With all the stories of gentleman riding bikes in tweed jackets and ladies riding in skirts and spike heels and moms toting toddlers to daycare, you might think that bicycling in Amsterdam is a breeze, or a walk in the park, or something that seems very easy. Well, sorta…
There are dedicated bike lines along most busy streets. There are separate traffic signals for people, bikes, and cars. There is a network of numbered bike routes throughout the entire country. The law says that the slowest and most vulnerable form of transportation has the right of way, hence: pedestrians, bikes, cars–in that order. The bicycling injury rate in Holland is 1/5 to 1/9 per billion miles cycled compared to the United States, even though no one wears helmets.
All that is well and good. For the tourist spending only a day or two in Amsterdam, bicycling is a bit chaotic. On the narrow streets along the canals, pedestrians, bikes, and cars mix. Bikes rule and are the fastest. Amsterdam’ers aren’t out for a leisurely jaunt; they’re going to work, to school, to a date and they’re in a hurry–and you, silly tourist, are in the way. Don’t stop to make a left turn–just time your turn to go in between the 3-wheeled delivery truck, the Mercedes-Benz taxi, the chic young woman texting while riding, and the elderly woman walking her wire-haired dachshund. You’ll make it…
It’s rumored there are 18 million bikes for the 16 million people of the Netherlands. About of million of those bikes are parked outside the Amsterdam Central Station in this double-decker bike parking structure.
We had visitors our second week here. Two beautiful women stopped by to check in and we went to the Noordemarkt right near our apartment. This food market is only open Saturdays. Sally was looking for a full wheel of cheese to send to her mom and Helen was taking photos of cool fresh food for her mom’s blog. Lewis and I bought some fish to fry.
Helen Vinn, a person whom Lewis and I have gotten to know really well because she is an awesome adult in the making and actually looks you in the eye and engages in meaningful conversations… we could go on and on about Helen…. leave it to say, we love her.
Sally Slade, gorgeous, wacky, upbeat, wide open to experiences… Sally can make you laugh until you let go of your autonomous nervous system. So fun to spend time with Sally… in a word… Gorgeous.
Sally on the left; Helen on the right. Taken from our apartment window
1. Diary of Anne Frank (The Diary of a Young Girl, the definitive edition) The Anne Frank House (located on the Prinsengracht 276) is one of the most popular museums in Amsterdam with a line for admission as long as a canal. Lewis and Emmy read this amazing book before visiting which was the way to do it!
- the long line at the Anne Frank House
2. Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier This is a short historical fiction story about the 17th century author, Johannes Vermeer through the eyes of the girl with the pearl earring. Vermeer’s most famous painting, Girl with a Pearl Earring hangs in the Mauritshuis Museum in The Hague.
3. The Dutch I Presume? This nonfiction book about the Dutch has lots of great photos and ‘fun to read’ text about the Dutch. Our Seattle friend, Pauline Bach who is 100% Dutch, recommended this fantastic book to us.
4. The Embarrassment of Riches by Simon Schama. Schama tells the history of the Golden Age of Holland through Dutch culture as depicted in painting, emblem books, and descriptions of daily life. We learn that the Dutch saw themselves as the new Israelites who escaped the Hapsburgs (“Egyptians”); parted the waters (not of the Red Sea, but of the North Sea–with dikes); enjoyed domesticity; indulged their children, and felt a teensy bit guilty about wealth and the enjoyment of alcohol and food.
5. The History of the Low Countries by Paul Arblaster. Despite surveying nearly 2000 years, Arblaster does not do “equal coverage”. Despite the admirable brevity, Arblaster focuses on the most critical times, providing a nuanced view of the evolution of the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg from their shared beginnings to becoming very distinct nations.
With our daughter Susie, who is visiting for a week, we took a 50 minute train ride from Amsterdam to Den Haag. We visited three spots:
1. The Gemeente Museum (Obama had been there the day before talking about the Nuclear Safety Issues!) Due to the renovations of the more popular Mauritshaus Museum, the Gemeente had received 100 of this museum’s famous paintings. Two of our favorites…
a. Rembrandt van Rijn – The anatomy lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp
b. Johannes Vermeer – View of Delft
2. Madurodam A huge miniature village which reminded us of legoland except the materials were realistic. A whole outside area was dedicated to Holland’s buildings, streets, canals, you name it… Schipohl Airport even in miniature.
Susie and a Model of The Rijksmuseum
3. Escher in Het Paleis A museum which houses two floors of M.C. Escher’s works in Queen Emma of the Netherland’s winter palace.
