Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Day 7 - Brugge to the sea coast and back to Brugge

I have previously mentioned the name “Lange Wapper” twice now and delayed telling you the story, but because of massive peer pressure, I have to fill in the gaps. It seems that Lange Wapper (we pronounced it Longa Wappa) was a trickster that was able to change his size down to as small as a baby and up to the size of a giant who could place one foot on either side of a river. He was formidable as a giant and would frighten the drunks in the night, however he loved women and would do almost anything he could to get close to them, including sometimes masquerading as a baby so that nursing women would take pity and feed him with their milk. They would become surprised when he grew back to full size right in front of their eyes and during the feeding. This is a story, based on Belgium legend, that Tom told us in Antwerp. In Antwerp there was a girl who had four lovers. One evening she invited them one after another, but instead, it was the trickster Lange Wapper, that waited for them in disguise. He told the first one to prove his love by sitting for two hours on a giant cross in the cemetery. The second one had to prove his love by lying for two hours in a coffin under the cross. The third had to knock on the coffin until someone came to get him. The fourth had to walk around the cross with chains, but when he did that he found three dead bodies. The first one died from fear and fell from the cross when he saw the second one climb into the coffin. The second one died from fear when he heard someone knocking on his coffin. The third one died from fear when he heard the chains and thought the devil was there to fetch him. The fourth one was so terrified by the other 3 bodies that he jumped into the river but since he could not swim, he drowned. You gotta love Belgium, if only for their beer and stories. Maybe those both go together.
Statue of Lange Wapper in Antwerp

Today we would start and stop at the same location, Brugge. Brugge is a lovely city but today’s ride would take us on the north canal out of the city and towards the north sea coast. Everyone started out together and we stopped at one of the 4 windmills that adorned the canal. We were allowed to climb this one and view the sights from above. The outside stairs up a windmill are surprisingly steep and the way down seemed to be best done by turning around and going down backwards. The view from the top was worth the climb.
Windmill we climbed

We made our way towards Damme (pronounced Dam-may). In the town has its usual town square, canal and church. This church was different however. Some parts of the structure were structurally in trouble and there were some interesting statues on the grounds, including a modern piece with 3 heads all merged into 1 statue.
Statue with 3 heads

Next we went to a 13th century abbey at Ter Doest that was now a restaurant and special event grounds. On these grounds were many modern art pieces including the nude sister of another statue that we saw a few days earlier. The stones and bricks from the abbey were torn down and used to make the new facility.
One of the statues on the grounds - I don't think the bicycle helmet is original

Aila and 5 of the nurses had decided to cut the day short, in order to see some of the museums back in Brugge. I think they wanted a shorter day than they got, as they finally were able to head back at the 14.3 mile mark, making their shortened day a mere 24 miles. I think 15 total was more in their minds at the beginning. The rest of us headed towards the sea coast boardwalk and beach, although the clouds were looking a bit dark on the way. The week had been packed full of clear, sunny days with no signs of any dark clouds, until today. Our luck held however and only the threat of rain made its appearance.
Smaller, older buildings sandwiched by larger, newer ones

The boardwalk was what one would expect: every inch of shoreline built up. There were a few old buildings that hadn’t succumbed to the monetary offerings of the larger purses, squashed between the rest. On the sandy ocean side of the boardwalk was a different sight to behold: there were privately owned sheds that opened on either side that were used by people to place their lawn chairs in, to enjoy a day at the beach. These sheds were packed side to side and obscured most of the beach views. Some were actually for sale, indicating to me that at least their 10 square feet of sand was owned or leased somehow.
I've got a deal for you! Private beach ... umm ... house for sale

Sharon, Lisa, Meg and I shared 2 pots of moules and frites, which in English are mussels and french fries. If you are ever in Belgium, don’t miss out on this delightful dish. It’s worth it.
Good food in Belgium

After lunch we headed back towards the barge in a direct manor. Along the way we met a man who was out walking with his pet hawk. Sharon and Rita stopped to talk with him.
Rita talking with a man and his hawk

