Work took me to Amsterdam and Brussels, so I got a nice chance to practice my Dutch.
Wednesday (Feb 21) I met up with Leo nice and early on the S-Bahn to the airport. We flew to Amsterdam Schiphol and were taken to Compuware's Amsterdam office. We were there for three days of training in their ClientVantage Agentless Monitoring solution. The class itself was interesting, not only from a content perspective, but because it was all in English, yet I think I was the only native English speaker in the room--including the instructor! English is truly becoming a universal language. I observed this time and again during this trip.
A little more on the English issue, actually. I've noticed this regularly since moving here: when people don't speak the local language, the first thing they try is English. I saw this in Slovenia, I see this in Munich, and I noticed it in Belgium and the Netherlands. Sitting in a hotel bar in Amsterdam, I regularly heard people initiate conversations with the bartender in accented English. And in our training, we had Germans, Dutch, French, Polish, and other nationalities, all speaking to each other in English. Now I'm sure this universal language phenomenon may be more prevalent on the European continent than say in Asia or South America. But it's still interesting to observe. And being a native speaker certainly can't be a bad thing.
So the hotel we were staying in during the training was near Rembrandt Square in Amsterdam. Leo already knew his way around the city some, so he guided me through the old town and showed me some of the sites.
After training ended on Friday, Leo helped me find a cheap hotel near the red light district (I don't know if that's why it was cheap, but it was a great central location, since the red light district is in the heart of the old town). I grabbed dinner and a beer with Leo, and then he took off for the airport and home.
I then wandered the old town (and red light district) some, found some postcards, and sat down at the bar of the hotel I was staying at. The bar (The Old Nickel) had a nice selection of Belgian beers and wasn't too busy, so it was a good spot to relax and write some postcards. If you haven't received a postcard from me yet, it means I probably don't have your mailing address, so feel free to email it to me.
At some point during the evening, a drunk and/or high French guy wearing eye liner (I think) and nail polish sat down at the bar next to me and managed to provide plenty of entertainment. He assumed, since I was writing in a bar, that I must be some sort of writer or poet. No amount of explaining or showing him the postcards could convince him that I was just writing postcards to friends. At one point he asked the bartender if he could smoke a joint. The answer was no. The Frenchman then wanted to know where he could light up. "Outside or in your room," was the answer, which I found amusing. I did, for reasons I don't entirely understand, smoke half a pack of cigarettes that evening. I think the overwhelming amount of smoke already in the air drove me to it. But sometimes it's fun to give in to a different vice. And speaking of vices, I think I managed to walk through the red light district at least twice each day I was there. While I did follow a strict "look only" policy, I gotta admit that some of the prostitutes were quite attractive. And of course, some of them just plain weren't.
Saturday I got up to find Amsterdam still drizzly (as it had been since Wednesday). I bought some stamps and mailed my postcards, then bought an I Amsterdam card, the 24 hour version. It cost 33 Euro and gave me public transportation, free entrance to a bunch of museums, as well as discounts on various other things. I used it to visit the Rijks Museum (where I found no reference to myself or any of my family members), the Van Gogh Museum, and the Oude Kerk. I also used it to take a canal tour. I got about 40 Euro worth out of the 33 Euro card. By the end of the day I was pretty worn out, or I could've made more use of the card.
Sunday morning I needed internet access in order to figure out where I was staying in Belgium. Since the internet shops I knew of near the hotel were all still closed, I entered a coffee shop that advertised internet access. By the time I left, I definitely had a contact high going. But I found out what I needed to know.
So I made my way to the train station and bought a ticket to Brussels. Having no recollection of ever having been there (which doesn't mean I was never there), I spent the afternoon wandering around near the central train station. I bought some postcards and saw some of the places pictured on those postcards. Then I made my way out of the city, to Kortenberg, which is in Flanders, not far from the Brussels airport. I was staying at a hotel there where my next training was being held. This training was for Oblicore's Contract Center product. Again, the training was held in English.
Tuesday I flew back to Munich. I got to spend a couple nights with Sara before she headed for the US for the week. But with her out of the way for the weekend, I finally made it to the Belgians in Bavaria Stammtisch on Friday. It's the first Friday of every month, but I keep forgetting about it or having something else going on. It was good to keep the small momentum I'd picked up in Dutch/Flemish going. Everybody who came (about 20 people) was speaking Flemish. I was told that even though the group is called Belgians in Bavaria, they've only once had a Walloon come, and he never came back.
My favorite quote of the evening was "We as Belgians just weren't intended to do line dancing."