It’s that time of year again in the Northern Hemisphere: it’s cold, dark way too soon (if the sun even shows) and often rainy. To compensate, cities fill with colourful lights, decorated trees and holiday arrangements of flowers or berries. I’ve done a bit of decorating, but just the bare minimum – basically what I can get on a bicycle and up the stairs of my fourth-floor apartment. Besides, with Amsterdam’s cozy lights in its parks and public spaces, my house doesn’t require any extra glam.
December is a special time for me. It marks my anniversary (now 3 years) since moving to this magic cycle city. And while the cycle culture is status quo (and was also my main transport mode when living in Uppsala, Malmö, Lund or visiting Copenhagen) it remains a fascination, a constant photographic muse, and a pleasure which I will never take for granted.
Rain or shine, I hop on my bike: fighting wind, exhaustion, or the clock (since I always leave too late to catch a train, meet a friend, or this time of year: deciding what coat to wear, knowing I will freeze at the start of a ride and sweat by its end.) Nevertheless, it is the most real and raw form of transport to embrace the season or discover a city, especially a city as enchanting as Amsterdam. Three years and I still love cycling the old canals, through Museum Square or across brick-covered bridges. I love the safety and freedom to travel with friends or alone, as a woman day or night.
I love that on busy days when I don’t have time to exercise, I have already ridden my bicycle for at least an hour in my commute; or if I do have free time, I can justify the extra calories of a second (or third) beer with a good friend. I’ll burn it off on the bike ride home and I don’t have to worry about who will be the designated driver. I love how clean the air in Amsterdam is (well, generally.) So much so, that I distinctly notice when a car or motorcycle emits putrid exhaust around me. And I love that during rush hour I can wiz past them, plugging my nose and pointing to their foul four-wheeled exhaust machine. (Cycling snob? Yes.) With the bicycle I interact with school kids, citizens or tourists, if only for a smile or the ring of my bell when caught up in the chaos. I love that maintenance or repair is almost always less than 30 EUR and that the cycle lanes are generally safe, often segregated from car traffic and well-maintained, even the morning after a wild night full of randomness or broken glass.
I could go on… but I’m not the only one who feels this way. Here’s a great video produced by Street Films depicting Amsterdam’s cycling culture, as appreciated by many of its expats. I think it is the one thing about this fine city that we really wouldn’t trade. (That being said, I wouldn’t mind trading out the Dutch fried bar food for some healthier alternatives… at least I can burn it off on the cycle home).