Old posts reappeared in this blog’s RSS feed

Those of you reading this blog on an RSS reader, might have noticed that several old posts reappeared in your feed yesterday. My apologies! Here’s what happened:

I’ve been restoring many past posts from my old wordpress blog. While looking at posts from 2011/12, I realised that the permalinks didn’t have any dates in the url. For example from looking at just this url:


you might think I am looking for a house in Amsterdam, while actually this is a post from 2011 when we first moved here. I changed the blog’s settings so that permalinks include the date component. The link above should now show up (e.g. in Google’s search result) as:


One side effect of making this change was that it caused the platform I use for blogging to regenerate the RSS feed with the new urls. This might’ve led your RSS reader to think that these are new posts. Mine certainly did.

May 27, 2024

Pandemic flashback - the snow inside our letterbox

With each passing year it is getting harder to remember how it really felt to live through the pandemic years.

Early 2021 was still a period of a lot of uncertainty. The vaccines were here but the Dutch vaccination program was still in a disarray. This meant that lockdowns and curfews were still the Government’s primary tools to keep covid from spreading and making people sick in numbers that would overwhelm the healthcare system. And to top it off, the Dutch government had resigned in January over a scandal.

Against this depressing backdrop we got a week that lifted our moods up. The temperatures in Amsterdam started to dip in mid-February. The max temperature stayed a few degrees under 0ºC for nearly a week. Spells like these are increasingly rare1. We even got a freak storm during a day or two of this cold spell that moved around a lot of snow.

I remember stepping out for a walk with the wife along a route in our neighbourhood that we had by now traversed hundreds of times since Amsterdam went into lockdown in March the year before. A lot of people were out and about. Some to experience the novelty of snow in Amsterdam, others out of necessity of having to walk their dogs.

We didn’t get very far in the sub-zero weather. Our fingers and toes were painfully numb within 15 minutes of stepping out. I must have also been worried about slipping on the icy streets and hurting myself. A hospital visit in the middle of a covid wave would’ve been a memorable experience for all the wrong reasons. We were back home in no time. It took us both a shot of Jägermeister to restore sensation in our extremities.

When we checked our mailbox the next day, it was full of snow! We cleaned it out before the temperatures could rise and turn it into water.

Then the canals froze. It hadn’t been anything like the cold spell of the year 2012 and I don’t recall the ice ever being officially declared safe. Yet, a few brave souls began to venture onto the canals. We certainly kept our distance. There was an air of defiance against officialdom after all those months of lockdowns, and this felt every bit like an act of rebellion as much as something done for the sheer joy (or foolhardiness) of it. I vividly remember waking up one day to an otherworldly high-pitched pinging sound that skating on fresh, thin ice makes2. Someone was out skating on a section of a canal opposite our home that had frozen.

A frozen canal near our houseA frozen canal near our house

Brave souls on thin iceBrave souls on thin ice

A few days later as the ice and snow began to clear, we headed out for a longer walk. The sun was out and everything was resplendent in the winter light.

People had come together and made a giant snowman at Nieuwmarkt. The black upside-down bucket that acted as its tophat made it look like one of those shifty Victorian characters from a Charles Dickens novel. And may be because Brexit had so dominated the news those days (alongside the pandemic of course), I thought it bore a striking resemblance to Boris Johnson.

  1. Since the year we moved here in 2011, there have been only 2 recorded instances of max temperatures being under 0ºC for 7 consecutive days or more in February-March. Data from KNMI↩︎

  2. Something like this but at a much smaller scale.↩︎

May 27, 2024

The squares of Lisbon

Lisbon has several spacious public squares. They all tend to have an imposing monument - usually a tall column commemorating a past King or an important historic figure - in their center and beautiful mosaic patterns on their floors made of white and black stones. We crossed Praça Dom Pedro IV (aka Praça do Rossio) several times during our recent visit:

Praça Dom Pedro IVPraça Dom Pedro IV

Praça Dom Pedro IVPraça Dom Pedro IV

Praça Dom Pedro IVPraça Dom Pedro IV

We found ourselves at Praça do Municipio one afternoon while returning from one of our long walks to nowhere in particular. I was stunned at how elaborate the pattern on the floor here was.

Praça Do MunicipioPraça Do Municipio

Today, I brought up the satellite imagery of these squares on Google Earth and their real grandeur and beauty finally sunk in:

Praça Dom Pedro IVPraça Dom Pedro IV

Google Earth Link

We were about three months too early for the jacaranda season - must be quite a sight.

Praça Do MunicipioPraça Do Municipio

Google Earth Link

May 11, 2024

Sightings after the King’s Day in Amsterdam

The municipality of Amsterdam deploys extra cleaning crews at night to clean up the mess people leave after the King’s Day celebrations. While they definitely deployed them this year too, I saw a lot more litter in some of the streets in the canal ring than I remember seeing in recent memory. One could hardly walk on Prinsengracht without shards of glass from broken beer bottles crunching under one’s shoes. And despite the recently introduced deposit scheme1 on aluminium cans, we saw many of them crushed and thrown on the street.

Litter on BrouwersgrachtLitter on Brouwersgracht

Litter on PrinsengrachtLitter on Prinsengracht

Amsterdam was remarkably quiet on Sunday. The whole city was nursing a collective hangover. But just like the cleaning crews of the night before, some people had jobs to do that couldn’t wait. Like this team that was taking down the three-storeyed cut-out of the king and queen that a café in Amsterdam pins to their facade each year. I had written about this tradition of theirs in 2020 and how they had adapted during the pandemic lockdowns. Now even though I am pretty sure this happens every year (of course it does, giant cutouts of the royal family don’t materialise in situ magically), this was the first time I was seeing the cut-out being taken down.

