience. I had to kind of memorizing all the stops along the way so I could know where to get off and change the train since not all the train broadcast tne next stop in English. I managed to read the railroad chart and got to Antwerp around 2:00pm.

My first impression of the place was the huge and pretty Central train station. The part of the station where the platforms are is covered by an immense metal and glass dome. There were 3 levels of the platforms and you could see both trains above and under the ground level. The inner decoration in eclectic style with the use of marble and the presence of a gigantic staircase. The Christmas decoration was still inside the station so there were two big Christmas trees right in the front of the train ticket office. Walking to the outsude of the train station, it looked like that some kind of maintenance was going on.

Apparently, the road sign was not that important to Belgians. They must all have good sense of the directions without knowing where they are. It was absolutely not possible to find any street sign. It took me at least 10 minutes trying to figure out which road was what right on the exit of the train station. My hotel was supposed to be just cross the street from the Central station. But the train station took over the whole 2 blocks and there were at least 5 main roads around it. So it took me a while to locate the right direction to the hotel. It was the smallest hotel room I had ever stayed. Only big enough for the bed on side and a tiny desk stuck in other corner. The bathroom was very small too. For the price of 54 Euro a nigh as the budget hotel, it was really not that bad. Besides, it was only 10 minute-walk to the popular shopping area "The Meir".

I immediately went out to explore the region. There were so many people on the street that reminded me of NYC, Tokyo and Taipei. It must be the on salef shopping weekend post-New Year. And it was sunny, windy and around 40'F. And lots of American fast food chains there. It seems that those fast food stores became high-class expensive places there since they were all located on the major street and occupied big space. Of course, it would cost you 6 Euro (US $8) for a big Mac there!

Then, I came to the most popular square in the city, the 'Groenplaats' (= Green Square). The most impressed building there was the Our Lady's Cathedral. Around the square were numerous restaurants. In the middle of the Groenplaats was the statue of Rubens (famous local painter). Even though that church was very pretty. I was more interested in the next square: the town square 'Grote Markt'. It was said to be the most beautiful square of the city of Antwerp as well as the historical heart of it.

The building that caught my eyes immedately at 'Grote Markt' (town square) was the Town Hall of Antwerp. It is one of the oldest Renaissance buildings in Europe.As you can see from the pictures, they put those intesresting sphere Christmas lights decoration outside the building. Actually, there was a moving blue light under every sphere so it looked like a moving waterfall at the night time. Of course, a big Christmas tree next to it.

In the front of the town hall stands the Brabo fountain. Paying attention to the statue in the center of it. The top staute actually threw a "hand" in his left hand. According to a legend, a terrible giant, called Druoon Antigoon, lived on the banks of the river Scheldt in ancient times. Whenever sailors on the Scheldt river refused to pay toll to the giant, he punished them by cutting off their hand. A Roman soldier, Silvius Brabo, managed to kill the giant. Brabo cut off the hand of the giant and threw the hand away in the river. Hence, according to the legend, the name of the city : hand ( Engl.: hand) -werpen (Engl.: to throw).

To be continued....

Monday, January 14, 2008

Belgium Trip On This Past Weekend

I spend this past weekend on exploring two of the most famous Belgium cities: Antwerp and Brussels. I will write more later. You can see all the pictures I took at my Picasa photo site. Enjoy!

Train Ride From Amsterdam to Eindhoven

I took this short videom from my first train ride in Europe from Amstedam to Eindhoven in the first class train. As you can see, it is really not that special in the first class train. But at least, it was sunny that day, which is a very good rare thing in this region during the winter as my local co-workers told me.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Same Price, Big Difference

I had a wonderful Indonesia buffet tonight. Peanut sauce chicken and nice flaove beef/pork/chicken. Same price as last night's shrimp pasta but 10 times better taste!

The picture below is the not-taste-good shrimp pasta I had last night for dinner.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Dinner Choices

I woke up this morning around 3:00am and could barely fall asleep again even though I did take the Melatonin before I went to bed. Guess the jeg lag was still there.I took the train from Eindhoven to Best the first time today and it was actually quite easy. Only 2 stops about 10-minute ride.

Everything went well today and I learned some new things. The dinner choice so far in Eindhoven was alright. Yesterday I went to the Thai restaurant that my boss and I visited last time.I ordered the spicy coconut milk pork. The food was good but somehow they could not process my company credit card so I had to
use my personal credit card again. I just wonder how much transaction fee I
will get charged at the end of this assignment if I keep charging
everything on my personal card. The place was decorated pretty well as you can see from the picture.

Tonight, I went to a restaurant called "Carousel" because there was a carousel in the summer in the front of that place. I ordered a shrimp pasta. It was really not that good since all the shrimps were very tiny and not fresh. They tasted/looked just like the frozen ones you bought in cheap grocery store frozen food section. I will not go back there anytime soon for sure. Bedtime here. Hope that I can get some good sleep tonight.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Eindhoven, Netherlands - I'm Back!

After the long 17-hour trip, I finally made it back to Eindhoven, Netherlands and checked in the same hotel again. Well, at least, this time I took the different route to get to here. I actually flew to Amsterdam and took the train from there to Eindhoven. Quite a different experience.

Since I have never taken the train from the Amsterdam airport concord before, I had to do some guessing work. But it turned out that everything was very straightforward and easy. The train station was just right outside the baggage claim area and you could buy the train ticket with credit card on a ticket machine right inside the baggage claim area. The train station was ok.

However, the train I took from Amsterdam to Eindhoven was a little disappointed. It was very confused about the 1st class and 2nd class ticket since I really could not tell the difference between those 2. They were almost the same but the price of 1st class was twice more of the 2nd class. The chair was spotted and old for the so-called "1st class" so I guess I would start to buy 2nd class train ticket from now on.

Surprisingly, it was actually sunny during my train ride this morning. I got to Eindhoven around 11am. After checking in my hotel room, I took a shower and just skipped the lunch and crashed on my bed and took a long nap until 4pm. And I went outside to have a walk and it had already become to very windy and cloudy. When I went back to hotel room to change clothes and went out again for dinner and it had started to rain! Aw, well, I got to get ready since tomorrow would be the first day to go to work and I haven to try to figure out how to take the train then bus from here to the company.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Head To Netherlands Again...For Work...

As the title says, I am heading to Europe for work again. This time, I will stay at Netherlands for 3 weeks. Hope that I will get to travel around a bit. Have a nice weekend!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

First Work Day 2008 And "National Treasure" Movie

Today is the first day back to work. After one week vacation at home, it does take some efforts to go back to the normal work. Surprising, not a lot of e-mails, guess everybody is still on the holiday recovery mode.

The snow finally stopped yesterday and it was actually a decent new year day. I did not do anything crazy on the new year eve. Just watched TV to see the time square ball drop at home. A friend and I went to see the "National Treasure: Book of Secrets" on new year day. It was a quite entertaining movie. It uses a lot of interesting facts to make up the clues for treasure hunt. !!!Spoiler Alert!!!

Of course, it is hard to convince anybody that a Maya Gold temple hidden Mount Rushmore. And that the bad guy eventually turns out to be not that bad is just too Disney movie. And the obvious "page 42" clue for the sequel is just a little much. Well, back to work, happy new year!