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.

Four Hour Bike Tour in Berlin

Following on from last nights tour, I’m doing another one today. I didn’t have a heap of time to get coffee, and couldn’t get out to the few places I was recommend for best coffee in Berlin, so grabbed one from a small cafe under the rail station. Perfectly acceptable for a random coffee place on the go, a 6.5/10. At another place I grabbed what I could only describe a breakfast pretzel. Not salty and not as sweet as it looks. Rather delicious actually.

 

 

We all met at the same place as last night for the bike tour. I count 39 people waiting and I’m think OMG this is going to be terrible, the 25 in Copenhagen was ok but bordering on difficult. Double that is a busier city will be unmanageable. Thankfully we are split split into three groups. Daniel mentions on weekend they can have up to 200 booked in. These tours are popular.

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At the start we are told the TV tower was designed by Swedish engineers due to brain drain on the state at the time. Interestingly enough the shape whilst looking space age casts a shadow that looks like the Christian cross. This was was quite embarrisng for the East Germans as an atheist communist state. It was promoted as the Popes revenge in the West. All the bikes have individual names so its easy to remember which one is yours. I had a red one yesterday, so I picked a blue one today.

 

We rode over to the Opera house which was bombed twice. The Allies bombed it, Hitler fixed it at great cost even with scarce resources during the war. Once it was complete we bombed it again. The communists fixed it again but had no appreciation for musical acoustics and replaced it with a flat ceiling.

 

We also looked into Bebelplatz (the book burning square of the Nazis). There is an underground empty library to symbolise all the missing books

Onto Checkpoint Charlie. It’s very kitschy now. The traffic here was crazy, no lights or priority signs on a major intersection in a tourist heavy area. This is the only spot in Europe ive felt nervous riding a bike. Exasperating the traffic were hordes of Trabants being driven in convoys by tourists. Funny to look at but a pollution disaster when in numbers. When in Poland on the Communist tour I was In a single one and not driving. They are hard to drive even for people used to them, being a tourist driving one, navigating traffic in Berlin and trying to take selfies with phones is a disaster waiting to happen. Looking out for cyclists would be the last thing on their mind, hence my nervousness cycling anywhere near them. 

 

Here is an example of a convoy I’ve uploaded to YouTube.

From here we moved over to the Fuherbunker (Hitler’s underground lair). It is marked with a sign, but its just an insignificant car park. As I read elsewhere once its an historically significant site but not a culturally significant one so it only gets minimal attention.

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Brandenburg Gate was next, then the Jewish Memorial then into the Tiergarten.

 

The Jewish memorial is massive, I was shocked at how tall some of the concrete blocks are. there are apparently 2711 of them.

 

The Tiergarten is beautiful and massive. We had lunch here, I had a Bavarian Meatloaf slice on a bun. This is basically a square frankfurt sausage. Tastes way nicer than it looks. In the video below there are some shots of the Tiergarten. There were some very tame birds who would take the food off your plate if you left it for a few moments.

 

 

After lunch it was a trip over to the Reichstag and Museum island.

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And here is the video from the trip. What other music could I possibly have used other than 99 Luftballons ?

 

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Berlin Bike and Food Tour

When I got to Berlin and headed off for the food & bike tour, I found the Fat Tire meeting place for the tour really easily. The TV tower in Alexanderplatz is super hard to miss. It’s very Sputnik like, it was built by the old East Germans, using help from some Swedish engineers apparently. Met our tour guide Alex, easy name to remember considering where I was in Alexanderplatz. This was a small tour only one other lady (Eva). Both Alex and Eva are from Canada. 

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We are fitted with Bikes, and I really like the Fat Tire ones, very easy to ride and they don’t have back pedal brakes, so I can reverse the pedals normally to get them in the right position. All bikes in Copenhagen had them. For some reason Eva’s bike does have them as well as the normal brakes so she had plenty of stopping power.

We set off and stop at a bride not far from Alexanderplatz and we are served Champagne (well German sparking wine technically as it’s not from Champagne in France). This was an old East German brand, sweeter than I expected and not heavy on the bubbles. This could be downed quite easily on a hot day. I’m instantly reminded that I’m not in Australia as I could not imagine this would pass muster with our RSA (responsible service of Alcohol) laws, especially considering we are on the road with traffic. I’m sticking to one only as I quite certain Germany will have similar drink driving/cycling laws to Australia if it came to the crunch. Even though I’ve been in Europe for a few weeks riding on the right is still strange and the brakes on the bike are back to front for me.

 

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As this is a food tour we head over to a place that servers middle eastern style food and we have falafel, fried haloumi, some pita bread, tabouli and hummus etc. all incredibly delicious and equally as good as good as what I’ve had at home in Sydney. Over this we just discuss life the universe and everything about Berlin and how Alex as a Canadian ended up running bike tours in Berlin. 

