Last week Beth and I returned from our first bike touring trip together. We packed up our bikes, flew to Amsterdam and rode through the Netherlands to Bruges Belgium and then on the Ghent and Antwerp before hopping a train to spend the last few days of our trip in Paris. By all accounts (most importantly Beth’s) the trip was a resounding success…so much so we are already planning how to retire to a life of leisure in Amsterdam once we have managed to send a sufficient number of offspring off to college.
We spent our first two nights in Amsterdam staying at the Hotel Pulitzer (one of my favorites) where the staff got a good laugh out of us unpacking, assembling and parking our bikes in the courtyards alongside the chauffeur driven Mercedes and BMW’s and the Porsches. We saw Amsterdam mostly on foot but also took a canal cruise in the lovely and historic “Tourist” boat tour run by the hotel. This very same boat was the one Winston Churchill toured Amsterdam on with Queen Wilhelmina after WWII.
We found the food and service in Amsterdam to be first rate pretty much everywhere we went and although we missed out on the Rijksmuseum and other cultural attractions there we more than made up for it with a number of museum visits later in the trip.
We set off from Amsterdam for the The Hague on Friday morning going against rush hour traffic and realizing the the sharing of the bike paths with motorized scooters meant that “lane discipline” was a crucial safety skill. Once we cleared the city the surroundings very quickly became idyllic with beautiful canal side houses with lovely gardens lining the bike paths most of the way to Haarlem. From there we went on to Leiden and managed to see a few of the famed tulip fields in full bloom. After some minor navigational challenges on the outskirts of Leiden we got on track towards the Hague and pulled up just ahead of our estimated 6PM arrival time at the Hotel Des Indes. I’m guessing we might have been the only cycle tourists to pull up to the hotel all year. Nonetheless they were incredibly accommodating and took care of us and our bikes as one would expect from the hotel where President Obama stays when he visits The Hague.
Our two days in the Hague were the highlight of our trip thanks to the gracious hospitality of our friends Li and Rene. On the first night we drank into the wee hours and thanks to Juriaan Pleig were introduced to a number of great beers, some fabulous Dutch Gin and the genius of the Dutch delicacy known as the Bitterballen. Sensing that I lacked the words even in English to describe how epically awesome Bitteballen is, Rene taught me what has become my favorite, if still largely unpronounceable Dutch phrase to describe them: “het is alsof een engeltje over je tong pist” – Which translates as “it’s like an angel pissing on your tongue”
Saturday was Koenigsdag or King’s Day in Holland, which is a national holiday celebrating the royal family that we celebrated with… you guessed it, more drinking and eating with Li and Rene, as well as a visit to the MC Escher museum and a chance to meet some acquaintances of Li’s that were dedicated cyclotourists that just happened to be hosting a couple from Germany who were wrapping up a two year, round the world bike tour. OK, we loved our bike touring no doubt, but I just don’t see this one happening any time soon. Maybe when we are 67 or so…
Our Kings Day celebration was great fun and pretty much cemented our love of the Netherlands and the Dutch people. We are now in full on “life-planning” mode with regards to engineering our retirement to Amsterdam. Stay tuned for posts on our journey from the Hague, through the Neterlands on to Belgium and finally Paris…