Europe 2017

Lisbon, Portugal

I left Seattle on Saturday, September 30th around noon and flew to Philadelphia, then on to Lisbon overnight. I arrived in Lisbon on Sunday morning, waited for nearly two hours in the Passport Control line, then took the Metro (subway) to the Jupiter Lisboa Hotel, which is where the hackathon / integration workshop I was attending took place. Or near it, anyway. Nice walk the rest of the way. Room wasn't ready yet so I did some work from the lobby, then took a quick walk around the area. I thought it was pretty cool that they had pomegranate trees in the park.

Once I did check in, I was amused to see that my bed was actually two beds, right next to each other yet made up separately. Everyone at the hotel was nice and they all spoke excellent English (as did pretty much everyone I met in both Lisbon and Amsterdam, for that matter). Which was good, since I don't speak any Portuguese... Their service was a bit lackluster at times, but in a pleasant sort of way. I ordered room service late one evening when I was working late, and it took nearly three hours and several phone calls before it arrived. It was excellent, and fortunately I was up working anyway so didn't matter all that much.

After checking in, I went for another walk and came across a cool street scene just before sunset. Here's a short video I took.

The main purpose for my trip was to help kick off an integration project with our partner, Randstad. We spent most of Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday on that (with great success), but I was able to do some sightseeing evenings.

All of the sidewalks in Lisbon are made of small cubes of stone, so they look like they are tiled. It must keep an army of people busy replacing them! Most of them are light colored, but in some places they have some black ones creating cool patterns. Many appear to have been in place for many years - some probably hundreds. They are very well-worn and I imagine incredibly slippery when wet, but it was hot and dry my entire stay so I didn't get to experience that. As you can see from the fourth picture, when they redo a street they end up with a big pile of cubes.

Lisbon has lost a lot of population over the past 50+ years (its peak population was over 800,000 in the 1970's but has dropped to about 550,000 since then as people moved out to the suburbs), and there are a lot of deserted buildings.

There were also some that looked like they should be deserted, but clearly had people living in them.

Some of the sidewalks were really narrow. They had pylons along some of the to semi-protect the pedestrians (or to keep people from driving and parking on them). In some cases the steps from the buildings took over a good part of the sidewalk!

Lisbon is known as the "City of Seven Hills". Its topography is much like San Francisco or Seattle, with lots of steep streets. As a result, it has trams to carry people up some of the steeper streets.

I did a lot of wandering around and ran across a number of cool iron works. Look closely at the person standing on the balcony of the building...

I walked past a little lake with little boats and a little cafe in the middle. I later learned that one of these ponds (not sure if it is this one or not) is on top of an enormous water storage structure. Nearly every park has a cafe of some sort in it. In the evenings a lot of them have live music.

I did not eat at this restaurant, but I really liked the name.

On Thursday I spent the whole day wandering around Lisbon, including spending a couple of hours exploring Castelo de São Jorge. This site was first built on in about 800 BC and has layers and layers of history.

Later that evening, we were looking for a place to eat, and one of the many guys on the street trying to lure people into their establishments convinced us to follow him up the block and around the corner. At first they offered us a seat outside, which would have been cool except that everyone (nearly literally) was smoking. So we asked for seat inside, and it turned out that it featured Fado music. There were two musicians and three singers. It was kind of dark so I wasn't able to get a video, but I did take a picture and record some of the music.

On Friday I visited the Water Museum, which was extremely cool if you like that sort of thing. Fortunately, I do...

This device was used to measure flow rates by opening different combinations of holes to match the outgoing rate to the incoming rate.
This section of pipe had a pretty amazing build-up of calcium deposit!
They preserved the pump machinery. This would be a great place for a steampunk party.

Friday afternoon we met with the Randstad Portugal team and visited one of the many call centers they run.

Lisbon is famous for its Pastéis de Nata (egg tart pastries). They have an airy crust (like a croissant) and are filled with a rich egg custard. I had them at several different places on my visit, but the best by far were from Manteigaria. This was one of two places that came highly recommended (the other was Pasteis de Belém but I didn't have time to make it there). One of the reviews of this particular place stated it quite well: "Portugese custard tarts are like little angels descended from a powdered sugar and cinammon heaven."

Amsterdam, Netherlands

I flew from Lisbon to Amsterdam on Saturday afternoon. Bill and I were on the same flight, and Sterling met us at the airport. One of the first things I noticed were flower and bulb stands everywhere.

It was grey and rainy - made me a little homesick!

We checked into the Hotel V FIZEAUSTRAAT ( which was really nice. Their service was also very nice but not too effective - I don't think they ever got our breakfast order right and they missed cleaning my room one day even though I was out with the "Please Clean" sign for the whole day.

We walked to the Amstel River in the pouring rain and ate at Riva which is in a houseboat on the river. It was quite good - I had "Slow Cooked Pork Belly with Prawn - hoi sin, coconut and radish" for my appetizer, "Flank Steak with Jacket Potato - sour cream, tomato, patison and Amsterdam onions" for the main course, a cheese plate, and "Pumpkin Crumble - vanilla hangop and maple syrup ice cream" for dessert. And Earl Grey tea, of course (although I did have my choice of 8 different canisters of tea, each described in great detail in a little booklet... in Dutch). As was the case with a lot of our meals, it was quite leisurely - we arrived at about 6:15 pm, ordered pretty quickly and didn't linger when we were done, and still didn't leave until about 9:30 pm. When we arrived the restaurant was nearly empty. The guy up front asked if we had reservations, and when we said no, looked doutbful, but after perusing his sheet for a bit, said he found us a table. We just thought he was being pretentious, but by midway through our dinner the place was packed, so I guess he just knew that their service is very slow and they had a bunch of reservations that would come in before we were done.

