Tag Archives: bicycles

welcome to amsterdam: land of low-key

After my quick jaunt of londontown, I hopped on a quick flight (quickest flight ever.  $55usd got me there in less than an hour on easyjet.com, compared to a 3 hour train ride for 180 euros. That’s a head scratcher) to Amsterdam to see my great friends sam & jenna.

I really didn’t know what to expect from Amsterdam.  Depending on who you’re talking to, it’s either a cultural icon that has produced 2 separate generations of groundbreaking visionary painters, as well as generations upon generations’ worth of knowledge and expertise on the topic of water engineering (seriously, the dutch were called upon by new Orleans for help to set up a better system after katrina.  Venice has also been ringing them in recent years for help with how to save their city), and a general sense of incredible business efficiency orrrrrr… they are a haven for those who are prone to all manner of sinful vice, like legal prostitution or legal marijuana, and just a general attitude of apathy toward how someone wants to live their life, making it perfect for someone who wants to pursue somewhat questionable moral behavior.

And there’s also the canals.  And the bicycles.  We’ll get to those in a minute.

My plane landed almost before I could even get comfortable on the flight.  I had zero chance to write (which is why there was a good week or so of silence on the blog. Sorry fans – all 3 of you who read this, including my mom and dad).  I breezed through customs and waiting right in the sunlight were my friends sam & jenna, looking just as fashionable as they always do.  Jenna with a sweet smile and a big hug waiting, and sam with a wry grin that almost makes you think he knows something he’s not telling you.  It had been almost 2 years to the day since they left Denver in a whirl, leaving almost before anyone had noticed when sam had jumped at a chance to work in Europe. They handed me a metro card and we hopped on a train.

i amsterdam I met jenna in my orientation group in college.  We went to a very small private Christian university in Arkansas called john brown university, and their orientation was obnoxiously like summer camp for church youth groups all across the US.  Don’t get me wrong, I really did enjoy the weird relay race games that included hula hoops and potato sacks and team cheers, but I also really wanted to think that I had finally broken free from my childhood and was now a “man,” and men don’t play childish games.  I also really wanted to look cool for the new college chicks I was meeting, and a “man” couldn’t possibly be bothered with such silly games.  I had a lot to learn.

Anyway, jenna and one other girl named Emily were the only cool people I really identified with in my orientation group, and we would remain acquaintances for awhile until a year later when sam would arrive, sweeping jenna off her feet and simultaneously removing a preciously sought commodity from the jbu dating scene.  Sam and I became fast friends when, according to multiple sources, I was apparently a bit of an intimidating character for all the RA’s at the jbu dorms, and the only person who was a regular “prayer request” item without an actual reason.  I guess I was a bit of a dick in those days.  Except sam got it.  From day one.  I was a caricature.  My behavior was a filtering mechanism for who I should and shouldn’t spend time on/with, and sam never batted an eye.  He could always reply with a quick retort, usually faster than I could even think what my next quip would be.  He’s probably better at the game than I am. Anyway, he was never intimidated by me and we got along famously, always on the same intramural sports teams, always down to sit around and shoot the shit.  Sam’s “in tune” and so is jenna.

Sam and jenna both have very strong business minds and would continually bail me out of anything that involved an accounting or finance exam or project, while I could usually be counted on to show up for a presentation of some sort and rock it with nearly no preparation.  I’m not sure if I should be bragging about that.

Sam & jenna were also two of the people who really helped me get thru some of my tough times when I moved to Denver and things didn’t really pan out for me the way I had hoped.  We played for a couple years on a competitive volleyball team (along with another close friend, leah) that would really be a therapeutic outlet for me.

They also have one of those really balanced relationships where both parties truly seek out the other, both challenging and helping in ways that just wouldn’t be possible for one to be as great without its counterpart. Suffice it to say that they truly are incredible people and I could never say enough about how I look up to them.

Anyway, sorry, you want to hear about Amsterdam, not some sappy love affair among two jerks living out a daily romantic fantasy in Europe.

We wasted no time at all.  As we pulled away on the metro, I noticed a tri-level parking structure thingy for thousands – literally thousands – of bicycles.  I’ve never seen so many in my life.  Until the tram pulled into sam and jenna’s neighborhood.  I stepped off the train and immediately almost lost my life to a gaggle of ruthless bicyclists barreling their way down the street to some life-or-death situation which I’m sure demanded their ability to run anyone off the road in their pursuit of whatever crime they were trying to stop or baby they needed to save from a burning house.  I quickly forgave them with a few choice phrases under my breath and followed my friends to their place.

The modest apartment boasts a fantastic top level view over a beautiful canal intersection with a nice hotel across the street with a patio across the way, providing a scenic backdrop that one might only see in dreams if they never ventured out.  I really didn’t have time to enjoy the view, however, as sam tossed me a set of keys to the apartment and beckoned me come follow him and the wife to go see my wheels for the next couple days.  We hopped on bikes and headed out

sam & jenna didn’t let me become intimidated by the biking system in the dam, they simply forced me into it immediately.  Luckily I had them to follow around, because I was a little on sensory overload trying to figure out when to go, when to stop, who had the right of way, when to watch for a train, when to watch for pedestrians, when to not ride straight into a canal (well, you should probably avoid that at all times, really).

But seriously, I think this is something that people are unaware of.  I knew people rode bikes here, but I didn’t realize how dominant it is as a transport system.  EVERYONE bikes here.  It’s inspiring.  Even bike city havens like Portland, Denver, and others in the US can’t even come close to how heavily adopted the dutch are into the biking culture.  And none of the bikes are these flashy contraptions for show that might show off in some fashion.  the bikes in Amsterdam are mainly for function, lest it gets stolen or someone accidentally kicks it into a canal, there’s no pragmatic reason to spend a boatload of cash on a bike so people just keep it straightforward.  in fact, if there’s a word i’d choose to describe the dutch in my experience, it’s just that:  pragmatic.

We arrived at a tiny cocktail bar that only fit a max of 12 (my estimate) people and had been in the family for over 7 or 8 generations called “the doctor” (or T’doktor, locally)  Seriously, this place is awesome.  I have no pictures of this place, you’ll just have to take my word for it.  Great cocktails, and the guy who runs it is this old man who is retired and does it for fun.  He makes time to talk to his local patrons, so when sam and jenna arrived, he came over to chat for about 5 minutes before shuffling on to his other guests.  We then headed over to some pizza place for a pie and some beers, and then eventually also went to “Winkel 43” (which just means “store 43.”  remember what i said about pragmatism?)  for some delectable apple pie, as jenna knows I never say “no” to dessert.

On our way home, the night air was crisp but not cold as we glided thru it, around tight turns down narrow cobblestone streets and up arched bridges over reflective canals, bouncing the moon’s light off the water and back up onto the old buildings around us.  Just before we reached the apartment, I had a sudden pronounced inkling that I was really going to like this place.


this week for your musical arrangement, we have an obvious selection from Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy’s new side project with his son on drums, “Tweedy.”   i love this song, and the recently produced music video directed by nick offerman is both quirky and hilarious.  listen to this whole album, it is excellent.  aptly titled “low key” for this blog post (okay, it’s the other way around), enjoy…