On the ski hills, on the bike trails, and thru life in general

Archive for June, 2014

Leiden – Katwijk – Noordwijk Loop

June 9 – Monday.  Back on the bikes. We went to the rental shop to pick up our bikes, and a motley group they were. Some 8-speeds, some 3-speeds, some with hand brakes, and all internal hub. Mine was the only single speed coaster of the bunch. I haven’t rode one of those since I was 12 but what the hell. I have seen lots of locals riding them so they are obviously suitable for the terrain. Except for the split second of terror the first few times I went to grab the non-existent hand brakes and then realize that I had to use my feet instead, the bike wasn’t too bad. The gearing was such that I had no trouble on the minor elevation changes that pass for hills here (the steepest “hills” are the canal overpasses), although my cadence got a bit high when our speed got over 23 or so.

After adjusting all the bikes to fit, Ad led us out of Leiden at 10 a.m. Twenty minutes later, we were crossing the Rhine on a cute little free ferry, only big enough to take half our group at a time.

Tiny community ferry across the Rhine.

Tiny community ferry across the Rhine.

Soon we were in Katwijk, which is only 11 km away from Leiden and on the coast of the North Sea. It is beach community and very popular with the locals and tourists for good reason. It was our first encounter with the beaches of Holland and they are freakin’ HUGE! We stopped for a coffee, then continued another 10 km up the coast to Noordwijk for a longer break. The sand dunes between the 2 towns are spectacular and not what I expected of the Dutch countryside. Since it was sunny, 27C, and a long holiday weekend to boot, the trails and towns were packed with locals and tourists.

Bikes parked by the beach in Katwijk.

Bikes parked by the beach in Katwijk.

Bike trail through the dunes between Katwijk and Noordwijk, with a separate walking trail (unpaved) off to the side.

Bike trail through the dunes between Katwijk and Noordwijk, with a separate walking trail (unpaved) off to the side.

After grabbing some lunch, a few of us went wading in the North Sea. The beach sand was a perfect consistency – not too fine, not too coarse – and felt great underfoot. It was a little disconcerting to see how many jellyfish were floating around though. We weren’t sure if they packed a punch or not so we tried to avoid them. The ones that washed up on shore looked like big eyeballs :/ The other waders didn’t seem too perturbed though.

The beach at Noordwijk.

The beach at Noordwijk.

Lucille collecting shells and avoiding jellyfish.

Lucille collecting shells and avoiding jellyfish.

Shimmery eyeball-looking jellyfish.

Shimmery eyeball-looking jellyfish washed up on shore.

After we had played/ate/drank for 2 hours, it was time to get back on the bikes and continue our loop back to Leiden. Great day, great trails, great scenery, great group.

Trying to find our bikes among the hundreds parked at the beach.

Trying to find our bikes among the hundreds parked at the beach.

The seniors peleton on the way back to Leiden.

The seniors peleton on the way back to Leiden.

Donna, Gerry and Lucille obviously not having any fun.

Donna, Gerry and Lucille obviously not having any fun.

Rode 50 km for the day.

Route: Leiden – Katwijk – Noordwijk – Leiden

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A Weekend in Leiden

June 7 – Saturday.  We said good bye to the barge crew and most of our group set out on the 20 minute walk to Amsterdam Central Station at around 8:45a.m. A beautiful morning and an easy walk even though we were pulling luggage. Got our ticket to Leiden and found the right track (the station is huge) and we were on the train by 9:20. The route took us past Schiphol airport so there were a bunch of other people lugging heavy bags around too. Half hour to Schiphol, another half hour to Leiden and a 5 minute walk to our hotel, which was right across the street from the Central Station. Things were going too smoothly to last! Got to the Ibis Leiden and found out that, even though they had the confirmed reservations for our room, they did not have a room for us! WTF!! Just the 3 rooms that required twin beds though – the other couples that booked double beds were fine. Obviously there was a screw-up when the booking was made. The desk clerk, Pricilla, was adamant that we had to stay in rooms that they found for us, after much calling around, at a Hilton – a 10 minute car ride away. So she booked the Hilton rooms (more expensive, and she refused to pay the difference) but said that, if some of the Ibis booked people didn’t show up by 6 p.m., they would give their rooms to us. Whoop-dee-do.  Grrr… So, feeling more than a little pissed with the Ibis Hotel chain, we set out to wander the city and see the sights. And do a much needed laundry.

