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“I Want To Ride My Bicycle” Queen

July 8, 2014

While I started the month of June intending to post about public policy, I found myself too depressed to even write one word. Between the growing domestic federal government scandals with the IRS (“Oops, I lost my hard drive”) and of course, the VA, and the fact that most of the rest of the world seems to falling apart (e.g. ISIS, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Ukraine, Russia,  most of Africa , a resurgence of terrorism generally), I found it very hard  to even begin writing. So instead I have decided to post about a happier topic and will return to public policy on my next blog post.

About a month ago, my wife and I completed our 10 day trip abroad in the Netherlands after spending the first several days in Cologne, Germany (where I chaired a board meeting of IETA and spoke at Carbon Expo, while Anne did sightseeing in the Old Town of Cologne). We saw many interesting sights in Cologne including the beautiful Cologne Cathedral which has the distinction of being one of the few buildings to have survived the Allied bombings in WWII. We also viewed the Roman Praetorian ruins dating from 400 AD with Cologne having been one of the northern Roman outposts/palaces along the Rhine River.

However, by far the most interesting experience occurred as we were walking out of breakfast our second morning in Cologne. My wife smiled at an elderly gentleman who was eating breakfast alone and he looked at us and said “Do you speak English?”. We told him we were American and got in a brief small-talk conversation, in which we both stood a bit awe-struck at this very recognizable man with a British accent. I knew he was famous but absolutely could not remember his name. Soon, our conversation was over and we shook hands and walked off. It was only then that Anne said excitedly to me “That was Anthony Hopkins”. (Apparently, he was shooting a movie called “Autobahn” and in fact the next day the walkway across the railroad bridge to the old town was closed as they were shooting a scene). We can thank the fact that he was alone and clearly starved for ANY English conversation that helped lead to our brief encounter.

In the Netherlands, we enjoyed immensely our stay with our hosts and long time friends, Janny and Paul, in the town of Haarlem just outside Amsterdam. They were just a five-minute walk from the train station which meant we could come and go as we pleased. In addition to wonderful museums ( The Rijksmuseum is a must for Dutch art lovers), the interesting canals and general scenery in Amsterdam, we enjoyed side trips to Rotterdam and the Hague where we saw the Escher museum who has always been one of my personal favorite artists. The Netherlands was also a great place to travel. Train trips between Haarlem-Amsterdam-Rotterdam and the Hague were all an hour or less. Virtually everyone spoke impeccable English which made tourism very easy but also made us occasionally guilty about being typical, monolingual Americans.

However, one thing we learned first in Cologne (and later in the Netherlands) was that the rules of the road ( or rules of the pedestrian pathways) were profoundly different in Germany. Walking across Cologne’s railroad bridge to the Old Town on the relatively narrow pedestrian walkway with Anne, I quickly learned that only single file was permissible. Even then I found myself staring down a bicyclist who was bearing down on me from the other direction and refusing to blink first. The first few times I found myself – just in time – squeezing to the very far right and stopping so the bicyclists wouldn’t hit me. Eventually, I just walked warily to avoid the oncoming bikes. Apparently, bicyclists always had the right of way not just with cars but pedestrians too!

This situation was more civilized in the Netherlands. Paths often showed where bikes and pedestrians should go and often bike paths were completely separate. But the sheer number of bicycles in the Netherlands was very intimidating. We learned quickly from our friends that bikes were not just for recreation or sports, but rather were THE mode of transportation in the Netherlands. The Dutch commuted to work, shopped for groceries, shopped in general, and even went out to bars and restaurants on their BIKES. ( In this last case, I had learned the hard way how difficult biking is “after” drinking many years ago at a liquidity preference function (LPF) at the Stanford Business School one late afternoon and then having to bike back after dark somewhat inebriated. Now that was a challenge!).

As I was often looking at my map or my google map on my phone while in Amsterdam and Rotterdam, I sometimes inadvertently wandered on the bike path. Fortunately, my ever vigilant wife was usually there to get me back on the pedestrian side as quickly as possible. I admit being annoyed a few times as I was tapped on the shoulder and told “Bruce you’re on the bike path again!”. But eventually I realized that she was only trying to save me from a possible cataclysmic accident with multiple speeding bicycles.

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Fortunately, I managed to survive our trip largely unscathed. Netherlands was great fun and a wonderful place to visit, but beware of the bicyclists!

 

From → Travel

8 Comments
  1. Robert Carey permalink

    Anthony Hopkins! Cool!

    • He seemed like a genuinely nice person. Whether that was because he was starved for attention or simply because he is always that way, we will never know. But it sure was neat. I have always thought he was a great actor.

  2. Bruce, your trip to Germany and the Low Countries is far more interesting than current politics are. The other aspect of bicycle riding in Amsterdam that was fascinated me was that we would see an impeccably dressed female business person (imagine a banker), pedaling in a mass of other cyclists, in her high heels, with her briefcase and a few other things in the front basket and a child behind, flashing past while negotiating a deal on her cell phone. They take multi-tasking to a different level.

    • I did see a wide variety of people biking in the Netherlands. However, I can’t say I ever saw a women in high heels!

  3. Kathleen permalink

    I would love to go to Amsterdam. Glad you had fun Mom and Dad!

  4. Jim permalink

    Love it. Hopkins must be a Met fan to not recognize you.

  5. John permalink

    Sir Anthony Hopkins? Wow, that was some chance meeting. Was he eating fava beans (I know, too easy)? The Rijksmuseum – gotta get there someday. I would love to see the Vermeers in person. As a total aside, I would highly recommend seeing the documentary “Tim’s Vermeer”. Fascinating stuff. Sounds like a very memorable trip.

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