Sunday, March 31, 2013

Twas the night before 30 Days of Biking - A Poem

Twas the night before 30 Days of Biking, when all through the town
The snow was a falling, the drifts did abound.
The ponchos were hung by the door with care,
In hopes that no rain would find them there.

The cyclists were nestled in bed for the night
While dreaming that they would peddle with might.
My son's helmet's ready, and so is my cap,
Now, just settle our brains for some wintery crap.

When out on the bike path there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a magnificent group of cyclists of good cheer.

They gathered from everywhere, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment they must have commit.
To the 30 days of Biking in two thousand thirteen,
They whistled, and shouted, in support of me!

"Now Commuter! now, Mother! now, Child and Father!
On, Cruiser! On, Single Speed! on, Mamafiets and Road Racer!
from the top of the porch! to the top of the hill!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So throughout the 30 days they did glide,
With the joys of their freedom, on their bicycles ride.

They rode to the mountains, to work and to school,
They made a statement together,  they yelled one and all.
That whatever you do, and wherever you glide,

You will make a difference with the smallest bike ride !

Happy 30 days of biking everyone, I can't wait to share my journey here again this year, this time from The Netherlands. Thanks for joining us, supporting us and making a difference!

P.S. no actual snow drifts here, just taking artistic license.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

30 Days Of Biking - I made the pledge.

In four short days the event of the year is set to begin, even now while you read this, people all over the globe are readying themselves with puncture repair kits and rain ponchos. The scene is set as thousands of cyclists both seasoned and novice have signed the pledge, the pledge to ride everyday in the month of April with the 30 Days of Biking challenge. I know, it's awfully exciting...but really it's just riding a bike.

The truth is every time I attempt to write about it I sound cheesy and slightly contrived, but I just love the 30 Days of Biking event! For me it was a life changer, I started the month as a person on a bike and ended as a cyclist, I felt a sense of community even when I was the lone cyclist on the road. Of course this year will be different, for a start I won't be the only cyclist on the road and I will be on a different bike, exploring different streets, but I know already I will reap rewards that will help me in the coming months.

April promises to be a high stress month for us, so initially it worried me to take on the added commitment of daily rides, but I realize it's just what I need to keep me focused and moving forward. Are you joining in on the fun this year? I hope so!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Liebster Award and more good things to come

News of good cheer has dwindled low in the last few months, not that they have been cheerless by any means, to the contrary there have been many wonderful memories made in the last 5 months but they have certainly been toned down by the ever present stress of where and when we will find a home.

I remember before we left College Place, Washington, a fellow Facebooker said she was too busy to meet as she was busy moving, I mentioned that we too were moving the following week. She went on to tell me she was moving to the opposite end of town and was finding it rather stressful. I wholeheartedly agreed, moving is stressful, very stressful.

The wonderful thing about down times is they make you enjoy the good times, it adds some prospective and spice to what would otherwise be a rather dull life. One such "good time" reached me this week in the form of a comment from a reader, informing me she had nominated me for a Liebster Award. I was unfamiliar with the award, but Meg was kind enough to write a description, which you can read about here on her blog.

Part of the idea behind the Liebster Award is you answer some questions posed to you by your nominator, and in turn you nominate other writers with the award and some questions. So here are Meg's questions and my accompanying answers:

