Biking in Amsterdam

May 17, 2011

That's right - I rode a bike & I didn't die! 
(Mom, aren't you proud?)

Amsterdam was amazing - so much more than I thought it would be. I promise to post more on our trip, but first, I must gush about the bike culture there. I'm sure this seems silly to most, but being the most uncoordinated person on earth, I dreamed of biking stylishly through this town as if I were in a photo from The Sartorialist (who happened to be in Amsterdam the very same weekend!). Not only had I not been on a bike in many years, but I had a rather embarrassing incident involving a scooter (I didn't make it much further than the driveway before having an 'accident'). Needless to say, I was very scared about the reality I would encounter trying to bike with perhaps the most experienced casual bike riders in the world.  

1st stop after getting bikes - Espressofabriek in Westerpark for latte and Dutch apple pie. Boy, did I need this to muster up my courage to bike into the center of town!

Before even arriving in Amsterdam, I read a very enlightening article via Joanna Goddard and felt immediately better about how much safer it is to bike there than in the U.S. After my dad and brother had to help a man on a bike a few years back that was hit by a car (that then drove away), I was (& remain) convinced biking in the states is just too dangerous. If only U.S. cities would prioritize better bike lanes and drivers were better... The double bike lanes, the bike traffic lights and all other traffic (trams aside) that allow bikers the right-of-way make for the perfect biking city.

We biked to gelato on the far side of the city - Pisa ijs - best in Europe, no doubt (we went 3 times)!

So I had convinced myself that we should bike along trails out of the city, perhaps for a picnic by the sea, to avoid all the traffic in the middle of the city. What I learned after our first day with the bikes is that the city is so well catered to bikes, it's really hard to be scared or put yourself in any obviously dangerous situations (as long as you follow proper biking etiquette!). I also learned that after one day of biking around, my knee - and bum! - hurt so bad, there was no way I would make it on a two-hour trek to the sea. Instead, we biked around the city on Saturday, which was much less crowded than I expected, perhaps even less so than during the week.

Finding a spot to lock one's bike up is challenging, to say the least

While I wasn't the mess on a bike I expected myself to be, I certainly lacked the grace of the locals. They could perfectly time their passing of cross-traffic and always did so looking incredibly chic, women complete with the high heels that biking allows. The tourists were easier to spot in their chunky athletic shoes and complete disregard for the rules of the biking road. One of my biggest pet peeves while traveling is people who don't try to understand any of the rules or cultural norms of the place they are traveling to (If I read one more American's review of a European restaurant saying it took too long to be waited on, I may scream. Note to these Americans: Europeans take time to enjoy their food. It is not a race. Someone constantly leaning over your table is considered rude.).

As scared as I was in the first place of biking, I made sure to read up on how to be a safe biker in this city, both for myself and those around who would be subjected to my lacking bike skills. Saturday meant less people in general in town, but it meant more tourists on bikes - tourists who would stop right in the middle of the bike lane to scream at someone half a block away, rather than pull out of the path and avoid causing a pile-up of bikes. By the end of two days of biking the city, I had caught on well enough not to cause any damage - and to already be cursing the tourists. I suppose that's one of the side effects of being an expat, as my friend Jen so poignantly explained - I don't identify with the American tourists, but I'm not quite a European either. It's both a blessing and a curse to live in the in-between, but I suppose I'm finding my way.

Enjoying last afternoon with the bike with a picnic in Vondelpark 
& the best ham & cheese baguette ever 
courtesy of De Kaaskamer

As good as our drivers are here in Germany, I'm not sure I'd be up for biking through a busy city here without those wonderfully wide bike lanes and special traffic lights just for bikers. In Amsterdam, bikes reign as the preferred mode of transportation and are treated as such. Perhaps one day we'll live there and I too can live the bike lifestyle and wear my stylish heels around town. Until then, I guess we'll just have to visit more (darn).

More of Amsterdam to come...

*Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hische