Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Last day

Today, our last full day, was a "rest day," as in, no cycling. Tomorrow morning, we pack up everything, including our backpacks, which we had left at the B&B, and ride the bikes one last time, just a short jaunt of 20 km to the Brussels airport. 

Today, we took the train into Brussels and wandered around. It's another big city, so nothing super thrilling, but it is quite nice, and it was a nice surprise that most people seem to speak French there. Throughout Flanders, Belgians seemed far more comfortable in English than in French, which we thought a little strange, Belgian supposedly being a "bilingual country." That said, perhaps French-speakers coming to Canada might be somewhat dismayed at how little French is spoken outside of Quebec. 

Pretty much the first thing I did off the train was find a Belgian waffle place. We hadn't had a chance to try one yet, and it being our last day...


The one other thing on my to-do list was to visit the Cantillon brewery. This was worth the trip into town as far as I was concerned. The self-guided tour was very interesting and included two samples of beer, and then you could buy bottles of other offerings, many of which you can only buy at the brewery, and not to take away. You have to drink it there. And most are 750 ml. Luckily, Sonia and I befriended a young American guy backpacking around Europe, who was willing to share a few bottles with us. So I got to try a few interesting geuzes. The brewery itself is a little like stepping back in time. Very little modern stainless steel brewery gear here. For instance, here is the wooden mash tun. 


After Cantillon, we wandered around some more, and then Sonia and I went our separate ways for an hour or so, she to do some shopping, me to seek out one of the better beer bars in town (Moeder Lambic). Then it was off to find a bite to eat and hop on the train home to get packing. We'll be on the bikes tomorrow by 8 am. Next stop: home! 

Monday, June 01, 2015

Changes

I don't think we could have asked for a nicer day for our last day of bike touring on this trip. The weather was fairly mild, the winds were mostly light, and we got some nice sun and no rain. The morning part of the ride, the 30 km from Buggenhout up to the Schelde river and eastward, before we turned south down the Rupel toward Mechelen, was as beautiful as any part of our trip: lovely farm fields, gorgeous gardens, hilarious sheep, castles, and beautiful river vistas.



The whole 57 or so km, I was acutely aware that this was our last full day of cycling, and it made me wistful. Usually, when we get to the end of a vacation, I am more than ready to come home. But  this trip has been different. It took us a week to get in to the swing of things, but once we did, it seemed that more than on any other holiday we were able to leave our normal lives behind, "décrocher" as Quebecers say. I think I could have done another week like this. The morning rides, especially, have been wonderful. Getting on your bike and setting out to explore a new countryside is a wonderful way to start the day. 

As we turned onto the LF2, heading south on the same path we took north 2-and-a-half weeks ago, it was interesting to see the same country from the perspective of what had changed over that time. Poppies were blooming everywhere, for one thing; they hadn't yet started to come out by mid-May. But we had changed more than the countryside. Going north, it was all new and strange. Cominng south, it was familiar and beautiful. The deja-vu was even more acute as we rolled into Mechelen. Our first day here, we were jetlagged, stressed from our everyday lives, and wound up with anticipation; Mechelen seemed exotic and a little frightening. Today, the town seems like an old friend; I felt almost Belgian, cycling the streets confidently and navigating my way around. 

Tomorrow, we'll take the train into Brussels for one last day of sightseeing. The only essential thing on my agenda is the legendary Cantillon brewery.


Sunday, May 31, 2015

Rain

I suppose a nasty weather day was bound to happen eventually. Even so, I consider us lucky. 

We left Ghent at about 10 am (are you sensing a pattern here?) to cloudy skies and forecasts of rainy weather all day. So we put on all our rain gear and covers before even starting out. The first few hours of the ride, it was mostly just spitting rain. Just enough to make us glad we had rain gear on, but not enough to soak us. Things seemed to be easing off by lunchtime. 

