Amsterdam Through The Lens
After I returned home from my requisite Western Europe backpacking trip following college, I remember being asked what my favorite city had been to visit. Having traveled to London, Paris, Rome, Florence, Venice and Bern during that trip, it’s not like I didn’t have a number of equally qualified, massively beautiful cities to choose from. However, when I would answer that it had been Amsterdam, people always seemed to be a little surprised. (This and the fact that the only drugs I touched while there involved a foot powder to deal with a nagging itch that cropped up as a result of trudging around numerous European cities in the dead of summer.)
I tried to explain how much I loved the scenic canals that wind their way through the city, the joy of being surrounded by a massive numbers of bicyclists, and the pleasure I had taking in the views of the city’s unique architecture that has lasted hundreds of years in a city that has had its fair share of tumult over the centuries.
When I returned to the city this July, I was prepared to love it all over again and to cement my bold statement I had made nearly 10 years ago — and I wasn’t disappointed. Thankfully, this time, courtesy of the nice folks at Canon (who foolishly trusted me dragging around an expensive camera all day around a major European city), I had a great camera in tow to test out as part of their #BringIt campaign: the Canon T5i with an 18-200mm lens.
Leaving behind the Nikon D5100 that I had been using for both photo and video during the last two years or so, I wasn’t sure how it would stack up (or whether it would make much of a difference to me). The quick answer was, yes, I loved the camera, and not just for the obvious reasons (great light sensitivity, amazing picture quality, ease of use, etc . . .), but there were a number of minor little differences that have me re-thinking my current ownership of my Nikon, including the camera’s convenient touch screen, the great image stabilization and the noticeably sturdy construction of the camera itself.
Overall, the camera was a joy to use during the trip, and I’m already scouting out the possibility of making the switch.
The following is a small sampling of the several hundred photos I took during my 5-day-long trip to Amsterdam (don’t worry, I only subject friends and family to my full post-trip collection of photos and video).
Hopefully, these photos give you a sense of what the camera is capable of for photography right out of the box (I essentially kept the camera on tge automatic exposure setting the entire time).
First things first, when you’re in Amsterdam, you end up taking a lot of pictures of canals. Sure, it may be cliche, but with over 65 miles of canals and 25% of the total city made up of navigable water, it’s hard not to be constantly amazed by the city’s scenic waterways.
I found myself constantly reminding myself to stop taking so many pictures of the canals (nothing says “tourist” more than lining up shots of canals at every bridge) and focus on other parts of the city, but alas, a few made it onto the hard drive. I regret nothing.
Many a visitor has taken to the canals for a unique city tour by water (over three million people a year take canal cruises), but I was surprised by the number of locals who were also cruising the waterways while we were making our way along during a Friday afternoon — read: happy hour.
Come the summer months, many Amsterdamers voyage out in a number of different vessels (some of questionable seaworthiness) to enjoy the sun and get together with friends. This city also has the distinction of being one of Europe’s main capitals of stag and hen parties (that’s bachelor and bachelorette parties to you North Americans). So besides running into groups of similarly clad groups of early 30-somethings from northern England drinking on the streets, don’t be surprised if you come across a few raucous rafts and questionably sober boat captains while you venture out into the canals. Our captain was both sober and informative, and we had a great cruise overall, despite the touristy aspect of the activity.
This was my view as we rode down Prinsengracht Canal with Westerkerk, a Dutch Protestant church dating back to 1631, in the background. Prinsengracht is the longest of the city’s main canals, and is one of the more scenic routes to cruise due to the numerous posh houses dating back to the Dutch Golden Age lining the street. Keep an eye out for the many crests that don the tops of the buildings. Before the advent of street numbers, these symbols were used to designate addresses (such as: Look for the golden lion on a red crest when you come over for tonight’s Cards Against Humanity party).
The city is chock full of cozy squares and scenic intersections dating back hundreds of year. Even just a short walk down the street will likely result in you coming across some amazing spots, such as the one above I walked through early Friday morning as I roamed the streets in a jetlagged-fuel early rising.
As you walk further away from the center of town, you will begin to notice the canals are filled more and more with houseboats. In fact, there are an estimated 2,500 houseboats that locals call home within the city limits — a unique solution for a city with a dearth of land-based housing but lots and lots of water.
I found myself having visions of moving here and finally fulfilling my dream of being Crockett from Miami Vice (although, this being Amsterdam, I doubt very much there would be much to do as a police officer working the vice beat).
After visiting the Albert Cuyp Market (located on the Albert Cuypstraat between Ferdinand Bolstraat and Van Woustraat in the De Pijp area of the city — phew, that was a mouthful), I walked west and came across this view with the Rijksmuseum and its dramatic towers in the distance. Beautiful museums, bikes, canals, manicured trees — if this picture doesn’t encapsulate the popular perception of Amsterdam, than nothing does.
Although, that being said, much like the popular misconception that the city is full of marijuana and ladies of the night, I found Amsterdam to be an amazingly diverse city with a large variety of different offerings that had nothing to do with sex, drugs or canals. Given the number of immigrants here, the large influx of college students, the permissive and experimental culture that the city prides itself on and the city’s natural beauty, there’s more here to see and do than most cities five times its size.
The above and below image were taken from the same canal bridge, the first of a great travel quote I’d never come across before, the second a shot of the flowers adoring the bridge — a good chance for me to play around with the camera’s depth of field (and to get my art on).
