Amsterdam: the canals

I’m sure in any game of word association, the first thing to spring to mind for Amsterdam would be “canals”. Here are a few of my favourite canal scenes, offered without commentary, from our most recent visit in May.

This was our eighth stay in the city, but it was different from the others in two ways. One, we had never been at this time of year so hadn’t experienced Amsterdam in warm sunshine before, and two, we weren’t alone – we were accompanied by our friends Valerie and Kenn. They had only made one half-day visit to Amsterdam many years ago, so naturally we were pleased it was looking its best for them.

As it doesn’t seem that long since I wrote up our last trip, I’ve decided to do shorter, thematic posts this time, of which this is the first. The others are:

The Kelpies to the Falkirk Wheel

Falkirk Kelpies

Easter Monday: cold, breezy and threatening rain – but we needed to stretch our legs so I suggested walking the stretch of Forth and Clyde Canal between the Kelpies and the Falkirk Wheel, a return trip of about 8 miles. We’ve visited both before: I haven’t blogged about the wheel, but my previous post about the Kelpies explains what they are and has more pictures, including some taken on a tour inside the heads. I do sound a little grumpy in that post. The Kelpies had only just opened and parking and catering were a problem which new visitor facilities have now solved, so this time we enjoyed coffee and a scone before setting out on our walk.

I have to admit the walk was a little disappointing. We really enjoy tramping the canal banks round Glasgow and feel there is a lot to see. This stretch was largely through industrial estates and the like, and I wouldn’t bother with it again. However, there were a few interesting sights including a series of metal sculptures representing local personalities and trades.

First up was the vinegar bottle – in 1854, McAuley’s Vinegar works stood close by. Vinegar was used as a flavouring and preservative – and to mask bad smells at a time of poor sanitation. The smells at this point were good – the building behind John is an Italian restaurant. It was too soon after our scones for lunch, but we had high hopes of visiting on our return. Unfortunately, as we discovered about 4pm, it closed between 2 and 5 ūüė¶

The next sculpture is part of a national artwork project called Local Heroes. Not being from Falkirk, I didn’t recognise Dr Harold Lyon, founder of Strathcarron Hospice in 1981, Reginald Adams who trained numerous Scottish swimming champions, and Robert Barr – although I’ve certainly heard of the latter. Barr’s Soft Drinks are a big thing in Scotland, producing its other national drink, Irn-Bru (made from girders, according to one of its advertising campaigns, and originally called Iron Brew in 1904).

Whisky bottles adorn the banks opposite the old Rosebank Distillery which stopped production in 1993. However, new owners have bought the site and trademark and it seems that a new distillery, but with the same name, will soon be rising like a phoenix from the ashes.

At Lock 16 two pubs faced each other across a large basin where the Union Canal from Edinburgh used to join the Forth and Clyde. Still anticipating out Italian meal, we let them pass.

From here, there was quite a long stretch with nothing much to see until the colourful canal boats suggested we were getting close to the Wheel.

And here it is! The Falkirk Wheel opened in 2002 and links the Forth and Clyde and Union Canals replacing the old link of 11 individual locks, which was dismantled in the 1930s. A boat enters one of the wheel’s gondolas, each of which holds 500,000 litres of water, and the turning of the wheel then lifts it up or down to the level of the other canal. You remain in the correct position at all times, this is not a fairground ride!¬†You can just see a boat emerging in the second picture below.

By this time, the threatening rain was a downpour and we set off back towards the Kelpies, discovering the closed restaurant on the way. There was nothing for it but to take our cold, wet selves home and cook our own dinner!

Linked to Jo’s Monday Walk which this week is in my native Northumbria.

Amsterdam Museum and Festival of Light

Lauren Ewing: Light Wave

On one of our evening strolls around Amsterdam, we came across this light sculpture which we discovered was part of an annual Light Festival. Best visited by canal boat, we booked up for a couple of nights later. We knew we were likely to get cold and wet in the evening so looked for somewhere dry and warm during the day, and decided to visit the Amsterdam Museum.

Until 1960, the building housing the museum was an orphanage. In one of the courtyards, shown above, you can see the cupboards that the children used to store their possessions, now filled with art. I wasn’t too taken with the main body of the museum which had been revamped since our last visit to provide (according to Lonely Planet) a “multi-media DNA exhibit, which breaks down Amsterdam’s 1000-year history into seven whiz-bang time periods”. Whiz-bang is not really me, and I also found the red and white timeline wall difficult to focus on.

The Civic Guard Gallery in the arcade next door was more interesting Рyou could both look down on it from inside the museum and enter (free of charge) from street level. On view are original group portraits, made between 1530 and 2007 by artists such as Bartholomeus van der Helst and Erwin Olaf, as well as Goliath, a 350-year-old wooden giant. From what I remember about the colourful carpet, I think each square represented a different country and we were able to find Scotland from the key.

