Saturday 5 August 2023

Sunshine and Rainbows


The Ringlijn wasn't built as a full metro.  For a while, in the 90s/early 2000s, Amsterdam ran tram-trains over their network.  In the centre of the city they operated as full metros, then, as they got further out, they switched to trams.  These trains were really built for the original route 50, which went from Centraal to Amstelveen.  At Zuid, they changed their power method and became trams for on-street running the rest of the way.

The Ringlijn was built to use these same vehicles.  The problem with the tram-trains, though, was that they had to deal with two different types of platform.  Retractable boards were put in to bridge the larger gaps, but it was all a waste of time anyway.  M51 turned out to be astonishingly popular, and the trams couldn't handle it.  Only a few years after opening, the platforms on the Ringlijn were rebuilt so that they could be used by the proper trains that ran over the established metro lines.  The route to Amstelveen, meanwhile, was split in two once the Noord-Zuidlijn opened; the route south of the station was converted to a 100% tram line and people had to change to the new Metro line get to Centraal.  (I had thought about collecting this tram route, and if I'd had more time I would've done.  Damn you, orange airline!)

This is all a long winded way of saying that the Amsterdam Metro isn't perfect.  It's been mucked about and compromised as much as any British transit network.  It's just harder to detect the flaws.

The signage remained a problem.  That definitely says Jan van Galenstraat, I promise you.  You have to squint a bit.

Outside the station were high apartment blocks and a row of shops - a laundrette, a couple of kindergartens.  Across a canal and then I was in the closest thing to suburbia I'd encountered so far.

One aspect of the city that had really struck me was its density.  The houses in the city centre were tall and narrow to squeeze more occupiers into the space.  Blocks of flats were tall and wide - seven or eight floors seemed to be an accepted norm, with many going higher.  They weren't "luxury apartments" either, nor were they concrete sinkholes.  They were family homes that happened to be on the fourth floor.  I'd now wandered into a more British area of individual houses, but even then, there was density; they were built in rows, rather than semi- or detached, and they opened out onto the street with no front garden.  Space was at a premium but they looked like great places to live.

I'd lost track of all these canals by now.  I didn't know if I was crossing over the same one again and again or if it was a whole load of different ones.  I crossed a bridge on the Burgemeester Fock Straat, had a small childish giggle at the word "fock", and soon found myself in the Gerbrandypark.

I took a seat and drank some water and relaxed for a while.  The afternoon sun was at exactly the right temperature; warm through the clouds, but not baking.  To my right, a pair of older men occupied a bench and had an intense discussion that may have been instigated by a beer or two.  Cyclists rolled by on their segregated routes while a mum pushed her buggy towards a busy playground.  Eventually I got up and dragged myself onwards, pausing only to adjust the straps of my backpack as a shirtless man raised himself up on the outdoor exercise equipment, his sweaty pecs shining.  It took a while to get those straps correct, I'll tell you that.  

De Vlugtlaan was originally a railway station with local trains to and from Schiphol and Centraal.  When the Ringlijn opened a decade later, you got a handy interchange.  However, only a couple of years after that, another new railway chord was built to allow Schiphol trains to head out to Zandaam without having to go into town first.  That chord went through De Vlugtaan, and it found itself demoted down to a metro only station.  It's not that much of a hassle - Sloterdijk, the next station on the line, is a major rail interchange so you only have to go one stop - but it's odd to think that the crossover period where you could get heavy and metro rail services from this station lasted barely any time at all.

De Vlugtlaan was also the spot - three stops from the end of the line - when I realised that all the stations on this section didn't have a uniform tiling scheme.  In fact, they all had a slight variation, a different geometric pattern built into them.  Here, it was green squares; back at Heemstedestraat it had been yellow diamonds.  The responsible thing would've been to go back along the line, checking out the variations in the pattern, and dutifully cataloguing them.

I did not do this.

I had plans for the rest of the day and disembarking at stations I'd already visited wasn't one of them.  If, however, any of you would like to pay for me to return to Amsterdam and dutifully record all these variations, I will be happy to do so, and you can donate via my Ko-Fi.  Thanks in advance.  

The platform also had a little food vending machine, which I loved.  It served burgers, chicken nuggets and something called a "batbot".  I'm guessing it's some kind of kebab?  Unless DC have got their multinational fingers into Dutch railway foods, which is entirely possible in 2023.  The vending machine was empty and looked like it probably didn't work but still, I liked that it existed.  It made a change from Twixes and Mars Bars being your only travel food options.  

Sloterdijk was like an enormous DLR station: Tower Gateway, but on growth hormones.  Glass curves and red white and blue steelwork.  I felt quite at home.  Sloterdijk is a major station, with its own bus interchange and tram stop; it's also where a lot of international coaches to the city terminate, rather than go all the way into the city.  

