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I was a solo on a bike/barge trip Amsterdam to Bruges & seeing AMS & Brussels alone

I was a solo on a bike/barge trip Amsterdam to Bruges & seeing AMS & Brussels alone

Old Jul 10th, 2024, 06:41 AM
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I was a solo on a bike/barge trip Amsterdam to Bruges & seeing AMS & Brussels alone

This trip report is a follow-up to some questions I had when I was contemplating taking a barge/bike trip to the Netherlands and Belgium as a solo traveler. After deciding to book the trip I, of course, asked more questions here about where to stay while on my own in Amsterdam and Brussels pre and post trip. Many of you here were so helpful that I wanted to let you know how things went.

Background: I am well-traveled and am old (mid-70s), but I prefer and enjoy more active travel. Sadly, I am also adjusting to being a widow who no longer has a companion. Travel was a huge part of our lives, and I have decided to forge ahead and do the traveling that we didnít get the opportunity to continue together. I have realized that I can be alone and be a widow at home, or I can be alone and be a widow exploring more of the world. Plus, I know the window is rapidly closing on how much longer I will want (or be able) to take strenuous trips or do any major traveling at all. As a couple, all of our travel was self-planned and done independently rather than with tour groups; we visited close to 40 countries, with many return trips to our favorites. We enjoyed slow travel, and seeing an area from the seat of a bicycle was one of our favorite ways to travel; we did about a half dozen, self-guided European cycling trips where a local outfitter supplies the bicycles, the route notes and transfers luggage from lodging to lodging.

Self-guided was absolutely perfect for the two of us but no longer works for me because I donít want to go it alone as I ride from place to place. Now I need to go with a group tour because I want some companionship, and I donít know how to maintain or troubleshoot a bicycle problem (that was my husbandís area). Last year I did two group cycling toursóalong the Adige path from the Innsbruck area to Verona and the coastal Camino from Porto to Santiago de Compostela (at times a tough ride even with an ebike). Those were hotel-based group cycling tours where I happily paid the single supplement to ensure that I would have my own room with my own space and be able to get away when I wanted alone time.

This spring I decided I wanted to take a cycling tour of the countries that are best-known for cycling--the Netherlands and Belgium. As I started to look at guided tours I quickly realized that nearly all tours in these countries are done as bike/barge tours. I had a lot of apprehensions (many valid as it turned out) about the idea of being a solo on a barge trip and asked here for advice.

The single supplement on group tours to me is a major source of irritation. In fact, in a situation like mine, itís like rubbing salt into an open wound. Not only do I no longer have my life and travel companion, but I have to pay extra (often a lot!) for myself because I no longer have a husband to share a room with. I need my space and alone time, and I am not willing to take pot luck and be matched in a room for an entire tour with someone I donít know.

On a barge or ship tour, a single supplement nearly doubles the cost because they want to be able to fill those tiny cabins with two people to maximize their profits. (Yes, I do understand that this is a business endeavor for them.) From what I have seen while researching trips, the single supplement on boat trips is much, much higher than on a hotel-based cycling tour. Even though I can afford it, the idea of paying nearly double (in addition to my fare, I would have had to pay 90% of the fare that a second occupant in the cabin would pay) stuck in my craw. About six weeks before the trip, one of the two tours that I was considering suddenly eliminated their single supplement. I jumped and signed up for a ten-night, deluxe, bicycle/barge trip between Amsterdam and Bruges in early June.

I am from the US and know from experience that I want to have a couple days on the ground in Europe to recover from jet lag prior to beginning a tightly scheduled tour. Even though I wasnít super excited by the idea of visiting Amsterdam (itís never been at the top of my must-visit list), I planned on three nights (3 full days) in Amsterdam before joining the cycling group. On the last day of the cycling tour we had to check out and be off the barge between 6 and 9am, so I knew that after the tour I would need to spend at least one additional night in Europe before flying home because I didnít want to try to figure out how to get from Bruges to an international airport for a flight home the same day the barge trip ended. In fact, it would probably be nearly logistically impossible.

If I needed one additional night, I figured I might as well make it two nights and give myself the opportunity to visit somewhere else. I had read that many people consider Bruges to be an overly touristy town, so I knew that I didnít want any more nights there. I knew I would have had my fill of Amsterdam so decided to see a bit of Brussels; I booked two nights there. It would be an easy, one-hour train ride to get from Bruges to Brussels, and it ended up that it would be least hassle if I also flew out of there. Plus, the price of a plane ticket home from Brussels was only a few more dollars (truly only a few) than it would be to make a roundtrip flight from AMS.

