Lest you think all we did on our trip to Amsterdam is visit bike shops and examine cycling infrastructure, let me assure you that we also did what we could to sample the culture, food and drink. Here’s what we got up to during our three nights and two-and-a-half days in the city.
We stayed in a houseboat on a canal—highly recommended.
Dottie unlocks the door while the suitcases wait patiently to enter.
Our first night in Amsterdam we were lucky enough to have dinner with locals—Malay takeout! The next day, we set off on our bikes to check out the Van Gogh Museum. Well, as close as we could get to the Van Gogh museum, which turned out to be the Hermitage Amsterdam since the real museum is being renovated. Since we were right there, we had to try to take a picture in the i amsterdam sign—with limited success (that’s us in the “m”!).
After admiring the exhibit (I thought it was interesting that Van Gogh and his brother corresponded in French!) we went to lunch at Gartine, a spot Dottie had uncovered during her Amsterdam research. It’s hard to pick a favorite meal on this trip (see below, plus we ate here in Paris!) but this lunch was definitely the best meal for the money that we had on our trip. We each had a delicious sandwich and shared a custard dessert.
Outside of Gartine
Lunch, the aftermath
Dottie through the lantern on our table at Gartine
Looking up from our table
After lunch, we got back on the bikes and struck out for Bols Genever, with an unscheduled stop at a book market that we just happened to pass through (love this aspect of traveling!). Dottie bought a vintage bike print.
cyclists zipping past the book market
The House of Bols museum was definitely a slick, commercial tour—still, it was a very nicely done and affordably priced one. We went on a Friday night, so the entry was just € 7,50—which included a cocktail and three tastes of Bols. The perfect aperitif! We felt like we got an interesting glimpse into the history of this precursor to the gin we both love so much. :)
the four main types of Bols Genever
Bols also makes flavored liqueurs—you could spritz these into the air and guess what flavor they were.
After our time at Bols, we pedaled through Vondelpark to our first dinner out in Amsterdam at Restaurant Blauw. We ordered the rice table, which was a first for both of us but definitely something we want to do again—nothing like having scads of tiny, delicious dishes spread out before you.
I think she’s impressed
On Saturday morning, we took a ferry to Noord Amsterdam (separate post on that one) and then returned the bikes to Henry at WorkCycles before hurrying back to our houseboat to meet my brother. Charlie had arranged for a stopover in Amsterdam on his way back from a work trip in Italy. After a brief cultural detour and a couple of drinks, we headed to dinner.
my brother and me
We had dinner at a place called Marit’s, which was in a quiet neighborhood and was another of Dottie’s discoveries. Marit serves dinner a few times a week in her home—so it’s sort of a cross between a restaurant proper, and a supper club. The service was professional, but the atmosphere was homelike and cosy.
You know, like the sort of place where you might pause in the middle of the meal to pet a dog.
We walked home, intending to stop at the windmill brewery that Henry had recommended. Alas, it was closed, but we found a bar next door that would serve us their beer. It was quite good. I guess it’s a good thing to have something to look forward to on our next visit…
Brewing beer in a windmill! Brilliant idea.
Our walk took us past the Vanmoof factory—we saw a handful of these in the wild on the trip.
Eventually, we returned to our houseboat and reflected on how lovely it is to bike and walk everywhere so easily in such a cozy, friendly city.
It was up early the next day to head to the airport. Amsterdam, we’ll be back!
When I purchased my most beloved WorkCycles Oma, little did I know I would be visiting the mothership four years later, hanging out at the home of the founder and his family.
Lucky for me, Henry, the owner of WorkCycles, is a very cool guy. When I told him Trisha and I would be visiting Amsterdam, he was absolutely welcoming. He and his wife opened their home to us our first night in town. After a scenic bike ride with his children, a delicious dinner, and a crash course in navigating the city, he sent us off on two lovely WorkCycles for the remainder of our visit. It was so nice to spend time in someone’s home after being on the road for so long!
Henry maps out Amsterdam for us
Henry and his family
We were both so impressed with Pascal’s riding skills—at just four years old, he was navigating the streets on his own like a pro. Henry’s wife is from Japan, so both children speak three languages: English, Japanese and Dutch. Which made conversations with 2-year-old Pia especially interesting!
Henry’s adorable, bike-loving children
Pascal’s custom ride
Pascal: best, youngest cyclist in Amsterdam (nay, in the world!)
Here we are with our adopted WorkCycles. Cycling Amsterdam like locals rather than on bright red rental bikes was cool, and being totally comfortable with handling Dutch bike helped us navigate the crowded bike paths with ease.
Trisha and her loaner WorkCycles
Dottie on our first ride
Hug a bike today!
Now here is a special tour of the WorkCycles shop. This place was warm, welcoming, and packed full of goodies!
Bike specials of the day
Love the creatures on the WorkCycles shirt
OMG! A BABY OMA!!
