Sunday, September 7, 2014

Bike and Barge: Day 7.

8/1 To Amsterdam! 50km.


Today was our final day of touring, and we aimed our bicycles towards Amsterdam. During breakfast, we sailed from Utrecht to Breukelen. From there, we mounted our bicycles and rode through the Dutch country side. Piet asked if we wanted to visit a charming cheese farm, and the group agreed. The woman who owned the farm gave us a tour of the milking barn and the cheese room. She talked to us about the cheese making process and then led us to their retail store, where we were given samples and the opportunity to buy. Susan picked us up a couple of wheels of her favorite, the delicious and unusual stinging-nettle cheese.

After eating lunch, we cycled to Muiderslot and looked at the castle, without actually touring it. The Muiderslot is a beautifully restored 13th century moated castle, located at the mouth of the river Vecht, where it flows into what used to be the Zuiderzee. We did not get to actually tour the castle with the group, but thankfully, we had visited it the week before joining the bike tour.

Next, we followed cycle paths along the final 15 km into the city of Amsterdam, where we immediately merged into the crazy and crowded, vibrant city traffic. We stuck with Piet and enjoyed an exciting urban ride into the city center and rejoined the Sailing Home at her mooring, near Central Station.

For a final dinner, Markus prepared smoked trout, shrimp done 3 different ways, and duck breast. As a special going away treat, the sweet crew sisters, Rita and Rianne baked us a going away cake in the shape of a bleeding heart. It was their way of saying they would be sad to see us go, but in actuality, we were sorry that our trip was coming to an end.

A pretty calf at a cheese farm.


Cheese!

Quintessential Dutch farm.


Muiderslot Selfie!

Bike bridge into Amsterdam.


Markus

Central Station, Amsterdam.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Bike and Barge: Day 6.

7/31. Gorinchem to Vianen and Sail to Utrecht. 48km.


We had a beautiful day of riding today. Our itinerary states that we followed the meandering river, the Linge, through the Alblasserwaard to Leerdam. I don't remember all of that, but we did indeed go to Leerdam, famous for its glass. Susan is a glass artist, so we were eager to see their work. We visited a glass factory, where they produced blown art glass. It was very nice, but even better, was the attached cafe, where I got a delicious apple tart and cup of coffee.  Ah, bicycle touring in Europe is so much more relaxed and civilized than my numerous experiences of touring stateside.

We continued out of Leerdam to the village of Culemborg and then followed the Lek River to Vianen, where we met up with the Sailing Home. We boarded ourselves and our bicycles onto the boat and then proceeded to sail to Utrecht.

Markus fed us two types of quiche for supper, one with salmon and one with broccoli and blue cheese and creme brule for dessert.

After dining, our excellent tour guide, Piet, was anxious to show us around his hometown, Utrecht. We jumped on a bus to the city center and  then walked around the vibrant and busy university town on a Friday night, while taking in all the sights. 


Chef Markus on his way to town for supplies.

The Allen family with Piet.

Dinner aboard the Sailing Home.

It's just bike parking in Utrecht.

The Tour de France will start in Utrecht in 2015. Yes, in The Netherlands!

Piet telling the group about his hometown, Utrecht.

Cathedral in Utrecht.

Bicycles in Utrecht.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Bike and Barge: Day 5.

7/30. Willemstad to Gorinchem, Netherlands. 42km.  


Once again, we stayed on the boat in the morning, sailed out of Willemstad and put in at the town of Werkendam. From Werkendam, we followed the Bergse Maas canal to the fortified town of Heusden, which was decimated by the Nazis during the final days of WWII.

We boarded a ferry to cross to Loevestein Castle but not before making a few quick turns and losing two members of our party, Eric and Cathy. We went back to look for them, but by that time, they had hopped on the wrong ferry and were headed in a different direction. Fortunately, they were able to call the boat and talk to Captain Willy, who passed on the message to Piet, so we knew that they were on their way safely back to the Sailing Home. 

Loevenstein Castle was built in 1360 on the strategic location where the rivers Meuse and Waal converge. Piet explained that this castle is known by every school child in the Netherlands as being the prison that the famous Hugo Grotius (Jurist, Theologian, Philosopher) escaped from a life-sentence from, hidden in a book chest in 1621. 

This was an easy day of riding, as we had the wind to our backs and stopped a lot. It didn't feel like we even really rode much. What a nice way to tour! From the castle, we caught 2 more ferries to reunite with the Sailing Home at Gorinchem.

Supper was carrot soup (yum!), potato dumplings, and a German beef dish. Dessert: apple tart.


Werkendam streets.

Ferry ride.

Pretty Belgian horse.

A cafe break.

Barry at the big tree at ferry landing.

Loevestein Castle.

Loevestein Castle.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Bike and Barge: Day 4.

7/29. Antwerp to Willemstad, Netherlands: 52km.

The Sailing Home started sailing before breakfast this morning. It would take us about 3 hours to work our way through the giant harbor, past ships and barges, to find a pull off place beside the river, along side a bike path. We departed the boat at 11:30 and started riding into a steady headwind, which would continue to dog us most of the day.

We had a good day of riding, passing through small villages and forested areas. Barry had fun on his e-bike, pushing Tracy up and over a few actual hills. Susan discovered that her brake pads were pretty much gone, after the ride in yesterday's rain. We crossed into the Netherlands and ended our day in the pretty little sailing town of Willemstad.

For supper, Markus had prepared my favorite meal of the trip: mussels, potato pancakes, salmon, herring, and prosciutto.