Taking our luggage for a walk, on the way to Central Station (across the pedestrian bridge in left distance)

Taking our luggage for a walk, on the way to Central Station (across the pedestrian bridge in left distance)

The barge harbour, with Central Station just out of sight in left distance.

The barge harbour, from the Gandalf, with Central Station just out of sight in left distance.

Leiden is an old university town, birthplace and early home of Rembrandt, and has the same relaxed feeling as Bruges. After finding the laundry, about a 20-minute walk from the hotel, we left off the dirty clothes and just wandered around. We would be spending 6 days here, so there was no rush to tour museums today. Canals abound and, with the similar architecture everywhere, the streets started to blur together after a while, for me anyway. Thankfully, Darryl and his iPad maps prevented us from getting hopelessly lost. And keep track of where the interesting bars and restaurants were.

Mike having, umm, lunch at the North End English Pub, waiting for laundry to finish.

Mike having, umm, lunch at the North End English Pub, waiting for laundry to finish.

Yes - those are downhill skis strapped to that car. In Leiden. In summer. There must be a story there.

Yes – those are downhill skis strapped to that car. In Leiden. In summer. There must be a story there.

Back at the laundry to pick up the now de-toxified cycling apparel, we ran into Lucille. She was in the same situation as Gerry and me – a reservation but no room – but wasn’t concerned. “Oh, I spoke to the manager. We all have rooms now.” Eh? Nick and Gordon had argued with the female desk clerk for half an hour and got nowhere. Lucille turns on the charm with the male manager and voila, all is copacetic. Maybe if the manager was on duty when we got there we would have been successful too but you can’t argue with success. Or women apparently.

Walking through Leiden with our clean laundry. Hooray!  At least the dogs weren't following us anywore, thinking there was something dead in those bags.

Gerry and Darryl walking through Leiden with our clean laundry. Hooray! At least the dogs weren’t following us anymore, thinking there was something dead in those bags.

June 8 – Sunday.  We woke to light rain in morning but, being hungry and all, that didn’t stop us from looking for some place to have breakfast. We could have noshed at the hotel but Gerry & I wanted to find a nice café somewhere. Although we saw lots of bustling cafes yesterday, everything was shut up tight this morning. We wandered down one of the main shopping streets but you could have shot a cannon down there and not hit a soul. Had the zombie apocalypse arrived? Where the hell was everybody? It seems that, on Sundays anyway, Leiden doesn’t get moving until after 10 a.m. We eventually found take away place and took our coffee and muffins across street to sit at an unopened outdoor café, albeit on damp chairs from the earlier rain.

Sunday morning, 10 a.m., in Leiden. Is anybody home?

Sunday morning, 10 a.m., in Leiden. Is anybody home?

We started to do a slow, unplanned and disorganized tour of the town. We came across the Latin school, a small building where Rembrandt had his early education. Nearby is the former jail, in the shadow of Pieterskirk, a former church now rented out for special events. The square by the jail is where all the public executions used to take place, prior to the corpses being removed for display just outside the town gates. I wonder how many of these affairs a young and impressionable Rembrandt got to witness.

The peaked building is The Latin School, where Rembrandt received his early education.

The peaked building is The Latin School, where Rembrandt received his early education.

Gerry in the square by the jail, where the public executions were held.

Gerry in the square by the jail, where the public executions were held.

Since our breakfast left a little to be desired, like food, we stopped for an early lunch at one of the, thankfully, now open cafes. After a welcome beer and sandwich, we continued to wander. We came across Brian and Susan in the Botanic Park, the oldest garden in the Netherlands and a part of the University of Leiden.

Entrance to the botanic park, part of University of Leiden.

Entrance to the botanic park, part of University of Leiden.

Every botanic park should have a stegosaurus hiding in the shrubbery.

Every botanic park should have a stegosaurus hiding in the shrubbery.

10-foot wide lily pads. Thankfully, no similar sized bullfrogs on top.

