A quick trip to Amsterdam - Stress-free Cycling the French Countryside - CycleBlaze

September 2, 2019 to September 5, 2019

A quick trip to Amsterdam

August is a wonderful time in Paris. A significant number of Parisians are away on holiday and, aside from the major tourist venues, there is a quiet calmness to the city. While you may have to walk a few more steps to find an open boulangerie, you can amble along and cross streets against the light. Towards the end of the month, sounds of laughing children begin to drift up from the streets below and there is a slow and steady increase in the rhythm and pulse of the city. My original plan for this year's tour was to begin cycling in Germany on September 1, leaving Paris as the city filled with returning vacationers.  Instead, I found myself visiting a nearby park and enjoying the last day of the summer holiday with my Paris neighbors. Plan B had officially begun. 

Paris in August
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Scott AndersonBeautiful. We haven’t been to Paris for over twenty years, but this makes me want to go back.
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1 week ago
Businesses post signs on shuttered windows indicating when they will return from summer vacation
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Enjoying the last day of summer vacation in Saint-Lambert Square
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My good friend Weston moved to Berlin in February and we had originally planned to meet there in October, at the end of my tour.  As it happens, Weston is on his own Plan B and will be returning to the US in mid-September.  Taking advantage of the changes in our plans, we met for a couple of days in Amsterdam - a city neither of us had previously visited.  We arrived at Amsterdam Centraal on a sparkling afternoon and spent a couple of hours catching up before finding our way to a "typical Dutch" restaurant a few steps from our Airbnb. We ordered the Dutch rice table, a play on the the Indonesian Rijsttafel, or rice table that consists of a large number of small Indonesian side dishes accompanied by rice, which is often prepared in a variety of ways.  Indonesia was a Dutch colony and Amsterdam abounds with Indonesian restaurants serving Rijsttafel.  In the Dutch restaurant we visited, potatoes substituted for rice and the side dishes were decidedly Dutch - beef stew, stewed beef, red cabbage, sausage, bacon and applesauce - and all were quite delicious.

Amsterdam Centraal train station
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Moeders Restaurant - where you can dine on the Dutch classics
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Dutch Rice Table at Moeders, where "rice" (i.e. potato) is served three ways and the sides are classic Dutch
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Plans for the following day included pancakes and a guided bike tour in the surrounding countryside. The tour met near the Amsterdam Centraal train station, and after a brief ride we boarded a ferry that took us across the IJ to North Amsterdam. Soon we were riding past small villages strung out along dikes and winding through the flat, windy polder landscape. There was the requisite stop at a windmill, then we headed back to the ferry and turned in our bikes.  

Small village of Nieuwendam, built along a dike
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Nearing Durgerdam, another village built on a dike
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Riding through Durgerdam, where the small houses go for more than a million euros!
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Cruising along atop a dike
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Still riding atop the dikes
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Heading back to the city through the reclaimed landscape
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Dutch windmill - facing the wrong direction for our photo-op
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About 80% of our route through the countryside - it helps to press "Go Ride" at the start of your tour!
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The rest of the day was spent wandering the streets and canals of Amsterdam, including a stop at the bicycle parking facilities at Amsterdam Centraal.  Although Amsterdam is well-known for the number of bicycles in everyday use (43 percent of residents use bikes to commute to and from work), I was astounded by the sheer number of bicycles in motion or parked along the city streets. In fact, crossing a street on foot requires several glances in both directions - first for bikes, then cars, then trams. I often felt like the proverbial cat in a room full of rocking chairs!

Three-story bike garage near Amsterdam Centraal. Just like car parking garages, no one wants to park at the top.
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There are about 10,000 bike spaces in the area around Amsterdam Centraal - with more coming!
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Jacquie GaudetSo organized and tidy! So Dutch!
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15 hours ago
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While exploring the city, we became a bit fixated by the fact that so many canal houses were crooked and/or leaning, and that they often had hooks hanging from their rooftops. We found several explanations for the non-perpendicular structures, while learning that hooks serve the practical purpose of hauling large bulky items up through the window of one's apartment, thereby avoiding the narrow, steep winding staircase typical of most houses. These iconic features of Amsterdam canal houses were even depicted in mouse doll house displayed in a storefront window.  Worn out by the days activities, we  chose a nearby pizza place for dinner - a decision made with moderate enthusiasm. On the way, we spotted a small restaurant serving Israeli cuisine which, based on our perusal of the sidewalk tables, looked much more interesting than pizza. And indeed it was - large servings of humus with lamb, shakshouka with eggplant, and grilled cauliflower. 

The black house is clearly leaning forward, and less obviously, to the side
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Hotel Neutraal is not in a neutral position
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Our Airbnb was in the building with the red doors, on the first floor above the street. Although not real pronounced, you could "feel the lean" while walking across the living room floor.
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The steep, narrow, and winding stairs typical of many Amsterdam houses
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This doll house display depicts not only the leaning canal houses but also the utility of the roof top hooks in hoisting cargo to the upper floors
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Grilled cauliflower with humus
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Shakshouka with grilled eggplant
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Wednesday dawned cloudy with rain predicted for most of the day - a great museum day.  Our first stop was the Rijksmuseuem, the Dutch National Museum located about a 20 min walk from the Airbnb. A notable feature of the museum is the Gallery of Honor, which is a long corridor with side alcoves featuring works by the 17th century artists of the Dutch Golden Age, including Rembrandt and Vemeer. The corridor ends at the Night Watch Gallery, which prominently showcases Rembrandt's painting of the same name. The Night Watch is currently undergoing what was referred to as "Operation Night Watch", a total body scan using a macro X-ray fluorescent scanner, an advanced imaging technique that will not only reveal the current state of the painting but also give an idea of what it looked like in 1642.

I found the Rijksmuseuem interesting and informative, increasing my appreciation of the Dutch Masters and their use of light. However, I was more excited to see some of the works at the Van Gogh Museum. The museum houses a number of Van Gogh's self-portraits, many of which were painted in a two-year period following his move to Paris when he could not afford a model. One of the most famous pieces housed in the Amsterdam museum is Van Gogh's Sunflowers, and I had a personal interest in seeing the original work. Our family moved to California in the early sixties and my mother bought framed reproductions of Van Gogh's Sunflowers and one of Utrillo's street scenes to accent the mid-century furniture in our new house.  Through five houses and more than 30 years, those pictures and that furniture remained fixtures in my parent's living room. While I never took to Sunflowers as an accent piece, standing in front of the original piece gave me a better appreciation of the work and it's use of color, light and texture.  Still, I would never hang it in my living room!  However, I did purchase a little knit Van Gogh traveling companion to accompany me and Vivien George as we cycle through France.

High-tech scanning of Rembrandt's The Night Watch
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The Cuypers Library in the Rijksmuseum is Netherland's largest and oldest art historical library.
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Weston and I awash in sunflowers
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Our new biking companion - Vincent in Grey Felt Hat. Strapped in and ready to ride.
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I met Weston when he was a freshman in college, working as a dishwasher in my lab. Over the years, we have continued a sort of mentor-mentee relationship and developed a loyal friendship. On our last night in Amsterdam, we enjoyed an Indonesian rice table that was tasty but not very photogenic. Our dinner conversation ventured into the personal and philosophical, extending into the the wee hours of Thursday morning. We said our good-byes at Amsterdam Centraal, with hugs and mutual good wishes for a successful Plan B.

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