Thursday, September 4, 2014

California DMV PNO (planned non operation) Experience / Review / Annoyances / Scam

A break from my complete lack of posts to the blog, but I feel that this must be said.  California has a "planned non operation" capacity whereby you don't pay full registration for your car if you don't use it for "a registered year".  Yes, "a registered year" is the rub.  Nevermind the fact that I parked my car for 14.5 consecutive months, it was not the registered year.  My registered year is november 12 - november 11.  So the fact that my car may have been stored from July 1, 2013 to September 3, 2014 is irrelevant.  I still had to pay two full years of registration.  On top of the special fee for planned non operation.  On top of the fee for turning off planned non-operation.  On top of the 3.5 hours I had to sit around the DMV.

Just don't do it.

If you're journeying for only a year, sell the car.  Or keep it in storage with absolute minimum insurance coverage (California requires insurance unless you're non-operational, but insurance was cheaper than what I spent in $'s much less aggrivation/time to deal with the PNO process).  And if you keep it in storage, make sure to get someone to run it monthly for a bit to make sure the fluids stay fluid.  And keep it on a charger to make sure you don't have to buy new batteries.

Hopefully this will help someone out in the future. 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Captivated by the Netherlands

On May 26th, we drove from Camping Klein Strand to our next campground, Recreatiecentrum Koningshof, in Rijnsburg near Amsterdam. While we were sad to leave the fantastic facilities and activities that Klein Strand had to offer, we discovered Koningshof was just as great. Koningshof had an outdoor swimming pool and an indoor pool with splash area and water slide. It had a recreational room with dress up theater, foosball and other games. It also had a super playground. We spent the rest of the day at the campground catching up on things while the kids were all quick to try out the facilities.