So, my trip was decided. 3 nights on my own in Amsterdam, 10 nights on the barge traveling between Amsterdam and Bruges, and 2 nights on my own in Brussels.

Since this report focuses on three completely different things, I have decided to break this into sections, so if people want to they can just jump ahead to the section that interests them.
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Old Jul 10th, 2024, 08:44 AM
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julies you sound like a very young and energetic mid 70's. Not old at all. Looking forward to your impressions of Amsterdam, which we recently visited and loved.
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Old Jul 10th, 2024, 09:44 AM
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Oh thankyou for this julies. I am looking forward to hearing all about it - the good the bad and the ugly. Hopefully mostly good!
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Old Jul 10th, 2024, 10:30 AM
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Wonderful a visit report and well written too. Yeah, on for the ride
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Old Jul 10th, 2024, 10:47 AM
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julies, I was reading your questions and concerns prior to this trip. I'm looking forward to hearing the results.
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Old Jul 10th, 2024, 11:08 AM
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I too was following your pre-trip threads. Looking forward to see how it all panned out.
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Old Jul 10th, 2024, 12:29 PM
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I too was following your earlier threads with interest, and admiration, we easily do 20000 steps a day on our trips, but no way I could do serious biking like this! As someone said earlier youíre a young seventy something, not old at all!

Am sorry about your husband, to me one of the joys of traveling is sharing the whole experience with a companion. But you took the sensible decision in forging ahead on your own, albeit with a group.

Canít wait to hear about your experiencesÖ
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Old Jul 10th, 2024, 12:37 PM
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Julies, I’m signing on too, this sounds an interesting trip.
And I hope I’m still planning trips in my mid 70’s.
I’m sure you’ll inspire others with your report.
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Old Jul 10th, 2024, 12:58 PM
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Yes, it's very difficult not having someone to share those trip memories with or to ask for clarification on exactly what happened when on the trip. So, on to Amsterdam.

AMSTERDAM

As I said, Amsterdam wasnít really calling to me a whole lot, and I had some negative expectations about it being super touristy and packed full of people--some of them drunk in rowdy groups out to celebrate--and I did see a little bit of this during my stay there. For these reasons I didnít want a hotel in tourist central since I was hoping to avoid some of the craziness. Plus, I kind of wanted a canal view since it seems to me to be quintessential Amsterdam.

Even though Amsterdam hotel prices are ungodly high, I decided to just spend a bit more to get that room with a canal view since I would be alone and would be in my room more than just to sleep. Going out for dinner on my own is just something that I really donít like to do. Breakfast and lunch are fine, but there is just something about a dinner alone (especially when everyone else is dining and socializing with someone) that I donít enjoy. Plus, especially after a long day of walking and sightseeing, I donít need fancy dinners and am just fine with take-out and a glass of wine in my room.

I finally settled on a newly remodeled hotel at the edge of the Museum Quarter, outside of the main canal ring, south of the Rijksmuseum and to the west of De Pijp. During my stay the NH Museum Quarter Hotel changed ownership and transformed into the Avani Museum Quarter Hotel; my room with a wall of floor to ceiling windows overlooking a more out-of-the-way canal was a good match for what I was looking for. It was a nice hotel that I would recommend if people are looking for similar lodging. There is a Spar grocery store only a block away for picking up a few supplies. There was a good (and pricey) Italian deli a couple blocks away, and one night I got takeout from there. There is a ďpantryĒ area at the hotel that sells snacks and drinks so the hotel has a microwave for guest use; I just zapped my meal from the Italian deli and went up to eat in my room with a view. Another night I walked home through De Pipj and got some great Indonesian takeout.

Iíd said to myself right off the bat that my intention in Amsterdam wasnít to run around like crazy trying to see everything. Rather, my objective was to home in on what I specifically wanted to see and do. In addition to recuperating from jetlag, I was able to do a lot in the three days I had there. Even though I didnít get out the door until late morning (nearly noon) every day because, after sleeping in trying to get my time clock to readjust, I enjoyed a good, leisurely late breakfast at the hotel, I walked a tonóeight to ten miles a day.

Over the course of my stay I just wandered quite a bit looking at the scenery and observing people, but I was also able to visit numerous museums too. In the super touristyóclose to the Red Light district-- part of Amsterdam I walked by the Bloomen Markt (donít bother because itís a joke) and through the Begjinhof, which by itself was a nice respite from the crowds right outside of it but not worth a special trip to the area in my opinion since the walk through it takes only 5 to 10 minutes. I thought about visiting the Oulde Kerk when I strolled by it but decided at that point in the day I was tired and didnít need to pay 13.5 euros just to see another church when I have seen hundreds in my life. Other than my visit to the Our Dear Lord in the Attic museum which was definitely interesting and unique, this was the part of Amsterdam I found least compelling and most wanted to escape from.

