Night shots of Quebec

July 28th, 2015

I am admittedly not dedicated enough as a photographer to frequently attempt what true enthusiasts undertake habitually: Carry a tripod, get up before sunrise to catch majestic vistas, etc. I also happen to like capping any day of sightseeing with a nice dinner accompanied by a fair amount of wine, which more or less negates any inclination I may have for late-night photography.

Nonetheless, while in Quebec City I actually worked up sufficient willpower to wander through major sights after most of the city had gone to sleep. Declining temperatures prevented me from doing that for more than an hour, but I snapped a dozen different perspectives of Château Frontenac and caught a few other locations at their quietest and emptiest of people. Here is a handful of best results.
 

Chateau Frontenac and Champlain Monument, Quebec City

 
 

Chateau Frontenac, Quebec City

 
 

Rue du Petit Champlain, Quebec City

 
 

Notre-Dame-des-Victoires on Place Royal, Quebec City

 
 

Chateau Frontenac viewed from the quay, Quebec City

 
These pictures are part of my Quebec Flickr album.

Travel

Shop signs in Quartier Petit Champlain

July 25th, 2015

Quartier Petit Champlain in Quebec City is very compact, with just a few narrow streets full of shops and restaurants. It seems just a touch amusement-park artificial but is no less delightful for that.
 

Rue du Petit Champlain, Quebec City

 
Every establishment in the area has a colorful sign above the entrance. Here is a sampler.
 

Rue du Petit Champlain, Quebec City

 
 

Rue du Petit Champlain, Quebec City

 
 

Rue du Petit Champlain, Quebec City

 
 

Rue du Petit Champlain, Quebec City

 
 

Rue du Petit Champlain, Quebec City

 
 

Rue du Petit Champlain, Quebec City

 
 

Rue du Petit Champlain, Quebec City

 
 

Rue du Petit Champlain, Quebec City

 

These photos are part of my Quebec Flickr album.

Travel

Chasing World Heritage: #85 (Quebec City)

July 22nd, 2015

Québec City is the only town in North America to have preserved its defensive ramparts and its historic center presents one of the best examples of a fortified colonial city. That gives the city a shade of a European feel which is quite welcome by these particular europhiles.

Here is the iconic look of the town from St. Lawrence river, dominated by Château Frontenac (which, underwhelmingly, is just a hotel and has never been anything but a hotel).
 

Quebec City

 
Fortifications themselves are not too visually impressive but the fact that they are still here is.
 

Fortifications, Quebec City

 
Major arteries into the heart of Upper City go through the gates that were built towards the end of 19th century with the expressed aim of preserving the city walls. This is St-Jean’s Gate.
 

Porte Saint-Jean, Quebec City

 
The edge of the Upper City overlooking the river from high above is occupied by Terrace Dufferin, a wide boardwalk named after the Canadian governor general who contributed to the preservation of the city heritage in the 19th century. It is also where the Château Frontenac is.
 

Terrace Dufferin, Quebec City

 
At the beginning of the terrace there stands a monument to Samuel de Champlain, founder of Québec.
 

Champlain Monument, Quebec City

 
A guide on a walking tour around the city told us that no one knows what Champlain actually had looked like, since there are no surviving portraits of him, so the model for the monument had been some random nobleman. Not sure whether it’s a local urban legend.

Here is another perspective of the Château, from Rue St-Louis, with the Champlain monument seen in the background.
 

Rue Saint-Louis, Quebec City

 
Less than a few hundred steps from Terrace Dufferin and the main tourist routes one can find quiet and picturesque locations such as this corner of Rue des Jardins.
 

Rue des Jardins, Quebec City

 
The focal point of Lower City is cozy but busy Place Royal. My favorite perspective of it is of this corner, which is probably as European as you can get in North America.
 

On Place Royal, Quebec City

 
And here is a fragment of Rue du Petit Champlain, the main pedestrian street of the picturesque lower quarter.
 

In Quartier Petit Champlain, Quebec City

 
Two full days seem a sufficient time to explore the city and its main attractions.

These and other photographs of Quebec City have been added to a Flickr album.