The evening activities included another great dinner, Katie doing a funny roast of Tom, another rounds of cards and mental preparations for the departure from newly found friends. Also, in a turn of good luck, it seems that Angela’s camera was lost in her cabin behind her and her sister’s suitcases. How it got there, I don’t know, but Angela was sure happy that it was found.
Back in Brugge, a sight along the canal

To sum up this trip, it was excellent. Both the Netherlands and Belgium are clean, friendly and beautiful countries to bicycle through and the people are in the highest respect of cyclists. The lesson learned for this trip is, ALWAYS use SPF lip balm on any long distance ride, or you will suffer the consequences and we mean suffer. Finally, if you cannot take “The Mistress” (my titanium bicycle) on vacation along with you and your wife, then a good alternative is for you and your wife to travel with 18 nurses and their friends. This group of people were funny, friendly and inviting. They included us in all of the activities. We had a great time. Thank you for accepting us.

I want to thank my wife Aila, for participating on this trip. She trained at home, either on the indoor trainer or outside on the rail trails, for 8 months in preparation. Her previous longest distance record was 20 miles in a single ride, but on this ride she broke the 30 mile mark several times. City style bikes are harder to push than road bikes are, so this mileage is even more impressive. Her total for the week was 155 miles. Well done Aila. Thanks for trying a long distance bike ride.

Let’s see what the next adventure brings.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Day 6 - Gent to Brugge

After an evening of cards and some musical interludes by some of the fabulous singers we had on-board, a good night’s sleep was in order. We awoke to another sunny day to ride in. Today was the day that we would reach our final destination, but not the final day of riding. We were headed to Brugge, pronounced “Bruh-he”. Only in french do they pronounce it like “Brew-gg” and never do we say “Brew-gay”.

After breakfast, we sailed a bit to a new starting point outside of Gent. We would be headed to Brugge, but along the way we would see some interesting sights, including a privately owned castle. Normally the gates are closed when this ride goes by, but for some reason they were open this morning. Still, this was not an inviting place as the sign outside the gates was clear: this was a private residence. We all stood by the gates and zoomed in with our cameras to get the best possible pictures, with no-one daring to venture onto the grounds. It was an impressive structure, complete with its own moat.
A private castle

After leaving the castle, the back roads towards Brugge would serpentine through the farm country. Horse drawn wagons were seen sharing our bike road, as well as visions of wildflowers and various farm animals along the way. This was not your typical route to get into a touristy city such as Brugge. Bicycling trips allow you to get to know the real surroundings, the genuine countryside and to get a perspective on the way life truly is in the country you are visiting. I believe that bicycling is the best way to see the sights and smell the smells. Try it, if you haven’t before.
What you can meet along a path less traveled

We stopped for lunch at a pub that was fine with us eating our bagged goodies, but they were happier if we ordered something to wash it down with. The pub was nothing really special, but it did allow me a chance to find out more about our guide, Tom. He has been doing these type of trips for 7 years now, but originally he was an Industrial Design Engineer, but did not like working behind a computer. His love was to be outside and this type of work fit the bill. His parents keep asking when he was to get a real job, which only cements the desire to continue doing this instead. I must agree, this seems like a great type of work to be doing, especially on the sunny days.

After leaving our lunch spot behind, we came across a couple of markers on the trail to indicate which direction to go. Normally in The Netherlands and Belgium, the bike path markers show a single number with an arrow for direction. Every intersection along the path is numbered and the signs simply point giving the direction to take. You navigate by following a series of numbered intersections. This is really a clever technique as you don’t need to know left or right at this or that street name, you just need to know the numbered list, like 2, 17, 91, 34 and that will clearly lay out the route to take. However, we came across these two new markers that didn’t match the usual numbering system. One said “Fietsar” and the other “Idioten”. A “fietsar” is a cyclist and well, you can guess what an “idioten” means. If you took the path that it was pointing at, you would certainly regret it later on. Aila did take a picture of me however, with the “idioten” sign pointing straight at my head.
Hmmm. Which way to take?