Other days I did find interesting walks, neighborhoods and sites that I felt were really worthwhile. The Canal House Museum had very descriptive, educational and fascinating multi-media displays about the growth of Amsterdam and the canals, and it gave me great background into the city in general. I really enjoyed visiting the Van Loon Museum which is a perfectly restored, wealthy familyís canal house from the 17th century; the back garden and coach house just add to the interest because you can see what is not visible from the street and canal. Both the Van Gogh (reserved 2 days before) and Rijks (reserved a couple hours before) museums were fabulous and worth the time to visit. My last evening I took a very good,1.5 hour small group (there ended up being only four of us), open boat tour of the canals that included the Jordaan neighborhood which most of these boat tours donít include. https://www.amsterdamboatadventures....ing-boat-tour/. This I reserved the night before.

On my terms, doing exactly what I wanted to do, Amsterdam ended up being an enjoyable stay, and I probably could have easily filled another day.

A big plus to my hotel that just happened to work out really well for me was that they have a feature called ďlazy SundayĒ where you can request a 3:00 checkout on Sunday. So, in mid-afternoon on Sunday I went to meet the group on the barge and begin my cycling trip. I had taken the airport bus to the hotel from the airport and also thought about using public transportation to get from my hotel to where the barge was docked. However, once I figured out that from the hotel it would be a walk and a metro ride and a transfer to a tram and another walk, I had the hotel call me a cab. Good decision.
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Old Jul 10th, 2024, 02:35 PM
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MY AMSTERDAM TO BRUGES 10 NIGHT CYCLING TRIP

The first day of the trip we had a one-hour window for check-in on the barge and were shown to our cabins on the Merjlin to get settled. The cabins were down a flight of somewhat ladder-like stairs, and the cabins were small as expected but as nice as could be. Crew members carried our luggage to our cabins and carried it up the stairs at the end of the trip. In the cabins there were two twin beds with space under them to store a suitcase, one small desk with a shelf above it, one narrow vertical closet, a non-opening porthole, and a nice, newly remodeled bathroom. Because space was so tight, sharing a cabin with a spouse would be okay, but I would be hesitant about sharing even with a good friend. I was so glad I had my own space.

After we got settled in, the boat set sail for Haarlem and we had a group meeting up in the lounge area to learn more about the trip and our daily routines. As I had expected, the group was primarily married couples (a mix of New Zealanders and Americans), with a couple people traveling with friends. There were only two of us who were on our own without knowing anyone. In addition to the six married couples, there were two women friends from the US, two women friends from Australia, a 60-something US woman and her mid-40s nephew who were taking their first European trip, a single guy from Canada who had also jumped to book at the last-minute when the single supplement was eliminated. And me.

Our cycling guide has been doing these barge/bike tours for close to 30 years, and she told me that these trips are typically married couples and sometimes women friends traveling together. It’s not often that there are singles who come alone on them. We both speculated that it is because of the extremely high cost of booking a cabin as a single. Plus, frequently couples will take these trips to celebrate an anniversary or special birthday. Age ranges are typically mid-50s to mid-70s, with differing types of cycling backgrounds. Perhaps if a tour is aimed at a younger demographic and is more bare bones (this was marketed as a higher end tour on a deluxe/premier barge) there might be more solo travelers. I don’t know.

I knew ahead of time that this would be a mama duck with the ducklings trailing behind kind of ride. It’s not my preference, but it is a compromise I knew I need to make on nearly all of these group cycling tours. Plus, we only had one guide for all 20 of us. She did a great job, but in my opinion this is way too many people for one guide to be able to handle because the group stretches out like a long snake behind the guide. Even with the high-tech gear (the boat has cycling helmets with radio communication so you can hear the guide) and walkie-talkies for the guide to communicate with the person who is the sweep (the last person in the line) for the day, it’s just too many people cycling along in a row.

Half of us were riding ebikes and half were on regular 7 speed Dutch bikes. I had read about the winds in the Netherlands sometimes being worse than climbing hills elsewhere and had ordered an ebike just for that reason. I really didn’t need it except for an hour one afternoon when it was helpful as we rode into a headwind. But, there was one day I chose not to ride because of the absolutely horrible weather, and that day an ebike would have been invaluable due to the extremely strong winds. In fact, that day, knowing I wasn’t going to ride and knowing the weather forecast, the super fit and experienced guide chose to ride my ebike rather than her standard bike.

