THE AMSTEL – a ride by the river

Where else in the western world are there ferries just for cyclists and walkers?

When I first came to the Netherlands, it was a while before I found out that Amstel was not only a beer, but a river, and even longer to discover that ‘Amsterdam’ meant ‘dam on the Amstel’. Maybe I’m just a slow learner.

Now I know the Amstel River very well. My cycling routes south of Amsterdam often begin with a few kilometres riding alongside it. My correspondent and fellow blogger Laura contacted me this morning and recommended a ride along the length of the Amstel from Amsterdam to where the Drecht River joins with a canal to become the Amstel at a village called De Kwakel. It’s about a 60km round trip, all flat.

Good idea, thanks Laura! I went straight out and did it.

The Amstel used to flow into the Ijsselmeer (formerly the Zuider Zee) through Amsterdam, but now the last part of it, the Rokin, has been filled in. So the Amstel really ends at the Muntplein and from there flows to the sea through underground pipes.

The Amstel in Amsterdam.

The city part of the Amstel is one of Amsterdam’s best addresses, lined as it is by the Stopera (Town Hall and Opera House), Carre Theatre, the Magere Brug (Skinny Bridge) painted by Van Gogh and the Amstel Hotel (George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon stayed there – wow!)

I generally avoid riding through the city and instead reach the Amstel as it winds out of Amsterdam, at Kalfjeslaan. There are often tourist buses pulled up there, because there are a few sights to see at this point.

A windmill, Rembrandt, a bike and a half naked lady – you can’t get any more Amsterdam than that.

The Amstel is no longer a useful commercial waterway, which leaves it free for pleasure craft. On a sunny afternoon (the first in a long, cold, wet summer) everyone with anything that would float was out on the water.

It’s just a few kilometres out to the village called Ouderkerk aan de Amstel (Old Church on the Amstel). There are pleasant cafes by the river here…

Ouderkerk aan de Amstel

…but if you take a little detour through the village itself, you’ll find the interesting Jewish Portuguese cemetery, where the parents of my favourite philosopher Baruch Spinoza are buried.

I don’t think these are the Spinozas’ graves, but I can’t read the inscriptions. The cemetery is worth a visit anyway.

The road along the river from Ouderkerk to the Nes aan de Amstel is one of the most attractive parts of the route. There are a few cars to contend with, but there are also well marked cycle lanes on each side.

Nes aan de Amstel. For reasons best known to himself, the guy riding towards me preferred the road to the cycle lane.

From there it’s on past some industrial terrain to Uithoorn, a less-than-attractive modern village which nonetheless has a few more cafes by the Amstel. But Uithoorn is a convenient place for shopping – I ducked into the Albert Hein supermarket for a bag of krentenbollen (currant buns – the cyclist’s friends).

Past Uithoorn the river starts to split in two, and the cycling route skirts past the Uithoornse Polder, an area of drained farmland. It is sobering to notice that the level of the Amstel is usually higher than the surrounding farms. Only dykes and pumping keep it in its place.

Friesian cows in the Uithoornse Polder. (Experimental photo made with iPhone.)

And at the end of the path, I reached de Kwakel. Thanks again, Laura – a good day’s ride. The return trip was a breeze, with wind at my back, taking the shorter, though less interesting, route through Amstelveen.

One more ophaalbrug (drawbridge) over what’s left of the Amstel at de Kwakel.

4 Comments

Filed under Cycle touring, Cycling, Holland

4 responses to “THE AMSTEL – a ride by the river

    • Bram, the GPS is still working but unfortunately the little clips on the back which hold it on the bike are not. Time to reattach it with velcro and superglue?

      It’s hard to get lost on this route, though – just follow the river.

  1. Fred

    It is indeed a pleasant trip. I live ‘on the other side’ closer to the bridge on your last picture. The last part of the water you followed was canalised to improve the transport by water in … 1825 or so as an initiative of our king William I. The name of the canal is “Amstel-Drechtkanaal” and it continues for a few miles to reach the Tolhuissluis. If you have the chance you should make that last trip as well on the north-side of the water. The locks are from 1823 and will me restored coming winter.

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