Travel, World Heritage

Grand-Place encore

July 18th, 2015

At the conclusion of my recent day-trip to Brussels I had about 15 minutes to expand my portfolio of pictures taken on the magnificent Grand-Place. Here is a selection:
 

Grand Place, Brussels, Belgium

 
 

Grand Place, Brussels, Belgium

 
 

Grand Place, Brussels, Belgium

 
 

Grand Place, Brussels, Belgium

 
 

Grand Place, Brussels, Belgium

 

Grand-Place previously featured in my World Heritage re-counting series.

Travel, World Heritage

Re-counting World Heritage sites: #41 (Horta)

July 16th, 2015

If you recall from this post, I took a day-trip to Brussels from Amsterdam on my recent Dutch journey. That allowed me not only to spend time with my eldest child who was studying in Brussels at the time, but also to take a look at UNESCO World Heritage sites within boundaries of the Belgian capital.

Victor Horta is to Brussels what Antoni Gaudi is to Barcelona, only on a smaller and admittedly less impressive scale. Nonetheless, he is recognized as one of the foremost Art Nouveau architects and four of his houses comprise a designated UNESCO site.

On our first visit to Brussels a number of years ago we already stopped by Horta Museum located in one of the four properties, Maison Horta (as well as seeing another Horta house, Maison d’Autrique, which is not part of World Heritage designation). But we took no pictures on the visit, which I intended to correct.

Unfortunately, three of the four houses are nowadays private office buildings, inaccessible for the general public. Only the museum can be visited – but photography is not permitted inside while on tour. I exchanged emails with the museum administration and received an invitation to come and take interior pictures at a designated time when the museum would not be open to visitors. That would be a remarkable opportunity if not for the fact that I could not physically be in Brussels at those hours.

In the end, all I could do is walk around these houses and take pictures of their exteriors.

The front of Horta Museum was partially obscured by parked vans from a nearby house renovation site, so all I got was a fragment.
 

Maison Horta, Brussels

 
It is actually 2 houses – the full name is Maison & Atelier Horta – joined together.

Hôtel Tassel offered a slightly better opportunity.
 

Hotel Tassel, Brussels

 
Hôtel Solvay turned out the best picture of the bunch.
 

Hotel Solvay, Brussels

 
You can see some elements of Art Nouveau in the exteriors but it is still a challenge to be duly impressed without seeing what’s inside.

The last property, Hôtel van Eetvelde, remained unseen by me even from the outside. It is located in a slightly different part of town and I did not use my time efficiently enough to fit it in.

Horta Museum is open for only a few hours each afternoon. Seeing it takes under an hour. It is reachable via a couple of tram lines but if you prefer walking it is only about 20 minutes away from the Central Station. The other two houses that I stopped by are within close proximity of the museum. The station’s information kiosk offers a good map of all Art Nouveau edifices in the city, including all Horta houses.

Travel, World Heritage

More from Netherlands

July 13th, 2015

A few more impressions from my recent trip around Netherlands.

Houses in the village of Het Kalf.
 

In Het Kalf, Netherlands

 
 

In Het Kalf, Netherlands

 
Country landscape between Zaanse Schans and Het Twiske park.
 

Somewhere in Netherlands

 
 

Somewhere in Netherlands

 
In the village of Muiden.
 

Muiden, Netherlands

 
In the village of Weesp.
 

Weesp, Netherlands

 
Looking over Afsluitdijk.
 

Afsluitdijk, Netherlands

 

Travel

Tulips

July 11th, 2015

Some might argue that the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Holland is not windmills but tulips. Definitely in the top two for me. So, during the car-enabled portion of my journey around the country, I stopped here and there to snap some tulip fields pictures.

Turns out flowers, like humans, do not come out exceptionally well in my photographic exploits, but nonetheless here is a small selection of views.
 

Tulip fields, Netherlands

 
 

Tulip fields, Netherlands

 
 

Tulip fields, Netherlands

 
 

Tulip fields, Netherlands

 
 

Tulip fields, Netherlands

 

Travel

Zaanse Schans

July 8th, 2015

This is not a World Heritage site. It can be quite touristy at some points and even feel artificially prettied-up. And still, this windmills-centric attraction is awfully picturesque and cozy, and I count it among my favorite destinations in Holland.

Here is a sampler.
 

