Why I’m Not Ready to Bike in Amsterdam

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Don’t be fooled by the smile. She’s a hazard.

Favorite pastime: Pretending to be a resident of my favorite international cities and doing my best to “blend in.” In Amsterdam, this obviously means whizzing by the tourists on a bike, right?

I must join those cool, sophisticated Dutch natives. I can’t be one of those pathetic tourists strolling the streets on foot.

Naturally we sought out the bike rental company which offered “discreet” rental bikes. This means we would avoid the brightly painted red, yellow, orange, or green bikes that scream tourist. I had read that one reason these bikes are donned in neon shades is to warn locals of the type of cyclist they are dealing with.

How did they know???

Back to our discreet bikes. I fit in perfectly (see above). Until I got on the bike. One stressful trip from the Jordaan neighborhood to Vondelpark and one sweaty afternoon later, the bike went straight back to the rental company.

Good riddance.

Three (very good) reasons why I’m not ready to bike in Amsterdam:

1. I don’t know where I’m going.

Don’t get me wrong. I know where the apartment is, my favorite cafe, and how to recognize Vondelpark when I get there. Not to mention, as a Humanities teacher, I have an obsession with studying maps of every new and exciting city I visit. But navigating the quaint streets and U-shaped canals (which all look the same, no matter what side of the city you are on) is much easier while sauntering on foot and pretending to gaze at the incredible trees up above while sneakily catching a peek at the street signs plastered high on the corner buildings to ensure you’re going where you want.

Try gazing upwards while riding a bike through Amsterdam intersections. Actually, don’t. I already did. Somehow I made it home.

 
2. I’m not in a hurry.

I’m on vacation. If I had somewhere to be, the bike would be a lifesaver (if my navigation skills didn’t kill me). But today all I “have” to do is wake up, drink some coffee, finishing watching last night’s movie, mosey along the canal streets to my favorite cafe, write this blog post, WALK to the Van Gogh Museum, read my book in the park, then make our way to dinner. That’s it folks. Nothing in that calendar of events says hayaku [excuse my habit of interjecting Japanese into my thoughts – old habits die hard – I dare you to google it].

True Amsterdam natives have lives. They have schedules. Thank goodness I do not (right now).

 
3. I’m not aggressive enough.

Yes, I did grow up in Japan, on a bike, with a bell.  A pink hello kitty bell, to be exact. I loved that sound that magically parted the sea of heads in front of me. Since then I have lost my childish innocence and gained my Minnesota nice-ness which apparently comes with a fear of telling tourists to get out of the way. It’s not like I have to yell those words, all I have to do is ring the bell, right?

And you DO have to ring the bell. The tourists are EVERYWHERE. On the sidewalk, on the street and even (gasp) in the bike path.

Finally we reached Vondelpark and I was ready to breathe a sigh of relief while gliding easily through the protected woodsy paths of Amsterdam’s Central Park equivalent.

Wrong. Obstacles everywhere. Locals, tourists, other cyclists, even dogs popped out of of the trees. Someday I will master the bell. Without it, on a bike in Amsterdam, I am nothing if not another obstacle in the road.

Bikers rule the road in Amsterdam. And they know it. If you’re not willing to accept this fact and BE the ruler of the road, don’t even bother with the bike.

Maybe next time I’ll be ready. In the meantime, I decided that I love to walk. One step at a time.

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