I left the station, passing a gang of excitable lads who I'm guessing just got off one of those same international coaches and were raring to begin their decadent week in Amsterdam, and walked onto the rainbow crossing that takes you to street level.  This was, apparently, "a symbol of diversity, freedom and acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersexed people (LGBTI)",

This wasn't the first or last rainbow flag I'd seen in Amsterdam that day, and to be honest, even I was getting a bit bored of them.  Amsterdam Pride is actually happening as I write this, so I was a few weeks ahead, and yet every other window seemed to have some sort of rainbow in it.  The Dutch are just so darn nice and accepting that they couldn't help proclaiming to the world how much they loved those gays, and god bless them for it, and I really hope there isn't a Netherlands News were Den Wootensk rants about wokeness and the rainbow mafia taking over.  I want to imagine that everyone in the city is simply that nice.

The area around Sloterdijk is another one that's experiencing a construction boom, with hotels and office facilities springing up all over, blank sheets of intimidating glass reflecting back the grey skies.  This particular tower was also the home of Holland Casino, one of the city's gambling hubs (casinos in the Netherlands are owned and operated by the state).  As a Bond fan, I always associate casinos with old world glamour, with luxurious gilded rooms and champagne and caviar.  I'm always disappointed when I encounter one in the wild and discover that in the 21st century they're basically an Arndale Centre without the windows.  As I passed the hulking great parking garage, I thought back to James Bond in Diamonds Are Forever:
...Las Vegas seemed to have invented a new school of functional architecture, "The Gilded Mousetrap School" he thought it might be called, whose main purpose was to channel the customer-mouse into the central gambling trap whether he wanted the cheese or not...

...But, reflected Bond, it could only be a trap for peculiarly insensitive mice - mice who would be tempted by the coarsest cheese.  It was an inelegant trap, obvious and vulgar, and the noise of the machines had a horrible mechanical ugliness which beat at the brain.  It was like the steady clanking of the engines of some old iron freighter on its way to the knacker's yard, unoiled, uncared for, condemned.
What a terrible, awful snob Ian Fleming was.  How I love him.

A pass under the motorway lead me to a small complex of industrial units.  This felt more familiar, a flashback to wandering around the back end of some grim complex of anonymous factories somewhere outside Wolverhampton trying to find a station.  The units were resolutely unexciting.  The only hint of colour came outside a clothes manufacturer, where the outside walls of the unit were hung with brightly shaded shalwar kameez while the owners smoked cigarettes in the parking bay.  

It had been hours since I'd eaten a minimal breakfast, and I was starting to get hungry.  I dived across the dual carriageway so that I could sample some traditional Dutch food.

Don't judge me.

Yes, I know I should've partaken of some delightful local cuisine, served in a tiny cafe by a local who's owned the place for decades.  Corporations will destroy us all.  On the other hand, Burger King has those touch screens to order, which meant I could change it to English, place my order and then collect it without ever having to talk to a single person.  I hid away in the mostly empty restaurant, scoffing my disappointing chicken sandwich (McDonalds beats Burger King every time) and resisting the urge to get up and slap the children who were using the seating area as a playground while their uninterested dads ignored them in the corner.  

My final station was Isolatorweg, the end of the line.  As a distant terminus that's one stop on from a much larger interchange that would be a far more logical place to stop, it's very much the Dutch Hunts Cross.  I walked through the quiet industrial streets, all named after bits of electrical equipment - Transformatorweg, Elektronstraat, Generatorstraat.  One building was black and shiny, standing out from the rest through its bling; it was apparently a "party and events venue", and I can't imagine anything more romantic than having my wedding in a box opposite a storage facility.

Isolatorweg station is right at the end of the road on top of an overpass.  While the M50/51 terminate here, the railway actually continues on into Centraal station, which is only a few kilometres away; there have been suggestions that it should continue on to form a complete loop around the city, but that would involve tunnelling and realignment to not really much benefit. 

Incidentally, the geometric shape in the tiles here is a circle.

If you want to get to Centraal from here, go to Sloterdijk and get the main line, or simply stay on the train all the way back - it's only half an hour.  That was what I did and let's be honest; after a day of travel on the Amsterdam Metro, I'm basically an expert.


David B said...

In view of the myriad attractions, highbrow and low, that Amsterdam and its environs have to offer, your resolve in confining yourself to the metro is nothing short of heroic. Te salutant!

But this: "The responsible thing would've been to go back along the line, checking out the variations in the pattern, and dutifully cataloguing them.I did not do this"
is why you will never be Diamond Geezer ;-)

Martin O'London said...

Wow! An excellent three-parter.
Not that I don't appreciate your UK reports, but going abroad appears to sharpen up your writing.

Scott Willison said...

Thanks for the comments folks, and I'm glad you're enjoying it. I'll never be Diamond Geezer, it's true, but then again, he can't do a well-crafted double entendre like I can. We all have our talents!

John said...

I think that "vending machine" only works when the shop is open as they refill the food as it gets bought.