Tag Archives: Amsterdam

Best of Holland

When writing the city reports for http://www.talesmag.com, I’ve had some difficulty filling in the part about the highlights and advantages of living in a place. Where do you start, when you’ve lived somewhere for over a dozen years? I have given it some thought, and tried to imagine what would I miss most, if I moved to another country. These are the things which to me make the Netherlands a pleasant place to live in.

  1. Cheese
    The Dutch cheese is world famous. But I’m sure many people will wonder “Is cheese something really worth raving about? How fascinating can Dutch cheese be?” I guess it’s one of those things you need to learn to appreciate, over time. Before I moved to Holland, I had no idea that plain ol’ cheese can be so diverse and so damn good.

    Alkmaar cheese market

    Alkmaar cheese market

  2. Museums
    The Netherlands has the highest museum density in the world. There’s a museum for everything here. Tobacco, Jenever, Taxes, Dredging – it can’t get any weirder. And I’m loving it. I’m a museum freak, and even though I enjoy the classic big museums, I get the greatest satisfaction from a visit to one of these obscure museums, where you actually learn things no one else knows. Nothing like small talk about dredging to break the ice at a party.
  3. Cycling
    To the Dutch, cycling is second nature. Some local children learn to cycle before they learn to walk, I kid you not! In fact, the cycling culture and facilities were one of the reasons I chose to come to the Netherlands in the first place. Cycling here is something completely different and it would take a lot of getting used to, should I live anywhere else.

    Cycling in Amsterdam

    Cycling in Amsterdam

    Cycling in Rotterdam

    Cycling in Rotterdam

  4. Location, location, location
    So yes, the Dutch weather sucks sometimes. There are no mountains here, no empty spaces. But one of the major advantages of living in the Netherlands is that its so easy to leave the place. Jokes aside, it is hard to rival the Netherlands in terms of connectivity. In a radius of 1000 kilometres from where I live lie the capitals of 15 other countries, all accessible by a cheap flight of 1.5 hours. Best of all, its possible to board a train in the morning and be in Berlin or Paris by lunch, or even at the Med by the evening.

    Budget airline - use with caution

    Budget airline – use with caution

  5. Efficiency
    A couple of weeks ago, I’ve noticed one of the light poles in front of my house was corroded at the base. I took a photo, uploaded it at the municipality’s website and ticked its location on the map. The next morning, city workers were on the spot, and a new light pole was installed before noon. That kind of efficiency is hard to beat.

    Fixed within hours!

    Fixed within hours!

What are the things that make your small European country a pleasant place to live in? Add your comment, or, if you feel inspired, I’d be happy to publish your guest contribution here.


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Amsterdam is a cycling hell

As of recently, I have a new side-gig – I am writing for Bike Citizens Magazine. Bike Citizens develops its own cycling-related products and offers a platform to the community of urban cyclists. To celebrate this latest development in my writing career, I wrote the following summary of why Amsterdam is a cycling hell.

Amsterdam has a reputation of a cycling paradise. In the 12 years I live in the Netherlands, I’ve been to Amsterdam countless times. Yet I have never been tempted to cycle in the Dutch capital. Because Amsterdam is not a cycling paradise – its a cycling hell. Let me tell you why.


Yes, cyclists in Amsterdam can be a part of the problem, too. Its just that the amount of cyclists in the city is absolutely staggering – over a million of them! They blatantly disobey traffic laws and park their bikes on every possible (and impossible) spot, contributing to the traffic mayhem. In Amsterdam, cyclists actually make it worse for themselves.

Bicycle parked - check! But where are the pedestrians are supposed to walk?

Bicycle parked – check! But where are the pedestrians supposed to walk?


The cobbled streets look nice on pictures. But cobble stones are the reason why the Paris–Roubaix race is famous and feared. Cobbles are a bicycle-killer. Amsterdam is full of stone pavements, and they are not fun at all to cycle on.

