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Post 102 - Part C: Bike and Barge Trip, 10/4 thru 10/14/18

Biking and Barging through Belgium and The Netherlands

About the Barge and Bikes
Our very tiny cabin
We joined the Mitchell Family (Terry, Linn, and Krissy) for another amazing bicycle trip in Europe.  This was our fourth bike trip in Europe with them but the first for all of us on a barge.  We loved this trip, sleeping in the same bed every night and being able to unpack all your stuff was a nice perk.  On our previous bike trips we packed up every night and our luggage was transported to our next hotel.


Dining Room

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
Our bike guides were Stefanie and Lia.  They did an awesome job keeping us well informed about our daily rides.  One guide would stay with the van meeting up with us for water and snack breaks.  The other guide rode with the group making sure everyone was doing ok and that no one got lost.

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
When we got to the barge, we found our assigned cabin and changed into bike gear for a short 12 mile ride mostly along the Ghent-Bruges Canal.  The barge met us where we finished the ride and we got cleaned up and met in the dininig room for dinner.  Chef Frank was amazing!  The first night's dinner was a pasta dish with Tiramisu for dessert - yum!

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
Monday was another chilly day but there was very little wind.  We rode 36.5 miles mostly through farm land. We ended the ride in Antwerp where we met our barge.  36 miles sounds like a lot but it was broken into 3 segments and was very "do-able".  After the first 23 miles we stopped and picked up some sandwiches and ate outside near Wisserkerke Castle.  Our last 13 miles included a ride down an elevator with all our bikes, through a long tunnel under the river, and then back up the elevator.  Europe is very bike-friendly!

A little Antwerp history

Google means the same thing in any language
Tuesday was a "no-biking" day.  We walked to the old section of town with our group and toured the Cathedral.  We were then on our own and off we went looking for chocolate shops.  We stopped to take a break in the main square and were approached by some students (4th grade?) on a field trip.  They had a sheet of paper with questions to be answered.  They asked us if we knew how many clocks were on the cathedral - we didn't but boy did their eyes light up when we said the word google!  We looked it up for them and off they went, I hope the information we gave them was correct.

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
Antwerp is Europe's largest harbor (after Rotterdam) and it was fascinating seeing all the cargo ships traveling the waterways.

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!

Dry Ingredients

Add a little chicken broth

And you get a delicious soup
Marty, Marco, Mary and Petra
After dinner we were invited in groups of 2-4 to visit a local family.  I was a bit apprehensive about this, we were tired and I wasn't sure how it would go.  We met Marco who walked up over to his house where his wife, Petra was waiting to meet us.  They offered us some cheese and some Ketel (vodka?).  With a little alcohol in us the evening was quite pleasant.  They both spoke English very well, Petra works for a company based in London and has an English accent and Marco works for a company based in Scotland and can put on a Scottish brogue when the mood strikes him.  They were delightful.  They gave us a tour of their whole house, it was built in the early 1900's so not as old as many of their neighbors.  Up in the attic they took us through a door which led out to a small deck overlooking the neighborhood.    My favorite part of the evening was discovering that Petra was a reader and belonged to a book club and they had just finished reading a book about Barack Obama.  Europeans that we talked to throughout our trip loved President Obama and can't figure out how Trump happened (neither can we).

On Wednesday it was back on the bikes for a total of 28 miles.  It was a very pleasant day for riding, temperatures were in the 60's and 70's and we had sunny skies.

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.

Lunch break
 We continued our ride to our lunch spot between two windmills near the town of Weesp.  After lunch it was time to get back on the bikes for the ride I had been dreading - the ride into Amsterdam.  There are more bikes in Amsterdam than cars and it's scary to ride with all those bikes and not be sure of where you're going.  Our ride leader, Stefanie, assured us we'd be fine and had everyone wait at the last break spot (McDonalds) so that we could ride in to Amstedam together.  She was a really good guide, always checking to make sure everyone was there; her motto was "Stand your ground", don't worry about anybody but yourself - they are very used to bicycles in the Netherlands.

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
We had a final breakfast and then Stefanie walked us to our Amsterdam hotel and we said our goodbyes.

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
When we left the museum we were getting hungry so Krissy looked up "Dutch" places to eat.  The first one we stopped at wasn't big enough for our group of 7 but right across the street was a very nice place and we had our Dutch Dinner.  All three men ordered mussels which came in a very large pot, they all seemed to enjoy it.  I think Kirsi, Krissy and I all had the "Stamppot" which was basically meat and potatoes and was very good.  Sorry, Linn, I can't remember what you ordered.

800,000 people and 1.2 million bikes in Amsterdam
We "ran" into Tukka and Kirsi as we were leaving for the airport
We were being picked up at 8:00 the next morning (Sunday, 10/14) for our 11:00 flight so we said our good-byes.  We had a wonderful time biking and barging and meeting new friends and catching up with family. What great memories we have of Europe.

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

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