City Life

Wed 25 May 11

It’s difficult to live in a simple manner in a city. One of the joys of a bicycle is that you can throw a few things on top of it, pedal off into the sunset and have a good time. Sleep, eat and do interesting stuff - ideal lifestyle. In a city, and Utrecht is typical, you have to find somewhere to live and earn a living. I have the second of those, but the first has to pass a learning barrier of how different areas, and there are many, all have their idiosyncrasies. Then you need a Dutch bank account to deal with money, and you can’t have that without a SOFI number from the tax people. I will also need a Burgerservicenummer (a BSN) from the municipal authorities, and you need a permanent address for that. The rechargeable ‘chip-knip’ card is so popular that some places have stopped taking cash - and, yes, you can’t have one of those without a bank account. The canteen for work has that system...

But also the city works because of the bicycle. You couldn’t imagine such a nicely compact area if everybody were driving a car. They get to go on the busy ring roads, but the city streets are dominated by bikes. There are so many it will slow you up. And it doesn’t matter - most people use solid upright Dutch bikes with back pedal brakes and no variable gearing, and that makes for a sedate manner of cycling. It’s also all ages, and most styles of dress. Helmets are simply not worn.

It’s also not perfect. I actually have seen one pothole this week.