Around noon, we came to the town of Berlare, where we encountered a little "eetcafe" that seemed quite popular with both locals and cyclists, so we stopped there to eat and warm up. Turned out to be a good choice, since the food was good and they had really excellent beer selection. I feel like I'm running out of time when as far as my Belgian beer education is concerned. There are so many interesting beers to try and only a finite amount of time (and liver). In any case, this afternoon seemed like as good a time as any to try Boon's Mariage Parfaite Geuse. 


What a fine beer this is. I think I'm  finally starting to "get" sour beers. Even so, I prefer it when the beer is well balanced, and this was a very well-rounded beer. But I didn't take the Belgian cyclist's advice of buying a Duvel tripel and putting it in my water bottle for the road!

After lunch, the weather took a turn for the worse, and we were getting rained on more than at any other time on our trip. Even so, it wasn't a soaking. And we realized that we didn't have all that far to go to get to our hotel in Buggenhout. But just as we arrived in town, we saw that there was a kreik and lambic beer tasting put on by the local beer club. Such serendipity is the stuff that great vacations are made of. After inquiring, we went inside and had some very nice samples of lambics and I chatted with the president of the club (whose name was also Peter... or Pieter, I assume). 

Since we still had a few kilometres to ride, I couldn't stay there all afternoon, so we left in search of our hotel, which turned out to be only 4 or 5 km away. We don't normally splurge for 4-star hotels, but this was basically the only place in between Ghent and Mechelen, and it looked nice, so what the heck. We are almost the only people here, it being a Sunday, so we had the bar and pool table to ourselves. 

So even though the riding weather wasn't quite as kind as it has been, we still managed to have quite a nice day. Certainly, arriving to a luxury hotel makes things a lot easier. Tomorrow is our last long ride. Kind of hard to believe this amazing trip is coming to an end.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

The road home

In a sense, today marked the beginning of our journey home. We left Bruges this morning shortly after 10 am, with some light showers that got us just wet enough to stop and put the covers on the paniers. Of course, as soon as we did so, the rain stopped and the sun came out. Such is the way of the world.

Our direction: Ghent, about 45 km away. With various detours and wrong turns, we ended up cycling 52. A good chunk of the ride today was along a canal running between the two cities, and it was certainly among the prettier rides we have done. Very buccolic. When we started our trip two weeks ago, the poppies were just starting to bloom. Now, as we ride through Flanders, you can see them everywhere. 


The poppies are just one more reminder of the battlefields this area saw 75 years ago. I'm not quite sure why I find it so moving to cycle through this landscape. I think the horrors that these lands have seen must be part of it. But it's not at all macabre and sad. It's just touching. There's so much beauty here. It's quite hard to imagine it being a battlefiled. 


We're staying at the Astoria Gent, right beside the train station, which doesn't sound that appealing, but it's actually quite a nice hotel room. We got here about 3, had a little rest then took the tram into town to see what Ghent is all about. It being Saturday afternoon, things were quite lively, as can be expected in a universtiy town. It's not really quite as charming as Bruges, but it is pretty all the same, with its many tall towers crowded downtown. 

Tomorrow, we're aiming for a town south of the LF 5 called Buggenhout (home of two breweries, by sheer coincidence, I swear) and then Monday we'll make it back to Mechelen. 

Friday, May 29, 2015

Can I say "beer heaven" again?

Today was a lazy day. We had originally thought to go for a ride in the morning and then spend the afternoon walking around Bruges, but cold, cloudy weather and accumulated fatigue made us decide to take it easy. In any case, we had laundry to do, which took up a good part of the morning. But let's face it, it was well after lunch before we got any real touristy things done. 

Luckily, the one main thing we wanted to see, the lace museum, was only a 10-minute walk from the B&B. Bruges is one of the world's most important centres for bobbin lace, a craft that I hold dear since my grandmother did it. The museum is modest but interesting, but the most interesting part is watching the people in the demonstration room. It was a strangely emotional experience watching these women working on their lace. One older woman, was mind-bogglingly fast. 


