Category Archives: amsterdam

A glimpse of Afghanistan

This afternoon i took an hour out to go to the Afghanistan exhibition that’s on in Amsterdam. Fascinating stuff. Though I was disappointed that the man on the till couldn’t tell me how much of the ten-Euro entrance charge goes to Afghanistan.

What struck me most strongly was just how much of it is very familiar from European culture. They were once the eastern end of the ancient greek empire, and there was a strong greek flavour to much of the relics from the first couple of centuries BC (that’s late in European terms, but the influence lived on, perhaps as it did in the Roman empire to the west). Likewise there was roman stuff: they had strong trade with the romans.

Other relics had an indian appearance to me, but I’m less confident of identifying that. And some things looked like nothing I’ve seen: central asian relics that are “none of the above” familiar great cultures. Ingenious relics, like the basin decorated with fish, whose fins would move, giving them the appearance of swimming when water was poured in.

The most stunning exhibits were the contents of six graves of incredibly rich people (one man and five women) from the first century AD. The richest of those apparently contained 5000 gold items. On show was a lot of fascinating stuff, of which some individual items still look seriously rich, and some were totally unlike anything I’ve seen before. Also what looks suspiciously like a case of “we don’t talk about that” semi-censorship, where nothing pointed out that a knife sheaf in the man’s grave was richly decorated in swastikas (which were of course a wholesome symbol 2000 years ago).

There’s a coffee-table-book of the exhibition and associated excavations, on sale at the gift shop. It’s tempting to go back for it.

Corporate hotel bookings

I’ve been fuming at Amex, who deal with all Sun’s business travel, for being useless.  First with my trip to California, and now Amsterdam.

OK, California wasn’t their fault: it was arranged in great haste, and the pain was in having to go through a third-party rather than just book something online.  No matter how good or bad they are, the indirection meant delay, and therefore stress.

With Amsterdam, by contrast, we had a month’s notice.  I specified my travel preference (no problem), and listed four acceptable hotels in central Amsterdam (the conference hotel itself wasn’t an option, being already fully booked).  One of those hotels was listed as a clear first choice, but Amex came back with a ridiculous price of over 460 Euros per night on it – well over twice what expedia or hoteldiscount offered for the same hotel, had I been booking it myself.  After some time and two reminders, they booked me another hotel from my list.

Now this price, though vastly cheaper than the #1 choice, is still 20% above the expedia price on the same hotel.  And I was half-thinking that’s good: if the hotel is horrible, I have scope to move and save money.

But in fact there’s another side to it.  On arrival, I asked for a quiet nonsmoking room, which I have.  It’s also an executive room, which means the price is in fact pretty much the same as I’d have paid through expedia.  I don’t think that’s what was booked (Amex quoted a higher rate for an executive room here), so I’m guessing the hotel bumped me up (though that could easily be me getting confuzzled).  Well, I guess it’s good for a hotel’s business when a $bigco corporate guest recommends them to his colleagues, so it makes sense for the hotel.  Can’t complain too loudly.

As for the hotel itself, yes, I can recommend it as acceptable, and the nicest place I’ve stayed in Amsterdam (which includes the conference hotel itself, at the same price as this one).  But not a “you really must go there” kind of recommendation; just “you get what you pay for”, in a city where the tradeoff tends to be very expensive vs very grotty.

I got plenty of music

That is to say, this afternoon.

On arriving in Amsterdam, I discovered from a leaflet at the hotel that a production Porgy and Bess is in town.  It’s on all week, but I have more time today than I will have later, so I went today.  For the matinee, ‘cos even if the performers are up to it, an auditorium is quite likely to be stuffy for its second audience in a day.

This was a full production as befits a world-class centre of culture.  An impressive cast and a full orchestra were complemented by a big stage (of which they made full use in a very lively production) and a big and attractive theatre (half-empty).  The price tag was also big: though there were cheaper prices up in the gods, almost all the seats were 76 Euro.

In general, the show was excellent: the production, the singing, the conviction, etc.  Trivial blemishes one can easily overlook: the chorus stumbling briefly near the start of Leavin’ for the Promise’ Lan’, or Porgy using his legs too obviously to help with crawling around.

But there was one major fault I can’t overlook, and which means, alas, I can’t recommend the show to others who haven’t seen it.  They miked and amplified it!  Right from the start, the sound quality of the orchestra was not good, and coming largely from the wrong place.  The singers were often seriously out of balance and way too loud.  Porgy and Bess is far too good a piece to drag down to the level of a Broadway musical, but someone damn well tried!  It’s not as if they had a bunch of non-singers who needed the electronic crutch to make themselves heard.

If I want to hear Porgy and Bess coming through a sound system, I can buy a record or a video a whole lot cheaper, and the chances are the sound engineer did a better job.  Bah, Humbug.

Last day of ApacheCon

Well, one day to go. Last two days+nights have been ‘silly’ overindulgence in food and booze; today will be more restrained ‘cos I’m setting off for home before drink-time this evening. Lots of piccies/etc going up on the web under an apachecon tag.

Yesterday was the main social binge. First came the ‘lightning talks’ which are the highlight of every ApacheCon. With google-beer[1]. Next was the party just up the road with sun-beer[1], and also wine and nibbles. Rather good nibbles, after the ApacheCon food itself has been seriously disappointing. I slipped out of that one when a bunch of smokers lit up and made it a no-go area, and found myself in a jolly but ad-hoc group. We wandered the streets of Amsterdam, ending up in a Portuguese restaurant, where more food and booze was consumed. Thereafter, Yours Truly wimped out and returned to the hotel.

And now, a final day of conference. Time for breakfast!

[1] Or rather Heineken:-(

Amsterdam and Queens Day

About two years ago I was in Amsterdam, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Beautiful city, lots to do, a wide range of superb restaurants, etc.

This time it’s Queen’s day, a big public holiday with lots of festivities, and overwhelming crowds. It looks like a very good time to be somewhere else. Which, alas, I am not.

I went out today with a view to doing some touristing. To a limited extent I succeeded, but the crowds put me off doing anything very much. The queue for the Rijksmuseum was like the Vatican museums (and Sistine Chapel) on the one day a month they have free entry. The activities in the park outside the Concertgebouw strongly suggest a level of noise that’ll make it a waste of time to go to a concert there. And so it goes. I hope we’ll at least find somewhere nice to eat this evening.

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