We did, indeed, get very cold and wet on the way to the (open) boat, but fortunately the rain went off so we were “only” freezing cold during the 75 minute tour of the 35 light sculptures. Here’s a selection of my favourites – this first one is a general view of how busy the canal was, but it also shows one of the installations. Ai Weiwei’s¬†Thinline¬†(the red lights) ran the whole length of the route.

Ai Weiwei: Thinline

You might recognise some of the buildings in the next two images from an earlier post – the funny little roof-creatures outside the library, and NEMO Science Museum. The pyramid is Infinita¬†by Cecil Balmond. In A necessary darkness, Rona Lee chose to invert the norm by projecting a lighthouse beaming out darkness onto NEMO’s wall.

Claudia Reh created a large projection, It was once drifting on the water, on the façade of the Hermitage Museum in collaboration with local primary school children. Myth by Ben Zamora is a grid of horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines which light up in different combinations at different speeds.

Eye to eye¬†by Driton Selmani represents a giant nazar amulet that protects people, animals, and objects from the evil eye. If you’ve been to Turkey, you are probably familiar with it – we have one hanging in our bathroom. Whole hole, by Wendel & de Wolf, was probably my favourite installation: it was exciting to be drawn through it into the tunnel.

Lifeline¬†by Claes Meijer was interesting: it showed the waves of sound which a boat engine makes underwater, so changed as we passed it. Lynne Leegte’s¬†Windows¬†are probably self-explanatory!

Floating on a thousand memories¬†(Lighting Design Academy) achieved its effect by reflecting small lights in the water and in mirrors on the water’s edge. The next sculpture is prettier than its title –¬†The life of a slime mold. it’s an enlargement of the mucus fungus by Nicole Banowetz. Nice!

The final pairing is Citygazing: Amsterdam¬†(VOUW) and¬†Be the change that you want to see in the world¬†by Bagus Pandega. The former is a giant light map of the city. The latter scrolls one of Gandhi’s most famous quotes – I think you can just make out¬†see in the passing by. A good motto to live by.

My goodness, were we shivering when we got to this point! We were happy to find a cosy pizza restaurant and then head back to the warmth of our apartment.

This is my last post about Amsterdam itself – for the moment: we’ll be back again later in the year. However, we took a couple of day trips out of the city, so stay tuned for tours of Haarlem and Utrecht.

Glasgow canal walks

Forth and Clyde Canal at Maryhill Locks
Forth and Clyde Canal at Maryhill Locks
The Forth and Clyde Canal runs very close to our house and we love it for a Sunday afternoon stroll. We have three choices – east, west or the spur that runs into the city centre. I’ve already written about the spur (here) so this post will cover the east and west walks we took in November. Now, you will probably guess that the photograph above does not show Glasgow in November! That was in June, but it’s the only time I’ve ever seen boats going through any of the canal locks so I wanted to include it.

Let’s walk east first. We join the canal at Maryhill where there used to be interesting, if not infamous, buildings above its banks such as the Glasgow Magdalene Institution for the Repression of Vice and Reformation of Penitent Females. Yes, really! Shockingly, this only closed in the late 1950s after a number of inmates escaped, leading to an investigation into their (mis)treatment. Today, the site is covered in houses with a golf course on the other bank, so nothing very picturesque. The camera only comes out when we reach Lambhill Stables.

The Stables were built around 1830 when horses pulling barges were the main means of moving goods along the canal. Today they have been restored as a community facility with a caf√©, heritage displays and a garden. The Stables are closed on Sundays, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to see. First, there is the memorial to the Cadder Pit Disaster of 1913.

A stroll round the garden results in some unexpected sightings. A robot in Lambhill!

Through a gap in the hedge at the back there are good views towards Possil Loch and the Campsie Fells.

Back on the canal towpath, we walk a little further then turn into Possil Marsh and Loch nature reserve – though there is so much marsh that we don’t actually see the loch again, as the track can only go round the very edge of the site. We do see, through another hedge gap, the splendid entrance (James Sellars, 1881) to Lambhill Cemetery and the plaque to commemorate the Possil High Meteorite which fell nearby in 1804. (This photo is a cheat, taken from an earlier walk. I couldn’t make the writing on the plaque legible, even in close-up, so I thought you might as well have a long view with the bonus of John).

It gets dark very early in winter, and the sun was setting as we walked back home.

A couple of weekends later, we set off west to walk another section of canal. Once again, it’s quite built up but there are times when you can pretend you are in the country. Not when you see a Saltire-painted tarpaulin and Nessie on the opposite bank though! And a curious cat who probably has as little idea about what is going on as we do.

