Amsterdam: Everyday life

I love spotting the little details that make life in other countries just a little different from what it is back home in Northern California. What stands out to me when I’m visiting someplace new to me must be old hat to the people who live there. But I’m sure it’s that way too for people from around the world who come to California looking to be dazzled.

I’m no shutterbug, yet having a smartphone makes it so easy to take photographs when traveling. It can be done quickly and discreetly, which is key for me since my style is to hang back and observe unobtrusively wherever I am.

Here are some snaps from my walks around Amsterdam’s historic center.

vintage fiat 500 cinquecento prinsengracht amsterdam

There’s my dream car, a vintage Fiat Cinquecento (500) parked canalside along Prinsengracht. I wish you could see the sedan next to it but out of the frame, just for scale. It’s such a wee car.

amsterdam houseboat

Next time I visit Amsterdam, I want to stay on a houseboat. Like this one (it’s where Joanna Goddard stayed during her long weekend in the city)! It’d be so cool to sleep on the water, or curl up on a living-room window seat or out on the deck with a book and a cup of tea as boats motor past.

bruin brown cafe canalside pannenkoeken

Few things can be more idyllic than pulling up a chair at a brown cafe and settling in for pannenkoeken, favorite book in hand. This outdoor terrace sits at the junction of Prinsengracht and Leliegracht, where I watched canal boats lumber by on the water and bikes roll over the bridge, Lucy Knisley’s graphic memoir Relish: My Life in Food for company and a koffie verkeerd (essentially a caffè latte) within reach. It’s so liberating to have nowhere particular to be on a particular day.

bicycle rush hour amsterdam

Meanwhile, for Amsterdammers it’s business as usual on a weekday workday. Above is a vestige of bicycle rush hour; the bicycle stoplight had just turned green. Since I’m not used to urban cycling even in the States, I didn’t dare take a bike through the bustling center for most of my stay, striated as it is with tram lines and roadways and bikes whizzing past, ridden by folks who actually know what they’re doing. Still, I do admire how in A’dam there’s the sidewalk, and the road, and between them a wide, specially demarcated lane for bikes. Is that flat, well-paved shield from both motorist and pedestrian (and potential collisions) the reason why bike helmets haven’t caught on among the general/nonracing biking public there? I wonder if the 2013 release In the City of Bikes by Pete Jordan has some insight on that.


Bike rush hour in Utrecht, the Netherlands. It only looks
like it’s on fast-forward.


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