Week 43: Graduation

It’s nice waking up on a Monday and only having three days of work in the coming week. By Wednesday night, my parents arrived up from France having visited my cousin and some friends on the way up in Alsace and Germany.

Early Thursday morning we got up to go the the airport to pick up Catherine’s parents who flew in on the first flight. After showing them our apartment and enjoying coffee and tea, we headed out to lunch. After lunch Catherine’s parents made their way to Groningen where they were booked into a hotel for the night. We returned home to pick up my mum and dad and head into Amsterdam. But first, we needed to solve a common problem, tablet addiction….

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Me: So what would you like to do? Them: “Grunt”

After dragging the youth away from their devices, we headed into town and had a look round, starting at Waterlooplein and walking over to Rembrandtplein, De Munt, taking in the flower market and walking up to Spuistraat to have a drink where, much to Catherine’s look of terror, we were joined by a mouse scurrying about under the benches.

From there we walked slowly over to the Overtoom by way of the Apple store (because that’s what you do right, just to check everything out, even though it’s the same as last month when you visited), and Bever outdoor sports, because Dad and I are the kind of guys who could look at and debate the merits of outdoor gear for days, (much to both our partners dismay).

We tried to get into an Indonesian restaurant, but it was full so we crossed the road and went to a Thai restaurant instead. (We knew both, so we weren’t disappointed). After dinner, a walk through De Wallen was the done thing before catching a metro home.

Friday was my big day! Finally, graduation day! We got suited and booted and jumped in the car for the 2 hour drive up north to Groningen, where we met Catherine’s parents, and because we were early, went off for coffee and cake. At the required timeslot, we returned to the main academy building for my short graduation ceremony, which took 15 minutes all-told.


My supervisor delivered a short speech on how we met and the work that was put in throughout my thesis project (and that is ongoing, my thesis has been adapted into a book chapter on lean management). Thereafter, it was time to sign my diploma, and with a handshake, I was a graduate!


Then followed the customary pictures on the main stairway in the academy building.

Wards: In decreasing order of size


Thank you Mike for showing up and for the beer!

I then took everyone to lunch. We wanted pizza, but our favourite place didn’t fire up the pizza oven until 3, so (quite fittingly I think) we went to the Goudkantoor, which turns out to be the place my parents and I ate the first time when they brought me up to Groningen to move in over two years ago, therefore I thought it would bookend my life in Groningen quite nicely.

Saturday morning my parents hit the road for Germany to visit friends on the way home. We met up with Catherine’s parents in town and after a quick lunch, checked out the queue at the Van Gogh museum to see the Munch exhibition. However we decided that 45 minutes was a long wait and that we would book online and return the next day, so instead we walked back and had a canal tour.

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7 Bridges in a row.

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We then walked through the Vondelpark. At that point I decided everyone looked thirsty, and miraculously, we ended up one street away from Craft and Draft…. 😉 so in we went for a couple rounds. After that we returned up towards Nieuw Markt for some chinese food at one of the best addresses in Amsterdam, Nam Kee. As per usual, Catherine and I ordered the calf tripe, and salt and pepper squid. The chinese waiter always does a double take when I order the tripe. He always double checks that I do indeed want the tripe, to which I always tell him, of course, bring it on! I also have him remove the plates and cutlery and bring bowls and chopsticks instead. Just for extra authenticity.

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And with that, have a good Sunday!



Week 42, The Amsterdam Marathon!

After weeks of waiting (and not preparing), it was go time on the Amsterdam Marathon!

   On Saturday, after a quick haircut at a great barber I found, I met Catherine at Run2Day, where Catherine gifted me a pair of compression socks for the upcoming ordeal. Following that, Andrew picked us up and we drove to the olympic park for packet pick-up. The queue was fairly long, but once in the main hall, it was fairly quick and painless to get the race numbers and the t-shirts (included in the €70 starting fee for marathon runners, optional for the shorter distances).

Following that, it was home for pasta! Carbs, carbs and more carbs! I debated at length what to wear, obviously wearing the actual race shirt wasn’t allowed, as per here. The next morning I got up at 6 for a hearty helping of porridge, before snoozing for another hour and drinking plenty of fluids. Then we made sure we had packed everything I needed, including all the energy gels and a bottle of water in my bum bag.