Then we looked into a few of Bruges' old churches, most of which seemed to be being renovated. Since it was a bit of a cold and blustery day, it soon became clear that we should retire to a pub in short order. Luckily, I had done some research and knew that a well known place was just around the corner: 't Brugs Beertje. We arrived early enough to get a table, but since Sonia wanted to shop, I just sat down at the bar and tried not to be overwhelmed by it all. 

To cut a long story short, my three beers there (all outstanding) ended with something that will be pretty hard to beat. Coincidentally, it's from a brewery in a town where we stopped early on on this trip, Esen, called De Dolle Brouwerij. The beer is called Oerbier Special Reserva (2013). At 13% alcohol and aged in oak barrels, it's pretty much a barley wine. But rarely have I experienced such complexity in a beer. Luckily, the bar was willing to sell me another one, so I'm bringing back yet another souvenir. 


Tomorrow, we say farewell to Bruges and start our journey back east. Our first stop is Ghent. 



Thursday, May 28, 2015

Can I stay here?

What a lovely day! I woke up this morning still a little bit high from my introduction to Westvleteren yesterday. Still can't believe I'll be bringing two bottles back with me. After researching this beer, I had assumed that if I couldn't get to the abbey myself, I wouldn't be able to get it at all. Turns out that it is widely available in the bottle shops here in Bruges (and presumably elsewhere in Belgium). But it is mostly going for about 12 Euros a bottle, so getting it for 4 Euros is an incredible bargain. Here is me opening my first "Westy." 



Today, we rode out to the coast. We were advised to avoid the Belgian coast because it was mostly urbanized, so we headed north on the LF1 to Sluis, just over the Holland boarder and then on to the Dutch coast. The view of the sea and dunes was lovely, if windy. 

\

By that time, we had ridden 26 km, with the wind mostly at our backs, so we had a rest and some lunch, knowing that the ride back would be harder that the ride there. As it turns out, the wind shifted slightly to the west in the afternoon, so it was more a crosswind and occasionally a tailwind. Not so bad after all.

Before we set out this morning, we dropped our bags at  the new B&B (it being seemingly impossible to find 3 nights in a row at the same place in Bruges). We were a little sad to leave our amazing little B&B of last night, but the new place seems very nice too and is inside the walls, so more convenient for exploring the old city. After returning from our ride, we rested for a bit and then headed out to explore Bruges in a little more detail. For Sonia, that meant browsing the lace shops. For me, it meant exploring the beer scene. I had heard of a famous local bar called De Garre and tried to find it. Let me tell you, Google maps will not help you very much here. It's  in a tiny street just off the main Markt, no wider than a door. 


The house beer, a blond tripel is very tasty and turned out to be the best beer I tried there. But they also had Gulden Draak and Gulden Draak Quad on tap, which I couldn't pass up. Both were good, but the house tripel is outstanding. They also had a really nice menu of bottles, but I would have needed a true Belgian beer geek along with me to make sense of it. 

After perusing a few bottle shops nearby (and a few lace boutiques with Sonia), we continued wandering around the city. Truly, for sheer prettiness, it is the nicest town we've been through on this trip. Weeping willows overhanging canals, gorgeous old cathedrals towering over well-kept and clean cobblestone streets, and not too many tourists (at least not this early in the season). The weather will dictate what we do tomorrow. If  it's not looking too rainy, we'll do a short ride somewhere and do some more wandering around town. 



Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Beer heaven

Today was mostly a travel day. We set off from Amsterdam this morning by train. We had hoped to catch the 11 o'clock train, but by the time I got to the ticket counter there was no chance of that, so the 12 o'clock train it was. That got us into Bruges by about 4:30. All went well, but let's just say that the trains in Holland and Belgium don't hold a candle to the Swiss rail system. 

