To break the monotony of my travel pictures, here is a sampler of flowers that adorn our backyard.
To break the monotony of my travel pictures, here is a sampler of flowers that adorn our backyard.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The church in Middelbuurt and a lone cannon.
A strange – definitely not pre-historic – sculpture at the museum.
A look at Middelbuurt from distance.
A fragment of the stone garden.
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.
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…
… and a closer perspective.
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.
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.
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.
A view across the sea.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
On the castle ground, there is a falconry, where I snapped a few pictures of this fierce bird.
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.
It has been nearly two years since the last time we took a family trip where all five of us were present. One could say it was overdue. So we decided to spend an extended weekend in Quebec City, which was a brand-new destination for all of us. The trip was smashing good – if you follow any of us on social media, you may have seen various updates. A photographic essay will be forthcoming eventually.
I am a very indifferent and mediocre people photographer. I also tend to avoid crowded places as much as I can. Nonetheless, one of the attractions of going to Amsterdam in April was an opportunity to observe – and photograph – the celebration of the Kingsday, the biggest national holiday in Netherlands.
As expected, the day turned out very orange. As more or less anticipated, the crowds caused me discomfort in a few tight spaces and the level of collective inebriation around me was something I could probably do without. As I could have guessed in advance, the hundred or so pictures I took on different corners and bridges during the day almost uniformly failed to excite me afterwards.
Nonetheless, it was a fun experience – and it convinced me that I should not be going for similar experiences in the future. And here is a small sample of my exploits.
One of the main reasons Netherlands was chosen as the destination for my recent photographic trip was the fact that Amsterdam had been among the worst-photographed major cities on my past travels (as lamented in my favorite sights Amsterdam entry several years ago). Wandering all over the city for several days, I certainly made a marked improvement to my Amsterdam photo archive.
Amsterdam is all about canals (even more so than Venice, in my humble opinion, although in a fairly different vein), so a good portion of my portfolio includes various waterways. Which is only appropriate, given that the man-made canal network in the city center is explicitly recognized by UNESCO as a model of large-scale town planning (and features as #42 chronologically on my World Heritage roster).
Let’s start with a few canal pictures.
The main ring of canals, with Singel as the innermost waterway and Prinsengracht the outermost, offers the widest spaces aside from river Amstel. The Westerkerk, on Prinsengracht, owns the prettiest of all bell towers in town.
Around smaller canals, the architectural ensembles are simply delightful.
One of my favorite canal pictures, in a quiet oasis of the central area.
The imposing Montelbaanstoren watches over Oudeschans. In the background, the ocean liner-shaped hull of Science Center NEMO can be prominently seen.
As behooves a proper photography enthusiast, I got up really early one day in order to take pictures of the waking city. Some of these pictures are clearly among the best taken on the trip.
I also took a ride on a Ferris Wheel on the main city square, Dam, and snapped a few aerial pictures of the Royal Palace. Here is one.
The dome and the wheel can be seen in the distance on the next picture, taken from the viewing platform of the Westerkerk bell tower.
Here is a slightly different perspective in the same direction from the same vantage point.
Love locks is a craze that swept all major European cities in the last decade or so. Amsterdam is no exception. The bridge over Groenburgwal has an ever-growing tree of such locks. Zuiderkerk provides the background.
Finally, a night-time view of Oudeschans and Montelbaanstoren, in the direction opposite to the earlier shot. I am still not hard-core enough in my photography to carry a tripod with me at all times, but the one time I decided to step out at night with the tripod allowed me to take this wonderful shot.
These and many other pictures from the recent trip can be found in my Flickr photostream.
I just came back from a trip to Amsterdam and the rest of the Netherlands. The goals were to enhance my Amsterdam photo-archive as well as to visit and photograph as many World Heritage sites in the country as possible. I am happy to report that I achieved nearly the maximum planned targets (the only exception was so minuscule that I can safely drop “nearly” from the preceding statement). I suspect a couple of months will pass before I manage to process all of the shots taken on this trip, but I promise to present them here gradually as I go along.
I have no doubt you’all be full of anticipation.
Famous gardens are often places of unparalleled enchantment. As you move through the grounds, your prevalent feeling is the desire to linger in each nook and cranny for ever and ever, to let the sculpted harmony of nature and architecture immerse you in their alternate reality of serenity and surpassing beauty.
The gardens at Villa d’Este, in the Roman suburb of Tivoli, are the ultimate example of that. In fact, the palace and gardens are recognized on the UNESCO List as the template and major influence for subsequent garden development, in addition to being fine examples of the best of the Renaissance.
We expressly set aside time for visiting Villa d’Este on our very first visit to Rome. We had limited frame of reference then in regards to formal gardens, and Villa d’Este did not fail to bowl us over with its terraces, fountains, flora and architecture. In the years since, we have acquired a significant measure of familiarity with gardens all over the Europe, and still Villa d’Este would probably come to mind as near the top among such attractions.
Our limited film-based photography left few recorded impressions for our archives from that visit. Here are a couple of shots nonetheless.
A proper exploration of Villa d’Este requires somewhere in the vicinity of at least three hours. Using public transport to get to Tivoli from Rome is possible, adding an hour to two on each side of the trip.
Edinburgh is a town after my own heart, a vibrant place full of eye-catching architecture. As our point of entry (and exit) on the whisky trip, it was a not-to-miss destination. I am again left to lament the brevity of our stay in town – a single afternoon – but I certainly gained a worthy appreciation of it.
