Hard Knocks In A Soft City

It’s eleven in the morning on a Saturday in early April. My main man Stan and I are traveling on bicycles towards the central area of Amsterdam. To get to the center from the western side of this expansive, rapidly growing city, we decide to go through Rembrandt and Vondel Parks. Which, like all parks in Amsterdam, cater to bicyclists and pedestrians. Indeed, when we get to the entrances of the parks, the transition is always graceful, fluid and flawless. The people of Amsterdam make everything they do look effortless.

No need to stop, no need to pick up our bicycle and put it on a sidewalk. Our mode of transportation is not only welcomed, but more so encouraged, by the entire community with open arms. The ‘Woooooosh’ sounds of other bikers flying by, the rattle of baskets and the ‘ding-ding’ of bells signify bicyclist are leaving and entering the parks in this manner at all hours of the day. It’s incredible and I adore it.

Bicycling throughout the city is king. All other forms of transportation fall below in the pecking order. There is a deep respect for this way of daily travel in the city and there are more than a few locals who get exasperated by foreigners who don’t keep in line with all the protocols. And trust me, there are specific rules and you better have your head on a swivel because bikes come at you from all directions.

The weather was absolutely gorgeous – sunny, warm, fresh and spring like. As we turned off a main street into Rembrandt Park, I immediately noticed people were out and about in the parks. Walking around, laying on the grass, picnicking on spread out blankets and sitting at cafés sipping cappuccinos and watching ducks paddle by in one of the numerous ponds.

You could feel the pure joy of all the residents as they soaked up a warm spring day in the midst of Mother Nature.

We navigated to one of the many entrances, and just as smoothly as ever, had exited and were out and about on the main thoroughfares of the city. No drama, just a blink of an eye and we’re in a different scene. This time a quaint residential neighborhood that served as our connection between the two parks.

Upon entering into Vondel Park I started pondering the unique qualities that parks in Amsterdam bring to its residents and visitors alike. Many cities create splendid, gorgeous parks, so what made Amsterdam’s particularly wonderful? Why are Stan and I so enamored with them? A palpable softness permeates the natural settings in the Netherlands; it’s a vibe thing!

Nature is quite embedded in the Dutch culture. When you are in a park here, you feel the suppleness, the yieldingness, and the sweetness. The timing of our visit happens to be during an impressive season of the year too, as tulips are in full bloom. Landscapers have created epic formats to display these flowers in a wide range of colors throughout the parks. Naturally, where there were more flowers, there were more people hanging around, sitting and passing the time with friends, family or lovers.

Before we know it, we have pedaled our way into the central historic canal area of the city. All this water is flowing through the city, adding to the tangible softness surrounding us all afternoon. We sit down for a cappuccino to rest and get in some people watching. Then we decide to change pace and head out in the direction of the outlying area of the city where the library is located.

This area feels both ancient, with Amsterdam Centraal, and modern, with the library and the NEMO Science museum. The above ground trams are flowing around here often, and their tram tracks are distinct curvy metal ruts in the pavement crisscrossing each other to accommodate various routes.

Near the grandiose Amsterdam Centraal, we cross over a set of tracks, as we have been periodically doing all day, but for some reason my wheel falls into a track at a weird angle and I find myself pitching over to the right. Yes, indeed, I flew off that bicycle and hit the ground, my right knee hitting a tram rail track HARD.Anything not fastened securely on to me ejected in all directions.

Bystanders came over and helped scoop up stuff that had been strewn about, handing them to me while checking on my overall condition. As you can imagine, I was simultaneously in pain, trying to portray like I wasn’t really and flummoxed all at once. After all, it’s not often I fall off a bike in the middle of the day with about 50 bystanders around to take in the whole spectacle.

I caught my breath and crawled over to the safer and higher ground of a sidewalk to recover a bit. Not wanting to let that taint our splendid adventure, we proceededto continue our day of exploring, this time by foot.

However, my knee was bleeding. So, we hobbled into a local restaurant, hoping they had a first aid kit to patch up my knee, and possibly wrap it in gauze. Luckily, it was the dead period between lunch and dinner meals, so we easily found three women who worked there and were tidying up the front area. Stan asked them sweetly if they could help us out with my knee, which he pointed to, and at one glance, I was ushered onto a chair and a first aid kit was quickly retrieved. Two women teamed up to play nurse, clean up the wound and bandage the knee. I just gratefully let them do their magic.

We could not believe how relaxed, caring and charming they were in my moment of need. The kindest of ladies I will not soon forget.

After relaxing by one of the many serene canals for an hour, it was time for me to getback on the horse, so to speak, and we hoped back on our bicycles and set our sights on a neat venue called Bar Bukowski. This funky, urban pub hasa famous Charles Bukowski poem on a scroll of paper coming out of an old school typewriter pinned up on the wall. After a refreshing drink, we headed back in the direction of ourhostel, ready to call it an early night. Considering we had been riding bikes for over 10 hours I think we deserved some sleep time.

When we finally made it back to the hostel, riding back through both parks no less for a truly ‘cherry on the cake’ day of cruising in them during day and night, we let the hostel manager know that the bicycle I rented from them had a bit of damage. The key that is inserted into the bike lock was snapped in half when the bicycle fell to the ground. Simply put, we could not remove it and/or fix it.

We said, “We just want you to know we broke it. It was our fault. If you want we can keep the bike, use Stan’s lock and pay for the new lock when it is time to check out.” He replied, “No problem. Let’s deal with it then. As long as you are ok, we are happy.”

Over the next few days, we ended up talking to the manager of the hostel several times and really enjoying both his demeanor and humor. On the last day we are checking out,and after the transaction is complete he hands me, with a big smile on his face, a key chain.

On the keychain is the name of the hostel, and attached is the bike lock key that had snapped in two. My parting souvenir was not only the bruising of my knee, but a broken bike lock key to hang on the wall as a constant reminder thatwhile many things are as easy as riding a bike, falling off one is just as easy.

We all had a good chuckle over this present, chatted for a bit and said our goodbyes.
Our travels in the city of Amsterdam were a successful adventure; and ironic in that I experienced an unenviable collision with a hard surface in the softest city I’ve ever explored.

By | 2017-07-15T19:55:15+00:00 June 22nd, 2017|Travel, Written articles|0 Comments

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