Monday, August 5, 2019

Pomeringe Loop -- Monday August 5, 2019

Today was our last day of cycling. It was a loop of 45 miles through the Fields of Flanders, with lots of WWI memorials, monuments and cemeteries, of which I shall say more in a few moments. It was scheduled to be a 39 mile ride, but, because Becky, John and I missed an arrow and went about three miles before backtracking we got six miles of "extra credit." Because it was a loop ride, we had our share of both headwinds and tailwinds. As usual, we had a mixture of smooth roads and rough cobbles. We also had our first real hills today -- not too long or too steep, however.

More than half a million Allied and German soldiers died in three major battles between 1914 and 1917 in this region which includes Ypres. The first major stop was the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917. The museum with its audio guide was very informative. (Did you know that the first defense against the chlorine gas used by the Germans was a urine-soaked handkerchief which would trap/neutralize the chlorine if placed over the nose? Gas masks were developed shortly after.)

Becky, John and I had some snacks there, which served as lunch, before getting back on the road. My next stop was "Hill 62" which was not very high, but which offered a commanding view of the surrounding fields and is the site of the monument pictured at the top of the page.

We then passed several cemeteries. Each on contained the remains of the fallen from a particular regiment or similar unit. They are immaculately maintained by the home countries of those buried in each cemetery.

One thing that has surprised me on this whole trip is how few poppies I have seen. During WWI, the fields of Flanders were said to be "ablaze" with the red poppies. 

If you view the video of today's ride, you will immediately see our wrong turn -- and out and back into the middle of the loop.

Many of the narrow streets that we have been riding on are one-way. However, in almost all cases, bicycles are permitted to ride counter to the flow of motorized traffic, as indicated by the signs (the one sign that I can "read").

Tonight we will have our farewell dinner and tomorrow morning we will say goodbye to our guides and be transported to Brussels by taxi. I will have an afternoon and evening in Brussels and then catch my plane home on Wednesday morning. 

I will close with two pictures from the square in Pomeringe where we had dinner last night, and will have dinner tonight as well.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Bruges to Pomeringe -- Sunday, August 4, 2019

Today was our penultimate day of cycling. It was absolutely perfect weather as we cycled through 48 miles of Belgium. The day had two highlights. The first was a visit to the "Trench of Death," trenches remaining from the World War I Battle of the Yser. It was extremely moving to see these trenches, with the original sandbags, in which the Belgian soldiers lived for four years.

Along the way, we stopped for coffee. Here is Jeanne with her capuccino.

Since we are down to six riders, we tended to stay closely grouped. Today was the longest day of the tour -- just under fifty miles, and almost completely flat (500 feet of climbing in fifty miles is hardly noticeable). The weather was great, with very little wind. The road surface was quite variable, from smooth-as-silk asphalt to concrete slabs with the annoying seams, to brick roads that resembled cobblestones.

We pedaled on to the second highlight of the day -- the Abbey of St. Sixtus, one of the six Trappist Monastaries in Belgium still brewing beer. (There are a total of fourteen in the world.). To be a Trappist beer, it must be brewed entirely within the confines of the monastery. This particular monastery sells its beer only on the premises -- you can not buy it anywhere else (unlike Chimay, for instance, which is readily available in the US). I tried the strongest of the three (regularly judged to be one of the best beers in the world). Fortunately we only had a couple of miles to our hotel.

I don't have any great pictures from St. Sixtus, so here are photos of John and Becky on the tandem, and Bob and Jeanne on their machines.

Our hotel is fascinating. It is spread out over several buildings in this rather old town of Pomeringe, and the rooms are ultra-modern. My shower is fantastic, with several horizontal sprays as well as the standard overhead shower. The bathtub, which I did not use, has about 20 water jets. Even the lighting is unusual -- the overhead lights keep changing colors as I type this.

Almost forgot to include the video:

The six of us went out as a group for dinner tonight. Service was rather slow, but the food was excellent, and we shared several dishes. 

Tomorrow will be our last ride -- it will take us through several WWI battlefields. It will be a loop ride, bringing us back to the same hotel. 

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Saturday. August 3, 2019 -- Bruges

Our boat arrived in Bruges yesterday afternoon, and we were free to walk around the City prior to returning for a farewell dinner on board (farewell to those who are leaving the tour at this point.) As planned, I visited the Groeninge Museum and saw two paintings that I was particularly drawn to. In addition to the Judgment of Cambyses, mentioned yesterday, there is a triptych of the Last Jusdgment by Heironymous Bosch.

After that, I looked in vain for an ATM. This City is absolutely clogged with visitors (9 million per year) and yet it seems impossible to find an ATM. I was told this morning that they can only be found in banks and a few hotels. So this  morning, our guides pointed one out to me. The farewell dinner on board was excellent -- cod with potatoes prepared in a very interesting and tasty fashion as well as fresh green beans.

