Thursday, November 22, 2018

Thoughts from Hilversum, The Netherlands: 22.11.18

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page 
here. Garish but informative.

Matters Dutch
  • As I've said, bicycles are everywhere in this (very flat) land. Too many of the bloody things, say some. Bike parks - both those above-ground and those below it - are permanently full to capacity, it's alleged. I don't know about that but I am sure I'd have the greatest difficulty in finding my bike in, say, the immense bike-park outside Amsterdam station. Maybe that's really why the parking facilities are full – thousands of riders can't find their bikes and have effectively abandoned them there. Possibly 2 or 3 of them.
  • That said, I'm told that bike theft is a major problem here. If so, this would clearly alleviate the problem of abandoned bikes to at least some extent.
  • Anyway, for some good advice on cycling in Dutch cities, see the article below, entitled: The curious Dutch obsession with cycling – and the unspoken rules.
Matters Spanish/Galician
  • Spain seems determined to capitalise on the Brexit negotiations, with the new left-of-centre government making noises about Scotland that the previous right-of-centre (Catalu├▒a-sensitive) government would never have made. See here and here. I doubt that either London or Brussels sees this as helpful, ahead a of key meeting on Sunday next.
  • The ever-inventive Gwyneth Paltrow thinks you might deserve a whole Galician village as an Xmas present. It is really true that rich foreigners will be attratcted to a life in 'medieval times that Galicia never left behind'? Well, maybe, if they can helicopter in and out. And pay someone to deal with the local bureaucrats. Not to mention the (allegedly 'happy-to-have-you') locals.
EU Headaches

Bigger things than Brexit to worry about . . . ?
  • Greece: Greece’s financial crisis has come back to the boil as Athens draws up emergency plans to stabilize the banking system, raising concerns that the country may ultimately need a fourth EU rescue to escape its depression trap. Global risk aversion and contagion from Italy’s parallel banking drama has lifted a lid on the festering legacy of bad debts, and exposed the implausible methods employed by Greek regulators and the EU-led troika to camouflage the problem.
  • Italy: Brussels is expected to launch its excessive deficit procedure against Italy for violation of the debt ceiling rules of the Fiscal Compact, doubling down on a fateful clash with the insurgent Lega-Five Star government in Rome. This could lead to fines against a net contributor to the EU budget, an unenforceable sanction that risks a combustible political showdown.
  • Its Future: Extracts from this interesting article, from a Brit Remainer:-
- The EU has clearly become too insensitive, too brittle, to survive for ever.
- There can be no doubt that Europe at present is growing more fragmented, separating into its multifarious identities rather than cohering into a single European one.
- A likely scenario has Europe changing and dividing, as its economic space has to adjust to the changing politics, economies and cultures of its nations.
- History suggests an EU that could evolve into a new Holy Roman Empire: a confederation of states, some big, some small, some little more than cities, like Monaco, San Remo and Lichtenstein. 

Finally . . .
  • Amazon is a much admired operator, but not by everyone. As this article shows.
© [David] Colin Davies


The curious Dutch obsession with cycling – and the unspoken rules: Rodney Bolt, Amsterdam resident

The bicycle is central to the Dutch psyche. People hop onto two wheels at a tender age and keep going until (almost literally) they drop. Hipsters, grannies, toddlers and CEOs all trundle determinedly through towns and swoop around the countryside. In a land of 17 million inhabitants, there are 23 million bicycles. In Amsterdam nearly half of all journeys to work are made by bike. This is a world you disrupt at your peril. Here’s how to get by relatively unscathed.

The traditional Amsterdam bicycle is a heavy black affair, more Miss Marple than Tour de France, with back-pedal brakes and no gears. In lieu of a basket up front, many come equipped with a sturdy plastic milk crate, which doubles as a pedestrian-parting bull-bar. The frame seems made of cast iron, and the rest made up of parts of an astonishing variety of vintages. Hipster taste is leading to the appearance of sleeker machines, yet the average Amsterdam bicycle would in many countries be considered a wreck.

