Biking and Barging through Belgium and The Netherlands
About the Barge and Bikes
|Our very tiny cabin|
The barge (Fiep, named for the owner's daughter) was much nicer than we expected. The rooms were tiny but manageable. The lounge area was plenty big enough for our group of 21, the dining area was downstairs from the lounge and was very comfortable with three tables.
There was a small crew on the barge - Captain Cuba (pronounced koyba), Chef Frank, Karin (Jill of all Trades) and Tomik (deck hand). They did an amazing job all week keeping everyone happy and well fed.
|Lia and Stefanie, our fearless leaders|
This was a trip planned through Vermont Bike Tours and everyone in our group was from the United States. 6 people were from Virginia, 2 from Florida, 1 from New Hampshire, 1 from Minnesota, 2 from Washington State, 2 from Califorina, 3 from New York, 2 from Michigan and 2 from Chicago.
E-Bikes (electronic bikes) were an available option and 7 people chose them. Since we were riding in the "Low Countries" we chose regular road bikes with 27 speeds.
Biking and Touring
We left Chicago on Thursday, 10/4 on a 5:50 PM flight and arrived in Brussels at 9:00 the next morning. We were met and driven into Bruges, Belgium and arrived at our hotel around 12:00 noon on Friday (5:00 AM Chicago time and we did not sleep on the airplane due to their very fine selection of movies) I was very happy when our room became available at 2:30 (7:30 AM Chicago time so we were up 24 hours straight, I'm getting too old for this) We took a short nap and then walked over to the main square for dinner. It was nice enough to eat outside.
We started our trip on Saturday from Bruges. We were meeting our bike leaders at 12:30 in the hotel lobby so we had a little bit of time to walk around. We decided to visit the St. John Hospital Museum. This Hospital opened in the 1100's! We walked through what had been the hospital and the pharmacy. The hospital was an open room where nuns attended all the patients. It was pretty interesting but there was very little signage in English.
Once back at the hotel we met up with the our group and our group leaders and walked about a mile and a half to where our barge was docked. As we walked thru Bruges, Group Leader Lia pointed out interesting sites and explained what we were seeing.
|Linn, Krissy, and Terry in Bruges, Belgium|
We woke up Sunday to a very windy day with temperatures in the 60's. We started the day with a guided boat tour through the city canals of Ghent, Belgium. We got off the boat in the old section of Ghent and walked over to the flower market with Linn, Terry and Krissy. Then it was time for a snack break (waffles and hot chocolate - it was chilly outside). We walked back to the meeting place and took a taxi to our bikes. We rode 18 miles from Melle to Dendermonde on flat ground but the wind blowing at us from the north made it feel like we were riding uphill. The first half of the ride was rough but once we had a water and snack break it felt easier. We were back on the barge by 4:00 and up on deck for a beer tasting at 5:30. Our dinner was at 6:30 with pork tenderloin for me and baked cod for Marty.
|Misty morning biking|
|A little Antwerp history|
|Google means the same thing in any language|
From the main square it was a short walk back to the barge. It was also a very interesting walk as we realized that we had wandered into the "Red-Light District" of Antwerp. How did we realize this? Well the very scantily clad ladies in each of the store front windows was a pretty good clue. Did I mention that it was only noon? I wonder what it's like it there in the evening.
Once on the barge it was time to sail out of Belgium and into The Netherlands. It's interesting being on the barge - the captain has to synchronize with bridges to be raised and locks to be gone through. Our stop for this night was in Tholen, Netherlands.
|Our barge going through the raised bridge in Antwerp|
Our dinner on Tuesday was the most spectacular of all the evenings. Chef Frank prepared an Indonesian smorgasbord. I didn't write down the name of any of the dishes but it was all really good!
|Add a little chicken broth|
|And you get a delicious soup|
|Marty, Marco, Mary and Petra|
The first part of our ride took us to the village of Oud-Vossemeer, the ancestral home of the Roosevelt Family. We stopped at the local museum and learned about the Dutch Roosevelts. We continued riding and ended up in the town of Willemstad around 1:30. We ate lunch on the barge as it sailed through the canals to the town of Dordrecht (oldest city in Holland).