On May 27th, we had to figure out which museums to tackle in Amsterdam. I decided on the Het Scheepvaartmuseum (National Maritime Museum) and we concluded that this was one of the best museums for kids that we had encountered on the whole trip.
The museum has a replica of the Amsterdam, an 18th-century ship built for transport between the Netherlands and the East Indies. The ship started its maiden voyage from Texel to Batavia on January 8, 1749, but was wrecked in a storm on the English Channel on January 26, 1749. The shipwreck was discovered in 1969 and is sometimes visible during low tides. On an outward voyage a ship such as this carried guns and bricks for the settlements and strongholds, and silver and golden coins to purchase Asian goods. On a return journey the ships carried the goods that were purchased, such as spices, fabrics and china.
Visitors can board the ship and check out the the various decks. Here, Sarah is reviewing the steps to firing a canon, which was pretty neat with sound effects.
Paul testing some lines below deck.
The museum offers many excellent experiences. One of our favorites, despite being narrated in Dutch, was the Voyage at Sea where visitors are directed through a series of rooms that take them through 350 years of history. The journey begins in the Zeemagazijn, the very building that today is home to the Het Scheepvaartmuseum. Visitors then meet admiral Michiel de Ruyter who prepares them for a sea battle. In the next room, one finds oneself on the high seas, in a raging storm, as ships all around are buffeted by wind and waves. A little further along in time, one reaches 1916 and discovers what it is like to be on board a ship struck by a torpedo. In the fourth and final room of the exhibit, visitors become "a part of history".
In the first room of the experience, we had to sit down and have lessons in rowing so that we would be prepared for our voyage at sea. Little did we know at this point, that we were being filmed and our rowing selves would be superimposed on a final scene of voyageurs returning to land. Paul's over-enthusiasm captured on film got a few laughs at the end.
We then walked into a room that covered preparing for a long voyage at sea. The commentary was all in Dutch; it would have been great to add a couple more languages somehow. There are less than 30 million people in the world who speak Dutch which significantly narrows the market for an experience like this.
This room had a 360 degree view of the high seas all around us.
The end of our journey: We are rowing back to the Het Scheepvaartmuseum. In the rowboat to the right of someone's head are James and myself. Unfortunately, I took the photo not yet noticing that we were all on screen, otherwise I would have tried to capture a clear shot of us all rowing back.
The museum had many other outstanding exhibits covering different aspects of the history of the Netherlands. The museum doesn't shy away from the more sombre sides of the past and includes a section titled "The Dark Chapter" which covers the economic background to the slave trade and the horrific story of the slave ship, Leusden. The museum is multi-dimensional and excellent for kids. It includes a virtual experience of what it's like to be a container being shipped around the world and coming through Amsterdam. Also for kids is the adventure of Sal and Lori and their sailing journey around the world. The museum houses beautiful paintings with a maritime theme and a wide range of navigational instruments. It's an outstanding venue for the whole family.
Working our way through the Golden Age exhibit which covers the Netherlands during the 17th century: At that time the Netherlands was one of the richest and most powerful countries in the world, primarily thanks to seafaring.
Sarah resting in the Tale of the Whale exhibit, which shows how our image of the whale has changed over time.
On May 28th, we went to the Dutch Resistance Museum which covers the occupation of the Netherlands by the Nazis in WWII. This was another excellent museum, thought provoking to say the least. While the subject matter could be distressing for young people (as it will be disturbing for adults), the museum thoughtfully provides a children's section for kids about aged 8 to 14; in this section, the lives of 4 different children are explored during the occupation: Eva, a Jewish girl who is sent to a concentration camp, Jan, whose family hides a Jewish man, Henk, whose brother is ordered to enlist with the Nazis but who resists and hides instead, and Nelly, who is a member of the Youth Storm Troopers and whose father takes on jobs to support the Nazis. Sarah spent most of her time in this section while Vincent and the boys were in the main section and I oscillated between the two.
Sarah exploring Jan's home: Jan's father was a minister; Sarah is in the church pulpit giving a sermon. To the left is a fighter plane and kids can go in and pretend to fly it.
The living room of Henk's house: Henk enjoyed collecting things that he found during the war.
In the main museum, one walks through a maze of interactive displays addressing the Nazi occupation (which occurred from May 14, 1940 to May 5, 1945). The displays try to put the visitor in the shoes of the Dutch at the time. The Nazi's have taken over. "What would you do? Adapt? Collaborate? Or resist?" These were the choices of the Netherlands' residents. Most people were far too embroiled in day-to-day worries to think about daring to involve themselves in any kind of resistance and the easiest path was one of adapting or collaboration. The various dilemmas that people faced are spelled out in text, audio and video. One of the quandaries that a number of people faced was whether or not to help someone or a family hide; visitors could listen to a range of excuses told as to why they "didn't want to get involved". These experiences lead one to think about the world today; most of us are too busy with the needs of our daily lives to get caught up in fighting the injustices that take place around us. Should we and can we leave our comfort zones and do more?

The exhibition tells a chronological story, from approximately 1930 to 1950, in which information is offered in various "layers". Visitors get an overall picture of a rather indolent Dutch society in the thirties, experience the shock of the unexpected German invasion, then discover that both the oppression and resistance to it gradually intensify in the occupation years as the war progresses.
The streets and walls of the museum help evoke the climate of the war years.
The exhibition covers all forms of resistance: Strikes, forging of documents, helping people to go into hiding, underground newspapers, escape routes, armed resistance, espionage and so on. 
The museum also includes a separate section telling the story of the former colony, the Dutch East Indies, where the population suffered badly under the Japanese regime. The museum provides audio guides such that visitors can listen to selections in both the children's section and adult section, in English (and perhaps other languages).

As we were about to leave the museum, we discovered all four of our umbrellas were stolen at the front door. I must say I was shocked; having just gone through the Resistance Museum, didn't those thieves develop any sense of humanity out of it? Disappointing, to say the least. 