In Zaanse Schans, Netherlands

 
 

A giant clog at Zaanse Schans, Netherlands

 
 

In Zaanse Schans, Netherlands

 
 

In Zaanse Schans, Netherlands

 
 

View to Zaandijk from Zaanse Schans, Netherlands

 
Besides a museum in a working windmill, the village offers a couple of traditional shops that are a delight to explore, a short if enlightening clog-making demonstration held every half an hour in the visitor center, and a number of spots to linger, relax, take pictures and simply enjoy the scenery.

Zaanse Schans can be reached by car from Amsterdam in less than 20 minutes. On my recent visit, I ventured there on a bicycle. The ride took me roughly an hour and a half in each direction, at a fairly non-athletic pace, including intervals where I got slightly lost (using a GPS would be a good idea; a detailed map is absolutely essential, although you can technically follow the bike path markers, if you know how to interpret them).

Travel

Counting World Heritage sites: #84 (Van Nelle Factory)

July 6th, 2015

Van Nelle Factory is the newest Dutch addition to the UNESCO list, having been inscribed just last year. Its recognition stems from its pioneering place in industrial architecture. The couple of interior pictures at the official link above suggest elements of interest but I doubt I would come here at all if not for UNESCO designation.

The factory is a functional office, event, and industry complex with some museum elements. It is possible to join a tour of the factory on specific days at specific times, which did not fit into my itinerary. It is also possible to gain an invitation to the complex during occasional special events, none of which was happening on the day of my visit (and probably would not fit into my itinerary either).

So I drove up to the gates, walked to the security booth with the telescopic lenses on my camera fully extended to add heft to my appearance and inquired of the guard inside if I could pass through the territory to take a few exterior pictures. He interrupted his late lunch for long enough to indicate that I had to stay outside of the fence. And that was that. I walked around the fence and took a few different perspectives of the building, one of which is presented here.
 

Van Nelle Factory, Rotterdam, Netherlands

 
This is stretching the boundaries of “visited” when it comes to my collection of sights, I have to admit. Nonetheless, the loose definition of “seeing the sight to the maximum extent of its accessibility at the time of my visit” more of less applies. I made a dedicated drive to get here, I tried to get in, I took several pictures. Another UNESCO site in the bag. Highly unlikely to be ever visited again.

And with that, I covered every single World Heritage site in the Netherlands home country. The only one remaining Dutch site for me is the town of Willemstad, on Curaçao, which is somewhere down on my list of travel targets for the future.

Van Nelle Factory is located on outskirts of Rotterdam. I am not sure about its accessibility from town, but it is about an hour away drive from Amsterdam.

Travel, World Heritage

Flowers

July 3rd, 2015

To break the monotony of my travel pictures, here is a sampler of flowers that adorn our backyard.
 

 
 

 
 

 
 

 
 

 
 

 
 

 
 

 
 

 
 

 

Suburbia

Counting World Heritage sites: #83 (Kinderdijk)

June 30th, 2015

Windmills. I suspect this is the likeliest image to form in anyone’s head after hearing the word “Holland”. Not surprisingly, there is a World Heritage site in Netherlands which is mainly about windmills.

Kinderdijk is recognized by UNESCO as yet another example of Dutch ingenuity in the art of water management but most visitors certainly come here not so much for the dykes and pumping stations but rather for windmills.

There are 19 of them on the site. I did not manage to take a shot with all of them in the frame – even panoramic approach somehow “lost” a couple. Here is the best non-panoramic view.
 

Windmills of Kinderdijk, Netherlands

 
A few of the windmills function as museums, but if you have no inclination for visiting any you can still take in the scenery on foot or on a bike or on a leisurely boat ride around the main reservoir. The following are a few close-ups and perspectives.
 

Windmills of Kinderdijk, Netherlands

 
 

Windmills of Kinderdijk, Netherlands

 
 

Windmills of Kinderdijk, Netherlands

 
 

Windmills of Kinderdijk, Netherlands

 
The skies were only intermittently blue which dampened the impression somewhat. To a certain degree, the cozier Zaanse Schans is more picturesque and memorable (although clearly less important historically, not being on the UNESCO list).

