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Biking Amsterdam

I suspect that most harried travelers would love to arrive at their designated airline gate to see this posted as the destination for their trip.  I have written numerous times about my trips to Amsterdam, a city I love and know so well.  So, in mid-May even though I was seeing this city posted as my destination for the 31st time, I was still excited about my trip.

If you have read my Amsterdam posts over the last few years, you know that my wife has not been able to travel with me since 2015.  And this year, again due to the high-price of an airline ticket ($1700 for coach), my wife did not accompany me.  On many of these trips when I have travelled alone, I have tried to do something new. And this year, in spite of having been to Amsterdam so many times, I still did something new I had never done before—bike Amsterdam.

To say that Amsterdammers ride bikes is akin to saying that human beings breathe air.  You see bikes everywhere being ridden by the youngest children all the way up to senior citizens.  I’m sure it contributes significantly to their healthy lifestyle. So, it might seem quite surprising that in all my trips, I have never rented a bike and toured the city.

The person I teach with, who has also been to Amsterdam many times, is an avid biker and has biked over many parts of Holland on some of our previous trips.  So, when I realized I would be travelling alone again, I suggested we bike together.  He readily accepted.

Checking the weather before we left, we saw that the temperatures were going to be in the 40s and 50s on the one day we would have to bike; not necessarily the best of biking conditions. He suggested bringing some appropriate attire which I did even though knowing I had never biked in weather less than 60 degrees (and even that had felt cold).  From his previous experience, he knew that portions of Holland could be very windy making the cooler temperatures feel downright cold.

We agreed that if it seemed too cold, we would find some alternative activity for us to do. However, it was still disappointing to think we might not get to bike as I had been doing some indoor bike training over the winter to keep myself in shape.

The day we had to ride started out chilly, cloudy, and rainy but by 1:00 pm, had become partly cloudy with temperatures in the low to mid-50s.  We decided to give it a go.

Although there was a bike rental shop just around the corner from our hotel, he suggested that we take the tram to a park near the museums and rent bikes there to avoid the in-town bike traffic.  I had no idea how wise a suggestion this was.

Having mostly ridden my hybrid bike with straight handlebars and uncomfortable seat, it was a delight to see that our rental bikes had a much more comfortable-looking seat.

It did take me a little getting used to the swept-back handle bars since it forces you to sit up differently.

One of the really nice things about Holland is that there are dedicated roads for bikes all over the country. But as soon as I pulled into the bike lane, I felt overwhelmed by faster natives zooming past me, ringing their little bells to let me know I was too slow or in their way.  It felt a bit like learning to drive at the age of 16 and getting out on the interstate for the first time and being practically overrun by faster 18-wheelers.

Thankfully, we quickly made our way into Vondel Park where I could get accustomed to riding this bike without the snarl of traffic all around me.  It was a nice ride through the park and when we reached the other side, the streets we were on were much less crowded.

As we approached the outskirts of Amsterdam, we came across a very interesting site, the Olympic Stadium, home to the 1928 summer Olympics (IX Olympiad)…

…and the very first Olympic flame lit in the cauldron atop this tower.

Leaving this historical spot, we continued on surface streets until we arrived at our ultimate destination—Amsterdamse Bos—an English park on the edge of Amsterdam three times the size of Central Park.  As soon as we entered the park, we came across another great find, the 1928 Olympic rowing training grounds.

This held special significance for me having just read the book about the University of Washington Rowing team that won Olympic Gold in 1936 in Berlin.

Our bike ride through the park along the paved trails was very nice and when my friend suggested we stop for lunch, I was having such a good time I had completely forgotten about eating (we’d both had a late, big breakfast).

When we reached the far edge of the park, we came across a canal that had a cute little ferry that transported bike riders across the canal for 50 cents each.

Throughout the day, the weather remained nice and actually turned out being warmer than predicted (about 58).  Since we were not traveling as fast as the Amsterdammers, we never got cold and I didn’t even need my hat or gloves.

We had rented the bikes for three hours and so after traversing the length of the park, we decided we should head back to town.

Thankfully, there were a number of bike road signs to guide us back, but my friend frequently stopped to check our location on his phone whenever we encountered unmarked routes.

My only real scare was on our way back while riding along a busy street, a scooter pulled up right behind me before tooting his little horn to let me know I was in his way.  Having been in the park most of the time, I had forgotten that small scooters such as a Vespa, are allowed on the bike roads also (there are a lot of those in Amsterdam too) and with the car sounds on the street, I never heard him approach me until he was inches from my back tire.

It must have really flustered me because right after that, I almost ran over my first pedestrian crossing the bike lane (having mostly walked in Amsterdam, I have almost been run over by a biker numerous times).

We made it back to the rental shop without further incident.  I had no way of knowing how far we had biked, but based on the road signs I saw, we had gotten at least 10 kilometers outside the city so probably we had biked in total about 20 miles.  After a nearly three-hour workout on our bikes (and happily no sore posterior), we rewarded ourselves with our favorite meal—an Indonesian Rice Table.

Over dinner, we talked about what a fun time we had had and discussed plans to definitely bike again on our next trip.  Hopefully next time my wife will be able to join me on another fun bike ride!

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