Off to the metro we went to meet Andrew. The closer to the start, and naturally the busier the metro got, until it was heaving with people in brightly coloured running gear. Andrew and I agree that women by far have a better selection of cool leggings when it comes to running gear! Interesting patterns, cool colour schemes and so on. Neither of us particularly want pink running clothes, but a bit more variety in the men’s section would be cool.

We began queueing to enter the starting blocks, until we figured out we could skip the queue if we went around the side. I admit that was cheeky, but the queue really was going nowhere. Eventually in the stadium, we didn’t hear the start, but all of a sudden it was time to go! Around the stadium we went and out on our way!

   The first few kilometres were fined as we steadily cruised through Amsterdam. At kilometre 11 I caught sight of Tashi, who was marshalling. Unfortunately, just as we ran towards him, someone asked him a question and stood in front of him with her umbrella. So as I ran past I tapped him on the shoulder. I don’t know what I did, but I managed to trip myself up. Thankfully, I trained in Judo when I was younger, so instinctively rolling when I fall comes naturally. However, I managed to hit my head on the road, hard, and bruised my shoulder pretty badly. I couldn’t quite roll perfectly because of the water bottle tied around my waist, but I managed to get back up in one smooth action, pick up the energy gel I dropped and get on with the business of running. As I told Andrew, on the upside, my legs weren’t the most painful thing anymore! 

The following few kilometres went by without particular hiccup. A little tired towards the halfway mark, we thought we might have gone out a little too fast. 

We continued and got progressively more tired. That’s when strange stuff started happening. Including having bursts of energy followed by moments of utter devastating fatigue. But the weirdest ones were emotions. At one point I said to Andrew, “it’s very strange but I really feel like crying right now”, to which he answered “dude me too!”

The last 15 kilometres got pretty tough. It was blatantly clear that our sub-4hr goal was long gone. At this point the mere thought of eating more energy gel repulsed me. So I managed to choke down some water, chunks of banana and the odd energy drink at aid stations. 

Unfortunately by this point Andrew had opted to visit the medic to have his knee checked out, so we were no longer running together. My pace crashed, I was cold, and was loosing the will to keep going. Only the problem was, I didn’t have my transport card nor the key to my house, they were both st the finish line with Catherine! So the choice was made for me, I had to go on! 

   With about 10km to go I saw Matthijs cycling along. What a relief to see a familiar face. Don’t get me wrong, the support along the way was tremendous! With my name on my race bib several people were encouraging me including the one English girl who told me to “smash it Benjamin, smash it!” And people holding up signs such as “smile if you’re not wearing any underpants”, which even though I was, made me grin anyway. 

Eventually both Matt and Helen were lining the course at various intervals to take pictures and shout encouragement! And this made me smile. And it’s hard to feel miserable when you’re smiling. 

   When the 4:30 pace group caught up with me I managed to dig deep and hold on to them. Right behind the pacer was a little old lady, hunchbacked who had obviously spent the entire race glued to the pacing team. Big respect. Though I admit, if she could finish then I sure as hell could (she still beat me, there’s no space for ego in this sport). I managed to hold on to the group until the last kilometre or so, when I just let them go and hobbled to the finish. The last 500 metres seemed endless. 

As I crossed back into the stadium with half a lap of the track to go, I was very much on the brink of tears, but the elation at having dragged myself through it buoyed my spirits and had me grinning like some disturbed maniac. Until I finally crossed the line, 4 hours 33 minutes after setting off. I initially thought there was something wrong with me, I couldn’t swallow my water, but it was just the lump in my throat.

   I filtered through to get my medal and found myself in a queue where some grumpy old woman was just giving them to people, so I changed queue in favour of the one where a much prettier lady was actually putting them around our necks (and actually smiling, it’s the small things in life). I got my plastic sheet to wrap around my shoulders and hobbled out of the stadium, where I was given a tiny bottle of iso-drink (yuck), a cup of water and half a banana (stingy). I walked thorough the crowd to the point where I’d arranged to meet Catherine. And from then on, a quick change of clothes, had my medal engraved, caught up with Matt and Helen and Andrew, hydrated and then ate chips, croquet, and had a beer. 

   Then it was home time for a shower and a well-earned sit-down. (And more chips, a rib eye steak, more beer and eventually, some sleep!). 

Would I do it again? Ask me in 6 months….

