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09/09 Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Up this morning at 5:30 to take L&J to the airport. It was overcast and misty outside. Went over to the reception area to see about coffee -- not ready until 7. Larry was there sending an e-mail. Told him we'd see him at the car.

Left at 6 for the airport. Dropped L&J off at British Airways and headed back. Told them we'd take care of their flags and J's shoes. Went back to the room and went back to bed.

Got up at 8:30, got some coffee for Lisa and I, then settled in to review the tour books about Amsterdam. We went over to check into the TK&A hotel (about 40KM from downtown) about 11:30. Finally got checked in at 1:30 and headed out to Amsterdam.

We heard that parking was very difficult and very expensive in town, so we opted to take the train. We drove to the Hoofddorp station, about 15 KM away. Then caught a train in. The train came in about 7 minutes. It took about 30 minutes to get us to the Amsterdam Central Station.

We took a "Circular 20" tram to get a quick orientation. It circles the city and passes many of the highlighted sights. Unfortunately, we had to wait almost half an hour for the tram, so we didn't have much time. We rode the tram around most of the circle, then walked the last 20 minutes through the neighborhoods.

It looks like there's a lot to see in Amsterdam. It's an interesting city. Lots of unusual neighborhoods, lots of attractive old buildings, lots of canals -- many lined with houseboats, some really good museums, a very thorough tram and bus system, and LOTS OF BIKE LANES!

I know I was fascinated by the volume of bicycles and the extreme bicycle friendliness of Scandinavia -- particularly Copenhagen -- but Amsterdam beats everyplace else we've been, hands down! The major streets have one tram lane, one vehicle lane and one bicycle lane in each direction. The minor streets often have only a bicycle lane -- that cars can use if they're careful AND if there's room.

And there are bicycles EVERYWHERE!!! Mostly old, clunker-looking bikes with three speed, Sturmey-Archer hubs. Mostly black. Mostly with one or two locks. Mostly with brrrng-brrrng bells (that only a few people use -- so pedestrian beware!) Another notable thing -- no helmets. We didn't see one person in Amsterdam wearing a bicycle helmet.

Well, we'll have all day tomorrow to see the city in more detail.

By 5 we were back on the train. Shortly after 6 we were back to the TK&A hotel to see the second Odyssey video. Of course it had some fluff and hooray for TK&A to it, but it also showed some of the harder times. Like the ride in the snow and rain over the Pyrenees. Like the 72 rainy days. Like the dangerous Transkie region of South Africa where we had armed guards escorting us. Like the day we had 102 miles against a ferocious headwind. Like the confrontational meeting at Carcassonne. All carefully produced and edited to give a positive spin, but shown nonetheless. And it was a good video.

After dinner we had another meeting with Tim. He told us all the great and wonderful details about the rest of the trip through Australia and the Far East. And much of it IS good. Many beds. Shorter daily miles. More layover days.

He glossed over the negative details like being 30 KM out of Amsterdam, being 40 KM out of Cologne, Germany where we'll be catching the flight to Australia, and like being at least an hour's train ride out of Sidney when we're there to see the Olympics.

He was not willing to address rider concerns about the general negative attitude of staff towards many of the riders. Or the concerns about the additional conditions and interpretations that keep coming up that further limit the insurance coverage.

The meeting ended with Tim's traditional cheerleaders cheering, and those that have unanswered questions and concerns, grumbling. Same old same old.

Tomorrow we plan to enjoy a full day in Amsterdam.

Love to all,
David and Lisa

09/10 Amsterdam, (Noordwiikerhout), The Netherlands

Overcast this morning. Up at 8 for breakfast. Talked to a lot of riders about the meeting last night and their plans for the day.

Nothing new about the meeting. Those who had few exceptions at all for this trip beyond "riding around the world" were generally okay with things. Those who expected more -- who thought, for instance, that Amsterdam on the itinerary meant we'd actually be IN Amsterdam and therefore it wouldn't be such a pain to get there -- grumbled about the benevolent dictatorship not being very benevolent.

Some not going anywhere because it's so hard to get to anything from the hotel. Some will go through the ordeal of taking a bus to the train station, then taking the train in to the city. We will, again, drive to Hoofddorp, then take a train.

The train was no problem. But I almost got a 95 Gulder ticket (2 1/2 G = $1) for driving in a taxi's only zone. But I pleaded dumb foreigner ignorance and the motorcycle cop let me go.

We got into town quickly and took the tram to the Rijksmuseum. They had a show on called "The Glories of the Golden Age." It included paintings by Dutch masters over the centuries. It was a VERY WELL DONE exhibit. Each room showed six to eight paintings that best represented some era or some method of painting. A guide book explained the who's, what's, whys and wherefore's of each painting. Fantastically interesting. (We saw many great Rembrandts and a few Vermeers -- but not the Vermeer we have a print of at home that looks like Lisa.)

