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Yes, a new series to illustrate a new home. Apparently about 15% of the area of the Netherlands is water (e.g., the above), and currently more than 25% of that is below sea level. More than 50% of it is less than 1 meter above sea level, according to our friend Wikipedia. What do the Dutch do with all this water? This series will show you, rather than telling you! Enjoy…and it’ll have a partner series at some point, Country Canals, once my bike rides start ranging further afield… 🙂 As usual, these photos will have names that tell you in direct words what it is, so you can look it up on a map finder if you wish. Amazing, that. They’ll also have tags and categories so you get a sense of the city or region, etc.

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Scenes of Seasons in Amsterdam

Work takes me to or through Amsterdam once or twice a year, and has for a decade now. This year it was the usual 10 days for annual meetings in early September — when the days were still just a bit longer than the nights — and then again for a few nights just before flying out here to Bangladesh. Here you see photos from both trips. You’ll notice two photos that I’ve named “sudden heron.”  I’ve always loved (and photographed often) the waterbirds that show up on and in Amsterdam’s canals, lakes and parks. This time I was just walking from the meeting-venue back to the hotel along a canal in the heart of the city, quite an urban area really, minding my own business and watching the sunset…when suddenly I found myself next to this great blue heron!When I was growing up, in southern Ohio during the post-DDT days, I dreamed of seeing great blue herons and other big birds. So many had their numbers decimated by the effects of DDT on their eggs that it was really quite rare to see such large high-on-the-food-chain birds. I still am delighted when I get to see one stalking its prey, whatever the continent. Glad I’m not a fish or a frog, about to be skewered by that beak, though!

Just below is the excellent City Museum of Amsterdam, old and new buildings skillfully blended. Further down, the cruise ship at dock was flagged the Bahamas, and I took that photo in September while the Bahamas were being so battered by a hurricane: felt poignant, and I wasn’t sure if the ship was taking refuge or on a pre-planned trip in northern Europe. The beer was photographed while my laundry spun in the washer and drier at the laundromat next door: that September trip came immediately after the family & meditations outings I’ve already shown you in & — so I desperately needed to get some clean clothes before sitting in a week of meetings with peers and colleagues… 🙂

Ij, Eye, Amsterdam

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(I need to apologize that this isn’t laid out as I’d wish – the great minds at wordpress have forced us all into a new “improved” editor which makes it impossible, as far as I can tell, to set fixed widths for photos other than an automatic +/- size with very limited options. Stupid, but unavoidable for the moment until either they get smarter or I find a new host. Ideas welcome.)

Clue for you non-Dutch-speakers out there: Ij & Eye are pronounced the same way. 🙂 Also: Ij is the name of a body of water that sits just north of the central train station in Amsterdam. It connects to Ijmeer (Ij bay?) to the east, and the town of Ijmuiden (mouths of the Ij?) to the west, and basically makes Noord-Holland (you guess, North-Holland) a peninsula. What I don’t know is what the natural state of these various bodies of water were before the industrious Dutch traders and engineers started managing the bodies of water within the territory we now know as the Kingdom of Netherlands, back whenever past generations of Dutch people decided they could makes canals and diversions, fill in land, and make it possible for one of the most densely-populated nations on earth to exist and be wealthy with about 1/3 of its territory actually sitting below sea level. (Netherlands tourism’s website tells me the lowest point is 22ft below sea level; highest a mere 1000 feet above.) My point: the Dutch have even engineered the Rhine River. I’m sure much of this was naturally-existing in the river-delta-region that links the Rhine, the Meuse and Scheldt rivers. (I mean, even the un-engineered Niger River becomes a highly complex delta without a clear main “Niger River” channel south of Port Harcourt – just check out some of past entries from the Niger Delta and you’ll see a bit of that.) But what I’m certain of, having now worked with a Dutch headquarters and many Dutch colleagues and bosses for the past decade or so, is that Dutch engineers very tidily and meticuloulsy did what they could to enhance these delta channels, acknowledging that water will flow, but doing their best to channel that flow for minimum disruption to towns, cities, trading canals, etc. The water carried by the Rhine divides not long after entering Netherlands territory, most of its water then flowing west to reach the ocean north of Rotterdam in a few different channels which — so Wikipedia tells me — can be called “distributaries.”  The same source tells me that 1/9 of the water volume contained in the Rhine upon its entry into Netherlands territory ends up flowing via the IJssel branch of this distributary network into the above-mentioned IJsselmeer.
My nerdly point is this: the water in the photo above is called the Ij. It sits between the Amsterdam you may know and love (to the left) and the Amsterdam you may not know exist, North Amsterdam (to the right). North Amsterdam is accessible via completely free ferries which run regularly just off the north side of Amsterdam Centraal station. It’s got a big lovely park. Amsterdam is a very cool city b/c they’ve done such an amazing job of packing it all in and allowing below-sea-level areas to absorb water, recharge aquifers, and hopefully protect the commercial and residential parts of the city from being flooded — all of which means you can see great blue herons and other fascinating birds bumping up against high-rises and train tracks. All very cool. Anyhoo: I did a day trip going out by ferry, back by bus, to this North-Amsterdam part of the city, which in more than nine years of being there before and after each assignment I hadn’t yet visited. The park in particular is well worth a trip. These are mostly from my September trip; some from my June trip, post-CAR. (Such as me in front of my favorite European concert hall.) Enjoy 🙂