This morning we took leave of the boat and our excellent crew.

The computer does not seem to like me tonight, and the WiFi is sluggish, so I will add all the pictures at the end.

Our guide for the walking tour of the City this morning was Ian -- extremely knowledgable and an excellent communicator. I wish that I could remember 5% of all that he told us.

After the tour, we walked as a group to the hotel where the six of us who are continuing onward are staying, along with our two remaining guides. We were on our own again for a few hours, so I had a delicious lunch of mussels (a Belgian specialty) and frites. The portions were immense, so I did not finish them. I then visited the Saint John's Hospital museum. This hospital is the oldest hospital in Europe still standing (although it has not been operated as a hospital for many years -- it is now a museum). Ian had said that if you were only going to visit one Museum in Bruges, this was the one to see. It was quite informative. Like the other museums that I have visited on this tour, the audio guides in English are very helpful. 

I went back to the hotel to check in. My room is palatial compared to the small (but pleasant) cabin on the boat. Since we are back on the bikes tomorrow, I am trying to unpack as little as possible.

We met later in the afternoon for a guided tour of the Half Moon brewery. It is the only remaining brewery in Bruges. It was completely modernized in 2010, and they build a two mile pipeline to take the beer to their bottling plant outside the City. This eliminated a huge amount of truck traffic in this small city with its narrow streets. Our guide was tremendous -- she could have a career in stand-up comedy. We finished the tour with a glass of their beer -- unfiltered. This is the only place you can get it unfiltered -- the beer that is bottle is filtered along the way. We shared some bread and cheese with our beer. After my big lunch, that was enough food so that I skipped dinner.
Half Moon brewery welcomes out cycling tour

The Crew -- Tina, Tomas, Sara, Johan and Roy the owner/skipper

Beer Wall

Beer wall

Markt (the main square)

Friday, August 2, 2019

Cycling to Bruges -- Friday, August 2, 2019

For a change I am typing my blog early -- it is not even 2 pm yet. The day is not over yet, although we are through cycling. Today started out cool, cloudy and moderately windy and it stayed that way, except when we had a few brief showers. I managed to stay ahead of the rain for the most part. The one time that I did feel that it was sprinkling hard enough that I should put on my rain jacket, it stopped before I could park my bike and dig out the jacket.

Today was a mixture of small towns and villages, farmland and forest. It was all very pleasant with good roads and bike paths for the entire ride of about 25 miles. Here is the video:

I arrived shortly before the barge got here. While waiting, I watched this man fishing. They take their fishing seriously -- note the umbrella. I saw several fishermen like this today. In the time that I have been here, this one has caught several small fish -- like the sunfish or perch that we caught as children.

Watching the boat arrive was interesting as well. Just before the docking spot, the boat had to go under a bridge. It did so with the yellow smoke stack and the mast folded down on the deck.

The boat is moored about an hour's cruise from the center of the city of Bruges, our destination for tonight and tomorrow. Upon arrival in Bruges, we will have a few hours to explore it on our own, then we return to the boat for the farewell dinner for those members of the group that are ending their tour at this point. (Six of us are continuing on for two more days of cycling and brewery touring.) 
This will be our last night on the barge, so I will have to pack tonight. I am not looking forward to

Tomorrow we will have a guided tour of the City. I have been to Bruges before and love it -- with its many canals, it is often called the Venice of the North.  I vividly recall visiting the Groeninge Museum with the painting Judgment of Cambyses by Gerard David. Since the museum will not be on our tour tomorrow morning, I may revisit it this afternoon. 

Starr and Phil

Thursday, August 1, 2019

On to Gent (Ghent) -- Thursday August 1, 2019

Another very long and enjoyable day. It is now 10pm and we have just returned to the boat. The bike ride was short because we had to get to the boat for lunch on board and our afternoon tour of Gent (I shall use the Belgian spelling -- we usually spell it Ghent). The weather was perfect for cycling -- sunny, cool and only mild wind. We rode through familiar agricultural land with lots of corn and horses. Then we came upon an area with lots of greenhouses where they were growing flowers and shrubs. Some, presumably, in the greenhouses, but we saw lots of plants growing in the ground and in closely packed flower pots. Here are two shots of a man weeding azaleas which are in flower pots -- thousands of them.

After lunch on our floating hotel, we transferred to a small motor launch for a narrated tour to the old city of Gent. It was about an hour and a half or two hour trip including several of the canals within the city. Our guide was very informative. After the tour, we were on our own for about four hours until 8:30 during which we were free to explore the city, have dinner, and, in my case, to take advantage of a good free WiFi connection in the Marriott for a phone call to Kathleen.

