Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Norway – that’s the plan.
We pick up our wheels for the next 47 days in Calais, not known for its tourist highlights, but it is known for its discount wine stores.
Don has carefully calculated a wine quota for the trip; wine is expensive in Scandinavia (along with everything else) and we do love a good French champagne, white, rose and red. It’s not long before the car boot is full and we begin our journey north.
First stop is Bruges; this tiny city was once a major commercial hub for Europe.
Now it is a prominent world heritage site wearing a plethora of descriptive accolades, often referred to as something straight out of a fairy-tale or the ‘Venice of the north’.
Though if you have ever seen the movie “In Bruges” starring Colin Farrell, you wouldn’t describe that movie as a fairy-tale.
Bruges, a well-preserved medieval town, which I acknowledge has become a much over used phrase of mine; cobbled streets lined with 12th Century architecture run along meandering canals dotted with swans…get the picture!
If you are happy to join the throngs of tourists who also head here, it’s worth a visit. The best time to wander around Bruges is after the tourist buses have left.
We stayed in the area for three nights with Magda and Patrick in their lovely Brugge-man B&B. They are a well travelled couple who provided us with loads of tips and advice.
We made a day trip to Ypres and the In Flanders Field Museum.
The museum depicts the 4 year trench warfare in the region during WWI and is housed in the reconstructed Cloth Hall (market building), which was destroyed.
Surprisingly, we managed to spend a few hours here before heading to Lille for lunch and one last stop on the way home in Kortrijk.
If you are a war historian then this is the place for you – my brother Mark would love it; lots of museums, battle fields and monuments to visit. One a day is enough for us.
Leaving Bruges we head toward Rotterdam.
We drive through Ghent which we decided isn’t worth a stop, but we enjoy lunch in Antwerp sitting outside soaking up the sunshine in one of the many cafés in the medieval heart of the city.
Rotterdam is a refreshingly modern city, flattened in World War II it doesn’t retain any historical charm. Nonetheless, we really enjoyed it. We stayed at The Student Hotel. A large private room with a kitchenette, easy parking, washing machines and bicycles for hire.
Opting for two-wheeled transport we ride out to Kinderdijk to see the windmills it is famous for. Forty kilometers later, Don is a little saddle sore – he hadn’t been on a bike since Cuba.
As we leave Rotterdam behind we make a detour to the nearby town of Delft, renowned for its delftware; the pretty blue and white stuff with windmills and milk maidens painted on it.
It looks a lot like chinese porcelain, that’s because the potters started copying them around the 17th century.
It’s a little dated for my taste and oh-boy is the stuff expensive!
Since being in Europe this year, I have been amazed by the sheer number of people cycling. Everyone is on a bike; young and old. The first time a woman, a few good years older, passed me with ease, I put it down to my pathetic fitness.
It took a while to realise these grey-headed cyclists had a little help.
E-bikes have taken off, in Europe alone sales increased by 55% on the previous year – over 700,000 electric bikes.
I’m keen to join the party and convince Don to make a detour to the Sparta test centre, just one of the many brands.
Our current plan when we return to Australia – less than 3 months away, is to be a one car family.
I think an e-bike is a fantastic alternative for urban commuting. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think for a minute it provides any serious level of exercise.
What it does offer is a means of transport that won’t work up such a sweat that you need a shower; it’s faster than walking and cheaper and more convenient than a car.
To cut a long story short, we research and test e-bikes at numerous locations through Belgium, Holland and Germany.
Narrowing down our prefered models and best prices, we seriously toyed with buying a bike in Europe and bringing it home with us. Whilst it could save us some money, the regulations on traveling with lithium batteries and the hassle factor deterred us.
However, I’ve already found a place in Melbourne who has what I want, watch this space for future e-bike tales!
Next stop is Amsterdam and the best way to see this canal city is on a bicycle.
Our cultural excursion is the Rijksmuseum, renowned for its collection of Dutch art and some wonderful masterpieces such as Rembrandt’s The Night Watch and Vermeer’s The Milkmaid. It houses over 8,000 paintings and object d’art. The audio guide is very helpful if, like me, you know nothing about art.
Trappist, Abbey, Dubble, Lambic – do you know what these words have in common?
Beer – they are all types of beer and Don has set himself a challenge to taste as many local beers as possible.
They take their beer very seriously in this part of the world; every beer even comes in its own elaborate glass.
The tulip glass is the glass of choice for many. Its shape apparently traps the aroma, aids in maintaining the head of the beer and is aesthetically pleasing. Whilst lambic style beers tend to be served in a taller flute style and the weizen glass is used for wheat beer. Who knew so much thought went into drinking beer?
Don manages to sample quiet a few local beers and I end up designated driver – lucky for him I don’t like beer.