Here is an interesting bit of trivia for you: the xxx symbol that you see in, well, “exotic” shops is actually derived from Amsterdam. “XXX” has been the logo for Amsterdam ever since the city was established, and it is still everywhere! At first I was a little worried and thought the city must be way too proud of its red light district, until I got my facts straight. The police uniforms are printed with xxx, its on all the local busses and the Amsterdam flag is black and red striped with the xxx logo. Amusing.
The Netherlands was never on my list of places to go, until every traveller I met kept telling me how it was their favorite city (and usually for more reasons than just smoking pot). I also made a Dutch friend in Croatia who told me all about his city and how everyone rode bikes everywhere. Despite my reluctance to spend time in Western Europe, I figured that if Amsterdam was as great as it sounded and I could ride a bike everywhere, I might be sold on the idea.
Ruud picked me up from the airport and welcomed me by telling me to get on the back of his bike, we were going to ride to his apartment. “Uhhh…what?” I asked. I must have heard him wrong. There was no way me and my 25 pound backpack were going to ride on the metal rack that normal people use to carry groceries, strapped to the back of his bike.
“Get on!” he insisted, as he started to pedal away. I began to realize it wasn’t a joke and reluctantly jumped on.
Riding bikes in Amsterdam is like being part of the circus. You jet through traffic, dodge oncoming trams and weave in and out of pedestrians. The bikes come in all shapes and sizes; big, small, trailer attached, half falling apart, crappy, crappier, and crappiest (no offense Amsterdam, in a city where 1/6 bikes gets stolen, why would you ride a nice one?). My favorites are the bikes that look like a wheelbarrow has been inserted between the handlebars and front tire. People fill the bucket with groceries, lumber or small children.
Things I saw on bikes in Amsterdam that I never expected to see:
- A man riding with a five-foot ladder attached to his front handlebar
- A mom riding with four children in a bucket
- A student riding with one hand, while holding a 5×5 foot board in the other
Things I did on a bike in Amsterdam that I would have NEVER done elsewhere:
- Took the bike in an elevator
- Took the bike on a train
- Rode through a “z” shaped maze meant to keep bikes out
- Rode through a muddy field
Ruud was an excellent tour guide and showed me around Amsterdam the first night on the back of his bike. The next three days we spent cycling all over Holland. We rode to a small village on the first day, took the train to a town 30 minutes south on the second day and rode along the beach, and spent the third day exploring the streets and canals of Amsterdam.
It has been a busy week, but definitely a unique way to see a city and a well needed break from the usual tourist activities! I must say, my friends were right, Amsterdam definitely tops my list of must see cities in Western Europe.