Amsterdam, October 18, 58km

written by bryan on October 25th, 2006 @ 09:01 AM

We’ve finally made it. Amsterdam.

After fixing up my flat (see Bethany’s entry continued in the off and on drizzle towards Amsterdam. Signs kept taunting us in the rain: “Amsterdam 12km” and similar. But we were determined to take the scenic route. With the rain and the dubious fix to my back tire it was very tempting to shave off 10 kilometres or so to take the quick way in!

But I’m glad we took the long way; much of the last twenty kilometres were on top of the dike. We’ve ridden along lots of dikes in Germany and the Netherlands, but always beside it, never on top. So half of your view is blocked off by the dike. It would have been quite impressive coming up on the city that way, but alas the sky was gray and visibility limited.

We had just got into the outskirts of the city when I developed another leak, this time on my front tire. I certainly hope I can get some more tires tomorrow because that makes flat number fourteen for me versus only one for Bethany.

Rather than have Bethany wait around for half an hour while I unload my bicycle, inspect the tire, patch the tube, fix the flat and reload the bicycle, she went on ahead in to Amsterdam to secure lodgings.

While fixing both flats today I had several people stop and ask if I was OK or needed help. I’ve been surprised how few times that has happened so far during this trip; it seems to me that would happen more often in Canada, especially Saskatchewan. But Amsterdam looks to be a friendly place already.

I had one guy ask me for help; he wasa German tourist who had lost his way. I guess he figured I would have good maps, being a long distance cyclist. Alas, Bethany had taken them with her although we had not yet secured city maps.

The route we took into the city bypassed any sort of suburbs and immediately placed us in to an older section of the city, with narrow streets and small, cute houses. It was during rush hour but I didn’t encounter the number of cyclists that so overwhelmed me in Copenhagen. I suppose I wasn’t on a main commuter route. All sorts of attire; miniskirts, business suits as well as fully logoed bicycle wear. Mostly city bikes, but lots of variety, including one low racer that zoomed past.

A short ferry dropped me off at the main train station in downtown Amsterdam. Here is where the number of bicycles overwhelmed me. The bicycle storage facilities were massive, several stories high and just crammed with bicycles. I fought my way around the very large building to look for the main entrance where I was supposed to meet Bethany. “You can’t miss it”, she said.

Well, I couldn’t miss it, but construction made it inaccessible, and both of the entrances beside it (quite a ways apart) looked very similar. Which was the main entrance? I found a sign labelling one as the main entrance, so I went to it to look for Bethany.

I didn’t see Bethany, but I was 10 minutes early, so I didn’t really expect to. I was looking for a place to hang out when somebody commented on my bicycle. He called it a nice bike, but he figured it would be pretty dangerous in city traffic. It turns out that he was a bicycle courier from Poland, currently working in London. We both agreed that my bicycle wouldn’t be the best for his line of work, but would be great for a long distance trip. He invited me to sit down and join him since he was also waiting for someone. I accepted, and I also accepted the beer he offered me, although I declined the cigarette. He was on his eighth or ninth beer, so the conversation wasn’t completely coherent, but it was an interesting way to pass the time, and perhaps an appropriate introduction to Amsterdam!

Bethany found accomodations and then found me hanging out with Peter. She found a hotel room, and declined the bed she was offered by an Amsterdamer she met during her cycle into the city.

We found our hotel after fighting our way through the masses of cyclists, pedestrians, cars and trams. Bethany had the map and was navigating; I got completely turned around and had no idea where we were or where we were going. The center of Amsterdam is laid out in a semicircular shape with streets radiating out from the centre, so it is disorienting.

We were standing outside the hotel wndering if our bicycles could be safely locked up overnight in Amsterdam. Not a concern in Copenhagen, but in Amsterdam we noticed all of the bicycles were either junkers or had locks much heavier than the ones we were carrying around. A guy on a street was not reassuring. Bethany went inside to ask if the hotel had storage. They didn’t and he told us that they personally had 30 bicyles stolen over the last 15 years. Lovely.

He did give us the location of several bicycle rental shops which would likely store our bicycle for us, but we decided to chance it and just lock them as best we could.

Our room was on the fourth floor of the hotel, there was no elevator and the stairs were very vertical. Not so much fun carrying everything up with our tired legs.

Bethany picked up a city guide while booking the hotel, so we looked for something with live jazz as well as food. There were three listed for this Wednesday night. Nice. One was too far away, one was in a concert hall rather than a club, but the third looked good so we headed out for that.

When we got there, we found that the schedule had changed, instead of the small band, we were treated with a big band! I haven’t been dancing for a month; and dancing to a big band is what I prefer.

We originally picked the club because we figured we could get food there. Of course, we stayed even when we found out that they didn’t. During the break we headed out to find a sandwhich.

The show ended before midnight; karaoke was to follow. There was no way I was going to stick around for that, so off we went. And when you’re in Amsterdam at midnight…

We walked back to our hotel the long way around, through the red light district. I’m not really sure what I expected, but it was certainly an interesting walk. Lots of “coffeeshops”, whose primary business is to sell marijuana, hash and mushrooms, but they didn’t appear to appear particularly busy. There were lots of people on the streets for a Wednesday night, but they didn’t appear to be particularly intoxicated or indulging in many of the other “services” available. Perhaps midnight is still early in the night.

Physically, it doesn’t appear to be particularly clean, but that matches the rest of downtown Amsterdam, which has much more graffiti, litter and a run down feel than anyplace else we’ve seen so far in Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands. The girls standing in the windows are much better looking than the typical drug addicted prostitute you occasionally meet on a street corner, but most seemed quite bored. That and the cigarette they were all holding were two major turn offs for me. There were exceptions, one older Italian looking lady was heckling the passerbies in true Italian fashion.

We got back to our hotel and in to bed at about 2 in the morning. Such a change; we’re usually asleep by 10! But the cruise ship doesn’t get in to port until about 1PM, so we might as well get in the habit of going to bed late and then sleeping in. Not hard to get into it, getting out will seem more of a problem, I’m sure…

Comments

  • Brother David on 25 Oct 16:55

    Very cool. Getting drunk with a bike courier from Poland on the streets of Amsterdam beats Quantitative analysis any day.
  • Marie-Elizabeth on 25 Oct 22:04

    Well, discovering Amsterdam aren't you!!! Actually there are a lot of bicycle theift in Amsterdam and that's why locals usually put on 2 locks to discourage the theives. Only 19 beers for Piotre (his real name, Poles tend to translate their names in English), I have a hard time believing that! Remember, he's Polish! The reason why the coffee shops and Red light district where empty is not the time, it's because it's not tourist season. Locals don't go there only tourists, prostitutes aren't local as well! Make sure you cicle thru Wondelpark and go to museum square. It's worth it! You guys really seem to be having fun! I'm happy for you!

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