Yesterday, we took in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. We were warned to get there early and to expect lines and crowds. As it happened, we walked right by the entrance because we were looking for a huge lineup where there was none. We arrived at about 9 am and the place was almost deserted for the first hour we were there. We got a very good look at Rembrant's Night Watch before the real crowds started coming in after 10. Even so, I was expecting much worse. 

The Rijks is probably the only museum we'll take in on this trip. Neither of us are real museum people, and I did some reflecting on why that is the other day. It's like my philosophy about recording being "purgatory" for music. It's ok for archival purposes, but recordings are not really music. I thiink I view museums a little the same way. They are like art zoos; fine for educational purposes, but art needs to live in society to be really effective. And like zoos, I find museums a little depressing. It's sad to see all these amazing works of art penned up together in the same place, when really, they should be free and out in the open. 

Ok, enough of my crazy artist BS. We really enjoyed the museum, but after 3 hours, we were footsore and overwhelmed. Time to have a bite to eat and explore. Which we did. We walked along the famous Albert Cuypmarkt, took the tram into the centre and saw the Neiuwmarkt, then headed over to the Brouwerij 't IJ for a few beers from one of Amsterdam's best breweries.

We also stopped to smell the roses along the way 


I write this from our excellent B&B in Bruges, where our hosts offer various beverages for an extra fee. One of those beverages happens to be Westvlerteren, a mythical and very famous Begian abbey beer that I have been wanting to try for years. It's normally only sold at the abbey, though apparently it is available fairly commonly in bottle shops around here. But I didn't expect to find it at the B&B! and for only 4 Euros a bottle! I think I might just be in beer heaven. At any rate, Holland was wonderful, but today's little beer surprise was a nice welcome back to Belgium!



Monday, May 25, 2015

For the birds

After our day in the big city yesterday, we felt the need to get back on the bikes today, so we decided to head out to the Waterland region north of Amsterdam. First, we had to get over the canal opposite Amsterdam Central Station, which we did by taking a very frequent, and frequented, ferrry which offers a very impressive view of the train station from the back. 

Then we followed the coastline through a bunch of fishing villages, each more picturesque than the last. Good weather has been a theme on this trip (touch wood); the winds were light today, and the temperature cool but comfortable. It made for some lovely photo ops. 



Cycling along the dikes, we encountered quite a few birders, and it was easy to see why. If we had been birding in earnest, it would have been a great day, I'm sure. As it was, we saw a number of lovely birds, such as Red-crested Pochards and Tufted Ducks (both lifers... not that we keep a list anymore), and what we think were Black-tailed Godwits. We also saw Northern Lapwings (which we've seen throughout the trip), oystercatchers, scaups, Great Crested Grebes, various geese, terns, some very tame herons, not to mention coots, moorhens, swans, numerous gull species, pheasants and other unidentified game birds. This evening, back in town, we even saw some Ring-necked Parakeets. 

We eventually made our way to Marken which is connected to the mainland by a long causeway. A deightful little fishing village that we could have spent more time in; alas, the ferry was about to leave, so we hopped on it and sailed over to the much more touristy (and less interesting, IMO) town of Volendam. The  ferry was cute and the 20-minute trip was a welcome break. And if you can believe it, the Love Boat theme was playing over the speakers. 


Much of this trip was along dikes, and whether you're riding along the top of them or below them, you really get a sense of how much of Holland is below sea level. You  probably can't reallly tell from this picture, but the water on the left (the sea) is at least 2 metres higher than the water on the right. 


All in all, a really lovey day. The whole trip was 60 km, which, without paniers weighing us down and no real wind to fight, seemed like a fairly easy ride. Tomorrow is another city day, and the Rijksmuseum. 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Sunny Amsterdam

Is there a medical term for a sore butt from cycling? Whatever it is, it kept me up last night. So despite being ensconced in a friend's lovely appartment in Amsterdam, I didn't sleep that well last night. On the other hand, I didn't have an alarm waking me up either, so there's that. But a lazy morning was definitely in order. We finally got out of the appartment just south of 1 pm to a gorgeous sunny Amsterdam day. I'm going to go ahead and assume that this not-a-cloud-in-the-sky weather is typical. Because I'm optimistic like that. 

