During my study abroad excursions, I’ve traveled to some places that were never on my radar before. Amsterdam in the Netherlands definitely makes it on that list. Quite honestly, before I visited the city this weekend I would not have been able to properly identify Amsterdam on the map.
Yet, despite my ignorance, the city greeted me with open arms.
Though Amsterdam is sometimes best known for its liberal policies on issues that the U.S. is now just waking up [read: marijuana] to, one aspect of Dutch culture I truly enjoyed is the city’s bike culture.
I haven’t ridden a bike since last semester down Trousdale on USC’s campus. Having a bike on campus in its own weird Trojan way is a sign of status. It allows you to quickly maneuver from your classes at VKC to across campus at Kaprielian Hall, weaving past all the lowly pedestrians.
Yet, since being abroad, my memories of campus life have slowly dwindled. That’s until I rented a bike one sunny day in Amsterdam and was reminded how liberating two wheels could be. The Netherlands and Denmark tie as the most bike friendly countries in Europe, according to the BBC. And I believe it. The number of bikes I saw nearly equaled the amount of cars on the streets. The city is so invested in its bike culture that it has designated specific bike lanes, sometimes giving more leverage to bikes than pedestrians.
As I barreled on my rented bike through Vondelpark, the largest park in the city, I felt immense freedom and exhilaration. I felt like an insider of a culture that, before arriving, I had known very little about.
I was able to gage the way people relax in the Netherlands, such as kicking around a soccer ball with friends at the park or blasting music on a stereo as peers swap stories with one another. My bike took me on paths along the canals and down streets where I picked up frites and stopped by a carnival. I was able to swiftly navigate the foreign city that quickly started to feel familiar.
Though having a bike reminded me of being on campus, it was also more liberating. Unlike at USC when I’m on two wheels, my bike experience in Amsterdam did not revolve around a specific schedule. I was not rushing to or from class. Instead, I was taking in the scenery, soaking in the sounds of the Dutch language and enjoying the warm sun on my face.
And as I walked my bike back to the shop, tourists along the way asked me for directions because I looked that official. So by joining the 70 percent of Dutch people who ride bikes, my trip to the Netherlands was definitely enhanced by seeing it on two wheels compared to two feet. Some may give the advice of backpacking through Europe, but study abroad has definitely taught me that cycling through the continent is just as cool.