AMSTERDAM, Netherlands — By all appearances, this city seems both busy and serene. The busyness is most obviously expressed in the whir of thousands of bicycles bearing determined-looking riders in all corners of the city. Since Anniston aspires to the title “Bike City,” it might be instructive for us to delve into Dutch bike culture.
Some Dutch kids learn to bike soon after they start walking. And all have cycling lessons at school from age 6. Due to the extreme efforts to provide safe passage for bikers young and old, biking in the city is very safe. In fact, bikers seldom wear helmets, and enjoy more protection than pedestrians (who risk grievous bodily harm if they venture onto an active bike path). The hierarchy of protection is bikers first, followed by motorbikers, cars, and pedestrians, in that order!
Anniston is a long way from achieving a culture similar to Holland’s, though progress is being made. After all, the tradition is so highly promoted there that there are nearly a million bikes in Amsterdam alone and thousands of miles of city bike lanes and paths. Since Anniston’s infrastructure is historically geared toward auto traffic, probably our biking culture will focus more on mountain biking than city/commuter biking. But it will be important to create a more accommodating environment for bikers in or out of the urban area.
If the profusion of bikes represents the busyness, what about the serenity? Well there are the canals, originally built for commerce and protection, but now mostly decorative and providing ample opportunities for residents and tourists alike to enjoy the architecture and history of the city. There are the Merchants’ houses, some dating to the 17th century, which provide a glimpse of the Golden Age of the city.
Arguably, the most serene places in the city are the profusion of museums. They are all crowded and sometimes noisy, but most museum patrons are considerate of others’ desire to soak in all the beauty on display. The Rijksmuseum, one of the great museums of the world, currently has on show “All the Rembrandts,” which is in fact all 400+ works of the artist owned by the museum.
The exhibition is less about the paintings and much more about the little-known drawings and etchings that represent Rembrandt’s evolution from the meticulous self portraits of his youth to the deeply moving later works depicting stories from the Old and New Testaments. Almost all of these rarely-seen pieces are tiny, some as small as two inches square; they display an astounding, sometimes revolutionary, technique and a profound spirituality. Some people exiting the galleries were engaged in animated chat; others stood in silence, absorbing the peace of the moment.
Equally serene are the vast tulip fields seen from the air upon the flight pattern into Amsterdam Schiphol airport. Perfect rectangles of vivid color dot the landscape around the city and create the delicious anticipation of seeing this feast up close. Which is just the thing to do at the famed Keukenhof Gardens. Here is an explosion of beauty, more than 1 million bulbs in perfectly designed and maintained beds as far as the eye can see. It is a peaceful place, despite the holiday crowd, which was estimated to exceed the capacity of Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Busyness and serenity: Can they coexist? Amsterdam has the answer!