This would have to have been one of the craziest days in all our travels. We started out in a very snowy and cold Tallinn, with an afternoon biking around the crazy city of Amsterdam and meeting up with one of Aussie friends (who resides in Sweden)!
Snow had been forecast overnight in Tallinn, but given it had been beautiful and sunny (although cold) the previous day we weren’t convinced there was going to be a lot of snow. As we had a 10am flight from Estonia to the Netherlands, we didn’t have a lot of time to go exploring in the morning ……. so while we had our fingers crossed for snow we weren’t going to be that fussed if the snow held off.
With a forecast top of 22 degrees in Amsterdam for the day, we packed up all the thermals and really warm clothes that had been getting a work out in Finland and Estonia, as we were unlikely to be outside of the airport for long enough to get cold!
Anto and I woke up at 6.30am and looked out our window (we were on the top floor of the hotel) and saw snow everywhere, thick, deep, snow and it was still fluttering down. We had an 8am airport transfer but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see the old town under snow.
Our half-formed plan the night before was for me to run out and do photos while Anto took the kids to breaky. I quickly dived into the bags to find some warm clothes and grabbed the camera and bolted out the door of the hotel for the 10 minute walk to the old town.
Anto had gotten the kids up who were very excited to see snow and were promised a quick play. Meanwhile it was still dark (it was still well before 7am) and the streets were only just starting to be cleared of snow. I was trying to walk as quickly as possible without slipping, which was quite a challenge.
I made it to the old town in under 8 minutes, it was most definitely a beautiful pre-dawn snowscape.
Once I made it to the old town cobblestone areas it was extremely slippery. Everything looked very different under snow but after a couple of days wandering around I knew the landmarks now and could mostly find my way around.
I had promised Anto I’d be back in 40 minutes so was in a bit of a rush, but being so early I had the whole old town to myself except for the odd snow shoveller. I revisited a few of the lookouts and it was fun walking the deserted streets in the snow and seeing the old town look like a Winter wonderland.
Pretty soon it was time to get moving. With everything looking so different I took a wrong turn off Toompea hill and only realised at the bottom of the hill. I kind of knew where I was but not how to easily get back. It was now after 7.15am and about when Anto was expecting me back. Without data working on my phone I couldn’t get GPS or a map working I wasn’t going to risk trying to cut through the back streets and getting lost. We’d walked this area on the first day but in the half-light and snow it wasn’t quite familiar enough. So I decided to head the longer way back up the hill and into the old town and retrace my steps to take the correct route back. Back to the cobblestones made it slippery, and even slower but I figured it was safer than getting very lost. I knew Anto would be freaking out at this point and he couldn’t contact me as my phone wasn’t working.
Once I made it back to the hill I found the right street out of the old town and I was only a few minutes away from the hotel and hadn’t managed to fall over on the ice, despite a few near misses. I was relieved when I caught sight of the hotel and I made it back at 7.35am. When I got to the room both kids were watching TV with a message that Anto had run out to look for me for a few minutes, most likely assuming I was lying in snowy gutter somewhere. We must have just missed each other in the lift. At least I now had wi-fi and could message him and let him know I was back.
I then had 10 minutes to get changed out of my very snowy (and now sweaty with all the running) warm clothes and throw some breakfast down my throat. The kids came down to the restaurant with me to help me eat and mostly to stay out of Anto’s way while he got the bags sorted and we both recovered from our heart attacks. The kids filled me in on their quick play in the snow outside the hotel, where they apparently had snowball making session as per tradition. Soren still refers to them as ‘no balls’!
Just after 8am our hotel airport transfer had arrived and we were off to the airport. We normally use public transport but had decided to use the hotel offered service as it was relatively cheap and avoided 2 buses and some walking with luggage. With the snow it turned out to be a good move as we’d well and truly discovered on our 2015 trip that dragging bags through the snow is not much fun.
Our Estonian driver had us to the airport in 15 minutes, where it was snowing heavily. It was a pretty quick process to check in and aside from having to go through security 4 times as they wanted a different thing out for scanning every time (tablets, watches, every piece of camera gear) we were soon at our gate.
Astrid was a bit annoyed there was no Qantas club but recovered from her brief disappointment by watching the snow out the windows and doing some school work. Anto and I had another coffee and Soren amused the local Estonians with his constant chatter and checking out the tropical fish tank in the middle of the airport.
We were on a bombardier plane and had to board across the tarmac…….which of course meant walking through the snow, which was now coming down quite heavily. It was rather cold in our light clothing. Once on the plane we entertained ourselves by watching them de-ice the plane. As we took off, there was certainly a lot of snow……..
We had a 2.5 hour flight down to Amsterdam and it was uneventful. We were flying on a low-cost Estonian airline, so even with no in-flight entertainment or meal service the kids were excellent. Astrid read on the kindle for the entire flight and Soren watched endless episodes of Octonauts on the tablet. Neither rested despite being exhausted. We kind of expected that was going to be the case though!
Pretty soon we were flying over the Netherlands and the flatness of the country and the amount of water were hard to comprehend. The Netherlands in its normal state looks like what Australia does after a huge flood!
