Sunday, July 29, 2018

Bonjour Paris

July 22 - July 30

It's another traveling weekend for the Winkler's.  This time we are on our way to Paris, France!  la Ville des Lumières, The City of Lights.  Since my responsibilities at Nike include Europe, it is important that I visit our Key Cities and other significant properties to ensure I meet the wonderful people working there and understand the local operation.  Paris is certainly one or those places (I know, tough job).

Cheryl and I decided to go a few days early so we could do some sight seeing and enjoy this famous and historic place.  Paris is about 510 km from Amsterdam.  Though you can fly, it is nice to take the train.  It is easy access from Amsterdam (Centraal Station), less security hassle, comfortable and only 3 hours and 20 minutes.    So off we went on Thalys number SSYYOJ Coach 12.  I didn't really do the math in how fast you need to go to cover 510 km in just over 3 hours but I quickly discovered you need to go FAST.  The train travels over 295 km/hr.  Let me help you folks back in the states... that's 184 mph!  That is freakin' fast.  Instead of worrying about what all can go wrong at that speed we decided to have a plastic of wine and relax. 

Cheryl and I don't even think about renting cars any more when we travel, we just head to the public transit station and get the metro pass (we're getting so European!)  We jumped on the 54 bus and presto, we were at our Hotel Mercure Paris Montmartre.  We've developed a travel pattern in which we start each adventure with the "hop on/hop off" bus.  It is a terrific way to get an overview of the city, see the highlights then evaluate the other places we want to see during the remainder of our stay.  So far it's worked out well.  I'm not sure what we'll do when we go somewhere that doesn't have one, but we'll cross that bridge when we get there.  We learned so much about Paris during the tour and saw all the major historical attractions.  The Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, Notre-Dame de Paris, Sacré-Coeur Basilica and of course, the Eiffel Tower.  As we visit these historic places I'm embarrassed at how much I didn't know about European history.  For example, I always thought of Nepoleon as a military leader but had no idea the influence he had on the politics and construction of the city.  No wonder they named an ice cream after him!  (yes I know it's Neapolitan).

As expected the food was delicious.  We tasted many different types.  We, of course, had onion soup and looked like tourists when we ordered "French" onion soup.  Kind of like ordering Canadian bacon in Canada.  Oh well, we are who we are.  We got some inside tips from a colleague who lives in Paris and went to a few places tourists don't know about.  One in particular was Sunday Brunch at Mon Coeur Belleville.  It was like going to a buffet but they bring everything to you in one shot.  It was unreal.  Couple that with sitting outside, overlooking the city.  Could make my Mt Rushmore of breakfast places.

Not all experiences were perfect.  If we didn't go to a recommended spot we simply walked the streets until we saw someplace interesting.  Most of the time this worked out pretty well, but keep in mind, city workers are active throughout the day in Paris.  Take note when you see trash cans sitting outside even in the late evening.  That means the garbage collectors are soon on their way.  There is nothing quite like the sound and smell of a Paris city garbage truck in 30 degree  C (85 F) when trying to enjoy your fish and chips. 

As I mentioned above, we like taking public transportation, but that does't mean we are experts.  We decided to spend one afternoon on the famous Avenue des Champs-Élysées.  So we took the subway to Charles de Galle station.  We found our stop OK, but believe it or not we couldn't get out (yes I know, easy to believe).  I thought Barcelona had some tunnels.  I figured we should just follow the sign with the little green person running our the door right?  Wrong.  We lost him.  Good thing there wasn't a fire!  Well we finally reached the street and it was worth it.  This is an amazing place.  The street is abuzz with with people, high end shops and beautiful buildings.  The Tour de France also ends here.  We missed it by a week! 

Wow, look at that.  I provided an update one week from the previous post.  Don't get used to it because the next couple weeks are going to be CRAZY, but you'll read about it soon enough.  Until then.....

Sunday, July 22, 2018

European Traffic!

July 5 - July 21

Its been a good couple weeks since my last entry. We continue to pass minor milestones in the life we are creating and living here in The Netherlands.  We are focused on getting out on the weekends and seeing new places and cultures.  Last weekend we thought it would be fun to drive down to Brussels Belgium and watch the World Cup game between Belgium and Brazil.  It's only a 2.5 hour drive and Brussels is a historic city.  We were looking forward to it all week and we left at 2 pm Friday afternoon to give us plenty of time to settle in and find a great spot to watch the game at 8 pm.  It was a wonderful drive for about an hour then we hit some of the worst traffic I have ever seen.  GRIDLOCK.  Google Maps initially estimated our arrival time at 5:30 pm.  3.5 hours?  Are you kidding me?  Well then that sinking feeling where you continue to drive (very slow) and the estimated time extends.  6:00, then 6:30, and finally we pull into the hotel at 7:00 pm.  5 hours from when we left!  The leisurely pub crawl until kick off turned into a mad scramble to find a beer and a seat (in that order by the way).

It was a terrific game to watch.  The weather was perfect and we stood outside a pub looking in at the big screen TV.  Needless to say the town was pretty excited that Belgium beat Brazil 2-1 to advance.  Car horns we honking and people were dancing in the streets until early into Saturday morning and this was only the quarterfinals!

Cheryl and I grabbed an ice cream cone (free extra scoop to celebrate the win!!) then headed to the hotel.  We had a big day of site seeing to rest up for.