The number of bikes in Amsterdam is amazing. This was the first big parking area we saw, but certainly not the largest.

I had been warned that they are on the top of the pecking order and that was certainly the case - pedestrians stay out of their way and even the cars defer to them. Nobody wears a helmet (I saw maybe three or four the entire trip, and those were all on babies or small children in carriers).

Most of the bikes are variations on "cruisers" (3-5 speed hubs, enclosed chains, upright position) with a wide variety of carriers on the front, back, or both. I only saw a handful of drop handlebars or mountain bikes. Many of them had clearly been in service for a long time, and they all had massive chains (apparently bike theft is a big problem, despite the fact that there are thousands of them everywhere you look). There are bike lanes everywhere, often separated from both the car lanes and the sidewalk. On some roads there was more bike lane than road. I took this picture from a bicycle as I crossed a bridge to the NE of the city center. You can see that a good portion of it is devoted to pedestrians and bicycles.

On Sunday we walked from the hotel to the center of Amsterdam to see the architecture and visit the Van Gogh museum. The narrated tour (via headsets attached to handheld devices) was really helpful in explaining what we were seeing. It was quite interesting, but after 90 minutes or so I'd had enough culture for one day. We also walked by the Anne Frank house, but the line was insanely long, so we didn't try to go in. I was intrigued by the architecture - many of the houses are listing, and some appear to have started to list while they were still under construction, as the windows and gables weren't parallel (they had added extra bricks above the windows on one side to make the roof level - unfortunately I couldn't get a picture of that one without risking being trampled by a stampeding horde of bicycles). Here are a couple of other, albeit less impressive, examples.

Another thing I found very interesting is that since everything is so compressed, you can't get furniture up into the upper floors via stairs or elevators, so every building has one or more beams sticking out a couple of feet near the top with a hook or pulley on it to lift things up and slide them in through the windows. If you look closely at these pictures you can see plain ones above each window on the building on the left and an ornate one on the black and white building in the middle.

We had dinner at Eatmosfera Ristorante Enoteca ( I had seafood pasta which was awesome.

On Monday I rented a bicycle from the hotel and rode to Oranjesluizen (one of the locks that lets the boats through while maintaining the water level - apparently the canals are lower than sea level). It's been around for a while - the sign said it opened in 1872!

There were a whole series of locks that I walked across with various boats going through.

I then continued north past a community garden and some nice houses along a canal, each with their own little footbridge.

Beyond that was an entire neighborhood of tiny houses with tiny yards along a canal, most with boats tied up.

Further along I came up behind two horses being ridden along the bike trail.

The trail system is quite extensive - more like our highway system with numbered trails and everything.

I continued north through the countryside, which is pretty flat and very wet (ditches everywhere). They have special equipment to maintain the ditches.

The foliage is very similar to the PNW - lots of green grass, nettles, and other familiar looking plants and trees. The small farms had cows, pigs, sheep, goats, and horses. There were a LOT of horses out in some of the fields.

There weren't as well-separated bike paths as in Amsterdam, but the roads were lightly travelled and the bike routes were well signed. There were some bridges over the many canals only for bikes and pedestrians - at one point I had to wait for someone to hand-crank a drawbridge back down after letting a boat go by.

I rode as far as Broek in Waterland, a small village with a lake, an old church, and more canals with boats.

After riding around the town for a bit I headed back to Amsterdam. Here's a map showing (more or less) my route:

On the way back I went past some houseboats that look like they have been there for quite a while!

After showering I met up with Sterling, Bill, and Hal again. We took a cab back to the center of Amsterdam to meet the Randstad folks for a canal tour. They had chartered a boat for us, complete with drinks and appetizers! We wandered the canals for an hour and a half or so, seeing lots of other boats, both mobile and permanently docked, and a lot of old buildings. There were the four of us from Shiftboard plus about six from Randstad (plus a captain and helper).

After the boat tour we went to dinner at Rijks which is in the museum square area. It was a multi-course dinner - all delicious. Here is the menu.

On Tuesday morning we headed up to the Randstad headquarters and spent the day learning more about Randstad and meeting a variety of executives, including the CEO (who had lunch with us). I also had hot chocolate, which was a do-it-yourself kit consisting of a chocolate block on a stick and steamed milk.

Renate (one of the Randstad executives) gave us several recommendations for dinner, so we took one of them and ate at blauw aan de wal which again was a fixed menu. The courses included a leek dish, a veal tongue dish, and a skate dish, among others. It was all really good. I don't think we would have found it on our own, and even if we had I don't think we would have ventured down the dark and somewhat creepy alley in the Red Light District that led to it without having been given a good recommendation!

On Wednesday morning, after breakfast, I rented a bicycle from the hotel again to ride down to the center of Amsterdam for a little shopping. This was the first time I bicycled in rush-hour bicycle traffic, which was pretty crazy. After doing my shopping and exploring a bit, I headed back, showered, packed, and checked out of the hotel.

I walked to the nearby Amstelstation, took a train to Zuid station, then a train to the Schipol Airport. I ended up arriving there a lot earlier than I needed to, so I spent an hour wandering through the airport and then another half an hour watching them load cargo and baggage into our plane (they loaded all of the bags into cargo containers beforehand rather than loading them one at a time like is usual).

The flight to KEF was uneventful and reasonably short (less than three hours). The KEF airport was really busy. We didn't have a gate, so deplaned onto the tarmac and rode a bus to the terminal. It was brisk (45 degrees F) and rainy. I could see a little of Iceland as we landed and took off. A lot of geology to see. It would be interesting to spend a couple of days exploring.