  • What would you like to be acknowledged for? My sheer terrier like capabilities, when I make up my mind I'm a woman on a mission. 
  • What three things does the world need most, right now? Empathy from us, towards not only each other, but also to the planet itself and the other inhabitants we share it with. More bicycles. Less cars.
  • Who is someone in your life whom you feel doesn’t understand how much you love and appreciate them? What would you like to tell them? My son Jack, that little guy has no idea how much I adore him, it is simply unfathomable for a child to realize how much love a parent can bestow on them. I tell him everyday, but I think that's the easy part, showing him in actions, like trying to be a healthier example to him are much harder.
  • Honesty is always the best policy, no matter what. True or false? Why? I'm almost certain it is, but there have been times when I have wished I had lied and times when I've wished I had been honest, both with myself and others.
  • Name one woman and one man, people whom you have never met, with whom you would like to spend one day. What would you say/do/ask?  This is the hardest question so far. I guess for the woman it would have to be Ellen DeGeneres, I just think she is hilarious and I could do with a good laugh! For the man, it would be Nicolas Kristof, he is an amazing humanitarian and his work with the Half the Sky movement is brilliant.
  • What are three things on your bucket list? To really get to know my family in Australia, to go on an extended cycling holiday and to own a horse (or more!) again one day. I'm pretty low key.
  • With whom might you like to trade places for a week? I really have no idea, why is this one so difficult? I think a week is too long, I'd miss my family unless I could take them with me and then it would alter the concept of the question.
  • What is love? Love is brilliant and extraordinary, a complex set of emotions and chemicals that bind us together in ways that would be impossible without it.
  • What is truth? I think truth is something that is always adapting and evolving. Even things we consider universal truths, like gravity on earth, will change one day.
  • What does a world that works look like to you? It has bike paths, lots of gardening and parents that have the ability to stay home and raise their own children if they choose to.
  • What is one habit you would like to kick? What stops you from kicking it? Eating late in the evening, it is disruptive to my sleep and health. I haven't found a decent habit to replace it with yet. 
Thank you again to Meg for the nomination, which is the award in itself. It certainly provides writers with a chance to share their appreciation for fellow bloggers. Here's my nominations-

Family Ride I'm pretty sure Family Ride has far too many followers to meet the criteria of a Liebster Award, but that's something I'm willing to overlook if you are? It's an excellent blog from the Pacific NW, check it out!

Tiny Helmets Big Bikes Elle started her blog a few months after mine in 2012, she is pretty much a warrior woman who can do 500 miles in a month from her saddle with or without 2 kiddos attached! But more than that, Elle is a genuine human with a good deal of likeability and I'm thankful for her.

A Simple Six Another bikey mum, Stacy makes minivans look so boring, I'm sure she too has far too many followers to be officially nominated, but once again, do we really care? Stacy has a busy, busy life right now so I'm hesitant to add to her load with lots of questions, but I had to nominate her anyway- she can ignore the questions just as long as she knows how much I appreciate her blog.

That's about it from me for the day, as I'm working on a few large projects, that I hope will be of great interest to my readers. 

One involves some short interviews with cyclists who live here in Amsterdam, it seeks to uncover their opinions in regards to cycling infrastructure here and abroad. Almost everyone involved has cycled extensively in other cities and countries, like New York, Edinburgh and London.

The second project is something even more exciting in my mind, it's a video recap of how we came to be living in The Netherlands right now, it deals with the hot-topic of Immigration as it relates to our lives and he lives of tens of thousands like us. It's very low budget, a little entertaining and will hopefully answer all the little pieces of information that put a puzzle together. 

As I was sitting here writing this last paragraph, I noticed a passing cyclist stop and adjust her load of 3 toddlers in her bakfiets, she then paused a moment to look up at our building, quickly produced a camera and snapped a picture. That small series of events reminded me of two things.  Firstly, we're in The Netherlands now and I can stop admiring every single bakfiets I see, as it's getting quite exhausting. Secondly, it reminded me that we have found ourselves living in an amazing space and I should share a picture of it here. It's only a temporary home that we're basically house sitting for a short time and I sure wish we could stay, it has been an awesome experience nevertheless. 


Monday, March 25, 2013

Take a lane or make a lane?

A few days ago I shared what I considered to be the best video about bicycle infrastructure, here in the Netherlands. Having made my rounds in various cycling groups over the years, I'm familiar with the groups and individuals that would prefer we do away with separated bike paths in favour of taking the lane, but I was still taken back when a few people commented that they saw the video as a warning of what not to let happen in America. To be honest, I was more than taken aback, I was irritated.

Part of the infrastructure in the Netherlands, a parking lot for bicycles outside Amsterdam Centraal Station.

