Red by Night


Once the sun had set, a photographic pack was assembled, and we headed out into the night of Amsterdam. As soon as we got off the train, we entertained some photography of local monuments and some abstract buildings before we wandered into the Red Light District.

The barricades that can be found guarding walkways from automobiles have a ring of red lights so there can be no mistake in where you are going. The district is a completely different animal during the night that what can be seen (and photographed) during the day. I was very careful to be a distance from anything of interest, and to never shoot directly into one of the red lined windows. There was an entourage of large men standing at a very casual attention to make sure that sort of thing didn't happen. They didn't seem to mind me shooting down the canal, and the long exposures let me indulge in some very colourful people watching.

The canal was lined with viewing windows lined in red light. Inside attractive, scantily clad women would try to grab your eye, and offer deals in fantasy. The rooms they occupied were very small, but each sported a bed and some way over covering the window once the victim was inside. We watched for a transaction to happen, and weren't disappointed. Most of the crowd were laughing tourists, ogling and mocking whatever they saw, but there were a couple people that you could tell were there for all the wrong reasons.

After we had our fill of the Red Light District we headed back to The Grasshopper to waste some time. We indulged in over priced beers and watched as the dazed patrons danced to the music. We decided that our night tour of Amsterdam was not yet complete, and we let the last Tram to Ingrid's pull away at 12:30. Once our fate was sealed in our walk home we meandered about, repeatedly waiting for the rain to stop so I could take some more photos. The perseverance in trying to get the shot was rewarded with a beautiful reflection photograph.

On the walk home, I couldn't help but notice that large canals did not have any railing on their edge. The contrast between the dense collection of bikes, and the openness of the water was hard to miss, but I did take note. Never in North America would you see a sidewalk paralleled by a meter drop into water. Like, My Lord, some idiot might fall in and sue somebody, we have to think of the safety of the public, we have to be: scared. We discussed the contrast in mindsets as we continued our walk. In Amsterdam it is more of a personal responsibility that you don't put yourself in harm's way. People need to ensure that they don't walk under people hoisting stuff into a building from the street, or walk into lengths of unprotected canal. One feels that there is less lawsuits over hot coffee, lost pants and confusing people into what's healthy. It's refreshing to know that there is a place on earth where sanity still reigns. We bantered on about such things until we returned to our little dry spot in Amsterdam some time after three in the morning.


Rain by Day

Many Tunnels

My first Monday without work in some time started with some ominous grey clouds and spats of rain. We wandered down to the baker and got half of a fresh, sliced loaf of bread for 0.95€ and enjoyed it with some cheese and meat while we planned out our day. Sonja needed to meet up with her her Oma. We found her as she disembarked from the Tram. Some pleasantries were exchanged, and we headed off in search of coffee. The warm rain didn't seem to slow Amsterdam down at all, and we found a cafe where we had the Dutch traditional coffee with a little cookie. I wasn't able to participate in the conversation very much, although they were very patient in explaining what they were talking about when they say the confused look on my face.

I spent a good deal of time checking out the decore of the place. Mirrors were on most walls, trying to maximize the little space. Cloth is hung at the door to allow the fresh air of the open door to not be polluted with a draft bothering the closest partons. It seems that most restrooms have a single knob on the sink, and it is always produces a luke warm water.

Ingrid and I went off on a little walk to leave Sonja and her Oma alone, and as we walked about Ingrid filled me in on all sorts of little details about Amsterdam. A Gaeper is a ceramic man with his tongue out, which designated the pharmacies in the streets. Everyone rides a bike in Amsterdam as they are very convienient, and because of the chain guard every single bike has, even gentlemen in suits and ladies in dresses or skirts are able to ride about without mangling their clothes. Walking back to the cafe we stumbled upon a ladybug built into the stonework, which is a symbol against senseless violence. I learned more in that little hour, than most tours can ever do justice in significantly more time.

When the shadows started to get long, we said our good-byes to Oma and finished up some errands to produce a nice tasty dinner. We needed our strength for our late night adventures. As I walked about for the last couple of days, I was taking inventory of what I would like to see and photograph once the sun had set.


First Full Day in Europe

So Many Bikes

Morning came a lot quicker than I felt it should have. As soon as we were jostled from our sleep, I found that one of my eyes had a problem staying open. It knew the body should still be unconscious despite what my brain was telling it. I grabbed up my shaving kit, and went into the shower to wash off. The tiny stall didn't take that much getting used to, but a squeegee upon completion was required to ensure that others using the toilet wouldn't track water all over the apartment. I pried open my bag and retired my smelly clothes and started pulling out a fresh set.

