Flanders by boat and bike Part 1 Bruges to Ghent

This was one of the most enjoyable holiday trips we have had. We bought the week long trip from Rad & Reisen and it involved travelling from Bruges to Brussels by bike and staying overnight on board the Quo Vadis (Latin for ‘where are you going’). We cycled around 220 kms in 6 days of cycling and took in the countryside and many picturesque Flanders towns and cities. The food on board was superb, the company friendly and relaxed, and the weather was mostly excellent for cycling and sightseeing.

We joined the boat in Belgium, after using trains from home to London, Eurostar to Brussels and another train to Bruges. It was an early start for us, up at just after 4, but all connections worked perfectly and we had time on arrival at the boat to drop our luggage and take a tour around Bruges before our on-board tour briefing. There were 24 guests: us two Brits, two from the USA and the rest from Germany. So all briefings were first in German followed by an English version. Our tour guide Gunter had excellent English, as did the boat crew: four Dutch people. This support party is pictured below.

Captain RJ in white shirt with guide Gunter on the far right

Our pre-dinner walk around Bruges took us to the market square, very busy on a lovely weekend afternoon

Bruges market square with the Provincial Court

Also in the Market square is the Belfry. Often mistaken for a church tower, it is actually a medieval bell tower.

Bruges Belfry (Belfort van Brugge in Dutch)

My father brought home from the second world war a painting of a canal with a tower, the dead spit of this Belfry in the background. I was really chuffed to find the spot where the painter must have been seated to paint my picture. Up until then I was never sure that the picture was of Bruges. Now, I am sure it is and I know precisely where it was painted.

Returning to the boat we had a welcome drink followed by a delicious dinner (salad, beef with veg and ice cream, melon and sponge) and a briefing, first in German then in English from our guide. The boat remained in Bruges overnight so an evening excursion around the city was possible but we had done ours that afternoon so we stayed on board.

Next day there was a substantial breakfast bar and the chef Franco was offering fried eggs to order. We were invited to make our own packed lunches from the food on the buffet.

Soon after breakfast we were away around the old Bruges City walls and out by the side of a canal to the small town of Damme, passing by a couple of windmills including this one

Windmill by the side of the Bruges-Damm canal

which was open and looked as though it could, at any time, start working. Shortly afterwards we crossed the canal and came to Damme town square. 

Most of us were very grateful that the Tourist Office had public toilets. We stayed in Damme just long enough to hear the musical church clock strike eleven then set off along the canal again.

Our next destination was Blankenberge. We travelled through farmland and our guide pointed out the speciality cows of the region the Bleublanc, known in English as the Belgian Blue. It is very distinctive in appearance with “short legs and a large arse” (a description courtesy of our guide). They are also a breed that routinely has to be calved using Caesarean section. We had a slight panic when we lost a member of the cycling team then lost our guide, but we managed to reconverge at Lisseweg where we encountered hundreds of walkers. On the way to Lisseweg we rode by the side of one of the largest canals we found all week and big canals demand big bridges and this is one of the largest I have seen. It seems to be for a duel carriageway motorway crossing the canal.

Subsequently, I discovered that all the walkers were part of an International 2-day walking festival. Certainly a major event with military support, refreshment tents and even musical accompaniment

Military Band at Lisseweg

At Lisseweg we had our only problem with signage. In general the cycle ways are extremely well signposted and the guidebook we were given was excellen. But in this one case someone had reversed the sign which caused a deal of puzzlement.

We decided to go solo, without the guide, from Lisseweg to Blankenberge. Faced with hundreds of hikers coming the other way we had quite a few indignant stares as we sounded our bells to avoid collision, since many of the walkers were staring at the ground or talking continuously with colleagues. The day had turned quite chilly and with a raw breeze coming off the sea Blankenberge was probably not at its best. When we arrived we rode along the prom looked at the empty beach huts and the pier

and quickly looked for a place to get in the warm and have a hot drink. Later, we met our guide and agreed to travel back to Bruges independently. Before we left Blankenberge we decided to ride along to the Marina, a vast new area where we found a shelter and had our lunch. On our way back to Bruges we, once again, met dozens of walkers going the other way, but soon we left them behind and eventually arrived at our boat in Bruges.

Back at the boat we had time for a hot drink and cake then just time to clean up before a steak dinner and an optional evening excursion into Bruges to see buildings floodlit and have a chance to try some ridiculously strong Belgian beers.

Lovely old building on the Burg in Bruges

Next day was overcast and during breakfast the boat travelled to Moerbrugge where we started our bike ride. We set off in fine rain that increased later but dried up in the afternoon. We stopped for a coffee in Aalter by which time we were all quite wet. The ground was wet and slippery and my partner had a fall as we stopped. We all crowded into the cafe and guide, Gunter, produced some cream good for bruises, while we had a coffee and cake.

There was no stop for lunch as we aimed to get to Ghent in time for a look round. We did stop for a strange bike museum though, where we had an opportunity to try out some very unusual bicycle creations like a side by side tandem, a tandem with no pedals that you propelled by bouncing up and down on the saddles (when one was up the other was down). It was a fun interlude.

A short while later our boat passed us while we were cycling alongside the Ghent- Bruges Canal. We encountered quite an unusual and airy toilet on our way into Ghent.

We arrived in Ghent about 2pm and congregated by St Baaf’s Cathedral where we were able to leave our bikes and look around on foot. We went round St Baaf’s and saw the Rubens paintings and the carved altar. It was quite chilly and we were pleased to find a cafe where we had a type of self made hot chocolate, hot milk in a cup and a bowl of chocolate chips to add to taste. There were masses of photogenic buildings but the only one I took was of the Ghent Belfry.

Gent or Ghent Belfry right by hot chocolate stop

We were all back to our bikes in good time for our final ride to rejoin the boat for a warm shower and another excellent dinner. There was an optional night time ride into and around Ghent but we declined the offer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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3 Responses to Flanders by boat and bike Part 1 Bruges to Ghent

  1. Laurie says:

    Thanks for this. I have often wondered about a Boat and Barge holiday because it sounds to interesting. What are the cabins like? Are they ok for chilling in – or doesn’t that apply on one of these holidays?

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