On our trip there were some people who were highly fit and trained (picture the fancy, lycra-clad cycling types) with lots of cycling experience who were sometimes frustrated at being held back from being able to zoom ahead and crank out the miles, and there were some people who were more hesitant and uncomfortable about riding, especially when we were in congested city areas. (I do realize that this can also be the case with a hotel-based cycling trip.) Finally, after several days, the boat owner/captain discussed this with the group and said that the fast riders had to realize they signed up for a group experience and would have to adjust to the needs of the group.

Our typical daily schedule was a nice breakfast buffet at 8, and a 9 departure with sack lunches that had been packed for us for our picnics. A couple days we left a little later than 9 because the boat would start motoring at 6 or 7 so we could skip having to cycle through the places that weren’t such good riding and move on to those that were better riding—a big benefit of a barge tour in my opinion. We’d typically return to the barge about 4 to 5 or so and get cleaned up before a delicious (the food really was good) three-course dinner that was served at 6:30. All meals were set menus with accommodations made for those who needed them for dietary or health reasons. At least half the nights after dinner the cycling guide would take those who wanted to go out for a guided, walking tour of whatever town we were moored in. She was an exceptional cycling guide in this way because she not only knew how to plan the routes, maintain the bikes, and lead people on the rides, but she also had background and could explain about the history and features of the areas we were visiting.

Our itinerary was as follows:

DAY 1 We checked in, and then the barge started to motor to Haarlem where it would be docked overnight. After dinner we took a walk around Haarlem with our cycling guide.

DAY 2 In the morning the boat motored out of Haarlem and dropped us off at a place that would be more conducive to biking. Our guide adjusted the intended schedule to give us more riding and took us for a ride through the rolling, shrub-covered dunes to see the North Sea at Katwijk aan Zee. We then cycled to meet the boat where it was docked for the night in Leiden. After dinner we had a guided walking tour of the nice town of Leiden.

DAY 3 The biking was enchanting today. As we cycled out of Leiden we rode through a lovely residential neighborhood. Then, as we approached the Hague, we rode through what is supposedly the most expensive and upscale neighborhood in the country. Since I always love to check out houses and neighborhoods, this was right up my alley. We ate our picnic lunch in the center of the Hague but only had time to walk around the King’s Palace area which is backed by a large size pond or reflecting pool. Then we cycled to Delft for a tour of the Royal Delft Pottery factory which frankly I wasn’t really looking forward to thinking it would be just a typical factory shopping stop. I was in for a pleasant surprise because the factory really does more than just the stereotypical blue and white pottery. They produce some amazing and enchanting (non-blue) architectural tile features. After another delicious dinner on the barge, we also took a brief walking tour through Delft with our guide.

DAY 4 In order to get into a better situation for more interesting cycling, we motored out from Delft for a couple hours before our 9am cycling departure. During today’s ride we got a brief lesson on how to read the signage on the Dutch cycling routes; they certainly have a good system figured out! Then, we rode into Rotterdam which was a really pleasant surprise for me. Knowing it had been extensively bombed in WWII, I just assumed it would be an un-interesting modern city. Apparently, some of the initial building was rather ho-hum since they just needed to get some housing in place quickly, but now there are incredibly creative buildings, including the fairly newly built marketplace building. They hired some truly innovative architects to re-build the city, and it was an unexpectedly intriguing city to walk around.

After leaving Rotterdam, we cycled to Kinderdijk with its 19 windmills where we had a picnic at the windmill park. I hadn’t anticipated this site would do much for me, and it didn’t; I certainly wouldn’t make any extra effort or go out of my way to go there. ( When we saw our fist windmill on the trip our guide explained to us that the positioning of the windmill blades indicates whether it is a “retired” or active windmill. Blades in a X position mean it’s not functioning whereas blades in a + means it is still in use but not currently moving.) However, the riding all day was pleasant enough, through scenic rural areas and interesting regular neighborhoods.

In the afternoon there were two different options available—take the local ferry back across the river to shorten the trip and eliminate some riding, or put on more kilometers and hours of riding before meeting the barge in Dordrecht. I opted for the longer route and was glad I did because it was scenic and nice rural riding. This was one of the two nights when the crew had the night off, and we were on our own in town for dinner. After a brief time for us to clean up, our guide took us on a walking tour through Dordrecht which is a very pleasant town for strolling but without any particular monuments or buildings to see. I had dinner on my own in a small, hole-in-the-wall doner kebab place on a main square. These were the very best fries I have ever had in my entire life!

