When I was seven years old, I rode my bike down the steepest hill in our neighborhood as fast as I could. About halfway down the hill, my bike started to fishtail, I went flying over the handlebars, and ended up going to the hospital for a sprained wrist on one arm and a hairline fracture in the other, and some pretty gnarly road rash.
That is no longer the scariest bike experience I’ve ever had; it’s now the entirety of my time in Amsterdam.
If I had to sum up Amsterdam in three words, it would not be “red light district,” “city of canals,” or “smoke weed legally,” it would be “bicycles fucking everywhere.”
[Going forward I continue to make a lot of jokes about how terrifying the cyclists are in this beautiful city, but all kidding aside, I have so much respect for the fact that such a populated place can run so smoothly with fewer cars. They adapt and engineer crazy ways to make it work amazingly, and I think it’s fantastic, albeit overwhelming for an outsider like me.]
Okay, so obviously you can bike. If you really enjoy getting yelled at in Dutch. Or if you’re already a hyper-aggressive cyclist with no regard for pedestrians, cars, or other cyclists. Then yes, biking around Amsterdam is probably perfect for you in either scenario. It was not a good option for me (see: previous bike trauma).
Here’s what I did do, and something that will probably go down as one of the more surreal travel experiences I have this trip, or possibly ever: I took an airport taxi. Sounds innocuous enough, right? Wrong. So wrong.
First, let me sidetrack to how I ended up taking a taxi so you can learn from my mistakes. I had planned on taking the tram to Central Station from the airport and walking to my hotel from there. Well, that didn’t work. The electronic kiosk did not want to take any of my forms of payment. It didn’t take American Express. It took Visa or MasterCard, but only with a CHIP, which I haven’t been issued for my either of my Visa cards yet. It also took euros, which I didn’t have, and the ATMs in the airport had a minimum withdrawal of 200€. Which seemed excessive (FYI, it’s not. They are all like that in Amsterdam, even in the City Center. Just bite the bullet and do it, it’ll be free at the airport and some of the ATMs outside will charge you.) I couldn’t find a person to sell me a tram ticket, although I was assured there was a place where something so old fashioned could occur. I was so sick of hauling my luggage around and being spoken to in Dutch (I must give off a super strong Dutch vibe), I was just like you know what: taxi. I’m done.
So I follow the signs outside the airport and there’s this dude waiting outside the sliding doors. He comes right up to me and says, “You need a taxi?” like he was offering me drugs or something, and I was like, “yes…” kind of weirded out but also glad that someone made the correct assumption of English first. He then said, “I’m going to walk you over here and this man in the yellow vest is going to offer you a taxi, but you tell him you’re coming with me. Okay?” And I was like “Ummmmmm….do you take credit cards?” In hindsight, that maybe should not have been my first question in this exchange.
He told me yes, he takes cards, and that this other guy does not. That’s when I’m like, okay, figuring this out, this guy is trying to swipe business from the man in the yellow vest. Got it.
So we start walking over and sure enough, the guy in the yellow vest stops us. That’s when I see he has airport credentials, hence the yellow vest. And he asks, “ma’am are you sure you want to go with this man? He is not a licensed airport taxi. You need to know that you have a choice.” And that’s when my brain goes into overload. The seriousness with which he asks me this question is like I’m basically signing up for Taken 3 if I go with this original dude. And, with my brain being in overload, I just stand there like a jackass saying nothing, trying to process why this is so hard–I just want to get in a taxi and go to my hotel and not need Liam Neeson.
“I’ll give you a discount!” The original guy starts yelling at me. I ask the airport guy, “So, do the airport taxis take credit cards?” Really didn’t realize how important this method of payment issue was to me until I started writing this down. Just right there on the forefront of my thoughts constantly. I’m pretty sure one of y’all is trying to murder me, but I just wanna make sure you get paid for the fare first.
During this less-than-a-minute exchange, two more non-airport licensed taxi drivers have shown up, and an additional airport employee in a yellow vest. Now I’m surrounded by five very large dudes, all of whom I think I recognize from the original Taken, three of whom are alternating yelling at the airport guys for trying to talk to me and yelling at me to let them take me. Guys, not selling me getting into a car alone with you by using intimidation. Might want to take some sort of class on that. So I told the airport guys I’d go with an airport taxi.
