HostelBookers Cycle to Amsterdam for Charity

Did we tell you HostelBookers were cycling to Amsterdam for the East Africa Appeal? Didn’t believe us? Well here is an account of our trip, warts and all.

A big thank you to the Stayokay Vondelpark Amsterdam for putting us up for two nights. We hope this will be a useful resource for anyone else considering a London to Amsterdam bike ride. There are lots of companies out there that can organise it for you, but our own DIY job worked out cheaper. there’s still time to donate to the East Africa Appeal.

London-Amsterdam Cycle Route

Friday night
London-Hainault. Overnight at friend’s house

Saturday
Hainault-Harwich via Chelmsford & Colchester

Saturday night
Overnight ferry Harwich-Hook of Holland

Sunday
Hook of Holland-Amsterdam. Sunny weather use LF1 cycle path (coastal). Rainy weather use well-signposted inland cycle network

Monday
Spend the day in Amsterdam – no cycling!

Tuesday
Afternoon train Amsterdam-London via Brussels.

Tips

  • Our route is for a great long weekend with two days cycling and a day and a half pottering in Amsterdam. If you have more time, you could catch the ferry to Oostende or Calais instead.
  • Book train tickets over the phone – it is much easier to organise if you are travelling with bikes. We used Hispeed which offered the lowest fares.
  • Book an overnight ferry. It saves both money for accommodation and you can utilise daylight hours for cycling. Harwich to Hook van Holland is serviced by Stenaline but we booked through the Direct Ferries website which had more availability.
  • A breakdown of prices per person = overnight ferry in 4-berth from €57, hostel from €20 per night, single train journey with bike Amsterdam-London €70. If you are happy to dismantle your bike you can fly home to London for about €40. You will need to take a bike bag with you/buy one in Amsterdam.
  • If it is sunny when you arrive in Hook of Holland, follow the coast along the LF1 cycle path (we stayed inland because it was raining) and stop off at a hostel on the beach to make the most of the good weather and take a dip in the sea. Noordsijk and Zandvoort are nice.
  • It is illegal to cycle on the roads in the Netherlands. There is always a cycle path to use unless it is under construction.
  • In the Netherlands we barely looked at the map, there are red signs specifically for cyclists giving distance info to numerous destinations including Den Haag-Amsterdam.
  • Wear a helmet. While you are separated from the cars in the Netherlands, roads and drivers are not so forgiving in the UK!

Day 1

Holborn to Hainault
15 miles

After work it was a quick farewell half pint (we are actually quite a sensible bunch and rather nervous of Friday night traffic in central London) at the Old Nick behind our office and we were off!

The rain had stopped and we had been whizzing along the CS2, a London cycle superhighway that links Aldgate to Bow. But our ‘setting off’ adrenalin rush was quickly shot when I got a flat at Whitechapel – 15 minutes after leaving the pub! My first ever. But hey, that last-minute bike workshop really paid off (thanks Micycle!). Learn how to change a flat before you go!

When the cycle superhighway disappears, it is not a pretty stretch. I certainly would not cycle this 15 mile journey everyday, far too much traffic.

A single highlight was a fleeting glimpse of the Olympic stadium as we sailed across a flyover – an illegal manouever I’m sure – cycles are supposed to avoid the bridge – and the cars whizzing by made it a tough one to enjoy.

Arrived at Hainault to a hot shower, a pan of hearty homemade chilli, wine and beer – enough to ensure we wouldn’t feel fresh as daisies in the morning.

Day 2

London to Harwich
66 miles

Our 10:15am set off felt rather civillised. We removed a leather jacket, two pairs of trousers and a jumper from Dan N’s panniers (he is soooo trendy). Can you believe it? Me? A girl advising the boys on the art of minimal packing.

