Our last day of the Dutch bike tour was a long one, the route notes indicated 59.8km and we hadn’t come in at less than the route notes yet! Our legs were a little stiff from the 4 previous days on the bikes, but the promise of riding through some lovely scenery was motivating us to get back on the bikes for another big day. The route for the day was taking us through the ‘green heart’ and along the River Amstel through pretty villages and past windmills and farm animals.
The kids were seemingly tag-teaming with getting up early. This time it was Astrid’s turn, at least it wasn’t too much before 7am. Soren then followed shortly after.
It was down to another breakfast at the Best Western Leiden, and the breakfast room was full of conference participants, making for a less than relaxed breakfast. We needed to eat a reasonable amount before a long riding day, but the selection was pretty average compared to some of the other hotels. The kids did not approve of their croissants (it wasn’t up to French standards) but the freshly baked bread and gingerbread were pretty good.
In some kind of record we actually got away by 8.30am! The first several kilometres were looping our way through Leiden. We were riding out a totally different way to what we had ridden the previous few days, so we got to see some different parts of the city. The canals were looking very pretty in the morning light and the streets were busy with everyone commuting to work and school on bikes.
As usual we had a few small detours when the GPS was slow to update and we missed some turns. There were also a few detours due to roadwork, but we did manage to make it out of Leiden within half an hour. With an already long riding day ahead the GPS was telling us we still had 61km to go when we’d already ridden over 6km. Given the days route was supposed to be 59.8km we were in for a long day!
Once out of Leiden we were pretty quickly cycling past endless green fields. The morning fog was gently rising over paddocks and canals and it was rather picturesque. Soren, on the back of my bike, was kept amused windmill spotting…… there wasn’t a shortage of windmills!
After the last few days of riding past flower fields, today’s scenery was a little different. There was no doubt why this area is called the ‘green heart’, it is reportedly one of the greenest routes anywhere in the world. Despite the amount of bike traffic the route gets we did come across quite a few ducks who had taken up residence in the middle of the bike path. They would not move even if you rode right past them!
Above you will see one of the really amusing things about riding in the Netherlands, a roadside bin, designed for use by cyclists. They’ve thought of everything here!
Like ducks we went past plenty of lazy sheep, goats and cows. Given there is no shortage of pasture to eat, it is probably a nice place to be a farm animal. We were trying to get quite a few of our days kilometres done early, but it was still quite chilly so after an hour or so we were in search of a coffee stop. However, we failed to find anywhere to stop. We passed through several villages but they were all tiny and any cafe we did pass was not yet open for the day.
By 10.30am we gave up and stopped in the next village at a picnic bench for some stroopwaffel biscuits and a drink. Luckily we’ve well and truly learnt to carry snacks and drinks with us in case we can’t find good places to stop. It definitely wasn’t the worst morning tea picnic spot in the world!
With a bit of sugar on board we headed onwards, through more lovely farm areas and villages. It was picture postcard weather and it made for enjoyable riding.
All of a sudden the GPS started beeping and told us to go across the river. There appeared to be no way across the river, until we spied a waiting barge. So onto the barge we rode and it ferried us across to the other side which was definitely a fun experience. It’s a good idea to keep coins on you for impromptu barge crossings. They charge per person but if you have bikes they seemed to just charge for the bike.
The next unusual sight on our daily ride was a farm of conifers of various shapes and sizes, so that is how they grow them!
Pretty soon we were riding along the River Amstel, a 31km river that the city of Amsterdam is named after. Amsterdam started out as a fishing village by a dam at the mouth of the river. We were following the Amstel all the way into Amsterdam.
Riding along the river was very pleasant……..except when we came across a section of several kilometres that was a tiny narrow path of maybe 40cm wide. Not only was the path narrow, it was also very uneven and right next to the river, in some sections there was not a lot between us and the water! It was somewhat challenging riding and our pace slowed considerably.