We walked back to collect the car and then we decided to drive over to the Anne Frank Museum to see what the line was like. We were not organized enough to order tickets in advance and therefore we knew that we'd have to stand in line with the other poor planners in order to see the house. We arrived and I saw that the line was at the 45 minute wait mark, which was pretty good as far as the Anne Frank house lines can be. It was starting to rain however and we no longer had umbrellas, so we opted to leave and instead get there early in the morning the next day. With that decision made, we drove back to the campground.
On the way back to the campground, we stopped for groceries. This supermarket had a neat little play area for kids.
On May 29th, we got up early to go to the Anne Frank house. We arrived about 9:40 and there already was a line twice as long as there was the previous night, meaning our wait in line would be about 90 minutes. It was cold standing there with the wind blowing. I went off in search of hot chocolates, which was another long line, but the errand helped to pass the time.
Here we are about 60 minutes into our wait. Moods were much improved with a hot chocolate in our hands.
At about the 20 minute mark, museum staff handed out a brochure outlining the path of the museum and an introduction to the 8 people who went into hiding and their 4 helpers who kept them fed and with supplies over the two years.
The kids questioned why we had to go to this museum, which required us to stand in line for so long. Was it worth it? Was it over-hyped? My answer to the first question is "yes". My answer to the second question is probably "yes", given there isn't a lot to see at the Anne Frank house. The Dutch Resistance Museum that we visited the previous day gives a much broader perspective of the suffering that Jews faced during the war. The Anne Frank house however gives a very personal account and for many people, myself included, it is impossible to get through the museum without tears. Anyone with a sense of empathy cannot escape the feeling of sadness and despair at the fact that only Otto Frank, Anne's father, survived the war. The others died within a few months to a couple weeks from being liberated. The story of these victims gives a voice to so many others that perished during WWII. Given the real horrors of their experience, it's not so much that the Anne Frank house is over-hyped; it's that venues with similar messages are perhaps under-hyped in comparison. The world, including the Allies, didn't do enough to save victims of the holocaust. Visiting the Anne Frank house and other such venues helps to bring home that message and causes one to reflect on what atrocities against humanity are still going on today? Are we doing enough to help those victims? Probably not.

There were 8 people in total in hiding in this house at Prinsengracht 263, which was Otto Frank's place of business where he produced jam and sold meat seasonings. They were the Franks: Otto, his wife Edith and daughters, Margot and Anne. The Van Pels: Hermann, his wife Auguste and their son Peter. And a friend of Miep Gies' (one of the 4 helpers), Fritz Pfeffer. The 8 people hiding were discovered on August 4, 1944 which was after D-day (June 6, 1944); they came so close to surviving. Initially all of them were sent to Auschwitz. Edith Frank was selected for the gas chamber but managed to escape and hide in a different section of the camp; she kept most of her food for her two girls and became very weak as a result.

Around the beginning of November 1944, with the Russian Army advancing, Anne, her sister Margot and Auguste Van Pels were moved out of Auschwitz (along with the healthier prisoners) and sent to Bergen-Belsen. Edith Frank's poor health was probably the factor that led her not to be chosen and she was held back at Auschwitz; Edith died from starvation on January 6, 1945.

Otto Frank, Fritz Pfeffer and Hermann and Peter Van Pels initially managed to be able to stay together. Otto, Fritz and Hermann were assigned to heavy labor. After a few weeks, Hermann was unable to keep up and was exhausted; he was selected for the gas chamber and was killed.

Fritz Pfeffer was sent to the Neuengamme concentration camp in October 1944. Thousands of prisoners died there from a combination of heavy labor, lack of food and poor sanitary conditions. Fritz Pfeffer was among them. He died in the sick-bay barracks on December 20, 1944.

With the imminent arrival of the Russian Army to Auschwitz, the Nazis evacuated the camp. Prisoners who could still walk had to go with them. Peter Van Pels was among these prisoners. He arrived at the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria at the end of January 1945. The prisoners had to perform heavy labor. It is believed that Peter died sometime between April 11th and May 5th from exhaustion.