Let me first say that I see completely that common sense dictates that in certain situations, more often than not in fact, taking the lane is the key to survival on roads without bicycle lanes. However, that being said I'd still rather cycle on a segregated roadway that provides me with a "protective barrier" than share the lane with a lump of steel on wheels.

I'm not by any means as fit as I'd like to be, so for me maintaining a decent speed on a roadway is difficult at times, especially if you add a passenger, an incline and a head on wind, but I do probably represent a great deal of the population. I'm a parent and someone not in the peak of physical fitness so I could represent the young, elderly or infirm for arguments sake. To me if we want cycling to be a part of the masses daily lives, then what is wrong with building, creating and re-claiming space dedicated solely to that end. I firmly believe that if we build it, they will come and really, that's exactly what the video was saying; the Dutch built it and the people came, they fought for it, they worked for it and they created an amazing legacy that I firmly believe could be replicated throughout the world if the people want it, fight for it, work for it.

Red paved lanes on a busy street in Amsterdam.

I'm neither a statistical annalist, nor an expert by any means, I scoured the internet for reliable sources of information, I found this blog to be full of eye opening facts, which included:

Cyclists Injured per 10 million Km (source)
  • US 35
  • UK 6
  • Netherlands 1.4 

I also found this blog to be full of interesting information and would encourage you to take a look. One excerpt I must include would be the fact that you are more likely to get murdered in the United States than you are to die on a bicycle in the Netherlands.

Another attributing factor the low death rates associated with the Dutch system is highlighted in the video below, remember too that if young cyclists grow up to be drivers they are more likely to be understand the needs of cyclists. Here about 1/2 the population cycles on a daily basis and yet you are more likely to die of drowning than you are whilst cycling.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Disaster on the way to the duck park

Disaster struck today, a few times. Nothing big in the mind of an adult, but one of those days that leaves Jack in a crumpled mess of toddler-emotions.

We had been promising to take Jack to the duck park for a few days now, if the stale bread got any older we were going to get tried for animal abuse. I'd noticed it was windy as I watched passing cyclists with their heads tucked down, fighting to keep momentum, from our living room window. We exited the lift with the bikes, sorted our selves out and loaded Jack, then noticed Kyle had a flat tyre. Obviously this is no biggie in the land of bikes, so off to the local bike shop we go, we drop off the bike because we don't have tools yet and they let us know they will call us when it's finished.

The duck park is completely within walking distance, so we decide to walk there, but about halfway we get a call that the bike shop wants us to come back and look at the tyre before they go any further. So, we turn around despite complaints from jack, promising we will be right back on our way soon. It's windy and miserable anyway, and we're all realizing we needed more layers. At the bike shop we discover Kyle's rear tire has been damaged and repaired at some point with an internal patch made from a slice of old tire to cover what looks to be a 1/4" wide hole. There's nothing for it but to replace the tyre as Lars, our new bike guru, assures us we will have the same issue again and again unless its replaced.

Bidding goodbye to another 30 euro and the bicycle, we make our way off to the duck park again but by this time Jack is getting cranky and nap time is imminent. At some point in that series of events I vaguely remember hearing Jack mention he needed to pee, but we had forgotten.  We decide to head to the playground instead of the duck park, where at least he could have a run around, it's nicely sheltered from the wind and closer to home.

The park goes well, lots of giggling and running. It's a lovely playground, nestled amongst the houses, I'm amazed we ever found it. There's another little boy so Jack is following him around and giggling at jokes in Dutch, I love that kids can make friends so easily. After about 15 minutes Jack says "I need to go pee pee"....and whosh he has wet clothes! Poor little guy, he really hates to have accidents and it was totally our fault for forgetting when he warned us earlier.

Five minutes later we're at home, he's on the floor crying that he never got to see the ducks and my heart feels for him. Dry clothes, a snack, a cuddle and he's taking a nap, we'll go see those ducks tomorrow.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The best video about bicycle infrustructure in The Netherlands

Yesterday Kyle, Jack and I headed into the main shopping precinct of our town, it's a network of roads that are for walking and cycling traffic only, they interlace in a sort of web that makes them easy to navigate which makes me continue to think that the Dutch are basically practical.

