When I read in the Lonely Planet that Holland is perfect for cycling, I envisioned something a bit like Kyoto: relatively normal cities, but where vehicle traffic is particularly aware of and cautious about cyclists. But what I found is a place unlike anywhere I’ve ever been.
Most parts of the world I’ve visited – except for the US of course – has at least somewhat of a bicycle culture. In China you have bike lanes next to most every major road, though these tend to be a mess of people crisscrossing in every direction. In Japan you have more orderly rules, but due to a lack of space, bikes usually ride on the sidewalk, carefully avoiding pedestrians and cars popping out of driveways. Holland, on the other hand, is quite simply a cyclist’s paradise.
Aside from being perfectly flat, it seems as if the urban layout was first and foremost designed for the bikes. You can’t find a single road without bike lanes going in both directions, often with their own signals, signs, routes, etc. Bikes follow the rules of the road just like cars, and crosswalks have 3 lights instead of 2: cars, pedestrians, AND cycles. You do have to be a bit more careful when crossing the street, as you have to be aware of vehicular traffic, bicycle traffic, and tram-traffic – which often run on differently-scheduled lights. But somehow it all works out beautifully. People on bikes even “turn-signal” as if they were behind the wheel, pulling into bicycle-only left-turn lanes and always passing on the left.
After making my way back from Kindijk I rented a pair of wheels from Central Station and spent the remainder of the day riding randomly around the city. Although I’d been ready to characterize Kindijk as one of the most pleasant bikerides of my recent life, experiencing Rotterdam by pedal made me doubt that characterization. Despite it’s modern architecture and unmistakably urban feel, Rotterdam is a city full of pleasant green parks and waterways, where everybody smiles and these cute little streetcars run all over town chiming their little bells. I just loved it.
My initial plan was to follow along the LP walking tour, but I ended up just roaming at random – up and down dozens of twisted little residential backstreets, through the main shopping district, around the massive a central park with its wild swans and sunbathers and windmills, alongside the central train station and to Europe’s busiest shipping port, over the landmark Erasmus Bridge and ending up right back at my hostel’s doorstep.
Some travelers laugh at the fact that I routinely boot up Garmin and strap it to my forearm when going out into a new city, but let me tell you: the ability to roam at complete random, no matter how curvy or irregular the roads maybe, and always find your way right to where you’re headed is just priceless – that friendly voice always knows exactly how to get home.
For as much as I can’t wait for the big Queen’s Day celebration, I can’t wait to cycle through a bit more of Holland’s countryside immediately afterwards – through the endless fields of tulips that just happen to be blossoming…right now.