Canal in Amsterdam

Amsterdam 2024

Bags packed and off we go!

Sixteen bags packed and off we went to Amsterdam. That makes the packing sound easy but let me tell you there were so many things to consider! Its April…will it be hot, cold, wet? We are cycling in Holland on traditional Dutch bikes… will we need a gel seat, cycling gear…helmet? The Dutch don’t do any of that. And how will Lorraine fit in her six outfits and seven pairs of shoes within the KLM allowance?
And then of course there was Shirley and Sarah who had set off already, cycling all the way from Newcastle…catching a ferry with their bikes and panniers full to the brim, including Sarah’s two ‘going out tops’ packed and ready!
For those flying it was a 3 am alarm call to get up and to the airport for a 6 am flight. A free drink and coconut macaroon on board, making up for the lack of sleep.

The adventures start before we even got to the hotel!
Arriving in Schipol, one of the largest airports in Europe we managed to lose three of the group before we had even picked up our bags! We then took the train into Amsterdam, some of the party mistakenly sitting in first class…an announcement was made, and two guards sent down the train to check they had vacated the ‘red’ seats!
Next, we found the bus to our hotel and misleading advice from the hotel website led us to get on it and go the wrong way! The bus driver’s advice was sought, and he tipped us out in the rain and pointed at the stop on the opposite side of the road. He then promptly returned 10 minutes later to pick us up again when he had been to the end of the line and turned round! Cheek! How we laughed! When we arrived at our hotel he did however helpfully shout down the bus that “the lovely ladies should get off now!”
Westcord Art Hotel
What a fantastic hotel. Despite arriving early they found three rooms that were ready so that we could check some people in and use the rooms to dump bags, change and refresh. A truly welcoming hotel, great facilities in the rooms and iced water and sweeties on reception, free of charge.

The Yellow Bike Tour
Back on the 22 bus (the right way) into the centre and a short walk to pick up our booked bike tour of Amsterdam central. We were each given a bike, a Dutch bike, a ‘sit up and beg’ city bike, no gears and only one hand brake and more crucially a backward pedalling brake! Eek, As Tracey said if we survive this without someone ending up in A & E it will be a miracle. We were also given bright yellow ponchos as it began to rain! We look like Minions announced Liz!
We each had a couple of minutes to adjust seats, pedal around a small area to get familiar with the bike before splitting into two groups and we were off.
Talk about ‘being thrown in at the deep end’! We think that they thought that because we were a cycling club that we would be naturals! And to be fair, cycling in the city with the most cycling infrastructure in the world and where the bike rules, what could possibly go wrong?
It turns out lots! There were bikes coming at us from every side; junctions where sometimes you had right of way and sometimes not; some with lights, others without; pedestrians, trams, buses and motorbikes everywhere. It was hilarious and terrifying in equal measures, but we survived. Our guides shared interesting facts and stories about Amsterdam and Holland (if you managed to catch up and get to the stopping point before, they set off again…Lisa!). We asked about the Tulip festival but our guide didn’t seem to know that it was going on. How odd!
Anyway we got a true flavour for cycling in Amsterdam and a feel for the city. About 6 miles (2 hours, ha ha!)
After a quick drink, we set off to pick up the bikes we would have for the next couple of days. We returned to our hotel for tea (don’t ask Rachel about the Salmon) and all fell into our beds shattered! What a first day!