What’s a Hofje?
A hofje is a courtyard of homes built by the wealthy to house the poor, the old, the orphans or the widows. They are hidden from the streets behind a canal house door. Once you open a door to a hofje, there is a lush green courtyard inside of peace and quiet.
Hofjes of the Jordaan
1. The Van Brienen Hofje (89 Prinsengracht) is our next door neighbor. A Dutch Baron in the 1700s got himself locked in his own strong room (bank vault). He freaked out and pleaded to God that if he ever got out of this mess he would build a hofje for young catholic couples. In 1797, he bought an old brewery and built this hofje. 2. The Hofje of the Sun “Zonshofje” (159 Pinsengracht) is really close to us too. Before it was a hofje it was a secret, hidden church belonging to the mennonites. In 1755 the church was reconstructed as an orphanage and a hofje for older ladies. 3. The Karthuizer Hofje (Karthuizersstraat 21-131) is the biggest hofje in all of Amsterdam! It opened its doors in 1651 for 110 women some of whom had children. 4. The Claes Claesz Hofje ((Egelantiersgracht 26) is one of two Hofjes on Egelantiersgracht. It was established for older people and built in the mid 1600s. 5. The St. Andrew Hofje (Egelantiersgracht 137-145) is the other more know one on this street. It is the second oldest in Amsterdam finished in 1617.
The Karthuizer Hofje
Emmy likes her “omafiets”. It’s by Gazelle, a large Dutch bike manufacturer. It’s called “Ambiance” and has 7 gears, so it is much more advanced than a classic omafiets, which is a black single speed coaster-brake bike. By the way, “omafiets” means grandma’s bike, which is not applicable to Emmy, as yet.
Lewis brought his gear-head folding bike. It’s a Bike Friday Tikit, the like of which has not been seen in Amsterdam. They have Brompton’s, but no Bike Fridays. No one knows how cool he is… (maybe that’s because–you know). To look a little more Dutch, he added a milk crate to the back.
Rental bike shops are all over Amsterdam. Instead of renting a bike for the two months we are here, Emmy decided to buy a used bike at a bike shop just one street over from Vondelpark.
We flew in directly from Seattle, departing mid-afternoon and arriving bright and early in the morning. The morning was that; we were not–having not achieved the necessary state of pre-departure exhaustion or inebriation to sleep enroute.
Taking the canal tour is a great orientation to Amsterdam and demands neither effort nor thought. We had been to Amsterdam last year and wanted to see something new. So, we went to the Nemo Science Museum along with hundreds of Dutch families and their happy, cute, very indulged children.
The museum has typically Dutch progressive view of personal education for children.
Emmy’s Packing List for Amsterdam
- I bought my toiletries when I got there
- Working with Celsius instead of Fahrenheit: 30 is hot, 20 is nice, 10 is cold, 0 is ice. To get to F take the C and double it and then add 30… you’re really close…subtract 3 to get more accurate.
- I Used lite nylon packing bags for different clothing categories. For example, all my T-shirts went in one bag. I rolled them instead of folded them. They kept better.
- I xeroxed all my credit and debit cards, front and back along with my drivers license and passport. This turned out to be a Godsend when my wallet was pickpocketed on the tram.
- 4 sweaters
- 4 day shirts
- 4 evening shirts
- 4 athletic/free t-shirts
- 2 running pants
- 2 running bras
- 2 pairs of running socks
- 4 pairs of day pants
- 2 pairs of evening pants
- 1 dress
- One really nice evening outfit
- 1 skirt
- Black boots, brown kicker boots, running sneakers, black flats, black evening heels
- Two Raincoats, one long and one short
- White down jacket
- 10 pairs of underwear
- 2 bras, one dress slip, one skirt slip
- 6 pairs of socks
- 2 pairs of tights, leggings
- PJs… lite night gown, flannel pjs
- Baseball hat, winter hat
- Running/biking gloves
- Travel size toiletries for the first few days
- Contact lens stuff and prescription glasses
- Reading glasses, sunglasses
- Make up
- Scissors, tape
- Electronics and necessary chargers: iPad, camera, iphone, converters, mini ipod for running, earbuds.
- Laptop and charger
- Reading: 1. Paper books 2. Guidebooks and map 3. Download e versions to iPad
- Important Documents. Passport, flight times, wallet with credit cards and cash
- Yellow Backpack.
- Small purse
- Compact-able duffle bag
- Small blanket for meditating
Things to Buy in Amsterdam
- Blow dryer
- Flat iron
- Yoga mat