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Through My Lens: De Gooyer Windmill

Nothing says “Holland” quite like a windmill. De Gooyer Mill is located on the Nieuwe Vaart canal in the eastern part of Amsterdam. It used to be a flour mill and is the tallest wooden mill in the Netherlands.

Amsterdam Canal Parade

I’ve seen a few Pride parades in my time, but will probably never see one quite like the Amsterdam Canal Parade. This year’s version took place yesterday along the Prinsengracht. The best way I can summarize it is to simply say that the Dutch sure know how to have fun.

If you don’t believe me, check out these photos.

A Month in Amsterdam

Earlier this week, as I watched the crazed Dutch cyclists zip past each other along the tiny streets of the Jordaan district next to where I am living, I wondered if a summer is long enough to figure out Amsterdam’s traffic rules. I’ll let you know, but at the moment, one month in, I’m still bewildered.

While I was pondering the mysteries of the Amsterdam traffic, I began to reflect on the stages of adjustment I always go through when I relocate to a new city, even when it’s just for a short while.

At first, everything you see and smell and taste is delightful. You can’t believe you are where you are and you notice and marvel at every little detail. On my shorter trips, I rarely move past this phase.

The second phase is when the differences you first marvelled at start to annoy you. Why do those cyclists have to go so fast? Why don’t Dutch store clerks ever smile? Why are there so few ticket machines in the Metro at Centraal Station?

The third phase is when you start to adjust to the differences. For me, an important step in reaching this phase is when I’m comfortable navigating the city without a map and stop noticing that I don’t understand the language.

The fourth and final phase is acceptance. This doesn’t mean that you feel completely at home or you have become fluent in a new language. Rather, you understand and accept that you may never feel at home — and you’re OK with that. How long it takes you to reach this final phase is the big unknown. In Paris, it took me only a few months. In other cities, it took me years. (Toronto, I’m looking at you.)

I’ve been in Amsterdam for a month now, and I’m most definitely in the second phase, inching slowly towards the third.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Through My Lens: Bloemgracht

I’ve arrived in Amsterdam, where I am going to be hanging out for a couple of months thanks to my latest home exchange. Here is a taste of what I’ve seen in the past few days. This is Bloemgracht, a small canal in the centre of Amsterdam, very close to where I’m living. Bloem is Dutch for “flower” and gracht means “canal.”

Beyond Amsterdam

Today being Koninginnedag (Queen’s Day), the national holiday of the Netherlands, I think it’s time I wrote something about the country that all four of my grandparents left to start new lives in Canada.

Many years ago, I was standing in line at Amsterdam Centraal Station, the city’s main train station, waiting to change some money. (This was back in the olden days, before ATMs.) An American came up behind me, asked if I spoke English, and we started chatting, as backpackers do, about where we’d been and where we were going. I explained to him that I was nearly finished my trip, and was going to spend a couple of weeks in the Netherlands before returning home to Canada.

“A couple of weeks!” he said.

“I have some relatives to visit,” I explained.

“Oh! Well, that’s good,” he replied. “Because there isn’t much to see here.”

“Oh?” I said. He then began to tell me about the Red Light District, which I quickly gathered was about all he had seen of Amsterdam.

“But have you seen anything else of Holland?” I interrupted him.

“Is there more to see besides Amsterdam?” He sounded surprised. “What?”

“Uh, well … there’s the whole country,” I said.

“Oh! Is it pretty? Are there mountains?”

I was struggling to come up with a polite response when, just then, it was my turn at the change window. The conversation ended rather abruptly as I turned my back to him. “Idiot,” I muttered to myself. “Are there mountains?”

I know the Netherlands isn’t high on most people’s lists of countries to visit. Nor do I expect it to be. But I do want my readers to know that, for a tiny nation, the Netherlands has a whole lot of country if you take the time to venture beyond Amsterdam. I took this photo one day in August 2007 when I was cycling outside of Zaandam, a town just north of Amsterdam.

No mountains. Just a lot of flatland. Beautiful, isn’t it?