Navigating this busy town of bikes, trams, trains, cars, people people everywhere, dogs, cats, loud and angry birds amid the waft of marijuana all around, takes a level of quiet aggression I forgot I had in me. Kind of like living or traveling in NYC. Just not as rude. The Dutch are peaceful kind blunt resourceful resilient strong tall folk. When I say strong, I mean STRONG. And when you live in a country where gas prices are $6.70 a gallon, more likely than not, your legs pedal you around town instead of driving a car.
It is not uncommon to see a mom or dad with two, three or even four kids strapped in some unique way to them and/or their bike as they pedal to their destination. No helmets, no care in the world except getting where they are going at lightning speed. A baby strapped to the chest in some kind of newfangled baby Bjorn thing, or in a seat in the front or the back of the bike – or both, or even with a big box-like attachment to the front wheel underneath like you are pushing a wheelbarrow, (bakfiets) but by bike. I am forever impressed with this healthy approach here in the lowlands, of getting from point A to point B on a daily basis. There is no need for a fitbit here. Counting 10,000 steps, or pedals – ha! I laugh at that. The Dutch are at 10,000 by the time they get to work in the morning. Bike lanes are not to be messed with and if you hear that very familiar sound of the “bing” the bike bell, while walking, crossing the street, stepping off the tram or bus or just coming out of the Albert Heijn with your groceries, or better yet, trying to bike like the Dutch do, GET OUT OF THE WAY, LIKE RIGHT THIS INSTANT!
Yesterday I saw a Dad with four kids attached to him and his bike in all kinds of ways laughing and chatting on their way through the city. And I see things like this all the time. Even in the pouring rain. Can you imagine an American parent doing this EVERYDAY? NEVER. Even if we had the bike lanes, the bike traffic lights, the right of way, the means, the bikes, the kids…. still, NEVER! It would be outlawed and deemed way too dangerous without enough belts, helmets, bells, etc.
So, when in Rome….and trying to assimilate without wasting time, we went to our local bike shop around the corner and asked for three bikes – used – (cause they are likely to get stolen at some point), and while we were waiting, two younger parents with two younger kids biked over – complete with helmets to pick up new locks (cause theirs are likely to be stolen too). My first thought was, Oh God, AMERICANS HERE THEY COME! No other nationality here would be caught dead with a helmet on. No pun intended there. As I slowly inched my way away from the nice safe American family to pretend I had zero in common with them, we tried different size bikes with and without handle brakes, and finally bought three used bikes – mine has a wicker basket in the front. We bought two locks each – one for the back tire and one giant one that weighs like 20 pounds (add that to my Fitbit count) and goes in between the frame and the wheel and something sturdy to lock it to. We did not buy helmets. They don’t sell them at bike shops anyway. Welcome to the real world of another world. And two weeks in, our bikes are still with us.