We left Nadia’s apartment in Leiden on a cold/windy/rainy day. We didn’t want to leave Nadia and we certainly didn’t feel like cycling to Amsterdam in that kind of weather. We had to though as time was ticking, but on the plus side, it was only a half day on the bike and it’s cycling in the Netherlands which is ridiculously easy. Seriously, this country is bicycle heaven. Bike lanes absolutely everywhere, bikes having right of way over cars through the roundabouts and at crossings, it was ridiculously easy to get anywhere without worrying about cars. It kind of felt like we were cheating, it was that easy! The down side to cycling in the Netherlands is, well, you always have to pedal whereas in the French Alps we would climb for a long time but then you get a sweet downhill ride that makes it all feel worth it. But in the Netherlands you always have to work, because there is no downhill or uphill, completely flat. Although we did have some serious battles with head wind (strong winds blowing against you). I think all cyclists would agree that head wind is the worst when it comes to cycling. I’d rather climb mountains than face the wind.
Prior to arriving in Amsterdam I sent out a couple of emails to people on the Warmshowers app who might be able to host us for 2 nights. It’s not a long enough stay in Amsterdam because we really had to be on the road towards Denmark. We had one person reply who said we we’re able to stay with them for the 2 nights.
As we were cycling closer to Amsterdam, we noticed the bike traffic getting heavier and heavier. It was raining pretty hard as we entered Amsterdam and we had thought there’d be less bikes on the streets, nope, it was still mayhem. We had to watch where we were going yet be mindful of the others around us, because it’s more difficult with fully loaded bikes which makes it a little harder to manoeuver our bikes. So we usually just cycle to our own pace and keep to one side of the path in case any speedsters want to overtake us.
We arrived at our host place which was an apartment in the perfect location. He literally lived a stone’s throw away from the Van Gogh museum, which was a central location for sightseeing. We rang the doorbell and down came our host, Maarten. He lived on the top floor of a 4 story apartment with the steepest stair cases. The stair cases in Dutch homes and apartments are crazy steep.
We struck gold with Maarten. His apartment was so nice and modern he could have charged us hotel prices, but it was free! Maarten was a great host, he showed us our bedroom, the bathroom, the roof terrace (which overlooked Amsterdam), opened his kitchen to us and prepared and cooked a delicious meal. He even gave us a key and said we could go out and come back as we pleased. It was the best welcome after a cold rainy day on the bike.
Maarten works as a banker and is a keen cyclist who had been to many countries and has run quite a few charity fundraisers by completing bicycle rides in Africa and the Netherlands.
The next morning Maarten had gone to work but had prepared breakfast and set the table for us for when we woke which was nice. It’s so great that Warmshowers.org provide this platform for hosts and cycle tourists to meet and for the host to provide a place for cyclists to sleep and eat. We’re taking advantage of this but also cannot wait to pay it forward when we go back to Australia. We can’t wait to host cyclists and provide them a place to sleep and eat for free.
We spent a whole day roaming around Amsterdam doing a little bit of winter shopping and wandering down back streets. The back streets of Amsterdam are so cool. We found these cool little hidden boutique shops with brands that are impossible to find in Australia and also really cool local shops. We went to this sunglasses shop where they had vintage frames from the 50s and 60s which was pretty cool, although you had to pay money to go upstairs but because we’re budget travellers we passed on that. Coffee shops are not your typical coffee shops. If you want to smoke a bit of the happy stuff, then coffee shops are where you go. Amsterdam smelt like weed everywhere we went which was so strange. Marijuana is tolerated in Holland, for anyone who didn’t know, you just have to be 18yrs and older. We also took a stroll through the red light district which was pretty gnarly. If you don’t know much about the red light district, it’s kind of like the adults area… if you know what I mean. They have these half naked women standing inside windows/doorways right on the street. They tease and taunt the guys who walk past with the aim of getting the fellas to go to a backroom with them, I think to bake cookies and knit or something like that. I thought it was hilarious and had a bit fun with it walking past, looking at the women as they would wink at me but Eb thought it was a bit strange and didn’t really like the idea of baking cookies or knitting.
Amsterdam is really cool but we both agreed that we’d rather live in Leiden. Amsterdam is known as the bike city but from our experience we thought there were quite a few cars in the city compared to Leiden. Leiden felt like a liveable city to us and more authentic I guess because there’s no tourists in Leiden. Not taking anything away from Amsterdam, we really loved Amsterdam. It was also super easy to talk to the Dutch as most people speak English.
We stayed one more night with Maarten and then we were off the next morning towards the northern part of the Netherlands.