Kinderdijk is about half an hour away from central Rotterdam by car, an hour and a half away from Amsterdam. I spent roughly three hours at the site, which feels like the right amount of time. But I did not go in for any windmill or pumping station museums.

These and other pictures of Kinderdijk have been added to my Netherlands Flickr album.

Travel, World Heritage

Counting World Heritage sites: #82 (Rietveld Schröderhuis)

June 27th, 2015

Rietveld Schröder House is a small family house, built in 1924, that is recognized as one of the icons of the Modern Movement in architecture. It is one of the smallest – if not the smallest – UNESCO World Heritage sites you can see, but it definitely leaves an impression.

Interior photography is not allowed on a visit so I have to refer you to Google Images “rietveld schroder house interior” search results, but the photos do not do the place justice. It is truly a tiny house for the number of people that lived there after its completion, but the usage of space with multi-functional convertible features is simply fascinating and the design is unusual and unconventional in many aspects.

For my own photography, I can only offer a couple of cookie-cutter exterior perspectives.
 

Rietveld Schröder House, Utrecht, Netherlands

 
 

Rietveld Schröder House, Utrecht, Netherlands

 
Advance reservations are essential for visiting Rietveld Schröderhuis. The audioguide-enabled tour of no more than 12 people at a time lasts about 45 minutes; a museum worker accompanies every scheduled group and demonstrates space conversion procedures at appropriate points in the itinerary. The house is located at the edge of Utrecht central area, with 15-20 minutes of walking required to get to it.

Travel, World Heritage

Utrecht

June 23rd, 2015

Through quirks of planned and unplanned travel, Utrecht holds the distinction of the most frequent destination for me in Netherlands – I seem to always stop by for a few hours whenever I am in the vicinity. On the most recent trip I had a specific target in mind (more on that in a later post), but I also managed to spend an evening walking around the city center. Here are a few pictures illustrating the charms of Utrecht’s architecture around the main canal, Oudegracht.
 

Utrecht, Netherlands

 
 

Utrecht, Netherlands

 
 

Utrecht, Netherlands

 
 

Utrecht, Netherlands

 
There are several museums and a couple of interesting churches in Utrecht, so it can certainly support a full day or more of exploration. In good weather, hire a waterbike for a circle around Oudegracht – the experience is different from the same activity in Amsterdam because the scale is much more intimate. I should do Utrecht more justice one of these days and spend longer time there.

These and other pictures of Utrecht have been added to my Netherlands Flickr album.

Travel

Father’s Day

June 21st, 2015

This Father’s Day my children presented me a small gift that I have to share with everyone. It’s a record of my fatherhood credentials.
 

 
Click to embiggen.

I am not big on celebrating these commercialized occasions but I wish all fathers everywhere to have received something cool from their kids.

Family & Friends

Counting World Heritage sites: #81 (Schokland)

June 20th, 2015

Schokland is technically another polder (or part thereof), but it has a different history and a different look to what we earlier saw at Beemster. To an unsuspecting eye, it looks like a nature preserve, part woods, part fields, with a few minor points of interest. In its past, it was home to early human settlements, a heavily-populated island in the middle of the sea, and eventually a fishing village fully evacuated due to the dangers of flooding – all of which provides basis for its UNESCO recognition.

In my admittedly still limited collection of World Heritage sights, it is among less impressive ones. The open-air museum behind the few buildings of what is considered the village of Middelbuurt offers a few glimpses of the prehistoric settlements. There is a functional church in the middle of the museum, plus a ruined church and remnants of a lighthouse in other parts of the site. There is also a mildly-curious stone garden about a mile into the woods. The feats of land reclamation and the Dutch struggle against water can be traced in Schokland, but there is little in terms of visual sensations there.

Here are a few shots, starting with big stones at the entrance to the museum.
 

Schokland, Netherlands

 
The church in Middelbuurt and a lone cannon.
 

Schokland, Netherlands

 
A strange – definitely not pre-historic – sculpture at the museum.
 

Schokland, Netherlands

 
A look at Middelbuurt from distance.
 

Schokland, Netherlands

 
A fragment of the stone garden.
 