If I set aside all the little differences that make cycling easier here and focus on the one main difference that is the cause of all the others, it would have to come down to practicality. Since the invention of rubber tyres the bicycle has been the most practical way of achieving movement for the masses. In comparison to the bicycle I think most other forms of transport, if not ALL other forms of transport fail because of their complexity. 

If you take practicality a step further it will lead you to make infrastructure that makes ease of movement within a community a top priority. If you combine practicality, bicycles and planning you come up with an infrastructure that makes perfect sense to humans who generally always seek to take the path of least resistance. 

In the place where the majority of humans habits are formed, the childhood home, what parent in their right mind would use a car when you can plop the child in a box bike and nip to the shop before you can reverse from your parking spot in a car? I think that point alone, at the end of the day makes it different here in the Netherlands. As that child grows it is more likely to ride a bike and here is another major factor, even if that child grows up to drive a car, it will still know what its like to be a daily cyclist and therefore be more likely to show the kind of acceptance and respect that we cyclists desire. 

After we'd walked around the shops for a little bit, we took a seat on a corner, Jack climbed brick walls and cement fountains, while Kyle and I grew more grey hairs. As we sat there, a herd of of school children of about 13 and 14 years old came along the street on their bicycles. They showed the kind of confidence on their bikes that can only be attained by those who have grown up on one, they collide precariously close to each other, carry passengers that dismount and mount with grace at speed, eat and drink, chat on cell phones, grab snacks from panniers and adjust an ailing kickstand mid cycle- it is truly impressive! They do all this whilst giggling, laughing and being slightly obnoxious like any other teenager. I have to doubt that these kids will be giving up their bicycles any time soon and when I look at the younger children, they too seem to be well on their way to enjoying a lifestyle catered towards the practical bicycle. I see too, elderly people who appear to be having a laboriously hard time walking get on their bikes and cycle away with apparent ease.

Before you leave this post I want to strongly encourage you to watch this video I posted above and then please share it with your friends, lets get the other countries fired up about the amazing bicycle!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Observations from a short time in the Netherlands

Whenever I travel I find its the small details about life within a country that make it fairly unique and interesting.  Over time these details get forgotten as they become more common place to your life, it takes that fresh outside perspective to see them. Lest I forget too quickly I wanted to get some of them written down because I know its the kind of stuff that is interesting to me at least, so hopefully to you too. One thing to remember about these observations is they are MINE, and therefore relate to MY experience so far, who knows what your experiences could be!

