This post is part of a series on my travels to the “Low Countries”: the Netherlands and Belgium. Start at the beginning.
On Sunday I woke feeling refreshed and well rested for the first time since we arrived. This was good because this was shaping up to be the most taxing day yet. In the morning I struggled with a Nespresso machine. They are huge here – entire retail stores dedicated to just Nespresso – but I had never used one. The first cup I made was swill, so I asked Youtube to help me as I am wont to do. Armed with the wisdom of the internet, the second cup I made was much better.
We were making our way to Oosterdok where Mike’s Bike tours start, but before we got there we stopped at a breakfast cafe called Filter. Right after we ordered food, I realized I didn’t have enough cash to pay for the meal. Most places take cards it seems, but paying with cash is just easier, so I’ve been taking out large amounts every couple of days. There was an ATM around the corner, so I ran there and by the time I got back, the perfect breakfast and White Label coffee (second time I’ve had coffee from them) had already arrived at our table.
Matt and I were terrified by the idea of biking in this city. The traffic is chaotic at best and neither of us are super experienced with city biking. So, we decided to do the countryside tour offered by Mike’s Bikes. It came recommended from several friends, so we knew it had to be on the list. What we maybe should have realized – but I’m happy we didn’t – is that it starts and ends in the city, so some amount of city biking is unavoidable.
The turnout for the tour was large, but split into three groups. I’m sure all of the guides were great, but ours was the only one who was native Dutch (one was British, the other American), so I feel like we won. The tour started by following the Amstel river out of the city. We stopped early on to talk about water management and how the art and science of bending water to their will is something the Dutch are very proud of – especially because most of their country is several meters below sea level.
He told us one anecdote about how once, during a drought, the Dutch water wizards actually managed to reverse the flow of the Amstel river temporarily to bring water to the dry farmlands. This theme of water and water management was a constant throughout the tour; it’s really important to this country.
As we began to leave the city, I felt a wave a relaxation rush over me for the first time in a few days. The Dutch countryside, even here a mile or two outside of Amsterdam, was a sight to behold. Our first major stop was at another historic Dutch windmill, De Riekermolen. This wasn’t the first we’d seen, but this time it came with an explanation of how the technology evolved and has been used throughout history. Interestingly, our tour guide credited the wild success of the windmill in Holland with its relatively late adoption of the steam engine during industrialization; a blessing, and a curse.
We ventured further away from the city, finally arriving at our second destination: a small family run farm called Rembrandt Hoeve. Here, we met the farm’s cheesemaker, who walked us through the process of making cheese from scratch and let us taste cheeses made on the farm of various ages. We also met a shoemaker who works on the farm and makes traditional Dutch wood shoes. He was an eccentric guy to say the least. He was very interested in all of the women in our tour group and could seemingly speak all of their various native tongues. He also claimed to be one of only three shoemakers left in all of Holland because he can make the shoes fast and turn a profit.
Afterwards, the members of our group with much more foresight than us ate packed lunch on the farm. We played with the cows.
We also got a chance to meet some of the other members of our tour group during lunch. Two were sisters from Mauritius, two were Brits who didn’t know each other but discovered they were born in the same rural English hospital, and another was from D.C.! De wereld is zo klein! De wereld, mijn dorp!
After lunch we went out a bit further into the countryside. All fell away but fields and the streams of water that ran through them. Suddenly, we were back in what seemed like a small town and could hear a sporting event in the distance. We then biked into the Amsterdam Forest, a giant park three times the size of Central Park in NYC. The park was enormous, serene and complete with a full size rowing lake.
We biked through much of the park and eventually passed the Olympic stadium for the 1928 Olympics.
The serenity did not last. We thought it was rough getting out of the city; coming back in was so much crazier. The route we took went through an enormous bike, trolley, and car roundabout and into the heart of Amsterdam – straight through Museumplein back towards Mike’s Bike shop. After biking for three hours though and building confidence, this last part of the ride was more exhilarating than nerve-racking (just glad I didn’t know about it ahead of time). Overall I can say the bike tour was probably my favorite experience thus far.
After burning all of those calories, we needed to replenish them with food in beer. We walked out to the NEMO Science museum that was close by to see the building and ended up finding a quirky looking bar right on the water.
The bar was called Hannekes Boom. It had great sandwiches that hit the spot as well as cheap beer and live music. In fact, the first live music we’d seen so far.
Tired, we walked home and rested our legs. This is actually when I first started writing this blog series, so I am still writing from a few days in the future. After I had finished the first post (meta), we went out for our last dinner in Amsterdam at an Indonesian restaurant called Sampurna.
Indonesian food is special in Holland because much of Indonesia used to be a Dutch colony. The comparison I’ve heard thrown around is Indian food is to the UK as Indonesian is to Holland. The food did not disappoint. We did, as everyone recommends, a “rice table” which is essentially a smattering of various pre-selected small plates. It was a good choice and we left satisfied.
After dinner, we opted to call it an early night to pack and prep for the next day when we would venture outside of Amsterdam to our next Dutch destination.