Amsterdam’s answer to Central Park, Vondelpark, a 120-acre park located south of the center of the city, is the local’s favorite place to picnic, fire up the barbecue and of course, go biking. Really, if you come here without a bike (or aren’t running or have a dog in tow), you’re going to stick out. Do yourself a favor and bike-up before visiting, it’s worth the rental price.
Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw (concert house) is situated on the far end of Museumpleinm, the park where the Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum are also located. The concert hall is home to The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, as well as The Dutch Philharmonic Orchestra and The Dutch Chamber Orchestra.
While I was there, Amsterdam was showing off their eclectic offerings of summer festivals and concerts that occur throughout the summer. On this evening I attended a summer-themed performance entitled Romantic Summer Classics: Rossini to Bernstein, featuring performances of Rossini, Berlioz, Strauss and Bernstein.
From a ferry located just behind Centraal Station, you can head across the river to the neighborhood known as NDSM — an acronym derived from the companies that used to call this area home: the Netherlands Shipbuilding Company (NSM) and the Netherlands Dok Company (NDM). This once massive shipyard has now transformed into an eclectic hipster neighborhood/urban renewal project. The ferry itself takes a little over 10 minutes, and this being Amsterdam, it’s of course bike-friendly.
Running this year from July 3 – 13, the Over het IJ Festtival (Over the Ij Festival — the Ij being the waterfront that separates the two areas), is an 11-day theater festival featuring dance and theater performances, DJs, a food hall and a mix of short art performances that take place in a number of converted shipping containers on the festival grounds. Be sure to wander around the containers and talk with the many young artists putting on performances to get a great insight into the city’s thriving art world.
There are a pair of abandoned massive structures once used by the shipbuilding industry that used to employ thousands of locals before they were shut down in the 1970’s. During the summer, the Over het IJ Festival uses the cavernous spaces for a number of large-scale theater performances. I didn’t get a chance to catch this particular performance, but it apparently involved dinosaurs.
The WANNAPLAY? art installation on the festival grounds features a large swingset with motion-activated sensors that play varying vocal music performances based upon the speed and height of the swinger. I was there for over an hour. They politely asked me to leave.
Nearby, in a section of the northernmost warehouse, a temporary gallery has been set up featuring many of the local artists’ work.
By the water, Noorderlicht Cafe offers a great outdoor area to soak in the sun with beer in hand (or lover in lap) and great views of the river.
While there, I had the chance to meet up with Sander Groet, one of the pioneers of the dance music scene. Most notably, he helped found the renowned Mysteryland music festival in 1994. Today, he is a current co-owner of Club AIR and is involved in the Milkshake, Amsterdam Open AIR, Buiten Westen and Valhalla festivals taking place throughout the year.
And should there be any doubt as to the influence (and money) the dance music scene has had in The Netherlands, the above office tower located across the river from the center of Amsterdam — once home to Royal Dutch Shell — is being developed by a group co-led by Groet after winning a bid among over 20 other development proposals. (According to the A’DAM web site, the Dutch dance industry contributes more than 500 million euros to the Dutch economy each year and employs about 7,000 full-time employees.)
The newly developed tower will be home to a new hotel, several floors of office space dedicated solely to the music industry, a club in the basement named Hell, and a rooftop club called Heaven, complete with 360-degree views of the city and a swingset installation that will allow partiers to swing from the roof out into the open sky (yes, really). Look for its scheduled opening in late 2015.
Rush hour on the canals just outside of Amsterdam Centraal Station. This is the type of rush hour I like though.
Dating back to 1975, the Kwaku Summer Festival, located in a suburb about 15 minutes south of the center of Amsterdam, is a celebration of everything Suriname. For those of you who aren’t caught up on your Dutch colonial history or South American geography, Suriname is a small nation located on the northeastern coastline of South America, and was a Dutch colony from 1667 until it gained independence in 1975.
Today, there are 350,000 Surinamese living in the Netherlands (the population of Suriname totals 560,000), and they make up the fourth largest non-EU immigrant population in the country. During the height of the festival, it seems like a good a portion of the population is there, dancing up a storm and eating some of the best smelling barbecue in the region.
Among the many several dozen or so food vendors at the festival, you’ll find the best of Surinamese food in Holland, an amalgamation between African and South Asian staples. Lunch while I was there was provided by Patrick’s Catering, and consisted of barbecue chicken, spare ribs, noodles, yellow rice and assorted vegetables.
One of the best parts about running my travel site has been the opportunity to meet some amazing people around the world, many of whom have contributed their writings to the site.
A few of these great writers have helped out as regular contributors throughout the last few years, and it’s always fun getting to finally meet them in person wherever they happen to be (Guatemala, Colorado, The Netherlands . . .). The above picture is of me and Hannah Wallace Bowman, a frequent contributor to TheExpeditioner, and now a current resident of Amsterdam. While I was there, she dug up a third bike of hers on the far side of town and agreed to lend it to me and spend some time with me during the couple free days I had at the tail end of my trip.
The above picture is from a pit-stop we took at Museumplein with the Rijksmuseum in the background during a long day touring the city by bike — a fitting and memorable way to spend my last day in the city.
[I traveled to Amsterdam (IAmsterdam.com) courtesy of the city as part of their effort to highlight the various summer festivals taking place in the city during the summer months.]
Matt Stabile is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of TheExpeditioner.com. You can read his writings, watch his travel videos, purchase the book he co-edited or contact him via email at any time at TheExpeditioner.com.