It’s also easy to link up a canal walk with the River Kelvin Walkway. Here’s one we did in October, taking in the Botanic Gardens and its Arboretum.

Finally, you never know what you might come across on the canal. One of my volunteer “jobs” is leading walks from Maryhill Health Centre (aimed, for example, at people giving up smoking or finishing physiotherapy) and sometimes we have pop-up artists. Below, you can see members of the delightful Joyous Choir living up to their name and a small ceilidh band. Shortly after this picture was taken we danced The Gay Gordons up and down the towpath which prompted a certain amount of curious windae-hingin’ (hanging out of windows) on the adjacent Maryhill Road. It was fun!

This post seems to have got out of hand and strayed away from the original east-west walk! I kept thinking of more to add. Expect more rag-bag posts in the New Year as I clear out photos and ideas that didn’t get used in 2016. Linking this one to Jo’s Monday Walks. Her latest is about Roker Beach and Park where I spent many happy hours as a child.

The Antonine Wall

Say “Roman Wall” and most people will think of Hadrian – but did you know there was also an Antonine Wall? Built in the AD 140s for Emperor Antonius Pius, it runs across Central Scotland from the Clyde to the Forth and, for a generation, was the north-west frontier of the Roman Empire.

Recently, we did a circular walk (find it on the Walk Highlands site) which took in parts of the wall, including two hill forts, and the Forth and Clyde canal. We parked in Auchinstarry Quarry, near Kilsyth, which is now a park popular with climbers, and set off along the canal.

At Twechar, we crossed the canal and climbed Bar Hill with clear remains of a Roman Fort, including its bath-house.

Climbing further, we reached the white trig point on Castle Hill which is the site of an even earlier Iron Age fort. From here, you can see the wall and its ditch very clearly.

After descending, we crossed a road and started climbing again – this time Croy Hill. There was a fort here too, but it’s not so obvious. If you click on the second picture to enlarge, you can see in the distance the rock walls of Auchinstarry Quarry on the right and Auchinstarry Canal Basin on the left.

Finally, we descended back to the canal. As we approached the Basin, several barges were on view – including one (top right) for sale! I think I’ll pass. When we arrived back at our car, the climbers were still scaling the walls. I’ll pass on that too.

I’m attaching this post to Jo’s Monday Walks so why not visit her to see what everyone else has been up to? 

Finally, I have very intermittent Internet access at the moment which is awkward with the A to Z Challenge about to start! I’ll do my best to reply to comments and read / comment on other blogs but apologies in advance if I don’t. I’ll catch up soon.

In Bruges

We had a wonderful time in Bruges at the end of March / beginning of April. In April, I was too busy with the A to Z Challenge to blog about it, so I’ve designated this week as Bruges Week!

Bruges is a beautiful place which I defy anybody not to enjoy, but three things in particular enhanced our stay. First, the weather Рtotally outwith our control, of course, but it was wonderfully warm and sunny for the time of year. This made it easy to meander around and not feel we had to be diving for cover all the time. It seems unbelievable that this was the same week that we spent in Amsterdam last year and absolutely froze.

Second, our meanderings were helped by the guidebook I borrowed from my local library, Bruges and Ghent by Christopher Turner. I was so incensed by the negative reviews it had received on Amazon that I had to add my own! It’s not a book to help you with basic information on where to eat or drink, and it’s not the most up-to-date title available, but it’s a wonderful walking guide and takes you off the main tourist track into quieter areas. It’s arranged in four routes in Bruges and one in Ghent and we did them all. I’ve already posted about Ghent and will cover the Bruges routes over the next four days.

Third, we stayed in an apartment (above) rather than a hotel which gives a lot of freedom – and because of the good weather, we could even use our little terrace. Ridderspoor Holiday Flats are very central. Ours was a little sparse – I don’t recognise it in the photos on their website and suspect they have recently expanded from the house next door – but it had all we needed.¬†The same people also run a bed and breakfast further down the road.

A final introductory tip – take a canal boat early on. The trips are only half an hour, but are a good introduction to the city and you can identify places to go back and visit later.

Film buffs will, of course, recognise the title In Bruges. I had seen the film before, but watched it again after we came back – it was even better being able to recognise most of the locations. It seemed to be fairly accurate, in that characters’ journeys through the town were consistent with the actual geography. There were a couple of glaring anomalies which IMDb lists as “gaffes”, but I think the plot would not have worked without one of them. In the other, the characters are clearly talking about one church whilst sightseeing in a completely different one. Maybe they just couldn’t get permission to film in the first? Anyway, it’s a funny, if violent film, which I recommend if you haven’t already seen¬†it.

More on Bruges to follow!

