It was supposed to be the worst day of the whole trip weather-wise …Thunderstorms! Lightning! Pouring rain. It definitely started out that way! Oh yeah -Happy Birthday to me!
As we were eating breakfast this morning, the barge motored a short distance to a place on the coast called Vlissingen.
We needed to cross back to the mainland from the island we were on; and we were going to do that by ferry. The barge was crossing too, but needed to go on a slightly different route than we. Because of the wretched weather report nearly 1/2 of the group opted to stick with the barge and not ride today. The rain didn’t really start until we arrived at Vlissingen and got the bikes unloaded and got ourselves ready to go.
I had misunderstood what Marcel said, so I was expecting to ride several miles before getting to the ferry. I had a bit of a laugh when we got on our bikes, started riding, and then pulled over at the ferry after about 100 yards.
We had waited for the ferry to arrive on a long ramp -sort of like what you walk down when you board an airplane, but much bigger/wider. After a few quiet moments, a very large group of school kids arrived with their teachers. They were going on an outing where they’d ride their bikes to a camp and spend a night or two. They were all chattering like magpies – quite the commotion – but they were actually well behaved and so excited to be on their adventure.
When you get on our Lake Express ferry in Michigan – the bottom portion is filled with cars. Bikes seem to get squeezed in wherever. Imagine the surprise as we walked onto this ferry with our bikes to see that the entire bottom portion was entirely set up to park bikes. We parked our bikes and tied them to the ropes provided and went upstairs to find a seat.
The crossing was 4 miles. On the way we were able to spot the Anna Antal.
The kids were good -but they were LOUD. So Mike and I thought we might find an outside seat even though it was raining. As we stepped out onto the small deck area, I noticed two seats that were almost completely under a small overhang, so we went to sit there. I sat next to the boat and Mike sat next to me -only slightly exposed to the weather. It was as good as it was going to get if we wanted some peace and quiet. As the boat pulled from shore and got into motion, a tidal wave of water came off the roof above Mike’s head… only Mike’s head… and drenched him. It was like that scene from Flashdance -but he didn’t put any dance moves on it. The teachers were both standing out there and were doubled over laughing. Mike just shrugged. After all, he had his rain gear on -he stayed as dry as we expected to be for the day. It was pretty funny though.
The kids ended up getting off the ferry before us. We stopped near this sign to regroup as they were doing nearby. When both groups started riding, the kids began calling out to us and waving goodbye and we did the same.
A quick stop to check the maps and pull the group together gave me an opportunity to snap a picture of a farmhouse.
We moseyed. This picture is typical of the scenery today. There was light rain and some rumbling thunder, but it always seemed to be just “over there” more than directly over us.
Marcel tried to make a couple of our stops every day somewhere where we could get coffee and find bathrooms. We rolled into a small town and nothing was open. We had pulled our bikes into what seemed to be a bit of a town square -but also a parking lot. This interesting sculpture was in the corner of the square. Marcel said it is a statue of Prince Maurice.
We would be entering Belgium at some point today. From what Marcel said, I think the Holland/Belgium border more or less follows what was the front lines during the 80 year war. Prince Maurice would have been in this area during the war. I tried to find more information about why he’d be depicted playing chess, but couldn’t find anything enlightening.
We made it to the only open restaurant we could find. We had a nice break. The weather was showing signs of clearing up. When I’d layered up for the day, I thought I’d covered all the weather bases. The one thing I didn’t have was a short sleeved top, because that’s the last thing I thought I’d need for the day. Turns out -it would have been quite useful!
Arriving at the border was a bit anti-climatic. Marcel stopped and I thought it was so we could re-group -but then he pointed out that it was the border.
A short distance ahead – confirmation.
Another border marker as we rode along. We basically went back and forth over the border for awhile, depending on the path we were using.
We stopped for lunch in a church yard in a small town.
We ate in the shade of this old fishing boat on display aside the church. I believe Marcel said this town had once been a fishing village, but new dams and dikes had cut it off from it’s access to the sea.
Going through my pictures, I’m surprised that I don’t have much to work with for today. It turned into a beautiful day -so my camera was within reach. The only thing I can think of is that nothing really caught my eye once we went into Belgium. I was actually taken a bit by surprise at how different everything seemed as soon as we crossed the border. Things weren’t as neat and tidy. The bike paths weren’t as well built -or practically nonexistent. Somewhat hard to put a finger on, but I seemed to take an instant dislike to Belgium -possibly unfairly- but there you go!
We were meeting the barge at a place called Sas Van Gent. Sas Van Gent is situated along what appeared to be a very busy canal for barge traffic. The plan was for the Anna Antal to tie up to the side long enough to load us and the bikes up and finish the trip to our mooring in Ghent.
We arrived, but Marcel saw that the barge wasn’t where he expected it to be. We rode a bit further. No barge. Further again. No barge.
He pulled over and called the captain. The captain told Marcel that they wouldn’t be at the meeting point for at least 15-20 minutes. I’m not exactly sure what held them up (although we did have someone fall ill during the week and go to the hospital for most of the trip. They might have been assisting her husband with some logistics. I’m happy to say that everything turned out fine for her.) By the time Marcel made the call, we had gotten quite close to the little business area that fronted the canal -so where better to sit and wait and have a birthday drink? (Thanks to Bob -an all around nice guy who bought birthday drinks for both of us).
