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

Monday, July 29, 2019

Willemstad to Tholen -- Monday, July 29, 2019

You couldn't ask for a better day for cycling -- the sun has been out all day, the temperatures have been pleasant, and the scenery beautiful. So, I will start with the video of today's ride:

We started off with a two hour breakfast cruise as our floating hotel traveled from Dordrecht to Willemstad. We then set off for an easy day of cycling through beautiful country with more windmills and lots of green countryside. Along the way we saw potato fields and pear orchards.

Cycling in the Netherlands is like cycling in Florida, as I have heard it described by my Floridian friends -- the only hills are the overpasses. This is  a very bicycle friendly country. Although I knew that there is a huge network of bike paths and dedicated bike lanes, I did not realize until yesterday that many of these are numbered routes with good signage, so that you could easily plan your tip nd just follow the signs.

At one point today, we had to cross a canal via a self-operated bridge. The normal state of the bridge is "open" so that watercraft can pass through. When pedestrians and cyclist wish to cross, they push a button to activate the bridge and, after a suitable interval to allow the boats to clear, the bridge slides across the canal.
JoAnn on the self-operated bridge.

The highlight of the day was the small village of Oud-Vossemeer. It is believed (or claimed) that the ancestors of Franklin D. Roosevelt came from this town. There is a delightful inn on the town square named Huys van Roosevelt, which is filled with Roosevelt memorabilia. The draft beer is "Roosevelt bier," and there is even a Roosevelt museum across the square from the Inn. Most of us had lunch at the outdoor tables.  The proprietor spoke excellent English (which was good since the menu was all in Dutch.)

Huys van Roosevelt
From Oud-Vossemeer it was a very short bike ride to the location in Tholen where the barge is docked. In the village I saw the prettiest windmill so far on this trip. There is another one in town which we will visit tonight after dinner.
Tholen windmill

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Schoonhoven to Dordrecht -- Sunday, July 28

Last night, shortly after we docked at Schoonhaven (and after we had passed through the large lock), it started to rain. This didn't bother us as we had a delicious salmon dinner on board. After dinner it had stopped raining, and we took a walk through the town of Schoonhaven, which seemed extremely quiet for a Saturday evening.

Watching the water rise in the lock
Entering the lock

We woke up this morning  to a very overcast day, had a hearty breakfast on board and set off for today's 33 mile ride. This is still agricultural land, with lots of small farms and many beautiful homes along the waterways. First stop was Gouda, with an extremely interesting town hall, dating back to 1603. Absolutely no sun, so the pictures are kind of flat. 
Gouda town hall

Detail of lower entrance

Inside the cheese museum

As I left the town of Gouda, it started to rain gently, I ignored it for a while, but it got to be just steady enough that I pulled out my rain jacket which I kept up for the rest of the ride. We continued on through some wetlands and saw lots of interesting water birds. The day was a mix of bike paths and narrow country lanes. Perhaps because it is Sunday there was very little motor vehicle traffic, although I saw lots of cyclists, including some club rides that were moving at a very good pace. Contrast this with the family four, dressed in their Sunday best, biking together to church.  I later learned that this region of Holland is known as the "Bible Belt," a term that I thought was unique to the U.S.

Shortly before our next stop of interest, Kinderdijk, I caught up with Bert who was marking our ride with chalk arrows. He had stopped marking for a while so that the rain would not wash out the arrows to quickly. We cycled together into Kinderdijk, taking a ferry at one point to cross the Lek river.. The rain stopped just before we got to Kinderdijk, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with 19 majestic windmills. I stopped for a hot dog (not very good) and several pictures, while Bert continued on marking the route.

After leaving Kinderdijk, I continued on to our destination, Dordrecht. along the way, I met up with Bert again, waiting for out second ferry of the day. We took the ferry across the Beneden Merwede River and pedaled together to the boat.

As I type this blog, several of the group are heading to the Jacuzzi at the back of the boar. I had not expected that amenity and did not bring a bathing suit. (Of course, I can improvise as I did in Cuba when we snorkeled the Bay of Pigs -- bike shorts can have more than one purpose._

I'll close out today's post with a link to the video of today's ride:

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Saturday -- July 27 2019 -- Amsterdam to Breukelen

After a half hour of typing, my draft of today's blog disappeared. I think that it might be because the WiFi on board our barge is not consistent. So, I will start again with link to the video of today's ride.

It looks like WiFi is going to be spotty on the boat, so I will be briefer than usual. Today was a great ride. Since it was Saturday, there was very little traffic in Amsterdam, and we were quickly in the beautiful countryside. We travelled along the Hollandic Waterline, and old defense system, with several forts along the way (unfortunately not close enough for photos.) we saw more windmills than I could count.  Here is the first one.