Towards the end of the narrow section we pulled over to let some riders heading in the opposite direction go past. When pulling over Anto hit a ditch and stopped a bit too suddenly and poor Astrid came tumbling off into the grass and got her foot stuck on her bike. She was entirely stationary when she fell off so she mostly just scared herself and anyone within 5km radius of her! Not only was it challenging avoiding other riders, we had to constantly give way to farm animals, including sheep who were just wandering all over the path, being well, sheep!
At this stage we were starting to get quite hungry and we were going to need a bathroom break pretty soon. We finally found a decent sized town and we made our GPS very angry at us by going off course and heading for the main street in search of food. Along the esplanade we found a host of cafes that looked interesting, so parked ourselves at one, sitting in the sun. It was now almost 12pm and we’d ridden 39km for the morning so lunch was a welcome relief!
It was a gloriously sunny day and the cafe had wonderful views of the river. The mornings riding was almost negated by the fact that our coffee was served with a side of cream and biscuits, but it was well-deserved at this point.
For lunch I ordered a mozzarella, basil and tomato Panini and Anto had an enormous club sandwich. We decided to order the kids the kinder meals (children’s meals), which turned out to be 1 serving of poffertjes (Dutch pancakes) and hagelslag (chocolate sprinkle bread). The kids were not complaining….. things they can get away with on holidays!!!
After a wonderful lunch there were some happy kids and some happy adults! Back onto the bikes it was all feeling a little more spritely. The bike paths were back to being a more normal size, and wider, and with carbs on board we were making good time.
Pretty soon we came across another barge crossing, again the kids thought it was one of the most fabulous things ever!
Cruising down the edge of the Amstel, in beautiful sunshine, no wind and lovely scenery, we made excellent time and we ripped through the next 15km.
As we approached Amsterdam we had decided to upset our GPS yet again and go slightly off course to pay a visit to Amstelpark, on the Southern edge of the city. We weren’t exactly sure how to get to Amstelpark so did a quick google map off our phones and discovered we were only 2km away, but we did need to take a detour to the other side of the river.
We managed to make it to Amstelpark without any problems and parked the bikes so we could go for an explore. Unlike most places in the Netherlands, you aren’t meant to ride inside Amstelpark. The park is enormous with expansive garden areas, an orangerie, a petting zoo, a mini-train and many playground areas.
We didn’t have a huge amount of time so we only explored a small section of the park. The kids loved the few different play areas in the section we were in and ran off whatever remaining energy they had! We were right near the petting zoo, but it didn’t seem to be open (it was mid-week) so we just said hello to the animals from the outside.
As is usual with kids, they did not want to leave the park, and an over-tired Astrid may have had a bit of tantrum when play time was up!
We still had quite a few kilometres to go to reach our hotel, on the other side of Amsterdam. Our GPS was quite angry about us taking another detour and wasn’t keen to get us back on route. We decided our best option was to follow the bike route signs to centrum which our GPS route was supposed to go past anyway.
This did the trick and we got back on track after a few kilometres. It was much busier riding back in city area, and far less relaxing than our riding through the countryside. Especially when we hit some roadwork, causing detours, which forced us to lose the GPS route (again). It was also hard to follow the route signs and we got a little lost….. but we were heading vaguely in the right direction. We’d decided to make a quick detour to Dam square as we hadn’t made it there at the start of the bike tour.
After we’d endured some crazy riding through the central bit of Amsterdam, the GPS went flat. We knew we were pretty close to Dam square so decided to park our bikes and walk for a bit. In Amsterdam bikes are pretty much parked everywhere, usually several deep, so we found a random spot, locked our bikes up and walked the couple of blocks to find Dam square.
On the walk we happened to find a cheese shop, so figured we might as well go taste some more Dutch cheese. On our visit to Amsterdam 4 years earlier, Anto refused to buy the cheese from the ‘touristy’ shop, claiming we’d find some at a better price elsewhere. Four years later he is still living that one down as we never got the cheese! So this time he gave in and touristy Dutch cheese was purchased (after we tasted plenty in the store).
