Cologne, Germany

On the weekend, Femke and myself travelled to Cologne, Germany. This is a large town in the north west of Germany. We chose to do this as it does look more and more likely that I will be returning to Australia in a week thanks to the bad visa situation. 🙁

I wanted to ensure that I had travelled to several countries. So I have now officially been in Belgium (2 days), Germany (2 days) and Holland (nearly 3 months)! 🙂

Now.. on to Cologne.

We got up reasonably early on Saturday morning and caught the bus to Den Bosch again. We got a huge shock when we realised our return tickets to Cologne was going to be 200 Euros. That’s $400 aussie dollars. WTF? The distance from Den Bosch to Cologne (as the crow flies) is the same from Brisbane to Ballina. Sounds like a huge rip off just because we are crossing into Germany.

Ah well. there was no other options so we paid up and settled in for the ride. We had to detour at Utrecht due to rail works in the south, but for most of the way we were on these high speed trains where it was very smooth and fast (up to 160km an hour).

We arrived at Cologne at about 2pm. We stopped at an info centre to get a map. On our way there we were exiting the train station and were immediately greeted with the sight of the Dom Cathedral. My god. This is one of the largest churches in the world. It is smack in the middle of Cologne and it is truly a stunning sight to see.

We then walked to the hotel and after resting there for a few minutes we were off again on a long walk to the Claudius Thermal spa and sauna.

The Claudius

This was my first time in an European Spa/Sauna. Half of this site is a a collection of pools where you can splash around and relax in your swimming costume. The other half is a collection of sauna rooms around some cooling pools and open showers. And yep everyone in the sauna area is nude. For me it takes a minute or two to get used to it as it is a new experience. Of course everyone is looking at everyone else, but it’s not sexual, and there’s definitely no touching. After a while, you don’t really notice it anymore and you instead just relax and become more focused on the extremely hot air you are breathing and how much you are sweating. Overall I enjoyed it.

After a few hours of nice relaxing, we then showered and got dressed and had a nice dinner at the restaurant that was there as well. It was a nice meal and Fem got one of the largest desserts I have seen!  We then half bussed and half walked back to the hotel that night.

The Dom Cathedral

On the way back, we saw a view of the Dom cathedral at night with it all lit up. It was even more stunning then when we first saw it. We did not take our cameras with us to the Claudius and I still didn’t have a tripod. I decided to return later that night to get some shots of the church. Luckily our hotel is a short walk from it. Femke stays behind to relax leaving me to shoot the Dom by myself. I was really really wanting a tripod at that stage, but I just had to make do with a high ISO and as steady hands as I could manage.

Dom church at nightIMG_2412_resize Dom church at night  

Bottom area of the dom church

Above is the best of a few shots that I took that night. Absolutely stunning.

 

On Sunday we enjoyed a nice breakfast at the hotel and then we were off again. Today we wanted a closer look at the Dom Cathedral. We first walked along the river Rhine to get some back shots of the Dom, similar to what we saw the previous night.

Bridge over the Rhine river Us with the Dom in the background  a closeup side view.

Panorama of the side viewFront of the Dom in daylight 

Climbing the tower

We then eventually entered the Church and saw you could climb the southern tower. After paying 5 Euros, up and up the 590 steps we went. No… we didn’t take any water. Hoo boy… we were huffing and puffing a bit as we neared the top.

  The main stairwell  The metal staircase inside the main chamber

There were lots of people coming down the staircase as well, so you really had to hug the walls. At the end of the staircase it opened up into a large chamber. In the middle was another metal staircase to the last part of the climb. After we rested we both then climbed to the top.

Looking up to the top of the tower

Looking up we were then able to to the top of the tower from the inside. It was rather cold and windy up there so it didn’t take long for us to cool down. 🙂

At the top there is a walkway around the outside deck of the tower. It is fully enclosed over with bars and a wire mesh so it was hard to get clear shots of the city as you can see below.

View from the outside walkway  View of CologneView of Cologne

Once we were finished and happy with our shots,  we had to go down a very narrow one way stair case back to the main chamber.

