Sometimes you get lucky. Perfect weather here in Amsterdam. Turns out tomorrow is a day off for my good friend Terry, an expat from England who has lived here for some twenty years. He’s going to take me on a tour.
“What would you like to see?” he asks.
“It’s up to you. But no museums.”
“Is it okay if we start early?”
“Great. I’ll pick you up 11:30.
Ha! My kind of people. Ten’s my favorite time to rise, and two or three a.m. for me is bedtime.
“Let’s take a bike ride,” he suggests. “Go see the ocean and the dunes. We’ll catch a train to my place and pick up the bikes.” We hope a train at Central Station and get off at the first stop. He’s got a house in Zaandam.
“Tore my old place down,” he says. “They’re getting rid of all the older places and rebuilding. You can see.” He gestures with his arm.
“Wow really.” Let me take a picture of you here.
I take the shot and we move on, unsure of how I feel about the architecture. We walk several crooked blocks and then, “That place has been abandoned for 8 years.” He nods toward a darkened home five houses down from his. “The city gave a choice – one of three places in return for my house. One of these, or you are on your own. So I took this one.” He unlocks the door. Not bad. It’s nice, and simple, nothing superfluous. “Take your pack off, then we’ll go outside.” He leads me to a corkscrew stairway leading downward to a patio in back. His roommate’s watering their garden.
“Very nice.” I envy them. Nice little garden – homey. Locals are allowed to raise a few plants – personal use only.
Roommate helps him haul two fold-up bikes out of a shed. I’ve never seen the like before, but then I don’t ride bikes. Everyone in Amsterdam rides bikes. One doesn’t see that many cars . . . or traffic problems.
“You know how to ride?”
“I used to. Been a few years, but I’m sure that I can manage.”
They unfold the bikes. Pump up the tires while I sit idle, watching, listening to music they’ve recorded on a little speaker. Very nice. When everything’s set up we load our backpacks with bananas, apples, bread. “I’m always hungry,” Terry says as he unlocks a gate.
We’re on the street now, and I’m on the bike. A bit unsteady, maybe more than that. The handle bars are very short, smooth turns are difficult, but I stay upright and begin to follow him, a little wobbly as we venture down the street. Another cyclist’s coming my way, woman in her forties. Terry glides past easily, but I have trouble – not sure how to get around, afraid to brake. I finally stop and she shoots past with words in Dutch. “You idiot! How could somebody not know how to ride a bike?!”
Embarrassing, but I don’t mind. This is an interesting change, from victim into perpetrator. As pedestrian on sidewalks here, I’m never sure if someone’s going to run straight into me, or from behind. You hear the little jingly warning bells that tell you it’s too late already. Best defense just hold still, let bikers find their way around you. So far this has been successful.
We fold up the bikes and get onto another train. “No charge for fold ups.” Terry stacks the bikes between two others someone’s left inside the doorway to the entrance of the car. An easy fifteen minutes takes us to our destination. We get out, unfold the bikes, and start off. Terry takes the lead into a forest that turns out to be a labyrinth of brick paved paths that pass through endless tunnels of amazing trees. It’s beautiful, serene, as though were lost inside this vast green space.
My legs are tired. My ass is sore. I do not exercise. I sit. I write. That’s what I do. But that is not enough today, and still no sight of ocean, or the dunes. “Is it much father?”
“Almost there,” he says.