Cobbles look good on picture, but are a nightmare to cycle on

Cobbles look good on picture, but are a nightmare to cycle on


There are tens of thousands of scooters in Amsterdam. Theoretically, they are allowed to use bicycle paths if the scooter is restricted to 25 kph. In practice, the speed restriction is easily removed and enforcement is lacking. The result is that scooters that are 2-3 times heavier than the cyclists, are also 2-3 times faster. Since the formula for kinetic energy, as you undoubtedly remember, is E=1/2 mv^2, scooters have about 10 to 30 times more kinetic energy than cyclists! Consequences of even minor collisions can be devastating.

Taxi drivers

Taxi drivers are a plague for cyclists everywhere, in busy capital cities most of all places. The ones in Amsterdam are (understandably) especially frustrated by the million bicycles constantly cutting them off in the narrow streets. Taxis and cyclists are engaged in a decades-long struggle for control of the streets of Amsterdam. Trust me, you really don’t want to get into that fight – it is a fight that has only losers.


If you see these - run for your life (these ones are cycling against the traffic, too)

If you see these – run for your life (these ones are cycling against the traffic, too)

First of all, tourists are the worse cyclists. When you see a bunch of them coming at you on those rented bikes – run and hide! For some reason, they think cycling drunk and/or stoned along the deep canals in the chaos of Amsterdam is a safe and enjoyable activity. Pedestrian tourists, who are not used to the amount of bicycles are a menace, too. And I don’t need to explain you why in all likelihood a Darwin award will soon be issued for the use a selfie-stick while riding your bike.

Even the famous canals are not safe from cycling tourists

Even the famous canals are not safe from cycling tourists


Don’t get me wrong, I love trams. But for cyclists in Amsterdam, trams are a nightmare. They are fast and furious, and are relatively quiet – in the busy city traffic, you don’t hear a tram coming until the last moment. Trams use a big chunk of road space, pushing cars into the bicycle lanes. Most unfortunately, tram tracks are a death trap for a bicycle – not only are they slippery when wet (and its often wet in Amsterdam), they are of exactly the right size to catch you by the wheel when you least expect it.

Amsterdam traffic mayhem in a nutshell - cars, trams, cyclists and pedestrians all move at once

Amsterdam traffic mayhem in a nutshell – cars, trams, cyclists, scooters and pedestrians all at one picture

The good part

Let me finish on a bright note – its not like ALL of Amsterdam is a cycling hell. There is some truth in the city’s reputation as a great place for cycling. Its just the downtown that is a horrible place to pedal. On the whole, Amsterdam is over 200 square kilometres. Of these, only the city centre, just 10 square kilometres, is filled with taxis, trams and tourists. Outside that small area, cycling in Amsterdam is every bit as fun as you can imagine.



Filed under cycling, Small European things

Amsterdam Alternatives

I’ve written this piece last year for Travel Between The Pages. A recent post I read about a trip someone else made to Amsterdam reminded me of my own work. Amsterdam, like most major cities in Europe is filled with things to see and do. But most people only do the stuff 99% of what “all the other people” do. Amsterdam has a big advantage – its quite small. So you can “tick off” the top attractions (Rijksmuseum, Vondelpark, Red Light District, Anne Frank) in a single morning, and then be “free” to experience the city at a leisurely pace. And I have a couple of suggestions for you.

Travel Between The Pages

This guest post is from Rotterdam resident and blogger Michael Afanasyev. You can follow Michael at his own blog Small European Country


Amsterdam alternatives

Every major tourist destination has the “big ones”, the things everybody wants to see – like South Africa with the Big Five. Amsterdam has the Big Three. I mean, everybody goes to the Anne Frank House, visits the Rijksmuseum and takes the canal tour, right? Unfortunately, the popularity of these hot-spots tends to bring them down, too. To make the “experience” suitable for the masses, the attractions (yes, Anne Frank is also an “attraction”) make themselves suitable for mass consumption, in what I call the McDonaldsization of travel. I am not a huge fan of Amsterdam myself – to me it is a bit like a sleazy Disneyland. But over the years I’ve learned to appreciate the Amsterdam behind the touristy facade and discovered Amsterdam…