  • Cycle paths are generally made from red coloured bricks and slabs. In outlying areas they seem to be separated from roads by parking strips or vegetation. When approaching a roundabout together a car seems to generally always give way to the bike and cyclists seem pretty sure of this, I don't see hesitation on their part. The cyclists all use their bells and hand signals frequently, they don't wear specialized clothing or helmets and for the most part neither do the children it seems. 
  • Mopeds, electric bikes and motorized wheel chairs all share the cycle paths, I know this causes some aggravation and I'm sure over time I will form an opinion on the matter, but right now it does seem one good point about this is that traffic is separated based on if you are protected from or by a metal frame, although Mopeds do still have the option of riding on roadways if over a certain CC.
  • Grocery shops here seem to be scattered amongst the communities, they are smaller and more compact but still priced competitively. In our experience so far it seems like most neighbourhoods have a grocery shop within walking distance, you might also find a fish monger, bakery, newsagent/post office nearby too. These shops are generally flanked by large amounts of parked bicycles which are locked with a wheel lock rather than a chain as their owners won't be gone for long. The shops carry far less frozen foods than their U.S./U.K. counterparts, have a lot of cheese and I have yet to see a throw away grocery bag in this country, it seems like everyone brings their own bags or purchases the thick plastic or canvas bags that are reusable. 
  • The ground seems to be generally free of litter, even in the city centre you don't see a lot of rubbish, except cigarette butts on the ground. I get the sense that the Dutch take a lot of pride in their homes and living spaces. When walking in Amsterdam quite often we've noticed windows to living rooms and bedrooms are ground level and open to the view of passers-by, they all appear to be like shop windows and it's easy to mistake them for a window display until you see someone sitting on the sofa watching TV. 
  • Children here seem to have it far nicer than their American/British counterparts, they cycle to daycare (which is subsidized in costs by the government) on a parent's bike, then as they get a little older they may cycle with Mum or Dad to school on their own bike, then as they approach the years of more independence they seem to travel in little packs by bike. Kyle and I enjoy watching them, it's nice to watch the groups of high school age kids being loud and obnoxious like teenagers from all over the world, except they are on bikes!
  • Bike shops vary greatly here as to what they cater to, but the majority of them seem to favour everyday bikes and family bikes. You also find non bike stores carry bikey things, like the drug store we found that sold rear mounted kid seats for 30 euro. The things you can buy in the bike shops amaze me, like wheel locks for 10 euros, pannier bags in a variety of colours and sizes, kits to strap your child's buggy to the bike, kits to extend your back rack to allow the use of panniers and a child seat (I know at least 12 parents in the US who will want me to ship them one). The repair shops seem to always have a selection of child bike seats and parts on hand, hanging from the walls. The fancier bike shops can have about 10 varieties of cargo bike to choose from, all waiting for test rides, in fact just yesterday our local bike shop sales man told me to come back and take their Urban Arrow out for a spin!
  • I looked at some classified ads and saw half a dozen box bikes and bakfietsen for sale for under 450 Euro, some as low as 300. Really do I need to say anything more on that subject?
  • Sometimes I will overhear a conversation between what I assume is two Americans on a train, only to hear them drop their American accent on a word here or there and realize they are actually Dutch. The younger generations especially seem to have amazing clarity with their English language skills, adopting either a British or American accent, it is really impressive.
  • One of the things we have to look forward for Jack, is he will automatically qualify for special classes aimed at helping English speaking children settle into the Dutch school system, basically he will qualify for a greatly subsidized daycare that will help him reach native levels of language by the time he starts school, which means he will be bi-lingual from an early age. According to an article I read, based on studies by Unicef and the World Health Organization Dutch children are the happiest in the world. This U.N. study compared children based on scores of how fulfilled they felt at school, how healthy and active they kept, how well they felt they could communicate with their parents and a number of other things. The Dutch tend to be very child focused and I can see how all these elements combined would make for a more trusting, open and enjoyable adolescence for both parents and offspring. To learn more about this subject, simply google "Dutch children are the happiest in the world".  

There are a million more observations I could share but those are the ones that really stand out to me this morning as I sit here at our dining table looking down to the street below, where I can see cyclists of all ages making their way to their destinations, its an amazing place to be right now.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Puppy in a Bakfiets and other neighborhood sightings

Adorable Puppy in a Bakfiets, oh my! Really I could stop here and it would be a worthwhile post, does it get any cuter?  Kyle and I were standing outside the bike shop discussing something or other about bikes when I saw this nice lady and her adorable puppy riding along. Of course, I forgot everything we were discussing and we all swarmed her to pet her sweet 8 week old puppy! I feel bad I didn't get any names, but we greatly appreciated getting a little doggy time in as we all miss our Beatrix so much.

I could just squeeze those little cheeks!

Jack helped us load groceries, as we forgot to take bags we loaded from cart to pannier, then pannier to fridge. It worked out well. There were more bikes parked outside the shop than cars.

Just a small array of lovely bikes available less than a block from our home at Thomas Bikes, they currently have a used box-trike (The Christiania above) for about 600 Euro to give you some idea of going prices.

This is my current obsession, the Urban Arrow, isn't it just dreamy?  I get the feeling nothing has been spared when creating this bike, it looks and feels like quality. It also looks pretty lightweight in design, of course I could do a much better review if I could ride one for a week or two...hint hint! Hey, it's worth a try, right?

