August 04, 2003


Regarding Bicycles in Amsterdam I have surprisingly not that much to say. Amsterdam is supposed to be the Bicycle Utopia City and we had grand expectations before we came. It is indeed a city where bikes are used very very much. There are tons of bikes. At the train station there is a bike lock up area that stretches off and as totally packed, there is a winding kind of parking ramp parkade building. I am totally guessing when I say there may have been 10000 bicycles parked there.

well the first thing and most boring thing to say is now we have a regular, english based keyboard. hooray. we have no expensive time limit like koln also because they have a fixed connection to the internet here where we are staying with Anton and Carla. A very amazing and huge place with a kind of loft style apartment in a 'former' squat, very big. Enjoying listening to Talking Heads and now Queen on Vinyl.

We stayed in Koln much longer than planned because we enjoyed having a place to stay that was stable and thought it would be more complicated here, also because we were trying to send email to a bunch of people and for some reason they all didnt get back to us quickly - all for different reasons really - but it made us hesitant to proceed because everything was up in the air that we were planning.

We had planned to leave Friday first thing but it took us quite a while to pack everything back up because we had unpacked everything and done laundry in koln. we decided again to put it off because we didnt want to arrive in amsteredam so late at night so we did are final errands and planned to leave early in the morning (saturday) because everything was already packed. Perhaps this was good because we went to pre buy our train ticket and it was very busy with a long lineup and also many police and some areas closed off perhaps because of a bomb threat, so somewhat chaotic and maybe the train would have been delayed. That night we looked into some live theatre and found 3 possibilities in the tourist guide but two were very posh and expensive which we didnt want because it might be hard to understand the german. There was also Improv but that was already sold out, I think a lot we would not understand because of word plays and such comedy would obviously go over our head but improv also has some physical humour and it would be interesting... So in the end we went to the movie theatre and saw terminator 3. What a silly thing to do! We figured that it would not matter very much if we could not understand the dialogue and we were right. (it is dubbed in german, in holland they use subtitles instead). The ticket was 5.50 euros for rows 1-4 and 6 euros for rows 5-13. Huh? The theatre was very small, perhaps this is why it was not so tremendously expensive. The screen was only 2.5m wide but it was a small theatre so everyone could see. The theatre had only a dozen or so people in it and almost all sat in the back row. I don't understand why? Were they making out back there and that privacy is why it is preferred? We didnt actually look. They only have sweet sugar popcorn which was a major dissappointment for us. also the drinks are bottled soda or beer or a kind of slurpee thing. Seemed like a theatre more for children. However the advertising at the beginning was all for lucky strike cigarettes and beer, then some movie trailers, one of which was repeated twice! The movie was what we expected, so we were happy. There were no late night movies starting after 9pm here, it was a sort of mall thing.

Anyway the next day we went and caught the 9:25 train out towrads amsterdam. Our next connection was in Monchen Hbf. and we had only a few minutes to change trains. We were on time for the train but we could not get on because it was totally full of bicycles. The conductor didn't let us on, not because he was mean but because there actually was no more bike space left in the whole train! The train car was all full and as we went up the train in every doorway area there was one pair of bikes already on the train. The conductor was trying to see if there was a little space in one compartment but there really was none. There were two other cyclists in the same position. Oh well, all the trains on this route to amsterdam are hourly and once in the Netherlands they run every half hour so we waited for the next train. Jane had an adventure trying to find a bathroom in this train station, the only one was in a restuarant and the stall was for a long time occupied by a nursing mother. (strange that she should feel the need for total privacy while nursing)

We caught the trains and the last two were dutch trains which are very good for bicycles, though only a little better than the German trains really. We saw a few windmills.

