I’m lucky enough to live within a 15 minute drive of London Gatwick Airport, the second busiest airport in the UK. Which means I can get to many places in Europe pretty quickly. This is something I have not really made good enough use of. I do most of my photography in either London or Brighton, 2 fantastic places to photograph. Sometimes however it’s nice to photograph somewhere new, so for some time I’ve been thinking it would be a good idea to get cheap flights to European cities, an early flight in the morning and the last flight the same evening back home. As is often the case with such ideas I’ve done nothing about it. However, a couple of weeks ago it was my birthday and one of the presents from my lovely wife was return flights to Amsterdam for the following Saturday. Not for both of us, just for me, so I can take photos. I’m a very lucky man.
This blog post is about my day in Amsterdam and he photos I took. Please note these aren’t necessarily the best photos ever taken. A full gallery will be added soon. I am hoping that this will be the first of a series of blog posts about a single day in a new city. I am already thinking about where I can go next.
The night before my flight I packed my camera bag with 12 rolls of film, my Leica M6 TTL with Voigtlander 35mm and Zeiss 50mm lenses and a Nikon FM2n with 50mm lens. The film I decided to take were 4 x Lomography Color 400 and 800, 2 x Kodak Ektar 100, a couple of other rolls I had lying about. I also booked a taxi to take me to Gatwick for 5.30am and set my alarm for 5am.
When my alarm went off all I had to do was get up and get ready and have a quick cup of coffee before my taxi arrived. My taxi was a few minutes early which is always good, so I was at Gatwick by 5.45am. I had checked in online the day before and had no hold luggage so I just went straight through security. My flight was due to board at 6.45am with take off at 7.20am, I had plenty of time so I got myself a toastie and another coffee before my flight.
Boarding and take off all happened on time, the flight itself is only 50 minutes. It felt like we’d just taken off when we were told to prepare for landing at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. Disembarking and getting through security were as painless as at Gatwick, the day was going well so far. From the airport I needed to get the train to the city centre, there were large queues at the ticket machines. This mostly seemed down to the fact tourists couldn’t work out what ticket to buy, I could see a lot of furrowed brows as they tried multiple times to purchase the correct ticket. When it was my eventually my turn I couldn’t work out what was causing the confusion as it all seemed quite straight forward. I bought my ticket and went looking for the train to Amsterdam Centraal.
This is when I had my first and only hiccup of the day, there were no direct trains running to Amsterdam Centraal today because of maintenance. I had to get a train to Sloterdijk and change there for Amsterdam Centraal. This wasn’t really much of an issue, it added a small delay only.
A Day in the City of Amsterdam
Arrival in Amsterdam
I arrived in Amsterdam Centraal at about 11am local time (10am UK time) and exited to the rear of the station. I found a bench where I could load my cameras. The skies were quite overcast when I arrived, so I loaded Lomography Color 800 in the M6 with 35mm lens and Ektar in the FM2n with 50mm lens. My idea was to shoot “street” type shots with the M6 at f8 and detail shots with the Nikon. I’d bought a guide book a few days earlier which had a map in the front, so I had a vague idea how the city was laid out. Instead of mapping out a specific route, I left the guide book in my bag and just started walking. I wanted to see where my legs would take me.
I came out to the north of the station where there is a large river, I turned left and walked a long the river bank a short way. I came across an underpass that would take me to the front of the station and allow me to walk in to the city proper. I walked generally south zig zagging about when I saw things down roads that looked interesting. After only 10 minutes I found a really nice camera shop(Fotoprofessional), that sold both new and old cameras, including Leica. The staff were really friendly and I ended up talking to another customer who happened to be an American who also had an M6 like myself. I managed to restrain myself and left the shop without purchasing anything.
After leaving the shop I carried on going roughly south, I found Dam Square and noticed the Madame Tussauds and Ripley’s Believe It or Not, reminding me very much of London. Walking further I found the Flower Market with the brightly coloured flowers and packets of seeds. Walking still further south I came upon the Museum District and the Rijksmuseum with the “I Amsterdam” sign out front. By this point I had already shot 2 rolls of film and loaded my third. I decided not to go in any of the museums, this would have sucked up too much time, but I will go back to Amsterdam at some point and visit the museums then.
I walked on down past the Banksy and the Van Gogh museums, then turned to the north west to go to Vondelpark. By the time I got to Vendelpark, I’d been walking for nearly 2 hours. I thought it was time for a bit of lunch and a drink. I bought a hot dog and a can of diet coke from a vendor in the park and ate it on a bench over looking a lake. Also at this time the clouds had started to part and the sun was out and getting hot.
After eating my hot dog I had a little walk around the park then headed back into the city. I walked up a road that seemed to be Amsterdam’s equivalent of Bond Street. There were lots of designer name stores here as well as sports cars lining the streets and well dressed people walking around. I saw a group of what looked like photography students dashing about with their DSLRs.
I walked on, north and towards the east, eventually ending up back at Dam Square. This time I walked eastwards and ended up walking in to the red light district. With the sex shops, peep shows and little red windows with prostitutes hoping to catch an eye. This was about 3pm too. I’ve been to Amsterdam once before about 14 years ago with my wife for a weekend. The red light district was somewhere we had to go and see. Even though I’d seen it before I was still surprised by the brazenness of it, like London’s Soho, but more so.
The smell of weed coming from the “coffee” shops was strong around here. I needed a coffee, but not in ones of those establishments. I found a normal coffee shop nearby and sat outside in the sunshine with a double espresso. While drinking my espresso, I saw a man, probably in his sixties cycle past looking in one of the red windows. From where I sat I couldn’t see what he was looking at, but I could guess. He rode off, then a couple of minutes later he came back and looked in the window again. This fascinated me for some reason. A part of me wanted to see him go in. He cycled off again and came back, this happened about 3 times. On the final time he spoke to someone behind the window, I thought he was going to go in, but he didn’t. He rode off around the corner and I didn’t see him again.
Stand by for Part 2 coming soon.