The first time we ever flew with our Bromptons was to Cuba, and we got a kick out of unfolding our bikes at the airport and just cycling to our destination. After all, in North America you can’t do that! Mainly because most every airport is surrounded by a maze of highways that are not safe and usually illegal to bike on. Not so in Cuba, nor in bike heaven Amsterdam. After some sleuthing in satellite view on Google maps, I discovered a bike route leading right from the Schiphol airport into Amsterdam. Perfect!
So I set about trying to plan our route more thoroughly. I’m not the type of person to just hop off an airplane and blindly find my way to a destination; however, buying detailed cycle maps of the Netherlands in Canada proved difficult. I’d have to have one shipped over here and it probably wouldn’t arrive before our departure date. So I turned to the Internet. Google maps shows some bike paths, but doesn’t really label them. Then I found this resource (http://www.hollandcyclingroutes.com/online-cycle-route-planner) and gleaned that cycle paths were EVERYWHERE and that following these step-by-step instructions would be tedious. Besides, the most common advice online stated that cycling in The Netherlands was so easy — just “follow the signs!” At the very least, I could get a cycle map from the airport Tourist Information. So that’s what I resolved to do.
We arrived in Amsterdam and headed to the TI. They had one cycling map, and it wasn’t the nice compact book kind I was hoping for; instead it was a monstrous thing that unfolded to the unwieldy size of a ten-person dining table. But better than nothing, right?
Next, we exited the airport to figure out what street we were on and get our bearings on the map, and were met with what would be the biggest problem we had navigating this country — no street signs. We’ve been to Europe before and know that often street names are on plaques on the side of buildings, but this wasn’t the case outside the airport. There were simply no street signs. Period. Despite our monstrous map, we needed to ask for directions.
We approached two guys in official-looking vests and asked them how to get to the cycle path that leads to Amsterdam Centraal. They were very nice, but we’re pretty sure they were silently laughing at us. Still, they pointed us towards the Sheraton Hotel, saying that the bike route started just on the other side of it, and then all we had to do was “follow the signs to Amsterdam.”
We headed to the Sheraton and lo and behold on the other side is the cycle path. Success!
Even more miraculous, there are signs! We followed the arrow “To Amsterdam”!
And pushed the bike crossing buttons just like this guy.
And cycled past planes. (Pier is way more excited about this than the photo suggests.)
And then things went south. Literally. We were heading north-east, but somehow we ended up going south. I think that the road curved so slightly that we didn’t realize we were gradually changing direction. Worse, the next intersections we came to didn’t have any handy signs pointing to Amsterdam. The signs pointed other places, towns that we didn’t want to go to, but not Amsterdam. Worst of all, we didn’t know where the hell we were! Because, you guessed it, there were no street signs. Even at major intersections, the signs never named the streets, just pointed in the direction of towns many miles away. Not helpful!
Finally, I located a tiny street sign for the road we were on, and a couple blocks later a sign for a cross street. Time to pull out the map, search through the legend of thousands of street names (many of which are exactly the same except for a letter or two), and figure out where we were.
We found the street on the giant paper map… but it couldn’t be right. We were so far south we weren’t in Amsterdam anymore. Then a guy came out of an auto body shop to help us and confirmed that yes, we were wayyyy south of where we wanted to be. He pointed us in the right direction and away we went.
Eventually we made it to Amsterdam Central, but damn, it was NOT easy. So if you’re heading to Amsterdam and planning to bike from the airport to the city centre, here’s what you need to know.
TIPS FOR CYCLING FROM SCHIPHOL AIRPORT TO AMSTERDAM
- Exit the airport and find the Sheraton hotel. I suspect people will laugh at you less if you ask for that instead of the bike path.
- Get some data and use Google maps, or pre-download a map app like Ulmon’s CityMaps2Go. It doesn’t need wifi or data, just GPS (free!), but make sure that your phone is not in airplane mode so that the app can access GPS and locate you. Also remember that GPS doesn’t always work inside, so go outside to get the app’s “find my location” feature working.
- Follow signs to “Amsterdam Centraal”. If you get to an intersection where there’s no sign like that, I hope you followed Tip #2 and can check where you are! If not, flag down a friendly Dutchman and ask for directions.
Next up… Our day trip to Waterland and what I discovered about The Netherlands cycle path system after our trip. *facepalm*