How To Lose Yourself (and Bike) In Amsterdam Part 1
There are a few things you can rely on when it comes to The Netherlands:
- You will inevitably find a great pancake and/or apple pie.
- Your chances of 'death by bicycle' significantly increase as soon as you set foot in the country.
- If a sign says ‘don’t park your bike here’, then you probably shouldn’t. If said sign is written in Dutch and you can't read Dutch, perhaps you should probably just ask someone.
- If your bicycle has been impounded by the city for parking infringements, after retrieving said bicycle in an adrenalin infused race against time with a wild exhilarated look in your eye and inappropriate attire, the Dutch may well in an act of extreme kindness, offer you a jacket to cover your bare arms even though you’ve never met.
In all of my travels I’ve never encountered so many selfless acts of kindness from individual people in one place, and in such close proximity, as I have in The Netherlands. It is truly a testament to the generous and accommodating nature of the Dutch, but they won’t hear of it of course. Modest to boot.
In the harrowing tale of one individual rising up against the odds, the Dutch, in their kind and selfless spirit, aid the heroine in her quest and (spoiler) see her eventual success. I call this story:
‘How I loved, lost and retrieved my friend’s bikes from the Fietsdepot while gallivanting in Amsterdam’
I guess this story beings with tulips. It was after all the reason that I decided to make an impromptu trip to Amsterdam after only a few short days of contemplation. The tulips only bloom for eight weeks a year in the Keukenhof gardens and as a lover of all things pretty, I’d been aching to see a garden full of the vibrantly coloured flowers since my first unsuccessful expedition to locate them two years ago. Looking back I can see the greatest flaw in that plan was looking for tulips during the summertime. Amateur mistake. I’d since learned that spring was the best (read: only) time to see them and when I realised that my window of opportunity was ever so quickly closing, I decided to slid right under it with some cabin baggage in tow and make my way to the ‘Venice of the North’.
A Great Start…
I was greeted warmly by my Dutch friend Anouk at the airport who (in true Dutch style) was far too forgiving of my innately inaccurate sense of direction that saw her traipse all over the airport looking for me. We spent the first day cycling around the city and indulging in delicious local fare and wine in some cafes and bars that make the Dutch word ‘gezellig’ really ring true.
And so it begins…
After my brief re-acquaintance with cycling I considered myself completely capable of spending the next day riding around the city solo while Anouk slaved away at the office.
10.43 am - It's a liberating feeling cycling with the fresh morning wind whipping through your hair and little to no concept of where you are, and not really caring either. I ride the bike into a park full of joggers and other cyclists with greenery encasing me from all angles. Only the birds early chirping breaks the sound of bike wheels and pounding feet on the pavement. I can’t help but be impressed with myself for a successful start to the day.
11.13 am - I continue riding right through to the city until I reach some familiar streets. I give myself an undeserving mental clap on the back for finding my way without google maps or even the maps I have tucked in my handbag, even though I know it’s by pure luck that I didn’t end up in a different city/country.
11.23pm - I park the bike, careful to chain it up good and proper, as bikes have a tendency of going missing in this country (oh the irony…). I wander along the canals observing the unique rooftop facades of the buildings and looking out for somewhere to get a late breakfast. I have pancakes on the brain.
11.41am - Spotted: The Pancake Bakery. With the self-proclaimed ‘Best Pancakes in Amsterdam’ and a menu that goes on for days, I step inside the welcoming den and say the all embarrassing words ‘Yes, a table for one thanks’. I’m taken to a table for six and seated by myself. With more than 75 different types of pancakes, I’m overwhelmed for choice…for about a minute. Dutch poffertjes with warm cherries and whipped cream? Don’t mind if I do. A lone English traveller takes up residency at my table. He’s not much of a talker…and he orders eggs. I’m not sure we’d have gotten along too well anyway.