In February 1945, Auguste Van Pels was transferred to Buchenwald concentration camp and then to then to the Czechoslovakia camp, Theresienstadt ghetto, on April 9, 1945. While she was noted as being alive on April 11, 1945, she died sometime afterward between April 11th and early May 1945, when the camp was liberated.

In March 1945, Margot died of typhus and just a few weeks later in March, Anne died as well. A friend of Anne's, whose interview is shown in the museum, is recorded as saying she saw Anne in Bergen-Belsen a week or so before she died. At that point, Anne knew Margot was dead and thought her whole family had died. It appeared she had nothing left for which to live. Anne died just a few weeks before Bergen-Belsen was liberated.
Otto Frank's business, and the location of the secret annex, was the flat-roofed building to the right of the house with the triangular roof. The next two buildings to the right were acquired and are a part of the museum complex.
James walking up the very steep staircase to the "secret annex".
The Diary of Anne Frank has been translated into 70 languages and published in over 60 countries. More than 30 million copies of the diary have been sold. One of those copies is with us in LandShark.
Statue of Anne Frank near the Anne Frank house: Several bunches of flowers were left at the foot of the statue illustrating how moved people are today by her story.
After leaving the Anne Frank house, we walked down the street to The Pancake Bakery which was highly recommended. The pancakes (crepes) were good, but huge, so it's a good idea to buy a few and split them among the group if you plan to go there.

After lunch, no one wanted to tackle anything too heavy so we decided on a canal tour which we could catch near the Anne Frank house. The tour lasts 75 minutes and one can choose between 2 different routes. For €5 extra, one can use the canal tour as a hop-on hop-off means of transportation for 24 hours. (We chose just the 75 minute tour.)

Here are a few fun facts about Amsteradam. The name Amsterdam is derived from the city’s origins; it grew around a dam in the river Amstel. The city has 165 canals with a combined length of about 100 kilometers. There are 1,281 bridges and about 3,100 houseboats in the greater Amsterdam area.
Because the city accommodates cars, a comprehensive tram system and well over 600,000 bicycles (often with separate paths for each), it has one of the most elaborate road systems we had seen anywhere; there certainly was a learning curve in order to comfortably navigate it, both as a motorist and as a pedestrian. Cyclists have the right-away over anyone. Finally, what is the difference between a coffeeshop and a koffie huis (coffee house)? A coffeeshop sells soft drugs (marijuana or hashish), space cakes, coffee, tea, and sometimes freshly-squeezed juices and sandwiches. A koffie huis sells the same things, minus the soft drugs and space cake.
Waiting for our canal tour, James tried on some wooden shoes for size.
Typical Amsterdam houses are tall and narrow. They were narrow both due to the scarcity of the land as well as because the owners had to pay taxes according to the width of the facade. At first glance, the Amsterdam houses don't have the same grandeur as houses in other European cities; many of them were built in the 17th century by merchants who used the houses as both workshop and residence. However look closely and you'll see the fine details of these buildings.
Many Amsterdam houses have hoisting beams with hooks to which a pulley wheel and rope can be attached; this is because the interiors are too narrow for large pieces of furniture to be carried upstairs inside. Rather, the furniture would be lifted up on the outside with the aid of these beams. The impressive gables are often tied to the roof by means of cables.

Blauwbrug (Blue Bridge): The Blauwbrug owes its name to a bridge that no longer exists and which was painted the characteristic blue of the Dutch flag.  The present brick and sandstone bridge (which replaced the old wooden bridge) was made in preparation for the 1883 World Exhibition.  Both the bridge’s stone foundations and the lampposts are decorated with shapes of a Medieval’s ship prow.

