The moment you walk out of the train station you can see that Haarlem is basically too cute to be real. The whole city looks like it jumped out of a coloring book and rolled around in some flowers.
We followed the directions to Lange Wijngaardstraat where we found our new Airbnb rental. The adorable little lane is lined with brick buildings, flowers and bicycles.
Biking is not a hobby here in Haarlem, it’s a way of life. Men, women and children do it, babies do it in baskets on the front, dogs do it in baskets on the back, groceries do it on the handlebars. Our host Mirjam told us there are more bikes in Haarlem than people. She says most people have 4 or 5 bikes for all different types of riding. Nearly every street is lined with bikes and riders, and parking lots are filled with bikes, not cars. And it’s not about having the latest and greatest here, it’s about longevity. If you’ve relied on your bike to get you everywhere you need to go for the last 20 years, that’s something to brag about.
Our apartment came with 4 bikes so we decided to give it a try. Even though, the last time I rode a bike – I was 9, the bike was purple and you pedaled backwards to brake. Even back then I’m not sure I was any good at it. When I think about riding a bike I don’t have any memory of actually going anywhere on it, I do however have a number of memories of running into things and falling off it. I have the scars to prove it and I wasn’t sure if I was ready to take on the city streets.
Out in the shed, we picked the best two and took them into the street. Great idea, I thought, until I actually got on it and realized the seat was way too high and I fell off just trying to stop, not a good start. We let my nerves settle, traded bikes, adjusted the seat, took a quick hand-brake lesson and tried it again. This time, I loved it!
We rode around the city all morning and had a great time. It really is a great way to explore Haarlem and to feel like a local. I still prefer the roads with separate bike lanes to the ones that make me compete with cars and competent bikers, but it’s a lot of fun. And once you get the hang of it, it’s as easy as, well – you know.