At the next town, Moerbrugge, we came across a statue dedicated to the Canadians who fought in World War 2 and were instrumental in defeating the Germans at this location. There is a tank that has been cut up into pieces and welded back together making for a very unusable pattern that is the basis for the statue. The plaque read that 52 Canadians had lost their lives in this battle to help Belgium. A solemn feeling came across me and I had thoughts of my Uncle Jack, who fought in this war. I recall that he was in Belgium and Italy and might have been at this exact site.
Tank statue to commemorate the Canadians

The path from Moerbrugge to Brugge took us along the canal that feeds into the waterways of our destination. Along the way were several cement bunkers that were used by the locals during the war. These bunkers had grasses growing on the tops, to make them harder to spot from the air.
Getting close to Brugge

The final miles into Brugge would end up being very familiar to me. When we arrived at the barge, it seems that Angela could not find her camera, with the fate of the hundreds of pictures she had taken at stake. I took a ride back along the paths to see if I could spot it in the brush along the way. No luck. Aila and I headed into Brugge for a nice walk around town. This is a beautiful city, with almost zero crime, but very touristy. After the walk, I did another ride along the paths to try once again to see if I could find her camera. I met Angela along the way doing the same thing. Still no luck.
Market Square in Brugge

That evening our guide Tom took us into the city for another of his now famous walk and talks. We saw the old hospital, the market square and the brick church. This church is the 2nd highest brick building in the world. Bricks are not the best material to use for such a tall structure, but this church steeple was incredible to view.
The 2nd tallest brick building in the world

We learned how Brugge started making its world-famous lace and of course it involved one of Tom’s stories. It seems that hundreds of years ago a husband and wife had 4 daughters, but even with the daughters working, they had a hard time to make ends meet. The oldest daughter, Serena had a male friend that she knew her whole life. One day Serena prayed that if God helped her family that she would forego any happiness for the rest of her life. A while later, while Serena and her male friend were out talking under a tree, her head felt like there were thousands of spiders running around on it. She was wearing some type of skull cap and pulled it off and the itching stopped. There were no spiders, but the cap had spider webs on it that showed beautiful patterns. Serena looked at these patterns and decided that she could figure out a way to make these, using fine string. She tried and tried and finally found a way to make these lace patterns, something unknown to people at this time. Her work was beautiful and she showed her 3 sisters how to do this also. Many people saw this work and wanted to buy it. Her family prospered. After a while, Serena’s friend thought that since everyone was doing well, that maybe they should get married. Serena told him, that she could not and also could not explain to him why. They both separated, heartbroken. She knew the reason and it was because she promised God that she would forego being happy if God helped her family. Some time later, Serena once again felt as though thousands of spiders were once again in her hair. She again took off the cap and found another pattern. This time the pattern was of doves and wedding bells and words, which said “You are released from your promise to me”. It wasn’t long after that Serena and her friend got married.
Brugge at night

The next morning I grabbed a bike and tried one last time, doing an extra 6 miles to see if that camera was waiting to be found. It was futile. The dew from the morning weighed down on the vegetation along the path sides, making them difficult to get a glimpse under.

Let’s see what tomorrow brings.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Day 5 - Dendermonde to Gent

Today would be the day to take the barge and see the beauty of the countryside, which is what Aila did. I rode with the rest of the group, however Aila and a few others stayed on board to take in the sights from the barge. We were heading from Dendermonde to Gent. In Belgium’s Flemish language, the “G” is pronounced like an “H”, so Gent is pronounced “Hent” and “Brugge” is pronounced “Bruh-he” and it helps if you pretend that you are spitting up a hairball to make it correct.
Statue with the horse and 4 sons