Selections from the Air

You probably know I fly a fair bit, and I’m one of those people who stare out the window of the airplane if there’s daylight. I don’t suppose I’m truly claustrophobic in the classic sense, and I do just fine even in a middle seat if I need to (then I do escape into headphones and the in-set tv screen or i-pad), but I certainly enjoy flying much more when I can look out the window and enjoy the magic of seeing the earth from a different angle. Here’s a selection of photos from three flights I took over the past year – each photo has a name that explains what it is, more or less. Hope you find the aerial views as intriguing or enlightening as I do. And happy thanksgiving weekend, if you’re in the US. 🙂

Dallying in Delft

Usually, my flights back across the Atlantic leave Amsterdam Schiphol in the morning. Usually as well, I like to visit a friend or two in other parts of Europe, after debriefing but before taking those morning flights back to the US. That means I usually come back to Amsterdam a day or two prior to the flight. Which means I need to find my own hotel. I can’t afford a hotel in Amsterdam, really, unless my employer is paying for it on their negotiated group rate. (A’dam is a fantastic town but hotels are freaking expensive.)

So I’ve taken to staying in other towns a bit further out – The Hague or Den Haag, the last few years. After debriefing from my short assignment to Sierra Leone, last September, I stayed there & spent a day exploring Delft, a lovely town just next door. These photos are mostly from Delft with just a few from The Hague. Usually when I leave a field assignment, one of my great joys is simply to walk the reasonably ordered, clean and secure streets of cities in the US or Europe, by day or night, without having to think in advance about potential risks or having to constantly jump out of the way of motorbikes or loud cars, etc.

In my Oberlin classmate Tracy Chevalier’s book about Vermeer’s painting “Girl With A Pearl Earring,” a lovely climactic scene near the end of the book involves a large compass laid down in the cobblestones of the city square — so basically, I went in search of said compass, since I know Tracy does her research well. I was saddened to find that the actual huge compass, about which she writes in the book, must have been located somewhere out of sight, beneath the carnival attractions you see in the photo above. Oh well: next visit! It’s still a gorgeous little town full of history and charm, so I’m sure to be back some day. My consolation prize was the smaller compass you’ll find photographed below – but I’m told there’s definitely a bigger one hiding under one of those rides in the main square. 🙂

Tulips & Canals – Spring Jaunts in Amsterdam

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Sorry for the lag between posts, folks. I went offline for June and July, and hung out on the bike trails and tennis courts at home. I’m back on a short assignment again now (Sierra Leone until early September), and this means bike trails and tennis courts aren’t as readily available, so I’m using my evening & weekend free time to dig through all the photos I’ve taken since leaving Haiti & Canada (see my last posts)…and I’ll be slowly popping them up here for your enjoyment. This one’s Amsterdam: I’m usually there once or twice a year, before or after an assignment, for meetings and briefings and so on. I got lucky with an unusually sunny weekend in the middle of this particular stay, so I walked and took trams around new parts of town I’d not previously visited. The spring tulips, flowering magnolia trees, and other signs of the season were lovely and everywhere, and I found Amsterdam’s range of architectural styles and details from classic big brick churches to modern apartment complexes, university classroom buildings, and even small historical plaques embedded in walls around town quite enjoyable. It’s really a city that rewards rambling down side streets with your eyes open and curiosity alive. And I finally found a way to try to show you how small some of the restaurant and hotel sinks can be in Amsterdam – I think this was in a new (for me) and excellent restaurant, and I found it unusually small even by Amsterdam standards…