It’s hard to believe that I flew back to Miami from Europe more than two months ago. It was after a relatively short roadtrip that took us to three different countries – Holland, Belgium and Germany. If I didn’t have to wait three days for my luggage to arrive from Libya, we probably would have gotten to France as well.
I flew into Amsterdam (via Istanbul) and I had to take a train to Leiden. I was there to visit an old friend of mine who is like a brother. Luckily, it wasn’t too far and well worth the trip. I needed to buy clothes and a toothbrush, but at least I had my camera with me and a few lenses. I already posted some of the pictures from my iPhone. After a while I started swelling from all the food and drink. If it’s not something in the air or water down there, the Dutch must put some special ingredient in their food to fill you up with gas really fast. I’ve never experienced anything like it before, and if my friend hand’t as well, I would have thought something was wrong with me.
But I couldn’t stop eating! There was so much good food to be had. No chocolate sprinkle sandwiches, but I did have some of the best fried fish I ever tasted in my life on that trip. My first bite came on a Saturday when the streets of Leiden were packed with vendors of all sorts. Naturally, we gravitated towards the ones with food. As soon as I saw the crepe stand (Dutch people still insist on calling them pancakes), I knew what was for dessert. We took it to go. It was nice walking around that day. Lots of people were out and there was lots to see. Thanks to Turkish Airways, our roadtrip was delayed significantly. So at one point, we decided to take a short day trip to the Hague. More fried fish and a nice afternoon on the bustling boardwalk (not pictured). Shortly after making it back to Leiden, I finally got the call I was waiting for – the suitcase was on its way from Amsterdam. So we finalized out scaled back plans and got ready to leave the next morning. But there were still some lingering gas problems that needed to be addressed, so we didn’t leave until a bit later the following afternoon. Our first stop was in Rotterdam. Shortly after we arrived, I spotted a nice area overlooking the river where we stopped for something to drink (and for me to take pictures). We took in the view and walked around for a bit. I can’t say that I was particularly impressed with the city, but then again, we didn’t see that much of it. I’m in no hurry to go back, but I wouldn’t resist either if given the opportunity. Our next destination and first overnight stop would be Bruges. There were several missed opportunities on the way there for some great photos. It was a foggy drive alongside the canals on countryside roads dotted with old houses. We stopped in Damme for about five minutes, but I really regret not pulling over at the side of the road which I foolishly thought we’d be able to do the next day. By the time we were ready to walk around Bruges, it was already dark and wet. Even though it’s a bit soft, this photo does a nice job of encapsulating how I was feeling at the time – happy, dizzy, hungry, tired… but still good. We failed to take advantage of our free breakfast, which would be the only one of the trip. No regrets though. The cafe trottoir is always a better option on these trips anyways, so I can’t really complain… even if the chocolate ice cream I ordered on my waffle came out extra vanilla. Y’a pas.
Bruges is a lovely place, especially when the sun is out. I would happily go back and spend a few days there. We walked around for hours and had some mussels in a small courtyard tucked away behind the busy streets. As our departure time approached, we decided to climb up the 83-meter belfry in the center of the main square. It was a long climb up very narrow stairs with two-way traffic, but it was well worth it. I could have done without the fence at the top, but I still think I managed to come away with a couple nice shots. Once we made it back to the ground, we set off for our next destination. On our way to Brussels, we began one of the rituals of the trip – looking for nice places off the beaten path where we could chill in peace for a little bit. We got to Brussels right as the sun was setting. By the time we made it to our hotel, it was basically dark. We walked around the old city for a bit, had more mussels, and got ready for the next day. La Grande Place in the heart of the historic district is one of the most spectacular squares I’ve seen in Europe. La Place des Martyres was nice and quiet in comparison, but it was still a distant second. I would have happily stayed in Brussels a bit longer, but we had to keep it moving. I didn’t waste time or money on any of the smelly chariots on cobblestone streets, but I’m glad I managed to get a few shots off before we left. We took our time driving from Brussels to Germany and took in some very interesting sights along the way… We also found a few more rural spots to chill at. At one point in one of the random fields we found ourselves walking through, my friend lit a dandelion on fire. It burnt right up, but we still tried documenting the experience. This is pretty much the closest we could get. We were chasing the sun as we made our way into Germany. It seemed to be going down much faster than it actually was, but I made sure we stopped in another field where I could take advantage of the golden hour. Once again, we got to Cologne in the evening. We walked down to the Rhine after taking in the views of the majestic cathedral at night. It was our first stop the next morning. I’m not a religious person, but I cannot help feeling something special anytime I walk into any house of worship, and this time was no exception. Maybe I should have lit a candle. Although it’s nice on the inside, the cathedral in Cologne is most impressive on the outside. But unfortunately, lousy zoning codes have resulted in modern monstrosities ruining the view. No matter how hard I tried taking full advantage of my 14m lens, there was no way to avoid this architectural travesty. Cologne was OK, but I don’t think it would be fair to judge Germany based on my experiences there. While I’d happily return, I’m more interested in seeing other parts of the country. Moving on…
Throughout our roadtrip we drove past fields of rapeseeds. These yellow flowers were one of the recurring sights of the trip, both inside and outside the car. Keeping up with the routine, we got to Amsterdam in the evening. It was a logistics nightmare with parking and a long walk to the hotel (after walking to the wrong one at first). Our hotel was also one of the worst I have had the misfortune of staying in. Still, it was a great experience and not one I regret at all. We spent the next day walking around the Red Light district and other parts of the city. I had some of the best “pancakes” I have ever had and enjoyed some other Dutch delicacies. The only problem is that my camera batteries died and there was no way for me to charge them (I really wish Fuji had a more portable version of their charger). We drove back to Leiden later that evening. It felt good to be home, even if I was back on a couch. When I woke up in the morning, it was to the sounds of Dutch people celebrating King’s Day (their king’s birthday). We took advantage of the craziness to step out and get a little Dutched-out. Of course, we had some more fried fish – without a doubt, some of the best I have ever had. I think I already said that, but it’s worth repeating. I enjoyed myself immensely on this trip. Once again, it left me wanting to see more of what Europe has to offer. When it came time to leave, I found myself wishing I could extend my stay by a few more days, but unfortunately, that was not possible. I’ll be sure to go back for another Eurofix soon though. It was another epic trip and I’m glad I had my Fuji X-Pro 1 with me. For all intents and purposes, it was probably my last trip with a lovely camera. I have now graduated to the X-T1 (and I’m back to using my 5D)… more on that later.