The following will help you avoid a common tourist scam when visiting Weederdam—err, Amsterdam:
This past May I had the privilege of visiting Amsterdam—Holland’s capital city—with my cousin. Having never visited a European city outside of England before, I was ridiculously excited to experience a totally new and different way of life. Plus, I’d heard the city’s famous for the consumption of a certain type of herb from my buddies Harold and Kumar.
Being in my early twenties and from Vancouver, another…flower capital, I was really impressed by what the city had to offer. Completely integrated bike lanes make cycling a really practical way to get around, the canals and old buildings turn the cityscape into a piece of art that begs appreciation, and walking the Red Light District felt like I’d stepped into a strangely erotic Tim Burton movie.
I only spent two nights in the city, so these words aren’t written by someone well acquainted with it. But, if you wanna know about the Netherlands’ version of Comedy Central on my hotel’s TV, I’m your man.
Exploring the City, Getting Lost in the Language
Anyway, my cousin and I got happily lost wandering the city streets, barely deciphering an overused tourist map we got from the train station. That map proved one thing: I am the most monolingual person around. Every Dutch street name was almost indecipherable from the next, and had more J’s and A’s than you’d think possible.
Some examples: Helmersbuurt, Jan Evertsenstraat and Oosterparkburt. For those of you with more can-do attitude than I (which is to say all of you) I’m sure reading the map won’t be too much of a problem. But remember, you probably won’t be sober while navigating those friendly city streets.
While I really enjoyed the city and pledge to return, one unfortunate incident put a damper on my Holland experience. On our first day my cousin and I decided to rent bikes—something I HIGHLY (get it?) recommend to all. They featured old-timey pedal brakes, were reasonably priced and cut travel times significantly.
What I don’t recommend is parking your bike in a NO zone.
7 hours before our flight and out of cash, my cuz and I locked up our bikes outside a bank. Cha-ching and BAM, they were gone when we returned. Turns out they were confiscated by the city, as indicated by a big orange sign that read: ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ, or something along those lines.
Point is, we returned to the bike rental place and were told to travel six miles out of the city centre via taxi to retrieve our—well—their wheels. I was ready to say ‘screw it’ to the whole situation; “send me a bill, bud,” but my cousin’s a standup guy who suggested we do the right thing. So off we cabbed to the land of windmills and Gouda factories.
By the way, if the city snipped our bikes before we got them, we’d have to pay an additional 60 Euros each. That’s about $90 Cdn.
“The Right Thing”
With only hours before our flight home we arrived at the bike compound. Luckily, our locks weren’t snipped and we only had to pay 15(!?) Euros EACH for their release.
Unfortunately, we had 15 Euros in total.
So, the kindly Dutch receptionist forced my cousin to bike 45 minutes to the nearest ATM. Having acknowledged “there’s nothing we can do” in heavily-accented English, I sat alone in suspense for a good, looooong while.
What if we miss our flight? How much money are these people costing me if I have to book another? Does this place have wi-fi? No?! Why do the Dutch hate me?
Against the Clock
With my cousin’s arrival, my time as a political prisoner was over and the bike of my lifetime commenced.
I’m not sure how many miles we cycled, or how long it took. Those bike highways offered a great view, but the endless sweat stinging my eyes was blinding.
We ended up returning our bikes, catching the last train and making our flight with ten minutes to spare. I literally sprinted through the terminal, dropping loose change and my dignity along the way.
What we Learned: Pros/Cons
- Bike renting is a great way to see one of earth’s most beautiful cities.
- Arriving at the terminal for your international flight with minutes to spare makes for a great story.
- The Dutch are INCREDIBLY nice. This scam doesn’t reflect how incredibly friendly they are.
- The GREENEST grass in cafes. Not talking about gardening, unless you happen to be a parent of mine.
- You can’t lock your bike up willy-nilly in A-dam. Make sure it’s legally parked.
- Carry enough cash to avoid 45-minute bike rides to rumoured ATMs.
- These scams make you vulnerable, forcing you into a tight situation with no time to think.
- Amsterdam’s such a huge tourist destination that traps are everywhere—you have to be weary.
(Insert witty and equally thought-provoking sign off here)