Tuesday, 31 May 2011

The most incredible thing I have ever seen

I've seen a lot of amazing stuff in my life, but I think this morning carved a new notch in the category of "amazing".

We went to see the FloralHolland Bloemenveiling, the world's largest flower auction. To call this spectacular makes other spectacular stuff (like walking on the moon) pretty mundane in comparison. For starters, it's one of the largest buildings in the world. I've been to the Boeing plant in Washington State, and that may be the bigger, but these guys have Boeing beaten hands down in the "busy in monster buildings" department. The scope of this place is hard to describe.
Trolly upon trolly upon thousands of trollies of every kind of flower
The place goes on forever...
...and there are adjoining buildings into which you can't even see
The place sells 20,000,000 flowers and plants EVERY DAY. Five days a week, in a single 4 hour shift from 7 AM to 11 AM.
Every flower, in season, from wherever it is in season
Of every shape and colour
You name a flower, and it was there, in bulk. Antherium?
White roses?

Mixed bunches?

Flowers with happy faces?
House plants and decorative greenery?
It is quite literally organized mayhem. Flowers arrive in adjoining warehouses, are sorted and placed on the metal trollies, in containers containing a fixed number of stems (everything is priced by stem). Some of the warehouses are across the street, so they built this incredible fully automated contraption that flies the trollies though the air (shades of the door room in "Monsters Inc."). Then the flowers file into the auction rooms on automatic conveyer belts. These rooms are more like high-tech lecture halls, and there is not one but two auctions going on in each room (and they have 6 rooms).
Probably seats 750 buyers
Trollies creep through and, literally, large batches of flowers are bought every 10-12 seconds, using the most amazing bidding clock system. You can see it in this YouTube video I made (no, I don't know why you can only see the left half, and if anyone can help me, I've spent an hour trying to diagnose it, so help is appreciated).

Buyers can buy anything from 2 bunches (though there is a minimum to every lot) to a whole trolly, which can be 27 containers with each container holding 10 bunches. Once they leave the auction room, the train of trollies is split up, and they are sent to a distribution area, where all the buyers purchases are consolidated onto trollies and moved to the buyer's warehouse, which is also adjoining.

While there may be an automatic conveyer belt to move the flowers into and out of the auction hall, it is the work of trolly drivers on either little carts pulling huge trains of trollies, or Segway-like devices that pull a few trollies at a time, that get the bulk of the flower moving done. And this is the organized mayhem of which I speak, with little orange carts madly whipping around in a spontaneously choreographed dance of deliveries, with a near collision every few seconds (which reminded me of the Dutch on their bicycles). Take a peek at this video of it all...

and this one of the Dutch showing their driving skills.

It is an awesome spectacle to watch.

And then suddenly, a bell rings, and it's all over. The auction rooms shut, the flowers have all been put through, the final purchases are delivered, and the coffee carts come out.

The place, as I mentioned, is huge. So bid that in fact smack dab in the middle is a hairdressing salon.

We did some other stuff today, too, but I've spent so much time loading 3 videos and trying to figure out why they are being chopped I have run out of time top post those (I don't like video). Stay tuned.

Monday, 30 May 2011

The Artis (Zoo)

 We like zoos. KC, of course, volunteered at the Calgary Zoo for years. We like going to foreign zoos to see animals that aren't common in our neighborhood.

The Artis has been around since 1838, making it one really old zoo. They have a fascination with South American animals that didn't turn our crank, and have the usual "lions...
Serious dude
...tigers and bears, oh my". OK, they don't have tigers, and they only have Spectacled Bears. But they have leopards...
He had a fascination with a specific kid dressed in red and white
...and margays (who look like a thin version of Jello)...
Always on the hunt
...and penguins...
We got there at feeding time. The Great Blue Herons won.
...and Gundis, which I have never seen (or heard of) before today. Looking like a cross between a pika and a gerbil, they have traits of both.
They live in groups of up to 100 
Compare with the pika picture here 
Unlike pikas, they climb trees
They also have a butterfly garden (which unlike ours, actually has butterflies). If you can't impress your friends with your photography skills here, I don't know where you can.
But I think the best of all were the wolves. Not the Maned Wolf, who we could not really get a great look at but was in fact scrawny and looked like Professor Lupin, the werewolf character from Harry Potter. No, the regular wolves like the ones who live with us in Canmore. And it wasn't just the wolves...
Just like home
...but they had pups...
Not very old
...and the pups were feeding.
First comes the meat course 
Then comes the mom course
The Artis is well worth a visit while in Amsterdam.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

My boys both won

As I posted here a few weeks back, it's the finals of the Dutch basketball league, and I personally know two brothers who play, one on each of the teams in the final.

The series was best of 7, and going into today's final, Leiden had won all three of their home games, and Groningen had won all three of theirs. The game I saw (the first of the series) was very, very close, and I knew the series would go the distance.

