The harbour in Antwerp was a bustle of activity in the morning and our boat was underway early to take advantage of a bridge opening, necessary for us to get back to the river. Despite the boat heading to leave the city, the cycling party headed back to the city centre. A group of 20+ bikes is not easy to negotiate a busy city in the rush hour and we had some very hard stares from, pedestrians that clearly thought they had priority and that we should get off and walk. But we had to follow our leader.
with a statue of the artist Rubens and a great backdrop of the Cathedral. Onwards, bothering more pedestrians, we stopped off at a superb shopping mall called Stadsfeestzaal. My picture does not really do justice to the grandeur of this place; if interested please take a look at the website http://stadsfeestzaal.com. Next we cycled through the old diamond quarter of Antwerp, though in truth there was not much to see there. Finally, in Antwerp we visited the Central Station and what a wonderful edifice that was; marble everywhere and great sweeping staircases with vast ornate roofs.
We left Antwerp by the side of the railway line, then travelled through countryside until we found another railway line which we followed into Lier. While in the countryside we found an unusual self-service fresh milk outlet. We could not resist stopping to sample a cup.
Lier was a very pleasant surprise; an attractive town with plenty to see, at least plenty for the hour or two we had there while we had some lunch. The Beguinage is a UNESCO world heritage site.
There were also some quite impressive artworks seemingly randomly placed like this one
We took a ride around the town before we left and passed the market square and town hall and belfry (or belfort).
After leaving Lier we rode almost all the way to Willebroek along dykes. We stopped for a coffee break in Duffel and by this time we were more or less on our own, though we spied other members of our party now and again. By this time the cloud was gathering and thunder and lightning starting up. We had a short sharp shower but then it dried up again. Just before we reached the boat we caught a ferry, though many of the others missed it and cycled further on to cross the river by a road bridge. Later we had to use another bridge to get to our boat. This was a lifting bridge (I guess there is probably a technical term for it) and the entire road is raised to allow boats to travel beneath it.
We arrived at the boat around 4pm for coffee and biscuits. By 5pm it started raining very heavily and continued into the evening. Good timing by us.
There was a tradition that some of the guests helped with serving dinner and clearing away. Throughout our trip various ladies had volunteered. This seemed rather sexist to J (an Amercian) and me so for this night us two men did the serving, attracting quite a few ribald comments in so doing. That evening we served tuna starter, chicken ratatouille and home-made ice cream. Dinner was followed by beer tasting and a sing song interspersed with German jokes.
Our final day of cycling was to be one of the shortest, about 37kms, but we still started at just about the normal time 9am. It was a day of high drama with a cycle malfunction causing us to lose contact with our guide for several hours. We set off by taking a detour by the side of a lake set out for rowing races. Somewhere, along these tracks a puncture happened and the guide decided to walk with the bike to our stopping place, a town called Mechelen. There was a repair shop there and we cycled ahead having arranged a rendezvous in Mechelen town square. Mechelen was a real surprise and very attractive with oodles of old buildings. The Cathedral is particularly impressive.
While we waited for our guide to rejoin the party we took a coffee in the City Square. Once we were all back together with a complete set of functioning bikes we set off to rejoin the boat. We were due there at 2pm so we could cruise into our berth in Brussels and still have time to do a bit of sightseeing there. The cycle route was mostly along canals but the troop became a little spread out. My partner and I and the party back-marker were last back, and we felt that the everyone was waiting for us, almost with engines running.
That evening was the Captains dinner and Franco excelled himself. Prosciutto with crab and fish followed by salmon with cod and broccoli, then pork fillet and potato and profiterole base with custard – delicious.
Next day after breakfast we said goodbyes to all our new-found friends and walked through the City via the Grand Place to the train station to catch the Eurostar. A brilliant holiday enjoyable in many different ways.