At the start of the day, we headed to the main square of Dendermonde, where we were blessed with another Tom story about the town. It seems that centuries ago, the local lord, maybe you could call him a king, had 4 sons. The oldest son was quite tall and big and no horse could be found that would be able to carry him. The oldest son entered a tournament and won, and was awarded the magical horse, who loved the son very much. One day, the older son and the neighboring lord’s son were playing chess, and a brawl ensued and the older son killed the other man. The four brothers fled on the back of this horse, who was large enough to carry them and magical enough to leap over valleys. The neighboring lord declared to the father of the sons, that the only way that things could be made right, is if the magical horse were given up and killed. The father resisted for a while, but eventually succumbed to the request. The neighboring lord tried to have the horse drowned by putting heavy stones around its neck, but it was too strong and wouldn’t be killed. More stones were used until the horse could no longer hold its head above the water. The horse looked up at the older son as it loved him, but noticed that the son could not look at him. Despondent, the horse thought the son didn’t love him as well and gave up and allowed himself to be drowned. To commemorate this story, the town hall has a statue on its top that shows the horse with the 4 sons. Every decade, this town has a celebration of the event and requires that a large horse be built and carried through the streets with 4 sons of a local family. To qualify for this honor, the 4 sons must have been born within 10 years, have no sisters in between and all of the sons, parents and grandparent must have been born in Dendermode.
Dendermonde museum

After leaving the town, we headed back to where the barge had been moored for the night, but as we expected, it was long gone. Our continued journey merely passed back along this route on our way to Gent.

The day was fairly uneventful. We stopped for a lunch at the canal-side cafe, where I had a Belgium waffle with ice cream on it. The town streets were ordinary at this point. My thoughts for Aila were that she chose wisely as to which day to take a rest.

We did come across a huge mansion/castle that would be perfect for people wanting to have a wedding or other group gathering. We were allowed to venture on-site and explore the grounds for a while.
Castle where we explored

Later in the day, Aila and the others who stayed on the barge rode the 5 miles into town to meet up with us in Gent. Gent is a very beautiful city with plenty of history and lots to see and do. We spent several hours there exploring and hearing more stories from Tom. We bought some good Belgian beer and chocolates and eventually headed out, but not before another tale. In the town square is a statue on the side of a building that shows an older man being breastfed by a younger girl. It is a strange one to say the least, but there is a story behind it. Apparently, this older man was convicted of a crime and sentenced to death by starvation. Each day, his daughter would visit, and the guards would check to ensure that she was not carrying any food or other things into the cell. The convicted man kept healthy every day and surprised the guards by not dying. The guards wondered about this and were not able to figure it out for some time, until one day they happened to see that when the daughter visited, she would breastfeed her father to keep him alive. They reported this to the authorities and it was determined that since his daughter loved him so much and that she would do this, then he was worth saving and subsequently released him from the jail. This statue is on the wall of the town’s jail and is a reminder to people that even if you are convicted, there is still hope of salvation.

Let’s see what tomorrow brings.

Day 4 - Antwerp to Dendermode

Antwerp is a lovely city. I like Belgium, at least many parts of it. Antwerp sits pretty high on my list of places that would be good to live in.

After a reasonable night’s sleep and breakfast, we headed out with our bikes to explore some of the sites of Antwerp. The first stop was the MAS Museum. This building was quite different, in that it was half made out of hardened acrylic. I thought the look was quite beautiful, but others were not in agreement. The building had 2 types of siding: curved clear acrylic and reddish cement panels, each with a hand ornament embedded in the center. We took the escalator up the 8 floors to the top, with each escalator trip celebrating a different sport along the way. At the top, we were able to view the whole city from our higher vantage point. The day was to be another sunny day.
You can see the curved acrylic walls

We left the museum and ventured a short trip into the city streets where we found an entrance to an elevator that would take us down 31 meters (about 94 feet). From there we bicycled along a tunnel under the river and emerged at the other side. Some of us took the 2 escalators up to the surface instead of the elevator. The escalator was an old wooden one, with all of its charm. We emerged and were on our way to Dendermonde, which means the mouth of the river Dender. I had a good chat at this point with Manfried, who was on this ride with his family. He is an electrical engineer, who now does the complex processing to make colors for various plastics.
Heading through the tunnel under the river

