Day 73: Exploring Amsterdam Noord

Today we were lucky to have Cornelia showing us around again. She’s a wealth of knowledge on the city, providing so many interesting tidbits on what we’re seeing.

In the neighbourhood she pointed out the garbage collection: the bins are a large bin approximately 2m cubed, with a small receptacle on top and are recessed in the ground to to reduce their impact on the sidewalk. They also prevent people from digging through, which is a more eloquent solution than the locked bins in around our apartment in Vancouver. These large bins are only emptied every few weeks, reducing disruption in the neighbourhood.


It was our lucky day – we got to see the garbage bins being emptied.

Many of the streets are made of modular elements, which is genius. It makes adjustments for bike lanes, sidewalk width, curbs, bollards, etc. a simpler task, without having to tear our large areas of concrete or asphalt. We saw a playground being constructed where there had been parking, a common trend in the neighbourhood.

A completed neighbourhood park.  There was a sign from the neighbourhood thanking the city for the park.

A completed neighbourhood park. There was a sign from the neighbourhood thanking the city for the park.

We headed out to explore Amsterdam North. For a long time this area wasn’t even considered part of the city by people living in the south, but recently it’s been an area of some interesting developments and it’s sure to see more rather rapidly.

The building of the Eye, the film museum on the Ij (pronounced eye) was the first step in the developments. At the time it was considered crazy to have an iconic building on this side of the river, but as mentioned early there is always an public anchor before residential development. We took the free ferry over here and enjoyed their lounge space that was open to the public – beanbag chairs and large pillow on stepped platforms.

We visited Noorderparkkamer, an inclusive and well programmed park, where in the summer all kinds of people share the same place. Around here we also saw the suburban version of the canal house. Same width and roof details, just one storey rather than four.


We stopped at the 3D print canal house workshop. You can print anything these days, though it looks like they still have a few kinks to iron out.

Next stop was De Ceuvel, where following a design competition, a piece of polluted land had been given to a group of startups for the next 10 years to rehabilitate the land and develop their sustainable minded businesses. Because of the toxins in the soil, they couldn’t build directly on the land. Their solution was to take old houseboats and prop them up, connecting them with a meandering boardwalk. We stopped for a drink at their patio.

There’s a changing relationship with the creative class and the city. In the past the squatters were discouraged by the city, but now similar groups of people are encouraged (and in some cases exploited) by the city to be the first step in development or gentrification.

Next on the tour was NDSM wharf; a place for artists, street art, flea markets, events and even what’s left of a train car squatters village.

Darren and Cornelia geeking out on urbanism while I documented.

Darren and Cornelia geeking out on urbanism while I documented.

The old ship building warehouse is used as artists studios where the space is rented by the air volume and studios are built on different levels, connected by catwalks.

Nearby there was another adaptive reuse example: Kranspoor office, which has 3rd floors of offices, which a mechanized double skinned facade on the top of a old craneway.

There were a couple of hotels spurred on by the creativity of the area. The first is a 3 room hotel in a crane, with a private hot tub on the top. Amsterdam’s thrills – use what’s existing and make a different experience from it.

I want to go to the hot tub on the top of this!

I want to go to the hot tub on the top of this!

Botel (a hotel on a boat – get it?) tried to bolster its popularity and added fiberglass letters to the top, which are actually rooms.

It was that awesome spring day where it’s exceptionally sunny and warm and you can feel summer right around the corner. Ther perfect place to spend the afternoon was at Pllek, an urban beach in Amsterdam North. There were unusual lounge chairs, wine and plenty of people to watch.

We reluctantly peeled ourselves off our lounge chairs, and headed back to the apartment. The famous chips and mayo from an organic shop near the ferry was our reward. We said goodbye to our hosts, who had to return to real life instead of hanging out with us all day and headed to our hostel.

A traffic circle with a fully separated bike lane - a thing of beauty.

A traffic circle with a fully separated bike lane – a thing of beauty.

The Dutch enjoying the sun.

The Dutch enjoying the sun.

We wandered around in the evening and saw the carnival set up downtown. They set this up in no time – it was only half assembled the day before. We also saw a few rowdy boat parties go by on the canal. Everyone wants a friend with a boat.


Day 71 – 72: Amazing Amsterdam

On day 71 we got up at an ungodly hour an caught a surprisingly packed and very reliable bus to the train station to head to Amsterdam.  We had a stopover in Hamburg where we loaded up on the last of the fresh German pretzels of our trip.  Then we bussed it to Amsterdam through Bremen and Groningen.  We were again lucky to have some awesome hosts through a contact of Darren.  Cornelia and David were very welcoming and offered excellent insights into the city and the Dutch psyche.

