As someone who has to travel for a portion of my job, there are times it is a drag- and there are times when I am surprised by the unexpected opportunities that come my way. Such was this trip!
God took what was an unfortunate schedule and turned it into a brief but delightful layover in Amsterdam. I had never been to the Netherlands before, so a several hour layover gave me just enough time to sample a very small taste of the city.
Central Train Station and the loading dock for a canalboat tour.
I wasn't quite sure what to expect although I knew a bit about the city from my own reading, guidebooks, and an occasional look at it from travel programs on television. Flying over the city in preparation for landing gave me my first look at the numerous canals and waterways. Something very charming and different was waiting to be discovered!
My photos are certainly not the quality of those by my friend and fellow blogger Len Yokoyama, but they at at least give you a small picture of what can be found just moments from the main train station, Central Station, about 15 minutes from the airport.
Exiting the train station very, very early on a Monday morning, I wandered out about 6-7 blocks into the city. The architecture of the buildings caught me off guard by how uniquely different they are compared to other parts of Europe. Quite a beautiful mix of styles and colors! Some structures tilted slightly due to normal wear and change of the water levels in the canals over the years. The old cobblestone walkways varied as well, making sure I had to watch where I was walking.
The Salvation Army building.
Amsterdam, like any big city, provides home to a variety of people and landmarks, most co-existing peacefully even among a variety of philosophies, cultures and lifestyles. The century old beautiful Salvation Army building, above, exists just minutes away from this more recently erected small statue (below) that is an ode to the prostitutes found throughout the city.
Small statue honoring the city's sex workers.
I had purposely chosen to avoid the infamous Red Light District, so I was surprised to come across this piece of art on the other side of town. Such is the mix of services and landmarks found side by side in the city. During my walk, it was not uncommon to find a charming cafe next to a "coffee" shop, next to a souvenir shop, next to a small cultural building of interest, next to a sex shop displaying the latest clothing in latex and leather as well as the newest sex toys for sale.
Charming cafes everywhere!
Unfortunately, the canal tours were later in the day, way past the time I would need to be at the airport for my connecting flights. The Van Gogh Museum and the Anne Frank House were also not open, nor were they even close to where I was able to walk. Even if I could have, I doubt either would be available last minute in the high season of Summer. Perhaps next time.
Inside the airport's main terminal.
By the time I began to head back to the airport, the city seemed to come to life. I came across a large group of bicyclists heading deeper into the city, men in large trucks gathering trash, and most surprisingly, a car emerging onto one of the side streets via an underground automobile elevator that brought the vehicle up to street level from some parking garage below. Fascinating stuff!
If my wife and I have an opportunity for another trip to Europe, I'll certainly suggest we add a few days in Amsterdam. It would be hard to give up time in our beloved Paris to do so, but I was a bit fascinated by this city of canals and contradictions.
(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)