10-foot wide lily pads. Thankfully, no similar sized bullfrogs on top.

While enjoying the grounds, I noticed a sign pointing to the observatory. I had seen the domes the day before, while walking on the other side of the canal that borders the park, but hadn’t realized the buildings were part of the botanic park. Gerry and I walked over but, no sooner had we entered the museum part and started to browse, when a fellow asked us if we wanted a tour of the place. He took us and a few other people outside and attempted to open a locked gate to the grounds, to give us a surface tour of the facilities. His key card, which he said he had trouble with before, wouldn’t unlock the gate though. He said “Well, I’m not supposed to do this, but would you like to have an inside tour instead?” So he led us back into the main building, through a maze of corridors and stairs and up into one of the observatory domes. He gave us a half-hour talk on the history of the place, the telescope and how it works, and a tour of the former astronomy library (now full of law books – the astro library is now with the new astronomy building, some ways out of town). It is too bright in town to use the scopes anymore but they are still used to teach students how they function.

The 1900-era 7-inch refractor in one of the domes.

The 1900-era dual telescope (7-inch and 4-inch) in one of the domes.

The main astronomy building with 2 domes. Two more separate domes are nearby.

The main astronomy building with 2 observatory domes. Two more separate domes are nearby.

That evening, we all gathered at our hotel to meet our tour guide for the next 3 days. Ad guided Darryl, Donna and JoAnn last year on a Loire Valley trip and Darryl arranged for him to come from his home in northern Holland to lead us on 3 day trips out of Leiden. We all decided on the area/cities we wanted to see, approximate distances and such, and left the details on how to get there to Ad. It looked like we would have a great 3 more days of cycling.

Breukelen to Amsterdam

June 6 – Friday. A cloudless blue sky greeted us for our final day of riding off the Gandalf. We left our moorage in Vreeswijk around 0715 in order to get through some locks on time. We cruised through the locks at the start of the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal then north on the canal until we arrived at Breukelen two hours later. The original Breukelen, not that poser in New York (formerly New Amsterdam). We off loaded the bikes for the last time and set off, passing through some upscale neighborhoods in Luenen. You could tell that from the mansions on the canals, with boathouses and fancy lake-going yachts in their “front” yards. Stopped for a break at a small locks, for pleasure boats entering the main canal system and watched the operator position a few boats, collect the €4 fare and send them on their way.

Getting ready to start the day. Blue sky is always welcome.

Getting ready to start the day. Blue sky is always welcome.

The baby locks at Luenen, sized for pleasure craft.

The baby locks at Luenen, sized for pleasure craft.

Actually, because we made better time cruising on the canal and riding than Tom had planned, this was a delaying tactic. He had scheduled a tour of a grist windmill a short distance away but it wasn’t open yet. We were getting antsy so we biked the extra kilometre to the windmill and hung around there until they were ready for our tour of De Hoop, the name of this mill. The volunteer tour guide, a former teacher, found some kindred spirits with all the former teachers in our group! He gave us the history of the grist mill, showing us how everything operated on each of the 4 floors open for the tour. The price of the tour included coffee, so all was good.

De Hoop, a historic grist mill.

De Hoop, a historic grist mill.

View from the vane deck.

View from the vane deck.

After 90 minutes, we set off again, for a short half-hour ride to the town of Abcoude, where we would have lunch. From there, we followed a towpath beside the Amstel River right into the outskirts of Amsterdam. For the whole week, a few of us had been trying to get Tom to stop at cycle shops we passed along the way to check out their stock of cycling jerseys. Unfortunately, every one was closed when we passed or time would not permit us to stop or, if we did, they did not sell jerseys. We discovered that most of the cycle shops do not sell jerseys – jackets and rain gear, yes, but not jerseys. We didn’t want anything generic – we could buy plain jerseys back home. We wanted something that identified the jersey as Dutch. Tom was promising that we would find one today and finally, in Ouder-Amstel, he came through. The De Haan shop had lots of selection and sold at least 10 jerseys, and even socks and gloves, to the group. Laden down with our purchases, we continued our ride into Amsterdam. Once off the towpaths and quiet streets, some of the riding in Amsterdam was a little daunting. The city is literally crammed with bikes and cyclists whiz past with rarely a bell or a signal. They know where they are going and it’s up to the tourists to pay attention or suffer the consequences. It was also our introduction to signal lights on the cycle lanes. Bike traffic is so thick that there are separate traffic lights for vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists! After a great day of riding, we arrived at the barge docks near the NEMO science centre at 1630.