At the amsterdam central train station it was very busy. We went to the tourist info office outside but it was too busy with such a long lineup. There was internet thing in the tourist office that was a super rip off 20 cents a minute. I checked for 3 minutes just to see if Randy had finally sent us some contacts for here in amsterdam but he did not (or I was so rushed at this point I missed it). However outside the train station we met an american expat called John who explained the city to us fairly well. We went in town to watch the Gay Pride Parade which was co-incidentally going right then. It is not a regular parade with car floats on the street but real floating floats with boats because amsterdam has canals everywhere! Exciting: Except not at first because we just found a spot to sit and lock our bikes and it was very crowded everywhere and we sat and waited for the parade almost two hours before it finally came. Nobody knew when it was going to actually come. I think the start was delayed a lot for some reason. Anyway we really got to observe the canal system quite well and it was quite nice except for the sunburns we got because we thought it wouldn't be such a long event. When the parade finally came it was very interesting and we took many pictures of the floats so I wont elaborate here. We left before the parade ended after watching it go by for 90 minutes. We got some food then we were going to figure out our housing. We planned to go to the campsite for 9 euros each and perhaps leave somethings in the train station lockers because there is a lot of theft. But then we tried phoning Randy on his cell phone and that worked well though it cost 3 euros for 10 minutes!

We decided to check out a squat called the academy that randy told us about with a infoshop in it called the CIA. We went there and met two women leaving. This place was closed but they told us about where the CIA is now and that they were open having a talk about feminism and the isreali women wroking for peace. We ent across town to this place and it was over but they let us bring our bikes in and we stared talking to them and had some Grolsh beer (for only 80 cents, they ain't capitalists - sorry donald it was not in the reusable flip top bottles) We met huzzan and carla and anton from amsterdam, and annat from isreal and steven from england. Also we met Anna from Sweden who was one of the people that Randy told us to try to contact! Anna and Anton and Carla all offered us place to stay! We went home with Anton to this large building which use to be a squat and now 5 people live upstairs in very big lofts and downstairs is a kind of community centre sports room. Anton has lots of cool old bikes and is a mechanic whos pecialised in good old stuff! He had an awesome tandem and there super heavy duty cargo trikes (yes, several) that are ancient.

The CIA is a squated building. These people know all about squatting. Carla is an expert and teaches workshops how to do it yourself. There is a real squatting movement here. Partly it is because the laws are different here in high density Holland and they have (somewhat) legal squatting allowed to combat land speculation and waste of space. Carla explained a lot of it to us last night actually. Very interesting. Things are of course quite different because of the law and culture in north america. however the problems for squatters here are often about education and misinformation about what squatting is and is about. Probably it is more possible in Vancouver than we previously assumed. However one thing for certain about squatting in Canada that is very different is about the history of it and in Canada there was a lot of legal squatting which was very bad because this is the way in which the public land belonging to the first nations was stolen from them. But it is great to meet such passionate people about such an esoteric seeming cause. It is somewhat like bicycles and Cars. People think cars and paying rent is the only option mostly because they are misinformed about it. Actually cycling is more easy and much better (in a selfish way also) for the rider. Similarly Squatting can be very easy and better than renting, housing is so much demanded here in amsterdam that renting can be very terrible and competitive, Carla finds often that squatters usually have more permanent and stable housing than renters! Of course this is also because it is quasi legal to do so. However the laws changed in this regard in a positive way not that long ago and the change was a result of grassroots pressure, somthing other places could try also. There are many good websites about squating in the netherlands and amsterdam. Look there for more. There is even 'Anti-squatting' here which is not a political movement at all really but a common business practice where landlords get people to house-sit for (theoretically) cheaper rent and thereby prevent a space from being unused and suseptible to squatting, the anti squat phenomenon however has become so big and uninformed that it sometimes is just a way of landlords trying to rent a house to people without having to extend full 'renters rights' privledges.