We walked over to a really good vegetarian restaurant, called De Bolhued, at Princegraft 60. Then we went to see the Anne Frank Museum in the house where she hid from 1942 to 1944. Another very poignant display of the horrible atrocities of Hitler.

We decided to head back to the TK&A hotel in time for dinner. We walked by a "Cafe" (in Amsterdam, a cafe is a place one can get coffee, tea and legal marijuana. We stopped in to see what it was about. We asked for a menu. On the menu were three ways to have coffee, about six types of tea, and about ten different types of weed. The man behind the counter gave me a quick rundown on the virtues of each type, but there were five joints burning in the very small room, so we just inhaled a few times and floated right out. :-)

We walked through the Red Light District on the way to the train station. THAT was an experience!!

First, the street was torn up for some underground work. That made it difficult to get by many places. Second, in the lower end, where we came into it, there were small groups of lowlife types huddled around here and there. Very uncomfortable passing by.

We were looking for signs of "ladies sitting in windows" as reported in almost everything we've read. No sightings though.

As we were going through the lobby of the train station, we ran into JT, a young Odyssey rider who has been off route for a couple months. He was wondering where everyone was. We told him and invited him to come with us out to the TK&A venue. We talked the whole trip.

Love to all,
David and Lisa

09/11 Amsterdam (Sassenheim), The Netherlands

This early morning we had fog overhead, but by midday it had cleared. The day turned out to be absolutely (and unusual for the Netherlands, we are told) clear. Not a cloud in the sky.

Today was moving day for the Odyssey group. They had to relocate from the hotel back to the campground. We relocated back to our hotel in Sassenheim.

Then we went for a semi-planned ride over the polders on some of the many miles of bike paths. ("Polders" are areas of re-claimed land that are actually below sea level.) And these many crisscrossing paths have directional signs with mileage's to what ever the neighboring town is, and also to larger towns some distance away. It's really fun -- you don't need to map out a route and worry about making the correct turns. You just follow the signs to wherever you're heading.

Did I say before that at every signalized intersection there are special bicycle signals? Yep, Red, Yellow and Green traffic signals with a bicycle stick-figure in the lens. They're totally separate from -- and operate independently from -- the vehicular traffic signals.

We rode for miles along bike lanes. Most often through tulip fields (albeit not currently in bloom), often along canals, occasionally through small villages and towns. Sometimes we rode along canals whose water was lapping at the side of the road, while on the other side of the road were farm fields that were 20-feet lower than the road. Once we were on a bike lane following a road that went UNDER a canal!

We went around a large lake that had canals going out all directions from it. The lake was full of sail boats. The canals were full of power boats -- motor boats, cruisers, house boats, ski boats, tour boats and, on some of them, commercial boats and barges. We went over many, many draw bridges as we crossed over canals.

Finally we headed back to our hotel. We showered our bodies, then did the same for our tent-ground cloth, fly, stakes and tarps. (Everything -- bikes, tents, ground cloths, tarps, stakes, shoes -- everything has to be clean of ANY dirt, grass, leaves or debris before we can take it into Australia. Some kind of Austrailian regulation.) Tomorrow we'll do the tent.

We had been thinking that we'd go into Amsterdam again tomorrow, but we had so much fun today that now we're thinking we'll probably do another ride instead.

We went to dinner at the campground. Actually it was prepared and served by the hostel that is a half-kilometer away from the TK&A campground, and it was very good! They set up outside in this balmy evening, then barbecued the faire. It was fun and pleasant. Of course, part of what made it particularly nice was the small number of riders present. (With Amsterdam so far away, many got rooms there and, of course, stayed for meals. We heard tonight that it took most people between 1 1/2 and as much as 2 1/2 hours to make the one-way trip into the city.)

Because TK&A is staying so far from the city, with no good transportation alternatives, we extended the time of our car lease for four days so we could use it for getting into Amsterdam. And even with that, it takes us a good hour to get into town.

But on the plus side, without Odyssey, we probably wouldn't even be in The Netherlands.

Love to all,
David and Lisa

09/12 Sassenheim, The Netherlands

Today started with a light, high fog. It cleared slightly by midday, then settled in with a vengeance for the rest of the day. It was a very moderate temperature all day, however. Very comfortable for riding.

And ride we did! We started with an early ride over to the hostel (in Noordwiker Hout, near the campground, about 15 km away) for breakfast. Then we took off on an adventure. Our intent was to ride bike paths through the forest, then through the sand dunes, then along the beach. We did all that.

Then we rode into Noordwijk Ann Zee. Our plans were to continue out of town through more sand dunes and along the beach to Den Haag (The Hague) for lunch, but . . . we didn't come out of Noordwijk as planned. No problem though. The pressure was off. We just followed bike route signs for the rest of the day.

