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A tourist on two wheels: Seeing the Dutch countryside by bicycle

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As the rain poured down on the slick cobblestone path, I concentrated mightily to keep my bicycle upright. Cyclists in front of me and behind me did the same. We were a team, not in the racing sense, but in the way a group of adventurers stick together when exploring new territory. This was our first day of cycling on our boat/bike trip from Bruges, Belgium to Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

Before the cycling trip we’d met up with friends Phil and Sandy in Brussels, ate fresh mussels and fries, and walked the huge boulevard where this year’s Tour de France begins. Then the four of us traveled by train to Bruges, where we met Carolyn and Larry. Together we explored this charming city, with its lace stores, horse-drawn carriages, canals, museums, breweries, and a 100-year-old chocolate shop called “Mary.”

Next, we embarked on the boat, the Magnifique ll, full of anticipation for the week ahead. A friendly staff of seven greeted us. The boat was elegant, with candles and fresh roses in the lounge and the dining area. Our room was below deck with twin beds, a private bathroom, storage for our belongings, and two portholes. When under way we could watch the water rush by, as if we were swimming, yet untouched. There were thirty plus cyclists, including a large group of (mostly older) women friends from Chicago, couples from Victoria and Australia, and a family from Germany.

Everyone was friendly and eager to get acquainted, a real bonus of the trip.

Each morning, after a hearty breakfast and the making of sack lunches, we ventured out in two cycling groups, one faster, the other slower, with a guide for each contingent. While we rode, the boat’s captain navigated the waterways to our next destination, while the staff tidied our rooms, and prepared the evening meal.

We rode for six days. On the two days it rained, we had to use extra care as there was a high potential for falling. On any day, rain or shine, the traffic of cars, cyclists, and motorcyclists going both directions made it challenging because they all cut it close. I guess they were accustomed to it. Still, we enjoyed incredible sights: orange poppies and nodding meadow flowers splashed throughout the countryside; pastures with grazing cows, sheep, goats and frolicking horses; field after field of waving corn, and lush potato plants beneath endless blue skies and puffy clouds. There were birdsongs, nesting swans, and geese with goslings trailing behind. Vibrant small towns were filled with markets, shops, churches and more flowers. We visited a cheese farm and stopped at a strawberry hothouse where we bought baskets of large strawberries from a vending machine! Water was everywhere, all put to practical use, in the form of rivers, streams, and canals with floating lily pads. We visited Kinderdijk, where several old windmills stood guard, and we marveled at the inside of a windmill we explored, where a family with thirteen children had lived long ago.

Each town or city we saw had its unique appeal, such as Ghent’s quaint café where we took refuge from the rain, Antwerp’s museum housed in a modern building several stories high with 360-degree views of the city, and Vianen’s church with a tomb of the town’s founder depicted with a supine statue of his skeleton!

We ended the trip in Amsterdam where the bikes outnumber the people, the food was international, and the original works of Rembrandt and Van Gogh shone like rare diamonds. This trip was a taste of what the world has to offer and made me long for more adventures.

Reach Mary Magee at marymagee@harbornet.com

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