Regarding Bicycles in Amsterdam I have surprisingly not that much to say. Amsterdam is supposed to be the Bicycle Utopia City and we had grand expectations before we came. It is indeed a city where bikes are used very very much. There are tons of bikes. At the train station there is a bike lock up area that stretches off and as totally packed, there is a winding kind of parking ramp parkade building. I am totally guessing when I say there may have been 10000 bicycles parked there. That number may be too low or too high, I cant estimate well with such a large number and they are all parked very close, and dense together. There are bike facilities everywhere and cars are polite to bicycles and it is very integrated in the culture, young and old ride bikes here. However it is not so surprising because munich and koln are also cities with very good bike facilities as well and it is not totally different. However I do think there are more here and that is wonderful. It is very flat here. Also the city is old and built on canals (which was heavy transportation roads before train tracks and steam engines were invented). The canals put water and boats in the centre of the public space we call the street. Cars are here also and sometimes they are annoying but it would require a lot of change to accomodate them better to make them increase a lot more. This is good. People use bikes instead. Apparently there is tons of bike theft here. Most people have 'Old granny' bikes which are the practical curvey high handlebars, fenders and chain guard and dress guard, heavy as a tank bicycles. There are nice sturdy old ones of these and newer, cheap and crappy versions of these. Apparently during world War 2 the Nazis came and stole many of the bicycles for the steel to make weapons. There is a strong anti-German prejudice among some people here and this story is related to that. Scary history.

Police here are much more aware of bicycles of course. They actually tell you to walk in the pedestrian only area (well to me anyway). And some people say they will enforce laws about having a light in the night time but Anton thinks they normally wouldn't. It makes one have a different perspective on the bicycle of course. It is not so radical to have and use a bicycle daily here. This is nice but also different for Jane and I who have often spent so much of our lives as outsider cyclists, having the same position as the majority makes you think about your politics in a different way - that is good for our knowledge.

Perhaps after more time away from here I can have more understanding of the profoundness of the bicycle here. On the other hand it is great that it is just a tool and taken for granted because it is practical, what we keep on trying to tell everybody back home but somehow they can't understand. They do not have a Critical Mass here. Anton was involved in this some years ago and it was a large group at first but there were many problems with the police who wanted the CM to squeeze into the bike lane. The groups got smaller to a group of quite dedicated people but then it was not growing and people weren't having enough fun so it stopped. I think partly people didn't understand the anarchism that is required to make a CM work but also mostly this is such a different place than an American Big Car city that the idea must be adapted to make sense here. Just as in any city the San Francisco model is useful but will not make it relevant in a local way unless it is changed a little, Amsterdam is extremely different, it is a tourist town in many ways also, so it cannot be the same as SF. However I think eventually it will work out here if some more people want to try it again. People here from the squatters movement have the right kind of energy I think, because the squatting movement is so practical here and not overly ideological.

Anyway so we got home late and then got up early late yesterday. There was a Sunday brunch/gathering at the CIA which we went to later on. We met Tibor who was cooking crepes for people and also does a lot of interesting computer work involving FM radio also. He also helps run a free internet access place and helps with IMCs and such. He is from Transylvania!

Anna gave a book called 'the cool guide to amsterdam' which actually is nice and has listings of vegetarian restaurants and squats and women run sex shops and all sorts of things. We went to a nice Vegetarian Restuarant called Flying Saucer which gave nice big portions, kind of like tha Naam in Vancouver.


We went home and talked for a long time late into last night with Carla and Anton about the squatting things I've already discussed earlier.

Posted by rusl at August 4, 2003 02:58 PM

interesting! is it the"netherlands' way"to defuse potential social friction by being more accomadating?i understand that amsterdam has a high population density and still manages to support a pretty good quality of life.a solid hi-ho to all your hosts of the road!

Posted by: barnett on August 8, 2003 12:20 AM

Re: Grolsh bottles;
Thats ok Rusl, I've got about 200 at home already, and besides, I wouldn't expect you to haul empties across and home from Europe for me.

Sounds like you're both having fun & meeting interesting people. Thanks for keeping us updated!

Posted by: Donald on August 11, 2003 11:40 PM
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