Friday, April 12, 2013

Amsterdam & the Netherlands 2012 Part 1

In the April of 2012, I was sent to Amsterdam for a work assignment. This was initial testing and training for Paramount's SAP installation in Germany, France, and Spain. Because of the large number of users effected by this change (6 offices total), my trip to Amsterdam was going to be a two week trip.

I arrived in Amsterdam very early on Monday morning. I went to the hotel and after checking in early, showering, and getting ready to go to work, I grabbed my camera and took my first stroll along the canals of Amsterdam.

After work, although it was cold and rainy, I went with a coworker to see the April fair set up in the Dam Square only five minutes from our hotel.

It was also on this first day that I learned the Paramount office in Amsterdam would be closed on Friday.  Not only was I in Amsterdam, I was going to have a three day weekend there! I spent the week planning out my activities.

On Friday I was going to rent a car and drive all over the place. My aim was to see Muiderslot Castle, Kasteel de Haar, and the Keukenhof gardens. For Saturday I bought a train ticket to Brussels, Belgium.  And on Sunday I was going to relax, go to church, and sight see in Amsterdam proper.  In this post and the one following, I'm going to talk about my agenda on Friday and Sunday.  I'll leave Belgium for another time.

Friday came and I picked up my rental car. I was able to connect with some friends from Cincinnati who were living and going to school in Amsterdam, so the agenda was to pick them up at 10:00.

Knowing that I was only going to have one chance to have a car in Amsterdam I picked up the car at 7:00 and started driving to some predefined stops.

Stop number one was Castle Brederode. This old ruins seemed intriguing to me and although I knew I couldn't actually tour it a 7:30 AM, I was still able to walk around and get a few pictures.

The next stop was the series of locks and dams that keep the North Sea from engulfing Amsterdam which sits roughly 15 feet below sea level.

This is the industrial center of Amsterdam.  Although completely different from the city, castles, and gardens I was visiting, I thought it was just as fascinating.

After driving across the locks, I made my way to go pick up Dave and Abby, my partners for my trip across Amsterdam.

Our first stop together was Muiderslot Castle. Both Dave and Abby had been before and decided to walk around the town's 17th century fortifications while I checked out the castle.

Muiderslot was a fairly interesting castle. It was nearly completely medieval with few updates in the past two hundred years. With its close proximity to Amsterdam, it seemed a bit too touristy for my tastes generally. One of the tourist attractions was a falconry.  The garden needed some work, but probably would have been incredible in another week or two.

The weather so far was pretty cloudy and gray.  The forecast was for rain and all three of us hoped the weather would stay away for the rest of the days schedule.  As we got into the car after Muiderslot, it started to rain.

We had two more stops before reaching Kasteel de Haar.  Naarden looked incredible from Google Earth and I had to check it out.  Up close and in person, there wasn't much to see.  It's hard to get the floral pattern of the battlements without having the aerial view.  I was however glad I stopped by.
The next stop was the city of Utrecht.  The Kasteel De Haar was close to the city and Dave recommended we stop by to see the cathedral there.  The interesting thing about the cathedral in Utrecht is that the bell tower is no longer connected to the cathedral building.  During a storm in the late 1600's, the central nave collapsed separating the tower from the rest of the cathedral.  We walked through the streets above the canals (every city in the Netherlands has canals) before heading over to Kasteel De Haar.

Part 2 will discuss the remaining trip to Kasteel De Haar, the Keukenhof, and my tour around Amsterdam.
For the complete photos of part 1, click here.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Travel Lottery

As I was looking through some of my pictures of the past year, I can't help but feel that I won the travel lottery starting in July 2011.  That's when I was put on a project that had an international travel component with it.  That International travel component has taken me to London, Sydney, Tokyo, Amsterdam, Madrid, Munich, Paris, Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, Sau Paulo and Gothenburg.

On most of these trips, I've had a chance to go sight see.  Consequently, I was also able to go to Brussels, drive through the Austrian Alps, and take the bullet train to Osaka.  Adding these trips to my previous military travel to Guam, eastern Turkey, and southern Spain, I've seen a decent bit of the world.

Over the next several weeks, I will be doing a series of my various trips and the best photos I have from those places.

Here's a collage of my favorite bridges of the past two years.  There are other cool bridges beyond this, but these aren't just the coolest bridges, but the best photos too.  So I've narrowed it down to these six.  Click to see a larger image.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

I'm a Mormon...

