Commonwealth on Bikes

After breakfast today I turned up for the city tour. These ones are way more popular than the country tours and Mikes Bikes split us into 3 groups to make it more manageable. I landed in a group with mostly Canadians plus myself and two Aussies from Perth, hence the post title.

Our guide (Sander) was a native Dutchman who was born and raised in Amsterdam so had plenty of great little stories and historical antidotes to keep us amused as well as a little bit of ribbing about the car centric cultures of our respective homelands. I’ve got to say I believe the Dutch (as well as the Germans and the Danish) are correct, bikes first makes sense. The infrastructure they have invested in as well as the general attitude is amazing.

The Mike’s Bike office where we start. Of note is that Mike’s Bikes here in Amsterdam and Bike Mike in Copenhagen are not related in any way apart from name. Both do great tours

Sander explains that there are historically three types of houses in the Amsterdam. The one on the left is a typical family house from the period. Windows were taxed so houses tended to be long an narrow. The one in the middle used to be a stable, wide doors for the horses and storage above for the hay. The one on the right was a warehouse and the large windows in the midd were once for loading in goods. They are all now very expensive and desirable houses or apartments.

As Amsterdam sits on layers of sand, mud, clay repeat for hundreds of metres down, the houses and streets all sit on timber piles, similar to Venice. As the piles settle into the more stable clay, things subside a bit. Nothing in Amsterdam is straight. Even the footpath is uneven everywhere.

If we had any doubt on the soggy ground beneath everything, Sander removes this instantly when in a park and jumping up and down on the grass. Where I’m standing moves with the vibrations. For us used to solid ground it’s somewhat unnerving. Sander also explains the technical difference between a Dam and a Dyke. A Dam stops the flow of water when its built across a river, A Dyke is built alongside a river to stop it overflowing or control its direction. The English equivalent would be a levee.

Park with small wading pool for kiddies

We push our bikes through a book shop !

The three crosses of Amsterdam on a street bollard. Otherwise an interesting design….

Sander points out some brass squares in the pavement. Close inspection shows they have the names of Jewish people who were deported from Amsterdam during the war and killed by the Nazis. This one person was murdered at Auschwitz. All the more chilling looking at this considering I’d been to Auschwitz only a few weeks before. Click the text to read about that.

Sander explains the difference between a true cafe and a Coffeeshop. The Coffeeshop is the “pot/weed house”. To quote Seinfeld, not that there is anything wrong with that, but that’s not what I’m looking for. I’m happy with the coffee alone. A Café can be either a bar or what I would term a Café or a combination of both.

De Wag building

We covered 10km on the tour. Here is the map. Thankfully it was overcast and cooler today although it did go over 30 in the late afternoon.

If you do one of these tours, I’d recommend doing one as early in the day as you can, there are less people about and less traffic.

After the tour I take Sanders suggestion and head over to the Resistance Museum. I’ll post about that later. I had lunch in the restaurant attached to the museum.

A number of bike companies through Europe have used the same bike model. They are sturdy and very comfortable. I’ve researched the bike, they are make by Electra, now a subsidiary of Trek. I either rode the 3 gear or 8 gear model. Fine for flat cities, for Australia I’d only look at the 21gear or electric model.

I can tick off an item on my bucket list now, ride bikes in the Netherlands.

Coffee and Canals

My last full day in Amsterdam and my city bike tour doesn’t start to till 11 so I thought I’d get out reasonably early and go out for breakfast before the start of the ride and look around whilst it’s still quiet.

It’s so quiet just before 9 I even see a couple of cats wandering around the streets. I’d seen a cafe that looked interesting yesterday “Black Gold” which was a combination vinyl record and cafe, without a cloud of pot smoke in the air which I thought looked promising. It was open at 9 so I grabbed a takeaway flat white to have whilst I continued to wander

It was a great coffee, healthy 7.5/10 so much nicer than the rubbish I was served yesterday at the other cafe. With coffee in hand I continued the wander

On my wandering I was passed by a bike tour and sure enough the guide was Pete from Mike’s Bikes who recognised me on his way past. Hi Pete!

