First Impressions of Amsterdam

September 12, 2009

I went to Amsterdam recently to attend a conference. The thought of traveling to a European city alone was daunting and exciting all at once. However, my initial fears of not speaking the local language were not realised. Signs everywhere were in English as well as Dutch and most people were bilingual. It was the traffic system in Amsterdam that presented the most difficulty in adjustment.

For most of my visit I was in danger of being run over by a tram or bike. Not only did they drive on the opposite side of the road to what we do in Australia, but their roads had parallel lanes for cars and bikes separated often by an extra curb. These double lanes in both directions had to be negotiated when attempting to cross safely from one footpath to another. Often I forgot the bike lane was there, intuitively expecting I’d arrived at a footpath only to find I was in immediate danger of being roller-coasted (the equivalent to being stampeded but with wheels). In American cities and Rome and Paris I adjusted quickly to the different travel direction learning to look the opposite way to what I am accustomed before crossing, but with the added bike lane and the volume of push bikes and motor bikes using it, my confusion lasted much longer. Even by the end of the week I wasn’t fully adjusted.

I would have liked to have had more free time to develop the confidence to commute by bike. A bike tour would have been a good place to begin; having someone to follow initially, and then branching out on my own to tour the city by bike and even ride to the conference venue daily.  Alas, attending the conference daily limited my time for such pleasures.

By the end of the week, however, I had mastered their public transport system, found some excellent restaurants in a variety of  restaurant districts, found a couple of shopping spots, been for a long walk around Vondell Park, a short walk into the red light district,  experienced a concert at the Concertgebouw, immersed myself in the evidence collected at the Anne Frank Huis Museum, contemplated Van Gogh’s life and work at the Van Gogh museum and attended a Dutch language and culture course put on by the conference organisers.

Most of the time I spent with my favorite colleague from Melbourne. Exploring the city together was a delight. She did not want to ride and that was another reason for not pursuing my desire to join the Dutch in their riding culture. However, on the day I walked through the park my colleague rested in our hotel. I walked alone. I decided to capture their riding culture in a photographic study. I will share some of the photos with you now. I was amazed that no one wore helmets, both on push bikes and especially on motor bikes. In Australia it is compulsory. The other difference is that the Dutch wear street gear on simple bikes and in Melbourne we tend to ride complex, geared bikes in lycra riding gear and cleated shoes. Also, our baby bike seats are protectively designed with extended backs and sides enfolding the toddler in racing-harness-style seat belts for their own safety. In Amsterdam, it seemed any box or seat would do, without seat belts!











4 Responses to “First Impressions of Amsterdam”

  1. You have to love the confident use of bikes. In Germany, bikes are also ubiquitous, but the kids are always strapped in.

  2. PS Forgot to say: Glad you had a good trip.

  3. Kit said

    Love the pics of kids in boxes on bikes! I guess living in a flat country makes bikes so much more the obvious solution to city life.

  4. zhisou said

    I love Amsterdam, love Utrecht, love the Netherlands.

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