Day two. To Haarlem and the coast for some.
First things first, we needed to sort out our bikes. We had them on hire for three days. Again, they were Dutch city bikes and at least these had two handbrakes. Still no gears but it would seem only one size fits all! And as you know we are an eclectic group made up of all shapes and sizes. With some tinkering, some swapping and adjustments we were set to go.
We had downloaded some routes from Komoot before arriving in Holland and thanks to Tracey’s Garmin and Sarah’s Wahoo, plus the odd check of Google Maps we managed to navigate our way.
Only five minutes from the Hotel we entered Westpark and joined a fantastic cycle superhighway out of the city towards Haarlem. Phone rings…what now?? OK back we go…left two people behind. Oops!
Finally, we are off. What a beautiful ride through the countryside. Windmills, canals, a heron and pretty villages along the way. No tulips yet… but there’s always tomorrow. We manage to find a café with 16 seats available and sit down to translate the menu. Lovely food was had by all and a plan for the rest of the day agreed.
Group one stayed in Haarlem. Time spent wandering round the bustling market, meandering up and down pretty streets, fridge magnet buying (Jane!) and visiting the spectacular church at the centre of the town. 26 miles
Group two went on to the coast to dip their toes in the sea, tackling some hills (remember no gears!) on the way to get over the dunes that keep the sea at bay. Ice creams had by all in a café on the beach before heading back. 39 miles
A quick spruce (for some!) and we were ready and off out to a restaurant for our evening meal. What a pick Viv. Café Restaurant Amsterdam was set in an old industrial pump house. Beautiful venue matched by amazing, fresh food with some traditional Dutch dishes on the menu, including herring. They were great according to Shirley and Lisa. A great end to a great day.
Eating out in Amsterdam.
We were warned about the food being a little bland in Amsterdam but to the contrary we found some great fresh food with plenty of options. The only challenge was the bill! Not expensive or added hidden charges. No, it was the insistence that the bill had to be paid as a whole! Card only sometimes, cash accepted in others but no paying individually or even by table! Eek. Hats off to Liz for taking the hit on a couple of occasions and paying for us all and working out how much we each owed her!

Day two. The flower route.
“I really expected to see tulips in Holland” said Lorraine, so today we went in search of tulips. First, we had to work out how to get to the beginning of the downloaded route, called the flower route, which started in the centre of Amsterdam. Google maps made it look easy! We split into two groups for ease of navigating junctions and lights, great idea by Fiona and set off to meet up in Vondel Park. And we did it! Great teamwork and being a bit more confident on the bikes helping.
The route headed south, out through the park into the suburbs of Amsterdam, past house boats, the 1928 Olympic stadium and sports arenas before arriving in Het Amsterdamse Bos, a vast parkland with lakes, woodland and miles of cycle paths. We joined up together and cycled on for lunch in Amstelveer before returning to Amsterdam. There was a little bump on the way back, no one seriously injured, though some bruising, sorted by sitting on icepacks later back at the hotel. Ouch Julie!
Arriving back in Vondel Park we sat in the sun enjoying the outdoor life, though with what seemed like the whole population of Amsterdam! The cafes were heaving but thanks to Janet and Vicky for sharing bags of Haribos and Dropmix (liquorice sweets), they weren’t needed. In fact, at every turn Janet seemed to have a snack remedy for every part of the day! Amazing!
It has to be said that by the end of the day, only three tulips, a few daffodils and some wild garlic were spotted! How odd! Not much of a flower route!

A culture shock.
We all commented on how the Dutch are definitely outdoor, active people. Even though they are known for cycling, we all noticed the different activities and sports people seemed to enjoy. Running, rowing, tennis, hockey, basketball, sports pitches, arenas everywhere and all being used. On Sunday it honestly felt like everyone was outdoors, doing something! What a completely different culture to our own.
Out again in the evening to a great Asian fusion restaurant. Some negotiating by Viv and we sat down to a tasting menu of varied dishes. The dishes kept arriving and were enjoyed by all. Sprouts with ginger though a little odd but very tasty!

Day three – A free day
We said goodbye to Sarah and Shirley who headed off towards the ferry port. The rest of us split up with lots of different plans to see the varied sights of Amsterdam. Some, like Alison enjoying the freedom to spend the day absorbing the culture and wandering round to see where it took them without any responsibilities! Others in small groups with an itinerary and things to see and do. As varied as visiting art galleries, barge trips on the canals, Anne Frank House, the flower market, the zoo and even the Sex Museum! “It is amazing how far you walk without realising it when you’re sightseeing” exclaimed Marie as she clocked up 10 miles on her smart watch!
We miraculously all met up back at the hotel at the allotted time to pick up our bags and head to the airport and home!
A fantastic trip enjoying a great city and the Dutch cycling culture.

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