Oh my god the BIKES (welcome to Amsterdam)

I’ve been in Amsterdam for about a week or so, and I don’t really know that many people, so when I find myself with free time and no desire to unpack, buy practical supplies for my apartment, or clean … I bike. The weather has been absolutely perfect lately. I’m talking warm, sunny, blue skies, and cafes full of people eating outside. On Saturday, I spent several hours enjoying free wireless internet at Debaille, a cafe in Leidseplein. I left around 6pm and didn’t stop biking until about midnight. It doesn’t really even start to get dark until 9pm or so, which makes the days feel incredibly long – and when the weather is as perfect as it was on Saturday, all those daylight hours feel really great.

While I was in the center of Amsterdam today, I had my first pedestrian run-in. He stepped in front of my bike (while I was in the bike lane) and I didn’t have the time to ring my bell, so technically, I hit him. Or collided into him, if you will. I fell down and was also a bit hurt, so I said “Look before you walk next time!”, which is probably about ten times more polite than I would have been in New York (when a simple “fuck you, asshole” would have done). Everyone around me was instantly concerned about the welfare of my bike and cast disparaging looks at the sad pedestrian, who dared step foot in the bike path. It’s moments like this when I feel like I feel like all is right with the world – cyclists always win here.

I say I’m averaging about 6 hours a day on my bike. At the end of the night, I’m exhausted (which is one reason why I haven’t done nearly enough cleaning/unpacking/apartment-sorting out). Now, I’ve been riding for what feels like my entire life, and I’ve ridden in all different types of places – from the middle of nowhere to the heart of Chinatown in Manhattan. But these Amsterdam bikes are unlike anything I’ve ever ridden before. No gears and no hand brakes – to stop I push back on the pedals and also get a lot of use out of stopping myself with my feet. My hands feel like they have nothing to do! My left hand stays firmly near the bell while I’m riding through the center of the city, but once I’m outside the super-busy area… it’s so strange, but I do like it. The bikes here are simple machines. Comfortable, not built for speed or going up hills, but perfectly built for this city.

I’m leaving for Barcelona tomorrow night, just for a quick 3-day vacation to avoid the madness of Queens Day here in Amsterdam. Having never been here for Queens Day, I don’t really have any opinion of it one way or the other, but my roommate isn’t a fan and convinced me a few months ago to go out of town for the holiday. I’ve never been to Barcelona, but I have a guidebook to read from 1995, some high school Spanish skills, and a wonderful friend who will meet me at our hotel on Monday night. So I pretty much think I’m all set.


One Month in Paris – originally published on 9 April 2005

It’s my one-month anniversary of living in Paris!

Things I’ve gotten used to:

  • Not having a job
  • Becoming the least-traveled, least-cultured person in any given situation
  • Watching movies in English with French subtitles
  • Using the pedestrian crosswalks bravely, ie: walking out into traffic, 99.9% sure that they’ll stop (they always do!)
  • Staying up until 4am every day
  • Eating fresh-baked bread and going food shopping several times a week
  • Thinking in Euros rather than USD
  • Making my own coffee every day instead of buying to-go
  • Living in a small apartment (28 sq meters at most) with my boyfriend
  • Hearing French all the time, looking at advertisements in French, etc.
  • Heating up water in a kettle
  • Drinking unfiltered tap water
  • Seeing boobs on TV and magazine coversThings I haven’t gotten used to:
  • The fact that this is really my life
  • What day of the week it is on any given day
  • Not having 90% of my shoe collection here
  • The fact that the Paris streets are really, really, really not a grid at all. At all.
  • The metric system
  • Not having a good computer desk/table (we keep promising to fix that)

Things I haven’t done in (at least) a month:

  • Eat a burrito (or anything mexican-ish)
  • Use my debit card to pay for a purchase in-person
  • Lift weights
  • Ride a bike
  • Buy beer to keep at home (just wine)

Things I’ve done that I’m very happy about:

  • Had a few interactions in French that actually worked
  • Figured out my way home after the last metro closed (I had only been here a little over a week!)
  • Jogged outside on a regular basis
  • Figured out how to bypass a big section of the lines at the Louvre
  • Made a lot of incredible new friends
  • Had language exchange meetings (and more are lined up!)

Things we’ve figured out together, of which I’m oddly proud:

  • How to use a french laundromat (who knew it would be so different?)
  • How to take the RER line out of Paris into the suburbs
  • How to use the pocket streetmap books to navigate ourselves
  • How to weigh and tag produce ourselves using the machine at the grocery store

Things I’ve outright failed to figure out, of which I’m very ashamed:

  • How to set up my voice mail on my cell phone
  • How to use the weird oven-like appliance that everyone swears works like a real oven
  • How to send money to someone’s bank account through the post office (thanks, Mom)