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Van Gogh, the canals, and the red light district spring to mind when one thinks of Amsterdam. However, if you were asked what you bump into with every step in the Dutch capital you would not need to be given any clues. An environmentally-friendly, healthy and fun means of transport: the bicycle.
When you arrive in the city and leave the central station, among the trams and pedestrians that are entering and leaving, you will suddenly see cyclists crossing the streets, riding down to the centre, or looking for a free space in the incredible several-storey bicycle park next to the station.
In Amsterdam, the bicycle is part of everyday life and not just a way of doing exercise. In the streets of the capital it is very common to come across executives pedalling along, challenging their suits to wrinkle, or fathers with their young children in trailers attached to their bicycles. The moderate climate, the capital’s short distances and the flat streets make this old two-wheeled vehicle an extremely practical and functional way to get around.
Use of the bike in Holland is not a recent trend as it is elsewhere in modern and environmentally-aware Europe, but rather dates back to the nineteenth-century origins of this means of transport. Back in the nineteen-sixties, the capital’s radical Provo counterculture movement filled the streets with countless white bicycles that could be taken and left at will. It was a rather anarchic system, yet very typical of the movement’s way of thinking and acting. Later, in 1978, the city council realised that a large network of bicycle tracks could solve frequent traffic hold-ups.
Furthermore, the city centre had been built in the seventeenth century with only pedestrians in mind. The narrow streets and canals left little space for cars to move around and even less in which to park them.
Amsterdam therefore has all the necessary conditions required by a world bicycle capital, enjoys low pollution levels, and has an eternally easygoing attitude.
Reds, greens, leopard skin patterns, children’s decoration, a cart on the front or a trailer on the back, coloured baskets, artificial plants rolled up on the handlebars, or Christmas lights and reindeer ears are just a few examples of what you might come across in Amsterdam.
Specialised shops here sell accessories you did not even know existed so you can tune your boring old bicycle if necessary. And if you are an expert at riding up mountain passes, then hire a tourist bike and enjoy yourself, because you will be fascinated by the Amsterdam plain.
Oh, one piece of advice! Cyclists ride like mad round the city, cross bridges, change directions at the most unexpected times, or sneak through narrow thoroughfares. Be very careful, because two wheels can be rather dangerous for pedestrians or cyclists without their wits about them.
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Felix Meritis Huis (22)
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