As the wheels on my normally sturdy bike skidded to the left and right, I wondered whether my decision to cycle home in deep snow was a good idea. The numerous glasses of wine that I’d just consumed didn’t help the situation either.
My friend Alie and I had just been to see a band called Blues Motel at Café Hesp, in the east of Amsterdam. It had snowed heavily all day and the alcohol in my system gave me the courage to attempt the cycle home, a thirty minute ride to the west of the city. I made it home safely, thanks to my two-wheeled friend, which has been a reliable means of transport for me since I moved here from London over sixteen years ago.
It helps to be brave while exploring Amsterdam on two wheels. Some people say that as a tourist, you’re risking your life hiring a bike here. It took me a while to get used to the sometimes chaotic way of cycling. I needed to have three-hundred-and-sixty-degree vision, in order to avoid major biking accidents with pedestrians and near misses with trams and buses. The litany of swear words that came out my mouth during these experiences, is too rude to mention. I found cycling pretty safe though, once I discovered how things worked.
Having my own ‘chariot’ gives me freedom. I don’t have to wait for trams or taxis to take me home. Amsterdam is very compact and very suitable for biking. The only hills are the steep bridges which need strong thigh muscles and several gears, to help me scramble over them. By day, I can dash from the Maritime Museum in the east of the city, to the Anne Frank House Museum in the west or just dawdle and happily get lost in the myriad of side streets around the Jordaan area, known for its abundance of art galleries.
I love cycling home after working night shifts in Mulligans Irish Bar. I take the scenic route, away from the busy streets and along the inner-city canals, which celebrate their four-hundred-year anniversary this year. At three in the morning, Amsterdam has a different character. It’s a lot more subdued but what I love about it is the quietness. There are a few mortals walking or cycling around at that time of the night but I usually have the view of the illuminated canals to myself. With the windows of the old-style town houses and streetlamps reflected in the water, the hump-backed bridges all lit up and the sound of the bells tolling in the Westerkerk church, to me, it’s just so spellbinding.
If you’re adventurous enough to try cycling in Amsterdam, make sure you take your time, know how to stop in case of emergencies (you need to back-pedal some bikes in order to brake) and most of all have fun.