A bicycle may be built for one, but Amsterdammers consider this a bothersome and unnecessary restriction. Parents fit little seats – one to the crossbar and one to the back carrier – to transport their offspring, and build up sturdy calves pedalling along with one child on the front, one on the back, and panniers stuffed with shopping. To others, the cycle becomes an extension of body rather than a distinct means of transport. They behave as they would if they were walking: lovers cycle hand-in-hand, dogs are taken ‘walkies’ galloping alongside, and if it rains people pop up an umbrella with one hand and cycle on regardless.

Sounds chaotic? Not so. It all functions with relative ease. Far-sighted legislation in the 1970s has provided a network of cycle paths around the city, and out across the countryside. Cyclists even have their own traffic lights (granted, not always obeyed). Whereas in cities like London a war seems to rage between cyclists and motorists, in Amsterdam most motorists are cyclists too, so come with a mite more tolerance. The real battle is with tourists.

In recent years, hotels, hire firms and tour companies have taken to renting out bicycles to all-comers. Once, renting a bike in Amsterdam was the provenance of the intrepid few, keen on an authentic local experience; nowadays anyone who-can-just-about or who had-a-fairy-cycle-once is joining a wobbling veering flock that blocks cycle paths, breaks rules and wreaks havoc. It is making Amsterdammers livid.

A bicycle is by far the most sensible, environmentally sound and enjoyable way of getting about the city, so it seems unfair to deny visitors the experience – so here are some pointers to help ensure you don’t get screamed at, sworn at, or run down.

1. Cycle paths operate like roads: don’t dawdle along in the middle. Keep to one side (the right) to allow those work or errand-bound Amsterdammers to overtake – and don’t cycle up the wrong way.
2. It’s a dreamy city, but don’t be a ‘diagonalist’: drifting almost imperceptibly from one side of the cycle path to the other, frustrating attempts to get past you or predict what you’re about to do.
3. It may be ages since you’ve been on a bike, but don’t forget the highway-code basics. Observe red lights. Don’t ride two abreast (when Amsterdammers do, they employ an internal radar and pull over when someone approaches from behind, or gives their bell a polite ting). Hand signals wouldn’t go amiss, either, especially if you’re turning left across a cycle path.
4. Be aware if you’re a bit of a wobbler that those about you have been cycling almost since they could walk, and won’t be expecting sudden changes of trajectory.
5. Amsterdam cyclists operate according to a subtle system of give-and-take when two cycles approach a point from different directions, slowing down or speeding up according to an instinctive understanding of who might have got there first, to allow each other stress-free passage. Barging ahead claiming right-of-way, or suddenly stopping with a “He’s coming straight at me!” can cause mayhem. 
6. There’s so much to see... but most other cyclists are not sight-seeing. Don’t stop on a bicycle path to take a photo, clump together with friends to admire a building, or cluster on a corner to chat about what to do next.
7. Keep that phone in your pocket. Taking videos of your friends up ahead, or selfies while cycling (it happens!) can be selfie-cide. Pull over (off the cycle lane) if you need to check a map.
8. Watch out for moped drivers – they’re currently allowed on cycle paths (despite attempts to change the legislation); many speed and can be a menace. If you think this is madness, you’ll find that for once Amsterdam cyclists are on your side.

Fiets ze!  (Happy cycling!)


Alfred B. Mittington said...

Tell me again, how people who steal a bicycle reduce the number of bicycles in a country...

You may not be aware of this, but even the Dutch do not have a truly successful recipe for stewed bicycle....


Colin Davies said...

Good god! Stealing bikes from a bike park creates space. Please read everthing twice or thrice!

Alfred B. Mittington said...

But stolen bikes will be abandoned somewhere else!!! So there will be no effective 'alleviation' at all!! The total number of parked bikes remains the same!!

Please do your readers the courtesy of checking all your brute statements twice or thrice before plopping them upon the internet!!

Colin Davies said...

I wasn't talking about the effing bike universe, just the problem of finding space in a bike park.

Perry said...

Wear high tech roller skates & solve the bike park conundrum.

Colin Davies said...

Hmm. Stil get this message:

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