The bright greens, abundant water and the cute towns were a stark difference from the semi arid landscape of Central Texas. It almost looked like a mythical, enchanted land. This was the view out the plane, minutes before I landed. I was looking forward to a couple of days of photography before I started the business portion of my trip.
The modern and bright Schiphol Airport complete with recorded chirping birds gave a humane feel to a usually sterile environment. My Fujifilm X100S was primed to record all that I found different, with some things perhaps even noteworthy. While the International Style of architecture is common throughout the world, things felt different there, kind of how an Ikea feels different from a Target. A bright blue 747 proudly parks with the KLM Royal Dutch Airlines logo.
As expect the extensive train system is convenient and adjacent to the airport. Get the right ticket and you can quickly travel to anywhere in the Netherlands and beyond to the rest of Europe. And while I’ve been on many train systems in the past, there’s always a learning curve. After 15 hours of travel and arriving in a foreign country there’s bound to be some confusion and disorientation. I stepped briefly outside to see what it was like.
When I believed I mastered the automated ticket machine, I discovered my MasterCard didn’t work. Tip number one, make sure you have one of those new MasterCards with the embedded IC chip and a preset PIN code. I didn’t have a PIN code so I was forced to use cash (Euros of course). Luckily I found that all of my hotels took the standard dumb credit cards. The stations also have walkup ticket booths staffed with real people, who fortunately speak English, so I was set.
It was a quick 15 minute trip to Amsterdam Centraal station and the trains left frequently. I was headed to the heart of Amsterdam for several hours until I needed to get to my destination in the south. The train system would be the envy of most countries though they didn’t match Japan’s for cleanliness or efficiency. The big plus however is that there are a lot fewer people in the Netherlands — you’re not packed like sardines which is common in the big Japanese cities.
Outside Amsterdam Centraal station and on Damrak, the main street through the old part of town, it was a bit crazy. The hoards of tourists, the trolleys and the construction was visually assaulting. With no open lockers at the station, I reluctantly dragged my two carry-ons clumsily around the cobbled streets. With my lightweight mirrorless cameras, at least I didn’t have a big backpack stuffed with gear. But after many hours of travel, my mind wasn’t optimally geared towards photography. I wanted to take photos but perhaps jet lag was setting in.
Veer off into the neighborhoods and the large city becomes manageable. Streets filled with small shops give way to tree-lined residences. In the old central part of the city you are not far from the famous canals. The peaceful waters and the calm rejuvenated me. All told I walked the streets for 5 hours shooting continuously with my X100S. It worked great. The perfect camera for capturing life in the city.
I made my way back to the Centraal station to continue to my final destination, Breda, a smaller city in the south of Netherlands, close to the border with Belgium. I took an express train which got me there in a little over one hour. The countryside is lush and while it was sunny when I arrived, I would discover why the country is so green.
Breda, according to Wikipedia is the 9th largest city with 180,000 people. Amsterdam is the largest with 812,000. The contrast couldn’t be more different. The Central Breda station was small and quaint. A single bus waited with no tourists in sight.
Between the station and downtown laid a meticulously groomed park called Valkenberg. The late afternoon sun gave everything a golden glow. As I made my way towards the center, I noticed everything was impossibly calm and cute. The bustle of Amsterdam replaced with almost an incomprehensible amount of charm. Breda would be a fun place to shoot. Though smaller, there was plenty to keep my photographic interest for the coming week.
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