We hopped on a tram and bought a 1-day transit pass that turned out to be a great deal, since the trams in Amsterdam, even on a Sunday, seem to run very frequently. We spent a few hours exploring the city: the Royal Palace and Nieuwe Kerk (which nevertheless dates from the 15th century), the Begijnhof, the flower market and a few other places. The nice weather apparently lured every single person in Amsterdam into the streets, because it felt like mid-summer as far as tourist crowds go. All the brasserie terraces were chock full. A little overwhelming after the past week of small, quiet South Holland towns. 

Google then led us to a nice craft beer bar that served only Dutch craft beers. The Proeflokaal Arendsnest is impressive but expensive. E8.50 for two 25cl glasses of standard draft is pretty steep, even for craft beer. 


Still, it was nice to sit by the Herengract and watch all the boats go by. 


Then it was on to the train station to find out about getting the train to Bruges next week. The Belgian train operators may go on strike next Wednesday (which the Dutch woman at the ticket counter seemed to find both funny and exasperating), so we may delay our departure to Thursday. 

Even after over a week in Holland, the bicycle culture here continues to amaze me. It's truly a model that North America should follow. To see this huge bicycle parking lot at the train station is mind blowing. 


Then in was home to do a few groceries, cook supper and do some more relaxing. Tomorrow, if the weather cooperates, we plan to cycle the Waterland area northeast of Amsterdam. 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Late bloomers

Today was another long day (62 km), but at least we get a good rest now. And we lucked out with the weather again. We started out from Leiden a little later than we had hoped, because we slept in after a late night at the wonderful concert last evening. Turned out to be good "planning" on our part, since the showers basicaly stopped just as we got on the bikes. I had been expecting a wet day, but it turned out to be quite nice weather. 

Today's route took us north, past Lisse and the Keukenhof gardens, the area of Holland famous for its tulip fields. Alas, we are a week too late to see the fields at the height of their beauty, but on the other hand, I now have a clear understanding of where the term "late bloomer" comes from. 


Yes, I know these aren't tulips. You get the idea. There were still a few fields that had some lovelyl flowers though, so it wasn't a total loss. Also, did I mention we were cycling in Holland? Yeah. So not so bad, really. 


The winds today, though light (about 20 km/hour) were from the NNE, so we had them against us more or less all day, which makes Sonia's effort that much more impressive. The last 60+ km day we had, the winds were at our back the whole time. Today, I did my best to act as a wind break as much as possible, but it was still a pretty tough ride for both of us. We  rolled into Haarlem at about  2:30, tired, hungry and knowing we still had a solid 17 or 18 km left to go. Happily, I had heard that there's a good brewpub in Haarlem (Jopenkerk, run by the Jopen brewery), where we were able to refuel and try some very nice beer. Then it was back on the bikes and due east toward Amsterdam on the LF 20, where a friend's appartment was waiting for us. We'll stay here for at least 3 nights, I think, so the daily rides are behind us for a bit. I'll miss being on the bike every morning, but I think a break will do us both some good. Time to see what Amsterdam and environs has to offer. 




Friday, May 22, 2015

The Leiden Choir Books

Just another spectacular day. Ho hum. Today was Delft to Leiden, via Den Hague and the dunes. Kilometre-wise, it was a pretty easy day: only 37, and we had the wind at our backs for a lot of it. On the other hand, the dunes on the west coast of Holland must be the hilliest part of the country, so we actually had to do some climbing. 

The dunes are so different from anything we've ridden through thus far and very cool. And they end at the sea. That, friends, is what you call a beach. 

We had lunch with this view and then headed north up the coast before turning inland again toward Leiden. I took some shots while we were riding to give an idea of what the bike paths are like over here. 


