Summer holiday Downunder : part 1

I always find it a challenge to motivate myself to write a few words of reflection whilst on holiday. Given I spend so much of my time penning words (or should that be typing) getting the thoughts from my mind to the page can be a challenge; even more so for an introvert.

Now that that is out of the way I am happy to report that Michael and I are relaxing in the west coast Tasmanian village of Strahan. We are well into week two of our holiday Downunder which will culminate with my sister’s wedding on 22 Feb in Sydney. Our escapade began with a stop over in Hong Kong to break the flight from Amsterdam to Sydney. In the space of 24-hours Michael and I managed to pack in a visit to Victoria Peak, Kowloon, a double decker tram ride and negotiate the hustle that is The Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China Hong Kong.

As many of you know a side benefit of having a KLM employee as a husband is the ability to fly standby for cheap fares. The downside of this is that you are never guaranteed a seat until the flight closes. Our plan was to fly from HK to Sydney after a two night stop over. More the fools us for not taking into account Chinese New Year. After a few hours anxiously waiting we secured the last two seats on Qantas to Sydney, a day earlier than planned. This was a bonus for my parents as we had an unplanned night up in the Blue Mountains. There is something therapeutic about clean mountain air, or maybe it is mums cooking….or both.

From Sydney we made our way to Launceston and the start of exploring that little island south of the big island which is sometimes dropped off or forgotten about. We began with Festivale, one of the Island’s premier food festivals. From there it was a short drive down to Hobart. Our 1st stop in the capital was MONA (museum of old and new art). This $15million private gallery is simply amazing. The owner, David Walsh amassed his wealth through gambling and along the way has built up an eclectic collection of modern works (Damien Hurst), Australian classics (Nolan) and a few antiquities (who do you know who owns 3 Egyptian sarcophagi?). All are presented in a highly engaging manner which I found put me in a place of being a voyeur rather than visitor. Walsh describes the museum as a “subversive adult Disneyland”. Below are a few pictures and I encourage you all to visit the web site (, better still the gallery if you are in Hobart.


After a taste of culture we decided to try some thrill and a mountain bike descent down Mt Wellington (1270m). The views from the top were spectacular but not as enjoyable as hurtling down a mountain at over 60km/h. The strangest sensation was having to wear a helmet. My Dutch friends will understand the unusual experience of this. From Hobart it was off to Port Arthur and a bit of convict exploration including a ghost tour. Unfortunately we didn’t find any ghosts, or they find us.


Before leaving for Tasmania we watched from a far as the Tasman peninsular was enveloped by bush fires. Amazingly no lives were lost however more than 20,000 hectares of land burnt and countless houses lost. It was sobering to drive through the peninsular and see the charred remains of house after house and then one that escaped the flames.


And then we were in Strahan. I’ll save the two days activities for the next instalment of Mark and Michael’s Aussie adventure.

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You would think it never snowed here

Late December and early January saw Parts of Western Europe experience a cold snap. Amsterdam, and especially the east of Holland, was not spared the sub zero conditions. On more than one occasion nightly falls of 10cm were predicted accompanied by arctic like winds.

On the one hand the blanket of white creates a beautiful covering of the city as the usual grime, garbage and dog shit is hidden away. There is a sense of purity and serenity captured by the hundreds of photos that made their way onto Twitbook etc. As for me I was working in The Hague and staying at the Kurhaus hotel by Scheveningen beach. I had never seen the sands so white! A few folks had combined snow boarding with kite surfing making the most of the conditions.


And with the charm comes the chaos. Apart from trying to ride a bike through either slush or along ice there is dealing with the Dutch infrastructure. You would think the country had never had snow before. Trains stop running, trams back up and roads resemble a stretch of highway outside Basra with cars in ditches (ok, perhaps a slight exaggeration). However, during a three week period trains were running to a winter schedule which means fewer trains running at slow speeds and shorter trains. I understand the 1st two but why a shorter train. What this means is basically twice the capacity of a train trying to get on resulting in even more delays. The shared experience though does bring people together.


As you read the above, for those not from The Netherlands, I should let you know that complaining about NS Rail is actually a national pastime – a right of passage. It is actually part of the inburgering exam! Now that I have passed I can complain with credibility.

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Do I stay or do I go

It has been quite some time since my last blog. Followers, fans and friends on Facebook have had the opportunity to keep up with what has been happening in my life in the Lowlands. However events of the last week drove me to put finger to keyboard and provide an update of events.

As many of you will know I have been struggling to learn Dutch, master the guttural tones of the “g”, known which verbs to separate and when, learn my ‘de’ from ‘het’ and which conjugation of the verb to use when. I have tried lunchtime lessons at work, evening classes at the University of Amsterdam, a week with nuns (no divine help was forthcoming) and private lessons with saint Nancy. At the same time I needed to learn about living with the Dutch and becoming a suitable member of the community. And all this before 2014.

