Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Time Spent in a Train Station

2013_NLD_F2_Pano7Train stations are not something I usually think about. In fact, I rather take them for granted. When departing, I spend only enough time in them to catch whatever train I am waiting for. When arriving, I am in a train station only long enough to go from the platform to the exit.

Unlike me, my grandfather was a train man. He came from a train family and retired from Canadian National Railways as a mechanic. He loved trains. I didn't grow up with trains the way that he did, so I only ever thought of them as something Europeans use to get around.

European trains are very convenient, so I tend to use them when I am there. I have passed through Amsterdam Centraal more times than I can count, but I have never noticed anything remarkable about it. Maybe because I never really stopped to look. Odd, then, that Amsterdam Centraal should catch my eye such that I spent a couple of hours there exploring with my camera.

I was on my way out of the station last spring, when I discovered that my normal route out was blocked by renovations. Workers had installed those large plywood walls that they put around construction sites - the ones with the little cutout holes so you can see what is going on in the work area. The station operator had pasted on those walls some information about different parts of the station, much like a mini museum display. Intrigued, I set out to walk around and have a closer look at the place.

I discovered all sorts of new-to-me things, like the ornate decorations outside. How the golden crowns, put there to indicate that there is a royal waiting room below, escaped my attention until now, I do not know. As with all of my blog posts, you can click on any photo to see a better, higher resolution image.

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Of course I had noticed the clock tower before...

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...but if you look closely, just past the clock tower you will see a weather vane...

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... and I learned that the weather vane drives a wind direction indicator on another tower.

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If you look closely, instead of time markings there are compass points.

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Wandering around inside, I noticed that the interior decoration was in some cases just as ornate as the outside. Even the structural steel seemed to have a decorative purpose in addition to its main job of holding the roof up.

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I even came across the Royal Waiting room. There was not much to look at from the outside, but there was a QR Code posted (look through the gate, on the left and you will see it) and a note explaining that there was an app available that would take me on a virtual tour of the area. I downloaded it and found that it was fantastic. I highly recommend it, so for the iOS version go here and for the Android version go here.

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Turning around and looking at the tracks, I noticed this very nondescript structure in the middle of the platforms.

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Unless you are looking straight across at it, it blends in with the ceiling.

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I saw a conductor slowly walking the platform (he was waiting for a train). I asked him about the structure and he told me it was the old operations centre, but that it was no longer in use. I told him that I was exploring the station in depth, and we got into a discussion about trains. My grandfather would have loved to talk with this guy - he even had an app that played train sounds! He also told me that I had just missed the royal train by a couple of hours, and that it was only the second time in his 30-year career that he had seen it.


As I was roaming around, I noticed there was a large variation in the ambient light. Here, near the old ops centre, the light was bright...

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... but just a little further up the platform, and it was so dark that I could easily see inside the trains.

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Having spent the better part of two hours exploring the station, I retired to the Starbucks for a cup of hot chocolate. I was pleasantly surprised to see they kept the heritage decoration, including the very embellished ceiling.

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It's hard to show what the entire room was like in this very narrow space, but it was quite enjoyable to sit back and drink my cocoa and crowd-watch.

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With a newfound appreciation for train stations, on my return trip I stopped and looked around Haarlem Centraal. It had a very different feel from the one in Amsterdam. More "Victorian", I thought.

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It is also very much smaller than its Mokum counterpart

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Smaller doesn't mean less interesting. Here is the third class waiting room.

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I have never seen a third class on a train, which speaks of how we have changed how we like to travel. Or have we? I would argue that with the airline classes of First, Business, Economy Plus, and Economy, we have kept the class distinction very much alive, including using separate waiting areas which we now prefer to call lounges.

Besides the waiting room, the washrooms were also unused, only these certainly did look derelict.

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Knowing what to look for, I could easily spot the operations center. Like the one in Mokum, this one also looks unused.

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So if you are traveling by train in Europe, take some time to wander around the older stations. Think of it as a "free", open-air museum!



All the posts from my trip to the Netherlands are here:

House of Oranje
Koninginnedag
Postcards from Kuekenhof
Rijksmuseum
Train Stations
More Museums
Dutch (S)Treat
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