Magnifique II – our floating hotel

Here are some views of our “boat.” It was built especially for tours such as ours, based on the design of the original “Magnifique,” which actually was a working barge before being converted to a floating hotel.

It’s upper deck was one of the outdoor lounge areas and had lounge chairs, a hot tub and tables.

The stern area was another outside lounge area.

There was an inside lounge area that we used a lot, but we don’t have a good photo of it. Here’s a view of the dining area, with the group at our final dinner.

The chef was amazing. You can see a little bit of his tiny kitchen behind him.

Our last night’s entree was Guinea fowl. The other photo was of our first night’s dessert.

The bar was made of an old mahogany sail boat. You had to be careful where you placed glassware because of its sloped sides. They had two beers on tap: Heineken and a Belgian blonde beer called Affligem. We usually had the blonde.

Here’s a photo of the whole crew and the guides. The chef, Michael (service), Chris the captain, the “sailor” (he basically did a bit of everything), our guides: Hester and Sandra, and Lana (service). They all worked hard to make sure everyone was happy.

Here’s a group picture of everyone who worked as a “sweep.” Our group was well represented with three of us volunteering. Doug was “sweep support” a couple of days.

Here’s another view of the “Magnifique II.” It was wonderful to see so much beautiful country with a floating hotel. No packing and unpacking involved. Since taking our fifth wheel trailer on a trip like this is out of the question, this was a great alternative.

Boat / Bike Tour #3

Monday (Day 5): Dordrecht to Vianen

We started our day with a short bike ride to a waterbus (for pedestrians and cyclists only) that took us and our bikes on a 20 minute cruise to Kinderdijk. Kinderdijk is a UNESCO World Heritage site, famous for the nineteen windmills that were built around 1740. Nineteen families worked together to drain the polder and through their efforts, the Netherlands gained valuable land. Unfortunately we had cloudy skies, but it was still an impressive site. We spent a bit of time at the windmills then rode on the bike path right beside them.

We rode for about 25 kilometres to another water crossing, this time on a short ferry. Here’s a view of the ferry unloading shortly before we got on. It was about a five minute ride.

Soon we were in the town of Schoonhoven, riding on the narrow roads.

We had some time to wander around town, but most shops were closed on Monday.

The boat docked in Schoonhoven and Joanne chose to sail instead of ride. Wendy, Doug and Bill carried on. Our guide kept a brisk pace, so although we were travelling through pleasant scenery, we had to keep our wits about us and couldn’t stop for pictures. The hot and humid weather was draining our energy, but since we were travelling faster than the boat, we took a detour and rode another water taxi over to Vianen. Vianen was a beautiful quiet town.

We made it to boat at about 5:30, just as it was docking north of Vianen (and on the other side of the canal). Joanne had the experience of going through locks on the barge. That evening, we sat in the shade on the lower deck. Soon a table was moved over and we realized that we had scored the best table for the barbecued dinner.

Tuesday (Day 5): Vianen to Amsterdam

During breakfast, we set sail for Breukelen. We set off for the Willegen cheese farm. After sampling coffee and freshly made pie, the owner took us on a tour of their cheese operation. They made cheese from their own unpasteurized milk and did everything by on a small scale. Here’s a view of their house and coffee shop and store. Notice that it looks traditional, yet is modern with opening windows in the roof. Below this photo is a close up of the roof, which is made out of reeds.

They store the cheese for a length of time depending on flavour. The “x” is on each cheese so that they can turn them equally.

We took a meandering path via Muiden to reach Amsterdam. It was about 10 kilometres longer than the short route, and more interesting than riding along a land bridge. We passed this working windmill, which was having repairs done.

Lunch was in Muiden, on a bench by the canal. There’s an interesting castle there too, but we didn’t have time and it had an expensive entrance fee.

We walked around town a bit and followed a sign for the WC. This one cost 20 cents, which we luckily had the change for. Here’s Doug out in front.

We were getting closer and closer to Amsterdam! Unfortunately, one of the bikes got a flat tire and the guide was unable to repair it. We were still 15 kilometres from our boat. Luckily we had a marathon runner in our group who willingly agreed to run the distance. Our guide rode her bike one handed, while dragging the other one beside her. We slowly made our way into town.

As we got closer to the city, the bike paths became busier. We had a few lights to negotiate. You had to be ready to go as soon as the bicycle-shaped light was green, because it wasn’t very long and sometimes the whole group wouldn’t get through. There also were scooters and motor bikes in the same lane.

The Magnifique II moored on the waterfront, near to where the cruise ships come in. We had one last dinner which you will see in the final post about the ship. The next morning we checked out and headed out to explore Amsterdam for a few days. More about that soon.

Boat / Bike Tour #2

Saturday (Day 3): Ghent to Antwerp

Joanne and Bill were ready early on Saturday so they used the opportunity get a photo in front of the boat. The sky was grey but it wasn’t raining.

