Biking through Amsterdam, the Rijksmuseum and Vondelpark

Having been in Europe during the summer many times, we thought we knew what the weather would be like. So we didn’t even look up the weather in the cities we are traveling to. Mistake! Amsterdam was cold… jacket and scarf cold, especially in the morning and evening if you’re on a bike.

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We lounged around until 10:15am and headed out to take the train into the Central Station. We wanted to ride bikes around the city, and found this great place called Frederic’s Rentabike. There are many options to rent a bike in Amsterdam. All of them, seemingly, scream “tourist”. Mike’s Bikes are painted red; Yellow Bike, a green bike… etc. Frederic’s, however, just has normal Dutch bikes (that look about 50 years old – a good thing in a city that had 100,000 bikes stolen last year alone).

Amsterdam has nearly a million residents, about as many bikes, and a million tourists coming through every month. In 2008, it was rainy and we were new to the city and to traveling together. We hit all the touristy spots our first time – a canal boat tour, Anne Frank House, Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, Rembrandt House, and Vondelpark, all within 2 days.

This time we wanted to relax and really enjoy the city. Riding bikes was a little scary. There are bikes everywhere. Cyclists, people on mopeds and motorcycles, teeny cars, pedestrians, trams, and cars all vie for space on the road. There are bike lanes almost everywhere, which really helps, but the teeny cars, mopeds and motorcycles can be in the bike lanes too! Also, you can ride both ways on any of these paths, regardless of whether it’s on the left or right hand side of a road or canal. The real terror comes when approaching intersections, where all forms of traffic converge. An image in my (Amy’s) mind is of a child riding his bike less than two feet from the tram, which is gliding alongside him. Each oblivious to the other, while anxiety and intrigue wrestled inside of me.

Although biking Amsterdam is nerve-wracking, it is also exhilarating and SO MUCH FUN!!! We really really really encourage anyone going to Amsterdam to do it. And we hope to bring some Amsterdam back to Orlando 😉 Let’s go, Critical Mass!

IMG_3190We stopped by an open air street market near the New Church, got some fresh squeezed OJ and bought a souvenir. And we realized flea markets are pretty much the same everywhere. Then we rode down to the MuseumPlein, through the arch of the Rijksmuseum and parked our bikes. Before we went in, we ate our pack lunch and took some pictures in front of the giant “iamsterdam” sign (I Am Amsterdam) that was crawling with people from all over the world (literally).

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This was our second time at the Rijks; much of the museum was closed last time, which was fine since our schedule was so packed that time. So we had pretty high expectations, now that the entire museum is open. But we were a bit underwhelmed. We think we have seen enough 16th – 19th century paintings for awhile. Yes, we love Vermeer, Rubens, Rembrandt, Jan Steen… but we really find ourselves attracted to late 19th century and certain threads of 20th century art.

IMG_0361After the Rijks we got back on our bikes and rode around Vondelpark. This huge park right by the main museums of Amsterdam has miles of trails and acres of open green space, punctuated by ponds, woods, cafes, and a Picasso sculpture. It is really fun to ride around, get lost, and not care where you are because you at least know you’re still in the park. We were on the lookout for a Herring stand (the fish… there is a traditional Dutch snack of raw herring and onions that we wanted to try). We had seen it in all the guidebooks and been told by many people that we had to try it. More on that later.

IMG_0373We didn’t find a stand, but we had heard about a brewery in an old windmill in the city (called Browerij’t IJ) and decided to head there. An Aussie from Frederic’s Rentabike had recommended two specific beers there, Columbus and Zatte. We ordered the beers and some cheese and salami, sat down outside, and relaxed for a bit. Our butts and feet were hurting, unused to the amount of biking and walking we had been doing.

Aside: Some of you may have read our blog from 2009 when we biked 1000 miles across the United States (or seen our recent PechaKucha talk about the trip). You may be wondering, why are they tired out by a bit of biking in Amsterdam? Well, we very rarely ride in Orlando, for a few reasons. First, when we got back from the trip, Amy was hit by a car three weeks into bike commuting. Corroborating this, Orlando is statistically one of the worst cities in the US to be a pedestrian or cyclist (in terms of injuries/fatalities). Second, there’s not a deep enough bike culture that has raised awareness among our driving population… aka everyone… so no one, whether tourist or local, is watching out for bicycles around Orlando. Third, for the most part our city is not designed for cyclists or pedestrians. There are a few exceptions, as certain neighborhoods fight to bring this kind of culture and infrastructure to bear – e.g. College Park, Thornton Park, Baldwin Park, and Audobon Park. Unfortunately, we don’t live in one of these neighborhoods, and though some of our favorite local haunts are in them, it’s hard to get there safely on a bike from where we live.

IMG_0383We met up with Jasper for dinner at a pizza place in his neighborhood. We all headed back home. We were very tired, but it was too early to go to sleep. We were debating going back out, versus watching a movie. But we had no idea what to do or where to go. Amsterdam is known for being a wild party city; that’s not our style. We decided to head back to the windmill brewery. It was still light outside, but very cold. Unfortunately, it was closed. We debated heading to the central station but decided against having to navigate on bikes at night, still jet-lagged and leery of the red light district. Tired and slightly frustrated, we started heading back in the direction of Jasper’s apartment. We had seen a wild party with lots of people from former Dutch colonies (Surinam, St Maarten, Aruba, etc). But that looked like more of an adventure than we wanted. We found a nice little neighborhood cafe on the water, parked our bikes, and walked around a bit. There were a lot of young people on the streets, possibly getting into some mischief. Back at the cafe, we had a drink and people watched, then headed back to the apartment and had a great conversation with Jasper before going to sleep.

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