Cheese in hand it was into Dam square, which was even more touristy and crazy than we remembered it. We had a little wander and our obligatory photos. I also seemed to be the photographer of choice for anyone under 25 who wanted a photo taken that wasn’t a selfie!
The kids liked the horses and the street performers and Soren even got to shake hands with batman (annoyingly while Anto wandered off with the camera).
The kids and Anto decided to participate in a touristy and overpriced hot dog while we did a little people watching.
We hadn’t been able to lock our pannier bags so we decided we’d better get back to our bikes as we’d been gone awhile. It was also now almost 4pm and we were still a few kilometres from the hotel with the kids rapidly fading after a long day. While out walking the GPS had been charging off our battery pack so we were hoping it would now have enough charge to get us back to the hotel.
We were heading back to the Westcord Art hotel, where we’d stayed the first night of the tour. GPS now partially charged we got a GPS lock and headed off. It was now pretty much peak hour and the traffic was crazy, with people and bikes everywhere. We made it about 3 streets away and the GPS went flat again. We were now right in the heart of the red light district, which if you’ve ever been to Amsterdam, is not subtle! Having to stop and find where we were going we were hoping the kids weren’t paying too much attention to what was in most of the store windows as it was going to take some explaining.
My phone wasn’t behaving and wouldn’t get a GPS lock or route map, and was also going flat and not charging properly on the battery pack. Amsterdam is very easy to get lost in as a lot of the streets and canals look very similar so we were in a bit of a bind.
We had the paper route maps but we were well and truly off the tour route for the day. With no hope of using GPS and the kids getting more tired by the second we decided the best course of action was to try to find our way back to Centraal (central station) then we could pick up a route following the paper maps and bike route signs. We had a vague clue as to where Centraal was, and luckily found it pretty quickly as we were only a few streets away. On our last visit to Amsterdam we were impressed by how awesome the central station building is…….. and the enormity of the bike parking outside!
We did manage to get in trouble for riding in pretty much the only other non-riding zone in the Netherlands (directly in front of Centraal), but luckily were forgiven for being tired tourists!
Just past Centraal we spied the correct knp (route marker) signs and picked up the route outlined in our paper maps. Going old school we managed t0 mostly follow the map directions and with only one wrong turn we were pretty soon back on a route we recognised from our riding a few days earlier, and we were at our hotel about 10 minutes later. The Westcord Art hotel was a very welcome sight when we laid eyes on it….
We made it back just before 5pm and our bags were waiting for us. We were even back in the same room as our stay 4 nights earlier. Even better my roadside tulips had survived the bag transfer so we got to enjoy them for 1 more night!
We decided after 70km of riding for the day we were over the concept of going out, and went downstairs to the hotel restaurant for dinner, which we had also visited on the first night of the bike tour.
Anto relieved the bar of a couple of beers and I got another glass of the wine I enjoyed on the first day. For dinner, Astrid requested onion soup with croutons, and Soren the spring rolls. I ordered a mushroom gnocchi and Anto the fried seabass. It then occurred to me that for the last 3 meals in a row I’d managed to eat Italian food, the day before flying to Italy for 2 weeks! Oh well, it had all been really good. All hungry and tired, dinner was demolished, and the kids made sure I didn’t get too much of mine.
After a long day on the bike we almost managed to get the kids to bed at a reasonable hour. Anto and I had to re-pack before the flight to Italy the next day, but had one last pretty Dutch sunset to enjoy.
Statistics for Tuesday 4 April 2017 in Leiden and Amsterdam, the Netherlands – the temperature range was 4 to 16 degrees, with a mean of 10 degrees. It was sunny and light winds and a beautiful riding day.
The total riding for the day was 70.1 km with 97m of elevation (my longest ride to date). The total walking for the day was 13km. A pretty big day which resulted in tired legs!
Up next, a crazy morning of biking Amsterdam before a flight to Italy, an afternoon in Pisa and watching the sun set in Florence!