Braking in Amsterdam

IMG_0357We got back from Amsterdam the other night. Vacation over. We had such a wonderful and interesting time…loved the city, its canals, its houses, its houseboats, its cyclists…(In the first photo, you can see the floating…well, at one time it was…flower market, on the right.)

We walked everywhere. And when we got super tired, we hopped on a tram, if possible. If not, we’d rest for a while, then keep walking. But, I admit, walking and walking and walking got to be a bit tiring…IMG_0064

And so, after watching almost every single inhabitant of Amsterdam whiz around on bicycles (I mean, they are EVERYWHERE…there are even traffic lights for bikes, see photos), and figuring it would be easier and faster for us to get from place to place on a bike, we decided we’d follow suit. Two days after we arrived, we rented a couple of bikes at our hotel…but it was not meant to be…

We went outside the hotel to unlock our bikes and get on our way. Stefano got his bike ready before I had done fiddling with mine, walked it over to me and asked: “Hey, does your bike have any brakes? Mine doesn’t.” IMG_0084Sure enough, there were no brake levers on my handlebars. 

I later learned that most Amsterdam bikes work on the brake PEDAL system. That is, if you want to brake, you have to back pedal.

IMG_0044Now, since Stefano and I have always used the hand-braking system, we weren’t about to begin braking with our FEET for the first time in our lives in a city chock full of canals. I could just picture one of us or, horror, both of us sailing straight into a canal. Splash! Nope, forget it.

So we never rode a bike in Amsterdam. Not on this trip, anyway. However, I would like to add a note of appreciation for all Dutch cyclists. From that moment on I watched and admired HOW they braked. IMG_0999Hats off!

IMG_0595By the way, we could have rented what I consider to be a “normal” bike with handlebar brakes. But in the end we decided against it. Main reason: Stefano wouldn’t have had his camera handy at all times, and by the time he’d manage to stop the bike and whip his camera out of his backpack, any photo op would have probably vanished. Biking and taking good photos don’t really go together.IMG_0425

And so we walked. And walked and walked. Judging from the map that tracked our photo-taking, we walked along every single canal in Amsterdam, on both sides, from Singel to Amstel, and all the canals in between (Princengracht, Herengracht and Keisersgracht are the main ones, plus all the minor ones, too!) from start to end…and often back again several times.

IMG_1005We were in Amsterdam on the day (Monday June 23) of the Holland-Chile soccer match (is anybody else watching the World Cup?). I really REALLY wanted to watch the game in one of Amsterdam’s big squares, surrounded by Dutch fans…so we went to Rembrandtplein. The square was packed with orange-clad fans both inside and outside the bars, most of which had TV screens. At the beginning of the second half of the game, Stefano and I finally managed to find a couple of seats outside a bar…and had a decent view of the rest of the game. I was very excited, and my camera was turned on and ready to shoot.

IMG_1013After Holland scored its first goal, all the Dutch fans around us jumped to their feet, clapping and cheering. I took a few photographs, but they didn’t come out as well as I would have wished, as you can see. And then, toward the end of the game, the Dutch team scored its second goal. Well, let me tell you, the square went absolutely wild with joy–everyone was jumping up and down…lots of clapping and cheering and hugging. So exciting. And glorious. And, for us, a historic moment (= our first time watching a game in a public square…). IMG_0710

And just as I was ready to take my exciting, glorious, historic photos, a message appeared on my camera screen:

“Change the battery pack.”


So I didn’t even get ONE lousy photo. Not one. By the time I’d changed the blooming battery, things had quieted down.

This would never have happened to Art Wolfe… 😉

IMG_1056But then, later on, on our way back to the hotel, we heard loud and joyous singing as we approached one of the main canals. And there was my photo opportunity: a boat filled with young Dutch fans waving their arms and singing their hearts out. 🙂

We did all the touristy things in Amsterdam. Taking advantage of our three-day “I amsterdam card,” we visited many museums (Goya, Rembrant’s house, the National Museum (not for free, but there was a 25% discount), the Amsterdam Tulip museum, the houseboat museum, the Museum Van Loon, Our Lord in the Attic, and…oh a few others… IMG_0098

Of course, we also visited the Anne Frank House, which  however is not part of the “I amsterdam” deal. Word of advice: try to get online tickets for the Anne Frank House, or you might end up spending 1.5-2 hours in a queue, like we did. IMG_0889By the time we saw the seemingly endless queue and  thought of buying tickets online, there were none left…even for the following day. So we stayed in line. It was worth it, though, of course.

That’s about it. I can’t think of anything else at the moment…

Bellissima Amsterdam!!!

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