I only managed to explore the castle and the Royal Mile and surrounding areas in the Old Town, completely skirting the New Town and a number of points of interest mentioned on the World Heritage inscription. The harmony of distinct architectural styles, from medieval Old Town to neoclassical New Town, is expressly recognized by UNESCO, but I had to do with just the medieval portion on this visit.
Here is a look up the Royal Mile, the main thoroughfare leading up to the castle.
Next is the look down George IV Bridge, with the Bedlam Theatre at its base.
Does not look like a bridge, does it? But Edinburgh’s hilly topography is such that there is a crossing street, Cowgate, running good 25 meters lower. The George IV Bridge was built in mid-19th century specifically to improve communications between different parts of town.
St Giles’ Cathedral would normally feature on my exploration itinerary, but I lacked time to do it justice and only photographed it from outside.
I did make a pronounced effort to see the Edinburgh Castle. A large complex offering two dozen exhibitions, museums and other points of interest, it itself can take half a day to explore. In fact, the guy at the ticket desk made a point of advising me that two hours until the closing would not be enough. Nonetheless, I managed to get a feel for the place, caught most of the highlights, and even lingered at a bench or two.
Here is a perspective of the Scottish National War Memorial, a former army barracks redeveloped as a shrine in the 1920s, located near the apex of the castle.
Next is one of the views from the Esplanade, a large elevated open space in front of the castle.
A view towards New Town, with Sir Walter Scott monument prominently featured.
Another expressed regret of mine for not being able to find time to see up close the monument to a writer whose books I adored in my youth.
A look at the Esplanade, the tallest spire of the city belonging to the Hub (a church that was never consecrated as such and now serves as an event venue), the rooftops of Edinburgh, and the hills of Holyrood Park in the background.
And, finally, the steeple and clock of the Canongate Tolbooth, a late-16th century town hall.
I estimate two full days as the bare minimum to get a good acquaintance with Edinburgh. Definitely a place to return to and enjoy.
An extended gallery can be found in my Flickr photostream.
My high-school history curriculum included something on the Utopians of 18th-19th centuries, and although I could no longer recall the particulars the name of Robert Owen was definitely familiar to me. So it was not only for opportunistic reasons that I planned a visit to New Lanark on our journey around Scotland – I actually wanted to add some visuals to my vague recollection of a model Utopian community.
New Lanark is recognized on the UNESCO list as a purpose-built town meant to put in practice the ideals of the Utopian vision: a society without crime, poverty or misery, where the well-being of every individual is of paramount interest to all. I think it is fair to say that this vision never took hold anywhere to the degree Owen and his contemporaries hoped for, but its underpinning values certainly had an impact on the history of humankind ever since.
In order to get a full taste of these Utopian values in New Lanark, one probably has to take in several museums and exhibitions located in its spaces. Unfortunately in our case, we could not budget time for more than a short visit – less than an hour to walk through the town and take some pictures. The architecture – multi-storied austere dwellings in an elongated pattern – is certainly unique, especially contrasted with the traditional Scottish countryside style. You can begin to appreciate the theme of good proportion, good masonry, and simplicity of detail, by just looking at the buildings from the outside. But I am belatedly disappointed that a more in-depth exploration was not possible within our itinerary.
I suspect that two to three hours is the minimum required to get well-acquainted with all New Lanark has to offer.
An extended gallery can be found in my Flickr photostream.
I expect to be entirely opportunistic and non-discriminating in my pursuit of UNESCO World Heritage sites in the foreseeable future. If I am in the vicinity of one with time to spare, I intend to visit it, regardless of what it represents. Which I now understand can throw up a bit of incomprehension.
The serial property called Frontiers of the Roman Empire consists of over 400 individual locations, including a well-known Hadrian’s Wall in the north of England and a much less-known Antonine Wall in the south of Scotland. Built in the middle of the 2nd century AD, the remnants of these fortifications are recognized as the defining examples of defensive techniques and geopolitical strategies of ancient Rome.
Antonine Wall was well within our reach on our Scottish jaunt. My companion graciously accepted that since whisky was primarily his interest, there should be some other things on the itinerary that are primarily of interest to me. I researched the 20+ locations of the wall on its official website and picked what is known as “Rough Castle” both for its proximity to our overall route and because the site says “If you can only visit one location on the Antonine Wall, Rough Castle fort is clearly the best choice”.
I can’t really explain why I was expecting to see some form of ruins at the site. Rough Castle is basically parkland running along a ditch.
The ditch is an integral part of erstwhile fortifications – and there are even rocks embedded in its sides that are clearly remnants of the onetime wall.
Aside from the ditch, there are a couple of areas that represent approach defense, but you have to use a lot of imagination to see them as such. There are also four information stone markers that explain what the place looked like and how it worked when it existed.
The first of those markers is located near a stone ring that I am pretty sure is artificially positioned there to make the site a bit more interesting.
Basically, this is not so much a site as a memory of a site. If it is the “best” of the Antonine Wall, I wonder whether other locations are no more than stone markers positioned all by themselves. I realize that “World Heritage” is a loose term that certainly can be defined as “anything claiming a place in the history of humankind”, but I somehow expected to be able to see something with my own eyes at any site designated as a World Heritage location. Nothing really to see at Rough Castle, besides occasional locals walking their dogs in the park.
In any case, it counts for the purposes of adding another site to my roster. Raffi was tactful enough to refrain from ridiculing my obsession with World Heritage on the evidence of the very first site that he visited with me.
There is roughly a 10-minute walk from the nearest place you can park your car to the deepest part of the Rough Castle site. We lingered for about 45 minutes overall, looking for different photo angles of the pretty parkland. I suspect not many people would exceed that time if they come to visit.
An extended gallery can be found in my Flickr photostream.