Well, last Friday I sat for the Kortevrijstellingtoets (KVT) exam. This is a short form test of the above done via computer. The advantage of this test is that once passed that is all that is need to demonstrate that ik kan met Nederlanders wonen (I can live out the Dutch). The test comprises about 30 questions in 45min on Dutch life, culture, norms and applying for subsidies and grants. We follow the lives of Mohammed, Sarah and their children as they search for work, houses, apply for schools, converse with the neighbours, consider babies and of course have bicycles stolen – an all too common yet normal event in Amsterdam.

To give you a flavour of the exam below are a few questions and the answer options.

Mo sees to neighbours fighting outside. What does he do?

    • call police
    • get 2 strong friends and try break it up
    • intervene himself

What does kraamhulp (home help after having a baby) do when they visit in the first week of having a new baby?

Why May 5 (Liberation Day) is celebrated?

      • Nederlanders never want to forgive Germany for what they did
      • Nederlanders give more importance to the freedom (I chose this)
      • Nederlanders want to have a free day.


So what are the implications of not passing this exam? Well you only get one chance at achieving the required 75% pass mark. If you fail you need to sit through a combination of speaking, reading and written test plus the integration exam. These are however at an easier level of Dutch but much more time consuming.

So what was the outcome? Ik ben geslaagd, I passed. This means that I can now apply for Dutch citizenship and passport. I can finally become a legitimate citizen of the world…well Europe and a pacific Island at least.

For a little but of fun and an explanation about the land I call home enjoy this clip that explains the difference between The Netherlands, Holland and Dutch!

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Honeymoon with a splash

I know that this post is well overdue. As one does towards the end of the year I was reviewing my photos and realised that i had not shared with my blog readers the short trip Michael and I had took to Zambia and Vic Falls for our honeymoon. Well when I say honeymoon it was more a case of Michael had a work flight and I hitched a ride. However, once there we had an amazing time.


Those of you who read my January 2007 post will recall that I undertook a safari that ended at Vic Falls. At that time I decided to end my adventure with a little bit of luxury staying at the Stanley Safari Lodge. As is the norm with such trips you leave having enjoyed the pampering, the sites, the wonderful falls and thinking that that will be it. So, when I knew we would be back I arranged a surprise for Michael and returned to the lodge however this time staying in the Honeymoon Suite. I have never seen his draw drop so far and so fast! How often do you get to stay in a room with view of the falls and your own private outdoor plunge pool.

ImageA big difference between my last trip and this was the amount of water cascading over the falls. With so much water this time walking along the face of the falls was more like taking a shower, hence my fashionable tea bag attire. The only way to really see the falls was once again from the air. AMAZING is the only word I can use to describe the view.

Click on either of the pictures above to see more trip photos.

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Melbourne Addendum

After a wonderful week in Perth catching up with friends it was time to head to Melbourne. Autumnal Melbourne with wind, rain, cold, leaves on the tram tracks and the on set of black fashion as winter beckons from around then corner. I must say that I perversely enjoy this time of year and the change in the season. A trip to Melbourne would not be complete without a visit to St Kilda and one of my favourite spots, the Stokehouse restaurant on the bay. Had a great lunch with a friend whilst watching the wind catch the water setting off a cascade of white tops. You can get a sense of the weather from the picture below of the famous St Kilda pier.

I must say that I was surprised by how much I enjoyed being back in Melbourne. I adore the cafe breakfast culture, the trams and general vibe of the place. The river near Federation Square certainly looks wonderful. I was even surprised by the night out I had. I realised one thing that I miss given I am in Europe; the ability to eavesdrop in on others conversations. The small, trivial and mundane become fascinating when they are lives of others that we intrude in on. No moralising thanks, I know you all do it as well! I am not sure if it was the mix of spirits and a few much missed local beers but I found the crowd easy to connect and engage with.

Like Perth, Melbourne has also changed, however overall I felt much more at ease in Melbourne than Perth. Much has been written in the media about the two-speed economy however what I saw was a two lane society. I know that this comment will offend, in my view Perth is a city experiencing growing pains whilst Melbourne has matured and has a level of self-confidence to cope with the ebb and flow of a changing modern society / city. Having said that both are wonderful places to be.

However the best place is always home and for me that is now Amsterdam.

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As Time Goes By

I am writing this latest blog update at the end of my time in Perth and recently arrived in Melbourne. It has been a great week, both work wise and socially. It was over 10 years ago that I left Perth after a two and a half year assignment working at Shell’s terminal near the port cit of Fremantle. During that time I learnt to scuba dive, developed an appreciation for SW Australian wines, completed my masters degree and came ‘out’. As you can read the city has a special place in my heart. Above all of that I met some incredible people.