Pete recommend the Bakers and Roaster cafe for good coffee. A google check says it’s the top rated coffee place in Amsterdam and it’s run by one of our Kiwi cousins so that’s a great sign. It’s also not a pot house masquerading as a cafe.

The coffee is a healthy 7/10. Not as good as I expected given the rating. I think Black Gold was better, however their breakfast options are fantastic which is why I suspect it gets such high ratings

Since I’ve got another bike ride, I decide to carb load 😳 😱😱

And as if I’ve not already had enough caffeine, the waiter suggests a cold ice coffee. How can I resist such temptation on a hot day

Amsterdam is quite a large tourist place, but I’m convinced it only has a handful of actual shops, but hundreds of exactly the same thing, some combine a few of these things together.

  • souvenir / tourist shite shop
  • Pot / weed / seed shop
  • Pub Cafe combination.
  • Frites (chip shop)
  • Sex toy shop
  • Bike rental shop
  • Hamburger shop
  • All major tourist places are exactly same, Prague was similar minus the weed shops.
  • Bikes on Dykes

    My first full day in Amsterdam was an epic 40km ride in the country north of Amsterdam. However before bikes my first thought in the morning was coffee. I didn’t really think that would be an issue, I had a 20min walk to the meeting point for the bike tour so left the hotel assuming I’d pick one up from the multitude of cafes along the way.

    I was unfortunately completely wrong. Even though I was out at 9am on a Tuesday, the area of Amsterdam I was in felt like 6am Sunday, there was literally nothing open. I did manage to find one place just near the Bike store, however the coffee was terrible, molten hot (thus burnt) and not enough milk. Photos below from my walk to the bike meeting point, and the cafe where I won’t be getting coffee tomorrow.

    Some bikes in the Bike Shop ready to be used, and a bike bell I was very tempted to buy

    I meet the guide Pete, and find out I’m the only one on the Tour. Pete mentions we might go further than normal since its only me and we can cover more distance. I’m not complaining !

    A few minutes after leaving we put the bikes on a special “Bike Ferry” It only takes pedestrians and Bicycles to the other side of the river. It runs every 15 minutes and is completely free. There is talk of it being replaced in the near future with a bike bridge.

    Once off the ferry and a few minutes ride, I get the opportunity for the quintessential Dutch cycling photo.

    We stop to examine one of the pumping stations that keep this part of North Holland (the part of the Netherlands we are in) dry. The level indicator is interesting as it notes how far below sea level we are, which is about 4 metres.

    This pole indicates how far down the land here has sunk since the locals have been pumping water out over the past few hundred years. There is also a neat map of the area. All cycle paths and intersections are numbered so it would be easy to navigate even without GPS.

    Along the way we see an honesty box style setup where you can get vegetables and eggs. Given its 30c and in the sun I think it would be a good idea to skip the eggs. Its an honesty system, but I note there is a camera to ensure honesty is kept.

    One of the Dykes protecting Amsterdam. You can cycle on top of it. In other sections is large and wide enough that houses are built on them.

    We stop for lunch in Ransdorp and climb the tower there for a wonderful view over the area. Its about 160 odd steps.

    The village is beautiful.

    For lunch we have a traditional “Bar Gehakt met Brood” which is basically a large beef & pork meatball severed on two slices of white bread with picked onion and cucumber with mustard. The idea is to break up the meatball to make a mince sandwich. More delicious than it sounds. I washed it down with a “Radler” which is basically a shandy.

    After lunch we rode back towards another ferry terminal through some beautiful little villages and a small forest. You can see more in the attached video.

    This is where we rode north of Amsterdam.

    When the tour was over I just had a wander around Amsterdam for a bit, tried a Croquette from a little vending machine where you put your 2 euro in and open the little oven and take the food out. This chain is called Febo and is somewhat of a dutch institution. I had a satay one, delicious !

    Various shots around Amsterdam. Too hot to try for a proper coffee so I had cold iced coffee out of a tin.

    Anyone for an special cookie ?

    The cheese shop was of more interest to me.

    Supposed to be the best chips in Amsterdam. The queue was insane.