1988 Europe Bicycle Trip – Part 4

…continued from 1988 Europe Bicycle Trip – Part 3

[Thursday] 8/25/88—We just arrived in Amsterdam, this city really looks like a wild place, some really bizarre-looking people walking around. The funny thing was, I was getting all the stares because of my cycling outfit. All the bizarre people fit right in because there were so many. Anyway, I can’t believe we made it here in just two days. I think Bill just wanted to get up here as fast as possible and get the biking part over with. He’s pretty wasted from all of the biking, I can imagine because I’m pretty tired and I’m in much better shape. I don’t feel too bad though, I should recover quickly and I won’t be cycling again for three days. Although we covered only about half as many miles today as we did yesterday, it seemed like almost as much because we had a brutal headwind coming in off the North Sea. In areas where the land was wide open, it was almost impossible to deal with. The weather was very unpredictable. It started off sunny, then clouded up and rained pretty hard for a short time, then became partly cloudy for a while, then became mostly cloudy and drizzly for the rest of the way. The stretch of Holland that we rode through today was very pretty, from the country to the cities. Everything is so lush and green (because of all the rain of course), and all of the houses are so beautifully and meticulously landscaped. The bike path took us all the way to Amsterdam with very little problem, it was marked and constructed so well. It’s almost like a separate, complete road system.

Breakfast was interesting. First they brought the coffee, then they bring a basket with several types of fresh bread and a plate of butter and preserves. Then they brought a plate of meats and cheeses. Last they bring out a soft boiled egg. It was a pretty nice little feast. Lunch was also an interesting experience. We stopped in the town of Loenen, north of Utrecht. We both ordered Dutch pancakes (that and eggs was their lunch menu). I mentioned to Bill that it seems they eat breakfast for lunch and lunch for breakfast here. Anyway the pancakes were delicious, not anything like what I’m used to. The plate had only one pancake, about 12 inches diameter and very thin, less than a quarter inch. Mine came covered with apples, cinammon, and powdered sugar. Add syrup and you had a sugar addict’s delight. Bill’s was basically the same with bacon. The drink was expresso. I didn’t think I’d like such a strong form of coffee, especially without milk or cream, but it was quite good, very good flavor.

I had a minor accident on the bike today. We were on the street through a small town with cars parked along the curb. Bill was leading and I was very close behind. Apparently someone was ready to get out of their car as we approached. He had unlatched the door but was holding it closed because he saw Bill approaching. Apparently Bill screened me from his vision because as soon as Bill passed, he opened the door. I was right next to him when he did this and could not swerve enough to avoid the door. My pannier caught the door and ripped off, shaking the other one off into the street also. I skided and stammered but managed to stay upright before stopping. The guy was real nice and asked me if I and my bike were OK and helped me get my gear back on. I was shaken and upset but I didn’t get mad at the guy, I could see how it just happened, especially since he apologized. The last thing I wanted to do was get into a big thing with somebody when I was 7,000 miles from home. Anyway I told him I was OK and I didn’t see anything wrong with my bike and all that. Well I did suffer some damage that showed up right away. Apparently, the impact bent my rear wheel to the point that it was not rideable until I loosened the rear brakes to the point that the rear brakes were ineffective for stopping. I could still use them for slowing down, but at that point, I was really beginning to question my sanity for deciding to do Europe on a bicycle. Here we are, on only the second day of riding, and practically everything that I thought could go wrong had, plus some things that I didn’t think about. What with the rain and headwind and road repairs and cold, I figured it was just a matter of time before I would end up with a flat tire. Fortunately that hasn’t happened so far and we made it up to Amsterdam.

After a nice, hot shower, we went out for dinner. On an earlier trip here, Bill had eaten at a little hole-in-the-wall bar and said they had great fillets served with about a pound and a half of fries, so we went there, and he was right. The steaks were flavorful and covered with sliced mushrooms, served with peas (very tiny) and a potatoe salad covered with various shredded vegetables. We also had a couple of half-liter mugs of Heineken Beer, it was great having it straight from the tap. The we walked through the old part of the city and ended up in the “red-light district.” I’ve heard all the stories about this place but you just can’t imagine what it’s like until you actually see it. Several times people came up to us and offered to sell us drugs, cocaine, dope, whatever you wanted. Sex shops, theatres, and bars are the main businesses, all in about equal ratios. There are absolutely no controls on advertising or window displays. The sex shops displayed their products and magazines in all their glory, and we’re talking XXX material. One theatre had a big neon billboard hanging from the building that said “Real live fucking on stage.” Can you imagine that in the states? The clincher to the total unreality of this area was the prostitutes in the building windows. They have a ground level room with a big picture window. The room is either a small parlor with a chair that they sit on with the “business” room in back, or you see the entire room itself with the bed and everything. When the prositute is available, she stands in the window or sits in the chair wearing lingerie and tries to entice passing guys. When occupied, they simply draw the shades. Sometimes you would see a pair working together. So anyway, now I can say I’ve been there.

The general look and feel of Amsterdam is quite unlike what I’ve seen in the rest of Europe. The buildings aren’t really what you would call pretty, but it definitely has a lot of character and flavor to it. Like the rest of Europe, it has the brick streets, adjoined buildings, etc. But there’s something else. I really believe it’s all the people around. The central city is really packed and busy. The population is disporportionately weighted with young people, this must be a gathering place for Europe’s youth [der!]. Dark clothing predominates, lots of blue jeans with dark overcoats or jackets and black leather shoes. Everyone has their hair long on top, short on the sides and back. A lot of the people look like total society dropouts. I was also amazed at how alive the city is. Well into the evening there are lots of people and a lot of businesses open. It’s almost like Laclede’s Landing, only 25 times as large in area. All the canals with the little humped bridges spanning them really add a lot of flavor to the whole scene. Before coming back to the hotel, we stopped at a little bar for coffee and they were playing blues music, I didn’t think that was at all popular outside of the Mississippi River Valley.

To be continued…

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 1988, 2013

About Ted C. MacRae

Ted C. MacRae is a research entomologist by vocation and beetle taxonomist by avocation. Areas of expertise in the latter include worldwide jewel beetles (Buprestidae) and North American longhorned beetles (Cerambycidae). More recent work has focused on North American tiger beetles (Cicindelidae) and their distribution, ecology, and conservation.
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