No-one knows for sure but city authorities say there are over 600,000 bikes in Amsterdam – not bad for a city with only 747,290 residents (though that number rises to 2.1 million for the entire area). Most luxury hotels have bikes to borrow, or rent, and no-one would think the gal out of place were she to cycle up to a doorman. It is worth noting that cyclists in Amsterdam do not wear helmets. They would feel silly, say the locals. In London every sensible cyclist wears a helmet, but to be fair, London cyclists ‘would feel silly’ on typical Dutch bikes, they say. If you are not a biker, therefore, be prepared to look around 360-degrees before crossing a road, or stepping into a road. You never know where these bikes are going to come from.
Amsterdam bikes are quite likely to be the old-fashioned sit-up-and-beg type, with both the saddle and handlebars set high. There are bikes painted pink, or blue and yellow. Some have entire bathtub-sized boxes in front, to hold up to four toddlers. Many have baskets, sometimes beautifully decorated, or plastic bottle holders in front, useful for everything from dogs to shopping to business papers. All come with really heavy locks-on-chains, and the riders seem to leave their bikes anywhere, everywhere. It certainly is the quickest way to get around. For those girls who prefer to walk, forget the Blahniks and Louboutins as all the roads and pathways, even over the 1,281 bridges in the city, are cobbled.
It really is an intriguing place. I went along one little alleyway and passed a row of shops, or rather cafés, only and exclusively selling French fries. You get them in a twist of paper and, if you want to be local, douse them with mayonnaise. Actually I do wonder how Amsterdammers grow so tall and so slim (generally). They have hearty breakfasts, with breads and cheese, they like a cheese sandwich here and another there – these as snacks. It must be all the cycling, and climbing stairs in the centuries-old houses that line the roads either side of the canals.
Just as Tokyo has the world’s best-known fish market, Tsukiji, so Amsterdam has the best floating flower market, Bloemenmarkt, founded in 1862 – you will love it. Wherever, I love looking at all the houseboats, of which there are about 2,500, ranging from small and simple to enormous multi-floor floating palaces. And this is the time of year, too, to head out of town to visit the bulb fields, in bloom from mid-April until about mid-May. Any concierge can arrange such a trip (particularly ask to see the Keukenhof Gardens at Lelystad – enthusiasts by the way, are quite likely to take a river cruise to look at several different destinations).
I prefer taking a canal boat within Amsterdam itself. The Dylan offers The Muze, a gorgeous and beautifully-renovated 19th century saloon vessel. Up to four people have lunch, or dinner, prepared table-side, with Champagne included, as you cruise the canals and part of the Amstel – they call this Vinkeles on the Water. Hotel De L’Europe’s boat, Hilda, is also 19th century – take this, for a romantic sundowner Champagne cruise, leaving directly from the hotel’s own dock, outside its amazing new SKINS spa (see tomorrow’s Girlahead).
And while you are about it, do not forget Amsterdam’s highly-efficient tram system. They are extremely frequent, and you can pay, cash, with change given, when you get on (from the central rail station, the number 5 route is within three minutes’ walk of, in order, the Royal Palace, Kalverstraat shopping, Hotel De L’Europe, The Dylan, The Conservatorium, and Citizen M, with presumably other luxury hotels along the way that I have yet to discover. I find it charming that when one tram passes another, both drivers smoothly raise their right arm in greeting – at home at night, are they doing the same, every two minutes, to members of their family?