Attack of the bike people

And this is just a small sample of what's not being ridden at any one time

And this is just a small sample of what's not being ridden at any one time

   It is estimated there are 850,000 bicycles in Amsterdam. About 750,000 nearly ran me over during our stay there. By the time we left, the shrill little bell rings from cyclists warning me they were about to lay me out flat had begun to sound like a chronic medical condition. The Dutch are polite enough about not running you over, but to a man and woman, they claim their bike paths prohibitively as their own. The city claims they fish anywhere from 12 -15,000 bikes out of the canals every year, and several times I fought an urge to add to that total - while the bikes were parked or otherwise.

Our server could not explain what this sign meant. "A lot of street signs are just put up for fun," she told us

Our server could not explain what this sign meant. "A lot of street signs are just put up for fun," she told us

   A sophisticated system of flood control keeps the city high and dry, but engineers keep a close eye on the implications of sea level rise resulting from climate change. Deniers here seem to be in short supply, as all 850,000 of Amsterdam's bikes might wind up at the bottom of expanded canals were science to be as cavalierly dismissed as it is elsewhere.

   Amsterdam seems to be winning the battle that Venice, for example, is losing. Dutch canals are languid and leisurely affairs, and there is a thriving boathouse community in Amsterdam that has a stake in keeping the canals from becoming fetid pools of trash and filth. At night the city shimmers with the soft glow of neon on the black water. Because of the prime mode of transportation, Amsterdam seems refreshingly free of the noise and clog of car traffic.

Amsterdam at night. The red light district is nearby

Amsterdam at night. The red light district is nearby

   Our big sightsee was the Van Gogh museum. A while back, I had invested a not insignificant amount of couch time at home digesting an exhaustive 900 page bio of every facial tic, panic attack and insult (both hurled and received) of the famous Dutch painter. I learned to feel an empathetic kinship with a man who sold only one painting in his lifetime, but refused to sacrifice his principles while possessing a keen knack for pissing off anyone in a position to help him advance a career. As a poster boy for persistence in the face of harsh reality, Vincent is a hero. I've mildly suffered with a case of earwax buildup over the years, but never enough to consider cutting one or both off. As far as shooting myself, I've always believed I would miss and hit an irreplaceable piece of ceramics instead.

   Carol and I enjoyed our typical tram overview of Amsterdam, and topped it off with a canal tour that I wound up sleeping through most of, as a result of my ongoing battle with jet lag. And then it was on to Frankfurt by a relaxing train and transfer to Heidelberg.

Vincent's sunflowers show his happier side, except for the dead ones

Vincent's sunflowers show his happier side, except for the dead ones

   John Steinbeck once wrote the you don't take a trip so much as a trip takes you. From the beginning this trip had the feel of a trip taking us. Maybe it was the commitment of the Heidelberg wedding that altered the usual freefall of our travels together. Whatever the explanation, I soon noted I was off my usual game. Carol noticed too, and the remainder of this trip would be devoted to thoughts of how not to let this happen again. Not traveling to Europe in high season was first on our list of don'ts.