July 25 –August 6, 2007
Amsterdam – Gouda – Breda (The Netherlands) –
Brussels – (Belgium) – Luxembourg
Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg, otherwise known as the Benelux States, were 3 of the 6 signatories of the Treaty of Rome, thus forming the nucleus of the EU. Small countries, great cities.
Amsterdam has to win the prize for the most bicycle-friendly city we have seen on this trip. Generously wide bicycle lanes cross the city and generally have the right of way at intersections.
What’s more, they have been planned by cyclists and have no abrupt endings or connections. Everyone uses them. Old timers with their shopping baskets, Mums with 3-kid carts in front, business men with their special laptop-carrier frame and students making serious fashion statements.
Parking along the canals
Of course, we saw what all other tourists see in Amsterdam – canals lined with barges, houses with tilted facades, swivel bridges, cafes with joints on the menu and window shopping of a different kind.
Van Gogh vibes
Markets abound, as do museums, making Amsterdam one of the trendiest cities in Europe. Delicious food from every corner of the world is available and so dining out is a real treat.
Julian and Cindy
In Amsterdam we had a social agenda again, meeting up with Darina’s friends. Cindy, home on holidays from Venezuela, came up with her son, Julian, to meet us for lunch…
Ana Maria, with her Dutch husband Christoph, has just moved back to Amsterdam from Barcelona and we got to meet in both cities on this trip.
Barges and house boats
Bicycle routes abound
Holland is less than half the size of Ireland, but even at that we only
saw a fraction of the country on our route south. Bicycle trails
continued through the countryside and some of the flattest mountains on earth.
It doesn’t get much flatter than this!
A lot of bicycle routes follow dykes that are 20cm higher than the canal on one side, but 3m above agricultural land on the other. Because of these exposed trails, wind is an issue and cycling can be hard work if you’re headed in the wrong direction. It’s no wonder windmills are so successful!
Along the canals
In the countryside
|Beautiful houses with perfectly manicured gardens line the canals throughout the Netherlands.|
Traditional thatched house
|Of course, we got to sample some of Holland’s wonderful cheese and milk products. However, in no time, we were on the border with Belgium… and the trip went on!|
Between diamonds, chocolates and lace… Belgium certainly knows how to cater for the girlie girls!
Centre of Antwerp
Antwerp was our first stop in Belgium and it certainly was an impressive one. The old town with it’s ornamental guild houses, flag-decked town
hall and sky-scraping cathedral justifies serious megabytes of
The friendly locals soaking up the atmosphere on the numerous terraces were quick to start conversation and didn’t hesitate to remind us that their’s is the best city on earth!
Kurt didn’t think it was bad either, as he found a real yummy cream slice in Chinatown!
A girl’s best friend
Antwerp is also the
diamond capital of the world with more than half of the world’s sparklers passing through for finishing and/or trading. This business sector amounts to 8% of Belgium’s GNP. The diamond museum is a must see and provides an excellent outline of this amazing carbon crystal.
Maximilian (Poland) has been on the road for 2 ½ years with his self-built 4-seater bike mobile. With 27,000km completed in Europe and North Africa, he is now planning the next stage across land to Tanzania.
Où la la!
A rather dull and uninspiring 70km led us to the capital, Brussels. Moving from Dutch to Flemish language zones was a transition our untrained ears couldn’t detect, but once in Brussels, we were back in familiar French speaking territory again.
The European Parliament brings quite an international feel to the city and the old town has enough to entertain the tourist for a fully-loaded day.
The smell of handmade chocolate mingles with freshly-
brewed coffee until you turn the corner and lemon grass and curry scents waft from the endless Asian kitchens. Spacious gardens, grand palaces and classical buildings make Brussels one of those cities well-worth checking out.
Scenes from Brussels
Rush hour along the river
After a busy 65km on the N4 to Namur, we were happy to follow bike lanes again along the quiet and scenic River Meuse.
From Profondeville, the Ardennes mountain range started in earnest with steep climbs and descents, through little villages, cereal fields and forests all the way to Bastogne.
Llamas came to say Hola!
|We even had a few of our Andean friends greet us along the way!|
Bastogne, site of the last battle on the western front during World War II, recalls the Americans’ heroic victory over Nazi Germany during Christmas 1944.
Flame of Liberty
Our entry into Luxembourg was very pleasant
– following an old shady train line into Wiltz. Then it was up and down to our campground on the River Sûre. Positively the worst deal of this trip:
20€ for 2 adults and a tent, without hot water or toilet paper included.The nearby restaurant was serving non other than ‘jumped apples’
(pommes sautés) with their main course.
When we saw so many motorbikes the next morning we knew we were in for a treat! 50km of gorgeous ups and downs on a busy road brought us to Luxembourg City, where we discovered there was a
bicycle path along a river that would have done the job just as well!
Luxembourg ramparts walk
Another EU Centre, Luxembourg City is where the council of ministers meets. The town was built as a fortress, complete with ramparts and casements, and makes for a pleasant afternoon stroll. The grand Duke’s Palace and the cathedral are the other 2 big attractions in this European cultural capital, 2007.
The Netherlands are a hard act to follow… but with Antwerp and Brussels, Belgium has 2 gems on offer too. From a cycling point of view, all 3 countries offer quiet bike routes and camping facilities (that you should check out beforehand).
The Benelux states provided an enjoyable stage on our long way home!