Thursday, August 20, 2009

Revenge of the Bicycles

Currently I'm relaxing in a huge library located in Amsterdam. After several days of walking around the city, it is so nice to sit down in AC for a while. Especially since it is a hot day today (so much for it getting cooler as I went North). Funny thing is that this library probably has one of the best overlooking views of the city (and free Internet usage).

Anyways, onto the city itself.

One of the first things I noticed upon stepping off the train, almost being run down by a tram, several (hundred) bicycles, and hundreds of tourists, was that it was filled with canals. Now I knew there were canals in Amsterdam, I just wasn't expecting so many. The whole city has a northern version of Venice feeling. Except whereas in Venice all you needed to look out for were bipeds, now I have to deal with bipeds, bicycles, motorcycles, cars, trams, and buses. Let me walk you through the process of crossing a street in Amsterdam.

First you walk across the most treacherous part, the bicycle lane. If anyone was the least willing to stop for you, it is the cyclists, they will run you down in cold blood. After deftly maneuvering through the bike lane, its onto the first lane of traffic. This is the easy part, as cars will stop for you and are generally good at following traffic laws. Next you have to cross two tracks of tram lines, since there are no lights indicating if they are lurking around the corner or not, you have to scoot across as fast as possible and hope one does not pop out of nowhere. But not only do you have to worry about trams, all of the public transit (buses and taxis) also use the tram line lanes. After narrowly avoiding death for the second time it's the easy process of crossing normal traffic. But alas, what is on the other side of the traffic but . . . a bike lane. Maybe I should explain that bike lanes are for all kinds of bikes (it seems), you have you standard issue two-pedal-machine-of-death, then (as if that wasn't deadly enough) there is the motorized version. Yep, it appears that mopeds and motorcycles are also allowed to use the bike lane, and they feel free to hop between that and the regular traffic lane. So thus, after narrowly avoiding death 3 times (regular traffic is mild compared to the other two) a street in Amsterdam has been crossed.

Ok, maybe it's not that bad, but I wouldn't want to tango with the cyclists. Amsterdam does have more bicycles than residents, 80,000 of which are stolen each year, and 25,000 of which are dragged out of the canals each year. Yep, a true biking city, filled to the brim with deadly bike lanes. The scene outside of the train station truly is amazing, just in the pure number of bikes that are locked up outside of it.

The second thing I noticed upon my arrival to Amsterdam, was that many of the buildings took about as laid back approach to being buildings as the city of Amsterdam has to a lot of things. Yep, the buildings sag a little here and there and many of them have decided to leisurely lean on their next door neighbor. Some are a little more brave and lean out into the street, away from the support of their nearby friends. Now some of the buildings where intentionally built to lean out over the street a bit (to assist with lifting valuables and stores up to the non flood worthy floors), but it's evident when you see one doing it's own thing. It's fun to take note as I have walked along the streets, and have found plenty of them to keep me entertained.

While here, I've only really seen two museums, the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum. Both of them excellent museums. The Van Gogh museum held an impressive number of his paintings, including(of course) several of his masterpieces. Unfortunately of the three floors of the museum, his stuff only took up the first. But it was well worth it anyways. The Rijksmuseum was impressive, just for the fact that only a small section of their collection was available due to construction, but they managed to cram a ton of worthwhile artwork onto one floor. This time I got to see Rembrandt's work change as he aged, always nice to see the chronicling of an artists work.

I also went on a free tour here in Amsterdam. I feel as though I should receive some medal from the company that puts it on. I went to every one that it offered in Europe besides Hamburg (a city I had originally planned on visiting). Still, while not all the cities, I'm pretty darn-tooting close. Anyways, as per usual the tour was entertaining and pretty good (not as good as the last two though).

I've spent my evenings quietly though, as I'm just exhausted. No matter how much sleep I get, I'm just exhausted at the end of the day now. I believe it's a sign that I'm good to go home (only 3 days till I fly), traveling for 3 months has been a blast, and I've seen so many things. I think I just need to get back to some stability (and a good bed), sort it all out, and let my body rest.

So I grabbed a good old supermarket dinner last night, and just sat by the canal side. Probably one of the better nights in a while, as the people watching was superb. While sitting, eating my dinner and sampling random beers (labels were in a different language), I saw a lot of things. I counted several boats with grills going on them, one of the best ideas ever. I would love to spend an evening with family and friends, slowly drifting through canals, with fresh steaks (or hamburgers) grilling. There were many dinner-boats (touristy), many tourists with rental pedal boats. It was always fun watching them nearly get run over by the locals, since many didn't exactly adhere to the traffic rules of boats. There were many party boats, with blasting music and locals getting their groove on. I saw several boats that, by all means, should not still be floating. But I guess that if I lived here, I would take whatever I had that could float, out on the water. I even saw an inflatable dingy.

All in all, it was an excellent night of people watching, and I intend to do it again tonight.

So Amsterdam has been nice, casual and laid back. I'm off to Brussels tomorrow, and from there, London the day after.


You just received the crossing medal !!
AHHHHH! I can imagine that they even hit old ladies!! I am so glad I did not go to Amsterdam for my introduction to 'pedestrian safe crossing' with head on careening traffic of all shapes and motor-abilities. What I experienced was more than enough for me!
Can't wait to SEE your shinning face!!
LOVE YOU and sleep tight!

Home stretch awaits! Could you bring me back some Czech beer stashed hidden in your voluminous beard?


Jordan! Can't wait to see you on Monday!

*laughing helplessly at the traffic description*

and van Gogh! one of my favourite artists. (if i could choose between them that is.)