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Cycling in Amsterdam

November 27, 2014
On the bridge from where we see the Windmills in a row along the river... in the outskirts of Zandaam, near Amsterdam

When one is fifty-five, living in Delhi, driving through heavy traffic that has a mix of not only fast and slow vehicles but carts too, on terribly congested roads that are in a pitiable state, and with honking vehicles surrounding you… is always a nightmare! There are not even proper footpaths, what to say of separate cycle tracks –so cycling in Delhi remained a distant dream!

I loved my cycling trips with friends during school, college and university days when other motorized vehicles were not so common and a cycle was the only mode of transport for us students. Those were times when children in our villages would stop to stare in astonishment and mutter ‘Look! Girls are riding bicycles!’ And it was not so popular to go for long cycling tours to the nearby villages or small towns for day trips. But those memories are still fresh in my mind. 

This summer we had gone to London to stay with our son and daughter-in-law… and from there we planned short trips to Paris, Amsterdam, and Barcelona. It was in Amsterdam that I saw one of dreams come true.

‘Amsterdam is a city of cycles and canals’, informed my daughter-in-law who was planning our Europe visits.

‘Do you both know cycling?’ she suddenly asked. The question was obviously for me and my husband.

‘Yes, why?’, we both answered.

‘Let’s plan a short cycle trip in Amsterdam to see the wind mills. We’ll hire and ride bicycles through the lovely Dutch countryside and see the windmills’, she said.

On the bridge from where we see the Windmills in a row along the river... in the outskirts of Zandaam, near Amsterdam

On the bridge from where we see the Windmills in a row along the river… in the outskirts of Zandaam, near Amsterdam

Both of us quite liked the idea and a one-day cycle trip was planned as one of the activities during our visit to Amsterdam. From Amstel we reached Zandaam by train. It had an altogether different architecture from what we had been seeing in London! It appeared to me as if I had landed in some fairyland. Buildings and houses were like as I had seen in the fairy tale books as a child. A small market along the canal was just as fascinating!

It did not take us long to find a place where cycles were rented out for the day. We searched for the right cycles in that store. It had a huge collection of cycles of all types – big, medium, and small, cycles for kids, cycles for adults, cycles with gears, and cycles without gears,the variations were unthought-of, at least for me. I had seen and rode simple ordinary bikes that too without gears. This was, of course, the first time I rode a cycle with gears! Even families coming to the market were on their own bikes and parking their bikes in this store which had a huge double decker parking facility too. We noticed such huge cycle parking lots at many other parts of Amsterdam too. Amsterdam city too is cycle friendly!

Choosing a cycle was an altogether new experience for me. Back in India, when I used to cycle, I was aware of only one basic cycle with only two variation of gents’ cycle with the cross bar and the other ladies’ cycle that comes without the cross bar. Cycles did come in various sizes even then.

The owner of the store, my son and daughter-in-law helped me in choosing a cycle of right size for me by asking me to sit on the bike and see if my leg stretches out completely when the pedal goes down and that I am able to make my foot reach the ground when brakes are applied. The cycle seat and handle bar were adjusted according to my needs. Since it was a cycle with gears, I was a little apprehensive. But my husband, my son and my DIL, (the expression my husband uses for our daughter-in-law and means ‘heart’ in Hindi) encouraged me to use a geared bike.

‘You drive a car and know how to shift gears. It is simple and similar to shifting gears in cycle too.’ they had said.

They explained how to change the gears in the cycle and then asked me to have a small trial round around the store to see if the cycle is comfortable for me. With some other minor adjustments I was ready with my bike and confident of my day’s cycle trip around the Dutch countryside!

All four of us chose our cycles and we cycled through this small town with canals, countryside houses, parks and then crossing one of the bridges over one of these canals we reached the countryside to the famed windmills of Netherlands!

Unlike India, traffic in Europe moves on the right hand side. Cycle lanes were too on the extreme right and it took a little while to get accustomed to negotiate turns and crossings while cycling on the right. I was cycling after almost 30-35 years! I was cycling in a new country, different environment, riding a geared-bike that was novel to me, and following unfamiliar rules. I was excited at the thought of cycling a long distance in pollution-free and congestion-free environment, and also clicking pictures of picturesque surroundings. It was indeed no less than an adventure!

Initially I cycled a little slow and was left behind and others kept calling me and checking if I am okay. Then, my son and DIL decided that for some time we move in a formation where my son in the lead and DIL in the last and my husband and I between them to ensure that we are safe and sound. It was a perfect example of roles reversal!

We must have cycled almost ten kilometres before we reached the windmills. The store keeper had suggested us a route to follow to the windmills. This route according to him was a little longer but had a more picturesque country houses, quiet and peaceful, and with lesser traffic. And cycling through this route helped me too regain my confidence of riding a cycle and manoeuvring the crossings better during the later part of the ride.

The weather fortunately, was sunny, pleasant and suitable for a picnic too. We further cycled and visited the cheese factory nearby and were amazed to see and taste countless varieties of cheese. Not surprising that Dutch cheese is so famous!

Another short distance of cycling brought us to a small clog factory in the area. Its visit was equally enthralling. Besides the history of clogs, we could even see a clog maker at work there. One could even buy a pair of real clogs of his own size as souvenir.

We, too, bought a few varieties of cheese and souvenirs. The cycle basket of DIL came handy to keep in these purchases. She was so happy and impressed with the basket, its cover-net, and other accessories of cycle that she decided and bought a couple of these accessories from the store when we were back to return the bikes.

Though we wanted to cycle even further but the bikes were to be returned in time before the store closed for the day. The mind was now full of new experiences, memories from the new country and its countryside, memories of the time spent with the family, got to know a new culture, and most of all the adventure of riding a bike for about 20 kilometres after so many years!

This incredible short family cycle trip through Zaanse Schan is really unforgettable!


More pictures from our cycling trip:

Choosing our cycles was interesting... and the owner helped us. he even gave us the alternate route to go to the Windmills zone as the regular route had more traffic that day

Choosing our cycles was interesting… and the owner helped us. he even gave us the alternate route to go to the Windmills zone as the regular route had more traffic that day

The Windmill circuit expressed well in this map. we crossed the bridge and cycled along the river until the last Windmill...

The Windmill circuit expressed well in this map. we crossed the bridge and cycled along the river until the last Windmill…

Double tier cycle parking lots are so interesting... and unique!

Double tier cycle parking lots are so interesting… and unique!

The cycle-renting store in Zandaam

The cycle-renting store in Zandaam



Sangita Passey
27 November 2014


From → Travel Point

One Comment
  1. Hope you stay hooked to cycling no matter which country you are located in life!

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