Ah, nostalgic pedicabs (i.e., rickshaws) gracing the city streets while helping to clean the environment. Pedal power, no CO2, humans helping other humans. Hmmm. This is generally the picture that emerges when we think of the great import that are pedicabs. Reality, though, could be a bit more earthy, shall we say. In many city downtowns with fast-moving vehicular traffic, rickshaws are more-often-than-not forced into sharing the same busy streets where a non-choreographed dance of polluting city buses, taxis, and POV’s are constantly trying to outdo each other to the next light. Needless to say, there’s a lot of weaving, sharp turns, and sudden stops involved in this urban kabuki dance. Strangely enough, I had problems finding collision statistics for the DC area (or for any other city for that matter). Who knows, maybe these pedicabs are safer than we think. Just in case, though, I think that I’m going to stick to walking for now. After all, I do need the exercise.
After a few days in Amsterdam I’m beginning to realize that like Venice in Italy, this is a city that requires a little time to get used to it and discover its hidden treasures. It is a place of stunning beauty, but also one that doesn’t divulge its true nature easily or perhaps willingly. As a visitor, it would be too easy to walk through the narrow streets in the Museum District or the Jordaan without ever talking to any local or getting to know what gives a particular neighborhood its character. The locals, while quite friendly, do seem to expect you to make that first friendship move, but once you take that first step you invariably find how friendly and nonjudgmental everyone seems to be.
Hang around the city’s many neighborhoods and you will be amply rewarded. From the ethnic diversity of the Pijp in the southern part of the city to the more genteel dwellings around Leidseplein to the west, Amsterdam is a city that begs to be discovered (and even in winter when constant rain and high winds remind you how far north you really are). Behind the imposing City Hall and the curved Amsterdam Music Theater you will find some of the most interesting shopping experiences in town, which are perhaps better characterized by the seemingly popular Cafe Reefer (the name very aptly describes it). But the city Flea Market and Rembrandt House are also in the area, thus providing a good balance to the neighborhood. Continue further west and you will soon be crossing the gorgeous Old Town section and the über-busy Kalverstraat, where you will also find the tiny Vlaams Friteshuis Vleminckx french fry legend. They have been making fries at this place since 1957 and topping them with as many as 25 different sauces. But be prepared to stand in line for a while and to eat out of a paper cone down the street, as the place serves its potato delicacies out of a window.
And then, there is the Jordaan. Just about every travel publication exhorts you to visit this neighborhood, and I can now see why. This is indeed Old Europe at its best. Small stores selling eclectic wares, tiny cafes filled with trendy-looking folks, and narrow, colorful streets almost begging you to turn here, or there, or anywhere. It is also one of the places where you are most likely to be run over by a bicyclist, as the narrow sidewalks filled with flower pots and bicycles often force you to step onto the cobblestoned streets where all the fast-moving Dutch cyclists aggressively zoom by while ringing warning bells. But none of that danger really matters, as you will most likely be languishing at a cafe or small restaurant oblivious to the passage of time. And if Amsterdam has any poets, I think you will most likely encounter them at a cafe in the Jordaan. Yes, right there next to you, where time and life’s burdens don’t seem to matter much.
Just when you convince yourself that our nation’s capital is a stiff place, along come events like the Tour de Fat to prove you wrong. Wacky, irreverent, and wonderfully weird, this annual cycling event by the Navy Yards is about as fun as they come. It must be, because how else would you explain why all these folks ventured out on a hot, 92-degree day to party while pretending they were there to bicycle. OK, maybe it had something to do with the post-ride “beverages” available to them, but whatever the case, no amount of heat appeared to dampen the enthusiasm of these revelers. Too bad that the venue chosen is somewhat off-the-radar for most people. Put this event in the Dupont Circle area or Georgetown and they are going to have to triple the amount of “beverages” available. But maybe that’s the whole point: to be out of the way so people can let loose a bit. Whatever the case, it worked, not to mention that it was a great day to be around with a camera. I’ll definitely be back here next year, and who knows, I may just dress-up for the occasion.