12.24 am - I exit the restaurant and allow my eyes free rein and walk on towards whatever draws their attention with only a vague idea of where I am in the greater sense. I drift through a Tulip store selling all things Tulip related. I resist purchasing a mug. A store selling unique whimsical pieces for the home pulls me in. I try to assess whether I can justify 40 euros for a vintage coffee grinder that seems to have been made in the 50s. Then I consider the process of attaching the grinder to a wall, purchasing coffee beans and spinning the gadget by hand to produce ground coffee. Packet coffee is fine.
12.47pm - I slip down some quieter streets and discover some second hand stores. These streets are lined with mouth-watering bakeries producing sweet scents that fill the brisk outdoor air, bustling cafes with locals lunching and one tourist gawking at the sight of it all. Guilty.
1.37pm - The rain starts to fall awakening the sleeping canals and soaking through my winter jacket. I take refuge in a nearby cafe'. I let the heat of my coffee cup warm my hands and the tasty liquid reinvigorate my body while I take some time to dry and plan my next move.
1.52pm - Seems like museum weather. With Amsterdam's plentiful art collections, capable of making any art lovers heart a flutter, I decide I’ll head in that direction. In a minute.
2.34pm - I have a quick look at a map in the café. But I’ve done fairly well so far on my own, so I decide to ride off in the general direction and work it out as I go along. It’s only about a five-minute trip and it’s only drizzling. It seems like a simple enough concept.
2.46pm - I unchain the bike, hop on and start pedalling.
3.05pm - Thoroughly soaked through and after several mental repetitions of ‘I swear I rode passed that building already…’ I’m still sans the sight of stunning artworks. I’m starting to recognise that my earlier successful endeavours were purely strokes of luck, consecutive strokes, but luck nonetheless. I question myself of how I can consistently forget that I have a reliably unreliable sense of direction.
3.09pm - I look up and see a sign. Not a metaphorical sign but an actual physical sign with names of places and accompanying arrows and a far better reputation for getting people headed in the right direction than I can boast. Amsterdam actually has excellent signage. I figure that if I follow the signs that say ‘museum centrum’ (which my brilliant mind carefully deduces might mean ‘museum centre), then I may actually find the museums.
3.12pm - Amazing. I stand before the glorious ‘IAMSTERDAM’ sign protruding from the ground directly in front of the Rijksmuseum. Nothing has ever seemed so beautiful nor so inviting.
3.15pm - I decide to try to enter the Van Gogh Museum with Anouk’s roommates museum card. The museumkaart gives you free entry to all the museums in Amsterdam. Oh and there’s a separate line for museumkaarts! Bonus! I can skip the queue.
3.16pm - The attendant inspects the card and tells me that I need to fill in my date of birth before I can enter. Sure…I’ll be right back.
3.22pm - I line up to enter the Rijksmuseum. The attendant scans my card and I gleefully enter and proceed towards some spectacular works of art.
4.20pm - I walk slowly through the museum observing the artworks. I slip in with the crowd touring the museum in front of Rembrandt's “The Watchmen” and try to catch some of the information. The tour group is Dutch. Damn.
4.45pm - The museum starts to close, so I make my way out taking with me some mental pictures (and physical ones) and a substantial amount of envy brewing over my inability to draw even the simplest of sketches.
5.00pm - I step into the gift shop while I consider my next move. It’s still raining and I need to meet Anouk for dinner in the evening but she’s still working and not due to reach the centre for a few more hours. With my sporadic wifi and earlier minor directional challenge, I decide it’s a good idea to look up where exactly where I am so that I can eventually head to the central station.
5.09pm - I look at the map.
5.11pm - The map seems to indicate that I ought to ride off in one direction when I thought I would’ve needed to head in another. But hey, maps don’t lie.
5.23pm - Perhaps I misread the map. I think maybe I was still floating on the high caused only by the happy accident of my stumbling upon a sign that led me to my destination before and just assumed it would all work out again. Whatever the reason, I've been, unknowingly, riding in the opposite direction for at least 10 minutes.
5.26pm - The rain is now falling hard and I can barely feel my fingers wrapped around the handle bars of the bike. I attempt to follow another cyclist in the hope that he is also heading to the central station (it's hard to explain where this logic came from).