Week 41

Since our tumultuous weekend (and Monday), not a lot happened. We were both ill with the flu this week so we’ve mostly just gone to work and tried to recover in the evenings. We’ve been a bit sleepless on account of sniffles, coughing, and general aches and pains. So all in all, not a particularly eventful week (and quite a busy one on the work front).

Instead, I thought I’d share a quick video I made over the summer when I moved (it was the perfect opportunity to take a road trip with the boys). I quite like time-lapse photography and videography, and it’s something I would like to do a little more of, I just need to find interesting subjects to snap.

So, without further ado. Enjoy your weekends!


Sunday 04.10. Hamburg continued!

I last left off on Saturday evening, after a long day exploring Hamburg. Sunday morning we woke up fairly early again, in order to enjoy our last day before catching a flight in the evening.

We ended up having breakfast at the same cafe as on the Saturday, much for the same reason: it was open. Not wanting a repeat of the bread and croissant of the day before, I fancied being a bit adventurous. In this case, I opted for the Kutscherfrühstück, or coach drivers breakfast. Simple enough, it contained 3 breads, one with cheese, one with egg salad, and one with “Mett”, which I assumed would be meat. I was right….. Now, I usually loathe people who take pictures of food, but in this instance, I thought I would make an exception and break my own rule.

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Now, that is quite seriously raw steak topped with raw onions. And it was absolutely delicious! Having lived in Germany before, I wasn’t as surprised as I might have been, but it was definitely not what I was expecting.

Anyway, after breakfast we walked around a bit and down to the harbour again, this time to visit Miniatur Wunderland. Holders of the world record for largest miniature trainset in the world (and still expanding).

It was absolutely brilliant. The attention to detail was absolutely incredible! We must have taken about 100 pictures. Here are a few highlights.

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Like an actual climbing hall in a watering can.
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A crime scene.

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There were also a few random bits, like this bunny school.

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For those with voyeuristic tendencies, there were also a few naughty scenes here and there.

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Bit of naked sunbathing…
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And frolicking amongst the sunflowers (Though they live dangerously, as the combine harvester is actually on its way, out of shot).

Every now and again they also dim the lights and turn it into night time, where everything is lit up!

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Quick trip to Vegas!

Last but not least, I made this short video to show the scale of one of the scenes, as well as a short clip of the airport with a plane taking off.

After spending about three hours there (we could have spent a lot longer), we left for lunch. Unfortunately Linda was taken up by group meetings for university so wasn’t able to make it to lunch after all.

We stopped at a Portugese restaurant in the city’s Portugese quarter. Lovely grilled fish. However, the lunch was slightly spoilt by a text from KLM saying “Your flight has been cancelled, please contact us”…

I tried to call a couple times but the lines were completely jammed, so we resolved to go back to the apartment, pick up our things and head to the airport early. Which we did. The best they could do was a flight the following afternoon. After a wait, they booked us into the Marriot nearby and we took the shuttle there. Now it was that strange time where it was a bit late to go into town, as we got free dinner included with our overnight stay. So instead we rested up (all that walking had tired us out, and we both were showing signs of an oncoming cold.. 😦 ). After having our “luxury buffet meal” we had a beer and crashed out.

Monday morning I sorted through some work emails (yes, I was supposed to be at my desk), and tried to assign some tasks to colleagues. Being the brilliant team that they are, they were happy to help out. 🙂

Monday morning we looked around the city again, and visited the church of St. Petri and the church of St. Jacobi.

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St Jacobi church.

We then got word that Linda would be free for lunch, so we headed over to Altona, a cool, studenty part of town where we were able to grab some lunch in the sun. From there we walked to the banks of the Elbe, from where we could see the port. Being supply chain nerds (yes, both of us), nothing is more exciting than ships and containers carrying who knows what, who knows where?!

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From there we walked along and tried to regain the river. We happened on a ice cream place, and no trip to Germany is complete without an Eiskaffee (according to Catherine). Quite frankly I would have to agree. Surprisingly, this place was completely vegan, and had I not read the sign, I would not have known. It was very tasty, and amazingly for a vegan place, normally priced.

Further along the docks we chanced on a submarine.

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I took the chance to let out my inner 10 year old and walk along the wall. Catherine treated us to a picture…

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We wondered back towards town by way of St Pauli, and this time we got a proper picture of “the street”.

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We then wondered through the Planten & Blomen garden where we saw a squirrel, though he wasn’t eager to get photographed.

