I know what some of you are thinking after reading that subject line, "Wait...there's something other than the Rembrandt House, Van Gogh Museum and Red Light District that people like to do in Amsterdam? Really?" Yes! Really! After all of the non birding in Paris, I took the train up to Amsterdam to visit my nephew who lives there.
I'm actually closer in age to my nephew than his mother (there's a ten to eighteen year difference in age between me and my siblings). He's an amazingly cool individual who among many things designs iPhone apps (one app that worked with wallpaper ended up being an exhibit at the Louvre) and has such fun hobbies as playing the theremin. As I settled in to his apartment, he casually shifted into a speech I'm sure he's given to any family for friends from the states about visiting his town, "Now, I know when everyone gets here that they want to go to the coffee shops and I just want to warn you..."
I cut him off right away. "That particular activity really doesn't do anything for me and that is not on my agenda."
"Good," he said, "because (family member name not revealed in the blog) went and threw up all over the place and (friend not revealed in the blog) had a bad trip."
"But the Red Light District is, I want to see the ladies in the windows," I said. He agreed to take me, though I suspect reluctantly.
And for the record--I don't judge people who toke up, I actually think it should be legalized in the US. But, it literally is wasted on me, doesn't work on me at all (and yes I've tried more than once). Whiskey works well and smells better to me so that's what I stick with. As a matter of fact, one of the really special parts of my trip was that my nephew too me to WhiskeyCafe L&B.
A small dark bar filled with nothing but scotch whiskey--that's one of the wall in the bar in the above photo...every wall was like that. As a thank you for for his hospitality, I ordered my nephew and I scotches for our respective ages. It was a lovely moment and I felt so happy sharing the success of my last year writing with his success of owning his own company in Amsterdam. We both grew up in Indianapolis and our lives have taken us to strange and far flung places neither of us could have ever imagined when we were kids.
I told my nephew not to worry about me during the day, as long as I had a key and knew where the public transportation was, I could keep myself entertained and we could meet up for dinner and hang out with this friend in the evening. Ever the tech guy, he made me a super useful map for my phone:
He's not really a birder, but his mom indulges in the habit and he's been around me, so he has a good idea of what we are looking for. And between the rail, bike rental and walkability I was out and about on my own without any problems whatsoever. And unlike Paris, I felt just fine walking around along with my 65mm spotting scope and camera. I even got turned around a bit and stopped into a Turkish coffee shop for directions and they good naturedly made fun of me for losing my way when I should be able to see everything with my scope. And they were happy to offer me suggestions of birds they knew of in the area.
I had a fabulous morning of birding just in the Oosterpark down the block from my nephew's apartment and managed to get quite a few birds for my digiscoping big year.Grey herons were all over the place.
As were rose-ringed parakeets, an Indian species that is a popular pet bird but has feral colonies established in Europe, especially Amsterdam. This cavity nesting species occurs naturally in the foothills of the Himalayas, so they can take a bit of winter.
Here's a great cormorant that was drying off. I think I ended up adding 14 species to my Digiscoping Big Year challenge while in Amsterdam.
Magpies were all over the place too. I had thought originally that getting a magpie in Europe would mean I wouldn't have to worry about getting black-billed magpie in northern Minnesota, but those scamps over at the American Ornithologists' Union decided that black-billed magpie is not a conspecific of the Eurasian magpie (at one time both had the Latin name pica pica). Eurasian magpie is still pica pica while the black-gilled magpie in the US is pica hudsonia because the AOU thinks its mitochondrial DNA sequence is closer to yellow-billed magpie rather than Eurasian magpie. Sheesh. I really do not like listing. But at least I have a magpie on my Digiscoping Big Year.
I think one of my favorite European species is the blackbird, what a lovely singer. It looks like a melanistic robin and has the haunting tones of a hermit thrush. What a great bird to serenade you all over the city.
I never had to worry about an alarm clock while I was in Amsterdam...my nephew's dog Weezer worked great. Even if he didn't make any noise. I would just have this vague notion that was being watched and would open my eyes to this:
Weezer giving me the stare down. I think Weezer normally gets the guest bedroom and so waits patiently until said guest wakes up and then...
