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.
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..
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!
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.
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.
Rode 41 km