Thursday night is one of my favorite nights of the week - it's the only night that I don't have reoccurring plans, and it's the night all the stores are open late. This is important to know, if you're visiting for relocating to Amsterdam - things close early in this city. Very early. Shops and department stores shut their doors between 17-19hr (19 if you're lucky). On the plus side, there's way more open on Sunday in Amsterdam than there is in a lot of other European cities - and we have one one night of the week where all the stores stay open late, and that night is Thursday. Getting used to that has made my life much easier.
What doesn't stay open late is restaurants or supermarkets, which always causes me a bit pain when I think about the 24-hour organic supermarkets that existed all over my former Brooklyn neighborhood. Going out to dinner even at 22hr is taking a risk, and if it's getting toward 22.30, you're basically out of luck. Hours do run later on weekends, and there are a few gems out there that serve late, but in general you're completely out of luck if you want anything that resembles decent food after 22.30. On the plus side, even if you get stuck eating street food, you're doing it in an absolutely beautiful city. I sat with a friend last night as he ate something unidentifiable at about 23hr, and after making jokes about the food and holding myself back from going on a long rant about how not getting decent food at 22.30 was taking away a basic human right, I looked around and noticed where we were. We had walked down quiet, mostly empty streets, in a beautiful neighborhood. We laughed at two adorable dogs (of course not on a leash), playing with their owner. As we wandered, we tended to walk right down the middle of the street, only getting out of the way for a passing bike or two - I didn't see a car drive by all night. And when we sat down to eat, we chose a bench on a beautiful canal in the Jordaan neighborhood. Streetlights were reflected in the water, all different types of boats were parked along the sides of the canal, and then a family of ducks swam by. I mean, really. The crappy food seemed very unimportant.
There are two other only-in-Amsterdam moments I've been meaning to write about. Earlier this week I was riding home along the Stadhouderskade around midnight, which is a pretty major road for traffic, buses, and bikes. They had shut down a very long piece of the road for construction and put up metal gates and signs to keep the cars away and the bikes from using the bike lane. But as a cyclist, I had nothing to worry about - the bike detour signs were also up and pointed me toward the middle of the road, where a temporary bike lane had been constructed. Even in the most bike-friendly areas of the US or Paris that I've ridden in, this just simply wouldn't happen.
Another thing that you might notice if you're out late is that all the traffic lights are out. This isn't cause for alarm, this is normal. I don't know what time they get turned off, but after a certain hour there just seems to be no need for traffic lights, and everyone is just expected to use good judgment and watch out for each other. Honestly, it completely works. Cars slow down at intersections and look both ways before going through, always, of course, yielding to cyclists.
It's been a really beautiful week here. As I rode into work this morning, the sun was shining, the yellow and orange leaves were falling lightly off the trees, and I was singing along without shame to Simon and Garfunkel playing on my ipod. No one looked at me strangely or gave me a hard time for A) riding a bike B) assuming I had the right of way in every situation where there was an automobile or C) singing out loud. These are the little things that I never want to take for granted, yet now it all feels so entirely normal.