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I Heart My City: Barry’s Amsterdam

Intelligent Travel at National Geographic has an interesting series of posts called “I Heart My City“.  Here’s mine for Amsterdam, a city for which Robin and I have both developed a deep fondness.

The first place I take a visitor from out of town is the Rijksmuseum; the recent restoration was worth having the main buildings shut for several years.

To escape tourists I head east to the Eastern Docklands (Oostelijk Havengebied in Dutch). The IJhaven and Zeeburg areas have lots of history, interesting architecture and good places to eat. Try Roest in the summer.

For some quiet time, slip into one of Amsterdam’s smaller old churches (the Zuiderkerk, for example). Often you’ll be one of only a handful of people in it.

If you come to my city, get your picture taken with the iAmsterdam letters. It’s kitschy but everyone does it. There is always a set at the Rijksmuseum on the Museumplein side. A second set sits at Schiphol airport and a third set moves about the city. You’ll often find them across the river from Centraal Station in front of the A’DAM Toren and the Eye film museum.

If you have to order one thing off the menu from Seasons (our favourite restaurant in Amsterdam), it has to be the fire shrimp.

The Society Shop is my one-stop shop for great clothes for someone of my age and profession.

Locals know to skip various chip/fries stands scattered around the city and check out the two best fries places (Vleminckx Sausmeesters and Manneken Pis) instead.

When I’m feeling cash-strapped I go to the Albert Cuypmarkt. Lots of things to see and little snacks along the way.

For a huge splurge I head to the Hotel Okura and eat either at Serre ($$) or Ciel Bleu ($$$$).

Photo ops in my city include the main canal district, the Amstel river and the Westerdok area.

If my city were a celebrity it’d be George Clooney — good-looking, cultured, worried about the planet and popular with all ages.

The most random thing about my city is the Red Light District. Sex shops, good restaurants, interesting shopping and the old university all within several easily walkable blocks.

In my city, an active day outdoors involves hiring a bicycle and exploring the areas outside the old central area. Taking the ferry north across the IJ and cycling north gets you into the Dutch countryside very quickly.

My city’s best museum is Foam, an outstanding space to see the wide and varied world of photography.

My favorite jogging/walking route is in the Amsterdamse Bos. It is a fair distance south of the old city but has 10K and half marathon routes marked out. While everyone goes running in Vondelpark, more people should try Beatrixpark.

You can tell a lot about my city from the season. It’s a party city in the summer; in the winter, everyone moves inside to warm and cozy places to escape the dark and wet weather.

You can tell if someone is from my city if they can talk on their cellphone, balance a baby and a bag of groceries while cycling full steam in the rain.

In the spring you should head to the surrounding countryside to see the tulip fields in bloom. Keukenhof is the traditional place to spend a day.

In the summer you should rent a boat and putter along the canals like half of the city does. Try boaty.nl in the Oud-Zuid area or Mokum Boot in the Oost.

In the fall you should drink a bock beer at the Brouwerij ‘t IJ, especially if it’s a nice day when you can drink it outside in the beer garden at the foot of the Molen De Gooyer.

In the winter you should take in the Amsterdam Light Festival. Started in 2012 and now running annually in December and early January, the Light Festival brings light-based art installations to Amsterdam during the darkest time of the year. Some of my photos of the installations are available here.

A hidden gem in my city is the City Archives (Stadsarchief Amsterdam). It’s in a beautiful old building and the exhibits are always interesting.

For a great breakfast joint, try dim sum at Oriental City or Sea Palace.

Don’t miss taking in a concert at the Concertgebouw. It’s one of the best places to hear music in the world and the Dutch take their classical music very seriously.

Just outside my city, you can visit Haarlem. It’s a short train journey away and has several excellent museums like the Teyler and the Frans Hals.

The best way to see my city is from a bicycle.

The best book about my city is In the City of Bikes: The Story of the Amsterdam Cyclist by Pete Jordan. An engaging book documenting the love affair between Amsterdam and the bicycle.

When I think about my city, the music that comes to mind is the awful Dutch dance music that accompanies every Koningsdag (was Koninginnedag  up to 2014) and summer festival. I definitely not a fan but you can’t help but associate it with summer in the city.

If you have kids, you won’t want to miss the Nemo Science Museum. And it has one of the few sun terraces in the city.

