As winter settles in here in the Colorado Rockies, I’m perusing through my photos and writings of travels past. I’ve been rewarded with great memories and surprising moments that I’d nearly forgotten – most recently about Amsterdam. Walk with me…
Yes, Amsterdam has a lively party scene. Coming across a photo op like this is too good to be true. If this scene wasn’t tucked in on an obscure side street I would’ve thought these two were street performers (the living statue kind). But there’s no one around and no spare change bucket in sight. Whoever you are, I want to thank you for giving me a reason to grin and a lasting memory of Amsterdam.
Moving on…While those two young men are napping on a quiet side street, the rest of Amsterdam saddles up and two-wheels it across the city. The bike culture here is nothing short of over-the-top awesomeness. Bikes first, then pedestrians. Cars rank a distant third place on the transportation/toleration scale. And the infrastructure supports that reality.
No matter where you go, this city buzzes with the purr of bicycle chains, the ping of handlebar bells and the hum of rubber tires on pavement. Here’s an astounding stat for you: There are more than 800,000 bikes in the city alone – 4 times the number of cars, with almost 450 kilometers of bike paths to accommodate those wheelie wonders.
The famous canals of Amsterdam serve as a transport medium as well as a burial grounds for unlucky or unwanted bikes that have been blown or thrown into the water. Between 12,000 and 15,000 bikes are fished out of the canals every year. The practice of dumping bikes into the waterways is so prevalent that the city has employed full-time bike fishermen that routinely dredge the canals from barges equipped with giant claws. Fishing and bikes – what a life!
Rounding the corner to the main train station in Amsterdam it’s obvious what the main form of transportation is on these busy streets. In a given day, over 8,000 bikes jostle for parking space in the designated “bike park” designed to hold 7,800 bikes. All shapes and sizes create a conglomeration of wheels, spokes and carriers for hauling various forms of paraphernalia including kids.
But the loveliest of all times in Amsterdam is when the sun goes down and the lights go up on the cobbled streets and shimmering waterways that intersect this mesmerizing city. Walking at night has its advantages. The city is surprisingly quiet and best enjoyed by lingering on a bridge or a canal-side bench. The vintage street lamps reflecting in the rippling water lend an air of old worldliness to this otherwise daytime bustling city. After a long stroll around the old city streets, we duck into a tiny cafe. Sipping on a Dutch beer in a cozy drinking establishment known as a “brown cafe,” we finish off our evening by toasting our moments on and off the streets of alluring Amsterdam.