On the ground, we collected our bags and trundled off to buy Astrid a transport card (we had ours from a previous trip, but she was too young to need one then). Amsterdam central station is always crazy but we made it out and onto a train, which was full of British people on holidays. After 15 minutes on the train it was a quick bus transfer and a 10 minutes walk to the hotel, which was a welcome sight.
Today was the start of our first bike tour and all the hotels for the bike tours are organised and booked through the bike tour companies. Our Dutch bike tour (through the descriptively named Dutch Bike Tours) was starting at the Westcord Art Hotel, which was in a different area to where we had stayed on our previous Amsterdam trip. The hotel was rather trendy and we were fairly impressed with the rooms and decor. The kids even received a stuffed fish toy each on check-in (which they both managed to lose later in the holiday).
After a long day of travel already, a nap sounded like a good idea but we had to rush out to meet our friend Rose who was in Amsterdam for the afternoon before a flight back to her home Sweden. We’ve previously met up with Rose in both Denmark and Sweden so when our schedules fortuitously crossed over we didn’t want to pass up the opportunity for a quick get together.
Our bikes had already been delivered to the hotel so we located them in the underground garage and they seemed to fit and work (although we were minus the helmets we had requested for the kids). We gave the bikes a quick spin around the car park and were off on the crazy bike paths of Amsterdam.
If you’ve ever been to Amsterdam you’ll know how many people ride everywhere. The streets and bike paths are always full of bikes and cars are secondary to bikes. However, in the central areas and around the canals the riding is a little insane. There are bikes everywhere and pedestrians and cars beware! We hadn’t ridden in Amsterdam on our previous trip but had witnessed the insanity. With not a lot of time to spare we had to dive in and ride into the city area to meet Rose.
It was our first ride in Europe on this trip and we even managed to mostly stay to the right and not fall off or cause too much traffic chaos. It’s challenging getting used to a new bike without the added pressure of cycling on the opposite side of the road, foreign road signs and rules and 10,000 other people also on the roads! Mid-afternoon on a Friday it was crazy around the canal area and we were trying to follow Anto’s GPS directions on his phone, which was an additional challenge. Eventually we made it to our meeting place and both found Rose, and a spot to park our bikes.
A late lunch of some wine, nachos and the Dutch specialty of stroopwaffels gave us a chance for a lovely chat and catch-up. We were also entertained by large concrete pots of tulips being placed in public areas outside.
All too soon Rose had to rush off to catch her flight so we decided to hit the bikes. The crowds and bikes around that area were just as crazy (and the number of drunk and stoned tourists was increasing) so it was time to head somewhere quieter. As we cruised around Amsterdam everything looked very familiar but it was much greener than our visit 4 years ago in Autumn!
The plan was to head to Vondelpark, a large park in the city that we had not explored on our previous visit. We made it without anyone falling off or being wiped out by a moped (annoyingly mopeds are allowed in the bike lanes and on bike paths). The kids had requested a play at a park so had a quick ride through the park then hopped off in one of the many play areas for a little play.
Vondelpark is huge but is quite easy to get around by bike. Unfortunately the beautiful Spring afternoon was rapidly evaporating and it was now pretty windy and starting to spit with rain. The park looked lovely but we didn’t get much time to explore as it started raining quite heavily and we’d dashed out wearing only T-shirts due to it being sunny and in the low-20s. The kids objected to the concept of leaving but were also starting to get cold, which somewhat helped our case!
It was over 5km back to the hotel which was a long way at the pace we were moving through the busy areas. We managed to find a slightly quieter way out of the park that avoided some of the insanity. We’d pretty much hit peak-hour bike traffic and it is always fun watching people ride past with a couple of kids in a front basket, or a dog and half their shopping hanging off the handlebars.
We were getting pretty cold and tired from a long day and half way back Anto’s phone decided to stop working, which meant no GPS and everywhere looks the same in Amsterdam!
We eventually got the phone and GPS working again and made it back to the hotel before 6pm all in one piece. I did think I was going to need some wine to calm my nerves from the crazy riding!
The kids were complaining (justifiably) about being tired , and were claiming not to be hungry but we convinced them they needed to go downstairs and eat something as it was a long time til breakfast. We definitely couldn’t face another outing to find food but luckily the hotel restaurant was pretty nice. It also involved no thinking, walking or riding!
Anto decided he had earned himself a large beer and burger, and we convinced the kids to eat some prawns and spring rolls. I had goats cheese and figs on bread. All the food was pretty good…….
The over-tired kids were kept amused during dinner with visiting the hotel (fake) cows and the (real live) ducks living in the swimming pool.
After a long and very crazy day it didn’t take very long for the tired kids to crash for the night. We witnessed a nice sunset out our hotel window, a nice end to a pretty weird day!. The next day was our first big day of riding for the holiday as we ventured out of Amsterdam and into the flower district.
Statistics for Friday 31 March 2017 – In Tallinn, Estonia, the temperature range was minus 2 to 0 degrees with snow. In Amsterdam it was a much more pleasant 9 to 22 degrees and mostly sunny. The total walking for the day was 12.5km. The total riding for the day was 13.4km with a whole 17m of elevation gain!
Up next, our first big riding day on our Dutch bike tour…….