I just came off one of those weekends that seemed like it lasted for a week (aka: the best kind of weekend). My new roommate and I threw a successful housewarming party on Friday, and it delighted me to see my apartment full of people from all over the world (well, mostly Europe, but we had a chunk of folks from the rest of the globe as well) dancing and drinking and having fun. I ended up closing my eyes around 5.30am on Friday night which meant I had stayed up for about 21 hours or so. Saturday was easy-going and I spent most of my time hanging out with a good friend, enjoying the sun and some quality girl-talk.
On Sunday afternoon I set off on my bike just to ride around and enjoy the city by myself, which I feel like I'll never get tired of doing. I wanted to see if I could feel a difference in car-free Sunday compared to other normal days, and I have to say - it was great, but it wasn't unbelievably different. The concerts and street fairs set up all over the place were different, of course. I encountered my first event as I rode over the Amstel and saw a dance party going on under the bridge. I made it a point to ride along the canals and all through the Jordaan, figuring that's where I would really feel the car-free difference.
The Westerstraat was nice - definitely quieter than usual. But once I got to the Lindengracht, Lindenstraat, and all the little streets around that area, I really saw a difference. The thing is, when you're cycling around on a normal day - even on the streets without a dedicated bike lane - cyclists have the right of way. If a car doesn't have enough room to pass a cyclist, they just slow down and drive behind the bike. It's completely bizarre at first, but it didn't take me that long to get used to it - it just meant that the lack of cars on the street didn't really give me, as a cyclist, any more freedom than usual. What I did love seeing were the little kids playing in the street and pedestrians wandering around wherever they pleased without having to dodge traffic, and everything did seem much more peaceful. I also made it a point to ride around the center of the city in the busiest areas. I felt a difference just about everywhere other than Dam Square. I hate Dam Square, with or without traffic. For more details about car-free sunday, check out Amsterdamize, or go to this flickr page for lots of photographic evidence.
I rode around for about 3 hours on Sunday before heading to the climbing gym, where I successfully made it up some new routes and turned both of my knees totally black and blue in the process. When me and my climbing buddies left around 7.30pm, I was treated to another long, beautiful sunset as I painfully rode home. The sunsets are absolutely one of my favorite things about Amsterdam - I'm sure I've mentioned that before. I think this weekend I'm going to try and make it a point to get to the sea and watch the sun set over the Atlantic Ocean. I forget sometimes that I can do that - coming from the east coast of the USA, I'm accustomed to seeing the sun rise over the water, but not set.
And finally, after being in the Netherlands for 4 1/2 months, I'm starting Dutch lessons tomorrow! I figure I'll take advantage of the free classes offered by my company for a few months, and then start a more intense class once I've made some progress. Let's just hope it's never pouring rain on a Tuesday morning, so I can make it to every class on time without an excuse.