Amsterdam – Part One

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My parents (and dog) recently moved to Amsterdam, in the Netherlands. It was their anniversary, and my mum’s birthday within the space of a few weeks, and so we headed out to visit them for a bit.

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Rather than shoot film, I decided to just use the Leica M8 to give it a proper spin – ‘doing a Gorbot‘ in black and white.

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No matter where you go, you can’t escape the American flag.

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That aside, Amsterdam really is beautiful.

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Well, outside of the city centre at least. Whilst the central area is filled with drunken idiots on stag do’s talking about the ‘prozzies’ they’ve just exchanged services with, there is a whole other side to explore – each side street riddled with wee pubs, restaurants, and cafes.

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There were a few things about the city that everybody knows, but which still really surprised me.

One of those is the abundance of canals, and water in general.

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Because of the altitude (or lack thereof), there was a ton of snails and slugs on the street paths at night. Big slugs. It was really strange. Coming from Denver, where slugs are hardly ever seen, Grace was fascinated with the beasts.

Infact, it seemed like there was a whole lot of wildlife around the city – rabbits, exotic birds, and even massive Highland-esque cows roaming around bike paths.

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Despite the weather being similar to Scotland, there were cafes with outdoor seating everywhere. How come Europe manages to pull this off so well compared to the UK? It’s one of the things I love.

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For the remote worker, where better is is there to call your office for the day?

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My sister made the trip over from Leeds as well, so it was the first time that the entire (close) family were together in a while – now spread out across three different countries. It was always bound to happen, given our dispensations. I wouldn’t have bet that I’d be the one left in Scotland mind you.

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There’s something about a Leica that makes you shoot it like a Leica.

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One other statement that will seem obvious about Amsterdam is that there are a lot of bicycles. When I say that, I really mean that there are a lot. They’re everywhere. The dedicated lanes are impeccably maintained, and every man, woman, and child can be seen riding their bikes around confidently at all hours of the day. Instead of car parks, there are multi-storey bike parks. There are even traffic lights just for bikes.

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In a Scottish property law case a judge once described bikes as ‘an aid to pedestrianism’. In Amsterdam, they seem to have replaced pedestrianism altogether. Here, the cyclist is king.

There are tunnels under the main roads that are just for bikes. Pedestrians? Well, they’ll just have to find another route. Don’t try crossing a road or path without first checking for two wheels hurtling towards you. They won’t stop, and if you get in their way – whether in a car or on foot – it will be your fault. No question about it.

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The skills of the locals when on their bikes are also pretty impressive. As well as carrying about their pets/babies/shopping, they also can be seen cycling along with no hands or with one hand bringing another bike alongside. Need to carry a passenger? Grand! Just hop on the back – either to sit gracefully with both legs off to the side, or to stand ontop. They must have far more finely developed senses of balance than we do elsewhere.

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Given that the sheer abundance of bikes everywhere, as well as their complete integration into the city’s culture was such a surprise to me, it made me wonder how somebody from Amsterdam who had never been anywhere else would feel travelling to one of our homes…

“What do you mean there are no bike lanes?”

“Why are there so many cars everywhere?”

I can’t help but think they’ve probably got it the right way around.

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I have been known to scoff at people when they talk about their 26 mile bike rides in Glasgow. Not because I think it’s dumb, but because I can’t imagine doing it. After about 2 miles I’m exhausted, and don’t particularly want to navigate angry car drivers that would gladly run you over. In Amsterdam though, cycling is a pleasure. We went on what was going to be (and felt like) a short bike ride. It turned out to be 18 miles (with a break for beer halfway through). The flat land and structural provisions make it a completely natural way to get around.

I found myself wishing that we lived there so I could cycle to work, and then realised that I don’t need to get out of bed to work. Ah well.

They do park their bikes in weird places. We passed this

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It’s a shame that most people only see the central bits of Amsterdam. The best bits (by far) are further out. Everyday life is far more interesting than the gaudy parts that tourists are exposed to.