Brussels is a city of 2.1 million in the immediate metro area and nearly 5 million in the surrounding area. I was surprised to learn that Brussels is the home of both the European Union and NATO headquarters.  It was also hosted the 1958 World's Fair.  As with Barcelona, we jumped on the "hop on, hop off" bus to see the city.  As expected, there was some beautiful building architecture and a great deal of history.  We saw the Atomium which was built for the World's Fair and the amazing town hall square.

Later the falling week we reached another milestone in establishing our foundation in The Netherlands.  We got a car!  It's a VW Passat .  It is certainly not fancy but it does fine for me commuting to and from work (it sits every night after I get home).  Though it has air conditioning, Bluetooth, navigation and all the bells and whistles, the most important feature is the cruise control.  Why you ask?  Speed detecting cameras that's why!  These pesky little devils are hidden throughout the highway system over here and they are relentless.  I was given a ticket doing 103 k/h in a 100 k/h zone.  They even have apps for your phone to tell you where they are.  I don't even want to play that game.  I set my cruise control at 100 and relax and listen to a podcast.  Just got through "How I built this" with Guy Raz. Highly recommended.

Finally, I took a trip to London.  London?  Yes London.  One of my organizations responsibilities at work is the food services program.  I know people think since I lead this team we only serve pizza and beer but we have a great team who does a terrific job.  However, we want to elevate the employee experience in all that we do but especially in food since that is so important to the employees.  We decided that London is a wonderful city for food with innovation and up and coming trends.  We saw all kinds of new food offerings and operational delivery models.  In addition to that it was a great team building opportunity for the food services team.

It's been a busy couple of weeks with a lot more summer left to come.  Including a very special day on September 8 (a little teaser there).  Until then...........

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Settling In

June 22 - July 4

Sheesh time is flying.  I have not written since we got back from Barcelona (that sounds strange).  It's funny, but Nike actually expects me to do work while I'm over here so the past couple weeks I figured I should do that (or at least fake it).  That doesn't mean things have not been going on, but the time I'm away from work has been more about "settling in" and finding our routine here in Amsterdam.

For example, I've mentioned beautiful Vondelpark a few times which is next door to our apartment.  We frequently make sandwiches, grab a bottle of wine and walk over for a picnic.  The weather has really been too good to be true.  Pretty much 25 - 28 C every day (see what I did there).  They have an outdoor theater with different programs throughout the week and one day we were all excited to see a couple comedians.  We rushed over early and grabbed a good seat up front.  On came the stage lights the comedian runs on stage and we hear "Hallo, je ziet eruit als een geweldige doelgroep."  Well that aint gonna work.  Hey Cheryl, can you please pass the bottle of wine!

For those of you who know us, part of establishing ourselves anywhere involves finding a gym to workout in.  There are many choices in Amsterdam but most are pretty expensive, and since I exercise every weekday morning at work, we wanted a very basic gym.  hmmmm, where to go, where to go.  We settled on "Basic Fit!"  Perfect.  It's just what we need and pretty close to home.  It's half way between a Snap Fitness with card reader access and a planet fitness with mostly cardio machines and weights.  There is one difference, I feel like I'm entering a prison every time I go.  I dread working out enough already but now I feel like I'm on an episode of Orange is the New Black.  Just call me Piper.

One of our big accomplishments this week was to start putting together all of the different European cities/countries we want to visit over the next two years.  It's mind blowing how long the list is by just writing down all the "famous" places like Rome, Paris, Istanbul etc  My next step is to run it past all the native Europeans at work who know the real gems to visit.  From Athens to London, there is a lot to see but we are also excited to experience all Holland has to offer.  For example, this past weekend we drove to a beach near Wassenaar on the coast just SW of Amsterdam.  The good news is that it's a fun place with some casual restaurants on the beach where you can relax and have a cold one looking out at the ocean.  The bad news is that 10,000 people had the same idea.

One of my big adjustments is integrating into a life in the city regardless of whether it's Amsterdam or downtown Portland.  There is street noise, smaller living quarters, public transportation, no yard etc.  Not that any of that is bad, in fact it's all actually really good....except forgetting that we have close neighbors and WINDOWS on three sides.  I can't tell you how many times I've changed clothes or gotten out of the shower and realized I'm parading around in the buff for all to see.  Helllllooooo Mr Johnson!  I know this loud (and sometimes naked) guy from The States is already making an impression on the neighborhood.

Of course as we learn the city, we also learn where to shop.  There is a large Market that goes on for what seems like kilometers (see what I did there) on Albert Cuypstraat.  Everything you could ever want or don't want is there.  From fresh fish (afraid to try it) to an HDMI cable (which we bought so we can watch Netflix from the iPad).  Of course there are the legit freshly made Stroopwafels which I have to purchase every time we go.

As I mentioned above, we have begun to settle in.  It was funny when we returned from Barcelona and we walked through the front door, it felt good to be back.  The address says Alexander Boersstraat 54, Amsterdam NL which is taking some time to get used to, but once our personal shipment arrives in two weeks and we get our family pictures on the wall, I think we will be able to call it our home away from "home" (at least for a couple years!)

We miss everyone back in the US.  Can't wait for you (yes I'm talking to you) to come visit!  Until next time.......