Friday, October 15, 2010


The bike shed at the school
Who knew that it would be a bike to change my life. The travel, the language, the history here in Holland has all been wonderful, but the biking has struck me to the core.

My first morning in this house, I heard them coming: the disembodied voices of school students laughing and talking. Naively, I could not understand how they could be coming so quickly. Then, out of the early morning mist, they passed me, 20 at a time, on bicycle. Lean and fresh and beautiful, these children bike to school in a country where public school busses do not exist.

On Sunday mornings, elderly men and women put on their Sunday hats and coats and bike to church. They ride gracefully, elegantly pushing off with their right foot while standing with their left foot on the pedal.  They then then ease onto the seat in one effortless movement.

The bikers here smile for no apparent reason other than the joy of being alive.

Moving bike for hire in Haarlem
The Dutch will bike carrying almost anything. Sometimes I think they challenge themselves to see what they can bring home by bike and then brag about it to their friends. “Of course I bike to class with my yoga ball.” Or, “That 2 meter tree I just planted? I brought it home from the nursery by bike. Took me a while to figure it out, but I got here.” Maybe it is understood that you would first work out how to bring some impossibly large item from point A to point B by bike. Is it an admission of defeat for a Dutchman to use a car?

I recently saw a man on a bike towing a small trailer for his golf clubs. Now there is a dedicated sportsman. By the way, it was pouring rain.

Friends on a Sunday Outting
Business men in suits, soldiers in camouflage, and policemen in uniform pass me on the bike path each morning. In the afternoons, I might see an officer riding home with a bouquet of flowers for his sweetheart strapped to the book rack of his bike .

Lovers of all ages hold hands as they bike side by side.

When I first arrived I hadn’t been on a bike in 20 years. Now it’s hard to remember a time when I drove a car.

My Beloved Bakfiets
 My bakfiets seats four children, or two children and five days worth of groceries. It is my minivan. I prefer my bakfiets to the car in every circumstance and weather, except high wind or ice. The beautiful thing about this bike is the more weight you put in the box, the better it rides. Really.

The gas station I passed yesterday offered regular unleaded gasoline for 1.49 euro per liter. At today's exchange rate, this works out to $8.10 per gallon. Hmmmmm. Biking is good for more than just my health.

Audrey and I have conversations as we bike from place to place. I point out the animals we pass on our way. Swans, both black and white, swim silently in the canals. Gray herons hide in the reeds. Occasionally we will see a huge stork searching for frogs and snakes in the long grass of a field.   On the bike path to the preschool there is a lovely children’s farm complete with goats, pot-bellied pigs, sheep, and chickens. There is always something to talk about.

Along the path to the beach
Our beach is 5 km away. There are two small parking lots for cars. On a beautiful sunny weekend day, the road to the beach becomes gridlocked. Sometimes the police have to close the road due to traffic. The bike path, on the other hand, is wide, easy, and completely separate from the road. It offers views of the wild and windswept dunes. The scent of roses, horses, and  the sea hangs thick in the air.

My car sits in front of our house collecting sap drippings and pinecones from the blue spruce above it. I smile.

“From my cold dead hands,” my friend Nicky told me when I first arrived. What? I must have missed her meaning.  “They will take my bike from my cold dead hands,” she repeated.

And I understand exactly how she feels.

The Mommy Bikes at the school shed



  1. Hi!! My name is Patricia and I will be moving to the Netherlands (Haarlem, more specificaly) with my husband and my 2 year old in February. Your blog has simply been great in putting my mind at rest regarding so many things...from biking to eating meat, to just simply dealing with things in a different language. Thank you so much!! I will keep following it!! :)
    P.s I loved your story on travelling with Kids!! How I understand you!! :)

  2. I love biking here as well. I also biked in Philly--three years of white-knuckled terror, although it did give me a ton of interesting stories (I got hit by a car, cursed like a longshoreman at an old man, almost died thanks to a polic car). Thank God for bike lanes and the Netherlands ;-)

  3. @Patricia - How exciting for you and your family! Haarlem is beautiful! We just got from Germany. I could have used more "zen" moments, but the traveling gets easier. Best of luck with your move!

    @ Jules, You biked in Philly? You are the bravest woman I know! I know Dutchmen that won't bike there. Bike lanes here are wonderful! They make all things possible:)