Gettting from A to B

Amsterdam to Bruges (Brugge), that is. 350km of canal paths and  bike trails, bridges and castles, headwinds and windmills, butt-busting bumps and saddle-sore asses. But we all made it!

The Elodie, a converted canal barge, has been our floating home for the last week. Last Sunday (May 29) Cheryl and I joined Dennis & Anita, John & Brenda, Don & Bettina, Marty & Jane, Hans & Pat, Bob & Sue and Drew & Heather for our cycling journey from Amsterdam to Bruges. As Belgium has two languages, and Bruges is in the Flemish part, it should really be Brugge, but…

Cheryl ready to ride

Monday takes us through the ritzier waterfront outskirts of Amsterdam to Breukelen, which became Brooklyn when transplanted to “New Amsterdam” in the colonies. It even has a bridge. This is picture postcard country–fields of swaying tall grass, meandering streams, hedge-lined trails and Yes! Windmills! Though as the season was well finished, not a single tulip.

Tuesday dawns windy and wet, so Captain Michel thoughtfully moves us from our overnight mooring point in Vianen to Schoonhoven, cutting several soggy kilometres off our day’s ride. Though Schoonhoven is famous for its silver craftsmen, and the canal walkways are lined with jewellers, I escape with my wallet intact!

The day’s highlight, though is Kinderdijk, a long finger of land lined with windmills from the 1730s, and while many are now converted to residences, one has been preserved in working order. Most impressive is how these engineering marvels were crafted mostly from wood, using hardwood pegs for gear teeth. The sails are equally impressive, wood frames with fabric covers, adjustable for wind speed and with curved ends to reduce wind spillage. Cool!


Wednesday’s ride takes us southwest from our stop in the charming port of Dordrecht across open land to Zierickzee. Much of the ride is in open country, on exposed dijks and over a 6km long bridge–almost all of it into a howling headwind. Did I mention it was also our longest day at over 60km?  We regroup in Bruinisse and refresh with their famous mussels (and fries, natch). From there, we head west toward the North Sea, and while slow and strenuous, the ride takes us alongside  one of the prettiest stretches of open water, the Oosterscheide. Zerickzee itself is a delightful mix of history and waterfront charm.

Many of the towns in this part of the world mark the water levels in the 1953 flood when a storm surge overwhelmed the dijks and barriers, flooding large parts of Holland and Zeeland and taking more than 1,800 lives. To reduce future risks, the Dutch built a dam across the Ooosterscheide entrance with hydraulically operated gates. Thursday’s route takes us over the 9km long barrier and, thankfully, the wind is now from the north and at our backs. It’s an impressive structure, of course, a long line of hydraulic installations and the huge rams that will close the sluices in the event of a surge. Not to mention a four-lane highway, bike lanes, and maintenance roads on top.

Home for the night is the wool trading town of Middelburg. I didn’t realize how important the wool trade had been in this part of the world–though we’ve seen plenty of sheep! And I wonder if the similarly named town of Middlesborough in the UK, another important wool trading city IIRC, were in direct competition. Probably. Our guide, Loek, takes us on a walking tour of the town in the evening, and the affluence at the height of the wool trade 300 or so years ago is obvious in the extravagance and confidence of the architecture.


Friday’s ride took us south again, out of Zeeland and into Belgium. As we rolled across the flat Flanders fields with poppies dotting the hedgerows, I couldn’t help thinking of the hundreds of thousands of lives lost fighting for mere metres of soil here, including my biological grandfather, Stanley Sherlock. His loss wasn’t something the family talked about much, because my grandmother married his brother Charlie. Not surprisingly, Charlie turned out to be a disappointment. Tough to measure up to someone who is no longer around, and made the ultimate sacrifice.

I resolve to spend a few days when we have our rental car in France in July to see if I can find Stanley’s grave…

The ride is pleasant enough, a country ramble across open fields of potatoes, carrots and cereal crops, but it lacks the organization, infrastructure  and prodigious aquatic engineering of Zeeland and Holland. Not quite boring, but definitely less interesting.

We rendezvous with the Elodie in Sas van Gent,  a small town just north of Gent city and still in the Netherlands. We have to cross the “border” on board the Elodie, which takes us into the city centre. Our berth is less than salubrious, right in the downtown immigrant area Belgium is playing Turkey, and the Red Crescent supporters are out in force. Oh yes, I forgot. Soccer.

As one-time Liverpool FC manager Bill Shankly famously said, soccer isn’t a game of life and death: it’s more important than that, and the Turkish supporters seem to think so too. Cars roar around, horns blaring, groups of young men walk the streets with Turkish flags, shouting and chanting. And the match is being played in Germany!

I’ve seen soccer crowds turn violent very quickly and decide to head back to the Elodie…

Saturday is our last riding day, and we need to cover the 42km to Bruges. We’re mostly following the canal, though we do make a few excursions across open fields and find a delightfully unspoilt beer house, the owner just like a favourite aunt and her bar the living room of a house. A Jupiler, ice cold, hits the spot on what has become a hot day. Then after our roadside sandwich lunch, Loek finds a smart restaurant where we can use the “facilities.” A rebellion breaks out, and we stop there for another beer. I try a Westmalle Trippel Trappist beer–8.9%! It’s really good.

So our week-long bike ‘n barge trip winds up with a tour of the beautiful old city of Brugge, its magnificent town square, soaring church towers, opulent courthouse, busy waterways, and narrow cobbled streets.  350km, two punctures, two minor crashes (no injuries) and a whole lot of fun!






For lots more pictures, click on “galleries.”




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One Comment

  1. Posted July 3, 2011 at 9:57 pm by Dennie | Permalink

    and where would you be without all that excellent beer and food to help you all get from A to B?