Sunday, November 13, 2011

Gold Medal


Gold Medal, originally uploaded by RJIPhotography.

Early Morning in the Mill District

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Castles and Windmills


So, I've been here for more than a month and no one has asked me about the windmills and castles.  They're out there for sure.  Staying close to home, I went to Wijk Bij Duurstede which is only about 20 minutes outside of Utrecht.  There's a cute town square and because it was Saturday, the town was busy and crowded.  Having a decent weather day certainly helped.

We found a place to park and headed toward the windmill at the end of town.  I'm not sure if this one is a working mill but it was cool to actually stand underneath it.  There are something like 1600 working windmills throughout the Netherlands.  That's the old school variety.  The new energy generating ones dot the landscape as well.

The other site to see is the Duurstede Castle.  This one has it's origins back in the 13th century and there's a structure still standing!  The main castle was added during the 1500s.  We didn't get there in time for an inside tour but the grounds where the castle stands complete with moat are impressive.  I hope to get back can photograph this site at night.

Duurstede Castle

Saturday, February 12, 2011

So How Long Does It Take To Build A Cathedral?

St. Bavo, Ghent, Belgium

On the way home from Bruges, we stopped in the town of Gent (Ghent), Belgium.  We knew it as a university town but beyond that, we knew little.  It was a chance to see another city on the way home.  Like all the places I've been so far, this was another treat.  While there's a lot of resurrection work going on in the city, the architecture of old is very evident.  2012 will be a time to really visit this city's center once the project is complete.

We decided to go into Saint Bavo Cathedral (pictured above).  This cathedral was built in various stages with additions over the centuries.  Evidence of the wooden beginnings of the structure are evident in the crypt and date back to the year 942!  The cathedral was considered complete in 1569, a mere 500 years later.  Inside, was the real treat.  Now this cathedral is not like the gleaming cathedral I saw in Antwerp.  This one is dark, damp and shows the discoloration of withstanding centuries of time.  Yet, it is the most remarkable cathedral I've seen to date.  The details in this place were just incredible.  Unfortunately, pictures inside were not allowed.  I know my words won't do the place justice but I was awed by the magnitude of St. Bavo.

There's much to see in Gent.  However, having gotten there about midday, we stopped for a Waffle drizzled with chocolate and a coffee following our visit to Saint Bavo and strolled the streets some more.  On our journey, I caught a glimpse of an alley that was covered in artful graffiti.  Naturally, I stopped to see if I wanted to photograph the alley.  Well, this was a long alley and it was covered with art.  The further I walked, the more art I saw.  The alley went all the way through to the next street and it was covered with graffiti all the way.  It was street art at its best.

Graffiti Alley, Ghent, Belgium

Venice of the North

Bruges, Belgium

Well, I'm falling behind a bit.  Last weekend was our first 'sleepover' in the city of Bruges, Belgium.  Known as the the Venice of the North, Bruges is the best preserved medieval city in all of Europe.  History of Bruges dates back to the 4th century but most of it's current architecture dates from the time it became a merchant trade town in the 12-15th centuries.  That's right, it's current architecture!  I am constantly amazed at the age of the structures I encounter and these buildings are still in use.

We stayed at a wonderful little hotel, Hotel Ter Duinen.  I highly recommend this place.  Small, quaint with very helpful and friendly service and located just outside the 'noisy' center of Bruge.  We felt like the location was more a neighborhood.  The breakfast the next morning was also great as we sat by the window overlooking a canal.

The best word to describe Bruge is simply charming.  Some think it's a bit touristy but we found it fun to explore the city and it's history.  The main square, which is impressive and reminds me of Brussels, and is bustling with people includes the tall belfry and the Church of our Lady.

