An Amsterdam Panorama - the city from afar with water, land, boats, buildings and trees.

We went to DrupalCon 2014 in Amsterdam

5 Oct 2014

Darren Fisher - Developer and Consultant

Written by
Darren Fisher
Developer and Consultant

Every year the Drupal web development community meet at conventions in Europe, the United States, Australia, Asia and South America. This year's European convention took place in the city of Amsterdam. Whilst some of our team have attended previous Drupal Conventions in Munich and London, none of us had ever visited this legendary city and we couldn't wait to get stuck in and see what all the fuss was about!

An aeroplane taking off from Schiphol airport in Amsterdam.

The trip

When we booked our tickets to DrupalCon 2014, hosted in Amsterdam we were unsure as to whether to make a road trip of it or go for the short one-hour flight. The journey by car, through France, Belgium and Holland would have taken around 7 hours from our office to the the hotel including a ferry crossing from Dover to Calais.

In the end we figured it was a quicker and a more feasible option to catch a flight from London Gatwick.

One of our colleagues - Clara - decided to be a little more ambitious and take the train from Basingstoke which took her just over 6 hours! However, despite our flight only taking one hour, the travel to the airport and the waiting around at either end meant that our travel times ended up being pretty similar in length!

Once we'd arrived one thing was certain... we needed to sample some of that proper Dutch Heineken!

Hundreds of bikes in one of Amsterdam's bustling streets.

The city

The city of Amsterdam is a magical place. You're immediately struck by the distinct lack of motor vehicles on account of the fact that there are some 800,000 bikes in the city and more than half of the residents use their bikes on a daily basis as their main mode of transport. The architecture is instantly memorable and captivating. We later learned on a boat tour that the prominent gables on each house were traditionally a way to demonstrate a family's status or importance. The winding streets that hop over the network of canals are never-ending and a pleasure to get lost in. There is very liberal atmosphere to the place, and there were a lot of rainbow flags draped from people's windows in support of the LGBT community everywhere you looked.

But Amsterdam is most famous for two things: a prolific number of establishments where you can buy and smoke cannabis and it's infamous red light district. These two aspects of Amsterdam are what you might expect would give the city a bit of a seedy undertone but in fact it really is quite the opposite. The streets are calm and the energy buzzing but relaxed. There are no loutish shouts or foolish drunken antics. The red light district is filled with people; couples walking the dog, families taking a stroll and of course the occasional "customer" but none of it feels forced or underworldy!

The only thing that really took us by surprise was just how expensive everything was in Amsterdam, but maybe we were just stuck in the touristy areas! A pint of beer was anything between €8 and €12 and a standard meal when we went out was running us up (on average) €30 just for a main course!! That said, if you're looking for a short city break then Amsterdam is certainly a place that you might consider visiting. There's plenty to see and do and you'll probably have never seen anything quite like it before!

The RAI conference centre situated in the outskirts of Amsterdam; a modern looking building with a long base and tall skyscraper-esque protrusion. The frontage is entirely glass surrounded by a chunky steel exterior.

The conference

The conference was held at the RAI Amsterdam, a gargantuan building which happened to be hosting several other conferences at the same time. The facilities were good although the hospitality apparently wasn't to the standard of Barry, Rob and Damian's previous experience at DrupalCon Munich back in 2012. There were some fantastic talks though and a particular highlight for me was the extremely fun Coder vs. Themer Ultimate Grudge Smackdown Fight to the Death!

The conference was the most successful DrupalCon Europe ever in terms of attendance and the community was out in force every night to have a good time and converse on the highs and lows of being a citizen of the Drupal world. The other exciting announcement of the conference was the beta release of Drupal 8 which has been stuck in development hell for quite some time now! We, and many others are very excited to download the beta release and get our teeth in to working with it. I was particularly excited to attend a session hosted by Morten DK on the new Drupal 8 theming system and Twig which gives the themer far more control over the HTML output of the Drupal content management system! Be warned if you follow the link to Morten's talk though. He loves his colourful language!!

We all found the sessions on Drupal 8 extremely useful and exciting and Barry also attended many of the business sessions which he said were very insightful. All in all the Con was a fun and helpful experience for all of us and we very much look forward to attending more DrupalCons in the future.

The city of Barcelona taken from height and distance. The size of the city is truly on show; its thousands of buildings populating the frame with a beautiful blue sky overhead.

Next year

On the last day of a DrupalCon it is traditional to announce location of the following year's conference. This year the organisers were excited to announce that the next European DrupalCon will take place in the city of Barcelona for the second time since Drupal's inception.

This is particularly exciting for myself and Barry as we have a long history with Spain, visiting regularly as children and adults. We spent entire summers in a small seaside town about 4 hours from Barcelona and grew up immersed in Spanish culture, customs and cuisine.

I'd say it's almost certain that as soon as the tickets are released we'll be booking ourselves in for what will hopefully be another diverse and exciting DrupalCon!

To our fellow Drupal developers and users, we'll see you next year.

To the city of Amsterdam, thank you for having us. It was an absolute pleasure.

And to those who are wondering if they should attend this glorious conference? Don't give it a second thought! Book as soon as you can or convince your boss to book as soon as they can!!

Darren Fisher - Designer & Developer

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