DAY 5 While we ate breakfast, the barge cruised from Dordrecht to Willemstad so we could have more interesting riding. We did a short walking tour of the star-shaped city of Willemstad before biking onward to Tholen which is a charming small town with no real sights. Today much of the scenery at times reminded me of rural Wisconsin or Minnesota. Our final stop during the ride was a farm where they sold strawberries and white asparagus (which the Dutch prefer to green). I had never seen a strawberry vending machine before, but they had one here and also at other farms we stopped at while riding later on in the trip. These strawberries were real strawberries, not the huge tasteless strawberries we usually get in grocery stores in the US. Quite a few of us bought some to take back to our cabins or to share.

DAY 6 We had a slightly earlier than usual start to riding, and we had the choice of either a short day of biking with a couple hour cruise on the boat into the Antwerp harbor or a more extended ride with biking direct to the Antwerp moorage. Our guide told us that it is really a lot more interesting to cruise into the Antwerp harbor and see the immensity of the entire harbor that way than it is to cycle through the more industrialized setting through the extensive harbor area. I was the sweep for the morning ride, and we actually had a slight climb into a headwind at the end of the ride before those of us (more than half the group) who wanted to cruise into the harbor on the boat joined the barge where it had temporarily tied up at Kreekerak to pick us up. The others cycled on through the harbor area to rejoin at the Antwerp mooring. The greater Antwerp general harbor area is immense—many miles long--and it takes quite a long time to cruise through and into a berth.

Those of us who had cruised in had lunch on board and finally were able to disembark about 2:30 for free time in the city. I visited the fascinating Red Star Museum which tells the story of the immigrants who left from Antwerp for the US. This was another day when the crew had the evening off, and we were on our own for dinner. While strolling around on my own, I ran into our guide, and we decided to have dinner together at a small Vietnamese restaurant. Afterwards on my way back to the barge I went up to the top (climbing much of the way since some of the escalators weren’t working) of the 10-story MAS museum building for the views.

DAY 7 Because the barge couldn’t leave the Antwerp harbor until 2pm due to berth and shipping lanes guidelines, we started the day with free time in Antwerp, and people chose different things to do. Rather than visiting the cathedral (one more church!) I went to the Plantin-Moretus museum of printing. The house itself (3 houses joined together) was a superbly preserved example of 17th century houses. We all commented on how dark and gloomy it must have been to live there and to do that painstaking work in nearly dark conditions. There is an interesting feature in Antwerp—a tunnel that goes 30 meters under the river and connects with the cycling path on the other side. With our bikes we rode down in the elevator, went through the tunnel and then rode the elevator up on the other side.

Our ride through the countryside was enjoyable, and I am starting to think that maybe I prefer Belgium to the Netherlands even if there are many more cobblestone streets which make for not so smooth cycling. The downside to the day was that on the way out of Antwerp we needed to make a stop at a pharmacy for Covid tests and masks since one person had just tested positive—a second person also had tested positive by evening. Before arriving in St. Amands where we would dock for the night, we also stopped at another strawberry, raspberry, and white asparagus farm which sold its produce via a vending machine.

DAY 8 While we ate breakfast, the boat cruised from St. Amands to Dendermond. There we tied up temporarily and got on the bikes and started biking on what was the best weather day of the trip—gloriously sunny and in the low 60s. We made it to Ghent where we were scheduled for a canal boat tour. Our guide says this is her favorite city, and I would have liked more time to explore, but we didn’t have it. Unfortunately, in Ghent (pronounced “hent” with a guttural “h”) we only had 45 minutes prior to our boat cruise and an hour afterwards which really wasn’t enough time for me. But, the canal boat tour was interesting and informative with a fun guide. Our barge had to tie up overnight a very long way from the center of the city, so the group had to ride out of town to our berth and were unable to do any more exploring of Ghent. As it turned out, by my choice, this was my last day of cycling on the trip.

DAY 9 This was the day of absolutely miserable weather with rain (sideways at times) and temperatures in the low 50s, along with a 20 to 30 mph wind. I decided to embrace the cruise part of the trip rather than the cycling aspect and stayed on board for the day with 4 or 5 other people. At my age I feel I don’t have anything I have to prove to myself or anyone else about my fortitude. I dislike cycling in the rain, and it doesn’t make me feel virtuous having done so. Plus, cycling when it's wet and slippery is much more dangerous, and I don’t want to risk a potentially life-changing injury. For me it was much more pleasant just staying in the boat and looking out the rain-streaked windows than it would have been cycling with those hardy people who decided they signed up for a cycling trip and were going to cycle no matter what. (I have decided I fall into the category of people who want to take a tour that involves cycling to get a feel for the area rather than being a die-hard cyclist who is most interested in the cycling aspect of a trip and racking up the miles. If someone plans to sign up for a cycling tour this is something imperative that you need to know before signing on because the focus of a tour can be very different depending on whom it is catering to.)

