Windmilling to Disaster
Updated: Feb 24, 2019
When the best laid plans land you on the other side of the country ...
It was my last day in Amsterdam, and I had that funny fluttery bit of anxiety because there was still so much I wanted to see and do and I just couldn't get enough of this terrific place. The weather was being gloriously cooperative, and I could tell we were in for a most excellent sunset.
As an obsessive planner, I had determined far before I arrived in Amsterdam that I would pay a visit to the charming hamlet of Zaanse Schans. Quaint houses and shops are wound through by a path that meanders onward to windmills and open fields. Thanks to Street View in Google Maps and the indispensable photography planning tool The Photographer's Ephemeris, I settled on an evening visit. Visions of long exposure silky skies, glowing landscapes, and even a little conceptual work danced in my head.
Except for a Sunday morning where metro service was delayed because of a train stalled on the track somewhere (but at least you could hear the announcement. Ahem, New York City Transit Authority!), my time in Holland had gone quite smoothly. Staff was helpful and efficiently friendly, trains/buses/trams ran on time and were exceptionally clean. But this day was a bit of a harbinger of things to come.
I had delayed heading there in order to squeeze in just a little bit more shooting around Amsterdam since the weather was so lovely. I boarded the tram near Vondelpark, smugly congratulating myself for managing my time and anticipated a 6:00PM arrival to Zaanse.
Cue the fall of hubris because I realized I was heading AWAY from the train station. Whoops. No big deal, I hopped on the correct tram and enjoyed the beautiful light gracing the city. Well before long, the tram stopped. And didn't move. And then was rerouted in an extreme version of going around your ass to get to your elbow. Incidentally, it would cruise right by the metro stop by my place in De Pijp. So off I hopped and booked it to the metro, as time was growing tighter.
More aggravation ensued at the Amsterdam Centraal, as my card wouldn't work in the ticket machines (though it worked fine in shops & restaurants) and the line to purchase from a human was uncharacteristically long. FINALLY I get to the agent and buy my ticket. I confirm the track number and hustle my butt to the assigned track as the train leaves in about 5 minutes. I double check the digital sign - yep, Zaanse Schans is listed, about the 3rd or 4th stop. Excellent!
The train is crowded and I find a spot with 3 other women. Off we go and I am excited, as I can see that it's going to be a lovely sunset. I should arrive just after 6:00PM, which will give me plenty of time for Golden Hour, sunset, and even Blue Hour before needing to be back in Amsterdam for a 9:00PM dinner reservation. I recognize the bright green blocked hotel of Zaandam, wishing I had time to stop off there for just a minute as it's right by the station. But the train doesn't stop here. That's odd, I think to myself, I know Zaandam was one of the listed stops.
I watch my little blue dot on Google Maps. It should be just 2 more stops to Zaanse, straight north. Oh shit. What's this? The dot veers east, and I realize somehow I am definitely not going where I want to. I tap the girl across from me and basically ask in more polite terms "Where the fuck are we going because they said this went to Zaanse and itsnotandIdontunderstandandIswearImnotandidiot..." Poor thing. Ever so apologetic she tells me her English isn't great (literally the first person I've come across who's not as fluent as someone born speaking English, so kudos to Dutch schools there!) and enlists a different gal to assist me.
Turns out we're headed for Hoorn. It's on the OTHER SIDE OF THE COUNTRY. Well, double shit. Mercifully, the Netherlands is a small country so that's only about 45 minutes away. Bless the kind, helpful nature of these folks, as she pulls up the app for the train system and finds which trains I need to take to get back. I consider just hanging out in Hoorn (it appears to be a pretty cute seafaring town) or even just scrapping my plan and heading back to Amsterdam and doing sunset there.
But I came for a windmill sunset dammit, and I was gonna get it. I calculated times, and if I hauled ass, I could make it to Zaanse proper right at 7:30 - sunset was at 7:34. This still left blue hour so I quelled my rising distress, and just accepted my fate. It was tough sitting on the train and watching the countryside slip by, fluffy clouds lit up by a fiery setting sun. As soon as my train hit Zaanse station, I was off like a bolt, almost running the half mile across the bridge to picturesque Zaanse.
Down the steps to the beginning of what may well be a tourist trap during peak times, it was all charm at this hour. The shops were closed, except for a single restaurant of the upscale variety, but I wasn't here to shop. It was eye candy everywhere! Words like cute, adorable, idyllic, and quaint danced through my head. There were still a handful of visitors about, most heading back to wherever home was that night. Of course a few photographers too, tripods deployed and hands stuffed in pockets against the burgeoning chill while we waited on our long exposures to finish.
I was there about an hour, and got some good results though I really do wish I'd arrived earlier to scout and work the scene more. The lesson here: if you have your heart set on getting to a special spot, leave plenty of room for error! I'm still glad I went, even if I was late to the dinner that was pretty underwhelming anyhow. But that's another story.