Amsterdam, the second take

As you probably already realized, I’ve spent most of this week in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  And as some of you already know, that was my ever second trip to that European city.  My first time was back in April of 2008, and I’ve blogged plenty about it – have a look at the Amsterdam tag archives of this site.


Both trips were just for a few days.  Both were for a professional event – a conference and a training.  Both were roughly the same time of the year – late March and early April.  Both, I’ve enjoyed a great deal.  That’s pretty much where the similarities about them end, and the differences begin.

My first trip was paid by the company I was working for.  I stayed in a really awesome Movenpick Hotel.  And I spent most of my free time walking east of it.  That was enough for me to like Amsterdam city, but not enough to actually feel it.

Snowing in #Amsterdam

Well, this time, it was quite different.  I stayed in a cheap hotel, right next to all the tourist attractions, with crowds of people moving between bars, coffee shops, and food joints.  My room was smaller than most people bathrooms, and it was tricky to find in, what I understand to be, a traditional Amsterdam house.  I’ve also took the opportunity to boat around a few of the famous channels, learn a thing or two about the history of the place, and visit one of the many museums.  Also, as part of both my training seminars and after, I had the opportunity to converse with a few locals.  All that combined gave a much better feeling of Amsterdam than my last trip.

Enjoying my beer

I have to say that I enjoyed it a lot.  I like Amsterdam even more now and I definitely want to come back.  I’ll never be able to live there, for a variety of factors, but I know now how to enjoy an occasional visit.

If I had to pick three memories from this trip, they would be:

  1. Making my way through the labyrinth of the Beursstraat Hotel, trying to find my room.  In reality it probably took about five minutes, but it triggered such a massive train of thought and association, that I’m sure it’ll be with me for a while.
  2. Thursday snow.  The two days before it was very windy and cold. But on Thursday the wind calmed down and it started snowing around lunch time.  I was in the room with no windows for the most part of the day, so it was quite a surprise when I stepped outside.  Large snow flakes, calmly falling down and melting immediately on the ground.  With no wind, it wasn’t that cold no more.  So it was quite magical.  Something I haven’t seen in a long long time.
  3. Atmosphere at the bar of the Hotel Internationaal.  It was cozy, yet energetic and fun at the same time.  I’ve met a few good people, and enjoyed an almost unhealthy amount of Guinness there.  It was so good that I spent not one, but two evenings there.  I’ve also got a new nickname, which haven’t happened to me in a long time.  They called me “Tiny”. :)

Doing my #Guinness best

I’m getting ready for my trip to Amsterdam.  I am…

I’m getting ready for my trip to Amsterdam.  I am flying out of Cyprus tomorrow morning and if all goes well, I should be back by Friday evening.  I won’t have too much time while there, as I will be attending some training sessions, but if you want to meet, catch up and have a beer in the evening, let me know via comments, Twitter, Facebook, email or SMS.

As always, expect plenty of Instagram photos, status updates, and Foursquare check-ins at weird places.

Diggnation live in Amsterdam

First of all, a confession.  I was aware of the fact that there is such a show (or video podcast) – Diggnation.  I was aware of the fact that it is somehow related to the Digg web site.  And I think I even remember watching a couple of episodes a long time ago.  But, all of that was in my passive memory.  I wouldn’t remember what the show was about, if it was funny at all, or even who or how many of the hosts there were. So, when I was checking the agenda for The Next Web Conference 2008, I couldn’t have imagined what the “DIGGnation, live recorded from Amsterdam!” entry at the end of day 1 was all about.

The situation started to change when I noticed that at the end of the day there was a stream of new people in the conference hall, and that many of them were wearing Diggnation t-shirts.  That kind of looked suspicious – are they all coming specifically for the show while avoiding the conference as a whole?  It turned out it was indeed so (I later spoke to a few people who came from all over Europe just for Diggnation).

Diggnation live in Amsterdam

The Diggnation live in Amsterdam episode is up and you can see yourself how it was.  There was also a live stream during the recording, and the whole thing was somewhat longer with preparations and closing of the show, but it will give you an idea of how it went.  There were indeed a few rounds of free beers for the audience, and there was indeed this awesome dude with two joints for the hosts.

I enjoyed the show so much that I actually watched a few episodes back and will probably watch the new ones now and then.  If have a very sensitive sense of humor, you should probably skip.  All the rest – you’ll have a blast.

Amsterdam in black and white

While I was walking the streets of Amsterdam, I caught myself many times thinking about how particularly nice the city looks in black and white.  Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of color and brightness in there.  But, the combination of rainy weather and straight lines of strict architecture forms was always suggesting desaturated high contrast black and white imagery.

Amsterdam Central

I wish I was any better in photography.  Maybe then I could have captured the black and white magic of Amsterdam as good as it deserves it.

Amsterdam skyline

Here are some excellent images from Flickr which came up in search results.