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I’m also always surprised how much graffiti there is in Germany, some of it good, some of it not so good.

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Quick get on! The ducks are coming!

There were also some turtles having a chillout, before having a standoff with the ducks.

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This is our tree, got here first!

After that we took the U-bahn and S-bahn and headed to the airport, where this time, we did manage to get home (albeit 24 hours late). Unfortunately, those colds we thought we were getting, materialised, so we went to bed early to see if we could sleep them off. (We couldn’t..).

And with that, back to work we went.


Saturday 3.10. Hamburg!

I would normally have shared our trip on Sunday night, but that was not possible this week, read on to find out why…

So on Friday I left off with a bit of a teaser as to where we might have been going from Amsterdam airport. Anybody who may have been following my twitter (and Facebook, for that matter), may have noticed a few checkins via untappd in the gorgeous city of Hamburg, Germany!

We arrived later on Friday evening with a bit of delay to a very quiet and very empty Hamburg airport. At this point, we wanted to just get to our Airbnb as quickly as we could (as we were already late, and didn’t want to inconvenience our host). So we tried Uber for the first time. We waited just over 10 minutes for the driver to arrive from the city centre (Uber is not yet very active in Hamburg he said). In this case it was UberX or a taxi. UberX estimated under €20 to get us where we were going, and is reputed for being cheaper than a taxi. On this occurrence, it turned out to cost 15, or about a euro a minute. Definitely cheaper than hailing a cab! (If anyone fancies trying Uber, sign up with this link, and we both get a tenner off our next ride! Happy times!)

Following all that, we had a bit of a panic outside the door to the Airbnb host, because we didn’t know their last name and had no phone number. Normally you would think “surely you just pull the bell on the correct address right? Wrong! Number 11 happened to have about 9 different ringers and names on it…. So after unsuccessfully messaging our host, we set about googling key words in the hope of a linked-in or Facebook profile. We figured from his name that our host would be italian, so we narrowed it down to two names. On the second one, we got lucky, we found a newspaper article related to the local football club with a picture. A quick comparison of the airbnb picture made us sufficiently certain that we should try. Fingers crossed, we rang the bell and explained who we were. The door buzzed open, and we breathed a sigh of relief (remember, it was 11:30 in the evening). We were shown into a lovely apartment, cozy and with great decoration (sorry no pics 😦 ).

Following that we quickly went to bed.

We woke up around 8 to make good use of our time in the city. I like to step out onto the balcony first thing in the morning to get some fresh air and start the day, and this is the sight that greeted me.

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It was fresh and damp, but we got ready and headed into town. A quick ride in the U-bahn (which you can’t see against the sun, but is actually across the street in the picture), got us to town quick and we had some breakfast at a small cafe which won our favour simply on account that it was open.

Nearby was the town hall, which we didn’t visit, but ended up walking past several times in the following day(s).

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Following breakfast, we took a stroll around town to try and get our bearings. We eventually walked to HafenCity. A trendy part of town with lots of newly built housing mixing in with older loft style apartments. The brick buildings actually reminded me of Nottingham quite a bit.

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We walked all along the  harbour  and then began a lengthy search for something to eat. We wanted to get some good German food and this is where it downed on us that something wasn’t quite right. Namely that in Germany’s second city, on a Saturday, everything seemed to be shut. It seemed odd, but we didn’t give it much thought. We later found out it was a national holiday, “Tag der Deutsche Enheit”, or Day of German Unity, in other words, the day celebrating the reunification of Germany (extra tip, it was the 25th anniversary thereof). Eventually we found a place that served the longest Currywurst either of us had ever eaten with chips. Which is pretty much exactly what we wanted.

After lunch we went back to HavenCity to visit the Maritime Museum. The museum was superb, though we only spared 3 hours for it which was actually a bit tight as it was a surprisingly large museum. Nevertheless, it was a very interesting visit, and being a fan of sailing and boats, I was over the moon.

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Here, in no particular order, are a few pictures. Me with an anchor, Catherine with a buoy, and a lego version of Queen Mary 2 that required some 700,000 pieces of lego (Though I cannot get my head around why there is a cow on the aft sun deck)…

Follwing the museum visit we ate nearby, not wanting to repeat lunchtimes endless search.

