Travel Tips

For the moment, I’ve put all of the travel tips on one page until I figure out how to re-organize it. If I’m missing something, please let me know in the comments.

AmsterdamGhentRotterdamBremenBerlinCopenhagenFiorenzuola

Amsterdam

(Apparently 2014 was the last year, a pity. Check their twitter?)

In a few words: a small, family affair. The 200m track is cozy, located inside an old warehouse, which makes you wonder why other cities don’t have a similar set-up.

Where to rent a bike: Go downtown and swing your arms, this is Amsterdam. I like Rent-a-Bike, if you haven’t yet made friends with a local who will loan you theirs.

Where to stay: Anywhere in the Oude or Nieuw West. The track is 7km-ish from the city center – with bike lanes the whole way, of course – so if it rains you’ll be grateful to have a shorter trip.

What to eat: It’s easy to make fun of Dutch cuisine, but Dutch apple pie will have you shopping for your next return ticket. Same goes for the freshly-made stroopwafels sold by street vendors. Don’t spend money on expensive, mediocre food at the track; instead, hit the original food-in-the-wall Febo for late-night, cheap mediocre food. The adventurous should try the “potato war,” french fries with onions, mayonnaise, and satay sauce.

Where to drink: Whisky Café L&B. Easy. And although Heineken is made from water from the Amstel, beer drinkers should check out the Brouwerij ‘t IJ instead. For nice coffee, you’re spoiled for choice: I like White Label but there’s also Two For Joy and Espresso Fabriek.

Hometown heroes: Team FAST Amsterdam, RIH cycles.

Et cetera: Cheap tourists go to coffee shops, which boggles the mind because there are so many better things to do in Amsterdam than get high. The Van Gogh Museum, for a start, to say nothing of the Rijksmuseum and its excellent collection. The market at Waterlooplein isn’t the most elite flea market in the world, but it’s there six days a week. Serious bargain hunters should hit IJ Hallen, the biggest flea market in Europe. Or just wander around and enjoy the brick architecture that frames the famous canals.

Ghent

(Official site)

In a few words: This is the racers’ favorite, and the tight 166m track makes for fast racing that keeps you on the edge of your seat. The classic, legendary six-day race sells out four nights at least, which gives the event a great energy but means that you’d better buy them soon or you’ll be stuck with a standing-room only ticket in the middle of the track with 1,999 other drunk guys. Get to the track early in the evening to check out the U23 races, the track cycling equivalent of seeing the NCAA finals before the NBA teams take the court.

Where to rent a bike: The Ghent tourist office has some hints, but Ghent is small enough that you can walk it.

Where to stay: Near the ‘t Kuipke track, hopefully. Ghent has more tourists than you’d expect, so I’d suggest looking for an Air B&B spot in the university neighborhood. This way, you can walk to and from the track as well as stroll downtown.

What to eat: Oysters and champagne, on Sunday morning, in the Kouter.

Where to drink: Best coffee I could find is at Café Labath. Make sure you go to Cafe Karper, the bar owned by racer Iljo Keisse’s father, it’s a must every night after the race.

Hometown heroes: Iljo Keisse is from Ghent, but if you have time to visit the bike shop Fietsen Dierk, it’s a must. Mr. Dekeyser, the owner of the shop, is a mechanic on the six-day circuit (see my interview with him here).

Et cetera: Cyclocross, anyone? In November there’s always a World Cup ‘cross race on in Flanders. If you’re in town for one or another, you’d be remiss not to check out both. If that’s not your game, at least do yourself a favor and make a stop in Brugge (the Venice of the north) or Antwerp.

If you plan on going, you’d better buy tickets ASAP. The Ghent Six sells out faster than your favorite garage band.

Rotterdam

(Official site)

In a few words: Rotterdam is the second-largest city in the Netherlands, Amsterdam’s modern sibling. Its modern architecture give it a slick, modern feel, and the six-day race is similar. The portable track is assembled in the Ahoy Arena, with all of its pro lighting and sound capabilities.

Where to rent a bike: You’re in the Netherlands, so of course you can rent a bike at the Central Station, and of course it’s cheap and easy. But do rent a bike so that you don’t have to worry about missing the last bus or train from the track, which isn’t so close to the center.

Where to stay: Anywhere, really, as long as you have a bike. If not, shoot to stay near Zuidplein.

Hometown heroes: Soigneur magazine, whose branding of the Rotterdam Six makes for the cleanest, best-looking race around.

