Monthly Archives: July 2009
The Netherlands in 360 Degrees
I normally only showcase my photography on this site, but I’m going to make an exception this time, because the exception is so cool.
When I was in the Netherlands I was contacted by Karel who is the #1 player on Where On Google Earth. He lives in the Netherlands and offered to drive me around the country for two days to visit some of the World Heritages sites in the the Netherlands. One of his hobbies is taking 360° panorama photographs. He also runs the website 360VR.nl which showcases his work.
He recently sent me some of the panorama photos taken during our trip to the World Heritage sites of Holland, and I wanted to share them with everyone. The photos are taken on a tripod with a fisheye lens and later stitched together to get the 360° effect. You can use your mouse to move around the image. (You need QuickTime installed to view the panoramas)
Schokland used to be an island in the middle of the sea. As the land around it was reclaimed, it became landlocked. The photo was taken at the edge of what used to be the harbor. It is now totally surrounded by polder farmland. You can see our bicycles up against a fence as well as the old lighthouse.
The Afsluitdijk is an enormous 32 km (20 miles) barrier that separates the North Sea from Lake Ijssel (IJsselmeer). This photo was taken on an overpass which crosses the road. I was hiding on the staircase on one end of the overpass when he took the photo.
If you like his panoramas you can view more of them at his site 360VR.nl. There are several more panoramas in the “recent” section which were taken during out exploration of the Netherlands including the outside and inside of the Woudagemaal steam pump facility.
My time in London has been very hectic. I’m staying out of the central London area because everything near the attractions is really expensive. I’m out near Greenwich and the O2/Millenium Dome which really isn’t so bad. I have to spend about £6/day on the train, not including the underground fees. It still is cheaper than staying in the city center.
Since I’ve been here I’ve visited Maritime Greenwich and the Observatory museum (where the Prime Meridian is located and John Harrison’s clocks), the Tower of London, Westminster Abby, the Kew Gardens, the British Museum, the Science Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Victoria & Albert museum, and I’ve seen four movies in Leicester Square, catching up on everything I’ve missed in the last several months. There are still a bunch of places I haven’t visited including the Imperial War Museum. I visited St. Paul’s and Parliament on previous visits so I’m not too in a rush to see those.
I’ve found myself having to get used to having conversations in English again. I had gotten very used to only speaking in brief phrases when going to stores or ordering food in a restaurant. Now I can use full sentences like “I’ll have the fish and chips with extra tartar sauce, no vinegar on the chips but please put on some salt”, but I still find myself using fragments like “one fish and chips”. Its bizarre, but true.
London is by far the most diverse city outside of the US I’ve seen on my trip. In fact it probably beats most US cities other than Los Angles or New York. It is an expensive city even with the recent changes in the Pound relative to the Dollar. (that just means it used to be really, really expensive). Entrance to the Tower of London and Westminster Abby was expensive at £17 and £15 respectively. This is more than offset by the fact that entrance to all the museums in London is free. Also if you purchase an Oyster card (which you should do if you will be spending any time in the city) makes taking the Underground more affordable.
The weather here has been cold and rainy. Before I arrived they had a brief heat wave with temperatures getting up to the 90’sF (35ish C). Since then the temperature has been in the 12-20C (60’s F) range.
I enjoy London. It has made the short list of places I’ve visited that I’d consider living. The biggest downside is the cost. I saw the prices on some flats at real estate office and they were expensive to say the least.
I’ll be here a few more days before heading to New York and then to Chicago. If you are in either one of those cities and would like to meet up for drinks send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anarchy Getting to the UK….or, The Chunnel of Love
To date, all my travel by train (save for 48 hour hell trip from Dallas to LA) has been pretty uneventful. Getting from The Hague to London, however, was sort of a nightmare.
It started on Thursday when I was planning on leaving Amsterdam and going to London with a stop in The Hague to meet up with Guido, who runs the Happy Hotelier blog and a really, really nice small hotel in The Hague. I figured I have lunch with him, see the sites in the Hague then move on to London.
At no time in my rail travels have I ever had any issues getting tickets or getting a train. A most you have wait an hour, but usually the entire experience is pretty straightforward. When I checked on the price of a ticket to London from The Hague they quoted me a price of €260, which is about $360. Screw that. Discount airlines are plentiful and cheap from Amsterdam to London, so I ended up staying that night in Guido’s hotel.
Researching tickets I found that I could get a ticket to London by train for €100 less if I purchased it online, and when factoring in the taxes and fees, it was close to the same price as getting a discount airline on Friday. Factor in not needing to take a train/bus from Gatwick and the train was probably the better deal. Plus, I also wanted the experience of going through the Chunnel, so I went with the train.
I purchased the train ticket on the EuroStar website from The Hague to London and was given a 6 character code to claim my tickets at the station. Sounded easy enough. I’d have a 50 minute layover in Brussels but the whole thing didn’t sound any more difficult than any other train trip I’ve taken.
Fast forward to Friday. Guido takes me to the train station and I find out that the Dutch system can’t print out tickets which were reserved on the French (Eurostar) website because they have a 7 character code and the French use a 6 character code. Basically, they are letting someone sell tickets on their trains that they cannot process. The guy at the counter just shrugged and told us to talk to the conductor on the train.
It turns out the train going to Brussels was late, so Guido just suggested I take the next train (which was also late) so I have a chance to get to Brussels in time (which turned out to be the right choice). He talked to the train agents for me and I got on board the train….along with everyone else who was waiting for next train. There were no seats available to I had to stand from The Hague to Rotterdam and then had to sit on a small folding seat the rest of the way in the car reserved for bicycles.
When I got to Brussels my 50 minute layover didn’t seem so leisurely anymore. I ran to the ticket counter to get my London ticket, waited in line for 15 minutes to be told to go to another place to get my ticket. I run over to the other counter and (surprise!) they managed to print out my London ticket AND my Brussels ticket with no problem. Of course the Brussels ticket was totally useless as I was already in Brussels, but I guess it is the thought that counts.
Once I had the ticket in hand, I I ran to the train to find out that there was a whole passport/security procedure I had to go through. I didn’t think about it, but I guess it makes sense. It was sort of like going through it at an airport, but it was all done in a very small area and much more efficiently. I got stamped out of the Schengen zone, stamped into the UK and made it to the train with 5 minutes to spare.
I guess the lesson I learned from this is to treat the London to France train more like a flight than a train ride. Don’t show up at the last minute like you can on a train, plan time to go through customs and security, and book ahead of time. In fact, other than the novelty of going under the English Channel, it is probably easier to just avoid the whole thing and just take a cheap flight. If you can get a cheap train ticket, the connivence of showing up in the middle of the city is nice, but might not be worth it if you have to pay full fare.