The next day Cornelia took us on a very thorough tour of all things Amsterdam (ok not all, but close) with many points of interest for the urbanist and the architect.  We rented bikes and started our tour.  Cornelia was keen to prove that Amsterdam was the best (but more importantly better than Copenhagen) in terms of cycling and public spaces.

The old weighing house, for goods coming into the port.

The old weighing house, for goods coming into the port.

The Dutch have a policy of building amenities and transportation connections before new housing developments, opposite to the North American model where there will be new developments without even sidewalks.  We saw one example where the library was an anchor for new development.  In all public buildings such as this, there are areas to enjoy without paying, inclusive of all income levels.  It’s rare to be up seven stories in Amsterdam, so the top of the library offered a great view.

We visited the Pakhuis de Zwijger, a former storage facility, that’s now used for urban programming and city conversations.  Cornelia explained the Dutch concept of poldering.  Poldering is the process of building dykes and canals to manage the water.  It evolved to mean putting your differences aside and working together to accomplish what needed to get done.  In this way, the Dutch pride themselves on being able to have conversations about about various topics, while still keeping the bigger picture in mind.

The Pakhuis - it was slated to be demolished but luckily it wasn't.  Very important building for the city.

The Pakhuis – it was slated to be demolished but luckily it wasn’t. Very important building for the city.

From there we headed to a few of the newer islands.  In the 90’s there was a trend of just building more space rather than in-filling.  The first island – Java Island, which was divided into 5 parts, each by a different architect.  The buildings were interesting, but it lacked mixed use and the vibrancy that goes with it.

Borneo-Sporenburg are two other man-made islands with housing projects.  There was a row of canal houses, all different modern designs, higher density towers and a cool bridge connecting the two islands.  There is a high percentage of social housing for all developments in the city, but despite this, there is still a 15 year wait.

We stopped for a break at a pub in a windmill.  How wonderfully cliche! Good beer, good cheese, good sun, what more could you ask for?

We visited two car free neighbourhoods.  One was a new build, each building with a different design, all connected by a meandering path.  The second, GWL Terrain, is on land owned by the water company.  This one had a guest house that could be rented out.

The Dutch are really excited to transform old buildings into new uses, and they have no qualms about having an interesting and unlikely mix of programs next to each other.  For example, one existing tower (the former Shell headquarters) is turning into a club, hostel, offices, concert area, etc.  Another area we visited was a former warehouse with great arts program which is about to shut down for a stroller company to move in.  The restaurant next door was also a cool place to hang out.

Again with the reuse, we visited a Westerpark, that was formerly used for power generation.  The old gas storage tank is now the locale for the best electronic parties.  Here we found one of the smaller I Amsterdam signs.  These ones move around to different areas every month or so.

What are they pointing at?

What are they pointing at?

We also visited a converted tram storage facility that now houses a number of creative business and a food hall.  Next was the street market, which is there every day of the week.


A few other photos from biking around:

Not everything is reused - some very new and very pointy buildings - with an abundance of not so useful corner space.

Not everything is reused – some very new and very pointy buildings – with an abundance of not so useful corner space.

At Central Station - Amsterdam is spelled out in red and orange glass.

At Central Station – Amsterdam is spelled out in red and orange glass.

We headed back to the apartment to prep for a picnic, the out to Vondel park to enjoy the sun, then to a neighbourhood bar.

Day 68 & 69: Hello Copenhagen, Happy Birthday Darren!

Day 1 in Copenhagen, we got a little taste of the city, and we’re hooked! Darren met up with Jan Ghel – an architect / urbanist who spearheaded observing public space and how people respond to their environment.  His work is evident in the amazing spaces in Copenhagen and all over the world.

We got ourselves some bikes.  There is a free bike rental, but you need to sign up a week or so ahead.  The second best option is Buddha bikes.

Unfortunately, I had to spend most of the day waiting for a package to be delivered – our replacement camera!  It didn’t arrive so we had to go pick it up, but get this – we biked to the airport and it was easy and enjoyable! It’s not often you can say that!  We were riding along with the wave of commuters from one end of the city to the other.  We’re in heaven here – seeing and being part of this scale of biking is amazing.  You can move fast! The light sequences (the green wave) are designed around bikes, allowing them to pass through without stopping.  If you do catch a light there is an advance warning for the green, so you can get ready and start peddling.

On the way back from the airport, we stopped at a beach.  Flat, sandy, with golden grass, deep blue waters and windmills – love this Danish Beach.  Back in the city we stopped at the popular but unlikely hangout spot,  a hilly patch of grass at the corner of a busy road and the a bridge surrounding a reservoir.    Here we had wine and watched the sunset.  We’re very happy to have the camera back – more photos to share.