But the real fun we had in this city can be summed up in three words, waffles, chocolate and beer!  Waffles with your favorite topping are like street food.  The shops will sell from their storefront to people passing by and they are really good!  While there are many chocolate shops, only a few actually make their own chocolate on the premises.  The Chocolate Line was recommended and it didn't disappoint.  Just standing inside the store you get a big wonderful whiff of chocolate.  Lastly, we went to the Half Moon Brouwerij for a tour of their beer making process with a nice sample at the end of the tour.  We ended the day at Spinola and had one of the best meals to date since arriving to Europe.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Amersfoort


Koppelpoort - Amersfoort, NL





Well, despite a full day of walking Saturday, we decided on Sunday to go check out the nearby town of Amersfoort.  There an old gate on the west end of the town that was part of the original fortress to protect the city.  It’s called Koppelpoort and dates back to 1425 when it was completed.  I was most interested to see this as we have nothing like it in the U.S., certainly not this age.  It amazes me to see such sites that are nearly 600 years old!  Amersfoort is a city of old vs. new.  The old part of the city is still surrounded by canals and walls offering its protection.  In this case, it’s protection from the modern architecture that exists beyond the old city walls.  Within the walls however, is a very quaint typically dutch down with windy streets and lovely homes.  The town square with it’s tower is quite impressive as well.  We happened to be there on Koopzondag or “Shopping Sunday”.  Once a month, stores are allowed to open on Sunday and this was the day in Amersfoort.  I think the whole town and surrounding community was out roaming a main street like area that was filled with all kinds of shops.  Some are similar to home but most are specialty shops.  We like Amersfoort a lot.  There were some restaurants we’re thinking of visiting sometime soon.



Sunday, January 30, 2011

Antwerp, Belgium

The Cathedral of our Lady - Antwerp, BE

Today we ventured to Antwerp, Belgium.  That’s right we crossed the border into another country.  Way back when, that might have been a big deal.  Today, we didn’t even see a ‘Welcome to Belgium’ sign.  Of course, we could have missed it since we don’t speak dutch or french!  The trip was easy and less than an hour and a half from Utrecht.

Antwerp – city on the Scheldt, city of Rubens, of diamonds, of fashion, a port city. It’s said that most of the worlds diamonds pass through Antwerp. Well, we opted for the architecture and strolling the shopping areas. But most of our time was spent on the Grote Markt and Cathedral area. Once we parked the car, we followed the signs and emerged into a town square with magnificent architecture. Within our sites (as is the case throughout most of the city) was the Cathedral of Our Lady. This was a site to behold. It took nearly 170 years to build but it was worth it. I must have taken 150 images of this place. After 169 years of building [1352-1521] the Cathedral raised up, like lace-work in stone, 123 meters high above Flanders. It became the largest Gothic construction in the Netherlands. The Cathedral is a vast treasure chamber, preserving masterpieces by Rubens. The paintings were incredible. The architecture of the seven-aisled church has been restored to its full splendour after twenty years of work.

We wanted to visit the Foto Museum. It was a bit of a walk but after getting there, it was closed to change exhibits. It would have been nice if they would have posted that fact on their website! Ah well, it was a bright sunny day and it gave us a chance to see more of the city.  We had an early dinner at a very casual place in the heart of the old city center, captured some night images and headed home.  

The Cathedral at night

Friday, January 28, 2011

Everything . . . It's What's For Dinner

Dinner at Blauw in Utrecht, NL

Tonight we had dinner at Blauw in Utrecht, an Indonesian restaurant.  This was a first for us.  The restaurant was recommended by Jamie’s yoga instructor so she made a reservation and off we went on this Friday night.  The place was upscale but relaxed and as we are finding out, most restaurants are casual when it comes to dress code.  Looking around we saw that most people had all these little plates stacked in front of them.  Looking at the menu (in english!) we gathered that they all ordered rice plates, an assortment of small plates.  So we decided to order two rice plates, one with meat and the other with fish.  Well, they brought some plates, then some more, then even more!  What you see in the image above is the full monty . . . our dinner order.  It was overwhelming to say the least and there was barely enough room to fit our plates on the table.  The food was outstanding!  So many flavors and many we hadn’t had before.  We just about finished everything!  We can’t wait to take family and friends to this place.  In fact, if you check out their website, they show pictures of the patrons when their food is served.  For the next few days, check out the images for Friday the 28th of January!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Binnenhof

The Inner Court
The Binnenhof (Dutch, literally "inner court"), is a complex of buildings in The Hague. It has been the location of meetings of the Staten-Generaal, the Dutch parliament, since 1446, and has been the centre of Dutch politics for many centuries.