It was at this point I realized I forgot to pack any pants. I remember pulling them out, and folding them into a pile. I also remember taking them and placing them in the pile of stuff I was going to stuff into my pack, but I can't remember the critical part of actually putting them inside the bag. It was little comfort that sitting on the bed back in Calgary were a couple pairs of pants and a pair of shorts. Plans were altered so that the shopping we planned to do would happen first thing after breakfast.

We sat to a breakfast of croissants with nice old cheese followed by a casual coffee. As soon as we were fed, we took the Tram to the Central Station, and had a bit of a walk about. We saw several small shops and bars, as well as a small market. Ingrid explained to us that a lot of pubs and cafes in Amsterdam have a resident cat that lives in the establishment. It was one of the small things that was pointed out to us, that you notice much more once you've been made aware. All sorts of small trivia was revealed to us. We discovered that blue license plates are only found on taxis, not that we needed the ability to find them, they cost 37€ per kilometer. We were also told that every building in Amsterdam has a gable with a hook on it over the tallest window. Since the hallways and stairways are so narrow, the only way one can moved into their apartment is to use a pulley on the hook and hoist everything up the front of the house.

We wandered about the red light district, and saw a sliver of how liberal Amsterdam is. We then looped back and caught a Canal tour where, for over an hour, we were exposed to some narrow canals and many of the sights. The expansive canal network as well as the narrow bridges and thick canal locks made me realize that the city had it's roots in defense. It would be very hard to invade a place like Amsterdam from either land or sea, and a few men could defend it against a much larger force.

After touring about for a while, I realized that living in Calgary has messed up my sense of scale on city maps. Amsterdam is a dense city, and you can cover a good deal of it quickly on foot. We worked our way into a shopping district so I could get some new jeans, which didn't take me very long at all. We had a nice meal at a pizzeria, and on our way back to the apartment we came across a casino. The place was quite a contrast to a North American casino, I would almost call it an arcade. There was no smoking, drinking or live dealers. The entire place was all electronic machines from the poker tables to the roulette tables. I couldn't even begin to fathom how much money you would make if you didn't need to hire any staff.

Back at Ingrid's apartment we planned out the next few days, being sure to include night photographic adventures, catching up with relatives, sight seeing and a visit to the zoo. Some plans were also made to allow me to purchase a second pair of European pants.


The Very Beginning

Airports Suck

The day had finally arrived, and it was time to embark across the ocean and start a two week vacation in Europe. Mike was kind enough to drive us to the airport, at a time we thought would be early enough. We arrived, confronted with the longest line in which I've stood in quite some time. Not that it mattered, as everyone got the same, designed by a midget with no arms, seat that Air Transat is known for, and given the chance to do it over again, I'd pay the extra money to ride on something where I can make it 30 minutes without being rammed by a cart.

The line was processed rather quickly, and surprisingly there were no problems at security. Once we were clear we searched for some hot food, but had to settle for some convenience sandwiches, and a cold pint before we boarded the plane.

I managed to sleep through most of the three movies and food services, but it was definitely a tight flight in the middle seat. Most of the flight my faced pressed into the seat in front of me, as there was no way my broad shoulders were going to share the back rests with the other two gentlemen. We had a non-verbal agreement, every once in a while I would lean back and they would both slump forward for a while. We all knew that there was nothing any one of us could do about our situation, but work together to make it as comfortable as possible. Everyone on the plane clapped when the pilot brought us down onto the tarmac. I wasn't sure why, as I'm pretty sure landing the plane is in his job description, but perhaps he did an exceptionally good job while I was sleeping. As soon as we had our luggage and were through passport control, Sonja's aunt Ingrid was there to pick us up.

We stopped at a lounge and picked up a couple of Heinekens. Time between beers: 10 hours 52 minutes and 51 seconds. We were told that a proper Dutch beer has two fingers of head, and if the beer is given to you without the required head, you can return it for a fresh one.

We jumped from train to tram and ended up at Ingrid's apartment just off of Waalstraat (Wall Street) on Ijselstraat. Her 'typical' Amsterdam apartment was a tight 47 meters square (just a smidgen over 500), with the balcony included in that space. There definitely isn't a lot of junk in that size of a space. The stove doubles as a countertop and shelf, the fridge is a typical size to find under a Canadian bar, a single sink in the whole apartment and a toilet stall that doubles as a shower stall all worked together to get all the needs into the small space. Pendo was a bit wary of us, not that it mattered, all we really wanted was a shower and a bed. Afterall, tomorrow we were exploring Amsterdam