After a couple hours out in the cold and rain, a number of the riders changed their minds about the need to cycle, especially since most of them didn’t have appropriate rain gear. The barge had been cruising along while they rode and needed to make a planned, nearly hour-long stop to refill the clean water tank. During the re-filling stop the guide made an unplanned detour to bring the cycling group back so those who needed to quit could.

Despite the nasty weather, a few super hardy souls (fools in my opinion) did get back on the bikes and finished the ride into Bruges. Between our arrival by boat in mid-afternoon and dinner at 6:30, I walked through Bruges alone and made a first pass at figuring it out; I had a chance to stroll through the peaceful Beguinage area away from the crowds before returning for dinner. After dinner our guide took those who wanted to go on a guided walk through the town, and I did learn a lot even though I had already explored on my own. The evening in Bruges was peaceful as there were hardly any people around. In fact, I was surprised to see that many of the restaurants are closed in the evenings because their business is during the day with the bus loads of people who come in for day trips. I didn’t bike today, but I did walk 7 miles.

DAY 10 On the itinerary this was another day with a choice for passengers. People could spend the day exploring Bruges on their own, or they could take a 55k ride to the sea at Oostende. Earlier in the trip I had made up my mind that unless I found Bruges to be terribly, terribly touristy I would opt to spend the day sightseeing there rather than cycling to see the sea (I have seen the ocean plenty of times). The weather—light rain and cool temperatures and hail—just reinforced my decision to sightsee. I decided it would be worth it to buy the 33 euro for 72 hours Bruges museum card since there were a number of places I wanted to visit, and most of them had a 15 euro admission fee.

After breakfast I set off by myself for the kilometer or so walk from the barge’s mooring into Bruges. The barge was moored about a block or so from where all the tour buses park and about a half mile from the train station, so it was an easy walk into the center of town. It was early (around 9 or so) and I couldn’t even find a canal boat tour that was operating yet, so I found other things to do before taking the canal cruise. (The boat tours all apparently don’t operate until at least 10 when the tour buses start arriving.)

I started at the Museum and Apotheek Sint-Janshospital, a 12th century edifice which I found to be a fascinating mixture of learning about medical care in past centuries and art works. The apothecary portion was fine but not nearly as unique or interesting as the hospital. The Gruuthusemuseum provided an in-depth look at what had once been the grandeur of the richest families in Bruges. After one of the museums made a reservation for me for a couple hours later, I made it all the way up the 366 steps of the Belfort (there are a couple landings to rest and to see the workings of the carillon) to get a view of the city. A very full day before having our farewell dinner on the barge.

DAY 11 The tour ended after breakfast, and we needed to check out of our cabins by 9:00. My original plan had been to walk the half mile to the train station and move on to Brussels right after breakfast. But, there were a few things I still wanted to see and do in Bruges. The captain said I could leave my luggage on the boat for at least a few hours, so I walked back into Bruges to see the last few sights that I hadn’t had time for yesterday. I went into the OLV Kerk Museum church to check it out and to see the small Michelangelo statue there. And, then before returning to pick up my luggage I went to the Groeningemuseum to see the masterpieces there.

Over the course of 7 days of I rode 160 miles. On the final two days of the cycling trip, I chose to skip an additional 50 to 60 miles of potential cycling primarily due to the weather.

Pros (for me) of a barge-based bike trip: It was lovely not having to pack and unpack every day. Having the barge motor through some of the less pleasant areas to cycle through and then deposit the cyclists at more interesting areas in which to ride is a very definite advantage because it gives you the opportunity to cycle only through the most scenic and attractive routes. We had one day with really horrendous weather—sideways rain, temperatures in the low 50s, occasional hail, and winds of 20 to 30 mph. That’s the day I chose to cruise to the next port rather than cycle, and it was nice to have this choice. I spent very little money during the barge trip because it really did include nearly everything--all meals (with the exception of two on-shore dinners) and light afternoon snacks. If you wanted additional beverages, you could just run up a tab on the ship for wine or beer or cocktails or soft drinks.

