Saturday, December 17, 2011

Cycling in Amsterdam

The title of this post is sort of misleading, as I didn't actually cycle while I was in Amsterdam. I'd planned to rent a sturdy Dutch bike to check out the famed separated city bikelanes and to tour around the city, but my visit was short and rainy and I didn't end up making the time to rent a bike.
(by the way, those are Van Gogh Dutch bikes pictured above-- almond blossom and sunflowers. As Dan said, they are single
(g)eared. Hee hee)

(bikes are parked everywhere, and are left outside on the sidewalk overnight rather than carried into homes)

Or at least, that's my story. The truth was that I was a bit intimidated by the commuter riding scene in Amsterdam. Pre-conceptions of stately riders gliding along on clunky city bikes were smashed: the commuter riding is strong, fast-paced and assertive and the traffic flow was simply immense. Hundreds and hundreds of cyclists flowing through the separated bikeways, which cross tram, auto and pedestrian paths at regular intervals. Men in suits, women in heels, students talking on cell phones while steering with one hand, folks carrying groceries and other cargo (large boxes! potted plants!) and lots of parents transporting kids, from small babes in carriers on the handlebars to larger kids on the rear, sitting on the top tube and even dedicated kid cargo carriers (see below). I consider myself a seasoned urban commuter (despite my car-focused commute at the moment). But, this was new ground and I didn't know the rules. (Ladyfleur has a few remarks on this in her post on Amsterdam riding). I am sometimes a bit self-conscious (like to look like I am not a tourist!), and this + the rain tipped the balance of my activities towards walking.

(pretty pink panniers, and waterproof to boot. I want!)

It was neat to see bike dominance- the cars were a tiny minority of the traffic. This video gives a flavor of traffic flow and dynamic of the separated bike lanes mid-day. The rush-hour commute volume was easily an order of magnitude greater than shown in this video.

(motorcycle type windscreen)

I also developed an appreciation for the Dutch commuter bike and the practical accessories seen on many bikes: super sturdy front racks, hub-based generator lights (lights are required at night and most people had them), panniers for cargo carrying, and a variety of kid carrying options: seats mounted front and rear, kid trailers, and even an extra saddle mounted on the top tube, so that the little one is sitting in front of the adult with hands resting on the bars. It was cool to see kids chattering with parents as they rode together on one bike.

(bikes are parked everywhere, including on the canal bridges)

I wish now that I had rented a bike, but there is always the next trip to look forward too! I think if I'd had another day in the city and/or dryer weather, I'd have taken the plunge.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


(near the Rijksmuseum)

I visited Amsterdam this week for a few days before a work meeting. I like to fly a day or so early due to my back situation (permits recovery) and I added on another day since I'd never been to Amsterdam.

(Anne Frank Huis)

A highlight of the trip was visiting Anne Frank (pronounced Anna Frahnk) house. I read the book as a girl and it was really incredible to see the house in person. It was much smaller than I had imagined and it was really moving to read excerpts of the diary as we moved through the house, for example, to read of how she looked at the tree through the attic window and dreamed of going outside and running around-- while standing in the small dark room (blacked-out windows) looking up at the actual tree through a window in the attic. Also to read her words about the persecution of the jews and their fear of being discovered. I reflected a bit on my impressions of the book when I read it as a kid and my response to the words now as an adult. Anyhow, a very sombering visit.

(canal view near Anne Frank Huis)

I walked around a lot- the weather was mostly chilly and rainy but one afternoon was very clear and I took the opportunity to take a canal boat tour which was really fun. I spent the entire ride in the open rear of the boat, while other tourists cowered inside the boat by the heaters.

(twinkly lights and canal at night)

Amsterdam was ready for Christmas-- sparkly lights were up in all of the shopping areas and there were a few ice rinks set up for skating. I found a small christmas market, where I indulged in a waffle and some stroopwaffels (deadly sweet-- yum). One cultural difference-- St Nick is apparently accompanied by a group of Moors (in blackface), who roam around with big sacks. The blackface was pretty jarring, to be honest. Here's some info on this tradition.

(bikes, bikes, everywhere bikes. More on this in a separate post)

The bikes and bike infrastructure were really incredible. I walked around the first night I was there during the rush hour with my jaw dropped open at the sheer numbers of riders. The volume is just incredible, and the riding was assertive-- these are seasoned commuters after all. More on this later.

(nifty bridge)

I also hit up the Van Gogh museum and the Rijksmuseum, the latter being mostly closed for renovations but with a small exhibit open that included some of the Dutch masters paintings that the museum is famous for. The VG museum was pretty cool- a mix of early paintings as well as some of the greatest hits. There was an interesting exhibit on conservation approaches that mapped out the recent restoration of the Bedroom (

(small canal in older part of central Amsterdam)

I bought a tram pass, but ended up mostly walking around. I kind of wish I had my garmen to recreate my tracks, because I was partly wandering randomly and partly getting lost at every turn. The inner city has a street plan similar to a bicycle wheel, with streets like spokes radiating out from the central train station, with connecting cross streets and canals running throughout. As such, its not a traditional grid at all, and the canals added to the complexity. I repeatedly made wrong turns! It was kind of fun, though, and I accidentally found some interesting shops (eg, a shop specializing in maps and travel guides) and of course, a lot of bike shops where I oogled dutch commuter bike swag.

(pretty buildings in central Amsterdam)

All in all, a fun visit. I'd love to go back and spend more time there, and also to rent a bike and see more of the town by bike.

(typical canal houses, all different sizes, some are very skinny!)