After five days wistfully watching the bicycle riders in Amsterdam, I finally got to step through the frame of a Dutch bike and go out for a spin. It was heaven–and a little bit of purgatory.
Renting a bike was super easy. We just asked at the hotel desk, and the clerk gave us keys to bikes parked outside the front door, explained how the locks worked, and sent us off. We were both surprised how the same frame size could accommodate Dick’s long legs and my short ones with a quick adjustment for the seat height.
Our hotel was adjacent to the Vondelpark, Amsterdam’s answer to Central Park, so we had a gentle start to get used to the bikes. But before too long we hit the city center and had to ride tight cycle paths with the men in suits, blondes on cellphones, mothers with toddler-filled cargo bikes, plus motor scooters. Then there were the cars, streetcars and pedestrians, all crossing the cycle paths at regular intervals.
The myth of separated pathways is that it isolates users by group. In practice, there are so many places where paths cross and people turn that it’s carefully orchestrated chaos. Unfortunately, we didn’t know the tune. Sometimes there were separate signals for pedestrians, bikes and cars, but not always. And if you don’t move right away on a green light, expect a tongue lashing in Dutch just as you would a car horn in Boston.
Nontheless, we made our way across the city all the way to the Central Station, then out to the ferry dock, into the Westerpark. We had no agenda, so it really didn’t matter where we rode. After getting a bit of advice from a friendly Dutchman, we stopped for ethnic food in the Oud West, got completely turned around and miraculously found our way back to the hotel.
In four hours out on the bikes and we probably covered 12 miles. But we saw some unique areas of the city, got some exercise, and learned a little about how to navigate the city (and how not to).
When was the last time you felt like a complete newbie at something you consider yourself experienced at?