Cons (for me) of a bike/barge trip. Other than your cabin where you can recline on the bed or sit at the desk chair (and many boat cabins don’t even have a desk or chair), there really isn’t a lot of space or opportunity for alone, quiet time. Our barge had a small interior lounge area and two small exterior seating areas. Cooler than normal weather meant that we had to bundle up for any extended periods outside. A couple times I tried to take my book to an outside area and read, but inevitably within 5 or 10 minutes there was a group sitting there chatting away amongst themselves; inside in the lounge there were always people chatting.

I don’t think I was the only one who craved some alone time rather than joining the group chitchat. (While on the boat, a true extrovert would always be able to find someone to talk to.) The guy who was the only other solo traveler on the trip either spent all of his time in his cabin, arriving in the common area just as meals started, or left by himself to go onshore; he even found a couple gyms to go to in the evenings when we were docked. I am guessing that perhaps both of us felt this way since we were alone and didn’t come with a companion. On a hotel-based trip, on the other hand, there usually are a few quiet common areas for guests within the hotel, or, if you want you can find a small cafť for a quiet glass of wine or cup of coffee. It’s different on a barge.

Compared to other cycling and regular tours I have taken, this one really felt couples-focused rather than group-focused. It could have been the dynamics of this particular group, or it could have been the number of people on the trip. All the other tours (cycling and regular small group tours) I have taken since my husband’s death have been no more than 11 or 12 people, whereas this was 20 people. Maybe with fewer people it’s just natural to make sure everyone is invited and included in the group rather than to just pair off.

My other theory on this trip is that with all of the forced time together on the barge for meals and the days cycling together, when there was free time for sightseeing or an opportunity for an onshore meal, the couples wanted to just have time alone together rather than include the fifth wheel. Let’s just say that if someone decides to go as a single on a cycle/barge trip they had better be comfortable (I am) with venturing out on their own for sightseeing and the infrequent meal on land. A couple times when we were in port I did go out with others for some sightseeing, but this was completely random and spontaneously happened when we realized we were headed the same place. Then, after we had visited the site, we split up with the couple going their way for the rest of the time and me on my own.

And then there is Covid… We were lucky that only a few people got it, and it didn’t spread like wildfire through the barge. Apparently last summer the guidelines were that if a passenger got Covid, s/he would be kicked off the boat. This year the sick person is supposed to isolate when possible and then mask when around others. This was tough to do on a small barge.

Would I do another bike/barge tour? It’s up in the air. I am actively looking for another bike trip for this fall (I am not someone who plans very far out), and it will also be solo because I don’t have anyone to go with. If it seems like a barge is the best way to see an area, I might maybe try it again. And, as I re-read what I have written, I am realizing that for a solo who is ok spending on-shore time alone and isn’t expecting to make friends and be a part of a tight group during the tour, the advantages (not packing, having the boat just cruise through less desirable cycling areas, being able to stay on the boat in bad weather) can outweigh the disadvantages. Then, though, there is also the issue of the horrendously high single supplement on a bike/barge trip. That will also impact the decision. So, we’ll see…

I hope this helped people who are considering a bike/barge trip.
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Old Jul 10th, 2024, 03:38 PM
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You sound very wise for having stayed on the barge on the rainy day ... I never think about rain contingency plans but you are right, anything could have happened on that bike in the rain. Also interesting to hear how the company communicates with the cyclists at the end of the peleton. Glad you had a good time!

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Old Jul 10th, 2024, 04:04 PM
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An excellent read, thank you for posting julies.
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Old Jul 11th, 2024, 01:01 AM
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I truly enjoyed your trip report.
Living in Belgium and being an avid cyclist who loves to cycle in the Netherlands (rather than in Belgium) it was nice to read your observations to all these well-known places.
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Old Jul 11th, 2024, 01:23 AM
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Hello julies, reading about you, and your husband, and travel, felt like reading about myself. I'm younger than you but have had the same experience. We retired fairly young then had the double whammy of covid and cancer.
I've been overseas twice since my wonderful husband died. Firstly a tour with 10 women. I couldn't bear to be around other couples and be reminded of all I'd lost. Secondly a tour of 20, some couples, the rest solos who were all women. The bits I added to either end of the trips were a mix of good, average and terrible. Before we had always travelled independently.
Nothing is the same but I feel like I need to enjoy life for both of us.
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Old Jul 11th, 2024, 01:23 AM
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Great insight into the pros and cons, thank you.

And very interesting, the details of how it works was fascinating.
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Old Jul 11th, 2024, 02:44 AM
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Thankyou. An interesting read. I am glad Amsterdam proved nicer than you thought, though it is still not my favourite city in the Netherlands.