Panniers or rucksacks? You could immediately notice the difference in cycling speeds between those with panniers on racks and those with rucksacks. Panniers result in slower starting speeds but offer more space. With rucksacks, make sure you give them a trial run before your long distance ride to ensure they don’t rub anywhere. Aside from less packing space, they give you a sweaty icky back. But hey, it’s a personal choice.

The weather held, in fact it was glorious pedalling alongside Epping Forest and open fields in Essex – what a green and pleasant land this is! The A414 was relatively quiet and smooth with only a couple of gentle inclines. We stopped for a quick sugar fix from Aldi in Chelmsford, a good place to pick up sweet treats for the trip before the countryside.

Leaving Chelmsford we joined the B1137, a road running parallel to the A12 until Hatfield Peveral, where we opted for a right onto Maldon Road, leading us along an even quieter route and taking in picturesque country lanes with heavy hedgerows laden with blackberries, wild blueberries (not ripe enough to eat unfortunately) and overhanging orchards bulging with blushing apples. The route was through Wickham Bishops, Great Braxted, Tiptree Heath and Layer Marney before the traffic began to build up as we neared Colchester for lunch. The clouds were kind enough to drop their load while we ate a pub lunch. Then, the skies cleared and we set off for the final leg of the journey to Harwich. Getting out of Colchester proved a tad tricky. We decided from here to start following bike cycle network signs – we had read that route 51 would take us all the way to Harwich from Colchester. Not true. You need to follow cycle route 1 for part of the way.

Anyhow, after a few separations we made it on to the main road, the A120 from Colchester to Harwich – not as scary as it looks because there is a raised cycle and pedestrian path most of the way. Before we knew it, we could see the sea! We approached Harwich from the South East and rode down to the waterfront – the colourful rows of beach huts caught our eye!

We cycled along the promenade, keeping the sea on our right. We had about 3 hours to kill until we boarded our ferry which departed at 23:15. As the heavens opened, a man with a nautical cap – who looked like he knew about Harwich ferry departures and a place to store our bikes for a few hours, pointed us in the direction of a gorgeous pub called The Ship, complete with a garden where they were happy for us to leave our bikes (perhaps the rain was a godsend for us since no one was wanted to sit outside!) Delicious portions of local snacks (including cockles), tasty meals, a red nosed and already quite tipsy bartender and live jazz at 8pm – it couldn’t have been better or more characterful.

The wind and rain had left me feeling queasy, as I began to picture a hellish night of nauseous sailing across the choppy sea. I drank a few alcoholic whisky and gingers (ginger is good for motion sickness apparently) We also didn’t have high hopes for the standard of the ferry. Would there shower facilities? A sink? A toilet? Eek!

The Crossing

A few whisky and ginger beers later, we cycled 15 minutes along the road to the port. We pedalled aboard…quite a novelty riding through passport control and in to the belly of a big boat! The ferry was far more luxurious than expected; the boys in their 4-berth cabin (2 x bunks) had a sea view and me in my single (sometimes being a lady pays off) and every cabin had en suite facilities with a decent shower (much needed!), loo and sink.

We were too tired to exploit the apparently free cinema on board, so instead, after a quick nightcap in the bar, it was off to bed. We slept like babies and the crossing was smooth.

Day 3

Hook of Holland to Amsterdam
56 miles

At 6am, the cabins were reverberating with the sound of Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry Be Happy” as we were kindly informed it was time to get up. We had not opted for the €10 breakfast. Instead we grabbed a coffee and croissant for €4 – who can eat more than that so early in the morning anyway – with the intention of grabbing something cheaper and more substantial on the road.

It was raining. We jumped the queue (ahem! It was raining!) as we pedalled past the line of cars waiting at passport control. We cycled parallel to the coast, though it was not in sight, through the town of Monster. We hadn’t foreseen that arriving at 7am on a Sunday meant nothing was open. Nowhere for coffee, and, no sign of a bike shop (by this point, Dan N had broken 2 wheel spokes, and the Sellotape wasn’t going to hold for long). Onward to Den Haag past picture-perfect homes and hot houses with glimmers of colour – sunflowers perhaps – pressing against the steamy glass. Den Haag was also a ghost town, but the architecture and my fleeting attempts at window shopping suggested it would have been a pretty stop off any other time of day.

