Saturday, March 22, 2008
One of the hardest things for an American city planner is seeing other places go down the same road (literally!) that we did. No where is this more obvious to me as in Wolfsberg Austria, where I have been visiting my wife's family for the last ten years.
Wolfsberg is a small city consisting of an historic central city and several small villages that have been incorporated into the city. When I first started visiting there was farmland and open space between the village and center, but on each visit this open space has been filled by single family homes and shopping centers. Sometimes I cannot believe my eyes as drive through McDonalds sprout on the landscape.
While the sprawling development is one thing, the lack of imagination and disregard for history in the city center is shocking. The city still has a core of historic buildings that would make an American city drool, but the main concern seems to be providing access and parking for automobiles.
They also have a castle on the hill overlooking the city (see photo on the right), but rather than linking them with a modern elevator-bridge type structure and using the castle as a cultural center linked directly to restaurants and cafes in the historic center (like Bellinzona Switzerland), Wolfsberg built a new 'cultural center' just off the bypass road too far away from the historic center to generate any business for the cafes.
Wolfsberg has developed a nice walk along the Lavant River which runs through the city and the historic streets are nice to walk through, it's just that they have missed so many opportunities for creating a really nice and sustainable city.
One thing Wolfsberg can still do is buy the last remaining farm between the city center and St Johann. It would make an ideal demonstration farm (for children to visit) and recreation area (hiking and hang glider landing area). I hike through the farm every time I visit and always worry that the next time it, too, will be gone.
Everywhere we went in Amsterdam we seemed to eat well, but in totally different styles. On Sunday we ate at the Bistro 't Stuivertje, a real neighborhood restaurant for Amsterdam's Jordaan district. We were also lucky here, we got the last available table, the restaurant was full even on a Sunday night.
We started with a 'Dutch' mustard soup (see photo). It tasted great, the mustard was more subtle than Dijon mustard, but it still was strong and refreshing (if you are like me and love mustard!) and it had very thin slices of apple floating in it which provided just the right contrast. A great dish!
For main courses I had red snapper with a spicy and sweet curry sauce, Christa had sole which was cooked exactly right. Along with the main courses came salad and French fries (there was rice with my snapper and cheese potatoes with the sole along with sauteed vegetables) - I mention this only to excuse myself for not testing the desserts, which looked great at the other tables. Especially interesting was a cinnamon ice cream dessert, but, next time.
Service was great, we spent a long time talking with the chef who was born in Fiji and lived in San Francisco for many years before moving to Amsterdam. The restaurant is in an area that is gentrifying, but they are trying to keep the local tradition as a restaurant for everyone.
No website, here are the details: Bistro 't Stuivertje, Hazenstraat 58, 1016 SR Amsterdam, Tel: 020-623-13-49. Our dinner cost 47 Euros with beer.
We were really lucky to find Le Zinc in Amsterdam. We were walking by and it looked nice. At first they thought there were no more tables, but, in fact, there was a no-show upstairs, so we were in!
The rooms (upstairs/downstairs) were very nice, flickering candles and space between the tables. The service - like everywhere in Amsterdam - was wonderful ... such nice people.
We both ordered three-course menus with accompanying wine. We started with a special cod fish served in a chicory soup (we liked it so much Christa made chicory soup the first night we were back in Vienna). The cod was broiled and set in a shallow bowl of soup with a wedge of chicory very lightly sauteed (I think). Fantastic.
For a main course we both had a lamb combination; several slices of lamb fillet and long-cooked lamb shoulder pieces formed in a small cylinder, served with Greek pasta that tasted almost like risotto. The Syrah based Rhone wine went perfectly with the dish.
I ordered the cheese course and Christa the dessert, so we could taste both. I asked the waiter to pick a selection of strong local cheeses and he did a great job. The three-year old Gouda crumbled in my mouth and went perfectly with the Port wine. The dessert was also excellent, a lemon ice cream.
The dinner cost 110 Euros with tip. Definitely make reservations!
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Sama Sebo is an Indonesian restaurant located on Hobbemastraat near the Van Gogh Museum. I have always wanted to eat an Indonesian Rice Table dinner and this was certainly a good place to do it. In an Indonesian Rice Table dinner you get rice – in this case one plain steamed rice and one (very lightly) fried rice … then a whole set of side dishes of things you eat with the rice. These include chicken skewers in peanut sauce, fried bananas, chile sauce, vegetables cooked in coconut sauce, stewed pork, and about 25 other foods. The idea is variety of textures and flavours.
Sama Sebo has been in business a long time and it was quite fun. The rooms are small and tightly packed with tables. We had five waiters in our small room and they were a combination between the Marx Brothers and ballet dancers moving between the tables telling jokes and making people feel great. They bring all 29 dishes at once and serve the first part telling you what everything is, then leave the dishes on hot plates (candle-based, which makes a very nice romantic atmosphere) and you serve the rest as you want. They help by removing the dishes that are finished and bringing more drinks and, of course, telling jokes and teasing their fellow waiters. Also, the waiters were dressed in beautiful – all different – Indonesian pattern jackets, it was worth the visit just to see them.
We spent about 80 Euros on rice table for two and four beers. We did not have reservations, but were very lucky to get a table, so reserve in advance.
Monday, March 17, 2008
Another strange thing is that they have conductors in some of the trams who sell tickets. These people were all very nice, but it means that everyone must get on at one set of doors, delaying the trains. I wonder if proof-of-payment would not be more efficient (it's in place on some of the trams).
Also, a bit less of a problem was the guy smoking a joint on the tram we finally caught on Friday night, but ...