In the days before numbered addresses, buildings had some sort of sign on them which was used to label that location, and sometimes depict the profession of the owner. Fortunately, some buildings still have these signs.
Many warehouses (here with simple pointed gables) have been converted into housing.
Montelbaanstoren: Built in 1512, the tower is a piece of Amsterdam's protective wall that still stands today. The tower housed Amsterdam's military guards, stationed there in order to spy any approaching armies who may be trying to overtake the city. It was also reported to be a gathering place for sailors who would meet at the base before heading off to far-away lands on long sea voyages.
Starting in the 16th century, the different gable types were used to camouflage the end of sharp, pitched roofs and architectural idiosyncrasies. The lack of firm land meant that Amsterdam houses were built on narrow, deep plots, and one of the only ways to make a property distinctive was at the top, with a decorative gable. Gable variants include spout, step, neck, elevated neck, bell (shown center and right), cornice and straight cornice (shown left, mixed with a neck gable), and they often include splendid scroll work and ornamentation.
The step gable (left) was a predominant feature in the early to mid 17th century; there are only about 100 step gables remaining today in Amsterdam. The bell gable (center) was built between the late 17th century through the late 18th century. The neck gable (right) was typically built from the mid 17th century through the late 18th century.
It might not be readily apparent from this photo but the facades of these buildings are not at right angles with the sides of the buildings. The facades were built parallel to the canals but depending on the placement of the land behind, the buildings might be more the shape of a parallelogram, as these are, rather than a rectangle or square. By the way, the four rooves to the left are examples of spout gables.
At some point during the tour, both Paul and Vincent nodded off. Looks like James could have done with a nap too. Good thing I took photos so they could see what they missed.
On May 30th, we finally got a break in the weather and the sun appeared. Sarah started the day at the swimming pool and after James finished his math work, he joined her. Meanwhile I wrapped up the blog covering southern Germany and our side trip to Salzburg, while Vincent continued on his many projects. After lunch, we decided to visit The Hague. I researched kid-friendly museums and tried to find something a little different from what we had done recently. I wanted to stay clear of WWII museums as we'd visited some pretty heavy topics the last few days. In the end I settled on the Muzee Scheveningen which covers what it was like to live in, on and around the sea in this area in the 1800s and early 1900s. I chose the Scheveningen Museum because reviewers gave feedback that the museum provided translations in English.

When we visited, we found that some rooms had an English translation card but many areas did not. This could be an excellent second tier museum if they put more effort into providing language translations; I think they could really boost their visitation numbers if they did so.

One of the highlights of visiting the Scheveningen had nothing to do with the museum itself. We happened to catch the removal of garbage from the waste bins at the front of the museum and the subsequent cleaning of the containers. This was an advanced refuse system that none of us had ever seen before.
We looked outside the museum window and saw a robotic arm from the garbage truck latch onto the top of a waste bin.
We then saw the arm lift the waste bin which was attached to a much larger bin underneath that was hidden underground.
The double bin was lifted over the truck and emptied.
After the first garbage truck left, a second green truck pulled up alongside the bins. The driver got out of the truck and, with the aid of a remote control, proceeded to lift the first bin out of the ground. We saw a second worker, with the yellow cannister, pressure hose the exterior of the other bins.
The arm carried the bin over the rear of the truck and the interior was pressure hosed. The bin was then returned to its slot on the street. The process was then repeated for the other two bins.
After each bin was pressure hosed, the second worker hosed down the parked car next to the truck to remove any debris that may have struck and stuck to it.
Upon leaving the museum, we took a closer look at the waste bins and saw that they are designated for the local residents to deposit their garbage. Lo and behold a woman emerged from the apartment building across the street with a bag of garbage. So we had to capture her in action disposing of her garbage. (At this point Vincent left us, preferring to keep a low profile.)
Back to the museum, here are a few photos of some of the exhibits. This place had a lot of potential if only language translations (other than Dutch) were easily accessible.
There was a room that gave a sense of going into the ocean and meeting sea life under water.
Zeemonster, real or fake? The text was in Dutch so I have no idea the story behind this half fish half monkey. I'd researched that it could be a replica of a "Fiji mermaid" which was an object comprising the torso and head of a juvenile monkey sewn to the back half of a fish. It was a common feature of sideshows, where it was presented as the mummified body of a creature that was supposedly half mammal and half fish, a version of a mermaid. The original Fiji mermaid was exhibited by P. T. Barnum from 1842 until the 1860s when it was destroyed in a fire.
Bathing machine (1830-1920): This was the only exhibit that had an English explanation. A horse would pull the bathing machine into the water to a depth of about 70 cm. The bather, wearing a bathing costume, would then enjoy a dip in the water. When the bather was finished, the horse would pull the bathing machine back up onto the beach. During bathing there was always supervision by a "bath man" attendant.
In 1719, Kniertje Gerbrants de Wit gave birth to quintuplets, 5 girls. One was stillborn and the other 4 only survived 4 days. This was such an unusual event that people from miles around, including royalty, came to see the infants. The parents let people visit 44 days before the bodies were finally buried. Here, the museum shows 5 blue babies(!)
This room gave the sense of what it was like to live below deck on a bomschuit fishing boat. The ceiling even moved up and down with creaking sound effects. With this sort of effort put into the museum, it wouldn't be a stretch to add more language translations to give more visitors a better experience.
On May 31st, Vincent and I decided to give the kids a day off such that they could stay at the campground while he and I went into Amsterdam to the Rijksmuseum. I tried to promote the Rijksmuseum but no one was biting. Sarah had made a few friends at the campground and she was having too much fun. The boys just wanted to hang out with a few extra hours on the computer. Paul had finished his 8th grade science curriculum the prior day and so he deserved a break. A few months ago, Paul had completed the algebra curriculum and James had finished science and history so both boys just had two subjects left to wrap up. For Paul it was history and english and for James, algebra and english.