A giant cutout of the Dutch King and Queen outside Cafe De Blaffende Vis being uninstalledA giant cutout of the Dutch King and Queen outside Cafe De Blaffende Vis being uninstalled

A giant cutout of the Dutch King and Queen outside Cafe De Blaffende Vis being uninstalledA giant cutout of the Dutch King and Queen outside Cafe De Blaffende Vis being uninstalled

A lot of King’s Day revelry takes place on the boats on the canals of Amsterdam2. To keep the boats from bumping into houseboats and the walls of the canals, the municipality instals these inflatable, floating, sausage-like protective barriers along the canals. A team of two was hauling them back onto a pontoon docked in a canal near our house, deflating them, folding them and neatly stacking them into rectangular storage cages. These will be stowed away till needed at the next event3.

A string of inflatable cylindrical barriers being reeled backA string of inflatable cylindrical barriers being reeled back

And surely it must also be someone’s job to take away these signs telling people not to urinate in public. But I guess that could wait until the next working day.

A sign telling people not to pee in publicA sign telling people not to pee in public

10 May 2024: Update - Changed the first photo to the version from the phone. I had run it through Lightroom’s new Lens Blur feature. The feature creates a depth map from a plain image (you don’t need depth data from the phone’s sensor) and can mimic the shallow depth of field of a long lens. While the results often look good, it struggles with finer details like those around the lampheads of Amsterdam’s street lamps. It’s in an Early Access” phase so hopefully will get better with time.

  1. Generally after an event like these, you come across a lot of people by the grocery store deposit machine with 2-3 large trash bags full of cans and plastic bottles. As if collecting deposit is all they did for a living. The wife and I were wondering if Albert Heijn - one of the largest grocery store chain here in Amsterdam - would turn off their machines for a couple of days around King’s day to discourage professional scalpers. The one branch we visited on King’s Day had put a defective’ sign on the day itself. And it was a proper mess around the machine too - the floor sticky with stale beer and leftover cola.↩︎

  2. A matter of time before one of them wins Darwin Awards. Exhibit A.↩︎

  3. Probably at the annual Pride canal parade on Aug 3, 2024?↩︎

May 5, 2024

King’s Day 2024

The novelty of King’s Day has completely worn off for us by now. Perhaps it wouldn’t have had spending time in crowded places with loud music and drinking was our idea of having a good time, but it’s not. King’s day is observed on 27th April1 and is a public holiday. This year, 27th April happens to fall on Saturday and the Netherlands doesn’t give a compensatory day off in case a national holiday falls on a weekend. So it was just a normal weekend with the occasional snatches of loud music blaring on someone’s boat drifting into our house.

It was quite cold in the morning (was about 9ºC till noon2), and it even rained. We saw several boats filled with people dressed in orange and huddling under umbrellas go past our house. April weather is always bit of a gamble here in Amsterdam.

Last year, the wife had decreed King’s Day as the day when the curtains in the house will be taken down, washed, dried and put back up. So despite the wife fighting a crushing migraine, and me still not being quite there yet after a long flu, that’s what we did today. Sure does make it easy to remember when the curtains were last cleaned.

  1. A bit more about that in the post I had written during the pandemic.↩︎

  2. It was 18.5ºC inside the house. We haven’t felt the need to turn on the heating for many weeks now, but today we turned it on for a bit.↩︎

April 27, 2024

How the year 2024 is bringing average monthly temperature records into the 21st century

The Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI) publish a dataset of average monthly temperatures recorded at various weather station in the Netherlands since 1901. I took the data for the weather station at De Bilt and grouped it into three buckets - 20th century (years 1901-2000), 21st century (years 2001-2023) and 2024. If you average the monthly averages in each bucket and plot them you’ll see that 21st century is trending warmer than the 20th one1.

No surprises here I hope! Now let’s overlay the 2024 monthly averages:

While Jan’24 was your typical January (i.e. typical for 21st century), both Feb’24 and Mar’24 have broken new records. Feb’24 came 5.67ºC above the 20th century average and 3.98ºC above the 21st century average. March 2024 came 3.85ºC and 2.57ºC above the 20th and 21st century averages respectively.

Now let’s change the graph to show the maximum monthly average temperature recorded in 20th and 21st centuries - i.e. the record warmest months in each bucket:

Note how the green line (triangles) is above the blue one (circles) except in a few places.Note how the green line (triangles) is above the blue one (circles) except in a few places.

While most warmest months on record have been in the 21st century, Feb, Mar, Aug and Nov are exceptions. The records for these months were set in the 1990s and so belong to the 20th century. But now let’s throw 2024 monthly averages into the mix:

So 2024 has brought the records for Feb and Mar into the 21st century. Will we see the Aug and Nov records broken this year too?

Post prompted by an unusually warm April day in the Netherlands yesterday - the max temperature at De Bilt2 hit 24.1ºC.

  1. Each month is warmer by a different degree. For example, an average Sep is warmer by 1.06ºC, Nov by 1.82ºC. The average of change over the entire 12 month period is 1.53ºC.↩︎

  2. Why De Bilt is used as a reference weather station when talking about the weather in the Netherlands.↩︎

April 7, 2024