It was an early morning flight that took me away from my Homeland once more, speeding towards Amsterdam with an unusually high tail wind. In fact, the flight I was on broke a record for the route, having reached Amsterdam well ahead of schedule and before I knew it I was back at the Clink Noord hostel in Amsterdam Noord. There was a totally different vibe to the city than there had been a couple of weeks prior. The weather was looking a lot more unsettled for one, but it was a Saturday, and as it turned out, there was a city-wide walking festival taking place in a city full of bikes. The crowds on both sides of the IJ river were intense. But despite this, I couldn’t come back to Amsterdam and not do it on wheels this time, so after dumping my stuff at the hostel, I hot-footed it round to the nearby bike rental office to get myself some transport for the day.
The free ferry across the IJ river was as packed with walkers as it was cyclists, and a surge of people disembarked at the Amsterdam Centraal pier. I cut up and under the railway station and immediately came out at a mass of people, cyclists, trams and cars. It took every sense I had at full alert to navigate this sea of hazards whilst trying not to get herded in the wrong direction nor fall off the bike. I didn’t want to end up in the city centre which was where the masses were going, so I cut off towards the Jordaan district to try and shed the crowds. I wasn’t always sure of the street signage to determine rights of way so at times I meandered off in random directions, doubling back or winding round canal networks if necessary. It wasn’t being lost, it was just making an interesting route. I knew where I was aiming for, but I had no time commitments and it was fun to explore side streets as I went. There were pockets of the Jordaan district that were busier than others but the main bridges across the canals were often a focal point for tourists and I could see some locals getting annoyed with those that abruptly stopped on the bridges when they were trying to go about their daily lives.
The crowds started to build up as I circumnavigated the main city centre and aimed for the crossing near the Rijksmuseum, marking the entrance to the museum district. This is one of the city’s major tourist zones and there were people walking, cycling and stopping everywhere. Whilst the large facade of the famous museum dominated the view forward, I was more interested in the beautiful turreted building that stood on the river opposite it. The bridge here, like many of the city’s bridges, had flower baskets along the railing and the blooms added a pretty touch to those canal views. Amsterdam has some incredibly famous museums with some incredibly famous exhibits, but the museum district was not my target destination at that stage, so after getting my fill of photographs of the canal, I cut in front of the museum instead of under it as most people were doing, and headed a couple of blocks away to the narrow entrance of Vondelpark.
I loved cycling through Vondelpark. From this access point, the park was narrow, and consisted mainly of the access path and a bit of green space either side, but after a long stretch of this, it cut under a road and entered the main part of the park where immediately I found myself at a lake and a route decision to make. Although busy being a Saturday, only small pockets felt crowded, and I was loving the cycling, so I started off by looping the park round the outer trail, past pretty buildings, statues and lakes. The main track was wide enough for multiple bikes to pleasantly pass each in other in both directions and before I knew it, I was back at the first lake where I’d started. The second time through, I utilised the narrow secondary tracks to snake through the park and enjoy the various points of interest. Being late September, it was autumn, so there was a variable amount of blooms and foliage. I spied a heron in a lake where some fountains sprouted up, and nearby there was a rose garden where some roses were still thinking about blooming.
After this second circuit, I was getting hungry and decided to get lunch at one of the cafes halfway up the park, but when I got there there was absolutely nowhere to lock up my bike. I’d noticed often as I’d cycled through the streets that every available post or bike park was often taken and in other places, especially bridges, it is not allowed to lock your bike. I certainly didn’t want to risk losing the bike, so after circling round the area looking for somewhere free, I eventually had to give up. I cut across to the more southern side of the park where a path hugged a lake across from some large houses. The sky was rather grey but the reflections of the houses on the water were still distinct. Nearby, there was an exit from the park and I headed back into the melee of streets and urban life.
I was only a few blocks from the museum district and turning onto the main street of Van Baerlestraat took me deep into chaos. The pavements were packed with people, the cycle lanes packed with cyclists and between all of this was a very busy tram line. I passed eateries that were packed to the brim, and struggling to negotiate the crowds, I found it difficult to get off this street, being herded by the masses in a straight line. There was definitely a knack to turning against the flow, and whilst the locals knew how to do it, I certainly did not. I ended up a lot further down than I’d planned to before I was able to cross over and double back. My hunger was driving me, so I decided to park up the bike and look for a place to eat on foot, but this was easier said than done as every possible bike park was full. Cutting down back street after back street I finally found a single bike park and quickly claimed it, only to discover that I couldn’t work the padlock. Finally sussing it out, I was glad to get walking for a bit, mentally making a note of where I’d left the bike as I made turn after turn to retrace my steps back to the main street.