We toured the fortifications, surrounding the town, after supper with Piet.

Piet, probably telling us to turn around!

A local addressing our group about the history of his town.

Chilling in town.


Pretty Willemstad.

The Willemstad windmill.

Our neighbors in Willemstad, Netherlands.

We spent a night in the picturesque, old, fortified town of Willemstad, surrounded by sailing boats, old forts, and sheep.

Bike and Barge: Day 3.

7/28 St. Amands to Antwerp, Belgium. 41km.


We started out in a cold, wet rain this morning. Our route took us along side the mighty Scheldt River and through a nature reserve. We were wet most of the morning, but happy, and I wouldn't consider it much of a bicycle tour if I didn't get wet at least once during the trip. 

The really cool thing about today was how we rode into the amazing and beautiful port city of Antwerp. To cross from the new city into the old, we all put our bicycles into a huge elevator and rode it down 31 meters underground to the St. Anna bicycle and pedestrian tunnel. Then we mounted our bikes and rode the 572 meters through the white tile tunnel and crossed under the Scheldt and, once again, took an elevator to the top. Pretty cool stuff!

As I said before, Antwerp is amazing and beautiful. The rain had let up before we arrived and we walked around the city center, looking at all the 16th century guild houses surrounding the giant sculpture of  Brabo and the giant's hand that dominated the center square. We spent a good hour or more in the Cathedral of Our Lady, studying the fine artwork by Rubens and other famous Antwerp artists. 

Piet led us back to the boat, through the red light district, where The Sailing Home was moored in the harbor. Markus fed us a delicious supper of lasagna and artichokes and finished it with a desert of tiramisu.

After supper, we headed back to the city center for more sight seeing.




We rode in cold rain in the morning.

Wet, but happy.

The woman at the Scheldt in Rupelmonde, Belgium. 

A nice little residence.


Antwerp street scene.

A painting by Rubens in the magnificent Cathedral of Our Lady, Antwerp, Belgium.

Hanging in Antwerp.

Guild houses in Antwerp, Belgium.

Brabo Fountain in Antwerp

Beautiful Antwerp.












Sunday, August 17, 2014

Bike and Barge: Day 2

7/27 Ghent to Dendermonde, Belgium. Sail to St. Amands. 52km.

 After breakfast, we got on our bikes and rode through the ancient cobblestone streets to the city center of   Ghent. Ghent is the capital of East Flanders and in the Middle Ages was one of the most important cities in Europe. We spent over an hour walking around the city, marveling at all the remarkably preserved and intact medieval architecture.

Our route largely followed the Schelde river. We took 2 ferry rides in the morning, crossing the river first one way and then back to avoid trail construction. Barry and Nick were busy showing off on their e-bikes and generally having fun. We stopped at a castle near Laarne, where we had lunch and then stopped at the village of Donk for ice cream. 

Our final stop was in the Flemish city of Dendermonde. We toured the famous Dendermonde city hall and learned of the devastation of over half of the city's housing and archives by bombing and burning during the 1st World War.

After joining back up with the barge, we sailed to the little town of St. Amands for the night.

Markus served us a supper of puff pastry with goat cheese, salmon, and pecan pie.

After eating, Piet took us to the lovely art gallery of the sculptor Joris Maes. We enjoyed our tour and Joris's rambling dialogue about all of the meaning and origins of the design of the beautiful and interesting building that housed his studio, and of the 13 year battle, he had with city officials over its construction. Susan ended up purchasing a beautiful necklace of lapis lazuli and mountain crystal while we were there.

St Bavo's Cathedral, Ghent.

I would like to know this story.

Canal scene in Ghent.

Gravensteen Castle (Castle of the Count) built in 1180 by Philip of Alsace.

Medieval buildings in Ghent.

In front of Laarne Castle.

Annette and Tracy on a ferry.


Dendermonde.

Joris Maes, artist, sculptor, and creator of an eccentrically beautiful studio in the tiny village of St. Amands.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Bike and Barge: Day 1

7/26 Bruges to Aalterbrug and sailing to Ghent. 23km.


Our first glimpse of the Sailing Home came in Bruges, Belgium, where we joined her for our trip.
After being welcomed aboard, we were assigned cabins and introduced to the boat and the crew:
Captain, Willy-Belgian
Chef, Markus-German
Guide, Piet-Dutch
Sailor, Rita-Dutch
Assistant, Riannne-Dutch

Our fellow cycle tourers consisted of twenty three fellow Americans and one Dutch aunt. There were three family groups (including ours) among this number.

We tried out our bikes on a little jaunt along the canal path and got to know our guide, Piet.

The bikes were 8 speed, triple ring, hybrid type bikes, with 700 wheels. They were equipped with a bell, lights, trip computer, and a waterproof pannier. We were all provided with a water bottle.  The bicycles were purchased new this season and appeared to be in good shape.

After rejoining the boat, we hung out on the sun deck and visited with our fellow passengers, as the boat made her way to Ghent for the night.

Dinner: Cream of mustard soup, Belgian stew, served with couscous, green beans, salad,  and bread. Dessert was a sorbet. Delicious!


The Sailing Home built in 2001 as a passenger ship. It has 13 cabins and can accommodate 26 passengers. It is 45 m long and 6.5 m wide. 



Our spacious cabin aboard the Sailing Home was furnished with a/c and a private bathroom. Very comfy beds, too. I slept like a baby every night.



We tried out our bikes on the first day by riding 23km to the village of Aalterbrug.



This is Piet, our Dutch guide. We all really enjoyed our time with him.