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Filed under Guest post, Small European things, Tips and tricks, Travel

The 7 things I now understand a little bit better about Americans (in Europe)

My post titled “7 things I don’t understand about Americans in Europe” keeps drawing new comments, and not all of them are friendly. But I welcome them all, since the goal of the post was, in fact, to learn more about Americans in Europe and why they behave the way they do. Thanks to all those people (mostly Americans) who took the trouble to comment, I have indeed learned a few new things.

  1. Why don’t they drink tap water?
    Still unexplained. Possible answers were “Maybe it’s because we’re next to Mexico”, blaming low quality of tap water in some parts of Europe (and extrapolation to other parts), and more generalizing “American paranoia” (the last one is from an American, I merely quote here).
  2. Why do they think Europe has a “low season”?
    I was duly pointed to the fact that “Certain parts of Europe do in fact have low seasons, they just tend to be tourist magnets.” So yes, some sea-side resorts have low seasons, but the weather then is rather bad, and most businesses are closed, so in fact, they have no season at all then. If you’re going to Ibiza or Dubrovnik in the “low season” be prepared to visit a ghost town.
  3. Why do they use money belts? and
  4. Why don’t they use ATM’s?
    Commentators combined answers to these two questions, so I guess they are related.  I can live with the explanation that (some) Americans are not used to the crowds – “In America, we usually drive in cars and don’t walk much or use public transport.” Another commenter says that “pickpocketing certainly exists across the globe but is pronounced in Europe due to social problems.” I tend to disagree with this broad statement – social problems anywhere in Europe are nothing compared to India or Latin America. Perhaps, indeed, as another commenter suggests, “Money belts are a combination of paranoia and ignorance.”
    As far as ATM’s are concerned, apparently, “For Americans, ATMs often have very high fees for foreign transactions.” On the other hand, it does not apply for all Americans, as these comments clearly show: “Money belts are stupid. My wife and I use ATMs.” “I have never owned a money belt! They’re totally useless. I find that you’re better off with a little bit of street smarts and an ATM card with no international fees.”
  5. Why are they in such a rush?
    The most common explanation is the one I originally came up with myself – limited vacation days. But, as I’ve written in another post, the shocking truth is that Americans don’t even use the little leave they have! Why they insist on choosing quantity instead of quality? One commenter explains it as follows: “I could sit around in cafés or parks lounging and relaxing but how is that any better than moving at a fast pace to see as many sights and museums as possible?” Personally, I think a good vacation is exactly the opposite of “moving at a fast pace”, and is actually intended for relaxing. But has made a career out of writing about it, so I’ll refer all further questions to him.
  6. Why don’t they have a clue?
    Still a bit vague here, even though my question seems justified. Apparently, “most Americans think of Europe as Disneyland”. This is perhaps explained by “They don’t have a clue because they are never taught to be curious about what the rest of the world is like”, although it seems a broad generalization. But, as one commenter rightfully pointed out, “99% of them won’t even come over to Europe for not having enough time so, support the ones that do!” I couldn’t agree more.
  7. What’s up with Paris?
    As one commenter puts it, “there’s an unhealthy obsession in American culture with Paris as the capital of romance and beauty. Personally, I think it is neither.” On the other hand, another commenter says “I don’t know if I can explain Paris if you haven’t been there. I don’t think I would want to live in Paris, but as a tourist, I love Paris. ” According to others, “Paris is dirty, overhyped, and overrun with tourists”, “Paris is incredible but it’s also a dirty, angry city with tons of social problems.” So there’s definitely something about Paris, I just didn’t have the chance to check it out for myself yet.

It does appear that my post has hit a nerve, even though for some it was the wrong nerve – if you want to know more, check out the comments of the original post here. I still don’t understand (some) Americans, but thanks to the feedback, I understand them a little bit better. More comments are warmly welcomed!