They do take cards by the way. To answer that burning question.
So these two airport guys escort me, one on each side, back to the exact place I just came from after trying to buy a tram ticket–[side note: why the eff do your taxi signs take me all the way to the other end of the airport then, AMS]–and I think, well this seems excessive. It’s not.
The non-airport taxi guys keep following us and keep yelling at me and yelling at the airport guys. And more just keep joining them. I don’t look back, but I can hear more voices.
It sounds dramatic. It was.
One of the airport guys must have noticed sheer confusion and/or panic on my face. “It’s kind of crazy, yes?” “Yes. It is crazy.” “It’s always like this.” “Oh.” Doesn’t exactly make me feel better. “The cab drivers here that are not licensed by the airport, they can be not reputable. That’s why we recommend the airport taxis. But it’s your choice.” “Oh, okay.” Still not making it better.
Then these two hand me off to a different guy in a yellow vest. He is about my size. You are not the bodyguard I feel I need right now, sir. But he is much friendlier and we’ve lost most of the trail of drivers who are now harassing someone else back at the terminal exit.
“This is crazy.” That’s really all I can manage to say. I mean, it was just so weird and unexpected. “Yes, it’s always like this.” So I’ve been told. “So, the other drivers, how are they unreputable?” “Often they tell you one price when you get in the car, but then when you get to the destination, they charge you more. And because they are not officially licensed, it is much harder to make a complaint against them if anything happens.” “Oh.” So not my organs on the black market. That makes me feel a little better.
Then I get handed off again, this time to the biggest dude we’ve encountered yet. Holy cow. Things must be getting serious. And they did.
I am really not exaggerating this next part. Like, I almost need you to go to Amsterdam and take a taxi just so I know you know I’m not lying.
As we are crossing the crosswalk between the terminals and the parking garage where the taxis are parked, there is a human barricade of airport staff literally holding back unlicensed taxi drivers screaming at you to come with them. One female driver reached between the airport guys, grabbed me by the arm, and tried to physically drag me off with her. Again, a softer approach may be more fruitful.
I hope it is the closest feeling I ever experience to being mobbed by paparazzi and/or zombies. (Same, same?)
Then–then!–you get to the taxis. And they are all Mercedes and Teslas. And a few Jaguars. Never been so bummed to get in a Mercedes in my life. I was extremely disappointed in myself for that feeling, but it was real. And these are not like a car service cars or Uber Black or something–they all have a plastic light up taxi thing on the top of them, which is just offensive, but they are really taxis.
Assuming you live to see your luxury ride, a taxi to central Amsterdam will cost you about 50€ to make a long story much shorter and less colorful.Once you’re in Amsterdam, there are all kinds of options to see the city. I’ll start with the ones I didn’t do, so feel free to skip ahead to the part where I actually know what I’m talking about.
1) Biking: You need to be a little brave for this one I think. It’s very easy to spot the tourists on bikes, because they’re the ones getting yelled at by other people on bikes. But if you don’t mind, they’re all over the place to rent.
3) Tram: Never attempted to purchase another ticket. Seems like a good way to get around though?4) Rent a car: If you are insane. Seriously, good luck to you, the bikes own the road. I also legitimately do not know where people park. They may not even rent cars. I don’t know why they would. (They do.) Really though, unless you are driving out of the city to see windmills or tulips or something, there’s no need for a vehicle.
5) Walking: Okay, I guess you don’t really need me to tell you how to walk, but that’s what I did while I was there. It’s a bit easy to get turned around because of all the canals and the roads are almost circular there, but it’s not that hard to figure out and it’s not a big deal if you get a little lost, it feels very safe everywhere. I set my new travel walking record there, 16.77 miles in one day. Worth it.As a pedestrian in Amsterdam, you are absolutely the lowest member of the food chain. Do not expect anyone on a bike or a motorcycle or a moped or in a car to stop or even slow down for you, even when you technically have the right of way.
Also, something I learned the hard way–you know in America, when you’re at a crosswalk, and the walk/don’t walk sign has a timer that counts down letting you know how long you have left to clear the crosswalk? It means the exact opposite in Amsterdam. Definitely walked out into traffic before I figured that one out. It counts down to when you’re allowed to cross. I don’t know why, just accept it and don’t get hit if you can help it.
Stay tuned for more on Amsterdam, less about scary bikes.