A Glasgow canal walk

Glasgow's canals guideThe Forth and Clyde Canal, which runs sea-to-sea between the two rivers,¬†has¬†passed through Glasgow since the eighteenth century, though it ceased to be navigable in 1963. However, the multi-million Millennium Link Project saw it reopen in 2000/2001. Inspired by the Maryhill Walking Trails and Glasgow’s Canals Unlocked booklets, we set off on Sunday to walk from home to the end of the spur leading into the city centre. There is still some dereliction alongside the banks, but there is also green space and some (for Glasgow) quite exotic-looking new housing. The booklets helped us imagine how¬†the canal¬†would have been in years gone by, with a multitude of industries using its waters: iron, lead, rubber, oil, glass and timber were all produced here.

Maryhill walks guide

We joined the canal at the nearest point to our house at Kelvindale. The photos will guide you along the same route that we took.

Soon after joining the canal, we reached our first aqueduct. The rest crossed roads, but this one straddled the Kelvin. The disused piers in the river once carried railway lines across it.

River Kelvin from the aqueduct
River Kelvin from the aqueduct

Next, we reached Maryhill Locks –

Maryhill Locks
Maryhill Locks

– and not long after that, we left the towpath temporarily to visit Maryhill Burgh Halls for a delicious lunch at the Clean Plates Caf√©. When opened in 1878, the halls had 20 stained glass panels depicting the trades then carried out in Maryhill, and¬†eleven of the panels are now back on display. The walks booklets point out where the scenes from the stained glass might have taken place.¬†More modern is this panel showing the different trades’ badges.

Maryhill Trades
Maryhill Trades

Back on the canal, we soon reached Murano Street Student Village, site of a former glassworks. Apparently, Maryhill was once called the Venice of Glasgow on the grounds that it had a canal and a glassworks named after the famous Murano works. I wasn’t entirely convinced, but we’d already passed the Mondrian Flats which looked very European to me, so I was beginning to wonder if we really were still in Glasgow.

Mondrian Flats
Mondrian Flats

We took another detour at Firhill up a steep path to the flag pole atop Ruchill Park. From here, Glasgow University dominated the view. Nearby, the 165-foot high water tower (1892) is almost all that now remains of Ruchill Infectious Diseases Hospital.

Glasgow University from Ruchill Park
Glasgow University from Ruchill Park
Ruchill Watertower
Ruchill Water Tower

Continuing along the banks, the University remained prominent and we met several swans.

Glasgow University from the canal
Glasgow University from the canal
One swan!
One swan!
Two swans!
Two swans!

We passed Firhill, home of Glasgow’s other football club (i.e. the one that’s not Celtic or Rangers), Partick Thistle, commonly known as the Jags.

The Jags!
The Jags!

The picturesque Applecross Workshops are probably the oldest remaining buildings on any canal in Scotland.

Applecross Workshops
Applecross Workshops

Spiers Wharf, formerly mills and a sugar refinery, was converted into flats in the 1990s. The blue painted shop front is Ocho where we stopped for a coffee.

Spiers Wharf
Spiers Wharf
Spiers Wharf
Ocho at Spiers Wharf

Just after this, the canal spur ends in a huge construction site which will soon be Pinkston Paddlesports Centre. After having a look at that, we retraced our steps to Spiers Wharf and took the path down to Cowcaddens from where we could get the Subway home. The underpass here is decorated with 50 Phoenix Flowers, called after the former Phoenix Park which was destroyed to create the M8 motorway above.

Phoenix Flowers
Phoenix Flowers

Before leaving Cowcaddens, we took some photographs of Dundas Court, formerly Dundas Vale¬†College and before that the Normal School for the Training of Teachers (1837), a precursor of Jordanhill College where I worked for over 20 years. It’s now offices.

Dundas Court
Dundas Court

An urban walk can be just as enjoyable as a country walk – I feel I learned a lot about my home city on this one.

Dublin Diary: Day 4

Our plane didn’t leave till late afternoon, so we had a few hours to wander along Dublin’s Grand Canal before we left. Near the Liffey, it’s quite commercial but further up it becomes more residential and peaceful so, apart from occasional rain showers, we had a pleasant walk. Dublin does like its street statues, and we discovered two on our route. The little girl playing is near St Stephen’s Church (also known as the Pepper Canister on account of its shape) and Patrick Kavanagh, the poet, sits on a bench gazing into the water. Rumour has it that he met Brendan Behan nearby and they thought they’d go for a drink together – but couldn’t think of a pub where neither of them had been barred. You can’t get barred from the canal bank so Kavanagh loved this spot. Someone has added some rather fetching yarn-bombing to the nearby tree, but he doesn’t seem impressed.

A detour down Baggot¬†Street took us to Searson’s¬†pub for lunch and a pint (my first Guinness of the weekend – it would have been sacrilege to leave Dublin without it), then we wandered back into town through the very pretty Iveagh Gardens – the end of a perfect weekend.