While I hated the kids to miss one of the best galleries in Europe, deep down I was looking forward to spending the afternoon in a museum at my own pace with nobody nearby whining to leave.
Main foyer of the Rijksmuseum.
The Rijksmuseum was founded in The Hague in 1800 and moved to Amsterdam in 1808. It is dedicated to art and history of the Netherlands. The museum just underwent a 10 year renovation, reopening in 2013. This is one of the top galleries in Europe. If you've ever had an art history class, chances are you'll see some of the paintings you studied at the Rijksmuseum, as I did.

The museum offers an audioguide for €5 which contains 4 different tours one can take. Vincent and I both did the "highlights" tour and then "golden age" tour. Vincent then went off and did the "art therapy" tour on his own. For those that are successful in getting their children through the museum doors, there is a "family" tour available as well. Here are a few snaps of some of the gems that the museum holds.
Portrait of a Girl Dressed in Blue (1641) by Johannes Cornelisz Verspronck.
Dutch Ships in a Calm (c 1665) by Willem van de Velde II.
Looking down the Gallery of Honour: At the very end is Rembrandt's Night Watch.
Night Watch (1642) by Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn: This painting is considered a Rembrandt masterpiece in part because the militiamen are all depicted in action. Until this group painting, the subjects in such group portraits were always depicted as sitting or standing stiffly next to one another. Rembrandt also used light to depict important details such as the captain's hand gesture and the girl's pale dress. The painting actually illustrates a scene during the daytime but because the overall painting is dark, it later earned the title Night Watch.
Model of the William Rex., a Dutch warship from the late 17th century.
Portraits of Giuliano and Francesco Giamberti da Sangallo (1482-85) by Piero di Cosimo.
Still Life with Cheese (c 1615) by Floris Claesz van Dijck.
Self Portrait as the Apostle Paul (1661) by Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn.
Still Life with Gilt Cup (1635) by Willem Claesz Heda.
In the Bois de Boulogne near Paris (c 1906) by Isaac Israels.
We stayed at the Rijksmuseum until the closing announcements. Afterwards, Vincent and I sat and had a beer at a cafe/bar across the street from the museum. It was a nice way to end the afternoon and end our visit in The Netherlands. We really enjoyed Amsterdam and, for both of us, this was our favorite time visiting the city thus far.