Het Grachtenfestival could only happen in my city. The combination of summer weather, the historic architecture of the Jordaan canal district and classical music all often enjoyed from the comfort of your own boat could only happen in Amsterdam.

Revising my Lightroom Workflow

While attending the Adventure Sports Photography Workshop back in September, I realized that I would need to significantly improve my Lightroom workflow if I was really serious of moving my photography from a hobby into a second-career business. I learned much from Dan and Janine Patitucci on how they manage their photography business in this age of social media and ever-growing competition from non-traditional sources.

Keywording

The first area I needed to work on was keywording.  While my photographs all had basic keywords, being successful in today’s world of stock photography requires a good  strategy for keywording.

I did some searching on the Internet and found the Lightroom Keyword Project List.  I downloaded the list and then exported my own keyword list. Working in my favourite text editor (PSPad), I combined the two and re-imported this combined list into Lightroom.  The design of the keyword structure simply requires me to move from the top to the bottom of list, keywording as I go.  My average number of keywords has jumped up considerably and I’m now at or above mytarget of 15 keywords per master photograph.

Workflow

In addition, my overall Lightroom workflow needed work. As a hobbyist, having no differentiation among personal, hobby and potential salable photographs was not a big problem. But looking forward, I knew that I needed to have a way to separate these in Lightroom.  I also needed a better way to manage master photographs within portfolios, especially if the master photographs were processed in other software technologies like OnOne and Nik.

Another Internet search led me to Dan Morris’  Complete Lightroom Workflow post, which met almost of my requirements including keeping all photographs within a single Lightroom catalog. I especially liked Dan’s use of Smart Collections to ensure that master photographs are all properly titled, captioned, geolocated, keyworded and copyrighted. My only significant change to Dan’s system was to assign the Purple color for Hobby Photography.

The Results

I took well over a month to go through my entire Lightroom catalog with the new workflow. Looking at the numbers below, you’ll see why it took so long:

  • Total Photographs: 16222
  • Within Total Photographs: Personal Photographs: 5710, Hobby Photographs: 794, Professional Photographs: 9717
  • Within Professional Photographs: Archive Quality: 3653, Hold Quality: 5839, Master Photograph Quality: 169

The numbers show that I need to take about 100 photographs to get one Master Photograph.

One of the joys of going through my entire portfolio was finding photographs that I passed over at the time.  Now with new tools and a more mature vision for my photography, I was able to bring some of these long-lost photos back to life.  The featured image in this post is a good example: it is from 2007 and a road trip we took to New Mexico.  The bright glow of the white sand desert that I saw when I took the photo really did not come out until I used some of the new processing tools (in this case OnOne Perfect Effects 8).

Camera: Nikon D70s
Lens: Nikon AF-S Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G DX
Focal Length: 200 mm
Exposure: 1/80 sec at f/16
ISO Speed Rating: ISO 200

Processed in Adobe Lightroom 6.5 and OnOne Perfect Effects 8

Gear: Photography Equipment

As Dave duChemin said in a recent blog post:

If we spent more time analyzing our photographs as we did analyzing gear, we’d make much better photographs no matter what that gear is.

How true.

That being said, this photography gear page remains one of the most visited pages on Station Studios.

Digital Single-Lens Cameras

My main DSLR body remains a Nikon D7000 (pictured above). There is a lot to like about this camera, in particular the two user-configurable modes.

For lenses, you will  find one of the following on the D7000:

Robin still uses a Nikon D40x from 2007. The D40x is a relatively small camera which Robin likes and the jpegs straight of the D40X remain in my opinion the nicest of the three Nikons we’ve owned.  Robin also uses a Nikon AF-S Nikkor 18-200 mm f/3.5-5.6G DX ED VR II on the D40X.

Flash Equipment

I’ve recently been more and more interested in expanding my photography skills from using only available light to using flash technology. To that end, I purchased a Nikon Speedlight SB-700 flash unit and a set of Pocket Wizard MiniTT1/FlexTT5 wireless trigger systems. I’ll likely add a second flash very soon to complete my Strobist kit.

Bags and straps

To carry all of this equipment all around, I’m using two camera bags for different purposes:

We’ve both replaced the standard Nikon neck strap with Black Rapid straps. There are a great alternative to traditional camera straps.