Here is the first group getting ready. It turned out that for the first few days we rode with the other six Canadians and a couple from Germany. Someone said we were the “A team,” but we corrected them and told them we were the “Eh! team.”

Our first stop after about 13 kilometres was in Temse, Belgium.

We continued our tour through the Belgian countryside.

We stopped at another castle just outside of Bazel. This one was available for groups to rent. I think there was a wedding there when we went by. They had a family area nearby and Bill couldn’t resist patting the horses. We had our bag lunch with a beer at the nearby cafe. (Cafe den Duiventoren).

After about another 20 kilometres of riding, we reached the St. Anna’s tunnel. There is a pedestrian and bike tunnel under the Schelde River. You can take a elevator, which holds about 12 people and bikes, 32 metres down to the tunnel. Doug and a few others chose to come up the old wooden escalator. It’s the same escalator that was installed when the tunnel was opened in 1933.

We had some time to explore Antwep. Our guide took us on a little walking tour to a narrow 16th century street. (Later that night we returned and had our dinner at a little restaurant that was on that street.)

Our guide also told us about a pub with a unique theme: “Everything holy,” she said. So we had to check it out.

She also recommended that we take the escalators to the viewing platform at the top of the MAS, a building with different museums on each level. Our barge is just visible in the lower left side of the canal.

Sunday (Day 4): Antwerp to Dordrecht

The ship sailed with us on it, for the first part and the last part of this section of our journey. (They refer to the ship sailing, even though it more accurately it should be the “barge motoring.”) We got up early to be on the top deck at 6:30 to watch us come out of the harbour. One of the bridges had to open for us, and another was just less than a metre above us. The flags are lowered on the top deck, which you can see in the photo below. We continued to the outer harbour where we could see modern windmills.

Soon the boat docked temporarily and we were on our bikes again. Since it was Sunday, we met more cyclists and most of them were in packs, traveling at high speed. We got a picture of one smallish group when we were at a rest stop.

We visited the Canadian War Memorial for Canadians killed in World War II.

The route continued on to a dedicated cycle trail. The dotted line indicates two way traffic.

Sometimes we were on narrow country roads. The dotted lines on the sides indicate the sides of the road. If a vehicle came up towards us, they would pull over until we passed. If a vehicle came up behind us, they had a harder time and sometimes followed at our speed for awhile until there was a wider section. Luckily there weren’t too many vehicles.

Farther along, Doug couldn’t resist stopping to get these photos of some deer in a yard and a view of the harbour.

When he stopped, he got behind the “sweep,” which worked out for him this day because Wendy was the sweep and knew he could catch up. Here is a photo of Wendy in her neon vest, at the entrance to the pier where the barge was waiting for us at Tholen.

She got a little closer and got a photo of Doug, Bill and Joanne posing among the activity.

We were on board by 1:45 and sailing again. We enjoyed the view from the upper deck in the afternoon. We even had dinner before we docked at Dordrecht.

Dordrecht was a lovely old city, but we chose to stay on board instead joining the group on a guided city walk.

Doug found a quiet spot on the lower deck patio.

We were now in The Netherlands. Onward to Amsterdam!

Boat and Bike Tour #1

Boat and Bike Tour #1

We signed up for a seven night “Boat and Bike Tour” that had us travelling from Bruges, Belgium to Amsterdam, Netherlands; some of it by bike while our floating home followed and some of it on the barge. We saw so much country and took so many pictures, that we will divide the posts into three sections of two riding days each.

Thursday (Day 1): Bruges to Ghent, Belgium

Thursday started off rainy, first with a light shower, then thunderstorms. By the time we were meant to leave the barge, it was raining quite heavily. We delayed a little bit hoping it would let up, giving Wendy time to grab a shower cap for her helmet.

Here you can see Wendy in the front and Doug in the navy jacket as we head out. Bill and Joanne sensibly stayed on the barge and got off and started riding farther along in Aalterbrug.

It only rained for about an hour and by lunchtime we were dry. We stopped at a cafe in the middle of nowhere. If you ordered a drink, they were happy to let you sit at their tables and eat your lunch. (And use their bathroom) Joanne and Bill joined us here, but had to finish their drink quickly in order to join the first group.

We travelled through some pleasant farmland.

We had a quick photo stop at this private castle (Castle Lovendegem).

It was starting to heat up by the time we reached this windmill, the first of our trip. It was no longer in use and was used as a private residence.

We had our first chance to navigate traffic when we came into Ghent. We left our bikes at the square by St. Michielsburg and had an hour or so to explore the city centre.

Bill was asked to be the “sweep” which means he goes last and has a radio to use in case people get separated. He willingly put on his vest.

