Hooray! I have a bicycle! We bought it yesterday morning at a shop called de Fietsenreus. People later told us that we must have been really lucky to get into this shop (several times) because it keeps mysterious and irregular hours (although the resident cat is always in). Now I am even more convinced that this bike is my destiny.
The test drive out in front of the store was a little shaky—I’m not going to lie—and the owner graciously went back inside so I didn’t have to be embarrassed in front of him too, in addition to Tim and random passersby. I rode a bike once on vacation in 2009, and prior to that… who even knows. It’s true, as they say, that you don’t exactly forget—but you’re not really skillful after a ten year hiatus, either. I wobbled a little bit as I pushed off, and said in a panicky voice, “I can’t do this!” Tim told me somewhat sternly that I could and so I sucked it up and rode off down the street. By the time I rode back, I was already calling it “my bike,” and soon we were on the way home.
Riding a bike here changes everything. I have been zipping around like crazy. I’d been doing a lot of walking since we arrived, which was pleasant and healthy, but on bike you can cross all of Delft in just minutes. It’s very liberating and not as scary as I thought it would be. Whenever a car passes me I hold my breath or pull off if it sounds like a truck, but there’s not a ton of car traffic and I haven’t had any near-misses. It is completely unlike riding in Cambridge or Boston, which I tried for about three days in 2004 and concluded that I wanted to live to see 2005, so stopped.
Riding a bike makes me feel a lot more like a local. On my way to a cafe today, I had to stop my bike in the road while a car tried to k-turn out of a narrow spot. A very elegant Dutch woman riding a bike in a flowing red skirt and fancy coat pulled up alongside me, gestured to the car, and made some (I’m sure) humorous and disparaging remark in Dutch. I could only smile and say, “Ja,” which I hope was the correct response.
My oma fiet has a 50cm frame (basically the smallest adult size) and is black (the only color that came in my size, unfortunately). It has pedal brakes and front and rear lights, and today I took it to another shop and had them install a bungee across the back so I can strap parcels on it. To get those sweet saddlebags (panniers? something like this) I have to save up or find a cheaper store.
In the US, when I would leave my car in a parking lot and go into a store, I wouldn’t worry that the car might not be there when I got back. But with my bike, I worry about it constantly. (Right now, the bike is locked to a post and I can see it out the cafe window… I’m watching you, woman standing next to my bike. Back off.) The first place I locked it up yesterday was outside the Vermeer Center in Delft, and I was jumpy the whole time I was inside the museum. I kept slipping back toward the entrance to make sure I could see my bike. I suppose you relax over time. I’m very slow at locking the bike, because of my clumsiness with the chain and trying to mimic how other people lock theirs, so I’m pretty sure I’ve been mistaken for a potential bike thief already.
I have to sign off now, but here are some miscellaneous thoughts from my Friday:
1. We are having a hard time getting my computer (a Mac) online at home. The instructions for our home internet seem to work for Tim’s computer (a PC) but not mine. It slows down my posting frequency, because I prefer to use my Mac.
2. We’ve had a lot of rain the past couple days (I haven’t been caught in it yet—it’s only a matter of time) and the temperature has dropped to something that feels more like early fall. However, I keep seeing people in things like quilted jackets. I guess this is what passes for cold here….
3. In case you are planning on visiting Delft, I am not sure I recommend the Vermeer Center. It’s a three-story museum in the old artists’ guild building, dedicated to Johannes Vermeer, the famous painter who spent his life here. Sadly, none of his work is still in Delft; all the paintings are in other museums in Den Haag, Amsterdam, New York, etc. So the Vermeer Center shows you a video about the history of Delft (probably the best part of the visit) and then has reproductions of the paintings with some information about their creation and Vermeer’s life. Only, the first thing they say is that people don’t know much about his life, so there’s a lot of speculative text next to the exhibits (things along the lines of: “What was Vermeer thinking while he worked on this portrait? We can only wonder…”) On the top floor there’s an interesting exhibit that shows how he used light in his paintings, and a video that shows someone mixing paint the 1600s way. I would wholeheartedly recommend spending an hour here if the center were free, or E5 or less. But since they’re charging E7 for adults, I’d recommend just going to someplace where you can see one of the real paintings.