To celebrate Don’s birthday on 9/28, we decided to go for the longer ride, 59 miles, which included a beer tasting and tour at the St. Bernardus Brewery. That meant staying focused on our speed in order to make the 2 pm tour.
We averaged over 14 mph to our late morning snack/lunch stop in Diksmuide, a town totally obliterated in WWI and painstakingly restored over the last 100 years. We joined several other tandem teams for pastries and soup. Much of the morning ride was along a canal and/or through farmland. It is harvesting season and there were numerous farm vehicles along the route.
At mile 38, we stopped at the St. Sixtus Monastery, thinking we were in position for the tour, but alas no sign of other bicycles. Another team happened along and reminded us we had 6 more miles to go and we pedaled hard and were the last team to arrive at the brewery.
While we weren’t able to buy the infamous Westvleteren beer, we enjoyed our tour and tasting at St. Bernardus Brewery, in a more modern facility than the rare small batch monk’s brew. We each received samples and a glass to take along – wonder how many bottles will make it back to the U.S.? We did buy St Bernardus jerseys to show off on future rides.
The final 15 miles into Ieper turned into 20 for us, as we missed a turn and went too far south. We finally arrived at the hotel just after 6 pm having ridden almost 100 km (61.4 miles), quickly showered and dressed for a group dinner, just down the road in a WWI casement. I had bought chocolates to share for Don’s birthday and the restaurant had special “candles” to celebrate.
After the long day yesterday, we decided to sleep in and go to the In Flanders Fields Museum this morning and take a shorter loop ride in the afternoon. We definitely have been educated on the WWI battles in and around Ypres, which suffered terrible losses for battles to claim less than 10 km.
Our afternoon bike ride, just over 19 miles, took us to the German cemetery at Langemark, to the Passchendaele 1917 War Museum and the Hooge Crater Museum.
After Happy Hour with tandem friends, we joined Steve and Roni from New Jersey for a quick dinner so we could attend The Last Post at the nearby Menen Gate. This is a somber memorial service conducted each evening at 8 pm to remember the 250,000 Commonwealth soldiers who died in WWI.
Afterwards Don and I rode the visiting The View ferris wheel, located next to the Cloth Hall and the Flanders Museum, seeing the nighttime city from above. We enjoyed the daytime climb and view from the belfry more than the nighttime vista, though both were great.
Off to bed now, photos will have to wait until tomorrow.
We started Wednesday morning with a boat ride. Actually that was after loading our luggage and getting mapping details. Don and I enjoyed our 4 nights in Ghent, nice room, nice hotel, nice town.
The 60 minute boat ride was along the canals of Ghent: we learned that Guild Halls sponsored their own churches, thus huge competing churches in the city ; that children’s urine was used to treat leather, hence the statues of peeing children; that the Belfort (belfry) was built to proclaim the wealth of the city, as well as to provide security over the city.
We didn’t get on the road to Brugge until shortly after noon. The departure route took us across 2 sets of tram tracks. We successfully crossed the first set, then took a tumble when one of our wheels caught in the second set. Don skinned his knee and elbow, I sustained a bruise on my left hip, but the bike was not damaged. After a few minutes to get our wits back, we continued, though I confess I was a bit shaken during the remainder of the ride.
At mile 16, we stopped at the Canada Poland War Museum outside Maldegem. This museum was created by the family of a man who was a Belgian resistance member. We have never seen such an extensive display of WWII uniforms, rifles, guns, and radio equipment with a chronology of the war. We spent well over an hour there.
Already 5 pm when we arrived in Damme, we needed to stop for some apple cake and coffee, just to make the last 5 miles in Brugge. Though only a 32 mile day, we were exhausted.
After showers, we ended up having dinner with Steve and Karen, our tour leaders, at an Italian restaurant near to the hotel. Both are now fans for Rugby 7s with annual trips to Las Vegas tournament.
Today, Thursday, the route called for a 42 mile loop from Brugge to the North Sea coast, and into the Netherlands. We had no overwhelming need/desire to see the North Sea or return to Holland again, so we shortened the route and did our own 22 mile loop with Mike and Candy from Maryland.
Our lunch stop in Brugge was #1 on Yelp, Soup, a perfect light repast. We walked to the Church of Our Lady (Onze-Lieve Vrouwekerk) to see Michelangelo’s “Madonna and child”, sculpted in 1505. A wealthy Brugge resident purchased the statute and had it brought to the church as part of a family altar. It is one of few Michelangelo statues outside of Italy.
While Don took a nap, I wandered the city, doing a little shopping, and just enjoying the blue skies and bright sunshine. We joined several of the tour members for “sharing time”, aka happy hour, with everyone bringing some food and drink to share, before heading off for pizza and salad for dinner. Planning for an early bedtime tonight.