Though we hadn’t nessecsrily planned to spend a night in Amsterdam, we had wanted to see the city. So, after finding a place to stay, we set out to explore. The first thing we learned is that Amsterdam is a fairly confusing city to navigate. The streets and canals all curve around in an oval, making it had to tell which direction you’re headed. It’s also so flat that there aren’t any landmarks that can be seen from most streets. Plus, because we don’t speak Dutch, all the street names all kind of sounded and looked the same to us.

We had bought a decent map when we arrived, but despite that we were still spending a lot of time lost and unable to find anything.

What we did know, however, was that Amsterdam is a city of bicycles. Bikes in Amsterdam are everywhere and are the primary means of transportation for many people (they’re ideally suited for the small, flat streets). Also, the biking looks kind of crazy to outsiders like ourselves; people seemingly go where ever they want, whenever they want. As I looked at it all, it kind of reminded me of a bicycle version of the crazier parts of Sao Paulo’s freeways.

So we decided that renting bikes would be a perfect way to experience Amsterdam (€9 each for three hours, €15 for 24 hours).

Initially, riding our bikes was tough. At home, I ride an ultra lightweight street racing bike, but the ones we rented were the opposite of that. They were big, heavy, and much harder to manuver (though they did look very quaint). Also, the extreme heat, and as well as the effort of finding a hotel, had really wiped us out. So, for the first hour it was difficult to remind myself that I was riding through the beautiful, canal-lined streets of Amsterdam, and not in some sort of torturous death-ride.

Eventually, however, it cooled off and the bike ride became quite beautiful. We started more or less in the center of town and road our way outward following the canals. After a few hours we stopped and ate at a sidewalk cafe. AWe ordered “sandwiches,” whiched turned out to be hearty dishes that had to be eaten with forks. (Mine had goat cheese, honey, and walnuts on bread.) We also looked for the Van Gogh museum, but we gave up because by that time it was already pretty late and we figured it would have closed.

Also during our ride, Holland won its World Cup match. The streets erupted into a party that never really stopped until the next day. Sadly, however, the game was against Brazil and I’m sure all of our Brazilian friends weren’t too happy. (Brazil was thus eliminated from competition.) Still, while I’d prefer Brazil to have won, it was amazing to see how excited Amsterdam got.

After Holland won its game the streets got so clogged with revelers that it became hard to ride. In response, we decided to head to a park, where we rode around some more. Eventually, we headed back to our hotel (getting lost several time along the way) and experienced another uniquely Amsterdam phenomenon: not enough bike parking. On literally every bar, pole, fence, etc bikes we chained and stacked. It had never occured to me that we wouldn’t be able to find a solid object to secure our bikes for the night (we had to turn them in the next morning), but it ended up taking a while before we found an empty section of railing on a bridge over a canal.


Written by Jim Dalrymple II

Urbanism and travel writer. Also a journalist covering the news.

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