Amsterdam, the peak of my travels. This is the final installment of my “why to ride a bike” series for my summer European travels, and it could not have ended with a better city for bicycle riding. Here are my nine reasons to ride a bicycle in Amsterdam:
This poster at Fietsersbond summarizes my thoughts nicely. It says “Amsterdam is nicer by bike” and I could not agree more.
For the lady cyclists, you will be part of the majority.
We met with the local Amsterdam bicycle union Fietsersbond, mentioned above, to receive some insight on past and recent projects that have moved cycling to the forefront in Amsterdam. Part of our time with Fietsersbond was spent taking notice to who exactly rides a bike in this wonderful city. We collected data along certain routes in 15 minute intervals and one of the most prominent findings was that there is generally a higher level of female ridership in Amsterdam. Ride on ladies!
You will look forward to another scavenger hunt.
We had another semi-structured scavenger hunt like the one in Copenhagen that sent us around the city to see bicycle infrastructure, visit the local zoo, and even stop by a candy shop in the Red Light District run by a former Eugeneian! This is really just a way to get us moving around the city with eyes wide open. These scavenger hunts have been some of the most fulfilling and jam-packed days for me, and I have been downright exhausted after each one!
The photo above shows my rental bike for the week on a bicycle bridge. You can faintly see the red pedestrian bridge in the background.
You will find great beer.
This beer came after an Amsterdam country ride out to Rembrant’s windmill. Karen, our trip helper, mentioned that this company was one of the few craft breweries in Amsterdam. It seemed like a solid choice for a quality beverage after a day of biking. All of the Brewery De Prael beers are named after historic men and women throughout Netherlands history, and I mistakenly ordered the Willy instead of the Johnny. Little did I know that this 11.5% slice of heaven would be the best beer of my trip, and quite possibly one of the best beers of my lifetime.
So naturally on scavenger hunt day me and Sheila, my partner in seeking out all things delicious, found De Prael to get a Willy fresh from the tap. The retail location (known as a winkle in the Netherlands) had bottles for sale between one and two Euro (a STEAL) and staff nice enough to walk us directly to the tasting room. The tasting room had an awesome ambiance. Sheila and I sat in leather chairs with delicious beer before continuing onwards with our scavenger hunt.
You will inevitably run into people from your part of the world.
Amsterdam is a world city and it seems only fitting that I would have an encounter with a fellow Pittsburgher in the very same hotel that I was staying in. And there was also the aforementioned candy shop owner Mathias. Mathias lived in Eugene for a few years before moving halfway around the world for his love and now wife, Iris. They opened their shop together this year. It was a huge hit with my trip mates, and I can only image that the rest of Amsterdam loves it as well. Mathias greeted us warmly, told hilarious stories, pressed his passion for cycling on us, and fed us free samples. Mathias certainly fits the “we’re all here because we’re not all there” description of a Eugene citizen. It was an absolute pleasure meeting him and his family. Check out their facebook page.
You will see that bicycle accessories can be art!
This is an awesome display of bicycle bells found in a local bike shop in Amsterdam. This shop, Het Zwarte Fiestenplan, really made it a point to use bicycle accessories as novel ways to decorate the shop. A red and a yellow bell made it home with me, and I have to (partially) accredit my purchase to the persuasion of this bell art. Below are seat covers creatively organized to beautify an entire wall, amazing.
You will be immersed in historical context of all kinds.
Myself and a few others had the privilege to visit not just one, but two cheese and clog factories while in Amsterdam. Cheese and clogs go hand in hand (or foot and mouth?) when discussing Holland history and culture, and believe it or not with all of the cheese and clogs in the country there are only four locations that still use the original style of production for both items. In case you were wondering- people still wear these clogs today but mainly for gardening purposes, and the cheese is delicious.
We also received a guided tour of Amsterdam’s Red Light District. Despite what one might immediately think the Red Light District has a long-standing history in the city’s center. The Red Light District is comprised of outstanding architecture, rich maritime history, and cultural diversity all of which date back to before America’s founding. And then there is the legal prostitution which is not really identified as a positive or a negative. It is just seen as part of the culture. It has been part of the community since Amsterdam was a key port city. It was both eye opening and phenomenally interesting to be led through this culturally dense area with a personal tour guide on a Friday evening.
You will learn to recognize your bicycle.
The cities we visited all seem to have the same problem- there is not enough bicycle parking in the city! Amsterdam has gone above and beyond other cities to create novel and effective parking systems for more bikes than you can imagine.
This photo shows a three story bicycle parking facility called the fietsflat. The fietsflat is located at Central Station. You can see the incline of the ramps and the countless bicycles amidst the “XXX loves bikes” sign. XXX is an old identifier for Amsterdam.
This is a better photo of how the structure is organized to hold 2,500 bicycles. It becomes absolutely essential to be able to identify your bicycle amidst the sea of two-wheeled transports because it can easily become one of many. It is breathtaking to not only realize that a city needs one location that can hold over two thousand bicycles, but also to see it filled to nearly the maximum allowance. I remember when I first moved to Eugene my mom commented on how many bikes were parked by the University of Oregon campus. Mom, I wish you could have seen this!
This is another way Amsterdam has made bike parking into something out of the ordinary. This is a photo of a reclaimed barge that is being used for additional parking at Central Station. My home town also used a reclaimed barge to serve as a new public amenity, a park. Parks are great, but I have to admit I think this project tickles my fancy just a little bit more.
You will appreciate your surroundings and the people you are with.
Marc, our professor, made a comment as we were organizing to take photos at Rembrant’s windmill. We spent a good hour taking photos. We built pyramids, I tried to do an assisted hand stand (and failed), others took multiple photos to get the perfect jumping picture. He said “two weeks ago I don’t know if you guys would have felt comfortable doing this with each other.” He was right. There is no better way to create long term bonds than by living out of a backpack, sharing a room with three others, sharing a house with 14 others, sleeping overnight on a train car, and learning your way around a city by bicycle.
Out of all of the professionals that we had the opportunity to meet and work with throughout our three weeks in Europe I feel most privileged to have met my 14 trip mates, the future movers and shakers of America, looking to make a difference in the bicycle transportation in our own communities. Thank you all for the laughs and memories.