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.

Hello Copenhagen

The SAS flight was one of the most relaxed stress free plane boardings I’ve ever had. Probably due to the plane being only half full and one of the last flights out of Heathrow for the night. They called business class then SAS go, and a few of us are waiting around for economy to be called, it wasn’t so we just wandered up anyway, turns out SAS go is economy. Was pretty impressed with SAS. Similar to the BA euro flyer (ie cheap, but not Ryanair type cheap). Seats were reclining, USB power, and inflight wifi. Stuff BA didn’t have. So far better than my flight to Poland.

Didn’t bother with Wifi as it was only an hour and gave me a chance to catchup on all things Copenhagen from the awesome little book Sharon and Emma gave me for my birthday. It’s put me in the direction for a coffee or two over the next few days. I’ve also worked out how to signup for Copenhagen’s bike share. Will be interesting to compare it to Paris.

Was a very clear night flight awesome watching the sunset out the other window. I prefer isle seats, so I wasn’t at the window to take a photo however the kind fellow opposite me took one for me. The flight was only 1.5 hrs and even though it was delayed it seemed to go super quick

After landing found the train and got a ticket

Got on a train and you can see the place is already set up for cycling

The phone network welcomed me to Denmark

Found my hotel. The central station wasn’t as clean and spartan as the one at the airport. The trip took about 25 minutes. Would seem central stations truly are the same the world over

Room seems fine

Denmark is supposed to be the happiest country on earth. Even the power outlets look happy !

They even have a model little mermaid at the airport

Leaving London

I’m leaving London yet again this holiday, third time in as many weeks I’ve departed this wonderful city once for Poland, once for France and now for Denmark. It’s a very weird feeling as Sharon and Emma are heading back to Sydney whilst I continue on. Emotionally it’s holidays ending, holidays starting and saying goodby to the family for two weeks all rolled into one.

We were in bed pretty early last night from the final day in Paris and transfer to London. Our day technically started again at about 20 past 12 in the AM when the fire alarm in our room went off for a few seconds. In my dazed half slumber I thought it was one of the multitude of electronic gadgets I have going off but then realised it was the alarm. It stopped then 5 minutes later came on again and didn’t stop. Looked in the corridor to see lots of people heading out, but couldn’t see or smell any smoke and looking out the window everything seemed fine. Before exiting into the cool night half naked I called reception who confirmed that another guest got busted smoking in their room. I could tell from his tone he was super pissed about it. For him it turned a quiet nightshift into a nightmare.

Once we were up and out (at a more reasonable 10am) we jumped on the tube to head to the Science Museum. Totally wow wow wow. For me this was complete nerd heaven. Not sure why I never visited it on my last trip, but on my next one I’m spending a full day in there.

Before entering we grabbed a quick bite at a mini Pret store, and the coffee was a surprisingly good one, better than I expected. Maybe it was just I’d gotten used to all the crap coffee in Paris.

Whilst we are on the subject of Paris, as much as I love Paris, as a city to visit London wins hands down. Paris may be the city of light, but as the saying goes when you are tired of London you are tired of life and I’m by no means tired of London. And as it’s only 2hrs by train you can hop over for the weekend.

They have James Watt’s workshop here in the museum.

They have stacks of cool stuff on display. Remember I saw someone riding a chopper bicycle in London about 2 weeks ago?

They even have the first computer I ever owned displayed (VIC20). Now I do feel old. They had all the greats from the 80s here

John will recognise this blast from the past :-

One fantastic thing about London is all the free museums. We spent a few hours here at the Science museum and it cost nothing (I donated the recommended £5, but it’s by no means compulsory). Could could spend a week visiting all the museums here and not spend a cent (or a penny) and London has some fabulous museums.

I couldn’t resist this t-shirt

After the science museum we headed over to the Guildhall to look at the underground Roman amphitheater they discovered, and again entry was completely free. Our day only cost us breakfast, lunch and a few tube rides.

Lunch was a few sandwiches and salads we bought at Tesco and at in the shade on the grounds of the Guildhall.

After checking this out, we tubed it back to the hotel, picked up our luggage and took the Heathrow express out to the airport. Sharon and Emma were departing from terminal 3 and I terminal 2. After helping Sharon and Emma checking in and saying our goodbyes I headed to terminal 2. I was through checkin and security in record time of about 5 minutes to discover my flight is delayed about an hour. C’est la vie…. at least it’s giving me time a plenty to write this blog post.

One positive about Terminal 2 is I found a place that does decent coffee. About a 7/10. Not bad for an airport

I’m now at the gate waiting for my flight to start boarding after a bit of a delay. Next post will be from Denmark. Home of Hygge and LEGO !

Ducking in for a Coffee

We all had a bit of a sleep in this morning, we have all changed time zones, Sharon and Emma dramatically and were of course very tired. We did like Elvis and exited the building around 10am and started looking for breakfast. Being central London there isn’t much open around this place on weekends so we headed up towards Liverpool St station to see what we could find.

On the way up we walked past my favourite building in London (The Gherkin) and now that I’m in London, the Obligatory Daily Gherkin returns:-


I know there is a great restaurant that does breakfast called the Duck and Waffle on the way to Liverpool St Station, but wasn’t sure it was open today and I knew I didn’t comply with their dress code (shorts and trainers) but what the hell, might as well give it a go. Sure enough at the entrance the guy looked me up and down and reminded me of the dress code but said they would make an exception for me today. Of course inside almost every other guy is in shorts and trainers…. Well hey, At the end of the day £50 is £50….. Their entire market today was tourists, everyone taking photos of the spectacular view, selfies etc.

The food here is phenomenal and considering the view you get it’s actually great value. It would have cost us way more to go to the viewing area of the Shard and here we got food in the price. Also it’s a lot closer to the other buildings than the Shard. Coffee is a healthy 7.5/10 and my coffee was free as I ordered a second one, they forgot about it until I reminded them so gave me my coffees for free. 

Here we are and the restaurant is so high it looks down on the Gherkin.

And lets not forget the coffee and food ! Emma had some Waffles, I had Yoghurt with berries and a side order of toast. Sharon had some amazing duck eggs with truffles and mushrooms and a side of crispy bacon.

Kansas is now a zillion miles away Toto….


Whilst there I decided to take a selfie with the the Gherkin in the background. Emma has christened any selfies with the Gherkin in the background as a “Gherkie”. After breakfast we continued up to Liverpool street for the next adventure of the day,



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.