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Jewish Rotterdam

Small European countries are known for their stability. For a great deal, a small European country looks and sounds the same as a few decades ago – the trams, universities, cafe’s, parliaments, all were there a century ago, are still around and will probably be there in another 100 years. There is, however, a major “ingredient” that is virtually absent from modern small European countries. Its the Jews. Just 75 years ago, most countries in Europe had a significant Jewish community. Then… well, I guess you know the history.

After WWII and the Holocaust, the little Jewish presence remaining in Europe dwindled further due to immigration to Israel and the USA. Nowadays, the only countries in Europe with a sizable Jewish community are France, UK, Russia and Germany – all large countries. Only 3000 Jews live in Poland, that before WWII was home to more than 3 million Jews, the largest Jewish community in the world. But although there are Jewish lawyers, comedians and politicians, Jewish communities are just too small to be a factor in the daily life of any small European countries.

The Jews may be largely gone but their presence is not entirely erased even if it is sometimes not tangible. A good example of hidden Jewish presence are Hebrew words integrated into European languages like “mazzel” or “lef” in Dutch, meaning “luck” and “courage” (“lev” actually means “heart” in Hebrew). Actually, all European languages use “amen” and “hallelujah”, words that come from Hebrew.

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Even though Amsterdam was synonymous with Jewish life in the Netherlands, Rotterdam has a long history of Jewish presence, too. And I’d like to contribute to preserving this history by proposing you a tour of Jewish Rotterdam. Rotterdam had a Jewish community from the early 1600’s. In the 1930’s Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria came to Rotterdam as to the rest of the Netherlands, Anne Frank of course being the most famous of those. In Rotterdam some refugees were hosted in the Quarantine on Heijplaat. During WWII Rotterdam’s Jewish community was hit double hard. The centre of the city, where most Jews lived and that contained the historical Jewish buildings like most synagogues was bombed by the Luftwaffe on 14th of May 1940. Then the Rotterdam Jews were gathered at the infamous Loods 24 and deported to the extermination camps, from where almost none returned. A small number of Jews still live in Rotterdam, like myself or these guys. But as elsewhere in Europe, most Jews in Rotterdam are dead Jews. Jewish cemeteries are not emptied, but remain sacred ground forever (or, at least, until Judgement Day). So the Jewish graves are still there at several locations around town. Right next door to me, for example, are the oldest Jews of Rotterdam, buried at Bet Hagajiem cemetery. Another one is not too far away at the Oostzeedijk. As you can see, there’s not much left of Jewish Rotterdam. But this just means there’s even more reason to preserve what remains.

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7 things I don’t understand about Americans in Europe

Perhaps its because I haven’t been to the USA. Or its just me and it seems perfectly logical to everyone else. But there are quite a few things about Americans in Europe that I just don’t get. These 7 are the ones that puzzle me the most.

  1. Why don’t they drink tap water?
    I agree, tap water is not the same everywhere. Even in some European countries (like Ukraine) tap water is not safe to drink. But Americans buy bottled water even in the Netherlands, where tap water is the purest, safest, tastiest in the world. Somehow, they seem to think its “not done” to order tap water in a European restaurant, and some of them are fixed on the idea Europeans don’t drink tap water.
  2. Why do they think Europe has a “low season”?
    Having climbed to the top of Mount Pilatus above Luzern in April, I was shocked to meet dozens of Russians, the women plowing the 2 meter deep snow on high heels. The cable car was already running. What low season?

    Having climbed to the top of Mount Pilatus above Luzern in April, I was shocked to meet dozens of Russians, the women plowing the 2 meter deep snow on high heels. The cable car was already running. What low season?