As we headed out of the city, we came across some fat-ass cows. Okay, I am not just calling them fat-assed for nothing. In Flemish, they really are called “fat-assed” as their name. They deserved it. They looked like a cow from the front, but more muscular than other cows, but their rear ends looked more like a pig. We stopped for pictures and someone made the comment that the bull looked like Longa Wappa. We all laughed.
"Fat-assed" cows

For lunch break, we came to a terrific restaurant on the grounds of a castle. The 35 of us overwhelmed the servers, but we managed to get half of our order delivered: the beer. Our french fries made it to another table and never did arrive to us. Belgium french fries are delicious, much better than the ones you get in America. Typically, they are served with mayonnaise or some other sauce, instead of ketchup. We ate lunch with Tom and Rita and then saw the castle. Two years ago, there was no canal or moat around the castle, but recent construction was done to make it happen. There was a tower that used to house doves and even had an exit from the lower section of the tower for the dogs, who would protect the tower from predators. Apparently, you were allowed so many doves per acre of land and that was a sign of how rich you were, by the number of doves that you had.
Castle where we had lunch

The temperature was reaching the mid 90’s and we headed towards a town where Mercator was born called Rupelmonde, where the mouth of the river Rupel starts. There are 2 statues in this town dedicated to him, one as a child and another as an old man. He invented the standard mapping projection that is common today. This town also has many sundials as part of its character, including one that was painted on the side of the house. It only worked in the afternoon, as the sun didn’t see that side until then.
Statue to Mercator as an older man

From there, we headed towards the next coffee/beer stop, a quaint outside structure that would be older than anything in America. It was hot out, so the awnings were welcome. A couple of children on the other side of the street had fun with us, shooting water through a tube and trying to hit us. They were successful on those who wanted to be cooled down.
Sundial painted on the side of a house

The highlight of the day was definitely coming soon. We stopped at a house, which also served as a store. The couple who lived here made their own house out of various bricks and stones that came from Arabia. Each year, they headed to the Sahara and brought back a truckload of rocks and fossils, which they used for building the house and also making sculptures that were for sale. This place was wild, with designs such as a girl with a balloon to fossils embedded into the brickwork. Apparently, the mayor if the town would not put up with it anymore and ordered him to stop building, so he turned his car on the end and pushed it against the house as part of the protest. The only thing the mayor could do was shake his head and write a parking ticket. This was a highlight of this trip, for sure.
Some of the artwork embedded into the house

We finally made it to the barge and had dinner. Each day, we spent a lot of time sight-seeing and have a late dinner, followed by either a tour of the town, or a card game of “Chase the Ace”, or both. We can thank our New Zealand friends for introducing that game to us.
That's one way to protest

Let’s see what tomorrow brings.

Day 3 - Dordrecht to Antwerp

The night before, we had a tour of Dordrecht, with its canals and buildings. It is a pretty town, as usual, with its many old buildings. Tom, our guide, gave us one of his many “true” stories about the history of the buildings. In this case we were standing outside of this restaurant that used to be part of a monastery. 
Restaurant that used to be the monastery with the treasure buried behind

The story goes like this: Hundreds of years ago, a young couple opened a grocery store in a building in Dordrecht but were having a hard go of it. One night the wife had a dream and woke her husband. She dreamt that if her husband walks to Rotterdam, a long way away, all of their financial problems would be solved. She told this to her husband and he just said: go to sleep woman and ignored her. The next night she dreamt the same thing and again woke her husband, who ignored her once again. After a week of this, he finally thought that he should make the trip, just to get her to be quiet about the whole thing. He made the long walk to Rotterdam and found nothing along the way. On the way home, he met a man at a bridge in Rotterdam who looked quite forlorn, and talked to him. The man mentioned that his wife also had a dream and that in it, she saw that a chest of gold and silver was buried in the backyard of a store. This piqued the interest of the man from Dordrecht, who prodded the man for more information: where was this chest buried, he asked. The man said that it was under an apple tree in the backyard, but didn’t know where. Hmmm, said the man from Dordrecht. I have an apple tree. Now both men thought they might know where this was. The man in Rotterdam rushed home to get a shovel, while the man from Dordrecht quickly headed home. He dug under the apple tree and lo and behold, there was found a buried chest. All of their financial troubles were over. It seems that when the protestants look over the country, it caused the catholics to worry about their treasures, so many churches and monasteries went and hid their treasures, including burying them. To this day, any real estate contract in the Netherlands includes a clause that states: if any hidden treasures are found, they are the property of the seller.
Statue of Longa Wappa