Commandeers the bed and blankets for himself. I thought Weezer and actually had a great time together. Amsterdam was the last leg of this particular European trip and at this point I had emails or articles to deal with. He'd snuggle up behind me in a chair while I would type away. I felt like we had developed some sort of bond, but while taking a selfie to send to Non Birding Bill...
I discovered that Weezer did not trust me as much as I thought--perhaps the best dog photobomb I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing.
I had the Van Gogh Museum on my list while visiting Amsterdam. I decided to forgo being super cheesy by wearing my Exploding TARDIS t-shirt to the museum. But I did look for the Vase with Sunflowers and didn't find "For Amy" on it. The museum was more interesting than I thought. I love Van Gogh, I wasn't sure if I was up for a museum that was nothing but, however this museum covered his history and who he worked with and included fun things like a portrait of Van Gogh by Toulouse-Lautrec or the same painting Van Gogh made, but done by other contemporaries like Gaugain at the same time. I didn't expect to see Starry Night because I came across it while it was on loan to Metropolitan Museum of Art just a few months earlier. I was there for the Edvard Munch exhibit and when I turned around to leave, there it was, nonchalantly hung in a hallway.
But I did get to see one of my favorites: Crows Over A Wheat Field--the color use is spectacular and it reminds me a bit of seeing crows in autumn right before a storm rolls in like I would see on my bird surveys. And I took this for no other reason than to capture the woman next to me taking a photo of it. I am baffled by all the people who go through museums and only look at the art through their phones and their iPads as they collect photos of it rather than actually enjoy being in its presence. I wonder if people think the same thing about me when I'm bird watching? But I almost always get the bird in the scope before I hold up the phone and if it's a really great bird, I take the time to enjoy it rather than just get photos.
There's no way my phone can capture all the detail and texture of this piece, so I just capture it by purchasing mug in the museum gift shop. But it was a treat to get to see this particular bird painting on my travel.
In the evenings, I would join my nephew for dinner and had such traditional dishes like white asparagus with wild boar...a rather phallic looking dinner now that I take a good look at my photo. Eesh. This particular dinner was partly a birthday party for him and several of his colleagues arrived. Fortunately for me, everyone in Amsterdam speaks in English so it was easy to chat. Periodically my nephew would pop by, "Are you ok, are you having a good time?"
"No worries," I said, "these are all programmers, it's like being a sci fi convention, talking Game of Thrones is universal."
Amsterdam was a lovely city and after you have your fill of the art, cultures and debauchery there are fun birds to be had in the park and along the many canals. We had dinner in one of the large houses that line the streets. For some reason, I had the impression that all those tall houses were lined up side by side with more houses behind them. If you ever have the chance to go in one and look out back, you will discover that all those buildings are fencing in block-wide parks that all the surrounding buildings share and they are chock full of birds.
You can see it a bit better if you look at the satellite images of Amsterdam on Google Maps--all those trees and green space and trees hidden behind tall buildings.
Great-spotted woodpecker digiscoped in Amsterdam taking advantage of the many trees.
Two side notes about visiting the Red Light District in Amsterdam and seeing the ladies in the windows:
1. The types of ladies in the windows are very different depending on the time of day. My nephew took me at night and they looked like, well what you might see on the cover of Maxim or on Cinemax or some such. My nephew said during they day...they were...well not quite the same. Of course I had to go back and see for myself and let's just say that there is lid for every pot and the ladies in the windows during the day did not look that different than what I might see working East Lake Street in Minneapolis--a little rough to say the least.
2. I found it incredibly amusing to watch how the ladies in the windows responded to my nephew as opposed to me. I even slowed my pace so he was about five steps ahead of me (he wanted to get through there quickly, I'm sure taking your aunt through the Red Light District is one of the weirder things you can do). When he walked past the windows, they were all smiles and wiggling various parts of their bodies. When I walked by, the smiles vanished, they turned around and started texting and there was no wiggling of any body parts. They clearly know their target market.