I recently had a brief but pleasant break in Amsterdam: mostly work, unfortunately; but with people I respect and admire. This, I kept reminding myself, was why I went freelance. That and the evening’s entertainment of boat-trip pub crawls, snacking on stroopwafels and drinking amazing beers. And, of course, the cycling.
The Netherlands take in foreign cyclists and ruins them for cycling almost everywhere else. In some ways they’re much tougher on cyclist behaviour – for example, you really do have to keep to the cycle lane, if it’s there – but in return they provide so much more: strict liability, huge amounts of well-kept cycle provision… and a culture of cycling first and foremost that makes it in some ways a boring part of everyone’s life, utterly unlike its exciting (but marginalized) UK niche. As my host told me, most people in Amsterdam don’t have a bicycle: they have at least two; one for keeping outside and getting around; and one for best, for holidays and camping.
Along with a few friends, I actually cycled some of the miles there and back, linking up with the ferry from Hoek. On the way out, we caught the last of the country’s summer: overheating, desperate for fluids, feeling the sun on our faces at the end of the day. On the way back, we revelled in the first of its autumn: the unmistakeable varnished-wood smell of fallen and decaying leaves; the touch of the pervasive mist and damp, the fluidity of our movement through cold air.
Half water, half land; half summer, half autumn; half work, half play: liminal experiences in a liminal land.