You can hear more about our friend Tinus at his Mum's blog HERE. Don't speak Dutch?
Utilize google translate!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The unveiling of the Batavus Delivery Bike and the BSP X frame

My new sweet ride and some other lovely bikes in the background!

Here it is, my new bike, it's a Batavus! It's still my favourite colour, has plenty of cargo space and is very comfortable, has a front wheel lock to stop the wheel flopping around, dynamo lights, 3 gears and a wheel lock! I took it to my closest bike shop (there are 3 within about 2 blocks of our apartment), which has a large selection of family bikes and trikes.  Before it was even through the door the shop keeper, Lars, said "oh this is one of my favourite bikes", he went on to say they are really well built, are designed in Holland and said he would look it over for me if I left it over night. Lar's also showed a great interest in the cargo bike movement in the United States, you could tell he is passionate about his products and very honest, so we feel fortunate to have him and Thomas Fietsen so close.

The bobike from Kyle's bike, fitted on mine- this one also has wheel shields for toddler toe protection! Did you notice my bike is in the kitchen, again?

We went back to pick it up my bike today and they had been nice enough to adjust the brakes and gears for me, inspect the lights which are on a Dynamo, and get them working for me, all for free! They said it checked out great and would be good to go for a while. I had to get a nicer saddle for it but the shop had a used one they sold me for a cheaper price and I had to buy new grips because the old ones where loose and worn out, but by the time I re-sell the Amsterdam bike, I should easily cover the extra costs and most of the purchase price. 

Kyle's lovely Pastoorfiets/X frame that was gifted to us, it's a 1970's BSP, made in Holland.

I've just finished switching out the bobike seats from Kyle's sweet BSP to the bobike that came with mine, I think mine was an older model, so I thought I'd keep the newer one that has a large reflector on the back and wheel skirts. We also fitted our new pannier bags and ring-a-ling bell to mine!

So now we have our transportation and it will save us a lot of money, buses cost about 2 Euro each one way to the station. So every time we head to the station we will save about 8 Euros, which when we start work will most likely be a daily trip, unless we get local jobs and then we'll use our bikes to get to them.Now I just need to secure a decent job, so please send me some work ju ju juice! Thanks for reading, L.

Friday, March 15, 2013

A blog about bicycles needs a bike.

At some point you have probably heard that Amsterdam has a lot of bikes, I too had heard this and I'd even perused videos and articles about Amsterdam and it's multitude of bikes, so I thought I had a good idea of what to expect. However, nothing had prepared me for just how many bikes there are, they are literally everywhere you look.

They swarm down the streets, they congregate on the bridges over canals, they have whole parking lots dedicated to them at every train and bus station, they come in all shapes and sizes but are mostly sprayed flat black, they get stolen often and if abandoned they slowly get stripped of their useful parts, they all have bells and most of them have a basket, pannier bags or a baby seat or two, some have all of the above.

If like me, you consider some bikes to be eye candy, then you will love Amsterdam because it's the land of stunning bikes. I have seen bikes that a few months ago would have had me running down the street for a photo opportunity, but now they are completely normal and everyday.

It has taken me about 10 days to stop commenting on each bike as it passes, a habit that couldn't die quick enough for Kyle. There was a point when we were walking down a street in Amsterdam when he turned to me and said "I know, I see them too, they are all lovely, you don't have to keep talking about it!" We had a bit of a chuckle, but I sensed he would have tossed himself in a canal if I hadn't of stopped. 

Of course as I have previously mentioned, we had to sell our bikes to move here. This was somewhat of a tragedy in my mind, especially as I had heard inexpensive bikes are easy to come by here, which they are not. We perused a few bike shops and I began to realize the reasons I loved my Yuba Bikes more and more, I mourned their absence.

