You’ve Never Seen So Many Bikes

by spaghettipirate

Yes, yes, I know. I know that it’s been a week since my last update and that I leave you, dear reader on bated breath. For those that don’t follow my Twitter, Facebook, or Tumblr, the reason for my extended absence was that I took a mini-vacation into Amsterdam. And I – like perhaps most or all tourists that ever have been to Amsterdam – immediately fell in love with the people, the air, the city. In a word: tranquil. The people are perhaps some of the most soft-spoken kindly giants that remind me of Roald Dahl’s The BFG. Yes, there is of course the gaudy and seedy tourist attractions that come with the legalized prostitution and legal marijuana, but it is my firm impression that these are all just acts and charades for the tourists to come and get their kicks out. Instead what my impression of the true Amsterdam was that of an early starting morning business people who love to ride rusted city bikes all over the place. Indeed the bike density is higher than car density, and it seems that there are at least two bicycles per person residing in Amsterdam.

Not that the cold seems to bother them either. They were more than happy to ride around in 9 degree weather with little more than a scarf for protection against the biting wind chill. I’m not sure if it’s because they’re all in an elevated state of mind, or simply because their skin is a little thicker, but I can tell you that even in the cold spring rain of Amsterdam there were plenty of people on their bikes bustling to where ever it was that they were headed. Frankly, even attempting to cross the road can be a somewhat hazardous activity, as there are so many bikes passing in such rapid frequency that it’s a little like Frogger. It’s so many bikes, that they even have roads and stop lights dedicated for the sole purpose of the bikes. Stop lights! I’ve never seen anything like it, and I doubt that I ever will again. But such is the density of bikes in Amsterdam that there are even “No parking bikes here” stickers on the outside of some shop store fronts, in which there is a giant red half X across an image of a bicycle. Not every store has such a sticker, but plenty do.

And beyond that, is that many people don’t bother to lock up their bikes. (Granted many of the bikes aren’t worth the price of the lock, but that could just be me). Instead they’re happy to leave them most wherever, with their saddle bags attached to the back of the bike, and happily wander in and out of stores going about their errands, seemingly un-worried about weather or not someone will steal their bikes. This could also be attributed to the fact that I firmly believe that there are at least 2-3 bikes per person living in the city.

For indeed you come across some really old and rusted bikes that have the air all gone out of the wheels, and chain rusted beyond recognition. I think that people forgot them or bought a new bike at one of the hundreds of bike stores, instead of having to worry about maintenance.

It’s a bike lover’s paradise.

It’s not just the bikes either. It’s the general temperament of the people. Calm and accepting of most everyone it seems. That it doesn’t much matter what walk of life you may come from, only that you are as open-minded and calm and not intrusive on others as they are. For example, Amsterdam is famous for its coffeeshops and where you can buy legal marijuana – and certainly there are plenty of people who are in about town having the time of their lives. But of course, these people are not disruptive nor annoying, instead they are giggly and sloth like in their movements. When I went into the supermarket, there was this really tall – and I mean close to or over 2 meters – black man who was high as a kite and he saw me and giggled saying “Hello!” as he was contemplating the fruit selection.

But that would be the other thing – they all speak a perfect deliberate slow accented English that had me feeling like a sloppy rapid version of English. Where theirs was a Michelangelo english, mine felt somehow more like a Pollack. Not that they didn’t understand me, I only say that I felt my English slurred and tiny compared to these people who admittedly made me feel welcome for my brief foray into their city. Even the homeless were pleasant, if not a little crazy, and they too spoke a fine English, as I determined that somehow, someway I was going to make Amsterdam my home.

(If only the weather wasn’t so wet)

But the houses! I’ve never seen more precariously arranged houses. It’s all crooked and slanted and sloping in every which way minus straight! They were houses out of an optical illusion that somehow didn’t make sense. And people live in them! How is the furniture arranged? The houses are narrow and crooked all lining the hundreds of canals. It’s a small and walkable city, and there are hundreds of ethnicities and nationalities within the city that are not just restricted to tourists. I wonder if the furniture that they sell – IKEA for those wondering – comes as customarily designed to fit your specific crooked house needs.

During my stay I was able to visit most of what had been laid out on the hotel map, and every street, although crazily named, brought with it a different approach to life, even though in most cases many shops were closed by 6pm.

The city feels calm and quiet, which is kind of odd considering how many people go whizzing by on bicycles. Upon my arrival back to Paris, the mood felt downright dour, and the people stuffy and grumpy, as I mused aloud what exactly it was that the Parisian’s had stuck up their butts. Of course coming from Washington DC I never felt it, but the refresher that was Amsterdam had made it acutely aware that yes, people could be sourpuss and a half.

By any means, I intend to return to Amsterdam, as it was a pleasant and beautiful ville with wonderful people.