After a tour of Dordrecht, four of us headed to a pub that, as it turned out, was the pub used by an annual pub-tour and because of that, had a proprietor who really knew his beers and was happy to share this info. Sharon was with us and is a true fan of these special beers. She was in heaven.
Town square in Antwerp and statue of severed head and hand

It seems that most Belgium beers are top-fermenting beers instead of lagers, which are bottom fermenting. The top-fermenting beers are known to be much better, have a higher fermentation temperature, longer shelf-life and allow for more unusual types or beers to be created. German and American beers are mostly lagers, which the Belgian refer to as inferior. I agree. These Belgian beers are excellent. A few that I tried were Duvel (which means devil in Flemish), Leffe Blond, and a couple of Maes beers. These were great. It seems most Belgian beers have a glass that has been made specifically for their brand of beer. Some also etch the inside bottom of the glass with a symbol. This etching causes the bubbles to be spent upwards from the etching. It allows the connoisseur to be able to see if the glass is clean or not. If the glass is not clean, then the bubbles will be shed from other places in the glass. Neat trick! Try these beers if you see them in the store, as they are available in America.
Pub in Antwerp that has many Saints as statues inside

After our usual breakfast, our barge headed out up the canals with us on-board. Today was to be a shorter cycling day, only 11 miles. It was to be a mixture of sightseeing from the barge and then from the bikes. We headed up the canals on our way to Tholen, where we would start the bike ride. Tholen is a very small village with nothing really interesting. The village had its church and a town square with an old structure that was used to bring a horse into, where re-shoeing could be done. The horses leg would be lifted back and would rest on a bar where the shoe work was done.
Aila along the Oysterdam

From Tholen we headed along the waterways on the way to a very long (many miles) man-made dam, known as the Oysterdam. This dam was originally designed to be much further out into the sea, however the locals complained that their oyster collecting would no longer be possible. So, instead a second dam, this Oysterdam, was built and a section of the further out, original dam removed. This allowed the tides to still go up and down in the area between these 2 dams, which is essential for oyster growth. Hence this is how Oysterdam got its name. On one side of the dam was fresh water and the other sea water.
Our guide Tom and Captain Carl on the bench

As we headed along this Oysterdam, we eventually came to see many of the wind-powered electric generators that are in abundance in this part of the world. At this point, we could overlook the inside canal, which is where our barge would soon be rolling into. We continued to the end of the Oysterdam and crossed the bridge to the other canal and met up with our barge.
Antwerp square

Once we were all on board, the barge carried us into Antwerp, which is a beautiful city - one of my favorites. We are now in Belgium.
MAS Museum - Each panel has a hand in the middle

Antwerp has many plazas and beautiful buildings, one of which at first sight, looks like a church. However, nothing could be further from the truth about this building. The streets around the building are lower than usual, which was needed to carry the flows of blood down to the canals. This building was a slaughterhouse for animals to be eaten. Cows, pigs, goats and even some horses would find their way into this place. The lower streets would allow them to wash out the slaughterhouse with water to carry the blood away.
This was the slaughterhouse, not a church

That evening Tom, our guide, gave his usual highly-entertaining, largely embellished story of the local legends and buildings. This time is it a story about a giant man named “Longa Wappa”. We had fun with that name.

