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.

Orlando to Amsterdam

We always forget how difficult traveling is. We always forget how wonderful it is.

About two weeks ago, we picked out all of our clothing for our month-long European adventure. We then proceeded to “test drive” some of our outfits as we ran errands around Orlando. After laying everything out, including all of Amy’s roller derby gear (she’ll be skating with the Paris Rollergirls), we saw that it wouldn’t all fit in our two backpacks, small shoulder bags and ukulele gig bag. So we cut down our clothing allowance – again – and managed to get everything packed with a little bit of room to spare.

Matching on purpose :)
Matching on purpose 🙂

There’s just something about getting on an airplane with all of your things strapped to your back and having to shove it all in the overhead compartment. It’s sort of stressful, sort of invigorating. You don’t know if there will be room when you get to your seat; if there is room, you don’t know if someone will get mad when they come in after you and can’t find a spot for their stuff.

Everyone knows sleeping on an airplane is terribly difficult. This was true for us as well, taking the redeye from Orlando to Dublin, followed by a short flight to Amsterdam. We ended up in an exit row seat, which was a double edged sword. Nathan had lots of leg room (plus!) but we were right behind the galley (minus!) so it was light and loud pretty much the whole night.

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This is what a redeye does to Nathan
This is what a redeye does to Nathan
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Hey look at that, 407!

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Our number one mission when we got to Amsterdam was to find a prepaid SIM card for the iPhone we brought. We were not successful. After wandering around the airport and then the Amsterdam Central Station for awhile, we decided to just call AT&T’s international help number and see what fees we’d be facing if we used text messaging. Turns out it’s not that terrible… incoming messages are essentially free (they count towards our normal plan limit) and outgoing messages are $0.50/msg. So we texted our host in Amsterdam (Jasper, a friend we made via CouchSurfing the last time we were here, in 2008) and he met us at the train station close to his apartment.

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Bikes and ridiculously small cars

We wanted to sleep. But we didn’t. Instead, after catching up a bit with Jasper, we went grocery shopping, picking up some snacks, breakfast and lunch food, and food to grill out at the party we were going to tag along to.

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Jasper has an amazing park a short walk from his apartment, called Flevopark. We walked up to a big group of young people grilling food, playing games and just enjoying the spectacular weather. The park was filled with young and old and everyone in between, enjoying life. No cars – everyone came on bikes. The great thing about the Netherlands for two Americans who speak no Dutch is that almost everyone speaks impeccable English!

We hit a volleyball around in a group and played a game called “Werewolf” (basically, “Mafia”, for those folks who know what that is). The sun did not seem to want to set. It was 10pm and it was still incredibly bright outside. The sun set at about 11pm and was up again at 5:15am (when we briefly woke up).

Hanging out with locals in a beautiful park, cooking good food, was a perfect way to start our trip.

Day 15: Back in the saddle

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

Pere Marquette State Park to Pittsfield, IL (~35 mi / 56 km plus a ride in a pickup)

We got up before 6 and were on the road by about 6:45. As we were filling up our water packs, I noticed that mine was leaking. Of course, we had left our extra 2 liter packs at Sam’s.

So short on water we started on our way. It got pretty hot pretty early. We had to stop a lot. We were on Great River Road, but the river wasn’t visible much of the time.

We crossed the free ferry at Kampsville. Well, like usual we showed up at the same time as weekly fuel truck and had to wait with no shade for about 20 minutes. The transport ferry really is an amazing thing. The ferry is 2 pieces: 1 piece is a tug boat and the other a barge. It acts like a hinge and it’s fun in the river current.

On the other side of the Illinois River we went to this cafe that had free wifi and opened in 10 minutes at 11 am. We were the first ones in and ordered a simple breakfast of eggs, toast and hashbrowns (they were also out of bacon). Apparently the grill was throwing a breaker and instead of letting us order something else, we were served at 11:45. Normally we’re not that picky but we’d just biked 28 miles and were starving.

We dropped off a couple of postcards and got on our way. By noon it was already in the 90’s. It was hot. The breeze was hot. The sun was everywhere.

But we kept on going. It was also pretty hilly and after huffing and puffing up a big one we took a break in the shade. It was across from a horse ranch. A lady told us it was down hill for a few miles. Her husband let us fill up on water.

We ride pretty much downhill until Mitzer Pit stop which closed at 2 and we got there with 20 minutes to spare. The grill was closed but deep fryer was ready. We split a chicken tender salad. Some nice people were asking us why we are so crazy to be biking in the heat. Truthfully we’re not sure at this point. We ask for somewhere shady and out of the sun. We left and headed out to a church about 1.5 miles away.

We are exhausted at this point and I lay down and crashed for an hour. A guy stopped to ask if we needed water or if we had heat exhaustion. We said we were fine.

Around 4 something another guy shows up and asks if we want a ride. Nate woke me up and I said sure. I didn’t want to ride in the heat.

I introduced myself to the driver and he said his name was Nathan and that he used to be married to an Amy. I then said that I’m married to a Nathan.

Pretty cool!

We threw our stuff in the back of the pickup and climb inside to blasting AC. Heaven sent!

We have a good conversation, shooting the breeze. Nathan invites us to crash at his place and to go swimming. Hospitality just comes natural to this guy.

He has a huge Victorian from the 1850s he’s restoring. More good conversation and we head to the public pool which after 6 was only a buck each. It was refreshing. It was also fun to meet Nathan’s 11 year old daughter. Everything felt natural even in our exhaustion.

After the pool we headed to the grocery store to get some good fixin’s to go with steak. Caesar salad and a bottle of Shiraz, I felt at home, mom and dad.

If you ever go through Pittsfield, Illinois, it’s famous for Abe Lincoln, but I hope you get a chance to meet Nathan. You’ll have a lot to talk about and feel good about life and you’ll want to drive cars real fast. To meet him just get stranded on the side if the road, he’ll come by and you’ll be glad he did.

Thanks Nathan.