The Grand Depart – Rotterdam

Rotterdam, Netherlands

Wow! Today was the kickoff to this year’s Tour de France and we had a beyond-full, exciting day. After breakfast at the hotel, we rode our bikes through the city of Antwerp to where our tour bus was parked. We are traveling in a group of 16 people with four guides. Today, eleven of us chose to ride a portion of the Tour de France course, which will be covered by the peloton tomorrow. We drove about half of the way to Rotterdam and then biked about 39 miles of the course. The ride was on bike paths which are parallel to the roads where the race will be run.

Everybody successfully completed the ride today and I won the prize for the most injuries. After two separate falls (damn those clip-in pedals), I had raspberries on both knees and on one elbow.

1.1278179037.ouch

Ouch!

At least my legs are a matched set! Besides my pride, nothing else was really damaged. And, the ride was spectacular! We rode up the western coast of Holland, across massive dams and bridges that control the water flow from the North Sea. It is often very windy and cold, but we had great weather during the entire ride.

After we met our customized tour bus, which holds our group and our bikes, we drove the rest of the route into Rotterdam for the Tour prologue. With VIP access, we were able to park the bike right up next to the action. Today’s stage, the start of the 21 day race, was a time trial. That means that each of the 197 riders rode an 8.9km course around the city. They took off one minute apart and arrived at the finish roughly one minute apart. The entire area of downtown Rotterdam was a huge party and we took it all in.

1.1278179037.crowd-near-the-finish-line

Crowds near the finish line

Below you’ll see pictures of us exploring the area, including the media area and the festival area. We found something called the “vertical bike” in the festival area where they strap you in a climbing harness and put you on top of a bike. The faster you pedal the faster you rise up a tall pole. The goal is to reach the top as fast as you can. The record so far today, we were told, was 25 seconds. I did it in 56.5 seconds, but enjoyed the view as I was “climbing.”

1.1278179037.vertical-bike

Vertical bike

The race itself was exciting with the crowd (and my) favorite, Fabian Cancellara finishing 10 seconds ahead of Tony Martin. Lance Armstrong finished a respectable fourth place and his American teammate, Levi Leipheimer, also finished in the top ten. The boys made us proud.

You can read all you want about the actual race on the Internet. Tomorrow we get to ride on the closed course, ahead of the peloton, and cross the finish line in Brussels. Then we will get our photos taken on the podium and gain access to the media area.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Countryside

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Today we rented bikes and headed to the Dutch countryside. Altogether we biked about 28 miles along the dikes and through the farmland. Our bikes were a little more “advanced” than the ones from the other day and that was a good thing.

1.1277716399.going-to-amsterdam-north

Going to Amsterdam North

We took a ferry across to Amsterdam North and then biked to Marken and Volendam, which are both old fishing villages and now big tourist traps. In Volendam we dodged big tour buses and felt good that we were on two wheels rather than eight or ten. We burned enough calories to earn our beer tonight. On the way we saw windmills, cows, sheep, hay fields, and lots of water. This is a really beautiful country.

We made it back just in time to get a prime seat at a bar in Amsterdam to watch the Netherlands kick the butts of the Slovakians in the World Cup. We are not football experts but it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement.

1.1277716399.steve-s-seat-for-the-world-cup-match

Steve’s seat for the World Cup

Steve even wore a new bright orange shirt that led everyone to believe that we were Dutch. He fit right in today! Netherlands won 2-1 but it should have been 2-0. Since the USA and Mexico are both out of the tournament, we have a new “home” team.

Tomorrow we head south to Belgium and the medieval city of Brugge.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Anne and Vincent's Amsterdam

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Last night we watched the USA fall to Ghana in the World Cup and today we met a family from Ghana. They were so nice, it was hard to be upset about the loss. They were buying their two small boys Netherlands jerseys to wear tomorrow during the Netherlands vs. Slovakia. Of course, they were wearing the Ghana colors proudly today!

On the way to our viewing location in Rembrandtplein we again passed through the Red Light District and couldn’t pass up a quick photo of the condomerie. Note the little Sun Devil condoms in the photo below. Go Devils!

1.1277630796.painted-condoms

Painted condoms?

Today we toured the Anne Frank House. Our visit to the Secret Annex was moving and a reminder that prejudice, discrimination, and violations of human rights have been a continuing battle for mankind for centuries. Anne was a prety enlightened little girl. No photos are allowed on the tour but you can learn more at www.annefrank.org.

From there we walked along the canals to the museum district and endured a short wait to enter the Van Gogh Museum. While we’re not normally big museum fans, that Vincent Van Gogh painted some cool stuff. In the space of just 10 years he cranked out over 800 paintings, more than 1000 drawings, and other sketches and water colours. The museum included most of his classic pieces including Sunflowers and Wheatfield with Crows. Too bad he ended his life at the age of 37, but not before he cut off his own ear.

1.1277630796.steve-near-museumplein

I AmSterdam

Following our museum morning we enjoyed pizza, beer, a good workfout and a good nap. Tonight we plan to stroll through the Jordann area and soak up the atmosphere.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.