Waiting for the red bicycle light to turn green.

Waiting for the red bicycle light to turn green.

After supper on the Gandalf, Tom took us for a walking tour around town. When he is not guiding tourists on bike-barge trips, he operates a bicycle rickshaw in Amsterdam so he knows the city. We started with a canal tour, to get a water-level view, then he led us over to the red-light district. Actually red-light lanes, as all the action is in windows down narrow lanes. Lots of inebriated testosterone wandering those lanes though! Pot cafes were pretty common, judging by the smells wafting on the breeze, and people openly smoking up.

Throughout our walking tour, we would constantly be hearing sirens – police cars, ambulances, fire engines.  Is this place under attack or something?  Thankfully, it was the something.  Once a year, on the feast of Pentecost, Amsterdam emergency services give disabled kids rides in their vehicles with sirens blaring. Kind of a special day for special needs kids – neat thing to do.  Overall, a very interesting city. It’s the same size as Edmonton but infinitely more vibrant and social. Yes, it has the history but even the new buildings – the library, NEMO, the performance center, etc – attract the eye. Looking forward to spending 3 more days here after our time in Leiden next week.

One of the red-light lanes, populated by drunk tourists and pick pockets.

One of the red-light lanes, populated by drunk tourists and pick pockets.

Waxing moon over statue. Art is everywhere.

Waxing moon over statue. Art is everywhere.

Moon over canal at 10 p.m.

Moon over canal at 10 p.m.

Breukelen to Amsterdam

Breukelen to Amsterdam

Route from Breukelen to Amsterdam

Rode 39 km

Alblasserdam to Schoonhoven

June 5 – Thursday. The drawbridge blocking our moorage was scheduled to be raised at 0730 so our timing to leave Dordrecht was dictated for us. We cruised north on the river for about 5 kms, docked briefly at Alblasserdam to off load, then cycled from there. The forecast for today was rain later in the day so the original plan to cycle over 50 km was changed to do a shorter distance and hopefully beat the rain. After 5 km we entered the Kinderdijk area, which has many now non-functional windmills of the old design. In the past, these windmills were used to pump out the water from inside the dykes (very few of the windmills in Holland were used for milling grain). Thomas said that there used to be about 11,000 operating windmills but now there are only about 1100 of the classic design left. The pumping from this area is now handled by huge Archimedes screws.

Archemedes Screw, used for pumping water over the dikes.

Huge Archemedes screws, the modern way to pump water over the dikes.

Examining our Kinderdijk route, hoping we stay dry.

Examining our Kinderdijk route, hoping we stay dry.

Some of the many windmills in the Kinderdijk area.

Some of the many windmills in the Kinderdijk area.

It must have been impressive when all these windmills were operating.

It must have been impressive when all these windmills were operating. None turn now.

Fortunately, the weather forecast for rain was wrong and we were able to stay dry while riding. We rode leisurely through the windmill area, stopping often to admire the views as well as stripping off layers as we went. When the sun peeked out it through the clouds, as it did often, it was strong and everyone had dressed for a cool day with rain! Proof positive that weather forecasters the world over still have trouble getting it right :/ We stopped for coffee at Nieupoort then biked over to the ferry landing for the short trip across the river to Schoonhoven. Once there, we all spread out to different places to have lunch (and beer) and while away the time until the Gandalf was due to pick us up. Good timing, since the rain then started up in earnest. Ironically, the only time we got wet was when we were walking around the town – didn’t get wet while riding at all. Schoonhoven is a historical silversmithing town and Thomas took us to one of the shops that also functioned as a silver work museum. The manager took great pride in showing us his most elaborate and expensive items, not that anyone of us could remotely afford them. As expected, even the trinkets were overpriced.

Coffee in Nieupoort.

Coffee in Nieupoort.

Waiting for the ferry over to Schoonhoven.

Waiting for the ferry over to Schoonhoven.

