Monday, June 28, 2010

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Friends: I gave my legs a good final test to see how Tour ready they are with a three-day 300-mile race to make it to the Green Butterfly Bar in Amsterdam by 4 p.m. today to catch the Amsterdam-Slovakia World Cup match. I will have many such a race, though not necessarily as long, in the days to come, trying to get to a Tour stage finish before the course is closed.

Eelco and I had made the bar our rendezvous point before knowing there would be a Dutch game today. We arbitrarily set our meeting time at six p.m., so I moved it up for myself by two hours to catch the game.

I would have made it in ample time if I hadn't lost a couple of hours trying to extricate myself from the clutches of Hamburg three days ago and then another hour in my last twenty miles of Germany when the road suddenly turned into a no-bike zone. It was no fun riding through the industrial wasteland of western Hamburg of oil refineries and factories contending with 18-wheelers in a rush.

It was a mini-nightmare of a different stripe trying to make my exit from Germany. It was as if I were being held prisoner. I was biking this way and that trying to find the bike route out when an older couple out on a Sunday ride came along and gave me their detailed bike route map. It helped considerably, but I still had a fair amount of orienteering to do to find my way out of the country. I was wishing I hadn't stopped riding at 8:30 the night before to watch the US-Ghana game and had instead just made a dash on that final fifteen-mile stretch out of the county on a road that prohibited bikes. I might have been able to get away with it, as there hadn't been much traffic anyway on a Saturday evening.

The bike route signs through The Netherlands had been so good I thought I was going to have an easy time of it all the way to Amsterdam, but the final ten miles it became too complicated for there to be an adequate number of signs and I frittered away another half hour or more having to stop to ask the way and making a few wrong turns. But once I got into the metropolitan area there were so many bicyclists I had someone to ask at every red light.

As it was, I arrived at the Green Butterfly in the Albert Cuijp Market neighborhood of Amsterdam twelve minutes after the game started and just a minute before the Dutch scored the first goal of the game. Bars up and down the street had multiple screens out of the sidewalk thronged by orange-clad fans. There was no telling if Eelco was at the Green Butterfly it was so packed with people, inside and out.

Though the Dutch flag is the same red, white and blue tri-color as the French flag, but with horizontal stripes rather than vertical, orange is the national color. The car window flags are orange. Many homes and businesses were decorated with lines of triangular plastic orange flags, a feature the Germans hadn't adopted yet. Orange wigs are also popular, not only on fans, but on store mannequins. One fans told me the Dutch were destined to win today because they got to wear their home orange jerseys, rather than white of the visiting team.

He was right. I was barely able to see the action peering through the crowd of onlookers as bartenders walked by with platters of cups of beer. When the Dutch scored a second goal towards the end of the game, the crowd thinned a bit. Two tall guys I was standing behind could relax and turn their attention from the game and ask me about my loaded up bike behind me. One of them was the local sales rep for Giant bicycles. The other was wearing a Lance yellow bracelet. He planned on being at the Tourmalet during The Tour. When Eelco showed up after the game, he greeted him as an old friend, as they are both active members of Amsterdam's cycling community.

Eelco hadn't come to the bar for the game. He was at his apartment two blocks away studying his exercise physiology textbook for an upcoming interview. He was one of the few people on the street not wearing orange. Nor were the two bicyclists I was talking to. They said they were anarchists of a sort in that respect. I told them I had been collecting German flags along the road and they could have some of they wished. They eagerly accepted my offer. One said he couldn't show it to his dad, as he still felt resentment towards Germany from WWII. When the family took a vacation to Switzerland a few years ago, he refused to drive through Germany, but took a much longer route around.

When Eelco and I met while we were biking around Japan three-and-a-half years ago we eagerly asked each other what local foods we were eating hoping to learn of a discovery we hadn't already made. Touring cyclists are always looking for more fuel options. As a physician, Eelco is well aware of good nutrition. We both expanded each others diets in Japan and six months later when we me up in France, Eelco introduced me to madeleines, a high-caloric egg-flour pastry. Now it is one of my French staples and I think of Eelco whenever I pop one into my mouth.

So I was delighted to head to the supermarket with Eelco after we had lugged my bike up the steep, steep steps to his third floor apartment. We compared caloric content of chocolate milk versus yogurt drinks, with the chocolate winning out. Eelco pointed out quite a few unique Dutch food options--a mashed potato/vegetable mix in the deli that was cheaper than potato salad and more potent, strips of pressed coconut with a high caloric count that make a tremendous snack, and assorted cookie and snack foods that he highly recommended that I hadn't seen elsewhere.

Eelco whipped up a sensational dinner of Indonesian noodles and beef. Afterward we went out for ice cream cones. All day yesterday every town I passed through, large and small, people were walking around with ice cream cones. Ice cream cones seemed almost as popular as bicycling. At some of the more popular ice cream outlets there was a line a half a block long, just as there was at Eelco's favorite ice cream shop here.

Tomorrow's top priority is a museum with a tribute to bicycle messengers that one can bring their bicycle into and ride around in. Eelco says helmets are required to ride on the track in the museum. That is a surprise as hardly anyone wears helmets here, unlike Germany. Wednesday it is on to Rotterdam, fifty miles away, for The Tour. Vincent has already arrived. If Eelco can change an appointment he will be able to join me. There is a sixty mile recreational ride of some ten thousand cyclists Thursday morning around Rotterdam we might join.

Less than five days now to The Prologue.

Later, George

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