The bicycle is a part of the Dutch national identity and the degree to which Dutch people ride bikes is truly astounding. One of the interesting things about the bikes is they all appear to be "old-timey" - from another age.
In fact, this style has roots in the Nazi occupation of Holland. During that time, the Nazis tried to confiscate the bikes from the locals. Those bikes that were left became symbols of the resistance and even today, many of the bikes on the street either date back to that era or are reproductions of the same bikes.
And as locals described to us, the style is practical. You site upright on the seat in such a way that it is easy to carry groceries or kids, or dogs or whatever. However, what we found is that this is true in a flat country like Holland. Don't try to go uphill on a Dutch bike.
On a recommendation from TwinF member cwolz, we took a day and took a train from Amsterdam to Gouda and then rode bikes from Gouda to Oudewater and back. He was right - biking in the countryside is a trip into the real Holland. We highly recommend it.
I described Amsterdam to my Mom as "A bastion of hedonism". Sure, it has beautiful canals, nice people, amazing sights, about a billion bicycles and a ton of charm, but what is truly impressive about Amsterdam and what differentiates it on a worldwide scale is the liberal policies of the Dutch government concerning drugs and prostitution.
For instance, we stayed in a guesthouse in the Red Light District and within two blocks of our guesthouse, anyone with the money can legally buy "soft drugs" like marijuana, mushrooms and hashish in small quantities and sexual services from a host of licensed prostitutes who display their wares in large windows under red lights. I suppose you could also see some music and complete the hedonists triumverate of sex, drugs and rock-n-roll.
The view from our place:
Coming from George W.'s America, this all seems quite surreal. Surely these things must be causing all sorts of social ills. As it turns out, the Dutch policy is quite calculated and appears to be surprisingly healthy for the country compared to other EU countries.
Most policymakers in the Netherlands believe that if a problem has proved to be unsolvable, it is better to try controlling it instead of continuing to enforce laws with mixed results.This means that the sale of sex and drugs are regulated and taxed, ensuring as much safety as possible and that the government can benefit from the revenue. Further, it means that the government can exert control when it is needed. But, what about drug abuse? Doesn't the availability increase the instances of abuse?
Apparently not. Through studies completed across the EU since 2000, The Netherlands ranks 7th in the use of marijuana - after Cyprus Spain, the UK, France, Germany and Italy. The prevalance is similar for other types of drugs.
For the visitor to Amsterdam, these elements of the city can be surprising and intimidating - we talked to some people who would not step foot into the Red Light District. However, I think it is more surprising that the city doesn't have the overall feel of a "bad neighborhood" with a high frequency of drugs, sex shops and prostitutes. There is a ragged and depressing element to the Red Light District, but I don't think it is much different than any other city - it is just that tourists are exposed and invited to participate in activities that would otherwise be managed in dark alleys and controlled by criminals instead of government agencies.
The Dutch policy seems based on the idea that people are going to do what they are going to do, regardless of the government or the potential for punishment. And if this is true, their only tools are regulation, taxation and tolerance. It makes sense to me and the Dutch folks we talked to about it.
I knew it would be interesting at least- a standup/improv comedy troupe called Boom Chicago doing a show called "Me, MySpace and iPod". As it turned out, it was completely up my alley and I was very impressed.
It was the first I had seen a comedy routine integrated with technology and social networking - something very close to my job when I'm not traveling.
For instance, they asked the audience who had a page on MySpace.com and someone was chosen for the skit. They went to the live site during the show to check out the guy's page and asked him about some friends on his friend's list. Then, later in the show they did a whole routine that brought his MySpace friends to life based on his descriptions. So freaking funny - and for the skit to work every night they have to find someone in the audience with a MySpace page - in Amsterdam. This goes to show how huge MySpace is.
They also did a skit based on Wikipedia, which is an online encyclopedia that a very large community of people manage by editing pages. Wikipedia works, but is also famous for disagreements about how an entry should be written. In the skit, they ask for an object, in this case a pineapple and they take turns describing it in encyclopedic style. When one performer disagrees, they yell "EDIT!" and it becomes their turn to create the "real" definition. Wiki-based humor, wow.
Being that we are in Amsterdam, they also parodied Anne Frank and showed a YouTube style video blog that was done by Anne Frank back on the 1940's [watch the video]. It was a take-off of the now-famous LonelyGirl15 on You Tube.
I was in awe. It was funny yes, but what really blew me away was that these websites and ideas were too geeky for prime time only a couple of years ago and now, suddenly, it is mainstream enough to become fodder for an entire comedy show. If I was running a technology conference, I would hire Boom Chicago in a second.