The rain and wind forced us to reconsider the coastal cycle path – nobody fancied a headwind. It was tricky leaving Den Haag, but shortly, we found Holland’s red signs – intended for cyclists – directing us the whole way to Amsterdam! After a spot of horn honking, we learnt that it is in fact illegal for cyclists to use the road. There is always a dedicated cycle path. I hope I don’t sound too ungrateful, but many are brick paved, so it can be frustratingly bumpy and you can’t pick up much speed. But there were also some fantasticly smooth sections, were I could really stretch my new bike’s legs (well, wheels I suppose) and leave the guys for dust! No hills, and with the red signs, it was plain sailing the whole way, except for the rain of course. But once you are wet you are wet.

Because we digressed from our planned route, our directions to the hostel were useless but with a quick flirtation on the iPhone, a few local hand gestures, plus another puncture from me (15 minutes from the hostel, I couldn’t believe it! Although I can now change an inner tube) we arrived at Stayokay Vondelpark Amsterdam.

We made it!

The Hostel

What a fantastic hostel for cyclists! At Stayokay Vondelpark Amsterdam hostels our bikes were safetly stowed in their special storage facilities then we hit the showers. In the room the bunks were wooden and sturdy (no squeaks!) and the pillows and linen was nice and puffy. Aside from its leafy location next to Vondelpark, we think the Stayokay breakfast deserves an award. Simply the best any of us had ever gorged on in all our hostel experiences including eggs, a great range of breads, hot cross buns, meat, cheese and yoghurt. We made the most of the hostel happy hour and the pool table (settle on the rules BEFORE playing) before heading out for the night. It’s a short walk to the centre, and nice being off the main road.

Stayokay, thank you so much!

Amsterdam

We’ve got lots of info on the HostelBookers blog about cool things to do in Amsterdam. But here is a short list of our favourite places…

  • Rijksmuseum: Not cheap but great to see the ginormous The Night Watch by Rembrandt and Vermeer’s keyhole masterpieces. (Hobbemastraat 21)
  • Haesje Claes: Traditional Dutch restaurant with beautiful and historic interior. We loved the reasonably priced ‘stampot’ dishes with sausage, bacon and mash with seasonal variations (stampot dishes €15, Spuistraat 273-275)

  • Bazaar: Great cheap North African food including falafel, kebabs and stews. It is located on Albert Cuypstraat in De Pijp which is a lively market during the day. Afterwards we walked around and found one or two local bars. (Albert Cuypstraat 182)
  • Bourbon Street: A late night live music venue playing rock n roll, bluegrass and funk. Free before 11pm then €3 on weekdays and €5 on weekends after 11pm. (Leidsekruisstraat 6-8)

  • Febo: Ideal for late night munchies as you head home after a night out. For a few euroes this fast food venue dispenses croquettes from a giant vending machine. (Various lcoations including Leidsestraat 94)

Heading home

It will stay in all our minds for a very long time, that cycling 120 miles there, was easier than catching the train home.

Firstly, the Dan N’s bike remained broken and the emergency hour that we had given ourselves for things going wrong disappeared. A problem on the line meant we had to take 2 trains to Brussels (they refused to take us on board a hi-speed service to Brussels, even when they had cancelled the regional train). With only minutes to spare to catch a connecting train, our intended platform was closed but after wheeling about the station, we managed to make the connecting service. We arrived at the Eurostar terminal 15 minutes before departure. They kindly let us on board when we explained we had come from Amsterdam (to which they replied “oh, of course, that’s why you are late then”. Apparently they experience lots of late arrivals from passengers travelling from Amsterdam to Brussels.

Home!

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