Schokland, Netherlands

 
I took a couple of hours to see the museum and walk to the stone garden and back. Renting a bicycle for farther-ranging exploration of the site may be a good idea, but I suspect that two-three hours may be the limit of reasonable time allotment for a visit. Schokland is less than an hour and a half of driving away from Amsterdam.

Travel, World Heritage

Counting World Heritage sites: #80 (Wouda Steam Pumping Station)

June 16th, 2015

Another testament to the Dutch conquest of their watery homeland, Wouda Steam Pumping Station is the largest installation of its kind and has been in operation for almost a century. Recognized by UNESCO as the engineering and architectural masterpiece, it can still carry out its functions of managing the excess water in the surrounding areas.

Here is a shot of the station from a distance…
 

Wouda Steam Pumping Station, Lemmer, Netherlands

 
… and a closer perspective.
 

Wouda Steam Pumping Station, Lemmer, Netherlands

 
The visitor center offers a couple of movies to introduce what station is all about. The shorter movie that provides operational overview is nearly impossible to follow with Dutch sound and English subtitles. The longer one – a dramatization of turning the station on during heavy rains – has mild entertainment but little educational value (also in Dutch with English subtitles).

Accompanied by a tour guide, you can then walk around the station and spend some time inside its main machinery hall. Unfortunately, not many non-Dutch speakers come to visit; your guide will attempt to give you some information in English, but for each 5 minutes of fluent Dutch you will get maybe 45 seconds of limited English. You can download a full tour in English (or several other languages) onto your smartphone for free, but listening to a recorded narration alongside a live guide’s presentation might be a bit awkward.

Nonetheless, the visit is quite worthwhile if you enjoy the feats of engineering. The tour guides exhibit immense pride for Dutch ingenuity in dealing with forces of nature, and even if you come away with just a sketchy understanding of the pumping process, you will still appreciate what this place represents.
 

Wouda Steam Pumping Station, Lemmer, Netherlands

 
 

Wouda Steam Pumping Station, Lemmer, Netherlands

 
The visit should take under two hours (probably less so if you speak Dutch and the guide can stick to only his native language). The station is a little bit less than an hour and a half away from Amsterdam by car.

Travel, World Heritage

Counting World Heritage sites: #79 (Wadden Sea)

June 12th, 2015

As I decided to cover all World Heritage sites in Netherlands on my recent trip, I could not bypass Wadden Sea. It would be my first UNESCO site in the “Nature” category – I admit that I am more architecturally- and culturally-inclined and my travel destinations are almost never nature-centric. I had to open that count somewhere, so why not at Wadden Sea.

Wadden Sea is recognized as the largest intertidal ecosystem of sand and mud flats. The sea extends though the boundaries of three countries covering a pretty large area. The easiest way for me to get a feel for the place was to hop on the ferry from Holwerd on the “mainland” to the island of Ameland, effectively crossing a stretch of the sea.

Here are the aforementioned sand flats as seen from the ferry.
 

Wadden Sea (Waddenzee), Netherlands

 
A view across the sea.
 

Wadden Sea (Waddenzee), Netherlands

 
There is not much here to induce a feeling of being awe-struck, to be honest. Just a nice flat seascape, with minor coastal features to break the monotony.

The islands that make up the outer boundary of the sea must be part of the ecosystem (they have beaches – and beaches are mentioned in the UNESCO inscription), but the island villages do not feature in World Heritage designation. Nonetheless, my plan was to spend the night exploring the village of Nes, on Ameland. Here is the view of Ameland from the distance.
 

Ameland, Netherlands

 
Nes, very cute and quaint, appeared nearly deserted and entirely tranquil, but the concentration of restaurants in its center (some of which had quite a few patrons inside) suggested a significantly higher level of busy-ness in summertime. Here are a few shots of the village.
 

Nes, Netherlands

 
 

Nes, Netherlands

 
 

Nes, Netherlands

 
After a couple of hours circling through streets of Nes, a dinner, and a good night sleep, I hopped on the morning return ferry and crossed the sea again.

It is hard to estimate the proper length of a visit to get well acquainted with Wadden Sea. My mid-afternoon-to-next-morning visit must be the bare minimum. Ameland offers a few resort getaway activities that can sustain a long-weekend timeframe, and elsewhere on the sea shores (not just in Netherlands, but also in Germany and Denmark) you can go tidal flat walking, birds and seal watching, or just to the beach to swim.

