Goodbye Amsterdam

After my coffee this morning I went back to the hotel to get my bags, checkout and head up to the station.

The hotel just after checkout

Amsterdam station is unlike any other in Europe I’ve been through, you need to scan your ticket to get on or off the platform concourse area, and once there, there is no digital board listing the departure platforms. I couldn’t find the paper listing anywhere so had to ask at the information desk. Of course my train leaves from the last platform quite a walk away. I grab an early sandwich here rather than taking it on the train with me.

The train arrives on time, departs on time and gets to Brussels on time which overall has been a rarity. This train is as fast as advertised just shy of 300kph. The only frustrating thing is the other passengers who don’t seem to be able to read the seat numbers against their ticket and hold up everyone else boarding. Hell really is other people sometimes.

The train is comfortable, only real complaint is no in seat power, which is super surprising for a first class high speed service. Thankfully I have my battery.

It’s horrendously hot for this part of the world and the aircon on the train is only barely coping. Thankfully it’s only a 2hr trip.

There are plenty of wind turbines and after a while I realise we have crossed the border into Belgium as on one of the generators it announces Wind4Flanders.

The most surprising thing really is the lack of green due to the heatwave. After a month of 30+ days with little rain everything is brown. Blink and I could swear I was on the Western Line in Sydney given the outlook. The occasional amazing church with their spires gives it away that I’m not at home.

Once in Brussels I eventually find the luggage storage area and where the Eurostar leaves from and attempt to store my luggage. I need 5 euros in coins and only have 3.50 so I have to purchase something to get coins. Do this and all is good until I then need to go to the loo and remember that in most of Europe to spend a penny it will cost a Euro ! I find a machine this time that converts notes to coins. Now I’m back to a stack of coins I won’t need. The cycle of currency waste continues….

Walking outside the station I’m hassled by two beggars in less than 1 minute. I was going to walk up to Palais de Justice but change my mind as it’s a 25 minute walk in 36c and decide to get a cold drink instead

Warm day here….

Walking outside I see this thing against the side of the wall in the middle of nowhere that looks just like a toilet. 2 seconds later a passerby uses it and removes any doubt. I guess it saves people just wizzing against the wall anywhere

Inside I find a cafe and get a cold iced coffee and am reminded I’m in the French speaking world as the coffee it terrible. Most station coffee is rubbish but it’s hard to mess up an iced coffee, even Starbucks do a decent iced coffee

You know you are in Belgium when the vending machines do waffles !

The Eurostar is again having issues (possibly heat related) delayed over an hour and a half out of Brussels. it’s reliability has certainly decreased over the past 12 months given my recent problems with them. They do promote themselves as better than flying but add in the delays and the now airport like security check and queues its not as clear cut. I did consider getting a ferry from Amsterdam to the UK, I’m thinking that would have been the better option. They announced we can claim compensation after 48 hours.

The queue behind me is way way worse. At least here in Brussels the waiting area is properly air conditioned unlike Paris.

finally on board. Was starting to worry they might cancel it

Once it gets going it really gets going. One slight bonus with the delay is that I won’t be dealing with peak hour on the tube getting from St Pancras to Paddington.

Hundreds of kilometres of fencing at Calais to prevent illegal immigration though the tunnel. At the section where the fencing starts it’s protected by two border guards.

9pm finally back in the UK. Flight leaves in the morning for Singapore

Black Gold

My Train to Brussels leaves at 12.15pm so this morning was a lazy on of packing and heading out for coffee at Black Gold, the cafe I found yesterday. There are probably other good ones here but they are probably well hidden. Coffee just really isn’t the focus of Amsterdam.

I love the concept of this Café, the black could either refer to the coffee or the vinyl records or even both.

It’s so quiet in the part of Amsterdam, I asked the barista when it gets busy and his comment was on a nice day like this it probably won’t get busy at all.

Like most of Europe, people here have a stronger acceptance of dogs everywhere, whilst I was having my coffee another couple strolled in, with their dog on a leash ordered some coffee, stayed 5 minutes and off they went. Another subtle little reminder that whilst the coffee here is equal to the good ones at home, I’m not in Kansas anymore Toto.

Cruise and Pizza

I’m here in Amsterdam primary to do some cycling, however it has crossed my mind that I can’t come here and NOT do a canal cruise. Walking around yesterday on a whim I booked myself on a Pizza cruise at 8.30pm tonight, if nothing else it removes the decision on what I’ll do for dinner.

I expected it to be a little lame as it’s with one of the bigger cruise companies and I was by myself. However it turned out to be a wonderful experience. There was one other bloke by himself so I was sat next to him and of course he happens to be an Aussie who has just moved to London. We had a great chat about our respective travels over the cruise.

What I didn’t realise was the cruise also included unlimited alcohol (as well as soft drinks) for the duration and they were happily dolling it out liberally for the entire journey so the entire boat was extremely lively after the first hour passed. It was the last cruise of the day and the heat had died down so it was a terrific way to end my last day in Amsterdam.

For the €39 this was a fantastic evening.

Resistance is not futile

On my last afternoon here in Amsterdam I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, had thought I might hire a bike and cruise around when Sander from the bike tour mentioned the Resistance Museum wasn’t far away. The deal was sealed, this sort of museum and history is really my thing so off I went.

Entry is €11 and it’s worth every penny. It covers the history of the Dutch resistance during world war 2 (obviously) however it covers the Dutch WW2 experience from three perspectives : Acceptance, Resistance and Collaboration. I’d argue it adds a fourth dimension with the holocaust as well.

It starts with the premise that the Netherlands expected to remain neutral in WW2 and were shocked when invaded and how they then dealt with it until liberation and the lingering effects post liberation.

As a side note, lots of historical lessons on keeping as much personally identifying information on yourself to yourself until you are certain why it’s being collected and for what purpose. Lots of Jewish people willingly filed out forms on their ancestry thinking it was a benign question and the answers they gave eventually sent them to Auschwitz.

The overall lesson of the museum is that the majority of Dutch people resisted where they could and hampered the German war effort.

With materials in short supply this bike was fixed with a pram wheel at the front. It also meant the Germans wouldn’t confiscate the bike and send it to the fatherland as a repatriation.

When radios were banned, many were hidden to receive BBC and Radio Orange broadcasts.

The resistance patched phone lines through the telephone exchanges for clandestine communication that the Nazis never discovered.

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.