Sunday, 7 February 2016

Not much birding - Amsterdam and Hamburg

I have no birding updates. Or do I? The Caspian Gull came back to Wanstead Flats and I saw it. Right, that's quite enough of that. Instead I have been doing a bit of galivanting, as has of course been known to happen from time to time. Amsterdam last weekend, and yesterday Hamburg.

Amsterdam was nice. I met up with my mate Andy, a university buddy that I don't get to catch up with very frequently because he lives in, well, Amsterdam. We walked and walked, and talked and talked. We have very similar outlooks of life, both working for big corporates, both wishing that perhaps we didn't. Good to see him, and the city is fabulous. Being both sensible grown ups, neither of us partook of anything more exotic than coffee, and pushing the boat out, a single beer over lunch. Such is life in the forties. The smell of things other than coffee hung heavy on the breeze, and in various windows in the very touristy red-light district young ladies of the night day advertised their wares. Well, themselves really. Andy and I spent far more time looking at the buildings I'm ashamed to say - one of the things I particularly enjoy about european cities are the fantastic buildings, particularly in those places founded upon commerce and the sea. Amsterdam is full of tall thin buildings, rows upon rows bordering the canals. You can see some in the photo below, and they are superb.

The stairs are so narrow that things have to brought in through the windows. Today there are specialised trucks that have vertical conveyer belts attached, however in the past the goods to be stored on various levels would have been winched up from the waterside, so it's pretty cool that this use continues in modern Amsterdam. Andy lives in the top floor of one and is about to move into another one, it was pleasure to be able to see one inside - what a fantastic living space.

Hamburg has a whole trade district, with fabulous red brick warehouses lining a section of islands. Today they're preserved and harbour galleries, museums, antique shops and the like, but to wander amongst them is to be transported back to the Hanseatic League. I spent the day just wandering, as I usually do in these places - 12 miles in Amsterdam, 6.5 in Hamburg - taking a measure of the city. What was is like when it was growing? How busy was it? Who lived here then and who lives here today? And why do Germans smoke quite so much? Honestly, in the UK there is more than a little stigma now associated with lighting up. In Germany however it is a way of life, and even indoors they have little smoking booths. They don't work, and everywhere you go has undertones of smoke - like background radiation. Took me back twenty years when any visit to a pub or restaurant and you would come back reeking. 

This was the only negative really, and if anything the Hamburgers are addicted to coffee (and cake!) possibly more than their counterparts in Amsterdam. An interesting city that it was easy to spend a few hours in, the time went very quickly. Shame that the weather was a bit dull, as my skies got washed out by the neutral density filter. The one disadvantage of day trips in winter is that you're rarely there for the sunrise, and sunset is often a non-event. Anyway, if you do get a chance to visit either of these two places, even for just a few hours, I definitely recommend it. Now, back to my maps and timetables!

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