About the 7th day of being here we acquired a traditional "Amsterdam" bike- it literally says Amsterdam on it. It had a front mounted bike seat that we squeezed Jack into so we could make it back to the station a little quicker. It's a back pedal brake bike, has a wheel lock like every other bike here and appears to be in decent shape. I like it, but feel like it's very cramped to ride, ultimately not a bike I would be inclined to ride daily.

A few days later I started a little side job to bring in some cash, ironing for an expat family who live in a stunning home facing a canal. I knew they had a nice man's bike for sale (with a toddler seat on the back), but it was out of our price range so I disregarded it, then they messaged me that we could have the bike for free! This experience continues our excellent luck in meeting warm and kind hearted people, even when our other experiences have been less than perfect.

When exploring the streets I had seen a particular bike that I was really drawn to, it looked very sturdy and seemed to more often than not have a few child seats attached to it. We were walking past a bike shop when I noticed a used one for sale, after three attempts at wheeling and dealing we were able to reach an agreement on the price. It's a little beaten up, pretty rusty (like every other bike here), but seems to be in fully functioning condition and will ultimately be a money saver. I got the sense that the shop we purchased it from would have looked at me oddly had I asked to test ride it, they seemed very busy, had happy customers and offered a 3 month warranty covering everything but flats so I just went with it. We bought it, then put Jack in the seat on the back (which they threw in to sweeten the deal), it was kind of bizarre to have my first ride be after the money had traded hands, something I would never have done back in the U.S. or the U.K. We found a street that was a little quieter than the others, I hesitantly mounted the bike, wobbled into the path of a more experienced rider with her two kids on board, apologized profusely whilst she muttered under her breath and then proceeded on for what would become an eye opening bike ride with a sea of other cyclists at rush hour to the Amsterdam central station. I had a few moments of awe, a few of fear, but mostly an overall sense of accomplishment that I was most certainly ticking off a bucket list item.

The bike above is a Batavus Delivery Bike- this is NOT my bike. My bike is green, has a lot of dings, dents and rust, has hand brakes and a child seat, plus a double kickstand. I also paid about 15% of what they go for new! The only changes I need to make- adjust the brakes, toss on some inexpensive panniers (you can buy them for about 10 euro here!) and get a cushy seat because my bum was complaining the whole ride. I also managed to buy the only bell-less bike in Amsterdam, so I will get one of those too. Not having a bike bell here is actually dangerous. What I really love about this bike is I got on it and immediately knew we would be friends, it simply felt like a perfect fit.

One of my first fist-air-pump moments in the Netherlands came when I realized I would have a bike for the 30 days of biking in April, last year it was literally in my top 5 highlights of the year, I absolutely loved it! In fact I'd go as far as to say it was the catalyst that made me realize I had what it took to move to Europe, to pursue so many dreams. I don't think the 30 Days of Biking will be popular in the Netherlands, it seems like they would wonder what all the fuss was about, why celebrate in one month what you do every month anyway? I imagine them reacting the same way the average British person would if there was a 30 Days of Tea event.

Because I could apparently write forever today, I shall force myself to sign off and I ask that you celebrate with me that once again I can state this is a blog about bicycles and other stuff that is written by someone who actually owns a bike!


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Wednesday morning in the Netherlands

It's been a long few weeks. We left Yatton, near Bristol on Friday the 1st of March by train, which we took to Paddington Station. From there a quick cab ride to another London station called Liverpool St. to avoid the tube- because whilst we may be relatively new to London's mass transit, even we are aware 4 suitcases, a pushchair and a toddler at 5pm on a Friday night are a recipe for disaster. From Liverpool Street Station we took an electric train that veered wildly on the tracks and glowed in an ominous yellow to Harwich International Station, when we left the train we had a wrestle with our suitcases in the first of many tiny lifts that wouldn't hold all of us at once.

London Liverpool Street Station

Within about 40 minutes we were walking up the gangplanks to the huge ferry that was to take us to the Hook of Holland. It was massive, Kyle actually saw it on a show about super boats because apparently it's one of the world's largest ferries of its type, a little more like a cruise ship that just happens to carry a lot of containers.

