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.
  • 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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    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….

    A Danish Danish in Danish

    After deciding that I was just going to cycle around by myself today, after grabbing my coffee at Wecycle (which was excellent). I decided to cycle down to Christiana Freetown. Thankfully I got my coffee where I did, as whilst there were people about, not much was open and I seemed to arrive in the middle of a drug bust / sweep as there were cops everywhere. I’m gathering that a lot of the locals made themselves very scarce at this exact point. The literature on this place says to avoid taking photos as it makes the locals nervous, but given the “enhanced” police presence I snapped a few anyway as it was unlikely anyone would complain or try and stand out at this exact moment.

    I spent about 10 minutes there before heading off, this place is probably more lively in the evening and when the boys in blue go home. If this little place had a king it would be Bob Marley. Overall I think Christiana Freetown was the least interesting most overhyped thing I’ve done in Copenhagen. I’m just not into this stuff.

    I decided to head over to the old water storage cistern on Copenhagen thats been turned into an art display hall. It was about a 30min bike ride away, i could have gone a shorter route but I wanted to take the bike snake again.

    And here is a video of the bike snake.

    If you are wondering how I navigate around town on the bike, google maps on the phone in the basket. The spoken navigation makes it a breeze. I had a Danish person ask me for directions. They were amused to see an Australian riding in the back streets of Copenhagen.

    The cistern is pretty cool, literally cool, about 10c cooler than outside. Its quite humid. The display was interesting, lots of reflective things, fire and balls gonging on metal bowls. Not sure the actual artistic intention but it was pretty cool none the less. The fire bit was interesting, the closer you got to it, the more it shot out flames. Of course geeky me was looking for all the fire safe mechanisms to see how it cut out to prevent someone roasting them selves, and sure enough there was a sensor that would cut it out instantly if you got too close. There were also fire blankets and extinguishers for that “one person” who would get a little toasty. The whole place was quite dark, the photos show it brighter than it was in reality.

    The cistern is an old 19th century water storage area which was taken out of service in the 1930s and drained in the 1980s. It’s on a hill and they used to pump water into it. It’s under these beautiful gardens.

    The actual display. In reality much darker than this

    It was raining a little when I came out, so I decided to head down to Torvehallerne where I had lunch yesterday and get another Danish open sandwich. The queue was massive so I decided to grab a coffee at the “COFFE3 COLLECTIVE” again. Another awesome brew and I noticed its actually written up in my guide book as a recommend coffee place.

    I couldn’t come to Denmark and *not* have a Danish pastry. I tried ordering my Danish Danish pastry in Danish “Jeg woud som et dansk wienerbrød tak”, however failed spectacularly as the sales person at the counter spoke to me in English as soon as I even tried. Interestingly enough Danish Pastries are not called a “Danish” here. They are Viennese Breads ! What ever it’s called, I called it delicious.

    Wandered around for a while and the queue for the open sandwich (Smørrebrød) had died down so I ordered a roast beef one. It had roast beef, corn pickle, dried onion, pickles and onion. It was sensational, way better than the one yesterday which was chicken.

    Some of the other mouth watering selections

    The food being prepared

    I rode round the neighbourhood a bit, it started raining again so decided to head back to the hotel for an hour or so until the rain is predicted to clear. Much cooler here today than it was yesterday.

    Cycling in Copenhagen is easy. Interesting when turning left (the difficult turn, as riding on the right hand side) you never ever sit in the centre of the intersection, cyclists are expected to do hook turns just like you do in Melbourne to avoid trams

    Even though I rode in Paris, on the road it was still a little hair raising when not on a bike lane, In Copenhagen it feels very safe. Here I am doing a left turn.

    Once I’d had a break and the rain had died down, I went out to the Round Tower. Read about that adventure here