Wendy took this picture of the group going over a pedestrian and bike bridge but realized that it was unsettling to the sweep to have people behind him. She learned her lesson and took the next two photos without stopping, just slowing down a little.

We got back to the barge around 6:00 that night. Fifty six kilometres for Doug and Wendy and thirty four kilometres for Joanne and Bill.

Friday (Day 2): Ghent, Belgium to St. Amends, Belgium.

It was foggy and damp on Friday, but not cold, so we all headed out at the standard 9:00. It rained a bit just as we stopped to see another private castle.

There were poppies all along the trail but Wendy was able to get ahead on a cobblestone farm road and quickly took this photo before the whole group passed her.

We rode along a dike for awhile.

Soon we were in Dendermonde. Although this square seems to be circled by the original houses, they were all rebuilt after the First World War. Most of the houses were destroyed or burnt in the war, with only 84 houses left undamaged.

Dendermonde is small enough that you can meet the mayor in the town square. He was biking between meetings and stopped to say hello. He encouraged us to visit the renovated city hall and the display at the visitor centre. Here’s Joanne in front of an historical map of Dendermonde.

We also met a local who joined us for a beer. He was an interesting guy who ran marathons.

We hiked about a half an hour more to the spot that the barge was docked. Doug, Wendy and Joanne hopped on and Bill continued on. Here’s Bill’s photo of one of the spots on his 14 kilometre ride along the river.

And Bill’s view of the barge when we caught up to them a few hours later in St. Amands.

Bruges, Belgium

Bruges, Belgium

To reach Bruges, we flew to London, then to Brussels, and then took a train to Bruge. The train was so smooth that Wendy could work on the blog as we traveled.

Our apartment in Bruges was up on the first floor in an old building that had been renovated. The high ceilings and ornate furniture gave it an elegant feel.

We were on a street in the centre of town, just down the block from the Market Square. Here’s a view of the street in the early morning, before the tour buses arrived. The second one is taken later in the day, looking the other direction. You can see The Belfry above. The market square is just beyond it.

This is a view of the canal closest to our apartment, taken in the evening. The next morning, we took a canal tour in one of the boats that you can see peeking out under the tree. We had a beer on the patio that you can see in this picture on our last day in Bruges.

The first full day in Bruges started with a canal tour. Doug was lucky enough to score a seat right in the front of the boat. There’s another view of the Belfry on the second photo.

Here’s the Minnewater bridge and a view of the swans in Minnewater Park.

There are modern art installations throughout Bruges. The theme is Liquid City: how flexible, liquid and resilient can a historic city like Bruges be? The Blue Whale was made from plastics apparently retrieved from the sea as a reminder to everyone to use less plastic. The first photo was taken from our canal tour, the second on our own walk on our last day in Bruges.

After the canal trip, we headed over to the Belfry. Three hundred sixty six steps later, we were at the top. Here’s the view of the Market Square below. You can see some of the bells in the second photo. The bells sound every quarter hour, so we were at the top to see and hear the bells ring and also at the level below to see the mechanism in action.

Then another walk around town…

… that ended at “The Beer Wall,” that had a display of beer bottles and glasses, all made in Belgium. The seating was covered but open air. Notice the unique sign designating the toilets just above Doug’s head in the third photo.

So far we were making it through the “tick” list: canal ride, swans, the Belfry and Belgian beer. Now for the waffles. The window of the House of Waffles was just next door to our apartment, so we picked up our order and went upstairs to eat them. The second photo is Joanne with her Double Chocolate Supreme waffle.

After that decadent “lunch,” Doug, Bill and Joanne went downstairs to the Torture Museum. Yes, you read that right, our apartment was two floors up from the museum. Here’s Bill posing with their “tourist attractor.”

Wendy went on her own walking tour. Here’s a view with a canal boat just like the one we were on, and some views of the amazing architecture (and more canals).

Wendy got a good view of Saint Anne’s Church, with its 1624 Baroque edifice. The next day, we all walked by it.

Next: brewery tour! Joanne had booked our tickets to De Halve Maan (The Half Moon) back in April. Here are a couple of pictures from the tour and one of us enjoying the included beer at the end.

And our day wasn’t finished yet! Our tick list so far: canal ride, swans, the Belfry, Belgian beer, fresh waffles, brewery tour. The only thing missing was a meal of mussels and fries. Doug and Bill dealt with that one. The other photo is of the meal that Joanne and Wendy had: white asparagus and smoked Atlantic salmon.

Wednesday is market day and we were lucky enough to be there. You can just see a portion of the central monument behind the striped umbrellas, if you want to contrast it with the almost empty Market Square photo earlier in the post taken from the top of the Belfry. We bought our lunch there and ate it on a nearby bench.

Later that day, we were able to check in to our barge, “The Magnifique II.” Our boat and barge tour from Bruges to Amsterdam is the topic of our next blog.