This was the largest ferry we were on. Foot and bicycle traffic was secondary to vehicles.

This was the largest ferry we were on. Foot and bicycle traffic was secondary to vehicles.

Once back on board the Gandalf, we motored on the Lek River for a few hours to Vreeswijk, just south of Utrecht, where we moored for the night. Across the river from us, there were what appeared to be houseboats. But after a second look, some appeared to bi-levels. Concrete boxes sunk in the water so the house can have a lower level? Rooms for hobbits? Hope they float or that the water level doesn’t fluctuate. After supper, Tom led a short bike trip to Viannen to see the historic part of the town. On the way back to the boat, we stopped at a beach bar for (expensive) drinks and a group picture. In France, two years ago, we had our group picture taken on a play structure, so we figured why break with tradition? Tom was bemused with all these seniors clambering atop a jungle gym but he humoured us anyway.

The Gandalf moored in Vreeswijk

The Gandalf moored in Vreeswijk

Do these houses float? Bi-level houseboats?

Do these houses float? Bi-level houseboats?

Group picture on the jungle gym. Tradition has been maintained.

Group picture on the jungle gym. Tradition has been maintained.

Alblasserdam to Schoonhoven

Alblasserdam to Schoonhoven

June 5 route – Alblassrrdam to Schoonhoven

Rode 33 km before supper, 12 km after supper.

Antwerp to Dordrecht

June 4 – Wednesday. We had to get out of the Antwerp harbour before we could start riding again so the barge cast off early. We departed at 0630 and cruised for about an hour and a half through this absolutely immense harbour before docking again. Antwerp is the second largest port in Europe, after Rotterdam, and it is just a maze of canals, inlets, jetties, tank farms, warehouses, ships of all sizes and, of course, windmills. Not the traditional quaint Dutch type but the huge wind-turbine type. Although the weather was cool and drizzly, most of us sat on deck with our morning coffee and watched the bustle of activity around us. Eventually Pim, our cook, came on deck and announced that we had crossed the border and we were now in Holland.

Canals between Antwerp and our start point for the day.

The massive harbour between Antwerp and our start point for the day, just across the NL border.

A grey, overcast day in Antwerp harbour.

A grey, overcast day in Antwerp harbour.

The wind farm at our drop off point. At least 12 turbines can be seen (more if the picture was better)

The wind farm at our drop off point. At least 12 turbines can be seen (more if the picture was better)

We started our ride at a moorage on a canal just south of the Oosterschelde, the large eastern outlet of the Schelde River into the North Sea. Rain was threatening the whole time and finally started falling once we set off. Thankfully, this was to be our shortest ride of the week. We stopped for coffee, after only 14 km, at a Stayokay Hostel outside Bergen op Zoom. Trying to dry out the raingear was pretty futile but the hot coffee was welcome. It had warmed up a bit so most people were as wet under their (supposedly breathable) raingear as if they hadn’t worn any. If nothing else, the jackets and pants acted as wetsuits so no one got chilled. We took off again after a half hour break and rode a short distance to the Bergen op Zoom Canadian War Cemetery where almost 1000 WW2 Canadian soldiers are buried, killed retaking that area from the Germans. Another 90 minutes of riding in the rain and we were at out barge pick-up point, in the Scheldt-Rhine Canal just beside Tholen. We ate our lunch back on the barge and cruised canals and locks for the next 3 hours until arriving in Dordrecht. Hans backed the barge under a cute little drawbridge into a tiny moorage, just big enough to fit us, it seemed, and we settled in for the evening.

Bergen op Zoom Canadian War Cemetery. Almost 1000 Canadians buried or remembered here.

Bergen op Zoom Canadian War Cemetery. Almost 1000 Canadians buried or remembered here.

Cute little drawbridge enclosing our moorage in Dordrecht.

Cute little drawbridge enclosing our moorage in Dordrecht.

The short cycling route around the east end of the Oosterschelde.

The short cycling route around the east end of the Oosterschelde.

Route map for June 4, 2014.

Rode 32 kms.

