December 2, 2017

Exploring the streets of Amsterdam

Day 2 of my Europe trip. Well, in reality, it’s the third day here. I’m riding on the super comfortable, incredibly smooth high-speed railcar called Thalys. It is pretty great. But let’s chat about some explorations accomplished yesterday.

A row of houses off a canal in Amsterdam.A row of houses off a canal in Amsterdam.

Waking up in Amsterdam

The morning in Amsterdam was beautiful, especially in the quiet residential neighborhood I woke up in. The soundscape was of bikes whizzing along roads, muffled conversations in the distance, birds chirping, and rail dropping. No honks, no yelling, just a pleasant and mild morning. Perfect for a croissant and coffee from the cafe across the street.

Morning view that leds out to a big ole porchMorning view that leds out to a big ole porch

Despite a great start to the day, I found a way. A way to mess it all up. Setting up a beautiful, pre-dawn photo of the magical Rijksmuseum took some time. It was a pretty good shot, great lighting. We’ve done it,” I said to myself, we’re off to a great start here.”

Forgot an SD card, making the photo impossible. And also realized I’d been standing it was started as a light winter rain that had turned into a pretty constant downpour. In winter clothes. Great for snow, but not great in rain.

After 15 minutes, I was back in my hotel room, soaking wet, no photo to show for it, and a stunning realization that I was not ready for a rainy, cold day in Amsterdam.

View from the porch. Not bad, but needed to get back out again!View from the porch. Not bad, but needed to get back out again!

The second attempt

Not to be deterred, and the caffeine setting in, we began the second leg of the morning adventures with a trip to the Apple Store. In another twist of bad fate, the Macbook charger I had forgotten cost a pretty 120EU to replace. Ouch.

The Apple Store. I kind of hate this place.The Apple Store. I kind of hate this place.

But we ended close to the city center, near a bunch of canals, and a more tourist-centric part of town. And thus began the exploration of the streets and businesses nearby, capturing photos along the way.

The square the Apple store was on. Ended up exploring around here for a couple hours.The square the Apple store was on. Ended up exploring around here for a couple hours.

I stumbled across a coffeeshop called The Dolphins (personally, I think The Dophlin” makes a bit more sense for a name, but that’s beside the point). It was run by two very chill hippies; and embodied the laid-back and relaxed vibe that the cafe exuded. It seemed like a blend between a kitschy, beach-side surfer shop; and a mid-city cafe with a laid-back-but-still-gives-a-shit style of service. I remember my Uber driver from the airport recommending the place, and was not disappointed.

The Dolphins Coffeeshop. With a hand-carved dolphin next to a bike rack. Because Amsterdam.The Dolphins Coffeeshop. With a hand-carved dolphin next to a bike rack. Because Amsterdam.

And like most coffeeshops in Amsterdam, the coffee was not the primary menu items. However, their actual coffee was surprisingly good, and reasonably priced. A pleasant afternoon treat.

Wish I took more photos of the shop itself, lots of kitchsy and cool art. Next time!Wish I took more photos of the shop itself, lots of kitchsy and cool art. Next time!

I ended up stuck inside nearly two hours, dodging the effects of a rainy day. A neighborhood cat decided to come join me, and the ladies who ran the place chatted a fair bit. A nice couple hours. Once the skies began to clear again, I ventured back outside; only for the rain to change its mind and again began to pour down. Which was fine, it was lunch time.

At a suggestion from the coffeeshop, ended up at a spot called Tomaz. A cozy lunch spot nestled down an alley, it proved a bit tricky to find; but I’m glad I did. The atmosphere was charming, filled with warm lights and packed into a small space. A tasty lunch menu proved a challenge, as everything looked great.

An intimate, cozy cafe off an alleyway in Amsterdam.An intimate, cozy cafe off an alleyway in Amsterdam.

Ordered a roast beef sandwich. Had some sort of slaw, a dutch-style cabbage, fresh dark bread, and the perfect amount of tomato and lettuce. The chef brought eat dish out to the guest and asked if it was good; a nice touch. Everything else I saw ordered around me also looked amazing; fresh ingredients, great smells, and presented very professionally. Everything was superb, and didn’t spend as much as I thought I would. Will come back here.

Found myself dodging the rain for a bit inside the cozy restaurant, and eventually ventured back out when the rain had subsided. Figures crossed that the skies were clear for the day, we dug deeper into the city center and some of the crazy and awesome city that Amsterdam has to offer.

Walking around the busy streetsWalking around the busy streets

A time to explore

Well-fed and a bit buzzed (the caffeine, beer, and effects of Amsterdam beginning to set in, after all), it was easy to walk up and down streets with no set goal. I walked around a couple museums, walked through some indoor malls, walked down alleys and over bridges. Took a few photos, and just was a tourist. The usual.

Nice buildings, Amsterdam.Nice buildings, Amsterdam.

I found myself a few kilometers away from where I started when it began to downpour again. Damnit, rain! I was forced in the lobby of a Hilton hotel while I called an Uber (had to rely on scattered wifi hotspots), making the escape back to my hotel. I didn’t get to explore in daylight as much as I had wanted, but did get a few good hours of exploration in. And plenty photos to show for it.

Storms-a-brewin'. Again.Storms-a-brewin'. Again.

Round three, start

Another shower and another change of clothes; was starting to feel I spent most of my day trying to dry off. After night began to set in, it looked like the rain had finally let up for good. Ended up walking around a bit before landing on a great dinner spot, a trendy late-night restaurant called Cannibal Royale. Ended up munching on a burger that had Sauerkraut, roasted pulled pork, fried onions, and a sweet BBQ sauce.