Guess who played Goldilocks but didn’t think the big beer was too big? Hey Belgium isn’t looking so bad after all. 🙂
By the time we finished our refreshments, the captain had pulled up to shore and was ready for us to board. We hopped on our bikes and rode back a short distance along the way we’d come until we saw the Anna Antal.
It wasn’t that far to our mooring in Ghent, so I’m guessing the reason for doing it is more due to the problems of navigating a group on bikes through what is quite a large, busy city. We were closing in on 30 miles for the day at that point.
While motoring to Ghent, I decided to try to work on my blog a bit. Craig, from Australia delivered a birthday beer to me! I may have neglected to mention he also bought Mike one yesterday. It was very nice of everyone to help make our birthdays extra fun.
Our mooring wasn’t in the most scenic of places. We were on the edges of Ghent.
Mike and I tried to use the bike GPS to find a nearby grocery store. I wanted to see if we could find a treat to share tonight after dinner for my birthday. We wandered around unsuccessfully, got a bit lost even with the GPS, and fumbled our way back to the barge. Actually to be fair, Mike had done a very good job of paying attention about how to get back to the barge. Without him -who knows where I would have ended up!
After we got back to the barge, Marcel overheard us tell someone that we hadn’t found what we were looking for and asked us what we needed. A grocery store. He pointed in the exact opposite direction of the way we’d walked and told us there was one on the corner. Really? We were asking ourselves why we didn’t ask him about it before we wandered off on our own. We did walk up to that store, but it didn’t really have much to work with. I officially gave up at that point. We opted to join the group on the “sun deck” and I noticed that there was a US quarter sitting on one of the little tables. Who found this? I asked. No one seemed to know who did …hello John!
(John is my brother-in-law who passed away a few years ago. We have said for a long time that dimes are a hello from our parents, and John always said that when it was his time he thought he could afford to give more than dimes.)
I don’t remember what we had for dinner, but I do remember this! I DID NOT share!!
Someone grabbed my camera and took a picture of my birthday moment. I don’t generally like pictures of myself -but I had to include this one!
Guess what was on the agenda after dinner? Yep -a walk around town! To get there, we needed to take a tram.
Mike isn’t fond of big European cities (or cities in general), so he opted out of this tour. It was also raining pretty steadily when we left -so it wasn’t the best day for a walk. However, since I’ve often come across Ghent in historical novels and in history -like the Treaty of Ghent, I didn’t want to miss it. (The Treaty of Ghent was the peace treaty that ended the War of 1812 between the USA and Great Britain.)
Ghent was founded at the confluence of two rivers (Leie and Scheldt) and by the late Middle Ages, it was one of the biggest and richest cities in Europe. It was a port city and also known for its universities. It seems that when I’m looking into how old a city is that most cities seemed to begin to flourish after an abbey was founded. In 650, two abbeys were founded in Ghent. During the 800’s the city had two different run-ins with the Vikings and had to rebuild. It seems like Ghent has often found itself in the middle of history as the years have unfolded. One interesting story is from the early 1500’s. Charles V was born in Ghent (1500) and went on to become the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain. In 1539 there was a revolt against Charles V, mainly because of taxes (the root of all evil, maybe?). After the revolt was put down, Charles V punished the nobles of the city by making them walk through town barefoot, in their undershirts, wearing a noose (strop) around their necks. The Ghent-ians totally owned this and to this day still call themselves “Stroppendragers” (noose bearers).
It’s a big city -with a lot of history and when you only have an hour or so to make sense of things -you tend to end up taking a lot of photos and not always knowing what of! So without further ado here they are:
We stepped off the tram at Castle Gravensteen. It was so gloomy and the castle was so gray/dark that my photos didn’t really pop. The castle was originally built in 1180 and occupied by the Counts of Flanders for a couple hundred years. After they abandoned it, it fell on hard times. It was used for various purposes -even a factory. Some of its stones were taken to build other things. Around 1900, the city bought it and there is some restoration going on. We didn’t linger there – too much to see.
Wonders of wonders, the rain let up and the sun broke through. We were treated to a double rainbow as a bit of birthday lagniappe! (Lagniappe is a southern word that means -something extra -a gift). The second rainbow was not as bright as the 1st, but it was definitely there and amazing to see!
Next we saw the courtyard of the Grote Sikkel. Since 1900 it has been used as a conservatory as part of the University College Ghent. It was built originally as a private home by a very wealthy family. It was built in the 1500’s. It had it’s own well -which in those days was an amazing luxury. I saw a statistic that claims that in the same time period , the whole city of Ghent only had 5 or so wells for the population of 65,000 people.
It was time to make our way back to the tram so we could call it a night!
We got back to the barge as darkness was falling – and I stayed up to try to go over my notes and pictures, but there wasn’t much time before I really needed to settle down and get some sleep.
All in all, a pretty fun birthday!