I arrived in Amsterdam with crusty shit in my eyes, a laid back posture and a laid back attitude. Waking up in a six sleeper couchette there was only one other traveller in there with me. This made for a very comfortable and quiet journey and I slept so very very well. 20 minutes after waking we pulled into Amsterdam Centraal and the familiar rows of bicycles outside were there to greet me. I had forgotten just how many there are and so was even a little overwhelmed.
The private room I had booked was with a couple who I had told I’d be checking in around 4pm. It being 8am I had a bit of time. I put my stuff into the lockers available at the station (a fantastic idea and every major train station should have them) and went off on my way to settle in. First port of call – a bike rental shop.
On my travels I had been mainly worried about getting around cities I had never been to before. Even then I did only a little research. And even though I was familiar with Amsterdam I wasn’t so familiar with it that I could just stroll around and know where I’m going. So I bought a guide book, mainly so that I could get a map and a list of bike rental shops. I didn’t refer to the book beyond that but I’m sure someone else would find it useful.
Of all the listed bike rental shops the recycled bicycle shop jumped out at me the most. The owner, Vitor, takes discarded parts and puts them together to make a bike. Some of the parts are pretty decent and so they become pretty decent bikes. For 5€ a day it’s the cheapest around town, AND there aren’t any labels on them. Yellow Bike are bright yellow and have ‘Yellow Bike’ on the frame. Mac Bikes are the most obvious and, according to the guide book, are the ones that scream “TOURIST!!! I’M A TOURIST!” As a self-proclaimed ‘anti-tourist’ who likes the idea of recycling, Recycled Bicycles was perfect. In fact, there was no question that this was the type of place I would go to.
I think I cycled a bit too much over the four days I was there. The bicycle itself was pretty cool. It was a shabby looking, fixed gear, freehub (so I could coast) bike with a back pedal brake. Perfect for getting around the city.
Was it the bicycle? Was it my blazer? my glasses? my overall apperance? Everyone thought I was a local, or at least Dutch. Everyone who started talking to me or served me in a restaurant or shop started talking to me in Dutch before I had to break it to them that I was an English speaker lacking in any language skills, and I didn’t understand a word they were saying and that I’d appreciate it if they spoke to me in English. Sorry about that. But it did make me feel quite at home, knowing that when the actual locals looked at me and judged me they didn’t think ‘pfft, tourist.’.
In a way I wasn’t really a tourist. I was off work for a long weekend and I went to places I’d usually go to on a long weekend: to cafes, to the park, and most importantly, to the cinema.
The National Film Institute of the Netherlands built and opened a new and interesting building in Amsterdam. It houses 4 auditoriums/cinemas, a bar/restaurant, and it has an exhibition space. The current exhibition when I was there was the Stanley Kubrick Exhibition, which I subsequently went to and will talk about with pictures.
I loved this space. The building from the outside is an interesting shape with sharp and funny angles. It has space where you don’t expect it to and it looks quite low from the exterior but once inside you realise the space is huge. Inside is one main cinema with a few smaller ones. There is a small cinema shop that sells the usual cool stuff at slightly higher-than-you’d-pay prices, a large dining area, bar, and spaces to just sit. Spaces to just sit is, I think, very lacking in many spaces in London. A trip to any London Underground Station and you’ll find not many seats, especially in the newer stations like Southwark and Westminster on the Jubilee platforms. A trip to the Trocodero, which is fucking atrocious, and there is nowhere to sit unless you pay for something.
The EYE is situated in Amsterdam-Noord and there is a view across the canal to Amsterdam Centraal Railway Station, still, unbelievably, undergoing upgrade construction work. I was there three years prior and it was being upgraded then as well.
A free ferry takes people across the canal to three different locations in Noord. Only vehicles small enough are permitted, including these really tiny cars (a Canta) that I’d never come across before. Also mopeds, scooters, and of course bicycles and pedestrians. The ferry timetable changes every half a year. Last Winter it didn’t run 24 hours. This Summer it did. Don’t know if it still will during this Winter (2012). I took the ferry quite a few times to get over there and back. I watched two films and visited the exhibition.
The Stanley Kubrick Exhibition
This was a brilliant exhibition, one of the best I’ve ever been to.
From Kubrick’s early days as a freelance photographer people saw that he had an eye for a picture. Not long after that he went into filmmaking. He made many technological advances in photography, such as developing a new lens to film Barry Lyndon in super low light, near candle light. He was also brilliant in the use of sound and music. He was one of the first film directors to use existing music to provide a soundtrack for a film. The inspired use of The Blue Danube in 2001: A Space Odyssey is an example of his genius in this area. Quentin Tarantino being a modern example of inspired use of existing music in films.
The exhibition had loads of props, costumes, production designs, early sketches and much much more. There were areas screening clips of every single one of his films, with an additional documentary about each of the films. There was plenty to see; very informative for anyone not so familiar with Kubrick’s work, and lots of interesting bits and bobs that a Kubrick fan would love. I spent just under 3 hours in the exhibition and could easily had spent more.
Here are some pictures I took of only some of the things in there:
There really was so much more, and there are more pictures that I took on my flickr account.
With the Stanley Kubrick Exhibition on it’s no surprise that they had all the films of Kubrick screening as well. I had never watched Barry Lyndon before so was going to watch that, but I wasn’t in the mood for it but I really wanted to re-watch 2001: A Space Odyssey in a cinema. With a ticket for the exhibition you got a discounted cinema ticket as well, for any film of your choosing, didn’t even have to be a Kubrick film, that’s the lovely kind of people they are there at EYE.
On a separate day I watched Moonrise Kingdom. I had been out for over a month in the UK and a few people I knew had already watched it. In my time away I had not really seen anywhere that was screening it and this was pretty much the first opportunity I had.
Moonrise Kingdom was fantastic and I can recommend anyone to go and watch it, unless you hate Wes Anderson films.
Going back a bit, within an hour of my arrival to Amsterdam I popped into a bookstore that I had been in before that I knew sold imported magazines, specifically Sight & Sound published by the bfi. I found them and they were overpriced obviously but I bought them anyway.
The whole experience of the exhibition, the cinema (including the times I went in Prague and Berlin), and reading the magazine had rekindled my love with cinema which I felt had been fading for a while. At least it wasn’t something that I had kept up with over the last 5 years, but this really reminded me of how much cinema means to me and how much it has influenced my life.
Overall, I didn’t do much in Amsterdam except walk around a bit, cycle around a lot, sit in cafes drinking coffee, writing in my notebook, and reflecting on my trip so far. It was the first time in 19 days where I felt no pressure in actually doing anything specific to the city that I was in. No pressure to see things, to do things, or to experience things. And yet I had a wonderful experience and saw a bit more of life in Central Amsterdam. It was a nice weekend and one that I imagine I would be spending more often if I had the money and the time to do it more often. I am already thinking about doing it again. Any time of the year is fine, just need to find some of it that’s free.
And so… onwards to another city I’ve been to before; one I had been to many times before and wasn’t much impressed by. Travelling to Paris this time I had no expectations whatsoever, only that once I arrived I would only be one stop from home.