Biking in Amsterdam

AMSTERDAM — Jasmin, Jana and I spent three days in the “biking capital of the world.” Yes, if you’ve been to the top destination of The Netherlands, you’ll notice that everyone is riding a two-wheeled, human-powered vehicle.

“Amsterdam is the most bicycle-friendly capital city in the world,” says Wikipedia. “In Amsterdam, over 60% of trips are made by bike in the inner city and 40% of trips are made by bike overall in the greater city area.”

Would you believe that six out of every 10 trips that the Amsterdammers take are not on jeepneys (just kidding, they have trams and buses) but via the bicycle.

Amsterdam is not large. The population is one million and, all over the side streets and near the canals (it is home to over one hundred kilometers of canals), you see bicycles parked everywhere.

Here’s the interesting part: their bicycles are ugly. Pardon the word but they pay no attention to the looks of their bikes. The more “taya” (rusty), the better. The reason is because they park their bikes anywhere and they can easily be stolen. Thus, they opt for dirty, old and rotten bikes.

During our stay here, we did the traditional visits to their famous sights. The Van Gogh Museum is amazing. One of the great painters of all time, the Dutch artist has on display hundreds of art works. It’s a must-visit in this city. The canal cruise is another worthwhile trek. We also sat alongside the locals listening to classical Mozart music performed by the orchestra at the famous Concertgebouw

At the Vondelpark, the largest park in Amsterdam, Jasmin and I ran seven kilometers. It’s a beautiful and refreshing open space filled with gardens, ponds and grass fields. You see so many into sports: football, jogging, cycling, roller-blading. (A not-so-funny sight that proliferates this city and the park? Coffee-inhaling people. By “coffee,” I don’t mean Starbucks aroma but marijuana. Yes, smoking pot is legal in Amsterdam — same with prostitution — and you see “coffee shops” everywhere.)

On running, thousands and thousands here run. I recall, back in October 2009, our closest buddies joining the Amsterdam Marathon. Doctors Albert Santos and Vic Verallo were joined by Meyrick “Jacs” Jacalan and the Ong siblings, Jane-Jane, Andrew and Nica, in finishing the Amsterdam Marathon. Perl Jacalan did the 21K.

Back to our three-day trek here, the activity that we enjoyed most was the four-hour Biking Tour. We enlisted in Mike’s Bike Tours and, among the choices that included a City Tour, we enrolled in the Countryside Tour.

Starting at 11 a.m. here last Friday, we joined 30 others. After a briefing by our tour guide Vincent, we chose our individual bikes and started pedaling. Riding single-file, it’s a terrific way to explore Amsterdam. Every roadway here has a bike lane. Located between the road (for cars) and the sidewalk (for pedestrians), the clearly-marked bike pathway is that safe area for bikers.

We toured the city streets before heading towards the famous Amstel River. It’s a scenic ride. The temperature was a cool 17C degrees and we pedaled inhaling fresh air and gazing at countryside homes.

The windmill was one of our major stops. The Riekermolen Windmill, built in 1636, was huge. After posing for some photos and visiting the statue of Rembrandt, we headed off and visited the Rembrandthoeve farm. We listened to Dutch farmers explain how to make Gouda cheese and they demonstrated how to make the traditional art of making wooden shoes. Next, it was back to the bike and a lot more pedaling through, as their official website reads, “the polder landscape with it’s rectilinear ditches and dikes.” By 3 p.m., we were back to the garage to park the bikes.

My realization: Biking is good. It’s free exercise. I know our roads are narrow and there are no dedicated bike lanes. (On a positive note, I applaud the DPWH for extending the road for bikers in the climb up to Busay.)

We should bike more. Just ask the Dutch.

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