Each night, after a day of biking and a lovely dinner, a night walk with our biking guide, Felix, was offered. Not only did we get a chance to see the architecture and landmarks of the area, but we often stopped to try the local beers. Win/win.
Day 1: Haarlem
Behind the beautiful wrought iron gate is a beautiful garden. This is the Hofje van Oorschot, founded in 1768. A hofje is a Dutch word for courtyard with almshouses around it. They provided homes for mostly elderly women. Usually a wall hid the garden, but there was a city official that lived across the street that wanted a beautiful garden to be enclosed by a fence. They eventually got their way. Hmm. Go figure.
Day 2: Leiden
Leiden is the City of Keys. You see the motif everywhere. The gates lead to Burcht van Leiden (The Castle of Leiden.) The views of the city, the town hall and Hooglandse Kerk are spectacular.
We arrived late in the day and the “gatekeeper” locked up as we left. We jested that he must have the keys to the city as he locked up. He jokingly answered by holding up the keys.
Wonderful night views.
One of the favorite parts of the night for my retired literature teacher friend Jan was the e. e. cummings on the wall of a building. Other poems graced the walls of the city.
Day 4: Antwerp
Rain, rain go away. Don’t come back another day. I braved the rain with Cheryl and Linda to go to the heart of old Antwerp for dinner. Luckily, the next day we had the morning in Antwerp and Jantien treated us to a tram tour of the city. (More about Antwerp in another post.)
Day 5: Dendermonde
One of the most interesting stories of the trip was that of the great horse of Dendermonde.
Every ten years the almost five meter tall horse is carried by people through the town. Astride the horse are four brothers wearing full armor. The story is based on The Four Sons of Aymon. The Dutch version of the story can be read here:
On the way back to the Merlijn we stopped to admire a poster about the celebration. A fellow walked out the tavern to his bike locked near the poster. Seeing us discussing the sign, he stopped to talk to us. He has been chosen to carry the horse during three different processions and was delighted in our interest. We were surprised to hear that in order to be one of the horse’s riders the boys must:
- be four consecutive brothers, without a girl in between.
- They all have to be born in Dendermonde.
- The parents and grandparents have to be born in Dendermonde.
- They have to be between 7 and 21 years old on the day of the procession.
- They have to live in Dendermonde or one of its suburbs.
We asked the fellow if the town was having trouble finding a family that met the criteria. “It is a problem,” he told us.
Day 6: Ghent
No city surprised me more than Ghent. Breathtaking! Jantien arranged for all of us to go on a canal boat ride through Ghent. The architecture is amazing. A university town with lots of young people and an active night life. And the green spaces, sheep are used to mow them!
A stop for Jenever tasting.
And always room for local beer…yes, it is 11% alcohol!
Day 7: Bruges
Last, but not least, was our stop in Bruges.
Another beautiful city. ….and the chocolate!