Amsterdam & Italy 2011: Day 3 - Amsterdam 17Apr2011

What a full and wonderful day in Amsterdam that included a 4-hour family bike tour into the countryside with Mike’s Bikes and a self-guided tour of the Van Gogh museum. The kids held up really well through it all and Laura and I are doing pretty darn good too.

Mike’s Bike Tours has a drop-in family-friendly bike tour that leaves every day at 11 am and 4 pm during peak season. Finding Mike’s Bike shop allowed us to venture into parts of Amsterdam we had yet to see, as did our return walk, coming across a vibrant multi-cultural dining area not far from the Vondel Park between Spiegelstraat and Leidsertraat. A few dozen people showed up for the tour but they easily handled things by dividing us into two groups after Stewart, one of the guides, gave an amazing historical overview of Amsterdam. Although I never really did like history in school, it is so different when you are older and want to learn things before you die! As the token tall male in a birghtly coloured (lime green) top, I was appointed sweep for our group. This served me well, rewarding me with a free Grolsch beer when we got to the cheese and clog factory farm that served as one of the stops on our ride.

Highlights of our bike tour, aside from the free beer, was that it was such a great way to see the countryside, much of the city and learn its history with a fun tour guide and great group of like-minded folks. The dedication to commerce without taxation that founded Amsterdam as a trading powerhouse over 500 years ago led to its open attitude it has kept through modern times. Also, seeing buildings lasting hundreds of years built on dredged up marshland gives me some hope that nearby Richmond back home might not be washed away anytime soon. Our tour took us through the city to a rural road along the Amstel River, stopped at a farm and wound our way back along bike paths through farm fields, and parks, by houseboats, Vondel Park and back to Mike’s Bikes.

After stumbling across the amazing Soup en zo,  just down the street from Mike’s Bikes for a late lunch, we headed to the Van Gogh museum. We are very fortunate in having booked tickets in advance, including the self-guided mp3 player, as we could just bypass the crowds and also get the audio device that would have otherwise been sold out for the day. (We had…ok, Laura had, reserved this along with the Anne Frank House, and upcoming museums in Italy from our readings of the much revered Rick Steve’s guidebooks.) I was suprised by some of Van Gogh’s work. I usually think of him as the artist of the Sunflower and other works with fat brush strokes but had forgotten about his own impressionist style he had developed as a self-taught artist. In fact, even after a google search, I can’t find many of these works that I saw today at the museum.

Tomorrow we leave for Venice to begin the Italy portion of our trip.