MAY, 2013

What looked like becoming a promising day as far as the weather was concerned turned out to be a little disappointing afterall. Despite this though I had great company touring the city with Maciek, a good colleague of mine & his wife Kasia.

I Amsterdam that’s the “In” slogan for 2013 for the city where everything liberal thinking is also “In”. On Sunday morning I drove with 2 friends from Brussels to Amsterdam, a 2 hour, 191km drive using the A27 motorway & arrived on the outskirts around midday at the Park & Ride station of Gaasperplas to the south east of the city. A day ticket for parking & using the train to & from the city center cost 8,50€ which I find to be excellent value for money, saving a lot of stress & probably more expense driving to the center of town. The trains are modern & comfortable, colourfully painted inside. The trip into the city’s Centraal Station takes about 20-25 minutes. Once outside the station I realized one thing straight away, masses of people. It seems to be a popular city where cyclists outnumber the cars. Indeed to the right side of the station is a massive bike park where up to 2500 cycles can be parked. The red brick facade of the station is pretty impressive too, built from 1882-1889 by the Frankfurt based construction company Philip Holzmann.

Bicycles, as far as the eye can see, the best way to see the main attractions.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

We decided that the best way to get our orientation in the town would be to do a tour by water & this we did with a day ticket for 20€. This enabled us to hop on & off wherever we wanted using boats that cover three routes throughout the city. This turned out to be the best way to see the city. We were thinking of hiring bikes for around 12€ but noticed how difficult it is riding through the masses of pedestrians & decided to relax on a boat instead. The weather was good to us up to 3:00pm & then the clouds covered us in white/grey making picture taking a real bore from this moment on. I got some nice shots of the houses along the canals or “Grachten” as they call them in Dutch.

After the boat tour which ended where we had started at the Centraal Station we decided to walk to the Blooemenmarkt (flower market) to the south west in Singel. To get there we had to walk through the infamous Red Light District. During the day though it is quite peaceful & other than shop fronts displaying the usual sex toys & Hash accessories etc. you would think that you are in a normal area in the city center. We were probably not in one of the main lanes so it was only the “Soft-core” variation that we experienced. Once through we came to a massive square called the “Dam” funny enough, this is the main square of Amsterdam where the Townhall is situated.

“Amsterdam has over 1250 bridges, many of which date back to the 17th Century, indeed the city boasts some pretty impressive architecture generally.”

By the way, the name Amsterdam is derived from the Amstelredamme built on the river Amstel, (a dam in the river Amstel), the only true waterway that runs through the city. Amsterdam has over 1250 bridges, many of which date back to the 17th Century, indeed the city boasts some pretty impressive architecture generally. Unfortunately only being here for the day it was a real fly past to see as much as possible. Passing over the Dam, boasting many buskers and performing artists we made our way further through the narrow lanes full of souvenir shops, cafes and of course coffee shops. The coffee shop thing doesn’t interest me but I did take a look in a shop selling every conceivable accessory for growing or smoking this stuff. This is heaven for hash smokers that’s for sure.

I am sterdam, the new motto of the Dutch capital.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

My first impression of “Venice of the North” as we arrived at the central railway station was of many tourists on foot and even worse, on bicycles.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

Shortly we arrived at the Flower market only to find that it isn’t exploding in colour through thousands of blooming Tulips but rather a market selling Tulip bulbs for planting. Nevertheless an amazing assortment of different varieties. I was quite disappointed to see though that many of these bulbs originate not only from Holland but from Washington State in the USA. After a while I split with my 2 companions as they wanted to do some shopping which wasn’t in my itinerary or budget & took another boat trip using my boat pass. This time though I took the blue route where the boat went further afield that I got to see the De Gooyer windmill & the Magere Brug (“Skinny Bridge”) probably Amsterdams most famous bridge spanning the Amstel. The Drawbridge dates back to 1691 but has been replaced over the centuries with newer variations. The present bridge dates from 1934. The last major renovation was in 1969. Until 1994 the bridge was opened by hand, but is now opened automatically. The sightseeing boats are low enough that they can pass beneath the bridge without being raised.

Of course Amsterdam wouldn’t be Dutch without the traditional wooden clogs.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

Cruising on a canal boal over the Prinsengracht we passed the Westerkerk, a reformed, Dutch Protestant church on the edge of Amsterdam’s Jordaan district.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

Some nice houses along the many canals or “Grachten”.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

After a quick Shoarma Kebap on the way back through the Red Light District passing through a very busy canal area I realized that this was more like the real Red Light District that Amsterdam is famous for. The smell of hash hangs in the air everywhere here, with many young people getting high or drunk or both, some getting rather loud & aggressive too. Not a pretty sight & it was only just after seven in the evening. Would have been interesting to see what is going down at 22-23:00pm. Of course there were streams of men passing the brothel facades with large well lit windows & scantily clad girls trying to catch new punters attention. Unfortunately photography is strictly forbidden here & the risk of being beaten up or sworn at by some girls pimp or even charged by the Police that patrol the area just isn’t worth the risk. I was supposed to be meeting my friends back at the railway station at 19:00pm ready for the drive back to Brussels & was already 20 minutes late. I would have stayed longer & maybe risked the odd iPhone shot here or there but with a “proper” camera with telephoto lens, you are just looking for trouble. I made it back to my waiting friends at the Centraal station who seemed relieved to see me again (probably as I had the car keys & had to drive ;-)) & we made our way back with the train to our car in the car park at Gaasperplas Park and ride.

Modern architecture meets traditional on the canals of Amsterdam.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

Pretty canals with many interesting moored vessels. Amsterdam, Holland.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

Two hours later we were back in our Hotel in Grimbergen happy that we had taken the day trip option and not the planned weekend there as this would have worked out extremely expensive and wouldn’t have been worth it due to the crappy weather. As it turned out the following day was overcast with drizzle. Would I go again? Yes, but next time with a plan and a tripod for the evenings. As this visit was spontaneous it left me no time to plan things at all. I could imagine that photography using a tripod at night could make for some pretty good pictures. I think we saw a great deal thanks to the boat trips but to have really seen Amsterdam you need 3-4 days and especially the evenings at least and if the weather is good then a week to soak in the charms of the “Venice Of The North”.


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