It was a bad start - we couldn't get any help from the GPS and we spent 20 minutes riding round looking for a signpost or someone to ask. We found a dog walker who told us to head for The Hague and we'd pick up the Amsterdam signs from there. When we asked how to get to The Hague she just said 'Go that way' and pointed.
A bit further we saw two youngish lads on bikes - we asked them if we were on the right road for Amsterdam - they looked at us in disbelief - 'I don't know' said one 'We go to Amsterdam on the train'
Through The Hague we pass into more rural countryside, the land of Erasmus and Rutger Hauer, Rembrandt and Van Gogh - a few more windmills, dykes, quiet roads, mostly new buildings. Pretty unremarkable really. We pause in a village for a coffee and a cake - we sit outside, opposite a supermarket. There is no car park for the supermarket just a big bike rack - no one seems to use a car for shopping - just an endless stream of bikes, people have panniers or baskets on the front or both, they load their shopping and they're off again - it all works so well.
It's another steaming hot day as we edge towards our goal. And talking of goals I suddenly realise England will be making their debut in this years World Cup competition tonight - another late night then. We follow a road alongside a river for a while - there are some expensive speed boats moored alongside luxuriously appointed property on the other bank - a whole row of them. Not long after we spot our first road sign for Amsterdam and we're riding through some sort of park - lots of trees, grassy patches with children and families playing, loads of intertwining narrow paths. Soon we're lost again. The GPS and the signposts have differing opinions on which way to go - strangely we opt for the GPS. We ride alongside a river, marked out into lanes ready for a rowing match, then we approach the edge of the city, the roads grow increasingly busy, more traffic, more bikes, more buildings - the cycle lanes are filling out, there're all shapes, sizes and ages - a constant river - it must be the world's biggest peloton.
As the city sprawl grows we are faced with the alarming prospect of attempting to cross a major road junction - this is not so easy - traffic, people, bikes - all moving independently in different directions and not necessarily corresponding to the indications on the traffic light system. We just follow the person in front - straight through a red light - brushing past pedestrians, deflecting granny overtaking on her solid steel Dutch roadster with a couple of grandkids in the basket on the front of her bike.
We get showered and changed and then head out into the city - we decide the best option is to keep moving, its either that or we'll drop asleep. We have a beer and while standing on a bridge over a canal with flower-decked barges and families of coots below - we decide on a boat trip around the canals, very reasonable at around €10 a head. I last about 10 minutes before nodding off as the sun streams down through the glass roof of the boat. Afterwards we find an old bar down a side street, almost pitch black inside, there's jazz music playing, a chandelier that carries the dust of the entire twentieth century and a mysterious spiral staircase in the corner leading who knows where? As our eyes adjust to the darkness and the dutch beer soothes the aches and pains we slide gently into the chilled atmosphere of Amsterdam. My mind drifts to thoughts of liberalism, the detritus of vice, the open drugs culture - everyone know what Amsterdam is famous for - it's not food or cultural destinations - it's fun, sex 'n' drugs - and in these two preoccupations you can view the Dutch dilemma - the tug of liberty against probity. The two longest queues in Amsterdam are outside Anne Frank's house and a live sex show. Anyway, time to get back to the hotel - The England/Italy match is about to start.
It's Sunday. A bad start to our World Cup campaign. We decide to visit the Van Gogh museum. This is a good choice - we spend the fastest three hours I can remember exploring the various floors - its a big space and there's enough to keep us interested. We finally emerge via the museum shop €100 lighter but contentedly humming Don McLean's 'Vincent' all the way to the next stop, conveniently situated just across the road - The Bols Museum. You may have some recollection of seeing a Bols bottle somewhere, maybe at the back of your drinks cabinets or that of your parents - But without Bols there's be no Gin - and the world would be a sadder place without Gin.
We decide we need to eat and turn onto a street full of restaurants - we opt for Cau-Cau - a big, loud space, black walls with silver highlights, modern furniture and high ceilings with a relentless post-modern hip-hop beat thrumming on a continuous loop. The menu is unashamedly carnivorous. Detailed descriptions of various cuts of Argentinian beef. It's not cheap but sounds good. We order.
The Steak is tasty and tender, an agreeable lump of perfectly cooked muscle - the best I've tasted in a long time. The fries come in varying thickness and there's an interesting side dish of garden peas with chilli. Afterwards, back in the hotel bar, we muse over the trip and deliberate on our next challenge - this one has worked out so well, it will be a hard act to follow.
Amsterdam is an agreeable city. It's human sized and it doesn't blind you with ostentation. It's a nice place, commodious and comfortable. I'll be going again.