Biking in The Netherlands

A few days ago, Servetus wrote a post about a German government minister biking to his official installation as a minister and I found myself initially thinking, “Cool! But so what?” I then immediately chastised and corrected myself as I realized I live in a very bike-friendly country where riding a bike to, well, any occasion is very normal. Our prime minister lives in Den Haag and bikes to his work place (which I think may be about a 10 minute commute for him) very often.

He likes to eat an apple while he does so…

He even bikes to the king’s palace……

And yes, without a helmet, which is one of the things I most hear foreigners comment on when they see pictures of Dutch people on their bikes. Practically no one wears a helmet when biking in The Netherlands; I don’t think I know anyone who uses them and we certainly don’t own any here at my house. It was once suggested some years ago that maybe it would be a good idea but everyone just laughed it off. Biking here is not the same as in other countries (we have more bikes here than people!) and that had me thinking of the first and only urban planning YouTube channel that I got hooked on for a bit a few months ago. Mr Esther was fascinated as well.

The videos on the YouTube channel Not Just Bikes are made by a Canadian living in Amsterdam and he is fascinated by urban planning, urban transport infrastructure and by the Dutch bicycle infrastructure we have in place. It’s a compelling outsider’s view on how we live here in The Netherlands and he compares it to where he’s lived in Canada and the US. I never think much about urban planning and have never even considered watching videos on that but somehow I accidentally stumbled on this first video I’m sharing here. I’m not even sure anymore why I clicked on it but I did and got hooked on watching others as well. This video is about how in Amsterdam (and in The Netherlands) there are policies to disentangle routes for different modes of transport, i.e. we’ll have routes through a city just for bicycles where cars can’t be and vice versa.

I went down a rabbit hole on this guy’s YouTube channel after that. The cool thing is that not only did I see my country through a foreigner’s eyes, I also learned a lot about urban life in US and Canada. He comments on how high walkability is here and how that makes all the difference…

I never really thought about how normal walkability is here as opposed to many places abroad and it suddenly made so much sense to me.

As a parent, the most striking video for me was the one he made about not wanting to raise his kids in US or Canadian suburbia. The premise baffled me because I was always under the impression that raising kids in these suburbs must be great.


From this video I learned that kids walking and cycling to school and other activities all on their own is not as normal in the US and Canada as it is here. I mean, I have friends and family abroad with children but I never really thought of that before… until I remembered once, many years ago, my brother, his partner and my niece visiting from London.

My kids were maybe 6 – 8 years old and we were in my back garden when my kids decided they wanted to go to this playground and have my niece come with them. The playground was about a 3 minute walk away, in a very residential, traffic-calmed area, where pedestrians have right of way everywhere and my kids went there on their own with friends all the time. So, it was normal for us to say ‘sure, go ahead!’. My then sister-in-law, who was not Dutch and had never lived here, immediately panicked, fearing it was unsafe and we had to reassure her and show her that for kids here it’s a very normal thing to do, all on their own. Needless to say, my kids and my niece came back again an hour or two later, all elated and in once piece.

After watching that video I realized more than ever that kids are much more independent here in their own travel and movements from a young age than they seem to be in the US and Canada. He even speaks of a court case against a dad in Vancouver who let his kids go somewhere unsupervised and was ordered to not let that happen again, on penalty of having his kids taken away from him. In the end he won, but… wow. That really hit home with me. The video also brought home to me the soccer-mom concept in the US, which is very different from what I think a soccer-mom is here. Being a soccer-mom here is a choice, in the US and Canada there is no choice, you always have to drive until the kids are old enough to drive on their own.

Speaking of traffic calming earlier, this video explains how that works here…

Or how our traffic lights system is very efficient. I’ve noticed that before while driving abroad, how we’ll sometimes spend more time ‘needlessly’ waiting at traffic lights than we are used to in The Netherlands.

Another cool biking video was the one he made about Dutch bikes being different. It’s another thing I have noticed as well while abroad, although, for instance in Germany, I do see some more Dutch-style upright bikes. In most other countries bicycles are used primarily for sport and exercise, in The Netherlands they are used to get from A to B. He says somewhere that people on bikes here are dressed for their destination (i.e. in their work clothes like our Dutch prime minister in his suit, or sports clothes, or even fancier clothes when going out for an evening) and not dressed for the ride itself, which is very true…

Another interesting one was about him not being a “cyclist” but just a guy on a bike who wants to get from A to B. It shows how people on bikes are regarded differently and more negatively abroad than they are in The Netherlands. Here every car driver is also a bike rider, so there is no such overt resentment against cyclists.

