All posts dated between November 2004 and June 2005 were imported to Keith’s Amusing Musings on January 21, 2006 from my previous travel blog. I decided to delete that blog and move all its content here which some readers may find disruptive considering Keith’s Amusing Musings did not come online until October 2005. The good news there will be only one blog, Keith’s Amusing Musings, going forward. Enjoy these older stories.
Unfortunately, our bodies had not adjusted to the 9-hour time difference so the day started early at 3AM.
Since I was unable to force myself to sleep, I decided to use the wee morning hours to take a few pictures of old Amsterdam around our hotel. TB was having no part of it and opted to lounge in the bed. After getting dressed and gathering the photo equipment I was off.
The early morning air was brisk but not too cold. Since it had stopped raining just a few hours earlier everything was still damp. Traipsing around a foreign place alone during the late night/early morning I was somewhat concerned for my safety. The otherwise tolerant Amsterdam community was still reeling from the murder of Dutch filmmaker, Theo van Gogh, and the anti-Muslim backlash in its wake. However, as an aspiring photographer, I was determined to begin capturing parts of our trip that would otherwise go unseen. Also, since I was armed with my tripod I figured I could mount a solid melee attack if provoked. :shocked:
For my first shot, I decided to photograph the Hotel Pulitzer’s façade. The first thing I noticed was the number of people out and about. Pairs of women on bicycles, groups of guys on foot, the occasional taxi, I was never alone which surprised me given it was an early Saturday morning. I guess New York is getting some competition for its billing as “The City that Never Sleeps.” I setup the tripod low to the ground (the center of the lens was about 18” from the pavement) to capture the brickwork leading into the hotel in the foreground with the hotel’s main entrance in the background. This required that I sit on the damp ground to take some meter readings and compose the final shot.
The shot to the right actually consists of two separate images blended together using Adobe Photoshop. The first photo was taken after metering the highlights & midtones. The second photo was taken to bring out the shadow detail. This is the digital equivalent of taking multiple exposures on the same negative in film photography.
The second item on my photo to-do list was to capture one of Amsterdam’s famous canals with some combination of a bridge or landmark in the background.
As luck would have it, Hotel Pulitzer is a block away from Westermarkt (“western tower”) located on the corner of Prinsengracht & Raadhuisstraat. You may recognize Prinsengracht as the street on which the Anne Frank house is located (one block north of Westermarkt). I took the shot to the left which shows Westermarkt and the Prinsengracht (“prince canal”) just outside Hotel Pulitzer. I took the photo to the right shortly thereafter to better showcase the architecture and grandeur of Westermarkt.
I had to do the “double exposure“ trick for the photos above as well. Doing so allowed me to capture details in the tower and its surroundings. Such is the expense for taking pictures before sunrise with minimal natural light and insufficient artificial illumination.
The last photo I took on this outing is to the left. It’s simply one of many secondary thoroughfares running radially toward the city center intersecting Prinsengracht. It gives a feel for the density of the homes and shops typical throughout Amsterdam. It also highlights the quantity and quality of masonry found throughout this historic harbor city.My hands were starting to get cold so I headed back to the hotel to kill some time processing the photos and beginning the day’s blog entry. It was now about 5:20AM.
By the time TB was ready to start our day of touring I had already been awake for 7 1/2 hours. We decided to head down to the Pulitzer restaurant for a “full American” buffet-style breakfast. Apparently, “full American” adds eggs, sausage, bacon, pancakes and other cooked foods to the pastries, cereal, juice/coffee/tea of the continental breakfast. Since we were in Amsterdam we decided to do as Americans do (uhh, wait a minute). Thankfully, they also provided smoked salmon and fresh-squeezed orange juice which made the €25,00 per person (~$33.00…for breakfast!) price tag infinitesimally less shocking. We Americans have been hearing the market reports stating how the U.S. dollar is lagging other major foreign currencies (particularly the euro, the British pound and the Japanese yen). Well, nothing drives this home quicker than a European vacation. Look at it this way: Things cost roughly the same in Amsterdam as they do in the U.S. For example, the hotels here also attempt petty larceny charging €4,00 for the bottled water in the minibar. The kicker is $100.00 in U.S. currency currently converts to about €77,00 (before commissions) so that bottle of water costs us poor Americans about 30% more in Amsterdam. Expanding ones geographical & cultural horizons through foreign travel isn’t cheap but it’s worth every cent.
€ is the symbol for the euro which is the new currency adopted by the majority of European countries (with the notable exceptions of Great Britain, Denmark and Sweden) which began circulating in 2002. I should also mention Europeans use the comma the way we do the period and the period the way we do the comma when numbers are involved. I guess this is inline with driving on different sides of the road and using different units of measurement. On the last issue, I actually wish the U.S. would convert to metric (we all know “two liter” and “400 meter relay” so we’re practically there, right?) but I digress.