We rode in and out of numerous small towns (including Valkenburg and Wassenaar), along many canals, through acres of flower fields, over lots of drawbridges and past many windmills as we biked some 50 miles along the bikelanes of the Netherlands, stopping at Oegstgeest for lunch. What a WONDERFUL RIDE we had!

We were back in our hotel room by 3. We cleaned our tent, washed our bike clothes, did some e-mail and did some reading. About 6 we headed out to dinner.

We went to Voorhout to look for a place to eat -- and we struck gold! We found a restaurant (perhaps the only restaurant in town -- it's a small town :-) that had a varied menu -- and everything we ordered was "magnifique".

After a fancy coffee to top it off, we went back to our room. (You didn't think I'd say "tent" did you?) The time may be coming though. Australia and Japan may not be so easy for finding "alternative housing" that's "better than a tent". ;-)

Love to all,
David and Lisa

09/13 The Netherlands, Sassenheim to Noordwijkerout

Today was a day to move from the campground in the woods to the hotel in Noordwijkerout, and to clean tents, bikes, bags, etc. of mud, leaves and debris. For us, it was a day to move from our hotel in Sassenheim to the TK&A hotel, clean our bike, load our gear in the gear truck, and return the car.

The biggest pain and time consumer was returning the car. We had to drive to the airport, go around the airport to the Oost (East) side, find building 72, wait for other returns to be processed, complete return paperwork, complete an insurance report on the damage to the car, then get a taxi for the ride to our hotel.

(What damage? Last night, when we returned to our car from dinner, there was a huge dent in the passenger side door. We think this car is jinxed! Good riddance!!)

We were planning to go for a run before dinner, but by the time we got back to our room, it was 6 o'clock. Since we were a little tired, we opted to put off our run 'til morning. We showered, took a quick nap, and went to dinner.

Love to all,
David and Lisa

09/14 Noordwijkerout, The Netherlands to Koln, Deutschland (Cologne Germany)

This morning started very relaxed and leisurely as we prepared for our relocation to Cologne, Germany, for our flight to Australia. But Lisa was kind of frustrated, because we had planned to get up and run, but didn't. (No good reason -- just lazy! But then she was sorry.)

To add to the frustration, we found out that due to a sign-up confusion, we didn't get into the hotel about 40km from Cologne where most couples were staying (one couple per room), but instead were assigned to the hostel in Cologne (10 per room). I guess the "tradeoff" was that, while the hostel was not as good an accommodation, it was right in town. But since we had no particular desire to see Cologne, we would have preferred the hotel. Oh well. . . as we say, it's just one night.

On the brighter side, Elbert got his birthday present from the group today. It's a new North Face tent to replace his old, pinned, patched and taped together tent. He LOVES it!

Later in the morning, in the sparsely populated breakfast room, Karen-Ann came out with one of her "hey guys" announcements. She told the few of us around that the busses and trucks that she hired to get us to Germany can't get out of Brussels because some truckers are demonstrating against the fuel shortage and high fuel prices and have blocked the highways, so who knows when we will get out of here. There was a concern, also, that, once we hit the road, further blockades may hold us up.

The five busses finally arrived and we left at noon. It was a looong drive on many superhighways through mostly agricultural areas with both crops and grazing activities. We arrived in "Koln" about 4 o'clock amidst lots and lots of traffic -- and very hungry!

We waited in line at the hostel about an hour for a room assignment. We finally got settled in our room about 5:45. (We found out later why we had to wait so long for "our leaders" to get there and make room assignments. They were on the other two busses, both of which stopped twice -- once for lunch and once for a bathroom break.)

Our room in the hostel has 5 sets of bunk beds. There are two, small bathrooms downstairs and down the hall to serve 6 rooms (60 people).

But, the hostel is in a good location! Just a few blocks from the center of town.

And a final frustration for the day-- we were told that we have to carry our biking stuff on the plane because, after the 22 hour flight, we will have to bicycle to the hotel and we won't have access to the gear at the airport.

So why the sudden change from busses to riding? TK&A claims they couldn't get busses in Australia because they're all tied up with the Olympics.

We had an easily forgettable dinner at the hostel about 6. But we did get to talk to Bob (from Arcada, California) about his recent achievement. He ran the Berlin Marathon, his first marathon ever, in 3:26+. Probably qualifies for the Boston! (Imagine what he could do if he actually trained for it....)

A walk in the neighborhood finished the day. Unfortunately, this last minute addition of another visit to Germany caught us with our leftover Deutsche Marks stored in the gear-truck locker. So, -- another trip to the bank before we could buy anything.

Why not use a charge card? Most of the stores would not accept them. They say the fee is too high.

Love to all,
David and Lisa

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