Bikes, windmills and clogs: the Netherlands in a nutshell
What was I thinking, booking a cycling tour in the Dutch countryside when I am literally the worst cyclist in the world? Immediately upon entering my payment details I realise what a huge mistake I’ve made. In hindsight, I know that it is the promise of a cheese factory visit (you know what my priorities are in life) completely clouded my judgment and led me to believe I could nail this.
But I could not walk out. I am way too proud to chicken out on things like that.
My biking day trip from Amsterdam
The sun is shining brightly as I make my way to the rendezvous point in central Amsterdam. And it’s just as well – I’m about to embark an exciting cycling journey in and around the capital, and the inexperienced cyclist that I am is hoping to have all odds are in her favour. To be completely honest, I am equal parts excited and terrified to ride a bike in what seems to be a rather aggressive and fast-paced bike city. Amsterdam cyclists don’t mess about.
At this point, I’m really just leaving it all to chance and hoping for the best.
I shakily hop on my bright green bike (aptly nicknamed Kermit by the rental shop) and make my way towards the Skinny Bridge along with our little group, well aware that I am an extremely visible tourist among a crowd of experienced cyclists – kind of like the newbie trying to blend in with the cool kids, but failing miserably. My guide for the day, Vinnie, explains that the Skinny Bridge was supposedly built as per the request of two crippled old girlfriends that lived on either side of the Amstel River, but whose poor physical condition did not allow for them to walk to the closest bridge to hang out together.
Fact or fiction? It’s hard to tell, but either way, it’s nice to know more of Amsterdam’s numerous stories.
The second stretch of the trip is vastly different than the first; we are no longer in the city, having substituted the stressful streets of Amsterdam for the peaceful and deserted riverbanks of its outskirts. The stately De Riekermolen windmill suddenly peaks through the dense woodlands on my right – needless to say, I didn’t need to be told to stop twice, as my guide starts to explain the history of these Dutch icons. It’s a very photogenic spot and I’m glad that it’s not on the main tourist track.
Just a few bike spins later, our group arrives at the main destination and I am ready for what has been promised to me: COPIOUS AMOUNTS OF CHEESE.
Jacob, the cheese monger at Rembrandt Hoeve, is utterly hilarious. He refers to every girl in the group as a “happy (insert nationality here) woman”, because we were all smiling and laughing at his jokes. Definitely the merriest Dutch person I’d ever met! The tour is much more interactive that I had imagined; we are encouraged to ask questions (Jacob speaks several languages) and to help ourselves to a second helping of cheese. We learn that there’s an easy way to tell Dutch cheeses apart: those bearing an oval-shaped label are transformed and mass-produced while those with a hexagonal-shaped label are handmade by professional mongers. Jacob takes us to the back of the factory where his clog shop is located.
He beams with pride as he tells us that there are only three official clog makers left in Holland, including himself. Very few people purchase clogs nowadays, neither plain ones for gardening (their conventional use) nor ornate ones for traditional Dutch weddings. Nevertheless, Jacob’s highly efficient carving machine allows him to make clogs in three minutes, as opposed to the several hours he once needed to make everything by hand.
This whole experience could have been a horrific tourist trap; instead, I got to meet one of the Netherlands’ funniest residents, hang out with veals, eat delicious fresh cheese and enjoy the countryside.
After a small picnic on the farm grounds (complete with cheese I had just bought from the farm’s shop), I step on my bike for the last stretch of the tour. Our group leaves the tranquil banks of the Amstel River to ride through the equally scenic wetlands of Amsterdamse Bos on our way back to the bike shop.
Amsterdam cycling tour: a good idea or not?
As you can probably tell by now, I am not the most active person ever. I’ve always been terrible at sports and therefore terrified of anything that involves any kind of physical skill. But this tour is easy peasy. As long as you can ride a bike, there really is nothing to worry about. While Amsterdam as such presents certain challenges, the countryside is relaxed and relatively deserted. Cars are used to sharing the road with cyclists.
- The tour roughly lasts four hours and covers 25 kilometres at a relatively slow pace.
- The Netherlands are the flattest country on the planet; the biggest challenge on this tour was to cross the capital’s many low bridges. That’s how easy the tour is.
- Don’t forget to pack water, sunscreen and a small lunch.