VENICE OF THE NORTH

March 03, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

Seems like every trip to Europe has gone through Amsterdam, yet I never set foot outside the airport, that is until our last trip in 2012 when we finally experienced this fascinating city.  While not exactly Venice it does have its share of water and water transportation.  There are canals throughout this city and people are as at home on the water as they are on solid ground.  Every canal is lined by houseboats and jammed with every sort of craft from water taxis and pleasure boats to a variety of work boats.  The other thing that struck me about Amsterdam were bicycles, thousands of them.  Obviously this is the preferred mode of transportation for locals.  Every street seemed lined with rows of bicycles; how people keep track of which one is their's remains a mystery to me.  Maybe it doesn't matter.  A few years back Santa Cruz tried a "borrow a bike" program, painted them all yellow so they could be identified.  In two weeks time there wasn't a yellow bike in town!

Another measure of a city to me is its culture.  Amsterdam is home to numerous museums and other cultural attractions.  Of particular interest to me was the Concertgebouw (one of the world's finest venues for classical music), the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, and the Hermitage Amsterdam.

As a visitor on foot perhaps what impressed me most about the city, and indeed most large European cities, is their public transportation systems.  We found it easy to navigate either by light rail or water taxi.  One can reach nearly any part of the city by either means for a reasonable cost, and obviously many locals solved their problems with two-wheeled transportation, e.g. the bycycle.  While many large U. S. cities boast excellent public transportation (L.A. is not one of them) smaller cities across the country, like my home Santa Cruz, had better start serious thinking about where we go in the next twenty-years.  It often takes 30-40 minutes to move two or three miles, then find there is no place to park once there.  I thought of this today while sitting in traffic going nowhere.  And all we do is complain and commission yet another study that will ultimately be rejected...in favor of yet another study.  We are simply so wedded to the convenience and freedom of our cars that we refuse to entertain any alternative; and yet the day is approaching when we will have no alternative but change...or come to a complete halt.  

It seems to me we could take a lesson from many European cities on how to solve this problem.  There is no ideal answer but cities like Amsterdam seem to have employed a variety of means to get around. Why can't we do likewise?

The other thing where we might learn from the Dutch, and maybe the Venetians as well, is how to hold back the sea in this era of rising seas.  I think of the cute story of the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dike to hold back the sea; but it's only a half joke, they really do have a problem in the Low Countries, and they seem to know what they're doing.  Cities like New York, Boston, Miami, New Orleans, San Francisco/Oakland, Seattle, and others are going to have to deal with this.  New Orleans has already paid a huge price but I'm not sure any U.S. city is truly ready to cope with this all too real threat.

Amsterdam is one of the world's most liberal minded cities and seems to attract the younger generation.  We saw thousands of youth throughout the city at all hours of the day & night.  Public mores are far more progressive than our's in the U.S., and whether this is good or bad depends on your point of view, however, I must say they seem to get along just fine.  The worst thing I saw was a man smoking a joint on a street corner, oblivious to what was going on, but otherwise doing no harm to anyone.  I see worse than that every day in Santa Cruz.  And the guy smoking a joint?  Well, he was a good photo subject.

The major thing I don't care for in Amsterdam is Schiphol Airport.  It is huge...a major connecting point for all of Europe.  One is going to walk a lot getting from one terminal to the other, go through what seems like a never ending series of checkpoints.  I just seemed to be caught up in the current of humanity until I eventually arrived where I needed to be.  I also found the signage confusing, maybe because I don't read Dutch?  I guess I would have to say the experience is much like New York's Kennedy or Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson!  I don't read Spanish very well either.

So what's all this got to do with photography?  Nothing really, except for maybe the guy with the joint.

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