Movenpick Hotel, Amsterdam

While in Amsterdam, I stayed in Movenpick Hotel.  This hotel is one of 62 hotels in Movenpick network.  There are some nice pictures and amazing numbers on the Movenpick hotel network web site.

My experience with the hotel was simply outstanding.  First of all, it was very easy to find.  I took a train from the airport to Amsterdam Central, and from their I walked to the hotel.  I could also easily avoid the walking part, since there is a free shuttle service between the hotel and Amsterdam Central every half an hour.  But I don’t mind, it was nice to walk anyway.

The inside and outside of the hotel is very stylish.  It is obvious that a lot of money were spent on internals and externals, but, at the same time, the hotel does not feel like a pompous place for very rich people.  It feels more like a very good family oriented hotel.

All the staff in the hotel is well trained, welcoming, and very helpful.  And, what is also nice to see, there is just enough staff to handle the operations.  It doesn’t feel neither lonely or crowded.  There is always someone around to help you out, but it’s easy to relax and disconnect from the world even in the reception hall.

Movenpick hotel. The room.

The room was large.  There was plenty of space for me, which came as no surprise since the same room can be used for by up to three people – there are two beds and a sofa.  The room also had a table with space for the computer and enough power outlets nearby.

My room was on the 19th floor, and it had an excellent view on the city and the canal.  From that height I could see for miles and miles away, and it is from that window that I made quite a few pictures.  Also, the room featured enough lights to keep the room lit in the evenings.

As to other conveniences, I had all the regular stuff – flat screen TV, air condition, mini-bar, safe box large enough to fit a laptop with a few other valuable items, a full bath in the bathroom, and warmed up floors.  I also had a tea pot in the room, with some cups, and a selection of teas and coffees.

There were two choices for Internet connectivity.  WiFi – claimed slow and unstable, but free and available all over the hotel, and a wired (Ethernet) connection in the room.  Ethernet connection was priced at 6 EUR/hour, but I didn’t have any need for it what so ever, since “slow” WiFi connection was pretty stable and giving me 5 mbps up and 5 mbps down (tested with against a server in London).

There are quite a few bars and restaurants in the hotel with some really great food.  Breakfasts were amazing.  A full selection of breakfast meals were offered, plus there was this nice touch for fried eggs.  They weren’t fried in large numbers and kept warmed for the duration of the breakfast, like they are doing in most of Cyprus hotels.  No.  There was a dedicated person who used those small puns to fry eggs just for you.  And while at that, people had a choice of additional stuff they’d want in their fried eggs – ham, cheese, mushrooms, onions, etc.  It was so good, if it wasn’t for the conference early start, I’d be spending half a day at breakfast.

Dinner times were as good.  The place is known for it’s open grill cooking and a selection of ice cream based desserts. I tried beef, which was great, and I did my pick of ice cream selections – that was pretty good too.  The prices, although higher than in the city, are very reasonable for the hotel and for the quality of food and service (we are talking 20-30 EUR per person, with drinks).

One last thing about the hotel that I wanted to mention is the smoking policy.  Smoking is strictly prohibited on the hotel’s grounds.  There are no designated areas or dedicated places.  If you want to smoke, you have to go outside the hotel. Period.  There is a fine of 150 EUR for offenders.  Also, despite some drugs being legalized or tolerated in Amsterdam, the use of any drugs is prohibited in Movenpick hotel.

As I said, overall, I am more than satisfied with the hotel.  It helped to create the nice experience that I got out of this trip.

The city of Amsterdam

Most of the people who I told that I was going to Amsterdam for a conference responded with some combination of one or more of “Oh, the drug capital of the world“, “Oh, the city of red lights and legalized prostitution“, and “Oh, this is the best place to get high and get laid“. Quite a few people that I know have already visited Amsterdam before, and less than a handful of them could name a point of interest not related to either sex or drugs.

That felt a bit to narrow minded for me, but there was not much I could express in return. Reading Wikipedia articles and tourist guides is all fine, but it doesn’t beat the experience of a visit.

I am glad to report that there is a lot more to the city of Amsterdam than just coffeshops with legalized pot and red lights district. So much in fact, that I didn’t manage to visit those high profile places in my almost four days there. So, what’s up there?

Streets of Amsterdam

Streets. Lots of streets with some nice architecture. A complex system of canals is laid through out the city, and that makes for some amazing scenery. Canal waters, industrial skyline, lots of parks, lawns, and trees, and developed infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclist make it all a pleasure to explore the city. I wish the weather was any better, but even as such (+3..+7 C with a bit of wind and rain) it wasn’t a big problem.