This trip was a work trip linked to the floating LNG facility Shell is building to be placed over the Prelude field off the coast of WA. I wont bore you with the details however what was a real eye opener was the ‘war on talent’ in the West. There is such a shortage of people that companies, and especially the mining and energy companies, are paying astronomical salaries and wages to secure people. I could earn more driving a truck than what a senior HR manager in Europe would earn! This acute shortage is resulting in Shell Australia pushing hard to have Australians overseas return rather than finding more expensive expats. Before anyone gets any ideas Michael and I are not moving to Oz.

Coupled with this demand for labour and high wages Perth has changed, and I mean really changed. They skyline is fuller, the roads busier, more cafes and restaurants, prices almost higher than Europe and what the locals call ” cashed up bogans” (CUBS). Whilst the far majority of mine and outback workers who are benefiting from the increased salaries bring a cosmopolitan (well Aussie at least) feel to the place, there is a disturbingly increasing number of rednecks who are cashed up, coming into town and causing problems. Others are just spending like the rich with the class of the outer outer outer suburbs. Think Kath and Kim, Sylvania Waters and Jersey Shore all in one. On one hand the city is looking better than ever with investment and redevelopment, but unfortunately areas being developed are almost no go areas. I have included a link to a video on ” what Perth people say”; sorry that there are no subtitles.

All that aside the week was also one of friends, memories and conversation for the soul. It was uplifting to see people from my past, dear dear friends, catch up on their lives and see that they are all doing so well. It was as though we had been apart for 10 weeks, not ten years in some cases. When people ask me, and it is quite often, “don’t you miss Australia?” my standard answer has been that I miss people, friends and family. A week like this reinforces that view. Yes the weather is great, yes the open spaces and parklands are wonderful but it is people and friends that make a place liveable and for me ultimately home.

I hope that this doesn’t come across as too negative. Australia is still a great place to live, I just have to get used to the fact that, like me, the place has changed.

Gay Marriage

I have also been following with interest the debate in Australia over gay marriage. I won’t go through the arguments or current political positioning of the debate but rather the reactions of people whom I told that Michael and I are married. From some there was almost a sense of jealousy whilst for others the debate is a non issue. It was mostly younger friends who hope for the opportunity to say “I do” the way Michael and I did. As I wrote in my last blog I really did not think that going through a marriage would change the way I look at and feel about Michael, how wrong I was.

There is something about affirming my love for Michael in a way that I didn’t know would effect me until I did it.’

I have about two full days in Melbourne. Time to see a few more friends, check out some new places and drop by the office.

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Our Big Day

Two weekends ago Michael and I were married. Let me start with the clichés and say that it was the most amazing day of my life.

We were fortunate and honoured to be surrounded by friends and family on such a special occasion. Both Michael and I come from small families and as many of you know mine is spread all over the world. Seeing everyone together was a reminder of how fragile these bonds can be and at the same time the power of family. The last time the four Emdins’ were together was 2009 for Dad’s 70th birthday and it was 2001 when my Uncle, nieces and family were together.

Those of you who read my previous blog will know that the whole event was put together in about six weeks. The advantage of two guys getting married is that there are no dresses, shoes, hair and makeup to worry about. Hang on, well at least not with me! My only challenge was finding a pair of trousers that fitted well. Apparently my derrière limits the styles and cuts that work – 40 years and only now I find this out? We did enjoy working our way through a collection of wines until we landed on the selection for the big day.

Overall our wedding was everything that we wanted it to be and more. By the end of the day my facial muscles were sore from smiling and laughing. You can see in the photographs how much fun we had. Our ambtenaar (city official) John who conducted the ceremony did a great job including all our guests and friends. It is impossible to capture in words what a wonderful afternoon and evening it was. You will just have to draw your own conclusions from the photos.

On Sunday afternoon the festivities continued. We opened up our house to friends and neighbours for a bit of a party. I can safely say we now know what the maximum holding capacity for the house is! All our guests we welcomed with a glass of fine Aussie sparkling Shiraz and a piece of wedding cake from the oh so not usual wedding cake. It was well into the night (or morning) before the last folks left and we had the house to ourselves again.

A huge thanks to our dear friend Geert for acting as master of ceremonies and keeping everything on track allowing us to relax and really immerse ourselves in the joy of the day. A special thanks the Tali, Frans, Sandra and Renaldo for being our witnesses and not giving any reasons why we should not be married.

Click on the links to see a few photos from the wedding and the Sunday party.

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