Day 75 & 76: Delft!

Day 75 – that means we’ve reached the halfway point of our trip.  I’m 3/4 sad and one quarter happy.  we’re loving seeing a new place every couple of days, and exploring the crap out of it, to figure out what works, what doesn’t and what makes us happy.  We miss our friends, our fully stocked kitchen and not wearing the same thing every day.

We took the short train ride from Amsterdam to Delft in the morning and saw rainbow fields of tulips, and lots of sheep.

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The train station has an awesome new addition

The train station has an awesome new addition

Delft is on the itinerary for its car free centre, and though the other visitors were enjoying this aspect, I think they were drawn to the ceramics and paintings.  The city came to life without the noise of cars. From the second floor window of our hostel we could hear conversations floating up from the street below, and the chirping of baby ducks on the canal – magical!

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The city is definitely proud of Vermeer, their hometown painter.  Depiction of Girl with a Pearl Earring were everywhere from street art to a Lego version.

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The city is about 100,000 people, and can be walked across in 15 minutes.  There are several parkades on the outside of the core, with clear signage and for parking availability, the dirty secret of the car free area.

The city is charming as can be with canals, stepped roofs, colourful awnings and flower boxes.  It’s a hot spot for grey hairs, both tourists and residents.  It’s also a university city, and we saw and heard some pretty rowdy parties.  All in all an interesting mix from both ends of the spectrum.

This tower is really leaning that much.

This tower is really leaning that much.

The most amazing street lighting!

The most amazing street lighting!

The canals run through the city, with many buildings abutting them, with doors opening right onto the water.  This allows you to pull up a boat and extend the restaurant space.

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Theres a pretty great biking scene here.  It had none of the formal infrastructure we’re used to seeing, but it isn’t needed in the car free centre.  People just hop on their bikes and dodge the tourists.  In Amsterdam we learned that kids take a “biking test” at age 12 to be able to ride on their own in the city.  Here we saw kids of all ages biking on their own.

The second day we woke up to find an amazing market was lining our street and others in the centre.  This wasn’t any old market, where you clean out the attic, it was a hardcore collectors market with a lot of old an interesting stuff.  Each stall had someone’s life passion spread over the tables, whether it was coins, pipes, stamps, telephones, book, etc.  I’m no expert, but it was so interesting and different from what you’d see at a Vancouver sidewalk sale.  We picked up some old postcards and an old key.

If we didn't still have 2 months to go, I would be the proud owner of that gold fly.

If we didn’t still have 2 months to go, I would be the proud owner of that gold fly.

It was also international Record Store Day, and our street had 2 record shops for double the fun.  There were bands playing outside all day as a tribute to the disappearing records stores.

We found the perfect Cafe with a sunny spot by the window and blogged. Then a perfect outdoor patio for a beer.  Then sketching in the plaza.

Photobomed by a pigeon - makes the photo though!

Photobomed by a pigeon – makes the photo though!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 39: Bonus day in Amsterdam

With the rejigging of our itinerary, we get a bonus day in Amsterdam, before heading to Munich, which we are so happy about! Because we’ll be back for a few days next month, today we just wandered, with no plan – mouths open, eyes wide. It’s like walking around in an urban studies textbook – in a good way of course. We watched the morning commute in awe as hundreds of bikes rushed past, along with the quiet tram, and a few cars. The roads weren’t overcrowded – everyone was just getting where they needed to go in a very logical way.  The most enjoyable thing was how quiet it was – streets were teeming with life, but without the usual drone of traffic.

Our first stop was the nearby Vondel Park, which was magical in the fog. Its pleasantly chilly here – a high of 10, but spring is definitely on the way.

Next we wove our way to the core along concentric canal streets. Any city that wants to up the charm factor just needs to add canals.  Darren took notes and pointed out things to photograph for his next article (coming soon). Kids, old people, well dressed people, people with awkward loads, everyone cycling. image

Darren is one happy traveller in the city.

Darren is one happy traveller in the city.

We wandered around the core, the narrow alleys, the pedestrian shopping streets. I’m enjoying the abundance of cheese shops, especially this cheese museum which had ever so many samples.

In the public plazas, it was amazing to see the tram passing right through. We walked through the red light district during the day and saw some hardworking prostitutes, putting in some overtime, and some very hearty Dutch enjoying beer and coffee on the patios.

We mastered the art of falafelling. We found a great falafel place that gives unlimited toppings. The trick is fitting as many as possible into the pita. In the afternoon we also checked out a new local brewery – very impressive, especially compared to what we’d been drinking in Asia.

At Moaz falafel.

At Moaz falafel.

We saw someone getting a new tub, which was hoisted up from a pulley attached to an arm at the top.  After seeing this we noticed almost all the buildings had this arm.  I later found out that that’s why the building are tilted toward the street – to prevent damage to the facade when hoisting.  We had noticed the tilt, but just thought we had spent too much time in coffee shops. image In the afternoon we headed back to gather our stuff and head for the station for our overnight train to Munich. image

Day 37 – 38: Goodbye Airports, Hello Europe

I cannot over emphasize how excited we were to get out of our sweaty hostel in Kuala Lumpur and into Europe. Our experience in Asia has been great, but we’re looking forward to not being walking dollar signs anymore, and I’ll be happy not to hit my head on everything! We’re also just excited to get out of airports and onto the next continent.

The first part of our connection from KL to Hanoi (back where we kicked this whole thing off) went smoothly – giving us a false sense of security that the rest would go smoothly.  The flight from Hanoi to London was delayed for 5 hours, which given our recent experience with delays isn’t that long, but we had a connection that we didn’t want to miss.  The delayed plane was filled with young Vietnamese families, and old British couples, and us.  The airline was actually very gracious (yay Vietnam Airlines), giving us a meal and blankets and pillows to sleep while we waited – unlike some airlines we have recently dealt with (cough, Malindo Airlines, cough).  Unfortunately no one seemed up for constructing the amazing blanket fort that would have been possible with all the blankets and airport seats.

The flight seemed to take forever, but we finally saw the patchwork quilted landscape around London.  Yippee Europe! We were at Gatwick for a short layover before heading to Amsterdam.  Easy Jet, which would more accurately be called Pain-in-the-ass Jet, has a policy of telling you your gate number just 10 minutes before the gate closes.  They are also 37% stingier than the competitors as even though there is room on the plane, you must reduce your carry on to a single bag (no supplementary over sized “purses” which I’ve been relying on heavily). In an effort to save ourselves 45 pound (can you believe that?) each for additional bags, we stuffed as much as we could to combine everything, and wore whatever wouldn’t fit – which was a lot.

Long story short, we made it to Amsterdam. What a relief – what an amazing place!  We stepped off the plane, onto a train, convenient and delightful, then an at-grade tram, and within a few minutes were at our air B&B in the most charming neighbourhood. Our host is so friendly and so happy to share her home, she spent nearly an hour going over the room and what did and didn’t work, and the features of the neighbourhood. She made a recommendation for a coffee shop for an “Amsterdam experience” after which we had the best sleep of our entire lives.

Our neighbourhood for the night.

Our neighbourhood for the night.