I know I’ve gone off on a bicycle tangent here but I have to say, I have never been as interested in urban planning videos as I have been in these. There’s something very compelling about them. They make me realize that living in The Netherlands really isn’t so bad after all and that our biking and walkability culture is something we should treasure.

Dutch politics & Dobby

After almost 10 months (!!) of negotiations after our elections last March we finally have a new cabinet for our coalition government. It’s the fourth cabinet with Mark Rutte as prime minister (he’s been PM for 11 years now). The new cabinet was sworn in this past Monday. The official picture with our king in the middle front with Rutte next to him on the left had all the new ministers standing in a socially distanced position, which very much signifies the times we are living in now.

This evening we had our first Corona virus press conference with our new health minister, Ernst Kuipers, accompanying PM Rutte. During this pandemic Kuipers has already been a well known face on TV here, giving updates in the news on the situation in hospitals, but now as the new health minister, I saw him in action longer. Watching him during the press conference, it suddenly struck me: Ernst Kuipers reminds me of Dobby the elf from Harry Potter (minus the ears)!

It’s not a bad thing, I liked Dobby! Don’t have the same affinity for Mr. Kuipers yet, but maybe that will grow?

Meanwhile, we learned that some lockdown restrictions will be eased here, starting tomorrow. New reported Corona cases are still on the rise but hospitalizations are down, which is why this strategy is deemed possible. This pandemic still feels far from over.

Sirius Black

Just a quick post as I’ve been engrossed in Harry Potter movies the past few days. I decided to watch the 20th anniversary reunion show and that made me realize I’d forgotten a lot about these movies as it’s been ages since I’ve seen them. So, after watching that show, which I found quite touching despite me not being a hardcore fan, I decided to dive into the movies again. I wanted to refresh my memory on the plot but also for the cast, especially Alan Rickman who was so brilliant as Professor Snape. His entrance just after 1 minute 10 in this really fun party scene from the sixth movie Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince gives a teeny glimpse into his magnetic and sometimes very amusing performance as Snape.

I also remember really liking Gary Oldman in Harry Potter

Seeing (parts of) the movies again, I was reminded how wonderful Gary actually was as Sirius Black and I’m in love all over again. My heart really beats faster for those little winks alone (ask Mr Esther, I adore winks)…

… but also for his wisdom…

… and for so much more…

I so wish he’d been around much more and much longer in the books and movies. Now all that’s left is to daydream about him, so I will go and do that now…

Pictures of the day

After two days of feeling completely fatigued and out of it (I now fully understand the meaning of the phrase “bone-tired”!), my energy has returned and I’m feeling like myself again. So, the house has been de-Christmasfied today, with the floor lamp back in the place where the Christmas tree was…

I had barely unpacked a box that came in the mail today when the cat jumped into it…

Listened to Bowie all day and then late this afternoon on Twitter this gorgeous picture of David and Iman was posted by Iman

And Sidney Poitier has been on my mind a lot since I heard the news of his passing last night, aged 94. I think I may re-watch Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner again this evening in his honour. I haven’t seen that movie in years but remember really liking it.

May you rest in peace, dear Sir!

David Bowie 75

Today would have been David Bowie’s 75th birthday. I’m celebrating here with the Bowie song that has meant the most to me…

Seeing his handwritten lyrics of this song during the David Bowie Is exhibition has been one of my most valued museum experiences ever. It’s the only secret picture I took when I visited the excellent travelling exhibition a week before he so unexpectedly and shockingly passed away…

Mr Esther and I were going to go to a Bowie tribute concert at the end of January in Rotterdam but due to lockdowns in effect now, the concert has been postponed to next fall. In lieu of the concert, I am listening to only David Bowie today. His wife Iman has shared a 5 and a half hour playlist that has been curated for his birthday….

I already have my own Bowie playlist but listening to another one and hearing what has been selected for that will be fun.

Happy birthday, David! Thank you for all the gifts you have given us.