Leiden is home to the first university in Holland, founded by William of Orange, and it clearly remains a thriving university town. Lots of bars and young people here. Since it was such a short day on the bike, we arrived in town early and so had time to wander around before the shops closed. We passed by the famous Pieterskerk and noticed that there was a concert there that evening. After inquiring, we learned that it was the first concert in a tour of book 6 of the Leiden choir books, a set of choir books compiled for a group of professional singers employed at the church in the 15th and 16th centuries to sing masses for wealthy deceased people. 

The concert was by Edigius Kwardtet & College, directed by Peter de Goote. The singing was spectacular, and the music, much of it by Claudin de Sermisy took me back to my days playing in l'Ensemble Claude Gervaise over 20 years ago. There's something magical about hearing music performed in such an important historical context like this. It wasn't quite as moving as hearing the Gabrieli Consort performing from the Lerma Manuscript in Lerma, but it was incredibly moving all the same. An unforgettable end to just another spectacular day. 




Thursday, May 21, 2015

Delft

Today's ride was brought to you by windy Holland. Ok, I exaggerate just a little. It wasn't really much windier than yestereday, but today's ride was almost all against it. So our 47 km were quite tiring. 

But let's start at the beginning. This morning was the Gouda cheese market. Last night, the main square was deserted. 
 

This morning, it looked like this: 


So yeah, your basic European market day, but with lots and lots of cheese. 

We got on the road by 11 and while not as spectaular as yesterday, it was generally nice riding, incuding through some lovely parkland. Other than the wind, the weather was wonderful. 16C and sunny. Since we were no longer on the LF roads, there was quite a lot of stopping to get our bearings, and we missed a few turns, but nothing major. We got to Delft shortly after 4 and, low and behold, another market. 

Delft is actually much nicer than Gouda, in my opinion. It was clearly quite prosperous at one time, since the historic centre has three huge churches within about 500 metres. It also seemed a little livlier. Tommorow we cyce through Den Hague and up through the dunes and then back over the Leiden for the night. That  said, we haven't found anything there yet, so we may end up taking a train into Amsterdam if we come up empty. 


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Rhymes with lauda

All is well in the land of cheese. Slowly, I may be learning not to worry. After a restless night's sleep last night, during which my mantra was "all will be well," I woke up this morning to a message from a B&B I had inquired about through AirBnB last night saying that the place was ours if we wanted it. But just to be sure, I booked tomorrow night's place in Delft, for an extra day of piece of mind.

Today's ride was another spectacular one. We lucked out with the weather. The forecast for the past few days had been for scattered thundershowers today, but this morning, it had miraculously changed to partly sunny. So, glorious riding weather except for a little bit of wind. But this is Holland after all, and our ride took us through the heart of windmill country, Kinderdijk, so no wind would have been sad, since the mills wouldn't have been turning. Actually, only two were: a more modern one and the museum mill. Truly spectacular. (I wish I could post pictures, but I can't seem to access my iphone camera roll from the Blogger post entry window.)

From Kinderdijk, the LF2 took us through some really beautiful farmland. Lots of cows, sheep, goats, roosters, pigs, etc. Also lots of great birds. It's a good thing we didn't bring a field guide with us, or we would never get anywhere. But it is nesting season, so we stopped a few times to enjoy the sight of coots, grebes and swans on nests right beside the bike path. We only had to ride into the teeth of the wind for a few kilometres, and Sonia was happy to ride in my lee for most of that. But even with the wind, it's a pleasure to ride in such beautiful countryside along such gorgeous bike paths. We got to Gouda around 4: just about 50 km even. After a rest, we walked 20 minutes into the old town, wandered around for a while and found a place for dinner. Oude Gouda is very pretty and we enjoyed walking around after dinner too. Our host also explained why we had so much trouble finding a place to stay here this evening. Tomorrow is the weekly kaasmarkt, or cheese market. So we lucked out again, since we'll be able to experience it tomorrow before we head on our way to Delft.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Dordrecht (2)

So far, the hardest part of this trip has been trying not to worry about where we'll be staying. The first few nights went well, but it took us quite a few tries to find a B&B in Dordrecht, and Gouda is proving elusive. To be continued...

