Amsterdam’s booming Eastern Harbor

Amsterdam
Amsterdam is a beautiful city famous for its narrow canal houses that during its golden age served as both homes and warehouses for merchant families waiting for their ship to come in. The historic heart of Amsterdam is an architectural treasure, and the Dutch didn’t stop building innovative spaces in the modern times. One of Amsterdam’s newest expansions is the Eastern Harbor Area.

A century ago this area served freighters and steamers, but with the larger ships of the modern age, that industry has shifted to the Western Harbor. Now many of the old buildings have been converted into homes and apartments and new ones have cropped up, designed by leading Dutch architects.

The area isn’t far from Amsterdam’s Centraal Station and is best seen by bike. I rented a bike from Mac Bike, conveniently located in the station, and set out on a typically overcast Dutch autumn day with a city guide. While it was helpful to have a guide along, Mac Bike has a good map/brochure of the area if you want to go solo.

I love seeing Amsterdam by bike, and the Eastern Harbor Area and Amsterdam’s Eastern Districts are much more open than the historic center. They offer sweeping views of the harbor and the bike lanes are free of drug tourists, who have a bad habit of shuffling zombie-like in the middle of bike lanes in the city center.

%Gallery-139393%The first landmarks you see heading east from Centraal Station are the Maritime Museum’s traditional 17th century facade and the decidedly ship-like modern building for NEMO, Amsterdam’s science center pictured above. This mix of old and new continues as you go eastwards.

Several old warehouses have been converted into apartments, and a hotel that once took emigrants to the New World now serves tourists and business travelers. I found the modern buildings to be more interesting since they’re so unlike what you usually see in Amsterdam. City planners hired different architects to build different buildings on the same street so that you get a wide variety of style within the same view.

Stylized modern bridges take you from one island to the next and offer views down various canals where homeowners dock their boats. Fountains and little parks offer open areas. All in all it was a fun ride and something to consider if you like architecture or just want a healthy two or three hours away from the city center. Try to pick a better day than I did, though!

Don’t miss the rest of my series: Lowdown on the Low Countries.

Coming up next: Amsterdam’s Maritime Museum!

This trip was partially funded by Amsterdam’s Tourism and Congress Bureau and Cool Capitals. All opinions, however, are my own.

Host and experience budget-friendly local tours all over the United States

budget travel central park new yorkHipHost, a new “peer-to-peer marketplace for socially-hosted local tours“, not only gives travelers a way to experience new cities from a local’s point of view, but also gives people an opportunity to make extra cash.

Anyone who wants to share their local knowledge can be a HipHost and design a tour based on anything they find interesting. Some tour topics include art, culture, fitness, architecture, history, hiking, markets, music, and more. It’s free to sign-up and guests pay for tours in advance, so hosts don’t have to worry about losing money to no-shows.

Moreover, anyone interested in learning about a topic can search for affordable tours and see a region from a local perspective without paying big tour company prices. Afraid you won’t enjoy your tour? HipHost guarantees a full refund if customers are not satisfied.

Some of the many tours being featured right now include:

And many, many more. Click here to sign-up for and/or host a tour.

Bike Tours Direct to add 10 new countries to tour offerings


US based tour organizer Bike Tours Direct has just announced they will be adding rides in 10 new countries to their slew of tour offerings in 2012. Originally catering to bicycle tours throughout Europe, Bike Tours Direct will be expanding their riding options to include cycling holidays through destinations such as Jordan, Mexico, South Africa, and Vietnam.

With connections to over 200 different rides in what will now be over 40 countries, Bike Tours Direct represents numerous overseas cycling companies and places riders directly with tours run by local operators. The aim of the local partnerships is to not only keep money within the local communities, but also to provide riders with the most authentic and enjoyable experience possible by placing them in the care of knowledgeable local guides.

Though the company doesn’t plan to lay out it’s new website and offerings until November, examples of tours currently available include an 8-day jaunt through the fjords of Norway, 8 days of biking and boating through the Seychelles, or a 6 day venture across the Carpathian Mountains of the Ukraine. Impossible to quell any sense of wanderlust while perusing their list of offerings, the expanding list of options going into 2012 just gives this author at least 10 more reasons to simply get up and go off the grid for a little while.

[Photo courtesy: gabriel amadeus, Flickr]

Connecticut Beer Trail holds second official “Bikes and Beers” tour in Granby July 31st

connecticut beerFar be it from the People to not abide by the Constitution. On July 31st, Granby is holding its second “Bikes & Beers” tour along the Connecticut Beer Trail (it’s the Constitution State, FYI. Yeah, I didn’t know, either).

Connecticut seems obsessed with food and drink-themed pathways: there’s the new Hot Dog Trail, the Ice cream and Sundae Drive (cute), and the Wine Trail. Why the fixation? Who cares? It’s a cool idea, especially when partnered with pedaling.

Bikes & Beers is a collaboration with Connecticut’s Pedal Power bike shops. Riders will get to enjoy beautiful views along the 17.2-mile loop, as well as some cold ones at the Cambridge House Brew Pub, an award-winning producer of craft beer. It’s just one of 10 craft breweries featured on the Beer Trail, a social media organization dedicated to promoting local breweries, the craft beer community, and related tourism (how cool is that?) statewide.

Better look out, West Coast and Colorado–Connecticut’s craft brewers are gaining on you.

The Connecticut Beer Trail and Pedal Power are planning future rides; click here or go to Pedal Power’s site for updates.

[Photo credit: Flickr user roboppy]

The Right Way to Pour and Taste a Beer

VIA Rail Canada brings back bike trains for summer season

bike trainsTraveling with your two-wheeled best friend just got a whole lot easier. Since 2007, VIA Rail Canada has provided seasonal bike racks on select VIA Rail departures, as part of its mandate to provide more environmentally sustainable, affordable passenger transit. Now, the racks will be available yearound, and increased baggage cars mean that cyclists can connect to even more cycling destinations.

By taking VIA (Canada’s national rail service), you can access thousands of miles of cycling paths running from Toronto, Ottawa, Montréal, Quebec City, London, Windsor, Jonquière, and Senneterre. Popular cycling trips include Quebec’s La Route Verte (2,671 miles), the Greater Niagara Circle Route (86 miles), Ottawa’s Capital Parkway Network (136 miles) and Ontario’s Waterfront Trails (559 miles).

Using the bike trains is easy. Check your buddy at the counter for a small fee; VIA staff do the rest, reuniting you on the platform at your destination. For a full listing of VIA’s Bike Train schedules click here.

[Photo credit: Flickr user cycle.nut66]