And it did, and then some. Leiden won today, but only by one point, 96-95 -- in the 3rd overtime period. That is the definition of closely match basketball teams.

Congratulations to Ross, Henry and their teams, who are all winners to me.

Den Haag, Escher & the North Sea

I've pretty much given up trying to figure the actual name of the The Hague. It's referred to as The Hague, Den Haag and s'Gravenshage depending on where you look. We decided to head out to whatever you choose to call it today, because it's been cold (13°) and rainy the last few days, and they had some museums we were interested in going to.

The Hague on a Sunday morning at 10:30 AM isn't a hopping town. I've noticed that generally, Amsterdam isn't an early-rising kind of place, especially on weekends. You could shoot a cannon down our street any morning at 8 and not hit a soul. But The Hague was eerily quiet at 10:45.
Up the street...
...and down the street, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse
We happened across an antique/book market in one of the squares. This was unusual to us, since in Amsterdam, there isn't a single market open Sunday that we are aware of. Markets like this one are a cross between actual antique dealers and garage sales, but man, do some of the vendors have a lot of "stuff".
One of 3 tables, from one of 30 vendors
The market was right in front of the Escher in Het Palais museum. This museum ROCKS, and it may be the best one we have been to in Holland thus far. The whole place is dedicated to Escher, and is full of his stuff. I always thought his peices (which are incredibly complex and detailed) were all drawings of some kind, but I learned he was a lithographer and woodcutter, and made mostly prints, which makes his work all the more amazing. Sadly, there was only one of his carved woodblocks on display.
His omnipresent salamanders
But there was a whole host of his lithographs, including all the famous ones.
But there were also studies and some limited number of sketches that showed how he did his inventive work.
Tessellation sketches
Study for Metamorphosis
Note the construction lines in this rare watercolour
Now, if that all that was in the museum, it would have been great. But the top floor invites you into his world and play with space and perspective. You can build your own infinite triangle and take its photo.
I built this
You can experience warped perspective first hand.
I've lost weight since retiring. Karen appears to have grown some
You can play at computer terminals and stretch and bend the master's work. And best of all (for me), you can grab a sphere in a room sort of decorated like the one in this work...

...and see that in fact, it doesn't look like what he drew. His sense of optical illusion was wonderful, and I love the way he played with your mind. There's an original Escher at the Schiphol airport that is 42 METERS in length. This I have to see.

The museum itself is also a kick. I give you a sampling of the chandeliers and light fixtures, which are by an artist named Hans Van Bentem from Rotterdam.
And my personal favourite (which I post for Lisa and Mikey Bastard, who I know will order one tomorrow):
We had time for a brief walk through downtown, past the lake...
The Binnenhof, home of the Dutch Parliament
...past the Passage, a covered street mall, which has been there since 1898...
One of the three arms of the Passage
...through a fun little shopping district...
Tram lines and people on a quiet Sunday afternoon
...on our way to a truly awful museum, the Gemeentemuseum. Supposedly the biggest collection of Piet Mondrian's work in the world (some 150 pieces), and also with a spectacular collection of period musical instruments. However, we could see virtually none of it. The musical instruments are not on display, and we found only 2 Mondrians (fortunately including his last unfinished work, Victory Boogie Woogie). Not only was the good stuff we wanted to see in hiding, the stuff that we could see was downright strange, especially the basement. Thank goodness it was free with our Museumkarts.

By this time we were less than 1 km from Scheveningen, Holland's most popular seaside resort. It has a busy little harbour...
Third spot on the right
...but mostly it has a beach. A HUGE beach.
Looking north 
Looking south
Where the wind today was whipping a solid 50 km/hr and sandblasting everything, making it look like a desert.
Holding her face against the blast 
Presumably where people sit in better weather
There were a lot of surfers, windsurfers and kite boarders out playing.
Ridin' the wind and the waves
The boardwalk here it pretty amazing. It stretches for miles and it is just and endless line of restaurants and bars, every one of which had 5 people at it. KC and I figured that you would need 100,000 people to fill them to capacity, and guessed they probably get that on a warm calm day in the summer.
Restaurant row
Many places have something distinctive to try and set them apart. Maybe because it was only about 15° (with a wind chill of about 8°), we particularly liked ones with private fireplaces...
Table top BBQ? Roast marshmallows?
...or the ones with lots of colour.
Pick a primary colour they DON'T have
There's a really long and uninteresting pier. The funny part about it is that only the last 10% of it's length is in the water.
Why is this here?
But it does have bungy jumping.
Ah, that's why
The town just ends suddenly, and while the restaurants and bars on the beach proper don't end, the buildings do, in favour of grass covered sand dunes almost a hundred feet tall.
I think this beach runs all the way to Denmark, actually
I imagine Scheveningen is a really nice place to visit on a warm, calm summer day. The other 364 days a year, I'm not so sure.