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Opinion

Tourist bikes through Amsterdam

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March 2, 2012

After getting a bit of time off where I went and visited my best friend who’s studying in Rome, I headed to Amsterdam to meet up with the rest of the International Traveling Classroom for another week of sightseeing and classes.

I was late coming in thanks to a delayed flight so I missed the tour that took us around the city and walked us through the infamous Red Light District. While I never made it out there on my own, I still ended up seeing Amsterdam in a way I never expected to.

Early one morning a group of us got together and decided to rent bikes. I was a bit terrified. I’m bad enough on my own two feet. Putting me on a bike is as bad as trying to get me on a balance beam or something else as equally as perilous and requiring actual skill, dexterity and balance to manage.

Instead of the bike gliding along gracefully as it does under the power of so many of the world’s normal, everyday functioning people, it tends to jerk along in the most awkward, wobbly and unstable motion imaginable. It’s a bit embarrassing if I’m being perfectly honest.

Lucky for me, I had a perfectly understanding group who was willing to put up with my obvious deficiencies as a cyclist, which made me a lot more comfortable in the saddle. I even started to enjoy myself after the first mile or two.

We left the bike rental place around 10 in the morning with images of canals, windmills and glory in our heads. If you ask me, all three were achieved with flying colors.

We peddled our way along the incredibly bike-friendly roads of Amsterdam, crisscrossing with other riders, pedestrians and more people trying to walk their dogs than I could count. Amsterdam is best seen by bike.

It actually made me feel like a part of the city instead of someone just popping by for a quick look even if we were seated on orange monstrosities that practically screamed, “I am a tourist. Please be annoyed with me.”

I felt like less of an interloper and more of a participant in the hustle and bustle of the city. Biking is just a way of life in The Venice of the North. The streets tend to be narrow and crowded, making cars kind of useless. There are bike lanes everywhere and plenty of little alleys to cut in and out of the larger throughways.

After stopping for lunch while overlooking one of the canals and inciting an avian war with a few tossed bread crumbs, our little gang made its way to Vondelpark, the largest park in the Netherlands.

The place was gorgeous and filled with all sorts of people. There were people working out and playing with their kids. There were people walking dogs and just chilling with their friends on the benches littered throughout the park. A handful of musicians had set up camp throughout various parts of Vondelpark and were playing a huge variety of instruments, from guitars and brass instruments to more traditional stuff like accordions. It was hard to resist dropping a handful of change into one of the more talented group’s cases.

After Vondelpark, some of the group doubled back to the hostel while the rest of us ventured on to the Anne Frank house, which was an unforgettable experience of a different sort that’s been discussed with much more skill and subtlety by other writers than I could ever muster in this little column. By the time we staggered into the hostel, we’d been out for nearly six hours straight of biking. I’m a full on convert now. I can’t wait to pedal my way all over creation when I get back to the States and make that length of time look like a joke. It was another chance taken that ended up turning into an amazing experience.

I’m starting to really wonder why people are so afraid of new experiences or even retrying things that weren’t for them in the past. It’s lead to nothing but a great time while I’ve been in Europe. I just need to keep this all in mind once I’ve made my way back across the pond.

We’ve just arrived in Berlin. I’m gearing up for what looks to be one of the most historically enriched parts of the trip and I couldn’t be more excited.

Chris Rohling is a journalism major with a passion for storytelling in almost every medium.