Our mooring in Ghent was functional rather than picturesque but the day dawned brightly and after breakfast we were quickly on our bikes and retracing our route towards the centre of Ghent. We decided to go solo for this day and our friends from the USA decided to join us. We rode alongside a busy road to start with then went under a motorway. We were soon in the suburbs and left the city behind. We rode alongside the River Scheldt. Our route finding was pretty good although we did start off on the wrong side of the river, going past a large wildlife reserve with several lakes. Our first stop was at Laarne with an impressive castle.
There is a wide boulevard heading from the Castle into the village. When we arrived there we caught up with the main party enjoying a drink and a rest in the sun outside a cafe. e joined them for a short time before they set off again.
The next section was mostly farmland but with many plant nurseries, preparing to harden off plants on massive hardstandings. We also passed a herd of alpacas and another herd of deer and also a zoo with caged monkeys. Our lunchtime destination was a collection of lakes known as Donkmeer where we were able to sit around in the sun, have a beer and eat the packed lunch we had prepared at breakfast time on the boat. This was a very pleasant location
Once again most of our party were there before us and after they left we were able to watch them ride, in single file, around the edge of the lake. We followed on after finishing our lunch and caught up with them at another stop – the best waffles south of Iceland – according to our guide. I must admit, with ice cream and on a hot day, they were pretty amazing.
After that we took a ferry across the Schelde (in Dutch and Scheldt in English) river, which we achieved en masse.
The final ride into Dendermonde was mostly along the towpath cycle route, being passed repeatedly by Lycra-clad groups of Tour de France types whooshing by. Finally we crossed the water at a large dam and entered Dendermonde where we rejoined our boat.
Once all were on board we set off for a couple of hours of cruising along the picturesque Scheldt river to Sint Amands, about 15-20 kms away. The trip gave everyone a chance to sit in the sun whilst having drink and. if wanted, take a look at the wheelhouse We berthed before a great dinner featuring chicken with cheese and herbs, salmon with artichoke and strawberry birthday cake, my partner’s’s birthday cake with a firework.
That evening there was a short walking trip into the town and to Sahara Stones (there is a big clue in the name). It was an artist’s studio housed in a self-built unique house reminiscent of the architect Hundertwasser. The owners displayed a novel parking arrangement, designed to be a criticism of local officials, I think. The artist majored on collecting and cutting, polishing and mounting stones collected from the Sahara. They were amazingly impressive.
Breakfast next day was followed by a “Lucky dip” organised by Franco the cook. The prizes were a variety of chocolate bars to supplement our do-it-yourself packed lunches. The guide promised some “short cuts” on the route to provide more time to look around Antwerp, our destination for the day. With this promise we decided to join in with the group and not guide ourselves. It was cool to start off but rapidly warmed up and turned into a warm, sunny, spring day. The guiding arrangements went swimmingly to start with, cycling along then over the river into Temse.
We waited around here for about 20 minutes. The toilet break was slightly confusing with different entrances and signage but nonetheless, welcome. But, I think we could have had less of a wait. Temse was previously a major port and shipyard and there was evidence of this in sculptures and remains that we rode past.
After leaving Temse the group was badly strung out and the “sweeper” and back markers completely lost contact. The party was split in two. I think the main cause was a large statue of a naked woman, which caused a few people to linger longer…
We knew we were going to stop for lunch at a Chateau somewhere and we had a map, so just carried on regardless, thinking we were following the guide and the rest of the party. After 30 minutes or so we arrived at an impressive house in grounds and stopped to look and take pictures
We gathered round to try and agree what we should do and tried to phone our guide, without success. Things were getting fraught when suddenly the guide and the rest of our party appeared behind us. By good fortune we had stopped at our lunch spot and the guide had taken the others down a detour, without telling us. All ended well and we took tables at an open restaurant for lunch. After that hiatus we stayed in a group as we rode through pretty villages mostly alongside roads until Antwerp was clearly visible across the river.
Much to my surprise we crossed the river by going underneath it in the Saint Anna tunnel: 31m deep and just over 500m long. We went up and down with our bikes in large lifts and rode through the tunnel. It was a novel experience and features in a youtube clip (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p7Cz1y5yodI). The video probably provides more idea of what was involved than these pictures, but still…
We arrived in the centre of Antwerp at about 2pm and left bikes in the usual huddle looked after by our guide. The buildings around the Market Square were quite tremendous.
The fountain in front of the building depicts Antigon a mythical Roman soldier killing Brabo a giant that guarded the river charging boats to pass by. If they did not pay he tore off one of their hands and threw it into the river. This reputedly provides the origin of the city name ‘handwerpen’; throwing the hand in Flemish.
We walked round the Cathedral, strolled around the old part of the city and visited the Medieval Castle on the bank of the river
then took a beer in the sun. After the beer we collected our bikes and rode back to the river and along to the harbour area where we found our boat alongside many others.
After another excellent dinner there was an optional walk into town to a bar/restaurant called the 11th Commandment that offered a brewery and a menu with pages of different beers, most with quite high alcohol contents. On the way back our Captain and special guide for the evening took us down the oldest and narrowest street in Antwerp followed by a stroll through the red light district. As a final event we took a set of escalators to the open roof of the MAS building 10 storeys up,
a new, impressive, curly-glazed building right on the harbour, for a night view over the City.