Point and Shoot Digital Cameras

We’ve owned a number of smaller digital cameras over the years including a number of Canon SD series cameras. In 2013, I bought a serious new point-and-shoot, a Sony DSC RX-100 and it’s been a great camera for cycling and hiking.

Digital Darkroom

I continue to use Adobe’s Lightroom as my main digital photo editing tool; I’m up to version 6.5. I also purchased the ON1 software suite, including Perfect Effects,  for further processing outisde of Lightroom. I also added the Nik suite of photo editing software when Google made it free in March 2016. I’ve also made good use of a number of Jeffrey Friedl‘s Lightroom plugins, including  Geoencoding  Support and PhotoSafe

In 2014, I bought a new computer (a Dell XPS) specifically for my digital darkroom.  For the display, I purchased a Eizo FlexScan SX2262W color-corrected monitor and Eizo’s EasyPIX monitor calibration system. In early 2016, I added a Wacom Intuos Pro Small Digital Tablet for more precise editing.

Gear: Fitness Devices

Here are my experiences with specific fitness devices as of October 2016:

GPS Watches (Running, Cycling and Hiking)

I started out with the Garmin 305 when I took up running seriously here in Amsterdam.  The 305 was a good runner watch for its time and it helped me train for and run three half-marathons. I ended up killing it during a very rainy training run in 2012 and picked up a 610 to replace it.  The 610 was also pretty solid as a running watch. The major downside of my 610 was the wristband; I like many others managed to rip the anchoring pin through the band itself.  I ordered a replacement but found the 610 design had changed slightly over time and the new band would not fit my older watch.  Some black electrical tape fixed the problem.

In 2015, I started to read more about the new multisport Fenix 3 and thought it would be a good upgrade on the 610.  I’m happy with the Fenix 3 in every way; it’s a very impressive piece of technology and looks good enough to wear for daily use. The management of workouts, the handling of various sports and the increase in precision are all upgrades over previous Garmins.  Even something seeming unimportant as the ability to change the watch face is really well implemented and various 3rd-party developers have produced some beautiful watch faces, giving the Fenix 3 a lot of style. Definitely recommended.

Heart Rate Monitors

Like most users, I started with the chest strap version for measuring heart rate. And like many users, I had a constant battle with chaffing, scratching and communication dropouts.  I finally decided to try an optical HR monitor and haven’t looked back. The Mio works well and has proved very reliable. Its only downside is that its Bluetooth transmission distance is relatively short, so I have to wear it on the same arm as my GPS watch. I’m not going to win any fashion contest this way, but the elimination of my chaffing issues with chest bands makes this a small price to pay.

Handheld GPS Navigators

While I started out using these Garmin units for geocaching, both proved to be equally useful as navigation units for cycling.  Paired with the open-source mapping initiative, OpenFietsMap, these Garmin units will route cyclists on bicycle paths throughout Europe. I’ve always got the Oregon on my Santos when out cycling, and it’s a good geocaching device as well.

Activity Monitors

I got a Fitbit One soon after they came out and found it to be a positive influence on my lifestyle, especially around work.  Paired up with the FitBit app, I found that I could watch my food intake and energy output more directly and made some good strides in getting aspects of my weight under control.

When I unfortunately lost my FitBit in the summer of 2015, I decided to move to the Charge HR, which includes an optical HR monitor.  While I don’t use it during fitness activities, I have found the HR measurement, especially the resting HR calculation to be very valuable to assess my basic health (am I getting sick? have I over-trained?).  I also like the auto-calculation of sleep intervals; it works well and it’s one less thing that I need to remember to start and stop on the FitBit One.  The only downside of the Charge HR was a bit of chaffing on my forearm in the early days, the shorter interval for recharging (the One would get a week or more out of a charge; the Charge HR got 3 days maximum).

In September 2016, I replaced the Charge HR with the brand-new Charge HR2, as I managed to delaminate the Charge HR sensor from its integral wrist band after a year of fulltime use.  I really like the new larger display and the new band attachment system; this should fix the delamination problem.

Software

SportTracks 3 fundamentally changed how I tracked my fitness and outdoor activities.  The ability to analyze the GPS and HR time series captured by GPS watches made detailed analysis of my training very easy. I can also summarize a variety of activities, answering questions like how many cycling trips from Amsterdam and what is the total number of miles I’ve run in a year.

