Bicycles more than double that of the number of cars in Amsterdam, coming in at over half a million. In the city center, the number is probably closer to 5 to 1, as thousands of bicyclists make their way throughout the city.
As a visitor, it's an incredible sight and also an odd sensation to see a bustling city without the noise pollution of honking horns, big rigs and sirens. With the beauty also comes organized chaos. Bicyclists absolutely own the streets, so it's important here to practice what we learned at a young age – look both ways before crossing.
After a few visits to this beautiful city I finally built up the courage to rent a bike. Just around the corner from Leidseplein and close to the apartment I had rented for the week was a bike shop called Het Zwarte Fietsenplan. A very nice woman helped me pick out the perfect two-wheeled accompaniment, gave me a couple of tips and sent me on my way.
Within two minutes I realized that I was completely out of my element, and for the first time since I learned to ride at a very young age, the idea of riding seemed completely foreign to me. The thousands of bikes came at me in all directions, zoomed left, passed right, bells rang, trams zoomed by, pedestrians ran out in front of me, bike lanes with designated stop signs flashed red and green.
I'd chosen a bike with no silly advertisement with the hope of blending in, trying not to stick out like an inexperienced tourist. Fail. There was no doubt that I was a tourist, and it was obvious that I had no idea what I was doing. The organized chaos quickly turned into a swirling mass of confusion. I pulled the bike off to the side and decided that I had to get out of the city center. I chose a destination I had read about – Amsterdamse Bos.
Amsterdamse Bos is the largest park in Amsterdam (bordering on the town of Amstelveen), and sits just a few miles from Amsterdam center. I wasn't sure of its exact location but I knew the general direction, so I began to make my way.
Within a few minutes I had escaped the overwhelming number of bikes and found myself trailing other bicyclists, using them as my guide. If I wanted to go straight and they turned right, I'd just latch on to someone else and follow them for a few blocks.
Soon the chaos and confusion were replaced by absolute bliss. The sun was shining, autumn leaves were crunching below my tires and I was riding like a local in one of my favorite cities. Along the way I'd stop and ask for directions, and was kindly pointed the way. I rode past schools, offices, parks, lakes and beautiful old Dutch homes.
I finally arrived at the entrance to Amsterdamse Bos, and immediately was engulfed by the tranquility of the place. I rode along a trail next to a long, narrow waterway and watched as people practiced speed rowing.
Red and orange foliage draped a colorful blanket across the bike trails, dogs played fetch in one of the many grass meadows, and people strolled throughout the park. Each trail led to another, sending me further into the forest, winding past running streams, lush greenery, lakes, a small cafe and a goat farm. It was amazing to think how close I was to the city center while feeling a million miles removed.
Amsterdam is one of those cities that I already find peaceful, with the quaint canals, bridges and narrow streets, but it's always a thrill to experience something new. I can see how Amsterdamse Bos could be popular in the spring and summertime, and can only imagine its beauty when flowers are blooming, the weather is warm, and people flock here to enjoy the outdoors.
I rode aimlessly throughout the park, stopping occasionally to take a breather and to sit back and enjoy the scenery. Once I made my way back out of the park and onto the streets, I followed the signs pointing to Amsterdam.
As the number of bicyclists increased, and "traffic" began getting heavier, I knew I was getting close to the center. Much like my journey outside of the city, I again latched onto other people and followed the flow of traffic.
Along the way, I stopped at the designated bicycle stoplights and listened as people chatted while waiting for the light to turn. I loved the idea that I was out on a "bike ride," as the rest of the commuters were heading to work, school, and using their bike as their mode of transportation.
I rode through Vondelpark, and by this time I was feeling more confident in my biking skills, so I decided to take a short ride through the center of the city. I made my way up and down the Prinsengracht and Keizersgracht canals, zig-zagging down some of the side streets and admiring the canal homes.
Along the way, I was yelled at for failing to use hand signals while turning, forgetting that there are rules of the road that I must abide by.
After a few hours with my new two-wheeled friend, it was time to turn it back in. I returned with both the bike and myself still in one piece, and pledged to myself that on my next journey to Amsterdam I will again venture out on wheels and explore more of the city and its surroundings.