Last general conference, there was a talk by Sister Ann M. Dibb called "I Know It. I Live It. I Love It."  This talk caused quite a bit of Facebook buzz with several memes being created with that theme.  The talk was good, but I thought the phrase was cheesy.  So I posted on my wall, "I am a Mormon. If you would like to know what that means and how it affects the way I live my life, send me a message."

One response I received was, "I want to know how being a Mormon affects the way you live your life."  I realized pretty quick that I didn't have an immediate response, although the seed for my eventual response was quick.  After a long delay, I wrote the following.  Let me know what you think.

So I believe that being a Mormon has greatly influenced my life. Primarily in the form of benefits I receive from membership, but also in the way that is helps focus my attention on more worthwhile activities.
In my opinion, for religion to be useful and worth my time, it needs to provide some tangible benefits here and now. I think it's a hard sell to say, "buy this now and when you die, you'l be happy." Although I do believe in a heaven and, to an extent, hell, those are secondary benefits that come as a result of the benefits I receive here and now.
To say I've gained financial stability from practicing my religion is hard to prove. Although I'm not wealthy by US standards, I'm happy and in decent shape financially. To prove that it has stemmed from religious practice, someone could argue about all of the money I've saved by not drinking, not smoking, as well as those $4 Lattes at Starbucks because I don't drink coffee. I'm saved from spending my money on a coffee machine, a home brew kit (I would so totally do that if I were a drinker), and countless bottles of wine on business trips. Thats not even thinking about the binge drinking all my air force buddies participated in.
The reason why that's a bogus argument, is because out Church asks us to donate 10% of our income to the Church, to pay for the building, for new worship houses around the world, and to assist with tuition at BYU for faithful members. It's not a requirement to go to BYU and I never really wanted to attend, but tithing does help support the school among many other things.
On top of that, we are asked to donate generously to those in need. Sort of a local charity run by the congregation to help those members of the congregation going through a rough time. We are also asked to serve in the church in things such as boy scouts, church administration, sunday school, etc. Some of those positions may ask for willing donations to help the program run more smoothly.
So if you add up all that I have saved and compare it with all that I've donated, it's probably an overall negative. But when I think of all the opportunities I've received from God for donating my time, money, and effort to his Church, I would whole heartedly say that it's because of him, I am as successful as I am now. This has to be taken on faith.
One real tangible benefit that is less regarded as something that has to be taken on faith is the camaraderie and fellowship provided by being a member. Sometimes people consider us a cult, but we prefer the term family. We strongly believe that every soul on earth is a spiritual child of God and therefore we are all literal brothers and sisters spiritually. So we call each other such. I'm often referred to as Brother Brooks at church. Although I would prefer to be just called Brandon, there is a sense of belonging and affection that is given to it, that I enjoy having the privilege of being called that way.
Also with being part of a global religion, I can travel to nearly any country and receive the same warm welcome as if I was home in my own congregation. I've felt that warmth in London, Amsterdam, Seville, Melbourne, Tokyo, and Adana, Turkey. Not to mention hundreds of places across the US.
Although it could be argued that there can be a sense of belonging given to other world wide organizations (Rotary, the military, Lions Club, etc.) The believed eternal nature of our literal brotherhood transcends the quality of other organizations in a way that I would find hard to live without.
This eternal perspective on life provides many more perceived life blessings that even if I were to die and find no after-life, I will have been so happy during my existence that it would be of little use to complain that I wasted my life in a nonsense belief of something beyond the grave.
My Dad told me once that he believes that what we are taught at church is true. However, if we're wrong, big deal. We're happy. I agree. So I don't focus on what I should receive as a reward in heaven for the things I do now. I try to find happiness here and now. Not the fleeting sense of happiness from binge drinking with people who may or may not be true friends, or the perceived "fun" that can come from sleeping with as many girls as possible before getting married. Nor even trying to find peace by spending my Sundays in bed or lounging around my house.
I find peace, joy, happiness and contentment in being a Mormon. In showing up to Church every Sunday with my three hopefully cooperative children. Donating my time and money to some causes that at times may seem futile and useless. In extending a hand of fellowship and brotherhood to someone who would prefer to have my belief banished from existence because of some perceived wrong that happened long before. That is what being a Mormon is. It's challenging, it's hard work, but it is the most worthwhile goal I have ever set my aim to, and the only one I have ever been able to consistently work towards.
Working on the goal of being a good Mormon helps me focus on what's most important to me. My family. Both my family here in my house, and my literal spiritual family that includes you.
Please feel welcome to ask any questions you may have. Because in addition to all the responsibilities and opportunities mentioned above, we are also asked to share our beliefs openly, so that others may enjoy the blessings and joy we have.