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.
  • Poland – I was there, but should I have gone?

    The title of this post is a play on words from the intro line to one of my favourite travel shows (Travel Man by Richard Ayoade). But the answer in two words is HELL YES! Poland is awesome. I really didn’t have high expectations of the place to start with. I’d wanted to visit Auschwitz so planned some time in Poland to achieve that goal and as planning progressed slowly started to realise that there is actually an amazing mount of things to see and do. Krakow alone has three world heritage sites within 60km of the city centre (the old town centre itself is listed, and I can see why). Bike tours, food & drink tours, museums, national parks, salt mines, and architecture galore.

    Incidentally Poland has recently passed a law that it’s a criminal offence to refer to Auschwitz as a “Polish Death Camp”, they want to ensure the world knows they had nothing to do with it. Given Poland was a very welcoming place for Jewish people before 1939 and they lost something like 20% of their population during the war so they are understandably touchy about it. The fact they lie between Germany and Russia does weigh heavily on their national psyche.

    Most things are well signed in English and you can usually find someone who speaks English to help you. Quite often announcements are both in Polish and English. The Krakow Bus terminal seems to be a exception there but I was there before 6am. My tip, screw the bus and take an Uber, I’ve always hated busses anyway.

    One other thing, don’t refer to Poland as being in “Eastern Europe” they are mildly offended by that. They are in “Central Europe”.

    I kind of initially thought Poland might be some sort of post communist rust belt industrial wasteland but it’s definitely not. It super clean, has very modern infrastructure (at least in the large cities), motorways, high speed trains, shopping malls etc etc. High speed trains is something we haven’t managed to do at home.  Lots of towns around Krakow are dotted with some beautiful looking houses, as nice as anything I’ve seen in the little towns in Italy and France. Krakow has quite a large IT focus, with highly educated labor that is cheaper than Western Europe and much closer than India. In my mind 1990 was still only 5 years ago, but it close to 30 so a full generation of development has occurred and Poland is keen to catch up to Western Europe. The EU is spending a fortune on Infrastructure there.

    It’s also amazing value. Most dinners cost me less than $15 including alcohol. Accomodation in a modern renovated apartment (all mod cons) in a traditional building right in the old town, seconds from all the action was $A35 a night. Uber we all over town for about $5-6 a ride

    Had to kick myself once or twice looking around at restaurants for food, got used to paying 20 zloty for a main meal and would see some places for 45 and think wow that’s a bit expensive then remember that 45zloty is about $A16.50 which is still a bargin for food compared to Sydney. And this is in the main tourist hotspot. I’m sure a few streets away from the main square it will be even cheaper

    You can live like kings on Australian wages here. Poland is off the beaten track a little for Australians. Not quite the pull of Spain, Italy, France, Netherlands although I did bump into a few of us. On my last day the couple sitting next to me were from Melbourne and coming back from dinner the couple in the apartment below me were from Brisbane. Although most of the Aussies I spoke to had some sort of ancestral link to Poland, not many of us were just there just because they could be.

    There is a stack of things I just didn’t get the time to do, I was there for 4 full days, I think you would need closer to a full 7 or even two weeks to fully appreciate it. I think Poland is punching well below its weight in the tourist scene. It’s amazing but is overshadowed by the known big hitters. Krakow is apparently compared to Prague all the time, I’ll have to wait and see until I hit Prague in a few weeks time.

    It’s easy to get to, only a 2hr flight from London and well served by trains from Berlin and Prague. I’m already thinking about returning in 2019….

    I should also add of course that I met some fantastic people and made some new friends. I’ll forever treasure the experience of talking to a Polish Nanna with Google Translate on the train ride from Warsaw to Krakow and the stories of her family, cooking and mushroom picking she shared with me.

    Visit it before too many of us discover it and the prices find equilibrium with Western Europe. Excluding the airfares, In Poland you can have a European Holiday for the price of Asia

    A few reminders of the beauty in Krakow.