We have discovered that one of the best ways to get immersed in a new town or city is to walk around it with the guidance walking tour map. For Amsterdam this was no exception and it was the way we spent our first day in the city. There may be many tourist sites to see, galleries and famous buildings and so on but there is nothing better than walking around and soaking up the feel of the streets and buildings and shops and so on.
To a visitor the most obvious aspect of Amsterdam is the enormous number of bicycles. Everyone from businessmen and women to everyday work people, young and old, locals and tourists is riding a bike and bikes are chained up everywhere in every available space to every available railing or fixture. It is a total way of life and no-one is too cool to be seen riding a bike and people do not have fancy bikes or fancy clothing. Bikes are usually the “sit-up-and-beg” style, often old and battered. Cycle ways are everywhere integrated into the streetscape. The web of canals are flanked by a strip of diagonally parked cars, then a single lane for cars followed by a lane for bikes and finally a narrow footpath for pedestrians. One has to be constantly on the lookout for bikes. But due to the sheer difficulty of driving in the inner city cars are used mainly by trades and delivery people which results in a surprising quiet in the city away from the few main arteries. Even there, the ubiquity of frequent, clean and comfortable trams means that car use is kept down.
We were reliably informed by one canal cruise skipper that there are about 750,000 people in Amsterdam and 1.2 million bikes. Something like 50,000 bikes a year are pulled out of the canals and most people can expect to have a bike stolen once a year at least. That latter statistic doesn’t reflect well on Dutch respect for property though, does it. It doesn’t sound like them at all.
There was meant to be more to this post but as it is now so long since we were in Amsterdam the topic seems to have gone a bit cold so I will leave it there. Sorry about that.