The ferry between Holwerd and Ameland has 7 daily departures once every two hours; the schedule goes to hourly in summer months.

These and other pictures from Wadden Sea and Nes have been added to my Flickr Netherlands album.

Travel, World Heritage

Counting World Heritage sites: #78 (Beemster Polder)

June 7th, 2015

Having had my fill of boisterous city scene in Amsterdam, I spent the last few days in Netherlands driving around the country in pursuit of my World Heritage obsession – and more serene locales.

Netherlands, as the name implies, has a large portion of its territory barely above or even below the sea level. Over the centuries, the Dutch had to continuously adapt to living in – and eventually conquer – their watery environment. Several UNESCO sites in the Low Countries are a testament to that battle and conquest.

There are about three thousand polders in Netherlands, and Beemster Polder is inscribed on the World Heritage list as an exceptional example of such reclaimed land. You have to read through the description and recognize the magnitude of the task and the ingenuity of human enterprise over four centuries ago in order to truly appreciate this place. Looks themselves do not do it justice. It is certainly awfully cute and eye-pleasing, but one can say the same thing for uncounted locations in the country. The fact that in the age way before industrial revolution a barely habitable landscape was remade into what we see today is what makes this place special.

Here are a couple of views in the village of Middenbeemster, to emphasize the cute factor.
 

Middenbeemster, Beemster Polder, Netherlands

 
 

Middenbeemster, Beemster Polder, Netherlands

 
The main church in the village – called Keyserkerk, after one of its principal architects – offered me a welcome confirmation of the power of curiosity. The church is open to visitors only on weekends. I was in the area on a Thursday. Nonetheless, I walked up to the entrance and inquired of the custodian if I could take a quick look inside. The man, who appeared to be busy with cleaning up after some recent event that had taken place in the church, stopped what he was doing and graciously invited me in. He even gave me a brief historical overview of the church. One might think that he welcomed the diversion but I would also like to think that he appreciated my interest in something that is an essential part of his life.

What happened next was entirely unexpected. As we were concluding the brief tour and I was about to step outside, I mentioned that I am a big fan of UNESCO World Heritage and that I came to the area specifically to see the polder. He responded, “You know, the best way to see the polder is from the top of the church. Would you like to climb up there?” My eyes obviously lit up and I enthusiastically exclaimed that I would love that. He led me to a very narrow and steep ladder behind the organ, told me not to forget to bolt the platform door behind me when I was done, and left me to climb the steps in solitude.

Now, believe me, no one goes up there in that church unless on specific occasions. Certainly no visitors ever do. The way up consisted of half a dozen narrow ladders leading from one level to another at a steep angle via trap doors. The place is sufficiently dark and quite dusty. A frame not as slender as mine would find it challenging to squeeze through some spaces.

But the views from the platform underneath the church spire were simply breathtaking. My limited mastery of photography cannot convey them properly. Nonetheless, here are a few shots that illustrate the planned nature of the area.
 

Middenbeemster, Beemster Polder, Netherlands

 
 

Middenbeemster, Beemster Polder, Netherlands

 
 

Middenbeemster, Beemster Polder, Netherlands

 
I cannot imagine what moved the custodian to offer me this climb up (which is clearly not something that is being offered habitually to every passerby), but if he aimed to make my day he could not pick a better present.

A couple of hours appears to be a good time allotment to spend in Beemster Polder. There are a couple of minor museums that are open on limited schedule, but the main interest is obviously in just walking in and around the village. Middenbeemster can be reached in about half an hour by car from central Amsterdam and there are also bus services that stop there.

These and a few other pictures of Beemster Polder have been added to my Netherlands album on Flickr.

Travel, World Heritage

Counting World Heritage sites: #77 (Stoclet House)

June 3rd, 2015

Brussels is within the speed-train-enabled day-trip range from Amsterdam and I used one of the days on my recent trip to hop on the train to meet up with my eldest, who had been studying in Brussels for all of the spring semester. Since I am now a self-proclaimed opportunistic World Heritage hunter, I used a portion of my spare time in town to take a look at the Stoclet House.