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One of my favourite things to do in a new place is go to the local supermarkets. Such a normal, boring thing like a shopping trip is turned into something completely new and interesting. The wee bits you take for granted at home are totally different when abroad, and all the tiny differents are great fun to discover.

One of the best is discovering that the local beer selection is a thousand times better, not to mention cheaper, than what you have in Tesco. Bottles that would cost at least £3 (if you can get them at all) work out at about the equivalent of 80p each.

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There are some things you just can’t get in the same way though. My dad cracked out a rather special bottle of Laphroaig that he got as a gift when he left his old job. This blew the regular stuff out of the water.

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I liked Amsterdam a lot.

There’s more to come, but this will do for now.

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say hello: ~@stephenemm or ~Google+

Barbados – I’m on a boat

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As part of our trip to Barbados we went out on a private yacht to have a cruise about, swim with turtles, and all that jazz. After we had swished around the ship-wrecks and exotic fish for a while, we lazed about on the deck to see some of the coast.

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The water was unbelievably blue, everywhere.

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We’d had a bit of a tough time trying to find food that catered for all of the dietary requirements in our group. Barbados is pretty much just fish for breakfast, lunch, and dinner… which starts off great, but after a few days leaves you gagging for something else.

Hats off to the crew for coming up with the tastiest thing we’d eaten all week, all within the confines of a tiny yacht’s cabin.

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Slices of fresh pineapple were doled out whilst we lazed about in the sun.

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See that weird ship in the background? Remember it for later.

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This day was probably the highlight of the whole trip. We’d just gotten the chance to snorkel with some amazing fish… seen turtles coming up for air, and drifted around the top of some shipwrecks, and were now hanging out in the sun on a private yacht with some great people. We joked about how surreal the whole thing seemed:

“I’m not sure about you guys, but I really take issue with this working environment.”

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The ship crew were convinced I looked like Alan from the hangover, and so got me to parade around the boat like a film star. I wasn’t too bothered, so long as they kept the free rum punches flowing, we were in business.

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Prasath here wasn’t the strongest swimmer, but he took it in his stride – sinking goodness knows how many rum punches before we got off the boat. I tip my hat to you good sir.

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Remember that weird ship? Probably the last thing you expect to see in some tropical paradise is a floating pile of rust that looks like something out of the Pirates of the Caribbean. Very strange. I wonder if it had anything to do with that rat infested Russian thing that’s going to crash into Scotland at somepoint.

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Good day all round.

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April 2014, Barbados
Lomo LC-A – expired 35mm film

say hello: ~@stephenemm or ~Google+


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Back in May Grace and I had to head down to Liverpool to extend her visa at one of the (what was formerly known as) the UKBA’s Premium Appointment offices. Why we couldn’t just go to the Glasgow office is a story in of itself.

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Despite the frustration involved in the whole visa process, and the fact that we had to travel so far for the appointment, it ended up being a good excuse to visit a city that neither of us had been before.

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Liverpool had always been on my list of places to go at somepoint, ever since I made pals with a bunch of folk from around there as a teenager. The attitude to life seems awfully similar to Glaswegians in lots of ways, and I feel more of a connection with Scousers than I necessarily do with other areas in England.

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The Docks area in particular was pretty interesting.

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There was a bit too much of a focus on the Beatles for my liking. We went to the Cavern Club, but it was pretty dreadful. Lots of music venues who have long histories and reputations have managed to keep their edge, but the Cavern Club had just become tourist-filled, open every night for solo singers doing Beatles covers for loud Americans drinking over-priced beers. It was pretty disappointing, though if I was in the same position I’m not sure I’d pass up the easy money.

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The view from our Travelodge hotel room on the top floor. The room was huuuuge, but the layout was exactly the same as every other Travelodge. They hadn’t bothered to do anything with the extra space, so there was all this empty floor… very weird.

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I realised that I didn’t know a whole lot about Liverpool before we went. There was apparently a strong link between the city and China, given the docks. There was a Chinatown, apparently home to the oldest Chinese community in Europe – with the Arch at the opening the largest of its kind outside of China.

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