St. Amands to Antwerp

June 3 – Tuesday.  Instead of cycling from the place where we docked last night, on the outskirts of Dendermonde, the Gandalf cast off her lines at 0730 and motored another 14 km, about 1.5 hrs, down the Schelde River to St. Amands. We pulled up alongside the Magnifique, a more luxurious and classier bike barge, and moored to it while we unloaded the bikes over her deck to the shore. I’m sure that there was a bike route to get us to the same spot but I think that Tom wanted to save some time so that we could linger at our next stop, which happened to be less than a kilometre away. He led us to an art gallery run by a couple who lived there during the summer but spent their winters in Mozambique digging fossils and semi-precious stones and turning them into works of art. Even the home/gallery was hand made from recycled local stones and African rocks. We spent an hour looking at his creations and some of the group bought some small jewellery items to take home. Seeing as the gallery is basically in the middle of nowhere, the owner was quite happy to give us a grand tour through the place. I think he must rely on cycle tourists for much of his sales.

Tying up to the Magnifique and unloading our bikes.

Tying up to the Magnifique and unloading our bikes.

Owner-built house/gallery in St. Amands

Owner-built house/gallery in St. Amands

Small items for display and sale in the gallery. Lots of fossils.

Small items for display and sale in the gallery. Lots of fossils.

Sculptures on display in one of the rooms

Sculptures on display in one of the rooms

Back on the bikes, we rode beside the Schelde for some time, eventually crossing a bridge into Temse.

The bridge we crossed on was new and Tom pointed out that the older one beside it, a heavy steel beam truss affair, was designed by a person whose name we would recognize – a certain Monsieur Eiffel. Apparently he designed a lot of the bridges in Belgium and France, as well as a little tower in Paris. Time for most of the group to wander over to a café to have a coffee. I, however, lingered a little too long by my bike and was buttonholed by a local who was walking his dog and trying to save my soul. “Are you a believer?” says he in broken English. Unsure whether he was referring to Justin or The Big Guy in the Sky, I hedged my bets. “Umm, sure” I said hesitantly, not wanting to provoke him. That did little good. Even that was enough to set him off in an over-repetitive story of how he was saved and how everyone should be a belieber, uh, believer. Not wanting to be rude and make a bad example of Canadians in general, I humoured him for the next 20 minutes until I had my own version of being saved by my confreres returning from their break.

We continued on beside the Schelde until the town of Rupelmonde, the home town of Gerardus Mercator, the map maker. (And here I thought that his first name was Transverse. Sorry – bad geography joke.) Time for some photos and off again for another half-hour to lunch in Bazel. Tom took us to a former chateau, with it’s own private lake, that had been taken over by the town for non-payment of taxes and was now a kind of community hall. Pretty place and a good choice for a lunch stop, seeing as it had a bar attached.

Statue of Mercator in Temse

Statue of Mercator in Rupelmonde

Pretty chateau lunch stop in Temse

Pretty chateau lunch stop in Bazel

Back on the bikes for our ride into Antwerp. I loved the layout of the route we took into the city. We were on a wide, red-coloured bike path. Beside that was a grassy verge, then a narrow pedestrian path, then the road. Biker heaven. No conflicts with cars or pedestrians, everyone knows where they belong.

Road into Antwerp with well designated car, pedestrian and bike areas.

Road into Antwerp with well designated car, pedestrian and bike areas.

What came next was new to all of us. We had to cross the Schelde again, but this time via a tunnel built solely for pedestrians and cyclists (imagine having one of those in Edmonton!). However, we first had to take our bikes down an escalator before traversing the tunnel, then escalate them back up again. Tom explained the tricks of handling a bike on an escalator so we wouldn’t kill anyone or look like total tools (going down – turn the front wheel perpendicular and stand beside the seat; going up – wheel perpendicular again but stand behind the seat. It’s easier to hold it that way. If you’ve got it right, you can hold the bike with one hand. If you don’t have it right, it’s going to be a long ride while you wrestle with a bike that seems to have a mind of it’s own) and down we went. Thankfully, everyone was able to manage, though it was touch-and-go at times.

Preparing to load our bikes and ourselves onto the escalator.

Preparing to load our bikes and ourselves onto the escalator.

And down we go, trying desperately not to cause a bike avalanche.

And down we go, trying desperately not to cause a bike avalanche.

