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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Rode 39 km