Amsterdam, city of bicycles

Cycling with bell recommended

We arrived in Amsterdam on September 14th, after taking the ferry over from Newcastle. We were lucky enough to be able to connect with our friend Andrea, who lives in Amsterdam. Andrea was generous enough to give us the use of her apartment for our whole stay there, which let us settle in a bit and have a really convenient home base. The apartment came complete with a friendly little cat. We spent many relaxed mornings slowly waking ourselves up over delicious coffees and planning our days from there.

Because we had no difficulties finding accommodation, we were able to spend nearly a full week exploring and enjoying the city. The first thing we did was rented bicycles for the week. Amsterdam is a bicycle city! I’m not exaggerating when I say that. In the city centre (and throughout most of the rest of the city that we saw) the bike path network, signage, and condition was most impressive, better even than most of the roads. And everyone rides bicycles. They are everywhere. I can’t even begin to tell about our time in Amsterdam before I write about the bicycles.

First off, these are not the bicycles we are used to seeing in North America. We didn’t see more than a handful of mountain bikes or racing bikes. Amsterdam bikes are city bikes. I’m not talking about mountain/road hybrids here. These are purebred city machines. Heavy as tanks. Top speed of roughly 10 km/h, downhill. They are designed to be ridden sitting upright, with your groceries or other bags on a rack on the back, or slung over the handlebars. They have chain guards and fenders so that your clothes won’t get ruined by grease or road spray. They are best described as “granny bikes”, and this is said with no disrespect to grandmothers. And everyone, young and old, rides them.

Many many bikes

Secondly, as I mentioned before, there are bike lanes and bike paths everywhere. But don’t be deceived! Bike lanes really mean bike/scooter/small motorcycle/mini car lanes. It’s a little disconcerting at first to be cycling along a path at a jogging pace and have a motorbike overtake you. These small motorized vehicles have many if not all of the same privileges as bicycles. You get used to it.

Lastly, the most interesting thing about the cyclists in Amsterdam is the attitude. This is best explained by contrasting it with an experience we had in Newcastle while we were still in the UK. On the night in question, Meg and I were standing on a very wide, very empty stretch of sidewalk. I stopped to take a picture of a building, and while I was standing still (near the edge of the sidewalk), a young guy on a bmx ripped past me and grazed my back with his handlebar. Startled, I turned to look, and he slowed down just long enough to yell “WATCH WHERE YOU’RE GOING, YOU F#$*ING PUNTER!!” before he biked off as fast as he could go. Pure bike rage. Now Amsterdam — Meg and I regularly, like typical tourists on bikes, found ourselves going in the wrong direction down one-way paths, cutting people off behind us as we missed turns, and riding side-by-side chatting as scooters and faster riders waited to pass. Not once in the week we were in Amsterdam did anyone yell at us, raise their voices, or even shoot us looks of frustration. Similarly, when they nearly smashed into us on occasion, there were no apologies or excuses. There was an overwhelming sense of serenity in the cycling population. The rule, as far as I could tell, seemed to be “try not to hit me, and I’ll try not to hit you — and anything else goes”.

Meg at top speed

Bicycles were truly the best way to experience the city, and in reality I think that they are the true essence of Amsterdam. People always make a big deal about the coffeeshops and the red light district, but in reality they are only a small and concentrated part of the tourist area. The city beyond is a wonderful maze of dense streets bordered by canals and crooked, narrow buildings. Most days were spent just riding around and discovering novelties as we went, and enjoying the occasional beer or cone of fries with mayo. We took a day trip with Andrea up to the island of Texel for even more biking, but up there it was riding through fields, sand dunes and woods, and small towns near the ocean. It was beautiful.

Meg and Andrea on the Island of Texel

We’d like to say a big thank you to Andrea for hosting us while we were there, and another big thank you to Meghan’s uncle David for his recommendations and for buying us a nice dinner. We’ll post more details about what we actually got up to in Amsterdam when we post our photos — we’ve now figured out how to add some titles and comments to the galleries, so we can describe the photos and the stories that go with them.

Comments

  1. Mother Goose

  2. Mama Kate sends a big thank you to Andrea too. From your story I can see now why Andrea likes living in Amsterdam and has been away from Kanata for so long. Kanata misses all three of you. Such world travellers. Wonderful story…. MG

    Amsterdam is fantastic with the bicycles.. Been all over the Netherlands and the one thing remains – the bicycle.. What an ingenious way to travel – fast! I’m sure a car would be blocked in traffic otherwise.. By bike, young and old can be all equal and be actually moving somewhere!
    Those crazy Dutch! aren’t so crazy!

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