The grounds on which the Binnenhof now stands were purchased by Count Floris IV of Holland in 1229, where he built his mansion, next to the little lake that has been called Hofvijver or 'Court Pond' since the 13th century. More buildings were constructed around the court, several of which are well known in their own right, such as the Ridderzaal (Great hall; literally Knight's Hall), where the queen holds her annual speech at Prinsjesdag. One of the towers, simply known as het Torentje ('the Little Tower'; directly next to the Mauritshuis museum) has been the office of the Prime Minister of the Netherlands since 1982.

This 'Inner Court' is studded with monumental old buildings testifying of eight centuries of governing in the Low Countries, but it also has several ample open spaces, all freely open to the public. A gilt neogothic fountain adorns the main square and one of the few Dutch equestrian statues (of King William II) guards the main Stadtholder's Gate, that dates from around 1600.

The Ridderzaal

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Empty Streets - The Urban Photo Collective

Empty Streets, Utrecht, NL


I was like a little kid at Christmas last night and this morning.  I was meeting with a group of photographers much like the Cream City Photographers of Milwaukee.  The Urban Photo Collective is a group of photographers in each of several cities around The Netherlands including one in Utrecht.  Each month, they gather for a photowalk in a different part of town and there is a theme for the walk.  That theme is the same for all the cities.

It was a great day.  About eight photographers including myself attended the walk. Linda, Dennis, Matty, Eva and the rest were extremely welcoming and all spoke english that I could get to know each a little.   However, I need to improve my Dutch just to make it a little more fair.  But, what a great group of people.  The theme, ‘Empty Streets’, gave us all some focus and the walk took place in a section of Utrecht that is lined with small homes on small streets . . . seven of them to be exact.  You can read more about it on the Urban Photo Collective.  I can’t wait to see what’s posted on Flickr nor can I wait until next month.

Boogstrat, Utrecht, NL


Gouda and Den Haag

Another weekend for exploring.  We went to The Hague this weekend but on the way we stopped in Gouda.  Yes, like the cheese but the Dutch don’t pronounce it the way we think.  In Dutch G’s are pronounced like a guttural ‘Ch’ similar to the sound you hear in German and Yiddish.  Also, the ‘ou’ in Gouda is pronounced like the ‘ou’ in out.  So Gouda in Dutch rhymes with Chowda.

Anyway, Gouda is a really cute typically Dutch town with a central square and wonderful churches and architecture.  The town has it’s share of small windy streets and canals.  But the Saturday morning market is wonderful.  Meats, Cheeses, fruits and vegetables are standard fair but our favorite was this little bread and pasty stand.  We shared an apple turnover and I have to say it’s probably the best thing I’ve eaten in the last two weeks.  I won’t even bother to ask how much butter went into a single pastry . . . better I don’t know.
Gouda, NL
We left Gouda for Den Haag.  It’s a much bigger city and for our first visit, we focused on the palace and surrounding grounds.  It’s is certainly impressive and history of Dutch government and the Binnenhof were amazing.  The palace is surrounded by water on one side.   That ‘one side’ looks to be about 2-3 football fields long!  We’ll visit Den Haag again now that we know our way around a little better.