Jack's first glimpse of the Hollandica
 Nothing had prepared me for how massive this ferry was, we decided to try to stay awake until it was due to leave port at almost midnight, so we went upstairs and ate in a cafeteria style restaurant with the world's best customer service and the worst all rolled into one, then we visited the Curious George Room and some of the lower outside decks to watch containers being loaded.

Jack on a gangplank...are they still called that when they are massive and air conditioned? Letting him ride his bike was a good idea as it made the hike a lot quicker.

After the Curious George experience Jack was getting a little tired and Kyle and I were almost comatose, so we skipped the rest of the tour and headed to our room, which turned out to be a very comfortable cabin at the front and centre of the boat. It had two bunks with of crisp white bedding, a T.V. showing obscure subtitled movies and the world's hottest shower in a gleaming chrome filled bathroom. Overall we were pretty impressed as it cost us 51 pounds for the cabin, a required booking when travelling on the night ferry and a very good deal.

As soon as we set off I felt a little deceived by the advise we'd received about the ferry being too big to feel certainly wasn't! About halfway through what turned out to be a somewhat restless night I got up for a bathroom break and realized it was actually far worse when standing and jumped back in bed quickly, I don't think it was actually that bad, I might just be a wimp.

Our first glimpses of Holland came to us in the morning, an overcast, grey day with an industrial skyline of windmills and billowing chimneys, huge ships with masses of cargo and us, feeling very foreign.  We left the ship, went through immigration, I walked outside with Jack and a few suitcases, and almost immediately a traditional omafiets shot across the empty parking lot.

It was about then that I really realized we had arrived in a foreign country and whilst the natives speak wonderfully clear English, the signs are all in Dutch. Getting a phrase book before departure would have been the normal thing to do, but Kyle and I love making things more difficult for if we had a phrase book neither of us would know where it was.

Double story trains, sleek and fast. They are to Amtrak what e-mail is to snail mail.

We took a fast train (with tons of room for bikes) into Rotterdam where we changed trains and curved northwards to Hoofddorp, which is what can only be described as a cookie cutter town that could be anywhere in the world if you ignored the presence of bikes- everywhere! I realize now that I have greatly under-appreciated the importance of infrastructure in regards to bicycles. The Dutch cycle for the same reason the  British and the Americans drive cars- it's easy. It's not so much the elevation- because let's face it many areas of other countries are flat but people still don't cycle everywhere. It's the design, the order, the ease of use that makes the Netherlands so easy to cycle, and it's not something that happened over night, the Dutch made a decision to have this lifestyle, and if they can incorporate it into a narrowly built city like Amsterdam, then there is no reason any Brit/Amer. town can't build it in too. It is really a thing of beauty to see empty-ish roads and bustling streets of pedestrians and cyclists, to see mums cycling past with 2 kids and groceries whilst chatting on a cell phone is a thing of awe!

Oh to look that rested on a few hours sleep!

We spent the next week in Hoofddorp, co-housing with another family with a 3 year old, so Jack has been having a great time and making up for the time spent without playdates. Just yesterday we moved to a temporary apartment, where we will stay for about 7 weeks, looking for work and trying to settle in. We're about 30 minutes by train to Amsterdam Centraal, in a town that I have literally only viewed through a plate glass window. I see bike lanes and a bus stop directly below, people busy on their way to work and school, cycling through the snow and wind.

Our apartment is basically perfect, it came furnished with everything from towels and linens, dishes and pans, a guitar and bicycles! To top it off, were getting an amazing deal on rent, it's centrally located and has a fancy glass lift that makes Jack happy. It's inside a renovated church which makes it pretty cool too, I will get a picture later, but until then you can view one here.

We've made a few trips to Amsterdam so far, and have taken a few photos which I will post in the next few days. It is great here, but I do miss my family and find the business of job hunting with only one language quite intimidating in a country where most people speak at least 2 languages and many 3 or 4.

The sun has just blasted though the snow, I have to do an exploratory trip around town and run out some of Jack's energy.

Thanks for reading!