Naturally we then transitioned to a visit to St Pauli, as no visit to Hamburg would really be complete without one right? (For those not in the know, St. Pauli is home to the Reeperbahn…….In case you live in a cave, the Reeperbahn is the name of Hamburg’s Red Light District….. If you need to ask what a Red Light district is, then quite frankly, I don’t think you should really be allowed on the internet unsupervised just yet, if you’re unsure what the internet is…..how did you get here again?).

The pictures from St Pauli are a bit blurry on account of being taken without authorisation by Catherine, as I visited the “men-only” street. This street is not a joke, there is a big sign that says no women allowed. Women who do visit it get doused with a bucket of cold water. Though its an improvement over old times, as it used to be a bucket of wee….. You’ve been warned.

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But I suppose there’s no harm in telling you what was down the street… I hope I’m not breaking some secret code of men. In essence, if you’ve ever been to Amsterdam, you won’t be shocked, as it’s more or less the same. There are a couple of differences though. Instead of being glued to their smartphones, the professionals working in Hamburg are much more vocal in offering their services. They call you out, suggest things and generally try to catch your eye to lure you into conversation. I have to hand it to them, they work hard. A word of warning, if you want to walk around that part of town as a man on his own, prepare to be hounded, especially if you go into what I called “dirty-grandad mode” and pulled your shoulders up and sunk into the collar of your coat and only glance furtively left and right occasionally. What can I say, as a bit of a shy introvert, being approached by loud, (and sometimes quite imposing) women is something I find quite intimidating (though I guess some people like that?). Anyway, upon exiting this street (and feeling extra-pervy as I walked it end-to-end twice) I came out of the barrier and could not find Catherine, so I had to walk up and down another street a couple of times, this one with the “professionals” right on the curb and in your face, not hemmed in behind their windows! After guaranteeing two charming young women that despite not having had “etwas mit zwei Frauen zugleich” before, it was not something I was particularly inclined to try out right away, I found Catherine again. Walking arm-in-arm was like donning Harry’s cloak of invisibility. If you have a lady-friend with you, guaranteed you will not be disturbed.

We moved on back towards the city and decided we would walk back to the apartment which should take 25 minutes or so. On the way we decided that if we found a decent looking bar, we should get  drink. Eventually we found a bar called “Oma’s Apotheke” with a table out on the pavement that seemed nice. We sat down and obtained a drinks list from a first waitress. A few minutes later the second waitress asked us “was wollen is zum trinken…..Hello, what are you doing here?”. It turned out to be Linda, Catherine’s housemate from Amstelveen, and to the best of our knowledge, the only person we know in Hamburg! (By the way, this was not preplanned or scripted for my blogging endeavours, this is genuine 100% unexpected coincidence!). We caught up for a few minutes and ordered some drinks, and arranged to meet the following day for lunch).

We got back to the apartment and after relaxing for a bit turned in for the night.

More to follow tomorrow!


What happened this week? Week 40

It was supposed to be a quiet week at work, but that’s just another way of saying its a week of lots of meetings, and still needing to do desk work! No matter I’ve got interesting projects to work on, and I managed to get it all done.

Monday we got stuff done, so I’ll skip talking about that. With the exception that we were a little tired. In the night of Sunday to Monday we got up at 4:40 to see the “blood moon” or lunar eclipse, which coincided with the moon being closest to the earth for the next 33 years. Arjen told me about it on Whatsapp the evening before, and as I figured I wouldn’t get the chance again until I’m 58, I figured why not?


I used several cameras but this is the best I could do.
 Tuesday was another busy day, but it was also Tashi’s birthday. We arranged to see him after work, he brought a few craft beers along which we sampled. All very good choices, which can be seen on my untappd profile (see the link in last weeks post). 

After work Wednesday we went round to Matt and Helens for bottling of our beer! Obviously preceded by one of Helens excellent meals. Let’s let the pictures tell the story!

Before starting. Bottles sterilised.
Inspecting the contents of our vat.
Bottling gets under way.
Bottling continues and makes a mess of the floor.
Bottles need capping (officially its called racking).
We should give it a taste.
Hmmmm, interesting.
Matthijs agrees.

Overall it was a fun experience (which we will attempt again soon). We’re not sure whether our beer is 1.8% or 18%. But it smelled and tasted roughly like a beer. Time will tell. 6-8 weeks in the bottles for second fermentation. We’re very excited to taste the result!

Thursday night was another quiet one, as we were prepping for the weekend…

But what will we be doing that required preparation?