Amsterdam – Part Two

L1005137 Amsterdam   Part Two

Here’s the second set of pictures from Amsterdam a couple of weeks ago, though it feels a bit odd writing this from a balcony in Athens.

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As Grace said to me when we got to Greece, it’s strange going from one place to another, as the two cities are worlds apart.

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This particular Sunday we headed over to one of Amsterdam’s only (if not the) only micro brewery on the east side of the city.

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The brewery itself sits next to a large windmill. Despite the two not being connected at all, everybody knows the brewery because of its location.

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Rather bizarrely, the place didn’t open until 2pm. Arriving just before, we sat outside and waited, whilst a hodge-podge queue of tourists queued up, or repeatedly tried the various doors, as if everybody was just standing around for the sake of it.

Clearly, this place was on the list for visitors to come see.

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Once the doors opened and the initial rush died down, there were some nice beers on tap. The styles were pretty traditional, but varied.

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We sat and sampled all of the ones that came on tap, with the prices pretty reasonable for what was on offer.

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The plan had been to sit and spend the whole afternoon lazily drinking beer and eating, but it didn’t quite work out that way, which was a shame.

Whilst it was a nice enough place, and the beer was tasty, it wasn’t anything particularly spectacular. If you’re used to a good supply of craft beer where you’re from, this won’t be anything too impressive.

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In terms of food, the offering was really poor. The cheese was just bog standard gouda that could be found in any supermarket, and there was no bread, burgers, or anything that you might expect to find in a trendy brew-pub. Instead, we ordered what was advertised as ‘smoked sausage’, only to find that it was chunks of completely raw meat.

I’m no snob, and wouldn’t mind traditional raw meat if that’s what was advertised, but the descriptions (in English) were misleading. We watched as others made the same mistake we had… even the pigeons didn’t like it.

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Overall it was pretty disappointing. It seemed like they had gotten used to a captive audience of tourists, as well as occupying the position of the only known craft brewery in the city, so were complacent, or even a bit pretentious at times. Given that the quality of beer in Amsterdam is pretty good in general (if you like real German/Belgians), I couldn’t see myself rushing back, or even suggesting that other people go out of their way to visit.

The alcohol did have the desired effect in the end though.

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Scotland were playing just over the border whilst we were there, and so we ended up meeting up with these goons from back home:

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They made me wish I had brought my kilt. As well as how it looks when worn casually, seeing it in a foreign place just gave the whole thing even more impact.

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They also introduced us to FEBO – a sort of cheap, even faster fast food outlet, where you insert coins into a slot and take burgers and other unusual things out of mini microwaves.

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I’m sure it seems like an even better idea after a few beverages.

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See ya soon, Amsterdam.

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August 2014
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Leica M8 – Jupiter-12 35mm f2.8

say hello: ~@stephenemm or ~Google+

Automattic Grand Meetup 2014 – Park City, Utah

Once a year, all employees of Automattic get together in the same place for a week. This year the location was Park City, in Utah.

The place itself was pretty amazing – an off-season ski resort set in a valley with breathtaking views of the mountains. Park City is where the Sundance film festival is held, and it wasn’t difficult to see why. The altitude was something like 6000 feet, which is 2000 feet above the highest mountain in the UK. Waking up wheezing in the middle of the night, or after climbing a flight of stairs.

There’s no real way to describe what it’s like walking into a room full of people that you’ve never met in person, but feel like you know intimately already. When you only interact online, personalities seem to take on a much bigger form than they do with everyday interactions.

Despite having a great time, my head was about 5000 miles away back home, with what was going on in Scotland. I didn’t take that many pictures as a result, which I already regret. Here they are:

Leica M8 – Jupiter-12 35mm f2.8

say hello: ~@stephenemm or ~Google+

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+