Sunday 9 April 2006

Love thy neighbour and bike off

Neighbours to decadence

Neighbourliness is particularly of the essence when you live in a city like Amsterdam. For years, I have told people that Amsterdam to the tourist is a lot different from Amsterdam to the resident.

We do not all live in coffee-shops (outlets as bars that sell marijuana) or traipse up and down the streets of the red-light district (an area of Amsterdam where ladies of the night display themselves scantily clad in red-lit window boxes) looking for and libido-sapping soul destruction.

Gladly, when I arrived here about 6 years ago, my feet were firmly placed on the ground, that none of that was of any interest.

More coffee with lumps of dope

However, I do remember pre-EasyEverything Internet Café times, the shops that offered that service were coffee-shops. So, you got to surf the net and check your email in the haze of head-lifting smoke leading to drugged stupor.

Once, I arrived at the shop only to find all terminals occupied, so I sat at the bar and ordered a coffee which in Amsterdam always comes with a biscuit. I had to ask if those were space-biscuits (biscuits baked with marijuana as part of the ingredients). Thankfully, they were just ordinary biscuits.

A friend once bought a pack of biscuits and within an hour of finishing a biscuit, he was completely out of sorts for nigh on 24 hours. Which also reminds of that night as I drank my coffee, a man stood up and walked through the glass pane of the main door completely spaced-out.

As he fell into the shattered glass, he got up again and I shrieked “He will fall into the canal”, to which people said, don’t bother, he knows his way.

More money and no sense

This however was what I observed of many of my English countrymen who for the fertile business and job opportunities in the late 90s through to about 2002 in the Netherlands arrived at work each morning inebriated, drained, unproductive and incoherent.

Having spent time in a bar, a coffee shop, the red-light district or the Holland Casino where they gambled away their earnings with impunity and never felt it for the fact that they earned well beyond their wildest dreams.

Every “new money” type got themselves a Porsche 911 which they wrote off with reckless speed chases as they evaded photographic capture by speed cameras.

No, that is not my Amsterdam, even though I am an expatriate, Amsterdam is a lively city of culture, theatre, activity, and pleasure.

Go indoors next door

However, I was taken aback when my first neighbour mentioned he was baby-sitting only for me to find out later that in fact he was baby-sitting his new born son. Between our doors, I did not notice for 9 months that his wife was pregnant – I felt rotten.

So, when I had new neighbours, I decided that good neighbourliness was important; two weeks would not pass without some sort of contact. OK! I mainly visited them than they visiting me, but we maintain a very good rapport and friendliness.

A new pastime

So, this afternoon, as we had planned aforetime, I was invited for a bike ride round the outskirts of Amsterdam and we went on cycle paths that I had never travelled before, over bridges into a village (Schellingwoude) that looked like something I would see in Beatrix Potter land.

I saw a few cottages that looked like the occupants would invite me in for scones, clotted cream and Earl Gray tea, as I thought aloud, a few people we passed said very nice.

Anyway, it appears I must give my bicycle a good servicing because when my friend visits for Easter, we might be exploring a few more villages, probably with my neighbours too – if the weather is good.


Amsterdam Cycle Route 9: dike villages, grassland landscape, heritage tourism

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