Family of four? WorkCycles has a bike for that!
The front office
Leather bike saddle stools – WANT!
Bike bags and bakfiets sans bak
Pretty little bikes all in a row
Heavy duty bike pulley
Heavy duty front rack
Suspended WorkCycles frame
On the day we returned our bikes (so sad) the weather had turned out chillier than we anticipated. Perfect timing to get some cozy WorkCycles hoodies—which have been favorites for both of us ever since.
Booking it home after we’d returned our bikes—thank goodness for the hoodie.
If you are ever in Amsterdam, we highly recommend a stop by WorkCycles!
It’s been months since we got back from our first visit to Amsterdam. It’s safe to say that both Dottie and I loved the city even more than we expected to, and not just because of the biking. We were impressed by the city’s beauty and charm, the friendliness of its people and the deliciousness of its food. But first things first: Here’s a little bit on how we felt about biking in the City of Bikes.
To start, if you are wondering whether Amsterdam’s reputation as such has been overstated, I can tell you emphatically that it hasn’t been! Bikes are literally, absolutely everywhere. Drivers are in the minority and in general act accordingly.
One of Amsterdam’s beautiful bikes
When your bike is one of many, it seems even more important to make it stand out. Many Dutch bikes were decorated or had custom baskets, etc.
A Mac Bike rental
Sunflowers seemed to be a popular theme.
Henry at WorkCycles set us up with bikes (more on that in another post) and our first ride in the city was with him and his family, including 2-year-old Pia and 4-year-old Pascal, who rode his own bike alongside us through a light rain.
Henry and his family
Dottie’s bike was called Bonnie!
Hug a bike today!
My WorkCycle, who was sadly nameless! I propose “Trisha.” ;)
Dot & Bonnie
The infrastructure was pretty much a cyclist’s dream—lights, turn lanes, bike paths, signage.
Bike sign graffiti
Bikes get their own signals
But we thought that the most bike-friendly thing about Amsterdam was the terrain. Neither dully flat, nor obnoxiously steep, in general the terrain seemed to be made up of what felt like gently rolling hills, which give you opportunity to coast without ever seriously taxing your legs. It really seemed like we could have biked forever.
Dottie on one of the city’s beautiful bridges
We did find the city’s circular structure and canals slightly tricky to navigate at times, but biking in Amsterdam never felt less than completely safe.
I check the map for the 10th time.
But it wasn’t entirely stress-free. Coming from a city where bike parking is not exactly at a premium, at times it was frustrating to spend as much time trying to find somewhere secure to park the bikes as I might have to spend stalking a parking spot at the Green Hills Mall on Christmas Eve!
Sometimes bike parking was frustrating—no empty spots on the rack!
A lot of Amsterdam cyclists seemed pretty sanguine about the whole thing, often just parking their bikes on the sidewalk and locking the wheel to the frame, à la Sheldon Brown. We didn’t feel comfortable doing that with our WorkCycles, so often Dottie and I would split up and head in opposite directions to find our spots.
Bike parking without bike racks
Bike parking along the canal
So. much. bike parking, but it’s still hard to find spots!
Despite the parking issues, bikes are absolutely the most efficient and economical way to get around a compact city like Amsterdam. We did take the tram and the subway during our trip. While both were convenient and easy to figure out and use, they were extremely expensive: 2,70 Euro for one hour of transit, or 7,50 for 24 hours. While I’m sure residents have the option of buying less expensive monthly or yearly passes, riding your bike is free and probably takes about the same amount of time, if not less.
The Amsterdam tram
The tram map
One tip, if you do take the tram and buy your ticket on board: Don’t try to buy it from the driver! There’s an entirely separate person in the middle who dispenses the tickets. Ah, to live in a country where public transport was sufficiently valued as to pay two separate workers per vehicle . . .
The tram payment person—not to be confused with the driver!
Basically, biking around Amsterdam is easy, fun and makes you feel like a local (well, if locals had to consult maps every five seconds). It lived up to everything we imagined, and then some.
More Amsterdam posts on the way in the next couple of days!
I know I love Chicago because whenever I return from a trip, no matter how cool the cities I visited, I’m happy to be back and Chicago shines a little brighter for a couple of days. I must say that after Amsterdam, though, the bicycling situation in Chicago is looking especially bleak. At least I can retreat to the Lakefront Trail, where the bicycling conditions are Amsterdam-level easy, pleasurable, and safe.
I took these photos before I left for my trip. I was worried that cold weather would have set in by my return, but today is sunny and in the 60′s F!
When you return from traveling, do you feel better or worse about bicycling in your home city? If you’ve visited a bicycle-paradise city like Amsterdam, Copenhagen, or Bogata, did seeing the possibilities make you more hopeful for the future or just make you want to run away to said bicycle-paradise city? I’m not yet sure where I fall.