Taking a look from beyond the fence was all that was available to me in this instance. The building, recognized on the UNESCO list for its place in the Art Nouveau evolution, is privately-owned and not accessible to the general public. The description explicitly talks about details of the interior of the house but someone with inclination to see it, such as myself, has no such opportunity at present. Which obviously raises a question of, How can something be considered world heritage and not be available for the world to admire?

In any case, the new rule I established in the previous post allows me to add this site to my collection. Certainly hiring a taxi to make a dedicated trip away from the city center in order to take several dozen exterior photographs of the building counts as visiting this particular destination to the very limit of its accessibility.
 

Stoclet House, Brussels, Belgium

 
 

Stoclet House, Brussels, Belgium

 
 

Stoclet House, Brussels, Belgium

 
 

Stoclet House, Brussels, Belgium

 
It is an unusual and striking building. For me, the cost of the taxi ride and the time investment (about half an hour, split roughly in half by the ride to get there and the time to take the pictures) was worth it, but I suspect only someone similarly obsessed would think likewise.

Travel, World Heritage

Counting World Heritage sites: #76 (Defense Line of Amsterdam)

May 30th, 2015

One day while in Amsterdam, I rented a bicycle and rode an hour out of town in search of my next UNESCO World Heritage site.

Defense Line of Amsterdam is recognized on the UNESCO list as the unique system of fortifications based on water control. The ring of 40-plus armed forts encircles Amsterdam, with some of the sites located at a fair distance from the city.

One big problem is: You cannot easily visit practically any of the forts. Some are nowadays private properties that do not allow any tourist access. A few are museums open on a very limited schedule. Others open their doors for the month of September which is termed the “Defense Line Month”. Just one or two can be visited on more regular schedule during spring and summer (but they required more effort to get to that I was willing to expend).

Which presented me with a conundrum (that would be repeated at other locations on this trip and will undoubtedly reappear in the future): Can I count a site as “visited” if all I could do is take exterior pictures of it?

My answer to that will be: As long as I made a concerted effort to see the site to the maximum extent of available access, it counts. The official Defense Line website lent me a helpful hand in this particular instance by listing a property that could be visited year-around but is not listed on the UNESCO inscription. Combining exterior shots of four other locations with an in-depth visit to Muiderslot gave me sufficient justification to claim having explored the Defense Line of Amsterdam.

The first one of those locations, Diemerdam Battery, houses a recently-built event venue on its grounds. At the time of my visit, there were no people except some passerby in the vicinity, the gates were not closed, so I actually entered the grounds and walked around a bit (also helps the aforementioned claim).
 

Diemerdam, Amsterdam Defense Line, Netherlands

 
The next three, Westbatterij of Muiden, Muizenfort, and Ossenmarkt fort in Weesp, are all inaccessible for visitors, so here are the exterior shots of each.
 

Westbatterij in Muiden, Amsterdam Defense Line, Netherlands

 
 

Muizenfort, Amsterdam Defense Line, Netherlands

 
 

Ossenmarkt fort in Weesp, Amsterdam Defense Line, Netherlands

 
And then, in Muiden, there is Muiderslot, an impressive 13th-century moated castle that is claimed as part of the UNESCO site by a number of websites but is not found on the list at the primary source at unesco.org.
 

Muiderslot, Muiden, Netherlands

 
 

Muiderslot, Muiden, Netherlands

 
On the castle ground, there is a falconry, where I snapped a few pictures of this fierce bird.
 

Muiderslot, Muiden, Netherlands

 
A few more pictures of Muiderslot have been added to my Flickr Netherlands album.

It certainly takes some determination to see Defense Line forts, even notwithstanding the interior accessibility limitations. They are all located in small villages, sometimes not within easy reach of public transport. It is possible to tour them on a bicycle – but ensure that you have a detailed map or a working GPS, since relying on biking path signage is fraught with potential for confusion. A day-trip could include up to ten forts in my estimation, if you’d be so inclined. Conversely, the most visited of the forts, Pampus, which is open daily, probably takes most of a day by itself; it is located on an island accessible by ferry from Muiden that only runs a couple of times a day in each direction – if you properly time your schedule for a visit, I suspect that on that day you may see just a couple of other properties in Muiden.

Travel, World Heritage