I think bike and barge caters more for an older demographic. Younger people prefer self guided, or self developed/bike packing tours I think, even solos. Not all of them work as yours did though, as some allow more freedom to the cyclists to do their own thing whilst offering back-up for problems.
It does of course offer the chance to miss a day for bad weather or just because you want a rest,, which self guided pre-booked hotel tours don't.

Whilst I understand totally why you chose the trip you did I think the other one you were considering may have offered you a more interesting route.

Should you be tempted to try again have a look at lots of companies. Many offer interesting routes, for a reasonable price, and may have a more mixed group of nationalities on board.
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Old Jul 11th, 2024, 05:14 AM
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Thanks for the detailed report julies, made for interesting reading. KayF and you did well to plunge back into international travel, you owe it in a way to your husbands, way to go!
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Old Jul 11th, 2024, 08:24 AM
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Thank you for this informative trip report and sharing your feelings and challenges. I really admire your attitude, your ability to do bike trips, and you continuing to honor your husband with going on the trips you would have done together. It is hard to find the balance as we age. I am lucky to still have my husband to travel with, but the independent travel we have enjoyed, is more challenging and less desirable. Thanks for the insight on some of the options.
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Old Jul 11th, 2024, 10:42 AM
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Very true coral. DH and I have been married for 45 years and traveling regularly right from the beginning, itís one of the greatest joys of our lives. Heís 72 now, with two titanium knees, and weíre off to Galapagos next weekÖKeeping my fingers crossed, hopefully itíll all go off well, travel does get harder with age!
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Old Jul 11th, 2024, 11:58 AM
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I appreciate all of you taking the time to read and then comment.

Adjusting to life alone after a long and happy marriage is difficult, and, frankly, it stinks to be alone. @KayF it's interesting that you too have come to the same conclusion that I have--it's got to be small group tours--and that you have also had mixed experiences with being on your own at the ends of tours. My first tour (not a cycling trip) I made plans to stay on and travel to one additional place for 2 nights. It was awful because I booked the exact type of place we would have loved together but was terrible for me alone; I hadn't yet realized that the choices I made for when there were 2 of us would be different from what works best for a single woman.

I am seeing that traveling as we age, even if it is not an "active" trip gets more difficult. When I flew home from this trip, it once again hit me that people have to be in pretty decent shape just to make it through airports. Long, long hikes between gates, taking the train/tram between terminals, cramming into a bus that will take you to the terminal when your plane doesn't use a jetway etc. This spring on a different trip I transited through the Atlanta airport, and my fitness tracker indicated that I had walked nearly a mile and a half there!

As far as traveling alone now, obviously, my options have narrowed. While looking for options for a fall bike trip, I keep finding trips that sound really good and visit interesting places, and then I realize that they are self-guided. In the past, that would worked and was our preferred method. Now those choices are out.

It is interesting that while out for a bike ride this morning here at home in the US, I saw a guy wearing a Ciclismo Classico jersey. We rode together for a little bit because I asked him what he thought of that company. He has taken two trips with the company and likes them because they have really good guides whereas some of the other companies he has traveled with had some and not particularly good immature guides on the tours he took. It was interesting for me to hear this because my guide on this barge trip, who I really liked a lot, is in her late 50s. And, last spring I took a cycling trip with Road Scholar which is a general tour company from the US aimed at people over 50. Our guide on that trip told us that Road Scholar insisted on hiring guides over 50 so they would fit with the clientele and also because they felt guides who were a lot younger might get impatient with the pace of older riders. @hetismij2 Road Scholar is the company running the other tour I was considering. They also use the mama duck method of riding, and since I would have had to pay the single supplement with them, it would have cost me something like 5K more for a tour that was 3 days longer and on a not as nice a barge.

It costs a lot more for me to travel with tours than we ever spent when planning and executing our our trips. In fact, one of the reasons that we were able to travel as much and take as many trips as we did was because "doing it yourself" (even when hiring drivers as we did when visiting developing countries) is a whole lot less expensive.

I also want to clarify about my need for some alone time and separation. I am not a true introvert who really needs to be alone most of the time because interactions with people deplete me, but I do need some alone time and some separation. I can do cocktail party type chitchat with the best of them, but it gets pretty old after 10 days. During the course of the cycling tour there were only 3 people (and one of them was the guide) with whom I had any type of in-depth (more than just the standard where are you from, what did you think of today's ride, when are you leaving and are you extending your trip) type of conversation. This was not the case on any other of the tours I have taken.



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