The narrow staircase back down to the chamber

We then had to shimmy down the slightly wider main staircase this time trying to avoid all the people on the way up.

We were ready to go into the main church area, but since it was Sunday, they had mass on at that time. We then decided to go and have some lunch and come back in the afternoon.

An average meal

After having a rather average meal, followed by us being overcharged for the meal. After a slightly heated discussion with the waiter who informed us the English menu was 2006 prices we accepted our free drinks and gave the moron waiter one hell of a frowning. If you ever go to Cologne don’t go to the Chicago Steakhouse. It’s crap.

Inside the Dom

We then returned to the church and I was very impressed. I have now seen a LOT of cathedrals in a few countries and it takes a bit to impress me. It was mid afternoon and the sun was streaming in through the southern windows. The reflections were against the walls and boy did it make a pretty picture! There were a lot of people there, but there was enough space for us all. You certainly felt in awe of the grand size of the architecture and the attention to detail.

Stunning sunlight

Inside the dom church Inside the dom churchInside the dom church 

 Inside the dom church  Inside the dom church Inside the dom church

Stunning sunlight

After spending some time in there and taking lots and lots of photos, we had enough of churches (again).

The Chocolate Museum

We had been told by Nga-chi (one of Femke’s friends) that the Cologne Chocolate Museum was good, so we walked south through the city and then along the Rhine river to get there.

It was reasonably ok. It seemed to focus too much on the history of the cocoa bean and not enough on the actual production of chocolate. One good part was an actual working chocolate factory in the middle. A lot of the machines had glass sections so you could see the automated process of the chocolate mixing, stencilling, cooling and so on. That was pretty interesting to see. We didn’t get to see that much detail in the Cadbury factory in Dunedin, New Zealand. At the end of the hall where the machines were located was a large chocolate fountain. Here the staff would give out wafer sticks that had been dipped into the chocolate. There was also a nice smell emanating from the fountain.

 Worker at the chocolate fountain Close up of the fountain.. mmm

By the end of the museum we were rather tired. We walked back through the city and got our bags from the hotel and waited for the train ride home. To pass the time we both had a German pretzel which were big and very very salty. Hmm don’t think I would have one of them again.

Buildings along the riversedge.

After 3 hours of travelling we were back in Waalwijk late that night.  Another great time in another country!

Australia Day

Aussie flag on the mirror in the downstairs hallway. Over here in Holland we had a small Australia Day celebration yesterday on the 26th of January. This involved me cooking the family some home made hamburgers which were nice and yummy.  Marijke also put up some Australian flags around the place which was a very nice touch. 

I wanted to make some lamingtons for supper. They had all the ingredients here. But when I went to the local supermarket to get the sponge cake, I saw they were in large rectangular shape.

“Good. Easy to cut into squares.” I thought.

Then I picked it up. It weighed about five times more than your standard sponge. It was very thick.

“Hmmm” I though, “ this might not be quite right for lamingtons, since they are supposed to be light and airy.”

After some consideration that lasted about 20 seconds, I decided to just get some fancy ice-cream for dessert instead.

It was a very cold day again, which was a nice contrast to the hot weather I heard there was in Brisbane.

Happy Australia Day!

Amsterdam

Amsterdam!

Before all the major immigration dramas occurred (see the last three blog updates), on the 10th and 11th of January Fem and I travelled to and toured around Amsterdam.

One of the many canals It was a very cold weekend as usual. We were up nice and early on Saturday morning. We had breakfast and set off via bus to Den Bosch. From here we then caught the train to Amsterdam. This only takes just over 1 hour so it’s not too far away. Once we get to the main city, we exit and then decide what we want to do. Our hotel was at the south of city near where all the main museums were and the train station was at the north.  We had researched on the internet the previous night and we wanted to take a canal cruise. There was a company near the train station that offered canal cruise with dinner at night, which we thought was a great idea. Once the incompetent tour desk operator woke up and realised where and what her job was, we were registered (there was only 2 more tables open for that night!). We then bought a map from the tourist centre and then set off into the city.

