Our tour guide, Garrett, ventured off to Europe this month. Here’s his tale of Amsterdam, bikes and pommes frites:
Winter is a tough time in New England. It is dark and cold, and cold and dark. Couple that with the usual grind of grad school, and that elusive week in March know as spring break can look very far away on the calendar. Fortunately the sun does stay out longer, it gets warmer, and there is that wonderful school-free week to get away from it all.
This spring I was off to three great northern European cities: Amsterdam, Hamburg, and Berlin. Amsterdam is a city that lacks an iconic attraction like Big Ben or the Eiffel Tower, but it makes up for it in its scenery, food, and cycling culture. You cannot look in any direction without seeing people riding or a bike locked up. This was my second trip to Amsterdam and with warmer weather my friends and I rented classic Dutch cruisers, with wide handlebars and charming bells, to get around town.
Bikes bikes and more bikes!
Riding, whether in a city or on rural roads, brings you closer to where you are. Fast enough to cover larger distances, slow enough to get a sense for it all. Amsterdam is a city that may have been built around the canals, but has been hand-crafted around cycling. There is a bike lane on every street, bike boxes, boats that are for storing your bike, and you will even find yourself in bike traffic. People of all ages and sizes ride, with 99.99999% riding cruisers. There is no challenging terrain since it is pancake flat, and fittingly, thin wide pancakes are one of the main traditional Dutch dishes.
Multi-modal transportation at it’s best – bikes on boats!
Cycling is not an exclusive or difficult experience, my friends who hardly ride in the cities they live in, found no discomforts riding through Amsterdam. It would be great to see the Dutch way imported back here in the States, but we should abstain from their bizarre custom of devouring ice cream scoop-sized helpings of mayonnaise on french fries.
Usually I ride very quickly, but slowed down for the scenery and did not mind getting passed by old ladies as I was enjoying the views. While the Dutch are passionate riders, they are terrible at giving directions, as we had to ask forty people how to get to areas a little outside of the central area.
Going out at night, we did not have to worry about leaving our bikes at the hotel. People ride to the clubs and bars. Just image it, beautiful women dressed to go out, locking their bike next to yours as you head toward the bars. No awkward feelings about leaving your bike before heading to a different place since their bike is outside as well. Of course if you have had too much to drink, it is always best to stay off the bike and take a cab home, not risking an accident or falling into the canals.
All along Amsterdam’s beautiful canals
On my final day in Amsterdam riding along the scenic canals and snapping a few more photos, I found myself bummed that I would have to give back my cruiser and hop on the train. Luckily when I return someday there will be a bike ready for me the moment I step out of the train station.
Garret and a friend on their cruisers
Garrett Lynch is the all time leading tour guide and a graduate student at Harvard University. The views expressed are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Urban AdvenTours.