While SportTracks is fundamentally powerful, it is the capability for others to develop plugins that yields some of its most powerful functionality. I use the following plugins almost everytime I used SportTracks:

  • Elevation Correction
  • Calculated Fields
  • Training Load
  • Weather
  • GPS2PowerTrack
  • Dobrou Extensions (stopped working in 2015)

I used Garmin Connect account to manage my Fenix 3. In addition, I have a SportTracks.mobi account to get the workout information from Garmin Connect to SportTracks 3.

Like the Fenix 3, SportTracks gets the highest recommendation from me.

Microadventure: Bolwerken

Between our house and Oosterpark, we pass by a plaque in the sidewalk that indicates that Bolwerk Muiden once stood there. Intriguingly, the plaque has a URL link engraved on it: “www.bolwerken.amsterdam.nl/22”. Finally a few months ago I looked it up.  It turns out that this plaque was part of a project to mark all 26 bolwerken  that protected Amsterdam during its golden age.

I saw this as an opportunity to do a second urban microadventure in Amsterdam. I could not find any more information about the location of the plaques other than some handmade drawings on the website. So I did the best I could in translating the drawings into GPS coordinates. The final step was to load the coordinates into my Garmin Oregon 450.

When I explained the idea to Robin, she thought it would be a interesting day out, so we planned to go the next nice Saturday or Sunday. We arose on Sunday October 9 to a great weather forecast and so decided to go. We took the tram into Centraal Station and then walked out towards the first plaque from there.

Things did not start too well as we could not find the first plaque (“Blaauwhoofd”) after 15 minutes of searching. But we soon hit our stride and found four plaques in succession. Unfortunately, number 6 (“Karthuizen”) eluded us. After finding the 8th plaque (“Reijkeroord”), we crossed the canal and had a quick lunch at the outdoor cafe at Morgan & Mees.  Back on the walk, we found most of  the plaques except for numbers 10 (“Nieuwkerk”) and 16 (“Reguliers”). Starting with number 17, we then hit our best stretch of the day and found 8 straight plaques.  The day finished on a down note as we did not find number 26 (“Zeeburg”) before the rain started. Interestingly, a week later I was going through photos of my 2014 microadventure and found a photo of the 26th plaque.  Robin and I returned to the location on our Sunday run and photographed #26.

The gpx file below contains accurate coordinates for the plaques we found. In addition, it has the rough locations of the bulwarks for the ones we did not find (marked as DNF). If you find our missing plaques and take the GPS coordinates of them, please send them along.

All in all, this was a great way to see the city in a way we hadn’t done before.

Microadventure - Amsterdam Bolwerken

Microadventure – Amsterdam Bolwerken
Distance: 18.3 km
Download the gpx file of the coordinates of the plaques.

Hike: Harderkulm

Since my train back to Amsterdam after the photography workshop did not leave until 1:00 pm, I had a morning in  Interlaken to do something outdoors. With the Hardergrat rising some 800 metres just north of the city centre, hiking to its western summit, the Harderkulm, was an easy choice.

The weather continued to be less than stellar as I awoke to the sound of rain. I set out in the dark, rain gear on and my cameras packed safely away in my weatherproof backpack.

The climbing started immediately after passing the funicular station (which of course is the easy way up). About half way up the rain finally tapered off and I continued to walk through intermittent clouds. The trail broke out of the trees a couple of times: once to cut across a picturesque Swiss farm; another time for a lookout view over Interlaken. After a lot of uphill walking, there was a nice stretch of relatively flat hiking as the trail headed the west end of the Hardergrat ridge. A short climb later, I reached the Harderkulm station. I was definitely the first person up for the day and had the whole observation deck to myself.

And what a view awaited me! The clouds were moving quickly through the valley and the sun was in the right position for some terrific Jacob’s Ladders. I spent some time trying to find the best photograph in the quickly changing conditions; the one above is my favourite.

All too soon, it was time to head back down. I quickly saw that this was a popular fitness hike with the locals as I must have passed 10 to 15 people hiking up as I descended. I retraced my steps back to the hotel, and celebrated the end of a great long weekend in the Alps with a hot shower and a good breakfast.

Harderkulm-9-19-2016

Hike: Harderkulm
Distance: 10.7 km
Elevation Gain: 750m
Download the gpx file of my hike.