Trains and Atomiums

Our first full day in Brussels we enjoy more waffles and chocolates before heading out to see some odd sights. First up Train World a museum dedicated to the history of railroads in Europe, as Belgium had the first rail line in continental Europe. The next destination for the day is the Atomium, a structure like the Eiffel tower or Space Needle, constructed for a Worlds Fair and never taken down.

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Belgium waffles disappear too quickly to photograph

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Covered streets are great on rainy days

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Welcome to the Train World

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Trains

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Conductor boarding

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Steam engines are surprisingly complicated

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Train selfie

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Lets get out of here

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Admiring the scenery

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Enter a caption

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The Type 12, train of the future

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Our travel itinerary

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A model of the train we had taken from Amsterdam

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The Atomium

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Getting the Instagram picture

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Young Atlas

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There is no angle from which this structure is uninteresting

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A flock of birds flying underneath in the rain

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The secret plans

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Going up?

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Taking a nice pic

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Goodbye Amsterdam, Hello Brussels

 

We spend our last morning in the Netherlands getting cheese and stroopwafels to bring home. With some foresight we also get a wheel of cheese and a loaf of bread for our lunch on the train to Brussels. Once in Brussels we found our Air B&B right next to St Michael and St Gudula Cathedral and a short walk from the Grand Place and dozens of chocolate shops.

 

Windmills on the Water

On our third day in the Netherlands we left Amsterdam for the day traveling to Zaanse Schans, a semi-artificial windmill town and Leiden.

 

 

Amsterdam Again

After a night spent in our dank and musty subterranean AirB&B we emerged rested and reset to the new time zone. The day holds visits to the Van Gogh Museum, the Microb Museum, the Botanical Gardens and stops for all sorts of tasty treats. In the evening we found a tall building with a rooftop bar to watch the sun set over the city.

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Emerging from the cave

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Croissant

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So flakey

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Enjoying a cookie

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It’s a very good cookie

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Taking a nice pic

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Lovely greenway for the rail cars

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Walking through the Botanical Gardens

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A flying being drawn to its doom by a carnivorous fly eating pitcher plant

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The botanical gardens

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A wild bee!

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This european bee has noticeably different proportions to the ones back home.

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Butterflies in the garden

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Another-fly

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Hiding out in the butterfly room

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A giant tardigrade, BLACK ALERT!

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Looking at the exhibitions

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Algee or magic potion?

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Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

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Omer in his natural environment; the lab

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Leafcutter ant

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Trying a local brew

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Grilled cheese for brunch

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Enjoying his avocado

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Justin had my camera

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Photo cred: Justin

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This is Amsterdam’s version of a shopping mall

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A nice row of houses

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Canals

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More canals (Anne Frank house on the left)

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More cheese

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Bars extending their seating into the canals

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Nice clogs

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Crossing a canal

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Crossing the tracks

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In old Amsterdam houses were taxed by the width and number of windows, contributing to tall narrow architecture of the city

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Another Amsterdam street

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No long exposure needed; this canal was closed for construction and was smooth as glass

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The sun is going down

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Watching the sunset over the city from the Hilton skydeck

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The Church of St. Nicholas at sunset

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Looking out over the city

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Amsterdam at night

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Enjoying a noodle break

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A restaurant across the canal.

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Known for its red lights, Amsterdam at night has lots of orange and blue as well

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Night on the canal

 

Arriving in Amsterdam

Leaving Seattle mid-afternoon on a Thursday and losing nearly a day to the flight and the time difference I arrive in Amsterdam very early on Friday morning. The flight took a polar route, going over northern Canada, Greenland, and Iceland in the night. At dawn I flew over the Great Britain.

The first day in Amsterdam consisted of a visit to the Rijksmuseum, pancakes, cheeses, fries,  and a lot of coffee. The city is made up of so many beautiful canals that it was challenging not to stop and take a picture when crossing every one.

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Looking out over Scotland

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Canals everywhere!

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Appreciating art

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Being watched

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Redbeards together

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Life imitates art

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The most interesting sculpture in the Rijksmuseum

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A view of the gardens

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Watch out for bicycles!

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A house on the river

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Jugglers in the park

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Much needed coffee

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We rijden in de trein

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Walking around town

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So many bicycles

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SO MUCH CHEESE

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This is as close as we got to Madame Tussauds

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Through the busy streets of Amsterdam

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Enjoying some icecream

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Big shoes to fill

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Time to try french fires with mayo

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Yum?

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Home Again

The vacation is over and I’m back home again. Its time to get back to my normal routines as I fight the jet lag. I still get to re-live the fun from the vacation with the chocolates and cheeses I’ve brought with me as I curate and edit all the photos I took.

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The Eiffel Tower at sunset from the Arc de Triomphe

The Journey Begins

Amsterdam is an amazingly beautiful city. Its been a wonderful few days here in the city where the streets are lined with pancakes and waffles. I have been taking enough pictures to keep me busy for weeks, but there are a few that are too good not to share immediately.

T Minus and Counting

Today I leave for vacation. This is the first time I’ve left the continent in more than 5 years. One of the best parts of planning a big trip is building anticipation leading up to the date. I took this anticipation and used it to try out the APIs for Alexa’s Flash Briefing, something I check every morning for my news podcasts.

Its very much a hack. The Alexa flash briefing it not so much an API as it is an RRS feed that you can push daily updates to. I didn’t want to set up a full RSS service just for the few weeks leading up to the trip so with some help from other blog posts I managed to use AWS Lambda behind an API gateway endpoint to mock out a bare bones RRS feed server. One that just decrements a number every day.

from __future__ import print_function
import json
import datetime

def respond(err, res=None):
 return {
 'statusCode': '400' if err else '200',
 'body': json.dumps({
 "uid": "1234",
 "updateDate": datetime.datetime.utcnow().isoformat() + 'Z',
 "titleText": str(days_to_trip()) + " days to vacation",
 "mainText": err.message if err else res['message'],
 "redirectionUrl": "https://yoururl.com"
 }),
 'headers': {
 'Content-Type': 'application/json',
 },
}

def days_to_trip():
 trip = datetime.datetime(2018,8,30,0,0,0,0,datetime.timezone.utc)
 today = datetime.datetime.now(datetime.timezone.utc)
 return (trip-today).days + 1

def lambda_handler(event, context):
 rawdata = "there are " + str(days_to_trip()) + " days until your trip to europe"
 reply = { "message": rawdata,
 }
 return respond(None, reply)

The date is hard coded the python is sloppy. But it did what I wanted, telling me every morning how many days I had left until my trip, and I was able to get it together in a couple of hours.

Soon they will start boarding for my flight and the adventure will start, the count down has reached zero.