    Americans see Europe as some Caribbean resort, that only opens when tourists are there. Therefore, half of them avoids Europe outside that imaginary “low season” because they think Europe is “closed”, and the other half only goes in the so-called “low season” because Europe is supposedly “packed” in the high season. Europe is full of Europeans, and they keep Europe busy even when the Americans are not around. November to March is “low season”? Don’t forget the Christmas and Spring vacations and the skiing resorts are filled to the rim.

  3. Why do they use money belts?
    To the average American, Europe is a thief’s paradise. Scared of pickpockets, Americans in Europe resort to using those silly money belts. As a result, every time an American has to pay, every pickpocket knows exactly where the said American stores all his money. If they’d just use ATM’s, they wouldn’t have to carry all their money around and be such a tempting target, but…
  4. Why don’t they use ATM’s?
    Why are Americans changing money? Don’t they have ATM’s in America? Why would anyone want to carry a stack of $$ all the way to Europe instead of just using a plastic card to draw money out of any ATM machine? They must think they’re going to Somalia or something. Some Americans are actually using traveller’s cheques. You gotta be kidding me! That’s, like, so 19th century!
  5. Why are they in such a rush?
    The average American in Europe, whether on an organized tour that promises a European “experience” or travelling independently, is in a horrible rush. Their schedule includes on average 3-4 hours a day on a bus or train, not including boarding and disembarking. Add to that an hour for checking in and out of the hotel every day (since they’re in a new town every evening) and there is very little time left for “experiencing” anything but lack of time. I know Americans have limited leave days, but why not use your vacation as it is intended – for relaxing?
  6. Why don’t they have a clue?
    No, I don’t expect them to know everything about their destinations. But you’d think a minimal level of knowledge is not too much? At least try to browse through a couple of Wikitravel pages before going somewhere, why don’t you? Nowhere is this lack of clue more severely shown than in Amsterdam. I understand and know from personal experience that reading about the Red Light District and the coffee shops is one thing, and seeing them “live” is another.  But being surprised they even exist? That’s just too weird.
  7. What’s up with Paris?
    I admit, I haven’t been there myself, so it might be I am wrong. I’ll do my best to check it out ASAP. But I honestly can’t imagine what can be so damn wonderful about Paris that every American dreams of going there and once they’ve been there, goes on and on about how great it is. Do they have a “Paris admiration class” in high school or something?

Of course, the above does not apply to Americans only. A lot of Australians in Europe have the same issues. More seriously – of course, I know it does not apply to all Americans. But many Americans visiting Europe travel like they’re trying to relive the Eurotrip movie or at least as if the said movie is their only source of information about this diverse continent. And that is what I understand least of all.


Filed under Europe, Travel

Dutch innovation

A fellow blogger recently posted about the newest Dutch innovation – ‘scum villages’. The plan calls for exiling nuisance neighbours and anti-social tenants from the city to be rehoused in caravans or containers with “minimal services” under constant police supervision. This in addition to the already existing measure of sending the worst offenders for a compulsory six month course in how to behave. This fellow blogger has his doubts about the idea, as it reminds him of bad history, internment camps and such. I, on the other hand, am for teaching those in apparent need of it how to behave as a human. It has been suggested to me that this could be seen as indoctrination, and where would it end?

Well, sure it could be seen as indoctrination. And if you take it to both extremes, you’ll end up in an unhappy place. The thing is, as a society we have a set of rules by which we live. And if someone deviates from these rules, in a way that has negative effect on other members of the society, we (the society) reserve the right to take measures against that someone. We protect ourselves from antisocial behaviour, and try to find a balance between hurting the rights of an individual and protecting the rights of other individuals. Compare it to fines for speeding. You are not free on the freeway (ironically enough) but are limited to a certain speed, and if you exceed that speed, you are a menace and risk a fine. If you collect enough fines, you might be sent to a course on safe driving.

I think that if someone is being such a jerk, that his neighbours are considering moving, it is much more just to send the said jerk to a course in decent behaviour than to tell his neighbours to move. And if the jerk is still being a jerk, then he’s the one that should move, and not his/her law-abiding neighbours. What do you think?

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