Within 5 mins of walking we were in the middle, this was quicker than I had thought. The centre contains a big square with has one of the royal residences on the western side.

 

Madame Tussauds Wax Museum

The Wax Museum

To the south of the square is the Madame Tussauds wax museum. I had never been to one of them so off we went. As you would expect it was filled with lots of wax dolls, from singers to movie stars to politicians and Dutch personalities. They were all incredibly well done. I have included numerous shots below.

Old Dutch people Chinese PMMe and Dubya Ghandi, Dali Lama and MandelaDianaFem with a Dutch celebrity Spice GirlsKylie "Midget" MinogueFem with Robby Williams Fem with tiny Tom Nic CageRembrandt with his new masterpiece

After the wax museum it was off to the Amsterdam Dungeon to learn about Amsterdam’s shady past. There was a small scary section in the wax museum which Fem did not enjoy, so I was thinking she would not like the Dungeon. Oh well…we had already paid for the tickets so we gave it a try. This was a live museum, so imagine just being shuffled from room to room with actors decked out in middle ages clothes and chatting about the plague, religious persecution and the different types of torture they had back then. It was morbidly interesting. Fem had enough of the dark arts after the first section, so she left and I went through the rest with the remaining group of about 5 other girls. We weren’t able to take photos so I can’t share any here. It was not too bad and I think I had been expecting some more gore but it was interesting. There was a cool maze section which we had to go through where all the walls were mirrors. It was very disorientating but fun at the same time.

Anne Frank House

After the dungeon, we continued walking further south and found our Hotel. After dropping off our gear and having a 5 min powernap we were off again to the Anne Frank house. This time we took the tram back north and when we were close enough we got off and walked west a few blocks to the house. Again I was not allowed to take photos, so if you want more info, click here.

The Anne Frank museum was very good, very interesting and sombre, since you were in the actual house where she and her family hid during World War 2. You were also able to see the original diary itself.

Red Light District

Afterwards it started getting dark, and it was time to go on the canal boat cruise and dinner. We still had some time to kill so I suggested we walk through the red light district. After walking past a lot of pot shops with lots of interesting stuff in them we then walked up the main red light district street. It was still reasonably early (about 6:30pm) but there were already quite a few girls in the windows. And yes it’s just like they say, they try to get you to come to them as you walk past. Some were good looking, others were not and I am pretty sure one was a male (or used to be). There are a lot of live sex shows as well (no we didn’t go into to any), sex shops and pot shops all along the one street. There’s plenty of red neon lights and there were a lot of groups of young men hooting about. Also a few of tourist shops full of shirts saying that you had visited the red light district in Amsterdam. So yeah that’s about it. You can take it or leave it.

Canal Cruise

After waiting in a heated room for a little while as they prepped the boat, we were then lead down a ramp onto the boat. We had a free bottle of red and white wine for the cruise which I enjoyed. Since fem does not like red wine I almost finished the whole bottle in 2 hours! It was a nice and romantic cruise down the many canals of the city. Because it was that cold there were sections of the canals that had thin layers of ice. The boat found itself breaking through these icy sections to pass through. You could not help but wince at the grinding sounds and seeing big chunks of ice go past your view. I was glad we were not in waters like this!

The front of the boat The narrowest house in Amsterdam. 2 metres wide! 

The tour guide pointed out all the sights of the city as we passed them both in English than in Dutch. The meal itself was pretty average, but enjoyable. I liked the red wine!

Lights on lots of canal bridges Most expensive hotel in Amsterdam

It was very dim to create the mood and allow us to easily see outside, so I had to use a very high ISO setting for these shots. 

After a pleasurable 2 hours, we left and caught a tram back to the hotel and crashed for the night.

Rijksmuseum

Rijksmuseum The next morning after a good breakfast at the hotel we were off again. Right next to our hotel is the Rijksmuseum. This is the main art museum in Amsterdam. It is currently under renovation and only a section of all the artworks were available to the public. It turned out this was just enough for us to see  (before getting culture fatigue) and it included all the main artworks. Again we were not able to take photos but it was incredible. Some of these artworks are massive and fill an entire wall. You can see some more info from Wikipedia here.

