Freedom of the city of expression
In Amsterdam, a city where cyclists reign, it’s still all about freedom for Catherine Mack
Catherine Mack and her son in Amsterdam
Someone asked me recently to sum up my feelings about travel in one word. I chose “freedom”. So, I was pleasantly surprised to find that my recent trip to Amsterdam captured that feeling more than any other city break.
I was travelling with my 10-year-old son and we cycled everywhere which, for an urban young one (and his oul one), was like a dream come true.
This is a city where cyclists reign and taking a guided city tour with Yellow Bike (yellowbike.ndl) was the best way to adjust to this revelation that we had a right to roam just as much as the four wheelers, although there aren’t many of those anyway.
Freedom is fundamental to Dutch people and our young cycling guide openly expressed his views on prostitution as we pedalled past prostitutes in the red-light district, and on the liberalisation of cannabis in the city as we cycled through clouds of the stuff. He talked about the horrors of sex trafficking hidden behind window displays and the dark side of the drugs industry hidden behind cosy cafes.
There was no editing for my 10-year-old. Why would there be? This is Amsterdam, where freedom of expression is the norm and I could see my son taking it all in, asking wise questions, and formulating his own opinions.
We hopped on and off boats, with bikes and without, taking an eco-friendly canal tour on an electric boat with Canal Hopper (canal.nl/en/canal-hopper) and nipping across the Ij lake on the free ferry which leaves from behind Central Station. Yes, free, with boats crossing every few minutes packed with cyclists heading over to enjoy the green spaces of the “Noord” side.
I asked a local how they could possibly be free and he said that the city had to give cyclists access across the river: “That is normal, is it not?” he said. Sadly, em, not.
There are lots of theories about why the Dutch celebrate a liberal approach to life. But standing in the beyond-poignant Anne Frankhouse (annefrank.org), I was struck by her entry on December 24th 1943, which said: “I long to ride a bike, dance, whistle, look at the world, feel young and know that I am free.”
As I cycled along the canals later with my son I realised that I had, in fact, chosen just the right word to sum up what travel means to me.
For more see iamsterdam.com