Immediately following breakfast we headed to our first destination, Centraal Station, to depart on a canal tour. We made a quick stop at the AVH supermarket near the hotel to buy a strippenkarten which is basically a multi-trip tram ticket that can be used multiple times on the same trip by different people. The price for the “strip card” was €8,50 and would get us both to Centraal Station and back following our canal tour in addition to getting us back to Centraal Station on Sunday to catch a train to the airport. We had already confirmed with the concierge that we needed to catch the #13 or #17 tram to reach Centraal Station and we only had to wait a short time before the #13 arrived. The Amsterdam public transportation system, like other European cities, is top notch. The electric trams are modern with displays showing the next stop, news and weather information. The entire process of boarding and unboarding the tram was highly efficient save for the ticket clerk who sits in a small booth onboard the tram and validates tram cards, stamps strippenkarten, and even sells tram tickets for passengers who come aboard unprepared. Having a single person responsible for all these activities at each stop tended to create a logjam whenever large groups boarded the train.
We arrived at Centraal Station without much fanfare in under 10 minutes. From there, we had a short walk to the Holland International ticket booth to purchase our canal tour tickets for €8,50 per person. We then queued (European for “stood in line”) with about 40 other people to wait for the next vessel. Our tour was scheduled to depart at 11:45AM so we had about a 20-minute wait.
Once we got situated on the tour boat and things got underway the one-hour tour was pretty uneventful. We toured each canal enveloping the city center and also cruised along the Amstel river for a bit. We learned about the different types of gables present in Amsterdam architecture (both homes and warehouses) and how every home (new and old) has a hoisting hook at the top to provide a method for getting furniture and supplies to the different levels. Apparently the stairways within the homes and warehouses are built narrow and steep to save space which makes it impossible to carry large items up them. The last interesting thing we learned is Amsterdam was originally a marshland so all the buildings sit atop wooden and concrete piles that go 30-40 meters down through the peet to firm sand. In fact, Amsterdam got its name because a dam was built on the Amstel river to protect the early inhabitants from flooding. The settlement became known as “Amstel Dam.“ I’m not sure how the L became an R but that’s how Amsterdam got its name, so we’re told.
At the end of the tour we decided to take a walk around the area and just started wandering aimlessly. Our walk took us past restaurtants and shops including a sex museum which we didn’t bother to explore. In some bizarre way we ended up doing a big circle back to Centraal Station. It was around 2PM. Since we planned to visit the Anne Frank house at 5PM we decided to go back to the hotel to rest beforehand. We proudly boarded the #13 tram with strippenkaarten in hand. We noticed there seemed to be a lot more people traveling by tram at that time and things got crowded pretty quickly. We waited patiently for our stop (Prinstengarcht/Westermarkt) to be announced as the tram whisked us away. Several minutes passed and TB asked me if I thought we had been on the tram that long on our way to Centraal Station. It did seem we had been on the tram longer than before but I wasn’t sure and, always the patient one, said things were probably going slower due to the increased traffic and tram occupancy.
After several more minutes we still didn’t recognize any of the areas, landmarks or stops so I asked TB to look at her map. By the time we realized we’d missed our stop the tram had gone beyond the area covered by the map! As it turned out, our stop was about 4 stops from Centraal Station. We were 10+ stops beyond that. We casually strolled off the tram at the next stop to avoid looking like lost tourists as we proceeded to catch the next tram back. We both kicked ourselves for making such a rookie mistake since we pride ourselves on having detailed information and flawlessly navigating directions during our travels. Of course, one positive is we briefly saw other parts of the city that we had not planned to visit. We boarded the inbound tram and were disheartened to learn, since we overshot our stop by so much, we actually went outside the zone limit usually covered by 2 of the 15 available stamp slots on the strippenkaarten. The inbound trip would require 3 slots per person which meant we would only have 5 slots remaining to get us to Centraal Station when we departed Sunday on our way back to the airport. We didn’t know if 5 would be sufficient for the both of us.
Back at the hotel, TB took a nap and I worked on the blog entry and picture processing until the time came for us to head to the Anne Frank house. The Anne Frank tour is a must-do for anyone visiting Amsterdam the first time. The lines have a tendency to get long as the tour is a self-scheduled, self-paced stroll throughout the house in which Anne, her family and 4 others hid to avoid the Nazis. The tour cost €7,50 per person and, indicative of its popularity, its program was available in 8 languages. It took us about an hour to complete the tour. The most memorable parts for me were seeing the small quarters the 8 people were restricted to for 2 years and being able to read (actually “look at” since I don’t know German) a couple of Anne’s actual composition books which comprise her diary.
We returned to the hotel at around 5:45PM and just hung out in the room watching The National Geographic channel. We ordered room service at around 9PM and watched more TV. TB went to bed around 11PM and I stayed up until almost midnight working on the pictures, editing the blog and tinkering with the camera.
Dutch vocabulary word of the day: huis (HOOSE) which means house.