One day I was walking along the canal and noticed a few young guys pedal boating in the water below. Written along the side of the white pedalo was “Canal Bike.” What a perfect way to combine two quintessentially Dutch things!
Since then I’d been wanting to give it a try. My step-Dad’s visit in August, which coincided with a week of unusually sunny weather, provided the perfect opportunity.
You can hire the pedal boats on the Oudegracht canal in the heart of Utrecht. Up to four people can ride in each boat and you pay per person per hour. But they only rent the boats for 1.5 or 2 hours, since it doesn’t take much longer than that to do the full loop around Utrecht’s central canal.
It was one of the nicest things I’ve done in Utrecht and I absolutely loved it! It was such a relaxing, peaceful, beautiful way to gradually soak up the sights of the city. (My partner may disagree… the only soaking he was doing was the sweat on his shirt, while he apparently contributed 90% of the pedaling power.)
I’ve walked along these canals many times, but seeing the streets and the city from canal level gave me an entirely new perspective. I noticed many houses and boutiques at water level that I never knew existed before. I discovered new architectural details, like the so-called “consoles,” small stone sculptures along the canal walls at the base of lampposts, depicting various medieval-looking scenes. Craning my neck, I saw Utrecht’s buildings towering above, looking much larger from this angle.
We also learned a thing or two about water traffic. Canals in Holland are basically like roads for boats – the waterway is a kind of liquid highway. When we hired the pedal boat, the woman working there told us we had to turn left out of the pedalo dock and follow the canal in a certain direction. She also said we should pay attention to the stop-lights. Stop-lights? This seemed a bit odd. Perhaps something was lost in translation?
Of course we forgot all about it during our hour-long ride, distracted by the scenery and all the fits of giggles we were descending into from repeatedly running the pedalo into the side of the canal (for a land blubber, it’s surprisingly hard to steer a pedal boat).
Approaching the end of the circuit, we came upon a stop light. It made us laugh – we had never seen a stop light on the water like that! How funny.
We carried on pedaling. A couple of minutes later, we were passing through a narrow section of the canal under a big bridge and saw a large tour boat (one of those wide ones that hold some one hundred people) approaching the same bridge from the opposite direction. Uh oh.
We sped up and managed to pass through the bridge and squeeze ourselves up against the side of the canal so that the boat didn’t hit us when it passed. If we had arrived a couple of minutes later, I think we would have either collided with the boat, or would have had to put the pedalo in reverse!
Now we understood what the red light was for… d’oh!