But today was lovely. Dordrecht is just the sort of "undiscovered" town that most tourists dream about finding. In many ways, it reminds me of a tiny little Venice,  but without the hoards of tourists (or the gondolas). It seemed to us, after just a couple of days here, to be a place mostly filled with locals. But in the spirit of "when in Holland, do as the...  Canadians do: we rented a canoe at the nearby national park and had a lovely paddle. It was a nice change from the urban and agricultural landscapes we've seen thus far.

In the afternoon, we wandered around the historic city centre and had a meal and drinks at a "brasserie" (they don't actually brew at these places). I think we could have easily enjoyed another day here. Now the search for tomorrow night's accomodations continues.

I'm not stressed... really...

Monday, May 18, 2015

Dordrecht

Well, that was a long day. But not in the bad sense. Just in the distance sense. We started out from the B&B this morning at 9 am, with our first stop Roosendaal, where I needed to get a Dutch SIM card for my phone. The wind was blowing quite briskly from the south as we left, and it was quite chilly. Luckily, our route soon turned north, and with the wind at our backs, the ride soon becaume much more comfortable and quite a lot speedier. Nothing much to see in Roosendaal, other than the phone shop and a nice market, where we picked up some excellent local cheese. Then it was back on the road again. The LF2 took us mostly along quiet farm roads, and most of the scenery consisted of potato fields. So we didn't stop much other than to get our bearings from time to time.

A word about the bike paths in Belgium and Holland. Over all they are very well marked. The major cross-country paths, the LF routes, are quite scenic (so far) and generally very easy to navigate. That said, I'm very glad to have my iPhone with me. Before we left, I downloaded a program called MotionX, which allows you to pinpoint your location on a map using GPS. It differs from Google Maps in that you can download custom maps and use them without an Internet connection if necessary. So I had previously downloaded 3 Gb of cycle-route maps of Belgium and Holland. Turned out to be a great decision. Several times an hour, if ever I'm in doubt, I'll pull  out the phone and make sure we are actually on the right road. It only takes a second, but it's very reassuring to know we're going in the right  direction, and it's aready saved us from going way off course a couple of times.

40 km into today's ride found us in the little town of Zevenbergen, just in time for lunch. We had a very nice meal (Me: meatball & fries plus a nice Dutch wheat beer, the name off which escapes me at the moment; Sonia: chicken/bacon sandwhich with a Belgian blond that turned out to be brewed by Het Anker in Mechelen, which was VERY nice). It was a welcome break. Before we started on the last leg, I put on another  layer of clothes, since even with the wind at our backs, I was starting to get chilled. 23 km later, and after crossing the impressive Hollands Diep River, we arrived at our B&B in Dordrecht. Total of 63 km for the day. No big deal for most real cycists, but neverthless, the longest ride ever for Sonia. Even I was happy to have a tailwind.

After a short nap and something to eat,  we went out to expore the town, billed as Hollands oldest city. Since it was after 6 pm, the old centre was deserted, but it looks like quite a beautiful Renaissance town that has a nice mix of old and new. We've been on the bikes for 4 days now, and the forecast for tomorrow doesn't look great, so we've decided to stay here an extra day. There are lots of things to see around here, and there's even a craft brewery in town that I'd like to check out. The  break wil do us good. Gouda can wait an extra day.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Idyllic

What a spectacuar day. Perhaps the nicest day of cycling I've ever done. We left Antwerp this morning at 9:45 to the sound of church bells calling citizens to 10 o'clock mass. Didn't see too many people rushing to church though. In fact, the streets were pretty quiet. Lots of police presence and barricades everywhere in preparation for the triathlon. It took us a good hour to get out of the city, but once we did, we were cycling through lovely green suburbs, magnificent estates, and parks. Sunny but slightly cool weather made for perfect riding conditions. We saw rhododendrons everywhere, in at least four different colours. Lots of cyclists on the paths too, it being Sunday.