One of the things that I kept pointing out for myself was how well-organized and clean the city was despite all the industrial works in the area. Canals are pretty busy with ships of all shapes and sizes bringing stuff in and taking stuff out. Railways are going throughout the city. Trucks can be easily spotted around. Also there are quite a few sites which look like factories and plants. But, somehow, it is very easy to imagine that all of that industrial infrastructure is just not there. Because it doesn’t affect the city life very much. The air is clean and easy to breath, the water is fine, and the streets are nice and clean too. Coming from a very industrial city myself, it kept surprising me over and over again.

One aspect of this infrastructure was particularly catching my attention – the railways. Railways are going through the city inside out. Plenty of passenger and non-passenger trains are passing by. But, the railways are clean and trains are very silent. Many buildings by the railways have tables and chairs on the balconies, arranged in such a way that there is no doubt some people are using them to enjoy the view and to rest a bit during their free time. In fact, the hotel in which I was staying was only about five minutes away from Amsterdam Central, and I never even heard or felt any train passing, although I could see many of them out of the window.

Of course, when talking about Amsterdam, it is impossible not to mention bicycles. They are everywhere. They come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, much like those people riding them. Bikes are used both as a form of transportation and as means of exercise. And while many people have cars, it looks like absolutely everyone has a bicycle, and what’s more, everyone seem to prefer a bicycle to a car no matter what is the goal of the trip, the distance to the destination, or the weather outside. Amazing really.

Cycling in the rain

Amsterdam, they say, is well known for its cultural life. Museum and exhibitions in particular. I saw a few proofs of that, in the form of museum signs and all sorts of passes and batch tickets, but I didn’t manage to enjoy any of that. A few people from the conference did sneak out to museums and said that they were indeed pretty good, but I can’t trust that until I’ll see it with my own eyes. Yes, that means that I want to go back and spend some more time in Amsterdam…

Back from Amsterdam. Overview.

I am back from my trip to Amsterdam, Netherlands.  It was as good as I expected and sometimes even better.  I really enjoyed my time over there, met a quite a few interesting people, established a few useful relationships, saw some interesting technologies, photographed a beautiful city, tasted some nice beers, and more.

I brought back a few hundred photos, which took me a few hours to sort through.  Now that I am done there are just over a hundred pictures which I hope you will enjoy once they are all uploaded.  I also have quite a few posts backlogged. They are mostly in a form of notes right now, so I’ll need to expand them a bit and will publish in the next few days.

Just to give you a few highlights:

  • Amsterdam is a beautiful city.  I hope I will have a chance to visit it again.
  • I didn’t manage to visit a coffee shop, red lights district, or any of the recommended restaurants.  I was having enough fun without following any of recommendations.  Probably will do so next time.
  • People over there are tall indeed.  Very tall.
  • People over there ride bicycles even when it is cold and raining.  The city infrastructure is very supportive of cyclists, but I need to read some more about their traditions and history, because current bicycle penetration in the population is much deeper than just city infrastructure.
  • I haven’t seen any cops on the streets.  Not even traffic police.
  • There is lots of fighting with tobacco smoking.  Many places (like my hotel for example) completely ban smoking and don’t even have places for smoking.  Very nice.
  • I’ll need to write a separate post about trains.
  • It was interesting to see canals and so much water transport in operation.
  • The conference was a success.  I met a few interesting people, saw some useful technologies, and brought back a few thoughts on how things should move on.

As you can see, there is a lot to post about.  Stay tuned.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Tomorrow morning I am leaving for The Next Web Conference, which will take place in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  I spent a few minutes in Wikipedia, reading about both Amsterdam and Netherlands.  Here are some interesting highlights (direct quotes from Wikipedia):

  • The Netherlands is often called Holland. This is formally incorrect as North and South Holland in the western Netherlands are only two of the country’s twelve provinces. As a matter of fact, many Dutch people colloquially use Holland as a synecdoche, being well aware of the widespread use of this name.
  • The Netherlands is also one of the most densely cabled countries in the world; its internet connection rate is 87.8%, the 2nd highest in the world.
  • A remarkable aspect of the Netherlands is its flatness.
  • The people of the Netherlands are amongst the tallest in the world, with an average height of about 1.85 m (6 ft 0.8 in) for adult males and 1.68 m (5 ft 6 in) for adult females.
  • There is a tradition of learning foreign languages in the Netherlands: about 70% of the total population have good knowledge of English, 55– 59% of German and 19% of French.
  • Amsterdam is the 5th busiest tourist destination in Europe with more than 4.2 million international visitors. The room occupation rate is the 2nd highest in Europe in 2007. Tourists can choose from 350 Hotels, 17 of which are fivestar hotels. 18,000 rooms and almost 45,000 beds are provided.
  • Amsterdam’s largest religious group are the Calvinists followed by Islam, mainly Sunni Islam.
  • Amsterdam is one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the world and is a centre of bicycle culture with good provision for cyclists such as bike paths and bike racks, which are ubiquitous throughout the city. There are an estimated one million bicycles in the city (total population is 742,884 people, as per January 1st, 2006). However, bike theft is common, so cyclists use large secure locks.