The Netherlands: The Vietnam of Europe
Finally, after passing through Amsterdam’s airport a couple times, I really get to experience Amsterdam. The last time I was here was just a quick overnighter, which allowed only enough to time to wander around some of the canals and of course a certain area that dare not be named. As I was walking around the city this afternoon, tired and looking homeless chic to boot, I thought about the times when we all had been Euro’d. You know what I’m talking about: those relatives (or parents!) of course; we’ll call them Aunt Mildred and Uncle Homer, who finally went on their dream vacation to Europe, and came back with wooden shoes and lots of pictures and videos (of the Sound of Music Tour, naturally!). The sudden cosmopolitism in Mildred and Homer reared its old world head when they drove you through a suburban subdivision that boasts roundabouts, which led one to screech to the other: “Doesn’t this remind you of Europe!?!?” Okay, that’s exaggerated, but you know what I mean. So now that I’ve got your attention, I have to tell you what Amsterdam (as a proxy for the entire country, since I haven’t ventured out yet), reminds me of a certain Asian country. Just as Julia Child’s first impressions of France reminded her of China, this country so far reminds me of Vietnam. Maybe that’s a stretch as I haven’t been to Vietnam since 1995 and surely that country has changed a lot since then. But the fresh food, the many shades of green, and most of all, the bicycles everywhere kept me thinking about a long-ago trip to Southeast Asia. The bicycle culture here is amazing. Traffic barely exists; and more people bike than walk. Many bikes are pimped out in plastic flowers and other decorations. They are everywhere, and an errant pedestrian can suffer many a close call or an accident. I had to swerve a few times when I absent-mindedly wandered into the bike lane--a bad mistake! You would almost think that Amsterdam was built around the bicycles. Bike paths are everywhere and used to capacity. It’s easy to say, “why can’t we do this at home?” until you realize how dependent and entitled we are when it comes to our automobiles. Cities like Los Angeles don’t have the space to squeeze in bike lanes--and there will be no payoff unless there is a mass movement towards ditching cars for bikes, which will no occur unless gasoline surges to several bucks a gallon. And now that I think of it, I don’t think I can even utter the words “bicycle culture here” . . . bikes are just an everyday part of life, like good fresh dairy products and quaint masonry homes. Bikes in LA are for the urban hipster (which I define as someone who is hardly urban and not very hip!) I’m dying to bike at least one day. The thought of being in a town where bikes reign supreme is an exciting one!
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