The palace in Den Haag, NL




Friday, January 21, 2011

Speaking Another Language



A really great thing about the Netherlands, or at least here in Utrecht and Amsterdam, is that most people speak english.  This is good since my Dutch is almost non-existant.  However, I find enough similarity between Dutch and German that I recognize many words but sentence structure escapes me right now.  But there’s another language here that requires just as much study.  It’s called the metric system.  Roads are measured in kilometers, gas/drinks in liters, and food such as meat and cheese in kilograms.  Then there’s conversion of US dollars to Euros to get a sense of my overall cost.  So, when in the grocery store and you want to buy a pound of meat for dinner you're looking for something that’s just over 450 grams (453.592 gms to be exact).  Then you factor in the price (Euros/Kg) and convert to the dollar just to get a sense of price/lb.  Same with gas which is quite expensive here.  1.50 Euros/Liter x 3.785 Liters/gal x 1.3 dollars/euro = $7.38/gal.  Hmmm, Maybe I should just leave the calculator alone!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

It's All Relative



Well, all good things must come to an end.  My work permit arrived and so it was off to do what I came here for . . . so posting to this blog daily just won't happen!

That doesn’t mean I can’t find evening time to go out and shoot a little.  So far there’s been more rain than sun but when the sun comes out, it’s wonderful.  First, it’s quite a bit warmer than Milwaukee, especially now as the temp there dips below zero Farenheit.  Here it actually cooled down a bit but still reached a relatively balmy 40F.  We’re settling into routines and I think I found my preferred route to the office although as the temperatures climb, I’ll consider biking to work not on my racing bike but on a Dutch classic.  I hear there are shops where you can find a second hand bike.  Just as well as bike trading (stealing) is part of the folk lore here.  It’s been said that if you’re standing in front of a group of cyclists and say, ‘Hey that’s my bike’, half of those people will drop the bike they’re on and walk away!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sunday



Today is my first Sunday in Utrecht.  The stores are all closed.  Even grocery stores don’t open until 4pm on Sunday.  You can feel the difference from Sunday in the States.  Saturday is shopping day and there’s a hustle and bustle that reminds me of the holiday shopping rush.  Sunday is the calm after the storm.  I ventured out about 8am this morning.  It was wonderfully peaceful.  I hardly saw another person.  It seems like the Dutch take this day of rest thing seriously.  I saw one bakery that was actually open but I could not buy a cup of coffee anywhere that I could see!

Jamie and I went for another walk around 11am.  There were certainly more people out but the bikes were mostly silent.  It seems Sunday is a day to walk the parks . . . casually taking it slow and easy.  Whereas the rest of the week is go, go, go, Sunday is a day to be laid back or at least, I thought it was.  We had lunch at a nice cafe overlooking a canal and I asked the waiter if grocery stores are closed on Sunday.  He told me that some opened from 4-7pm.  

So, at 5pm I went out again to pick up a few groceries.  It’s only a five minute walk to the Albert Hein.  Was I in for a surprise.  It was like WalMart on Black Friday!  The place was packed.  I couldn’t even get a hand cart so I just got what I could hold.  The lines went from the front to the back of the store.  It was a crazy scene.  I paid for my groceries and on the way out a worker stopped some people from entering the store because there were just too many people already inside.  I think I’ll do my shopping on Saturday from now on.

Ahh, The Smell of Amsterdam



Yesterday was my first visit to Amsterdam in many years.  While it was overcast and sometimes rainy, it was a lot warmer than Milwaukee.  We walked to old parts of the city, visited the Jewish Quarter, the Anne Frank House, Dam Straat, and the Red Light District.  It’s an amazing city with coffee shops, a small China Town, and score of bars and restaurants.  It was a lot of walking but you could tell when a 'coffee house' was nearby.  There was a Starbucks in the station at Amsterdam Centraal but I quickly realized that the European coffee I’ve been drinking is so much better.  