Et cetera: Check out the Maas tunnel with wooden escalators! There’s plenty of culture on offer too, check the Photo Museum and the Kunsthal.

For the road warriors, it’s good to know that if Rotterdam and Bremen are a six-hour, €40 train ride apart; choosing to do both is cheap and easy.

Bremen

(Official site)

In a few words: If the other sixes are parties, this is a rave. This isn’t just a race, it’s a night out on the town; the arena has two stages for live music and dancing. And that’s not even counting the elaborate halftime show or the annual after-party.

Where to rent a bike: Also, right outside the train station. But you might not need it, Bremen is quite small.

Where to stay: If you can choose, the Viertel neighborhood is 3km from the track, and a trendy place to spend the morning before the race.

What to eat: Northern German food isn’t just shnitzel, try the kale & pinkel sausage. Okay, fine, maybe it is all schnitzel…

Where to drink: At the Mariott hotel, after the race, with the racers and the race entourage. Or at the arena itself, which has an open end on weekends. I had to find out the hard way that “open end” in Germany means that they don’t close until everyone leaves.

 

Berlin

(Official site)

In a few words: Big. Not just the 250m olympic track, but the 16.000-seat arena packs out during the weekend. There’s U23s, there’s womens’ racing, there’s steher racing, there’s dernies, there’s a show.

Where to rent a bike: Ask G**gle?

Where to stay: The track’s in East Berlin, so you’d do well to stay kind of close. The cool kids hang out in Kreuzburg, of course.

What to eat: A large European capital, Berlin has whatever you want. You want cheap? I’d suggest falafel, which is probably the best this side of Lebanon.

Where to drink: Hotel Michelburger. For good coffee, it’s No Fire No Glory. Amazing, amazing carrot cake.

Hometown heroes: Keirin Berlin.

Et cetera: It’s Berlin, this section could go on forever! I’ll go ahead and link to the story of the abandoned Tempelhof airport.

Copenhagen

(Official site)

In a few words: Maybe the hardest six, Copenhagen features an hour-long Madison every night. The Danish show off their development program before the men’s racing starts, with mixed boy-and-girl junior races.

Where to rent a bike: Baisikeli, or anywhere you find on Google, but think twice about it. The Ballerup Arena, where the race is held, is 15km from the city center of Copenhagen. Not a big deal for most commuters, but 15km is a long way at 1am in the snow. Still, if I did it then you can, and it beats waiting for the bus in the cold.

Where to stay: There’s probably nowhere cheap to sleep in Scandanavia, and given the long distance from the center to the track, I’d say one neighborhood is as good as another.

What to eat: Noma was recently rated the world’s best restaurant, and despite its expensive price, the place is run at a loss. For the rest of us, there’s the famous Rita’s smørrebrød or Harry’s place.

Where to drink: Great coffee is easy to find, hit Coffee Collective or even Royal Smushy.

Hometown heroes: Track Bike Shop.

Et cetera: English speakers might be amused to learn that they must ask for “Viennabrot” (Vienna bread) in order to get a Danish. And don’t visit without seeing the neighborhood of Christiania! Lastly, even non-messengers should check out the Post Office Museum, or at least interested in its entry fee: it’s free, and the café on the upper floors affords a nice view.

Fiorenzuola d’Arda

(Facebook page)

In a few words: outdoors, in Italy, in the middle of the summer.

Where to rent a bike: no idea. Fiorenzuola is a town of 15.000 inhabitants; while you could probably pay someone to bring you a bike from Piacenza (Veloce for example), it’s unnecessary unless you’re staying way out of town.

Where to stay: If you only go for the race, find a hotel in Fiorenzuola. If you have a car, think about staying in Modena or Bologna where there’s more going on, or somewhere in between. Trains out of Fiorenzuola stop running at 22.30, so if you’re not staying the night you’ll need another way out.

What to eat: This is Italy. If you have to ask, I can’t help you.

Where to drink:  Anywhere that serves an aperitivo, an open snack bar which bars usually open from 19 to 21h.

Hometown heroes: Apart from every participating Italian cyclist? Well, the Via Francigena passes through Fiorenzuola, which makes the race a good stop for those lucky enough to be on a cycle tour through Italy in the summer.

Et cetera: Check the race program, which usually shows up on the Fiorenzuola website. If you’re only going for a night or two, better to see what’s on before you book. Cheeseheads might get a kick of touring nearby Parma, and diehard cycle fans should keep in mind that the Fiorenzuola Six usually coincides with the Giro Rosa.

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