Alright, ya giant burger. Let's dance.Alright, ya giant burger. Let's dance.

After an IPA to wash it all down, ended up walking around Amsterdam for another few hours. Didn’t stop at too many places, but found some good photo spots I’d scouted before, and got to work. First time working with long exposure in a couple years, so it was a bit of a challenge. But with a nice tripod and a bit of patience, was able to score some great shots.

Night photography, take 1.Night photography, take 1.

I suddenly realized it was 2am and I was still just wandering around with camera gear. I packed it in, returning for a final time to the hotel. After looking through a couple photos on my laptop, realized that the long day was worth it. Got some really great photos, had a fun day exploring, and kind of fell in love with the city despite the rainy conditions.

Night photography, attempt 2Night photography, attempt 2

I was bummed that this was my last day here, but I will be back. Oh Amsterdam, I will be back.

Thoughts on Amsterdam

The architecture and general layout of Amsterdam makes it hard not to love. Canals carve through streets, reflecting the busy streets on rippling water. And walking in overly touristy areas, or breaking off the path onto quite streets and more residential neighborhoods; everything felt quirky and inviting. Everyone spoke English with relative ease, making everything just a bit easier to navigate.

I titled this photo "I'm bad at HDR."I titled this photo "I'm bad at HDR."

There was a lot of stuff I bumped into that I didn’t write about. Bars, cafes, coffeeshops, museums, etc. Overall I had a great day, despite the rain and busy streets. It was engrossing.

Meeting people along the way

When traveling, I’m just as happy doing my own thing or meeting new people. And with any travels, there’s periods where I can go solo for hours, or non-stop chat with people from hours. I like a mix, and Amsterdam certainly provided that. And there was some interesting characters along the way.

The Russian

A guy about my age pulls up the chair next to me at a bar. I’m eating a messy burger, so I’m not great company, and have found an out-of-the-way spot because I’m feeling a tad anti-social at the moment. I suppose the fuck off” vibe I was giving wasn’t strong enough.

As soon as he spoke, I figured he was Russian. Listen, I’m not a racist; but there’s just a single fact I know about solo male travelers from Russia.

Oh, great,” I thought to myself, a bit in-my-head, how long until we talk about prostitutes?”

I made a bet in my head that it would be 10 minutes. Checking my watch, it was 5.

He has a girlfriend in every major city around the world, just divorced his wife of 9 years, and loves being single. Knows all the good clubs and has an in at most. Wants to visit Brazil because apparently there’s 10 women to every one man. This guy.

He was actually pretty entertaining conversation, spoke English well, and I couldn’t help feeling a bit sorry for him. He mentioned his ex-wife every couple minutes. He seemed like he was having a good time, though, as he sipped on an Earl Grey tea.

I’ve got to have a cup of hot tea before going clubbing, you know?”

Oh, I know, strange Russian man. I know.

The girls next door

Two young ladies stayed in the room next to me. They hailed from Norway, I believe, though their accents were thick and a bit hard to understand. But I was like 90% sure they said they were from Norway.

Anyway, the hotel had these huge outdoor balconies outside our rooms. They spotted me out there and bothered me for a light — and again discussed the green tourism of Amsterdam for about an hour. Sounds like they had an even better time than me, and jotted down the names of a few places to check out on my return.

We complained about the stairs, the rain, and shared a quick cigarette before calling it a night. I’ve never met someone staying next to me at a hotel in the US in my life, so it was a nice night cap to a long day.

Couple from Bristol

This young married couple were a chatterbox, having just got off the train at Amsterdam Central. They made a quick stop before making the way to their hotel, where I bumped into them. They explained they were from a rougher part of Bristol, so the smoking culture wasn’t the primary draw; they loved the culture, streets, and the live and let live” lifestyle in Amsterdam.

It turns out they had scheduled the vacation six months earlier, but the wife fell ill and couldn’t make the trip. Instead of cancelling (it’s hard or impossible to get refunds on tickets and hotels), the husband went and had scouted out Amsterdam for his wife. And then he had just now saved up the funds and surprised her with this visit–both of them looked happy and relived to be there.

Anyway, we had chatted for about an hour, trading recommendations and things to do. I realized I was pulling for them, hoping they had a great vacation from their kids and family. I’ve never felt so invested in a stranger’s vacation, haha. Hope those coffeeshops are treating them well.

Let’s just talk about this Thalys again

Alright, listen. I wanted to just talk in the past tense, discussing yesterday’s happenings. But I can’t get over this ride.

First up: I’m pretty sure this train is floating. What is this rail technology that creates such a soothing, bump-free ride?

Second: despite the train being fairly busy, nothing like a noisy commute on a rail in the US. Everyone is whispering to each-other, no loud cellphone conversations, and the like. Even the conductor who checked my ticket was just a nice guy, barely spoke above a whisper, and fluently spoke in Dutch, French, and English with batting an eye. Why can’t we have this in the US?

This train literally changed my life. High-speed rail. It's the future.This train literally changed my life. High-speed rail. It's the future.

We literally just came to a stop; mid-paragraph. I couldn’t feel the train de-accelerating. This is madness, folks.

Arriving in Brussels soon

Since it appears that half-way through I began discussing my current day, I’ll finish up with today’s plans. We arrive in Brussels, drop off luggage in my hotel, and begin exploring the city.

Arriving in Brussels, already dark!Arriving in Brussels, already dark!

I’ve got a few photo spots, a few breweries, and a few streets I want to walk down. Everything else is up in the air… plenty of time to get lost in a new city. Just how we planned it, folks.


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