Tripping to Amsterdam

Today’s Post by Ken MacAdams

Called the Venice of the north, Amsterdam doesn’t play second fiddle to the grand Italian city. We all have a mental picture of this land famous for tulips, old wooden windmills, and miles of waterways and I decided to see a piece of it. Call it crazy, but instead of pre-planning, I packed light, and jumped a jet to Amsterdam. In my camera backpack I had my Panasonic Lumix G85, and one lens: a G Vario 12-60mm f/3.5-5.6 Power OIS lens, spare battery, charger and my laptop. Affixed to the backpack was my Sirui Carbon Fiber tripod.

My overseas flight out of Minneapolis left in early evening, so I slept high above the Atlantic. Arriving rested after 10 AM, I went through customs, bought a train/Metro/bus pass for two days and was on my way into Central Station. I was ready to pound the pavement!

The city is laced with miles and miles of canals. To facilitate crossing the canals, there are some 3000 bridges over the canals and each was lined with an array of bicycles chained to the railings. Moored along the canals I spotted a wide assortment of house boats, many converted into living quarters. A narrow street paralleled each canal, then tall skinny buildings reached skyward, many dating to the 1600’s!

Gaining its name in the 12th century from a dam on the river Amstel, Amsterdam was originally a fishing village, but grew into one of the most important ports in the Dutch Golden Age in the 17th century. During that time, the city was a leading center for finance and diamonds. Ships traded with all points of the then-known world. The Old Town has been named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It was challenging to find myself in a completely new locale, with a map as my guide as I hit the pavement. To see as much of the city up close and personal, I walked. I wasn’t alone, natives here walk or bike because parking spaces are at a premium! My first destination was the Anne Frank house, but discovered all the tour tickets for the day were sold out. (It’s best to purchase them online, a month or two in advance!) The wait line for cancellations was about a mile long, so time for Plan B. Next door is the Westerkerk or West Church. A free organ concert was in progress, and sitting after an hour of walking seemed good. At the end of the concert, I signed up for a climbing tour up the old bell tower. Besides getting a great history lesson from our guide as we hiked 185 narrow, steep steps upward, we were awarded a great overlook of the city. It was a great vantage point to view the canals and streets below, as well as the chiseled roof lines of the old houses. After descending, I took a canal boat tour, which was great for orientation and information, but not so photographic. The weather for my first day couldn’t have been more ideal!

As daylight waned to evening, I began looking for the perfect canal bridge to photograph. I love night photography and each city has its own charm or signature. I’d spotted a few interesting candidates on the canal tour, so map in hand, I set off. This city exudes a special charm after dusk, when most of the bridge arches are illuminated. When I’d located a wonderfully lit bridge, I set up my tripod, and prepared to shoot. You’ll find shooting long shutter speeds, and noise reduction cycles afterwards will drain your battery more quickly than normal. I chose to shoot with a mid-range ISO, and an aperture of f/11. As darkness deepened, my shutter speeds lengthened.

The day and my energy were slipping away, so I packed my gear and headed for the hotel. I knew different opportunities would present themselves on the morrow.

More to follow…