The main artwork is Rembrandt’s The Night Watch. One of my personal favourites was one of a young Dutch couple smiling. I liked it because it was very unusual for that time period to show a couple together smiling casually. Most paintings were of single people in stiff poses. Also because it was so big and the detail in the artwork was incredible.

I always have preferred the photorealistic artworks from the old masters. Some of the modern artworks today which look like a bored toddler’s finger-painting are a joke and an embarrassment.

 

We came across the Amsterdam sign, and had to wait a good 15-20 mins before we were able to get a shot with just either myself of Fem on the sign. There were always tourists climbing over the thing or getting photos or getting in other peoples photos. We just had to be patient and eventually we were rewarded.

Fem with Amsterdam sign Me with amsterdam sign 

Once we returned to the main central square we got some more shots. There were some costumed people just standing there in the square. You had to pay them some money in order to your get photo taken with them. Hmm.. pass for me. We also went into the main church which was right next to the royal residence. But the church was housing the contents of another art museum. Since we had just been to the Rijksmuseum we were cultured out and passed on it. There were a flock of pigeons in the square too that constantly flew at head level in a giant swarm to the next person who was dropping some food for them. We found ourselves having to duck our heads every few minutes as all these birds just flew at high speed right above our heads!

Main squareOld style

 Bird man in the squareWW2 memorialFem at the Square

We hit the shops for a while and had a nice lunch. Then it was back to the train station for our trip home. When we arrived there I was able to get some shots of the thousands of bikes that were locked up at the train station. Incredible to see!

 Lots of bikes! Another view of the bikes Amsterdam train station

The last photo shows the train station itself. In front of it are the canal cruise boats that we were in the night before.

We caught a train and headed off to Den Bosch and then home to Waalwijk. It had been a great weekend away!

Immigration Dramas – Part 3

Well the latest news is not very good.

I am still waiting on the two stamped certificates. They are currently somewhere between Brisbane and Holland. But I should have them in a day or two.

After getting the initial bad news about Fem not getting the job last Thursday, she has put in her resume for 6 more jobs. Yesterday we received a knock back for 3 of those 6.  So we have 3 more to wait on.  There is a chance, but it’s getting slimmer with each passing day. Fem could apply for more jobs, but most of them have cut off dates for applications which are beyond next Friday so they are not an option. The IND interview is for Friday of next week, so we reckon that if there are no possible leads by Wednesday of next week that it will be the end of it and I will be returning to Australia.

We will most likely go to Cologne in Germany this weekend to have a nice relaxing weekend and try not to think about all this. This way I can say I have been to Holland, Belgium and Germany! 🙂

A setback

We were very lucky with all the paperwork that was needed from Australia. Thanks to my mother racing around Brisbane in melting shoes on Thursday and helpful government officials, we were able to get all the required certificates in a few hours and mum was kind to express post them to us in Holland. They should arrive here early next week. “Yes! Some good news at last!” I thought on Tuesday morning.

However on Thursday afternoon we found out that Femke did not get the job which has the 12 month contract and right amount of pay.  This was a crushing setback.

We are now exactly 2 weeks away from the interview with immigration in Den Bosch and we are back to square 1 regarding Fem’s job situation. We will need a signed 12 month working contract within the next 10 working days otherwise I will be returning home. Given the current economic climate, the usual resume perusal and general multiple interview process this will be very difficult to do. To complicate matters even more, Femke has also been very sick for thee last three days. There is a flu epidemic currently going though Holland at the moment. Marijke has it and now Fem. Thankfully I don’t seem to be affected by it (touch wood).

So what happens from here? Well. first Fem needs to get over the sickness. She is nearly there. Then we look for more work. At the moment we both are really drained over this whole saga. You have to remember for Fem this has stress been going since about the 10th of November 2008. There just has not been any release.

We’ll see what happens.