Impressions of Amsterdam

I’ll admit it straight away: it’s not my city, and it never will be. But on one of those rare blue-sky days it’s actually not so bad (if you can manage to dodge the hordes of tourists, that is). Here are some impressions from around the old town of Amsterdam, in the area where I currently live and work.

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Tracing the Roots of my Family Name

It’s quite fun when your family name originates from a specific place that still exists and can be visited. As had already been known for a long time, my family name comes from a street, the Hordijk, in a neighborhood that is now in the southern part of the city of Rotterdam. So, on a sunny Saturday afternoon, I decided to go and pay a visit to this place where my ancestors once lived…

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A Visit to the Mendel Museum in Brno

Recently I went on a day trip to Brno, Czech Republic, to visit the Mendel Museum. This small museum is located in the original Augustinian abbey where Mendel lived and worked for most of his life. The museum was founded in 2007 in an effort to promote the legacy of this “humble genius”, who is considered the father of genetics. However, Mendel was known for much more than his experiments in plant breeding. For several years he was the actual Abbot of the monastery, and also conducted many experiments in for example meteorology and bee keeping, about which he published as well.

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Marvellous Mallorca: Hiking the Ruta de Pedra en Sec

I just spent two weeks in Mallorca (Spain), with as main goal hiking the Ruta de Pedra en Sec (GR221), a long-distance trail that crosses the entire Serra de Tramuntana, Mallorca’s beautiful mountain range. Eight days on the trail (plus one rest day in between), and sleeping most nights in “refugis” (mountain huts). But I also had some extra days to explore in and around Palma de Mallorca, including a visit to some amazing limestone caves and a bike ride along the bay of Palma. All-in-all a fantastic trip that was well worth it. Here are some brief impressions. Click any of the pics for a full-size view, or any of the links throughout the story for more images.

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A Backstage Tour at the Natural History Museum in Berlin

As part of a workshop at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin (Wiko), we had the pleasure of being taken on a backstage tour at the Natural History Museum in Berlin. Our private and extremely knowledgeable guide Brandon Kilbourne turned out to be a walking encyclopedia on the evolution of mammals, so we were in for a special treat. This 2.5hr tour provided many wonderful insights into amazing adaptations over millions of years of mammalian evolution, with as cherry on the cake some unique dinosaur skeletons to marvel at.

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A Perfect View from Mount Le Grammont

Le Grammont is a mountain in the Chablais Alps in Western Switzerland situated at the south-east end of Lake Geneva, close to the Swiss-French border where the Rhône River flows into the lake. With a height of 2,172 m (7,126 ft), Le Grammont is not the highest mountain in the Chablais Alps (highest point Dents du Midi 3,257m/10,686 ft), but because of its prominent location right next to Lake Geneva at the lower end of the Rhône valley in the Canton Valais, it is a popular hiking destination that offers wonderful all-round views from the top.

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Vienna by Night

Last night I took advantage of a temporary break in the extreme cold weather we’re experiencing this month, and went for a walk along the Ringstrasse in Vienna to take some shots of the various beautiful buildings located along it. This was a bit of a spontaneous experiment, but I’m actually quite pleased with how some shots came out. So here’s a nice impression of Vienna by night. Click any pic for a full-size view.

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Castles, Canyons, and Caves

The historic city of Graz, in south-eastern Austria, was designated a UNESCO world cultural heritage site in 1999 for having “the best preserved city center of Central Europe”. It combines renaissance, gothic, baroque, and also modern architecture, and has some wonderful natural beauty nearby as well. I recently spent four days exploring this fascinating city and its surroundings, combining culture and nature with a lot of walking.

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Summer Solstice Full Moon

Last night a rare event happened: the summer solstice and a full moon at the same time. So I went up Kahlenberg, a hill above the city of Vienna, to have a good view of this special full moonrise. Unfortunately my cheap little point-n-shoot camera is almost useless in low-light conditions, but I got a few halfway decent shots anyway. Click each pic to see a larger version.

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Sunset in Santiago

I’m in Santiago, Chile, for two weeks to provide some computing support for a colleague. Unfortunately this city is often covered in a blanket of smog (especially during the summer). As a consequence the Andes mountains, which are pretty much right next to the city, are rarely visible in their full glory. But occasionally the smog lifts, revealing beautiful mountain views, especially during sunset. Here are some impressions (click on any pic for a full-sized view).

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Watching the Perseid Meteor Shower

On the night of 12-13 August, I took some friends up to the top of a small mountain to watch the annual Perseid meteor shower. This year was predicted to be particularly good, largely due to the peak of the shower being just a few days before a new moon, making for optimal (i.e., dark) viewing conditions. The weather forecast called for a clear night sky, so we were all excited to watch this show (with an expected 50-100 meteors per hour) from a high and dry vantage point away from the city lights. Read more

Incredible Croatia

I just spent six weeks (6 May – 16 June) traveling and hiking around in Croatia, and also a little bit in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro. An absolutely amazing trip! Stunning scenery, wonderful weather, and friendly folks. Below is a brief impression. For more pictures, follow the link at the bottom of this post. Read more

Mysterious Dolmens

Holland is a very flat country without any mountains or rocky areas. Yet in the northern part of this little land you will find megalithic structures with big boulders, some weighing more than 20 tons, stacked on top of each other. For a long time, the purpose of these structures and the origin of these boulders was a mystery. And even though archaeologists now have a better understanding of these dolmens, or “hunebedden” as they are called in Dutch, many of the questions surrounding them remain only partially answered.

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Jurassic Joy

The Jura Mountains, in the north of Switzerland and extending into France, are a relatively small but very pretty mountain range. With a highest elevation around 1700m, at first sight they do not seem as impressive as the neighboring Alps. However, they actually hold several hidden treasures. The Gorge de l’Areuse is one such treasure. Read more

Chamonix, the Cheap and Cheerful Way

Chamonix (France), at the foot of the highest mountain in the European Alps, is the perfect base for all kinds of outdoors adventures. Hiking, mountain biking, paragliding, and mountaineering in summer, and skiing, snowboarding, sledging, and snowshoeing in winter. Even the less adventurous can have a full view of the Mont Blanc, with its peak at 4810m altitude, from the center of town. Add to that the many cable cars that take you more than 1000m up above the valley floor in just a few minutes, and you have a complete adventure package, for every level of interest and ability. Read more

Amazing Arolla — A 4-day Hiking Trip

Having been stuck at home for most of July, due to unseasonably wet weather, the forecast for the first week of August finally looked quite promising. So I decided to head out to the tiny little village of Arolla, located at 2000m (6600ft) altitude near the upper end of a long and beautiful valley in southern Switzerland. Read more