Riding through the tunnel (without making immature echoey noises).

Riding through the tunnel (for once without making immature echoey noises).

Mike trying to keep his bike under control on the way up.

Mike trying to keep his bike under control on the way up. The locals behind me don’t seem too concerned. Ignorance is bliss.

We found the Gandalf moored in one of the many little protected harbours right near the MAS, the largest, and newest, museum in Antwerp. Unfortunately, we arrived after closing time but the roof top observatory was open so we got a great view of the city and our moorage.

The MAS (Museum aan de Stroom) over our harbour.

The MAS (Museum aan de Stroom) over our harbour.

From the MAS rooftop, our harbour with a 3-master and Gandalf in far distance.

From the MAS rooftop, our harbour with a 3-master and Gandalf in far distance.

Route from St. Amands to Antwerp

June 3rd route St Amands to Antwerp.

June 3rd route
St Amands to Antwerp.

Rode 39 km

Ghent to Dendermonde

June 2 – Monday. Because of a time constraint in getting to a lock, the Gandalf had to motor for a few kilometres on the canal before we could begin our ride for the day. Even so, we still started shortly after 9 a.m. It was a beautiful, warm day and there were to be a few highlights over the course of it. After more towpaths, streets and trails, our first stop was in Wetteren for a quick snack and a tour of the city hall. This area of Belgium participates in the Festival of the Giants, a ritual originating in the mid 15th century. The town constructs elaborate giant figures and parades them through town, carried by (very strong) people concealed inside them. Two of the giants are kept in the town hall and we were allowed to view them.

The Gandalf getting rid of us for the day.

The Gandalf getting rid of us for the day.

Happy to be back on the road for another day.

Happy to be back on the road for another day.

Lucille and the giant.

Lucille and the giant. I think 2 people have to carry that one :/

Then it was off through the countryside for our next stop, a ferry ride across the canal. These ferries are small but less expensive than building a bridge for the predominantly rural clientele. Our group of 20 cyclists was probably the largest group seen in a while but it was able to hold all of us in one go..

More wooded trails...

More wooded trails…

and narrow streets...

and narrow streets…

and country lanes.

and country lanes.

Waiting for the ferry.

Waiting for the ferry.

We were following a road when Tom had us park off to the side while he headed over to a farmhouse. A few minutes later he comes out and says that we should have lunch on their lawn and that “the ice cream would be ready shortly”. No further encouragement was needed. Although there were no signs advertising the place, it was a local ice cream and treat store. So we happily lounged on their lawn and ate our lunch with ice cream for dessert!

Relaxing on the lawn on a hot day. Ice cream followed.

Relaxing on the lawn on a hot day. Ice cream followed.

These bike/barge trips are certainly an enjoyable way to travel, especially in north Belgium and Holland where there are no hills to speak of, beautiful countryside and pretty little towns to pass through. And the bars/cafes are everywhere. After another hour and a half, we came to yet another ferry crossing. But, as it was a hot and dry day, we made good use of the bar that was strategically located at the ferry landing.

Single track! A bit of everything on this day (except hills).

Single track! A bit of everything on this day (except hills).

Escaping the sun for a while.

Escaping the sun before another ferry ride..

It didn’t take us long afterward to reach the Gandalf, docked just outside Dendermonde. As we had lots of time on our hands before supper and the Gandalf didn’t have a washer and dryer for passenger use, some of the riders took the opportunity to find a laundromat and get some laundry done. Others of us went to explore. Tom had told us that there was a monastery in town that still brewed beer. All we had to do is knock on the door and ask for the “beer monk”. He led us to it, went through the procedure and damn if he wasn’t right! The monk was a very pleasant fellow (not dressed in robes though) and sold the beer for €1.40 a bottle, less than half the price of what we generally paid. Good beer too. The monk told us that there were only 6 of them left and he was the youngest at 57. They actually don’t do the brewing themselves anymore but have it contracted out.

I love cycling when it is hot and there are lots of places to quench thirst. What a great day.

Preparing to meet the beer monk.

Preparing to meet the beer monk.

Route from Ghent to Dendermonde

Ghent to Dendermonde

Ghent to Dendermonde

Rode 41 km

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