We headed to the main square of Antwerp and saw the statue containing the severed head and hand of the local giant. It seems that centuries ago, a local giant extorted more and more money from the locals, until one day a warrior took case of the problem, by cutting off his head and hand. To do this, the local symbol of Antwerp is a hand and you can see many of these brass and silver symbols on many of the building and streets in this city.
View of our barge from the lock

Some of us took the canal way back to the barge and others took the shortcut through the red-light district instead.

Let’s see what tomorrow brings.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Day 2 - Vianen to Dordrecht

Today we rode from Vianen to Schoonhoven and finally ending up in Kinderdijk. The ride was 32.1 miles long and the scenery was beautiful. The houses are all very well kept. Picture taking possibilities are every few hundred yards. I have become very adept at taking a photo while riding the bike.
Many waterways along the ride

Along the way we saw nests of storks. These nests were quite large, like a flattened out donut made from sticks. The storks could be seen nurturing their young. At one point, there were 3 of these large nests in close proximity to each other.
Mother stork with some baby storks

The start of the bike path was used by cars, motorcycles and horses as well as us cyclists. We are getting pretty used to sharing the road in close quarters with cars. The cars are very respectful and take their time passing by us. Once we got to Schoonhoven, we stopped for lunch and looked around the town. At 1PM, we climbed aboard the ferry and got shuttled to the other side of the river. From there, the bike paths were fairly well isolated from the cars. Aila and I decided to go on ahead and take our time, stopping frequently to take photos. The group ride didn’t stop often enough for our tastes. Navigating from point to point along the trails took a little to get used to, but we got the hang of it and reached our destination without much difficultly.
Endless supply of windmills

Once eveyone was boarded, the ship headed down the river to Dordrecht where we spent the night. After dinner, we walked around the town and our guide Tom told us many tales from the city.
This is a nest made for ducks to use, so that other birds cannot get to the eggs or young ducks

Let’s see what tomorrow brings.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Day 1 - Amsterdam to Vianen

Today we met up with the other riders from the trip. There are about 36 of us in total. The barge known as “Magnifique” is larger than I expected and nicely appointed. There is a group of 5 people from Germany, another group of 3 from New Zealand, a collection of 18, mostly women nurses who are a group from Chicago and LA, another group of 4 from LA, and then there is Aila and me. The people are all very friendly and we are having a good time getting to know each other. The cycling skills of most people here are what you would expect: the adventure is to see the sights and the bicycle riding is an added bonus, instead of the usual trip where the riding is the dominant activity.
We boarded the barge just before noon and headed out at 2PM. After a short cruise out of Amsterdam, we selected our bikes and headed onto the bike path towards Vianen, where we are spending the night. Most people have not been on a bike trip before and so the anticipation was present in the air. Our bikes are heavy steel upright machines that have 7 gears and both hand brakes and coaster brakes. There are very much different than any road bike.

One of many windmills that we will see

The bike paths are extremely good here and very clean. One thing to know however, is that cars do get to drive on them, and can come up from behind or forward from the front. They have no qualms about passing you, however they do it carefully. I know Aila finds this a bit unnerving, but she is getting used to it. The drivers are far, far better towards cyclists than anywhere in America, hands down.
There are plenty of drawbridges too

Along the ride we saw several working windmills, many dykes and numerous waterways. As you might know, much of this area is lower than sea-level. The Dutch have been ingenious about keeping the ocean water out for centuries now. We are still in the area of The Netherlands known as Holland. Many people think these are one and the same, but they are not. Holland is a specific area of The Netherlands that includes Amsterdam.
The canals are green with plants and algae

The weather today was perfect, sunny and warm and that is the projected weather for the entire week. Hopefully, we have lucked out for this trip. The ride today was only for 90 minutes and was about 10.5 miles. So far, we have been riding as a group making up a long line of bikes. Perhaps this will change over the week, but since this is a guided tour ride, I suspect most will stick together.
Cars and bikes share some of the paths

Tomorrow, we will be riding 31 miles. I know Aila is a bit nervous about this, as the most she has done in a day is 20. We have all day to see the sights and make the ride, and I fully expect that she will be successful.
There are many mansions along the waterways

Let’s see what tomorrow brings.