The City is full of remarkable old buildings. I took too many pictures to sort through this evening, so I picked just one -- the Gravensteen or Castle of the Counts.

For dinner, I opted to keep it very simple -- the famous Belgian frites, in this case served with a small amount of Flemish Beef Stew. And, of course, a Belgian Beer. I arrived there alone, but Jana joined me -- she had the frites with Indo Peanut sauce. 

The original plan was that we would return to the barge, individually or in small groups, by taxi. However, we decided as a group to re-engage our motor launch to bring us all back together. We left Gent at 8:30 in the same boat but with a different guide. He added a few new stories and then turned the wheel over to Luis (one of our guides) who added some stories of his own. The boat was then expertly brought alongside the quay by Jackie, another of our guides. 

Lest I forget -- here is the video of today's ride:

This is my 10th tour with ExperiencePlus, but it is the first time I have done the bike and barge or boat and barge option. It is really nice to be able to cycle in different places every day without having to pack and unpack each day. 

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Antwerp to Bosteels Brewery and Back to the Barge

It was a long and enjoyable day, but dinner is in half an hour, and I want to finish this post before then. So, here is the picture that tells the whole story:
In the tasting room at Bosteels Brewery.

Well, it is not quite the whole story, but it is the best part. We started out from Antwerp in cold, windy, and overcast weather. Pedaling out of the city was very easy with the excellent bike paths, and then we had to go under the river via a 500 meter pedestrian/cyclist tunnel. You get to the tunnel via an elevator or escalator that descends 31 meters (about 100 feet) and then pedal under the river and reverse the process. Unique experience.

Most of the rest of the ride was uneventful, except that the wind continued and was quite strong most of the day. We regrouped at the Brewery where we were to get a three hour guided tour and tasting. I was early and stopped in a sandwich shop recommend by Burt, our marker for the day. The hamburger was precooked and served cold, along with cheese, on a very tasty baguette. Not what we Americans think of as a cheeseburger, but it was just what I needed after fighting the wind for so long. 

We started our tour of the brewery shortly after 2pm and were there until 4:30. Bosteels has been family operated for seven generations. It was recently purchased by AB InBev, but they still operate with the old family recipes and produce about 2.3 million liters of beer a year. Our guide was very informative and we learned a lot about the history of beermaking, the process of beermaking, and history of this particular family operation. At present they are making only two beers, and we had generous samples of each. Good thing that we only had four miles to bike back to the barge!

Today's video only shows Antwerp to the brewery.  The last four miles was simply a retracing of our steps.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Tholen to wherever the barge was moored and on to Antwerp -- Tuesday July 30, 2019

Busy, Busy day! Nearly 200 photos, and not much time to select ones for the blog. We started off with a short bike ride from our mooring in Tholen to a point on the river where the barge was waiting for us. It was a nominally 20 mile ride, but I managed to make it about 23 by missing a turn. The great thing about the way ExperiencePlus marks the routes with chalk arrows is that once you realize that you haven't seen an arrow for a while, you simply backtrack until you find the one that you missed, and you are back on course. So, I had no problem making it back to the barge for our noon departure for a sailing luncheon to Antwerp. The lunch was outstanding, with a shrimp cocktail followed by a smoked salmon wrap and concluding with sorbet and fruit.

Lest I forget -- here is the video of today's ride:

The highlight of the day's cycling was a water crossing that was actually below the water level (see the picture), and a climb up a very interesting monument that reminded me of the work "Ascending and Descending" by the Dutch artist M.C.Escher. I climbed to the top and found that the view was not all that spectacular. For a good part of the day we were in forested areas which was a change from the heavily agricultural areas of previous days.

I need to digress and put up a few photos from last night's visit to a working windmill. It is for sale, by the way. The owner bought the property as a residence (the house is attached) but as the brick work started to crumble he realized the need to take corrective action and after a lot of effort goat approval and funding for a restoration that ended up costing 750,000 Euro.

Kurt turning the "hat" of the windmill

Back to today -- We arrived in Antwerp, passing through the very large port. Of particcular interest was the "port house," pictured below.
Amtwerp Port House

Janice, one of our excellent guides

We had a two or three hour guided walking tour of Antwerp, ending at the Cathedral with two massive Rubens masterpieces. Dinner was on our own, and four of us had dinner in an excellent Italian restaurant adjacent to the MAS (a large, new museum). After dinner, we took a series of escalators to the top of the museum where we had a panoramic view of the City of Antwerp.

Draw birdge -- picks up two motor vehicle lanes and two bicycle lanes.
So, here it is, 9:30 in the evening, and I am ready to close my shipboard office.
Aboard the Magnifique