Bless the English for trying to save a life by painting directional advice on roadways. “Look RIGHT” is suggested before crossing one street of traffic or “look LEFT” as the case may be. Foreigners, like me, appreciate the effort. But in the Netherlands it is another story entirely.
“Be Careful,”was the last thing our cab driver told us as he sped away from our Amsterdam hotel after dropping us there from the airport. His reference did not refer to the pick pockets frequenting the ‘Red Light District’ although he did urge caution there as well. No, he was talking about the death defying perils facing pedestrians. It is a tortuous effort to walk here. You must repeatedly look both ways causing severe neck problems for some I am sure before even attempting to move across a canal or street. Narrow roads, made even smaller with side parking, are choked with automobiles and streetcars. But, most threatening, is a slimmer lane abutting the main one reserved solely for cyclists. It is a terrifying and unrelenting mix of movement. Man versus metal. With cyclists as the alpha dogs.
Here, cyclists, motorized and otherwise, seem militantly committed to lording over the rest of us their perceived right to rule the roads. They move at cracking speed with faces set in uncompromising fierceness. “They just go through the lights, so you have to be careful,” our cabbie had warned.
After a few close calls my husband and I heeded our cabbie’s advice and were very careful, always expecting a biker to barrel by without even ringing his bell. I stand corrected. One middle aged cyclist did provide audible warning, without breaking pace of course, on his way to what I can only assume was an emergency organ delivery to a needy relative.
Friends we had dinner with one night at MOMO’S, one of Amsterdam’s most fashionable eateries, laughed when we described the shocking state of pedestrian travel there. “All of of our friends say that,” they laughed.
Speaking of the food. It was fabulous. One day ( maybe two or three) we had a rich and delicious double expresso and home made apple strudel, with lashings of whipped cream. Honestly, it was the best I had ever had. One dinner saw us at a lovely spot served by the charming owner and his daughter. The chef was the man’s son who prepared a knock out meal finished off with homemade iced Limoncello and a chance meeting with a Bostonian-GO PATS !
Anxiety, bordering on PTS (post traumatic stress), was one unwelcome souvenir from this trip abroad and the threat I felt about traffic terrorists there has followed me to London. It is taking me longer and longer to feel confident crossing roadways -always anticipating a rogue rider darting into traffic and perhaps into me. But forewarned is forearmed. So despite all the pedestrian perils I would go back to Amsterdam in a second. The city is beautiful. So is the art and architecture. It is a civilized, progressive and interesting place. A great European destination.
Looking back now from the safety of our flat high above the traffic snarls, I think maybe in the Netherland’s cyclists provide “sport” for those inhabitants who don’t fancy its profoundly talented soccer team. I don’t know how many people are actually hit by bikers in Amsterdam, but the number of unwary tourists there has to be dwindling. The only consolation for pedestrians is that many cyclists do get their just desserts, eventually. “People are always stealing bikes here,” said our learned cabbie. “But if someone steals your bike, you just steal someone else’s,” he laughed. “No one is riding their own bike here.”