A work related project presented the opportunity to visit Amsterdam. It’s a place I haven’t been before so aside from the work stuff I was hoping to at least explore the city a little.

It’s been a busy summer and continues to be so there wasn’t an opportunity to extend this trip into a significant vacation. And yet, I was able to fly out a little early. By flying out Saturday instead of Monday the flight was actually less expensive by several hundred $ and it gave me some time to explore. I needed the time anyway because when I fly to Europe it always takes me upwards of 2 days to deal with the jet lag. I’m a zombie for easily 24 hours until I adjust to the local time. More after the break…

My flight arrived on a Sunday morning and from Schipol airport it turns out to be a fairly easy trip into the central part of the city via train. For 4,40 euro it was a 15 min ride. Skip the ticket machines – they don’t take regular credit cards. Just queue up and get a ticket from an agent at the window the old fashioned way. I wasn’t entirely sure of distances when I booked a stay at Maes B&B, but the central part of Amsterdam is extremely walkable. So from the train station I just rolled the bag down the side streets and found the B&B.

The city streets in and amongst the canals of Amsterdam are a mixture of residences, restaurants, shops, churches, bars, cafes and ‘coffee shops’. The latter seemed to be closer in toward the center of the city and not as much out in the canal neighborhoods. Don’t confuse cafes and ‘coffee shops’. If you want some coffee, go to the former. If you want to smoke weed, go to the latter.

One of the things you’re immediately struck by in Amsterdam is the overwhelming abundance of bicycles. Amsterdam is flat and the narrow little roads in the central city are ideal for getting around by bicycle. Bikes are everywhere. And they’re not just on the streets. They’re chained to anything that remotely resembles a bike rack. Mostly these are city bikes with maybe 3 speeds and fenders, lights, racks, chainguards. They’re heavy, but fine for getting around a flat city like Amsterdam. Bike racks are overflowing so every bridge and spot in the city appears to have a collection of bikes chained to their railings or anything that looks reasonably nailed down.

Naturally I immediately found a place close to my B&B and rented a bike. A big heavy 3 speed job. Perfect for seeing the city. There are all types of folks on bikes. It’s not just a hipster set. Young and old alike. You see men dressed for work, women in dresses, women in heels for crying out loud! This is not recreation. This is transportation.

Nobody, but nobody wears a helmet. Even folks that are riding along with tiny childen – where those kids are propped up on the handlebars no less – have no helmets. The only people you see with helmets are obvious tourists on road bikes making their way through the city.

Clearly trips are normally short and the weather isn’t as warm as the time I spent in Amsterdam because none of the bikes have water cages either. Being from Texas, I can’t imagine having a bike without a water cage. And people are dressed in clothes that would suggest that normally they don’t have to get to their destination and shower immediately.

It is easy to go almost anywhere in the central city by bike. Where there isn’t an obvious bike path, the road is fine for bikes. The difference it makes in terms of noise, breathability, and simply pleasantness is hard to imagine for the average American that is used to our car-clogged roads/streets. Bikes and pedestrials rule the central city here. Now there are of course expressways and major roads, but these feed into the central city, and you don’t absolutely need them to get into the central city.

On the warm days I was there, the canals too were full of people. The canals are extensive – more than 100 kilometers of canals – but the canals are not like Venice where you’ve got gondola row boats carrying tourists around. Here, the boats all appeared to be motorized. Big tour boats and tiny motor boats alike. The weekend had groups and familys piled into boats just slowly tooling around and sipping drinks and picnicing. Most of the canals appear to be lined with permantly afixed house boats too.

While the city obviously had museums and other historic venues, in the little time that I had, I opted mainly to either bike around, walk the city or pull into a restaurant or cafe with outdoor seating. Amsterdam was just a fun city to hang around. It seemed very safe (I never once saw any police presence), casual and relaxed. Someday I hope to return to spend a bit more time than I had this time.