Sorry for the slight lapse in posting lately. Dottie and I are devoting a lot of mental energy to planning our next trip.
Yep—that’s a London-Paris-Amsterdam itinerary you’re looking at. We will be there in mid-October (and I’ll be in Wales and Dublin before that).
Since we have so much time to dream and plan, we’d love to get suggestions from you on what we should see—especially when it comes to Amsterdam, as neither of us has been there before. Please share in the comments! And let us know if you’re interested in a reader meetup. Tea and Topshop in London??
Our next guest post is from the fabulous Dave of Portlandize, whose cycling advocacy is a huge inspiration. Today he’s giving LGRAB readers a glimpse of his recent trip to Amsterdam. More on the European cycling scene through American eyes is coming later this week as Dottie and I overcome jetlag and post about our time in France.
Folks in the U.S. bicycle scene often talk about what markers distinguish an established bike culture in a city or country. We talk about infrastructure and percentages of people riding to work and that kind of thing. But I think one of the biggest indicators is a slight (but rather important) perception shift from bike fun to fun by bike, and the idea behind that shift.
Portland is notorious for its bike fun, and people even internationally know us for organizing rides at the drop of a hat for the most mundane or silly kind of events. We have huge bike-related festivals and events and a lot of typical Portlandy events have emphasis on bike themes. There is nothing wrong with this, bikes are fun tools, and these events give people a chance to use them in creative ways and people really have fun with them. But to use these events as a marker of an established bike culture isn’t really accurate, in my opinion.
We were recently in Amsterdam for about a week, and one particular day we spent running around the city with Marc from Amsterdamize. As we were riding around and later sitting at a cafe, we saw hundreds of people riding by dressed in more-or-less religious themed attire (with some notable exceptions, like broccoli). We were probably seeing people go by for an hour and a half. We learned later they were all on their way to a huge party where the dress theme was religious attire.
What stood out to me is that they were not out to have fun on their bikes, they were out to have fun, and it just so happened that the way they were getting there was by bike. It wasn’t a deliberate decision, just like it’s not a deliberate decision for most people in the U.S. to hop in their cars to get somewhere. It’s just a given. When you
have to get somewhere that’s beyond easy walking distance, you hop on your bike.
Amsterdam has its share of bike fun, too – fixies and bike polo and tall bikes and the whole works, but what really marks it as an established bike culture (among other things), is that pretty much everyone uses their bike(s) without thinking about it. There are a lot of things that go into making this the default choice for people, and that’s a theme for many more posts, but there is no doubt that in Amsterdam, the bicycle is as usual as bricks, glass, and humans. It’s a natural part of the everyday flow of people, whether it’s to work, school, restaurants, parties, shopping – whatever the destination, the bike gets you there.
Read more about Dave’s trip to Europe and his everyday Portland cycling life at Portlandize.
Here in Nashville, it’s back to our regularly scheduled programming. Still cold and wintry, but the snow is all gone, so I’ve been able to ride again. The Bat was even talked into posing for a few photos to show off her new accessories — which my brother brought back from Amsterdam as a Christmas present.
I’m still very jealous that he got to Amsterdam first, but these new “On the Road” panniers went a long way toward making me feel better about it. They can carry a lot and fit perfectly on the rack. Great for grocery shopping.
Only problem is, they have to be buckled on and off the rack, which takes time (especially with cold fingers) and I don’t like to leave them on overnight, so I haven’t used them as much as I’d like to. Anyone have ideas for securing them to the bike? I know the canvas could always be cut, but I thought a thin cable lock or chain might be a deterrent — the kind of secondary lock people put on saddles.
One of these is carrying a little more than the other!
My other gift was a “brrring” bicycle bell, which my camera utterly refuses to photograph. Which meant googling “fietsbellen” to find a photo of one just like it! After going through 9 pages of results (those Dutch have a lot of different bicycle bells!) it finally turned up.
image courtesy of dag.nl
Mine is minus the battle scars, but I love the Dutch crown emblem. It looks great on the Bat, and is a big improvement over the stock bell that came on the bike.
The Waltz of the Bikes is already making the rounds in the bike blogosphere, but I feel compelled to post it here. The video is mesmerizing and literally put a smile on my face. Although I have seen countless pictures on Amsterdamize, watching video of cyclists in Amsterdam is powerful.
This video also made me a bit sad. It drives home how far Chicago is from the ideal – and Chicago is one of the most evolved cycling cities in North America. I so rarely see anyone in normal work clothes riding about casually. While I get a kick out of people thinking I am a superwoman for riding my bike all the time, I wish doing so were not such an oddity.
For details and background on the video, visit the maker (along with Violeta Brana Lafourcade) Mike Rubbo’s blog, Situp Cycle. Mike writes from Australia, which also has a long way to go. While there, check out the excellent video interviews with Mikael of Copenhagen Cycle Chic.