 

After this we head off and tour some sections of Berlin where the wall used to be and there is a recreation of the wall in a section and a park that has some memorials. You can always tell if you were on the west side if you can read the text in the ground. If it’s upside down you are on the old East side. Germany never considers the DDR a seperate Germany, it was just Soviet occupied Germany on which they had no control. Anyone escaping could reclaim their German citizenship instantly.

 

The traffic light walk and stop symbol here in Berlin use the old East German symbol. This is quite famous and probably most loved bit left over from the old East Germany. It’s called Ampelmannchen. Of course plenty of shops sell all sorts of Ampelman stuff.

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After this we head into Prenzlauerberg, one of the trendiest and nicest sections of Berlin and go to the “Schule” restaurant and have a type of German Tapas sampling menu. We have currry wurst, schnitzel, Spatzle (German macaroni & cheese) and a type of pizza they used to test the ovens for the correct temperature too cook bread. flammkuchen (flamecake) .I wash this down with a glass of Weißburgunder. Yum, yum, yum.

We were under a red umbrella in the sun, hence the weird colour of some of these pictures.

 

After this we head over to the water tower to try and get some sunset shots.

 

Time for thhe cake and coffee in another part of Prenzlauerberg. The cake was fantastic. I had a flat white, it was ok but I thought it was a little watery to pass for what I’d term a flat white back home. It seemed more like a slightly milky Americano with milk froth on top. After this it was a slight downhill run for a couple of km back to the tv tower. On a warm night cruising down at a nice speed in the breeze with not traffic or pedestrians was awesome.

 

If you are in Berlin I’d highly recommend this tour.

 

 

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Dinner and Tivoli

After cycling down to 108 and sampling the coffee, I noticed another large outdoor food market. This is something Copenhagen excels at is food markets. Apart from the cafe where I’ve had a coffee I have not set foot in a restaurant, it all been street/van/market food, and its all been amazing quality and delicious.

It’s not cheap though by any means, Copenhagen is living up to it’s expensive reputation. The sandwiches with soft drink have cost me around $23, and tonight’s dinner and lemonade cost me $32. This would be super expensive for a family of 4 or 5. Add in an ice cream after dinner and per person you won’t get much change out of $50 per person. And remember, this is food stall prices. Coffee that costs me $4 at home cost $8 here.

So after riding around a bit past the Opera house, I went back to the street food place and had a closer look

Some of the food options

I couldn’t go past the Singapore ribs with roti bread.

After devouring that, I rode back to the Tivoli gardens. Even though it’s not really my thing, you can’t come here and not go inside. Single entry to the gardens, no rides included, A$25. O-U-C-H. An unlimited ride pass will cost you another A$50. Individual rides are between $6 and $18 each. No rides for me….

The gardens are pretty. Worth A$25 for entry? Umm…..

Since this is my last night and I had some coins to get rid of, nothing better than ice cream on a warm night. I’ll be paying heavily for this food indulgence when I get home…

Here are some of the restaurant boards of your wondering what restaurant prices are like. All prices in Danish Kroner. A$1 = 4.72DKK at time of writing

Yes you read that right peeps, on this board below a serve of snitty is $42. Add a beer and you just dusted $56. Probably closer to $60 with the fees on exchange etc….

Wecycle Copenhagen

Wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do today, there are a few options, I’ve decided already that I love this city. I’d signed up for the bike share so thought about hiring a bike and cruising around

Those bikes worked out at $6 an hour, not outrageously expensive but I had to find a local docking station. I discovered the hotel has bike rental for 125DKK (about $26) and I have it till midnight.

I wanted to cycle over the famous “bike snake” so headed that way and thought I’d cruise towards Christiana, a cool hip neighbourhood in the city, and if it’s full of hipsters with the munchies it’s likely to do good coffee somewhere.

I didn’t even make it into the area when I went past Wecycle. A combination bike shop and cafe. In essence, my dream cafe. To top it off the coffee was awesome, 9/10

Here is the link to their website.

My ride for the day

Krakow Country Bike Tour

It’s been such a wet and horrible day here in Krakow that I came very close to cancelling this bike tour. I remembered though that the primary reason I was here in Europe was to do some bike tours since I love them so much and it wasn’t cold (20c) so getting a little wet was not going to faze me. After 3 days and 20,000km I wasn’t chucking it in that easily.

Very glad I didn’t. Even though I got completely soaked to the bone, it didn’t rain the entire ride and we dried out a bit from time to time. We were rewarded with the most serene and dreamy forest ride beyond my wildest dreams it was just beautiful. If it had been dry it wouldn’t have looked anywhere near as amazing.

We stopped at a monastery at the half way point where we had coffee. I had two, a standard machine made coffee (average) plus a fantastic french press coffee, the beans taken from an Ethiopian monastery run plantation. Way way better than I was expecting.

Thanks Mike, this was a great tour ! – You can book this same tour here at Cruising Krakow

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If you have time, watch the video :-