5.30pm - I accept that I am lost. My clothes are soaked right through, I am freezing, sore and in desperate need of a map and a red wine.
5.35pm - I find a pub and feel the comforting warmth hit me on my way in. I sit down and order my wine while I hook into the wifi and load up google maps.
6.30pm- My jacket is still wet and so is my jumper. I’m starting to think that maybe I should’ve just asked for directions earlier. But no, I remind myself, this is all part of the experience and every experience is a worthy one. No regrets, none, not one…
I am so cold.
6.34pm - I looked at a map again and study it carefully (well…).
6.39pm - I wipe the seat of the bike with some napkins I took from the bar and I set off again.
6.42pm - I’m fairly certain that I’m going in the right direction but previous experience has taught me that this is not an assumption someone like myself, with a faulty internal compass, should trust. I swallow my pride and ask a fellow cyclist for confirmation. She assures me that I am in fact heading in the right direction and advises me to keep riding straight until I can ride no longer.
6.52pm - Incredible. It’s funny how quickly you can arrive at your destination when you don't take the scenic route. The site of Central Station and the countless bikes parked around it appear before me. It is such a welcome view. I stand facing it waiting for the bike lights to change so I can cross. I’m dripping wet and smiling ecstatically. I can’t be sure whether it’s rain or tears of joy streaking down my cheeks but either way I brush the water from my eyes and eagerly take the bike over to join its brothers and sisters parked nearby.
7pm - Now this is quite a dilemma. There seems to be a proper parking lot for bikes. It’s almost full but there are a few spaces free. It looks so official that I question whether you need a special permit to park there (even writing those words I can feel my own stupidity slapping me in the face). I spot some bikes chained up to the railing around the bridge (I’d like to make clear at this point that I was still very cold, exhausted, hungry and desperate to find somewhere dry and warm to rest my wretched body before Anouk arrived from the train. It's entirely likely that delusion had set in and therefore I can hardly be held accountable for my following actions).
7.04pm - I chain the bike to the bridge railing. I have a slight niggling feeling about it (okay, maybe I can be held accountable). But I quickly shove that to the back of my mind with the mantra that ‘everybody else is doing it, surely it’s fine’. (*Important lesson to note* Just because everybody else is doing it, does not mean that it’s fine. It certainly does not mean that there will be no repercussions for your potential law breaking antics)
7.20 pm - I find a hotel bar near the station and I wait for Anouk with another coffee.
8.15pm - I meet Anouk at the tram and we take it to her friend's apartment.
8.30pm - I’m warmly welcomed with wine and a homemade feast and in an effort to accommodate me, English becomes the primary language of the evening.
10.35pm - Tiredness is setting in for us both. We decide to train home and retrieve the bike the following evening.
Before We Knew…The Next Day
1pm - I spend the day in The Hague. While Anouk works, I wander around the streets and look at artworks at the Gemeentemuseum.
6pm - It’s raining heavily again. We decide to go to the beach and eat tapas and drink wine at one of the restaurants along the shore with a tabletop fire perfect for reheating our wet clothes. Afterwards we go to some bars for a beer.
12.30am - We take a train and head back towards Amsterdam Central Station where we intend to pick up the bike and ride home.
1.04am - We arrive at Amsterdam Central. I walk us over to where I had parked the bike. The conversation follows as such:
Anouk: “Where did you park the bike?”
Me: “Ummm…it was right here. Look I even took a picture! (shows picture of bike parked in exact spot that it no longer is). It was right here, I swear!”
Anouk: “But Lara, that sign says you’re not allowed to park the bike on the bridge (points to sign written in Dutch)”
Me: “Anouk, I can’t read Dutch”
Anouk: “...So…you parked it there?”
Me (panicking): "There were so many other bikes here before! (Looks around. No other bikes are on the bridge). Okay, okay. I am so sorry about this but don’t even worry, I am going to fix this. I will find your bike, or buy you a new one but you will have a bike! I promise”
Continue to Part 2