Saturday, March 15, 2008
In Lausanne Switzerland they have a great service that delivers your purchases to a parking garage. This means you can shop in the pedestrian zone and not worry about carrying all your stuff to the car.
The first photo shows one of the small - inside the pedestrian zone - delivery vehicles. They are electric vehicles.
The second photo shows a sign advertising the free service in the Coop department store's food section. Notice that it's a free service.
While visiting Lausanne last week I made a short trip to the vinyards on the shores of Lake Geneva. I took the regional train to Cully, cost about 3 Swiss Francs, about 10-minutes ride from the main train station.
In Cully you can follow a wine path up to the village of Epesses. You walk through the vinyards and there are signs describing the type of grapes grown and the reasons the wine is good (e.g. gravelly soil etc.). The walk is uphill and the path can be narrow, so it's not for everyone. It probably takes 45 minutes uphill and 30 downhill.
Epesses is a neat town. There are probably 20+ winemakers located in a town with about 100 buildings. Most of them are small, so they are only open when they are not otherwise working (several opened at 4 pm), but there is a common sales/tasting point in the center of the town (they feature one winemaker each week).
I had a very nice lunch at the Aubrege des Vin (I need to find the exact name), lamb steak prepared in the Provencial style with two local wines. The red was very good - this is maybe a surprise for people who think that the only good Swiss wine is white, but that's probably due to the fact that the Swiss only make a very small amount of red wine.
A really great event in Epesses is the annual wine tasting (in French or German) called Epesses nouveau en fête. This takes place on a Saturday (this year April 26, 2008) - and all the winemakers are open. You pay to enter the town (60 Swiss Francs), receive a glass and bag, then go from winemaker to winemaker tasting. You also get tickets for a winemakers lunch (picnic style hot food), a loaf of bread, a local cheese (great!), a bottle of water, a local sausage (also great!) and a 1.5 liter bottle of local white wine which you bottle yourself.
The Swiss National Railways (RailAway) offers reduced rate trips (here is the RailAway page describing the wine event in German) from throughout Switzerland including a ticket to the event (it's best not to drive!), I paid about 100 Swiss Francs from Zurich (about 2.5 hour trip) in 2005. If you can go, I highly recommend it.
I am using the free internet at the public library. The Amsterdam public library is a beautiful building on the waterfront ... although to be truthful, most of the city seems like it's on the waterfront, either large bodies of water or small ones (canals). Walking around is fun. Also interesting is that all the houses have beams sticking out of the attic rooms with hooks for pulleys. It looks like they are used to raise bulky things like furniture to the upper floors since the stairways inside are narrow and steep. What was interesting to me is the fact that they are in the new buildings as well as the old ones, maybe just architectural, but they also seem quite useful.
We visited the concert house last night, also on the waterfront, and it's a beautiful building. It has a wonderful restaurant called Star Ferry (named after the famous Hong Kong ferry company) on the water level with huge windows looking out on the harbour and train station. In San Francisco or Zurich such a room would have been totally full, but there was plenty of room (the concerts started later) and it was quiet. The food looked like it would be very good. The fresh mint tea was great.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
We visited Lausanne last week to attend a conference. We had a great dinner at "A la pomme de pin" in the old part of the city. Here are some photos.
Dinner was excellent, although the service was very slow. We made reservations (you must do this, there were no walk-ins) at the Brassiere which is in the next room from the restaurant (and slightly cheaper).
I had fish soup, excellent with garlic toast crutons. Then we had salad, my wife's was dandelion with chevre, mine was a simple mache (what the Swiss call Nussli).
As main courses my wife had a filet in morel sauce with fresh pasta and I had a long-braised leg of lamb on mashed potatoes. Both were fabulous.
The food was so good we also ordered an dessert, the same one everyone else seemed to be ordering, a warm chocolate pudding with a slight orange flavor.
The service was very nice, but as I mentioned very slow. They don't have enough servers for the room. They spoke French but were happy to speak a passable English. As we were leaving we talked with the chef and my wife asked exactly how he had cooked the filet, he was very pleasant. Our dinner cost 135 Swiss Francs.
Monday, March 10, 2008
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
Chris Anderson (WIRED) just wrote an extremely interesting article "Free! Why $0.00 is the Future of Business". It's about the history and future of Free products and services. My favorite example from his article is RyanAir, where tickets are almost free and are paid for with a variety of cross subsidies and sales of supplemental products.
See the paper (or presentation) I co-wrote with Thomas Sauter-Servaes from the Technical University Berlin's Railway Department for the US Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting (2007) about possibilities for using similar low cost airline strategies in the passenger railway industry. The photo is from France's iDTGV service - they rent videos and game to passengers.
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
One of our favorite places to eat in Zürich is the Sternen Grill on the Bellevue square. Here are some photos.
It's fast food, you walk-up, order a wurst (sausage), pay, take a mustard (in photo), take a roll, look for a seat at the plastic tables and order a drink from a waiter if you want. A simple draft beer ("Stange" - Stan-gay) tastes especially good with the mustard and wurst. We always eat the Weisswurst (white sausage) which are famous in Zürich. They are made from veal.
The rolls are called "Burli". Burli have a very hard crust, often with a bit of a burned taste, and a very dense tasty inside. They are one of my favorite breads in Switzerland, which is saying a lot since Swiss baked goods are excellent. The Burli at the Sternen Grill are really excellent, they're from the Gold Bakery - perhaps the best in Zürich.
The people working here are really nice and friendly. The atmosphere is very informal, it's normal to see all elements of Zürich society eating together here. It's one of the least expensive places to eat in Zürich (Wurst and beer for just under 10 Swiss Francs) and one of the most interesting.