Once we docked, Marty and I took a stroll through the town and then headed back to the barge. I stayed on the barge to read and Marty went back out with a few other people. He came back with a hair cut!
|If the shoe fits......|
Thursday started out overcast and a little cooler. As we ate breakfast the barge sailed to the UNESCO site Kinderdijk. We started our ride on the western corner of the "Alblasserwaard Polder" (diked-in-land) which is surrounded by 19 traditional windmills. We went inside one and were able to climb up, it was pretty steep going up the ladder so I only went up to the first landing. The windmill we were in was built in the 1700's but a few kilometers down the path we saw some from the 1500's. We continued the morning ride of 17.5 miles and met up with the barge for lunch. I elected to stay on the barge for the afternoon (after all it is a BARGE and bike trip). It was very relaxing sitting on the deck reading and watching the world go by.
|This windmill was built in the 1500's|
|A more modern windmill (from the 1700's)|
The afternoon ride was 16.25 miles with two ferry crossings. Marty did that and gets bragging rights that he did all the miles.
Our barge docked in the town of Vianen and after another delicious dinner we strolled through the town and visited the local carnival. Looked like fun but our carnival ride days are over.
Friday was our last riding day and the weather was perfect! The barge sailed us to the town of Breukelen. We crossed the original Brooklyn Bridge and rode into Breukelen town the home of the first settlers to New Amsterdam (New York). We stopped at a cheese farm, toured the factory and sampled many different cheeses, it was hard to leave without buying something. I was tempted but didn't want to deal with lugging a round of cheese home on the airplane.
We did survive the last few miles into Amsterdam with only one slight issue (we stopped for a light and unwittingly blocked the path for the people going right and one man was not happy with us - oh well). We were happy to see our docked barge in Amsterdam but sad that our biking was over. We had one last dinner on the barge (Steak and potatoes with chocolate mousse for dessert). Marty presented everyone with a polaroid of themselves and Jackie and Chuch made up awards and gave us each a piece of chocolate. Then it was time to pack up our bags to be ready to leave the barge at 9:00 AM on Satuday.
|Last night on the barge, time for a group photo|
Our luggage was dropped off at the hotel for us but it was too early to check in so some of us (Linn, Terry, Krissy, Jackie, Chuch, Marty and I) walked around and found an outdoor cafe right on a canal that served crepes. We hung around there for a while watching the canal traffice and then checked in at the hotel.
Kirsi and Tukka flew in from Finland to meet up with us. Kirsi was an exchange student who stayed at the Mitchell's while she was in high school. Marty and I met them when they did the bike trip with us back in 2008. It was very nice to see them again.
We had reservations for the Anne Frank House at 3:45. It was overwhelming to see the "Annex" where the Franks and the four others lived for over two years. It's a very well done museum and you actually walk upstairs to where they lived. I bought the book just to say that it came from the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam (I did the same thing in Monroeville, AL when I bought "To Kill a Mockingbird", I think I've found a new thing to collect).
|Anne Frank House Museum|
|800,000 people and 1.2 million bikes in Amsterdam|
|We "ran" into Tukka and Kirsi as we were leaving for the airport|
Sunday happened to be my birthday and since we left Amsterdam at 11:00 AM and arrived in Chicago at 1:00 PM but flew for 8 hours I had a 30 hour birthday! I thought that was kind of neat. I also enjoyed the ticket agent and the security agent both telling me congratulations. I guess when you're my age they don't say Happy Birthday anymore just congratulations for making it to my age??
Here's a link to a few more pictures:
And here are our biking totals for the week:
Saturday: 12 miles
Sunday: 18 miles
Monday: 36 miles
Tuesday: no biking
Wednesday: 28 miles
Thursday: 18 miles for Mary and 33 for Marty
Friday: 26 miles
138 miles for Mary and 153 miles for Marty