Yes, Netherlands has the canals and the quaint architecture. Bicycles, however, provided the most striking memory from our first day here.
The population of the city centers of Haarlem and Amsterdam employ more bikes than cars, to my eyes. No one wears a helmet, and the style of bicycle riding is more upright: the spine is vertical, not leaning forward. Some are specially equipped with seats or double seats for tiny children behind the pedaller. Some have what look like deep-narrow wheelbarrows in front of the pedaller, which sometimes carry other children. But mostly, we see single riders riding upright, hair blowing in the breeze.
At the Haarlem train station, the demand for bicycle parking is so great that there are double-decker bike racks.
Portland wins accolades for being bicycle friendly. But painting a few extra stripes on streets is nothing like the construction around Haarlem to facilitate bicycles.
We took the bus from the airport to Haarlem. At one point, I noticed a paved lane for cars going in one direction, separated by grass from the lane going in the other direction, separated by grass from the bicycle lane, separated by grass from the pavement dedicated for two-way, bus-only traffic. In that stretch, each mode moves without the distraction, danger and interruption from the other modes.
In the 400 year old city, with the narrow lands, some bike lanes are denoted with a slight depression in the brick, just an inch or so. On those streets that are wide enough for pedistrians, bikes and cars, the cars are at one level, the bikes are an inch or two higher, and pedestrians are an inch or two higher still.
As a pedistrian, crossing the street in Amsterdam can take some time, because one needs to wait for a break in the bike traffic, as well as auto traffic plus the rail traffic.
Lots of people moving. And that's the key word, moving. In Bangkok, gridlock prevails as cars fill every square foot of road. Here, cars seem a tertiary mode of transport, after public transit and bicycles. Maybe statistics would prove me wrong on this, but that was my first impression of the city centers of Haarlem and Amsterdam.
Bike friendly - but in some areas, pedestrians must beware and walk at your own risk.