There are some times when it would be to my advantage to really understand the metric system. Such as when I am dosing myself with foreign cough medicine. Or operating foreign ovens. Or signing up for an all-day bike tour of the countryside around Amsterdam.
But alas, much like whether the earth orbits the sun or the other way around, this information does not seem to stick in my head.
So, when the Amsterdam bike tour guide asked, “Can your kids bike 45 kilometers in 4 hours?”, I said: “Sure!” But I was thinking, “Wait. How long is a kilometer again?”
She wondered aloud whether tackling the route in a more leisurely six hours might be better, and I quickly agreed. Plus, the longer trip included lunch, and lunch always sounds good to me.
WHEELY DUTCH BIKE TOURS
Wheely Dutch Bike Tours had a friendly-seeming website — lots of pretty pictures and buoyant punctuation. Digging deeper, I saw that the fitness level required for their tours were ranked on a tulip scale — cute! One tulip for easy, two tulips for medium, and three tulips for challenging We selected the full-day Taste of Holland Tour. Since this was a one-tulip trip, I assumed it would pretty much be downhill both ways.
We met our tour guide — and company owner/operator — Rebecca Uleman at a bike rental shop on Damstraat in Central Amsterdam, where we picked up bikes and bike bags for the journey. Rebecca is a really down to earth and calm guide who is half-Australian and half-Dutch. Although she’s lived in Holland for about ten years, she’s biked aaaaall over the world. She’s really good company too.
Not to completely state the obvious, but this tour — and all bike tours in and around Amsterdam — starts right in the Central District. Thank goodness Rebecca was there to ring her bell and usher us through town like a bunch of baby ducks, because the streets are busy. If your kids are even a little bit wobbly, I would recommend riding behind them and slightly to the left. Also, try to be as wide as you can, so that anyone who passes on a bike, motor scooter, or car will have to do so with a larger margin. They will beep and ring their bells. Let them.
Within 15 minutes we were out of the city limits and heading south toward the farmlands, canals, and rivers south of the city. Within 30 minutes we were gawking at windmills and sitting where Rembrandt sat and painted these iconic Dutch landscapes.
The first half of the tour, we shared the road with other bikes, mopeds, and cars (though not too many). Later, it was just us, other bikes, and the cows. We rode across the river on a bike and car ferry and also crossed the river on a pulley boat which has no engine, just a hand crank. Rebecca was very indulgent of my endless photo stops and slow pedaling, my husband slightly less so.
THE HIGH POINTS
For me there were really three highlights:
- Completing a 45-kilometer bike ride (oh stop laughing, you irritating bike people). I waddled straight home, pulled up an online mile/kilometer converter, and discovered I had just ridden 28 miles! Bragging rights.
- Cycling past farm animals and wildlife — especially the babies. Ducks and ducklings. Swans and cygnets. Sheep and lambs. Horses and foals. Pigs, cows, rabbits.
- Watching my overheated son and husband strip down to their underwear to jump in the Amstel River in front of some bemused locals (photos withheld — sorry).
THE LOW POINTS
Two low points:
- My son is a pretty confident biker, but not totally confident. Every time he wobbled, my heart stopped for a second. One time he clipped a garbage can and almost fell. Since it was a warm holiday weekend, there was a lot of other bike traffic passing us (him) just a little too close for my comfort.
- I have the good fortune to be part of a fit family. As the weakest link, I am always the first one to run out of gas. In this case, I ran out of gas somewhere around mile 25. While there are no hills in Amsterdam, there are 1,500 bridges. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it up and over the last few.
IF YOU GO
I would highly recommend Rebecca’s trips. If you’re not up for a 28-miler, she has some other great-sounding tours. I was particularly tempted by both the Wheely Dutch Snack Track and The Pancake Tour.
Here’s my number one bit of advice for this tour. Ready? Upgrade your bike. We rented these huge, heavy 3-speed beasts, and I would really have liked having a few more gears. If you’ve got a semi-wobbly rider, a tandem bike might be a good idea too.
Potty breaks are few and far between, so go easy on the coffee the morning of your tour. Bring water bottles for everyone, but just one since Rebecca will bring a big bottle for refills.
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