We stopped for lunch outside the train station in a little town called Heide. There's a very cool war memorial there, with two soldiers facing each other across a huge slab of granite. One is presumably German, the other is Canadian ("Canada" can be clearly seen on his epaulette). Though I'm a pacifist, I was quite moved. It really brought home the fact that we were cycling through what were horrific battte grounds 75 years ago.

After lunch, we continued north through beautiful parkland toward the Dutch board. Just before crossing over, we stopped for a treat at a little subburb of Essens called Hoek. The café there served beer that owner brewed herself. How could I say no? It turned out to be a "light" Belgian amber (only 7.5%) that I very much enjoyed, called Lampetier. If we were spending more time in this area, I'd definitely seek out their other offerings. Ratebeer doesn't seem to like it,  but there's nothing like drinking a beer in its natural habitat.

Tonight's B&B is on a farm just north of the Belgian border, near the town of Wouwse-Plantage. Tomorrow, we plan to get an early start toward Dordrecht to try and beat the light rain forecast to start in the afternoon.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Cycling in the land of chocolate, cheese and beer

My wife and I are pretending we're 25 and spending our vacation on a 2-and-a-half week cycle tour of Belgium and Holland. We were both a bit nervous about it, since neither of us as done very much cycle touring, but we also didn't want to do the same old European vacation. Part of the goal,  for me at least, was to go with the flow, follow our noses, and not feel bound by any particular agenda... and not get too stressed out if things weren't going exactly as we had planned.

I'm going to try and keep a bit of a travelogue of this trip, mostly for my own amusement, but I hope my one or two readers might get some entertainment value out of it too.

We landed in Brussels on May 15 at about  11:30 am. Our luggage consisted of our backpacks, stuffed with our paniers, and our two bikes. Getting  our bikes over the Atlantic undamaged was one of my main concerns about this trip, but it proved unfounded. After waiting for a 1/2 hour for the oversized bags to come out, our bikes arrived bascally  undamaged (my front refector is broken, but that's it). It took a good hour to get the bikes assembled and loaded, but we were ready to hit the road by 2. One concession to doing some actual planning for this trip was that we decided to book the first and last nights within an hour bike ride of Brussels. So we reserved a nice litte B&B in Mechelen, about 20 km north of Brussels. The weather for our first (jetlagged) ride was great, and we arrived without incident. It took us a little longer than we had thought because we were constantly stopping to check our bearings, but the signs are all very clear. The b&b was lovely and Mechelen is a very pretty town.

Today, we cycled 42 km to Antwerp. A beautiful ride, though a little misty and drizzly at times. Nothing really off-putting. We suspected we might have a little trouble findng a place to stay on a Saturday in a big place like Antwerp, and we became even more concerned when we learned that there was a major triathlon in the twon today.  But, in keeping with the don't-worry-be-happy theme of this vacation, I decided not to panic. Lo and behold, there was a vacancy at the first hotel I called.

Tomorrrow, we're continuing north toward Roosendaal. Weather looks nice. Should be a really beautiful ride. Watch this page for more!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Cadence

Requiescat in pace, Henning Garner Christensen 

Through the glass you covet the evening light,
oblique against the valley wall,
willing it to live forever
while you watch the days of film
slip away one by one before your eyes.

In the spruce outside the third-floor window,
a resident black squirrel endures the strutting local magpies,
knowing that come sundown, even cleverness
will not spare them the indignity of silence,
knowing that they soon must fly away.

As human as a cadence marching home,
you too must fly away,
those final notes defying gravity,
the memory of your ephemeral life etched into our hearts  
no more replacing the tangible, majestic beauty of it – 
though no less treasured –  
than the grooves on a wax cylinder
turning on a phonograph spindle in an empty room
replace an aria.