We are now on the barge, about to go through the first lock, so I am going to take a break and some photos. Very interesting experience. We probably gained about five feet in the lock and are now exiting. But I am getting ahead of the story.

As we cycled, we saw lots of cattle and sheep (think cheese), as well as a few goats, horses, and several cornfields and apple orchards. The small towns that we passed through were very pleasant, and immaculately kept.

We had intended to cycle to Utrecht today, but because of congestion, we stopped at Breukelen (from which Brooklyn, NY gets its name) and had a pleasant lunch in the town square before boarding the Magnifique, the barge which will be our home for the next several days.

We will have breakfast and dinner aboard each day, and cycle during the day as the barge moves. It will not be moving at night.

I am very pleased with the bicycle. It is a titanium frame with 1x11 gearing (one 40 tooth chain ring in the front, and 11 cogs in the rear, including a huge one which will give me a much lower gear than I will ever need in this flat country).

My cabin is very pleasant, with two beds, a bathroom with a shower and lots of room to unpack. I am looking forward to the idea of cycling in a new place every day without having to pack each morning and transfer luggage. 

The weather today was much more pleasant -- cool with a slight breeze. Looking forward to a great rest of the trip.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Amsterdam -- Friday, July 26, 2019

After a nice breakfast in the hotel, I set off for the VanGogh museum (having bought my ticket on line last night). I got to the museum using public transport. I had purchased a 24 hour pass last evening. The system is very efficient, and easy to navigate. I started at the Central Rail Station, a couple of blocks from my hotel, and used one of the kiosks to get specific routing instructions to the museum. The kiosk even printed them out for me. I took the subway and then switched to a tram, and there I was.

My ticket was for 9:45 am, but there was no problem entering earlier as the museum was not yet very crowded. I chose this museum (over, for example, the Rembrandt museum) because Van Gogh has always been one of my favorite painters. Unfortunately, my very favorite, Starry Night is in a different museum. But his famous Sunflowers is here on special exhibition, and hundreds of his other works. It was a very worthwhile morning.

The sculpture has nothing to do with the Van Gogh museum behind it, but it seemed to make a more interesting photo. The building behind is the special exhibit hall (Sunflowers), while the main museum is in a separate four story building off to the right.

The Van Gogh museum is behind me; the Rembrandt museum is across the pool.

This afternoon we had our first meeting, a safety briefing, followed by bike fitting and a (very) short test ride. It was still hot enough to work up a sweat. I am trying something new this year -- incorporating very short videos (prepared with an app called Relive) to each day's blog. Here is the video of today's ride.  With the possible exception of Copenhagen, I don't think I have ever ridden amidst so many cyclists. You really have to have greatly heightened awareness. Even though there are dedicated bike paths, you have to watch for crossing bicycle and motor vehicle traffic and lots of cyclists in front of and behind you.

We will get together this evening for more formally introducing ourselves and then having a group dinner. I think that there are sixteen of us on the first part of the tour (maybe even a couple of last minute additions -- I will have to check tonight.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Amsterdam -- July 25, 2019

I had a really good trip over, flying on KLM airlines. As I check my bag in San Francisco, I asked the gate agent why I did not have TSA pre-check on my boarding pass. She was able to do her magic, and get me a new boarding pass with pre-check. That turned out to be a great move because the regular security line was very long, and there was only one person ahead of me in the pre-check line.

After a short delay on the taxiway because of a "technical issue" we were underway and had a smooth flight and I managed to get a few hours of sleep.  I breezed through passport control and grabbed a taxi. The driver was very pleasant, but I noticed that as soon as we left the airport and got on the motorway, he took off his seat belt. Strange, but he got me to the hotel quickly and safely.
My Hotel

Not surprisingly, my room was not ready at 10AM, so I checked my bags and set off on a walking tour using the Rick Steves audio guide for the "Amsterdam City Walk" that I had previously downloaded to my iPhone. Since the audio on my phone streams directly to my hearing aids, this worked perfectly. I walked as far as the famous flower market. There were lots of tulip bulbs for sale, but the only tulips at this time of year are plastic -- and there were plenty of those. 

The temperature was already in the nineties (and I had long pants and a long-sleeved shirt on), so I stopped for some hydration and people-watching.

Along the way back I had my "lunch" of the very popular pommes frites with mayonnaise. 

Two years ago when I was in Copenhagen, I learned that that city had overtaken Amsterdam as the most bicycle friendly city in the world. That may be true, but there are still cyclists everywhere in 
Amsterdam, with lots of bicycle parking and dedicated bike lanes everywhere. Below is a picture of one of several bike parking facilities near the Central train station. It is not obvious to me how you get the bikes up to the top tier.

Tomorrow afternoon I meet up with the rest of the group and we will have a very short test bike ride here in the City. The heat wave (96 degrees right now, heading to 99) is supposed to continue through tomorrow, but should then ease up as we begin our tour.