The cafe that I’d eyed up from the bike was beyond crammed when I walked there and so was every other cafe within sight. Only when I found myself at the Stedelijk Museum did I realise there was a large restaurant there, so finally I could satiate my appetite. I spend a lot of time travelling solo and this means I eat out a lot solo. Even at home in New Zealand, I have no qualms about dining alone, but in different countries, this habit is often met with a variety of responses. The man that was serving me here at the museum restaurant seemed a little put out that I was on my own. It wasn’t that there was a shortage of tables, but I seemed a little unimportant to him, and I struggled to get served. If I hadn’t been so hungry I might have walked out, but eventually I got myself a coffee and a sandwich. My coffee arrived with a little Stroopwafel, a small Dutch wafer biscuit, and although the coffee was much better than the one I’d had near Anne Frank Huis on my first visit to the city, it still wasn’t as good as back home.
The weather was really making a turn for the worse by the time I was back out on my bike. The clouds were thicker and darker and there was a hint of rain in the air. There had been a few light and brief showers as I’d cycled that morning, but the afternoon was looking ominous. I’d seen photos on social media of the ‘I amsterdam’ sign outside of the Rijksmuseum and when I first saw it in the distance, it was only a hint of the red and white amongst a sea of people. The crowd here was phenomenal and for the first time I felt like was seeing the Instagram effect. As I moved closer, I was astounded by the mass of people posing on or in front of this sign, with people dictating to and grumbling about the people in and around their shot. It was impossible to get a photo without a multitude of other people and I found myself taking photos of the crowd itself rather than the sign. It was an unbelievable scene. There were some distinctive buildings around here though, so I left the crowd to ogle at these for a while before it started to rain.
I wasn’t interested in visiting any of the museums, so when it looked like it might get quite wet, I decided to head for the nearby Heineken Brewery. Finding a bike park round the corner from it, I joined the long crowd of people waiting to get in. If planned ahead, it is possible to book a time slot to turn up for, but on a whim, I had to wait in a queue for a space to open up. It took quite a while to get in, and the rain was just starting to get heavy as I finally made it indoors. It turned out to be both interesting and fun. In groups, we were led round an introductory section where staff talked about the history and the beer itself, and as we went deeper into the experience, the groups merged together to form a mass of people gradually meandering around the one-way system. Passing giant vats and an old cart horse, the experience became a bit more digital as we got shepherded into a large room for a CGI experience. Out the other side of that, we got our first taste of the beer with a small glass of Heineken.
The rest of the levels were quite interactive with the ability to film short movies, and pose for silly pictures. There was so much information about the history of and association with this famous beer, and I was amazed with how much time could be spent here. These latter levels were also completely blocked in with no windows to see the world outside, and it felt like a rabbit warren walking through small corridors and holes in the wall, up and down stairs with no idea where I’d come out. Where the route did end up was what I assume was down in a basement, in a busy and loud bar where you could claim the 2 glasses of Heineken that were part of the entry fee. This sort of thing is the one time I can feel a bit self conscious being on my own, especially as I’m introverted and won’t openly talk to strangers. Nonetheless, I found a spot with my beers to hover and I enjoyed them immensely. I’m really not into beer, but Heineken and Stella Artois are the two that I actually quite like, so I enjoyed these more than I had done the Tennents Lager on my recent trip to that brewery a week or so prior.
After quite some time in the cocoon of the Brewery, I was shocked to step outside to heavy rain. Back on my bike which was soaking wet, I pedalled back to the Rijksmuseum to discover that the crowd had thinned out a lot by the famous sign. The food trucks I’d spotted earlier were thankfully still open and I ordered some waffles to huddle up and eat under an umbrella as the workers started to pack up for the day. The rain got heavier and heavier until it was torrential so by the time I’d finished my waffles, there was barely a sole at the sign and I was able to snap a quick photograph before the cold drove me onwards. In the archway of the Rijksmuseum, there was a group of men playing classical music and they had drawn a decent crowd. It was a good excuse to shelter from the rain for a bit, but it became increasingly clear that the weather was not planning on abating. I had had a whole route planned back to the hostel to see a few more sights but the weather meant that my day was going to have to be curtailed as before long once back on the road, my waterproof jacket failed and I became soaked to the skin.
By the time I reached Amsterdam Centraal it was dark and gloomy and I was hungry again. I parked my bike and headed inside to eat at one of the eateries there. Grabbing a free spot in an otherwise busy restaurant, I waited and waited and waited to get served. I failed to grab anyone’s attention, and after an extended time drooling over other’s people meals and feeling positively ignored, I walked out and bought some food at the market shop to take back to the hostel. It was still grey the next morning when I made the now familiar trundle with my suitcase to the pier, across the IJ river and into the train station to head to the airport. I’d left with plenty of time and so had a lot of time to wander around the expansive terminal. The elephant parade was on display so there were several of these dotted around the terminal to look at and I laughed to myself when at the end of the terminal, I stepped outside to find another ‘I amsterdam’ sign with absolutely no-one about. The backdrop might not be as impressive as the Rijksmuseum, but that was okay. Finally it was time to leave Europe behind and head to Asia, to finally explore the city who’s airport I know so well.