Flanders

Flanders

Our very first self guided bicycle tour had been to Holland and we felt it was high time to revisit and combine with a tour of the neighbor to the south, Belgium.
We had a nice direct flight into Schipol Airport in the Netherlands. Holland is very bicycle friendly and we knew we could easily bike from the airport into Amsterdam.
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Prologue:  Schipol Airport to Amsterdam  15,7 km

This is a pretty easy, flat and short ride, even for two jet lagged travelers. There are so many fietspads, bike paths, in Holland, the trick is finding the right one and watching for signs. We had traveled with our own bikes and after gathering our bags and reassembling our bikes at the airport, we were on our way on an Saturday morning to make our way to the Centrum of Amsterdam and to our hotel in the Jordaan district. From the front of the arrivals terminal we turn left and pass in front of the ABN-AMRO Bank building. Shortly after the red path picks up. Soon we will be crossing the road at “Fietsers Oversteken”, where you have to cross over to the other side. At the sign to Hoopdorf, we make a right and follow signs now to Badhoevedorp and Amsterdam. At the tunnel underpass we ride under a runway. We just continue to follow signs to Badhoevedorp and Amsterdam. We know we are nearly there as we turn right at the Bloomgracht canal and ride beside; watching for our hotel. We arrived early in the day, which gave us time to roam around town.
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We had been here before and believe me, there are lots of sites to see; more than one can possibly see in only one day.

Amsterdam, Holland to Brugge, Belgium via train

Amsterdam Centraal Station is the connecting hub for train rides throughout Belgium and the Netherlands.
We chose a train route between Amsterdam and Brugge with only one transfer and our bikes had lots of company.
From the station in Brugge, it was just a short ride to our B&B. After settling in to our modern and comfortable room, we decided to take a little side trip which will take us through part of town and then out by some molens, or windmills and get acquainted with the town.
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This is one of the most beautiful little towns we had visited. It is very walkable or cyclable. There are historic buildings and churches, canals and delicious cuisine; whether you like the famed Belgium beers, waffles, frites or chocolates. I’d say there is something to everyone’s liking.
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Stage One:  Brugge to Ghent  45,0 km

This is truly our first stage of riding in Flanders. There is a stage of Tour de France that will be ending in Ghent today and we intend to be there to see the finish. The Belgium people are real cycle enthusiasts we many great champions in the sport. We leave town to ride beside the Brugge Ghent canal. Soon we are at a drawbridge and wait to cross and then wait for an opportunity to cross the roadway, just after the bridge to ride the path with the canal to our left. Today’s ride is flat and mostly on paved paths, with just a few sections of dirt and on roadways through small towns. As we approach the Ghent, we cross on a bridge; but, we stay on course with the canal on our left, all the way into Ghent. On our arrival, many roads were closed already for the arrival of Tour de France and we made our way around some detours to arrive at our B&B. We had dodgy weather and a thunderstorm as we entered town; but, the skies clears and the sun arrived, just in time for the Tour arrival. We positioned ourselves for whatever view we could get of the finish and mixed with the excited crowd. Nothing like seeing a Tour de France finish! We had time for a little sight seeing in this town that was once the largest cities in Europe; a bit hard to believe now.
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That evening we enjoyed some of the local brews, each with it’s own special glass. Then had a good nights sleep.

Stage Two:  Ghent to Dendermonde  42,4 km

We picked the town of Dendermonde as our destination today, as it was about a halfway point on the way to Antwerp. We headed out of Ghent on a route past university buildings, up and down, to make our way to the Vlanderen Fietsroute, which follows the twisting course of the Schelde. This is a national route and is well signed. The path is cinders and paving. There are a few diversions from beside the river to take us through small towns and farmland, with cows, sheep and goats. All very pleasant. Eventually we are back beside the Schelde and then, as we near Dendermonde, our path is beside the roadway. Watch carefully for the bridge, with bike lane, to take us over the river and into Dendermonde. We checked in to our centrally located hotel and checked out the tourist information office and wandered through town. This is not a major tourist attraction; but, the Market Square is its centerpiece. Dominated by the State House, the distinct Belgian architecture dates back to the thirteenth century.
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Along the River Dender, which feeds into the Schelde, Dendermonde showcases the work of Belgian artists.
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Stage Three:  Dendermonde to Antwerp  54,6 km


We’ll be taking some different routes today. As well as the Vlanderen Fietsroute, we’ll be taking some other routes. They call these “button” routes. This is fairly long and technical ride, so we got an early start and headed up to the fietspad beside the next Schelde. It’s about double the distance on the bike path…from the autos, to Antwerp…because we follow the twisty river. This is the scenic route. All along the route, they have nice little amenities so you can stop and take a break and admire the scenery and perhaps have a snack at one of the picnic tables. Lots of critters out today….pheasants and lambs. The town of Baasrode is where we catch our 1st Ferry of the day. The landing is to the left of the church up a little incline and the schedule is posted. This is for pedestrian and cycles only and there was no cost. During the hours of operation, the ferry runs every half hour and the crossing only takes a few minutes. Then we waited out a rain squall, under some trees and then headed to the turnoff to our 2nd Ferry of today. This will take us across the Schelde river once again. This ferry was similar to the first and again, there was no charge. We land at the pretty little town of Mariekirk and ride up through the square to the fietspad, just beyond. We pass several other ferry landings; but, continue riding on the fietspad that appears to be up on a dyke. We leave the trail and merge with the road as we enter Weert on a roadway, before we enter a nice two way bike path. We’ll be crossing over a highway and then at the bridge, we will be on the fietspad, under the bridge. We continue on to what looks like an industrial building, which is actually where we will be crossing the waterway and then doubling back a bit. Just past some modern windmills is where we will be catching our next ferry of today. This one has just unloaded a group of cyclists and this time there is a nominal fee. After landing we make our way past the power station and through town. We ride on, through corn fields and watching for signs and eventually we reach the river again. We make our way through the town of Hoboken on busy market day and we are on the roadway through some suburbs. Heads up, there is some zig zagging and we must watch carefully for signs as we go through an industrial area and beside some rail tracks. We are working our way into the very busy port city of Antwerp. We are relieved to reach a nice red brick cycle path, which brings us past the harbor and the castle and into the heart of town. We chose a place which was centrally located, near the train station and which welcomed us and our bikes. After the long, technical ride into the old port town of Antwerp, we decided to give our saddle sores a rest for a couple of days and do some sightseeing by foot. There is art everywhere in Antwerp, from statues in the street to the Royal Museum of Fine Art.
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In the middle of the old city, the Grote Markt (Grand Market Square) is a splendid sight. Dominated by the renaissance style Stadhuis, the square is lined with numerous guildhalls, high patrician houses with step gables and gold-plated ornaments and statuettes.
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Antwerp’s Central Station is one of the largest in Europe. Next day, we took a side trip, without bikes, to Brussels. In spite of a bad reputation for cycling, Brussels is worth seeing, The Grand Place, or Town Square
is a remarkable collection of public and private buildings, dating mainly from the late 17th century. The architecture demonstrates the level of social and cultural life of the period in this highly successful mercantile city at the height of its prosperity.
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Not far from the Grand Place are several wonderful museums. Another treat you owe yourself is the classic Belgian Waffle. Yummy! Then we hopped on a train back to Antwerp.
Next day we will be leaving Belgium to cross over into the Netherlands on our bikes. See info on the next segment of South Holland.