The next day was Darren’s birthday – not a bad city to spend the day.  We grabbed coffee at a cute little place described as “your friend’s living room”. We enjoyed the sunny patio while we were there, because I don’t think we’ll be back. It was nearly 20$ for 2 coffees and a square.


Next we explored the Superkilen park, a kilometre long wedge (kilen means wedge) that unifies the neighbourhood of Norrebro.  The area is one of the most culturally diverse and the park is an attempt to rehabilitate the area.  It has symbolism and items from many different cultures – a Morrocan fountain, neon signs from Russia and Qatar, a bull from Spain.  The park is divided into the red square (which has since faded from vibrant red), the black market (with lines converging around seating and trees), and the green park.  Beyond all that though it’s just an amazing space – it’s playful, interactive and inspiring.  There’s a large spiral shaped swingset, a boxing ring, bar-b-q pits, a hill, a skate park and more!

Next up on the birthday agenda: observing streetlife.  We set up along side a busy mixed use street and counted and observed people – part of Darren’s ongoing Gehl inspired research.

Then we grabbed stuff for a picnic lunch and headed back to the Hilly corner location from the night before.  After a couple weeks of pretty chilly windy weather where we’ve been travelling, it was finally sunny, warm and just plain perfect.


We biked around some more and were lured into more public spaces.   They were amazing and very successful – patios packed like it was the warmest day in summer.  There’s something similar about the Canadian and Danish culture – we can inject the same life into our spaces – designing with people in mind.

We we rode to the other side of the city and took a ride over a whimsically windy bridge – designed that way just for the enjoyment of the riders.


On the other side of the canal, we settled in with a few Danish brew (there may be a reason Danish beer isn’t world renowned).  We sat by the water in a place that used to be a railyard and watched kayakers, swans, and people. Highlight, we saw a swan fly! They are “wild” here in the sense that their wings aren’t clipped.  It took off for about 50 meters, running along the water before it was finally airborne.

The birthday boy had requested flavourful food, and the tiny little Indian restaurant delivered.   I hope Darren had an awesome birthday – I know I had fun celebrating with him.

Day 5: Drop what you’re doing and come to Ninh Bihn!

This day will be hard to top.  We went on an adventure, and like every good adventure this one had some hiccups, but it was worth it!

We rented bikes and rode 50km around the most amazing scenery! Now some of you may be thinking wow 50km, that’s a lot, others of you ride that before breakfast.  For us it’s a solid ride, especially on ancient fixed gear bikes, a size too small on incredibly bumpy roads.  I don’t think we’ll be able to walk tomorrow.

Look how excited this guy is to be back on a bike.

Look how excited this guy is to be back on a bike.

Hiccup number 1: it was rainy and we turned into a pretty muddy road.  After a couple of km, the fenders got so stuck with mud that we couldn’t move. No matter how much we tried to clean it out, we could only make it a few feet before our wheels seized again.  We had to drag/ carry our bikes back to the main road.  The kicker, we shouldn’t have even been on that road, we made a wrong turn. We blame the signage.

The bike after we concurred the mud.

The bike after we conquered the mud.

Back to the amazing scenery.  Remember those limestone formations from day 2 in Halong bay – now they’re on land!  Just outside the town of Ninh Binh, as we rode along these formations seemed to just appear, then they were everywhere.  We wound our way through little villages and open fields of rice paddies, it was so perfect – cliche in an amazing way.  I can’t believe places like this exist.  We saw everything you’d imagine in a Vietnamese countryside: rice paddies, cone hats, ox, geese, horses, goats, bamboo boats and the most amazing scenery.

The first stop was a temple, Hoa Lu.  In Vietnam the colourful square flags with the zigzags indicate a temple. The second stop was a temple at Trang An.

The final stop was Bich Dong – best for last.  Here there were several parts to the temple, at the base it was built into the limestone formation, the you entered a cave and climbed about 100 steps and there was another temple inside.

The temple inside the cave was pretty creepy.

The temple inside the cave was pretty creepy.

We climbed to the top of the of the formation for the most incredible view!!

Hiccup #2 On our way back, my bike started acting up.  We were about 8 km away from our place, but I managed to keep it going for the a bit longer before it went kaput.  We were quite a sight for the locals trying to get it to work – most of them were laughing at us.  They probably thought we had never ridden a bike before.  We walked the rest of the way back home…slowly, we were very tired.

We stopped to asked for directions and an old Vietnamese man was fascinated with Darren’s beard – overcome with curiosity about this “Face Velcro”, he just had to touch it.

Back at the hotel we packed up, grabbed dinner and headed for the train station for an overnight train to Da Nang.

The train was freezing! It felt like we were winter camping.  Not the best night sleep to follow our long day, but oh well, we’re on vacation.