The Bike

17 September 2011

Despite many daily items being cheaper in the Netherlands, one thing which certainly isn’t is public transport.

It’s not just the having to pay 3.75 Euros to go like 5 kilometres which bothers me; it’s the entire nature of the transaction with the bus driver. You approach this man, pray to yourself that he can speak English and then attempt to say the name of your bus stop. In your native tongue this is simple. Words like ‘Pacific Fair’ or ‘Griffith University’ could be navigated using the ancient art of ‘sounding out’ passed down from mother to son, preschool teacher to child. In this land, however, these laws of language do not apply.

Pronouncing a word like ‘Janskerkoff’ requires the skills of a well-experience linguist. Of course, I approached the word with my boyish innocence and sounded it out. Little did I know that these rules of the English language are nothing in this land. It is pure anarchy. The J is pronounced as a Y. Naturally, one then must question why the use of the letter J – PROBABLY BECAUSE THIS ISN’T THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE

Point of the tale – I feel embarrassed even attempting to talk to bus drivers.

It usually goes one of three ways:

  •  Perfect English speaker. After hearing me say ‘Hello, how are you?’ and then proceeding to announce my destination, the driver takes my money and hands me a ticket. This may or may not include the driver also re-pronouncing the word in correct Dutch to me.
  •  The Oh-you-don’t-speak-Dutch. This is the encounter where the driver speaks to you in Dutch until he suddenly realises you have no idea what curses he is whispering to you.

This can have its advantages though. I got on a bus with a burger. The driver started going crazy at me for like 3 minutes while I stood there digging through my bag for change. As I was being chastised in Dutch it just flew over me. I didn’t even feel bad or anything. I felt quite LOL actually, because I imagine he felt he was really teaching a young ragamuffin a lesson, and then he realised I had no idea what he was saying.

That was an enjoyable burger.

  • I notice-you-are-not-speaking-Dutch-but-I-will-continue-to-speak-to-you-in-Dutch-in-the-hope-that-through-my-continued-speech-you-will-mystically-gain-the-power-to-understand-me. This happened to me yesterday morning. Get on bus. Announce destination. Present money. Dutch speak. Dutch speak. Dutch speak. Still standing, take my money – I told you where I was going. Dutch speak. You have still not taken my money. Bus starts moving. Grab onto something or someone. The bus stops again. Then he takes money.

Luckily there was another Australian with me whom I could raise my eyebrows to during this event.

With public transport being both (a) expensive and (b) awkward the bike begins to look like a very persuasive form of transport.

Last week I purchased my bike. I haven’t ridden a bike in MANY years. I think the last time must have been when I was 11.

I have never been a good bike rider. Like most physical activities, my attempts to ride a bike were often met with confused glances from strangers and worried expressions on the faces of family and physical education teachers. I think my sports teachers have reunions where they get together and weep at the failures they have guided me towards. I remember attempting to play soccer in primary school. Horrific – It was also the scene of my one and only sports related injury when I attempted to kick a ball away from an opponent in soccer. Instead, I kicked the kid right in the leg. We both fell to the ground. Thankfully I had learned to curse at a young age, so my tears were crushed by these profanities.

My abysmal ability on land is only worsened by my blunders in water. My inability to swim comes from a quite traumatic event from grade one. I was swimming in the pool, being all young and innocent, when the ball from a game of ‘throw the ball, grab the ball, then throw the ball’ landed just behind me. I swam gracefully across to grab said ball. Little did I know that the entire class appeared to also be going for it. I was swamped by them and was like ‘ahhh water. Legs everywhere and underwater. My ffaacceee’ I don’t remember much of it. I think a teacher ended up having to jump in and save me. Next thing I knew I was on land, happy to be free from H20’s wetness.

I never ever rose above the rank of ‘beginner’ in swimming, though I did go on to learn how to skim water and become quite an effective doggie paddler. I have the aquatic skills of a Chiwawa.

So I think my point has been made – I am not the most capable athlete.

I tried this bike shop. It seemed okay. Bikes here are quite expensive. I thought the best price I’d get a second hand bike for would be around 80 Euros – then another 40ish for a good lock. Locks are essential. Bikes are often taken and abused by homeless people.

I tried three bikes. The first one looked sooo cool. It was dark blue and had ‘BATAVUS’ on the side. I was tempted to purchase it simply on the basis of its name. It would be perfect for Batman.

I hoped on the bicycle with much scepticism. I did not know how I was going to do this. I knew it would come back to me, but those first 5 seconds on the bike were horrific. I veered right quite hastily, almost knocking over 3 pensioners. Forward, my stallion. The bike was suddenly going. I was going. Hmm. It did not feel right. It lacked a spark. And was so very uncomfortable.

Also, and this may just be a personal thing, but I felt the brakes were barely working.

I tried the second bike. It was black, seemed alright. Riding it was even worse than the first. The seat felt like I was on top of a metal pole (this is not a comfortable feeling.) Also, as I attempted to turn a corner I overbalanced and fell on top of 3 parked bicycles. This is the Dutch equivalent of hitting a car in a parking lot. I immediately got on the bike and peddled as fast as I could away from the scene.

Bike 2 is not a keeper simply because it has been involved in criminal activities.

The third bike called to me. When I hopped on it and made it around the block without complaining I was very happy. It has LIMIT on the side of it. Of course, little did I know at this stage, but that was very apt for this bike.

No matter how fast I ride this bike, I continue to remain at the same speed. 2 of the gears don’t work (1 and 3.) So I am constantly making my way around using second gear. Whilst this is a pain on the legs, it also damages the ego. The first time I was overtaken by someone aged 50+ was a bit LOL, but now it’s just a sadface. There must be a problem with the chain, or maybe the bike simply doesn’t know the spirit of Christmas, but it definitely has problems.

I did snatch it up for 60 euro though, so I didn’t have high expectations.

I am hoping that if I study and read enough this weekend I can get far enough ahead to take next weekend off to travel to Belgium. With winter quickly approaching it is a matter of haste that I visit places which will be inaccessible or closed during the colder months. I wish to travel to the place where the poem of ‘Flanders Fields’ was written in Western Belgium and also to Munich, where I hope to visit the Eagle’s Nest – Hitler’s ‘mountain fortress’ gifted to him on his 50th Birthday.


It is beginning to hurt my soul.

Pray for me.


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