Amsterdam is so much more an international city than Utrecht.  I heard more english spoken there in one afternoon than I’ve heard since arriving nearly a week ago.  People are friendly, cool and hip and it was a great first visit.  We’ll be back for sure.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Bicycles, Bicycles Everywhere



Thirty percent of the Dutch population travel by bicycle.  This is astounding since only 45 percent travel by car.  There are supposedly 1.11 bicycles per person in the Netherlands. That means there are around 18 million bikes lying around somewhere in the country.  Clearly, this is a preferred mode a transportation.  It’s been raining the past couple of days but it doesn’t seem to matter.  People still get around town on the bikes, some carrying an umbrella but most just peddle along as if it were a sunny day.  During ‘rush hour’ you can see 20-30 people on their bikes stopped at lights waiting for a signal change.

We’ve been thinking about getting a couple of bikes to get around town.  There are plenty of places to park your bike and it’s easier (and cheaper) than parking your car.  But we fear it’s the equivalent of biking on the interstate in bumper to bumper traffic at 70 mph!  I’m sure we’ll get used to it but its amazing to watch.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Day Two



Day Two

Two days in and it feels like things are settling in.  Everything here is the same and different at the same time.  The grocery stores seem to have all the things we need but with different sizes and packaging than we’re used to.  It’s kind of fun trying to figure it all out.  Bread and cheese are really good even the grocery store branded stuff!  Even in our apartment, figuring out 

Out on the streets there is no doubt who has the right of way . . . bicycles!  They are everywhere and used in all kinds of weather.  This is not your 10-speed Schwinn variety or your hybrid road/mountain bike.  These are more like old school wicked witch of the west type bicylces that take a beating and keep on peddling.  Now, when I cross the road, I have to look at the road and the bike lane.  People on bikes don’t stop for anything except a red light.

The ‘centrum’ or old part of Utrecht is quite nice.  Shops line the Oudergracht or old canal, which is a block from our apartment.  We’ve found some nice cafes, restaurants and just about anything we could want.  Yes and unfortunately, there is even a McDonalds in the city center.  However, the only Starbucks seems to be at the train station which we have yet to visit. 

The people of Utrecht have been very nice . . . and helpful when we need it.  Most folks speak english quite well which is good since we know little dutch.  I am looking forward to making some friends here.

And We're Off . . .

De Oudegracht, Utrecht, NL



And We’re Off

Finally, we on our way to The Netherlands.  After months of talking about it, planning for it, doing all the paper work, we’re finally on a plane from Chicago to Amsterdam with Utrecht being our final destination.  It’s funny how you keep yourself busy, backing bags, making lists, contacting people, trying to remember all there is to do.  It wasn’t until a few minutes ago, our 747 was gaining altitude and I saw the lights of Chicago that I realized I was leaving the U.S. for six months.

Now, I’ve been to The Netherlands before.  I usually go once or twice a year in my current job but for no more than a week at a time.  As we were packing, my usual routine for preparing to fly was different.  Certainly, I’m taking a few more things with me . . . most notably my desktop computer for photography and six months worth of clothes.  Some were shipped others were checked.  I’ve never flown with so many bags!  Nine in total, five of them checked (I hate checking baggage).  

I was glad to buy a new camera bag.  It was specifically for this trip.  It’s a Tenba Shootout large backpack and I mean large.  I was able to store, my 5D Mark II, 1D Mark IV, 70-200mm f/2.8,  7 more lenses, a flash, pocket wizards and a host of batteries, flash cards, chargers and cables.  The backpack was very comfortable but there’s no way I would ever hike with all that gear.  However, the bag serves it’s purpose and I didn’t have to ship or check any of my gear.  The back comes in a medium and small size which would be more suitable for day trips and hikes.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Green Door

I don't know what happened. All of a sudden it's post Thanksgiving and I haven't posted here since September? Well, I found my way back to some old Urbex stomping grounds and it was like I was there for the first time all over again. I was like a kid in a candy store.

Green Door

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Changing Seasons at North Point

Now that we are in mid-September, you can feel the change in the weather and a change of seasons is upon us.  The weather is nice but certainly cooler and the effect it has on Lake Michigan at North Point is certainly noticeable.  Whereas the lake can be perfectly calm in summer, the lake turns turbulent this time of year creating the opportunity for some dramatic images.