Beers, Bikes and Bruges
By Steve Kopandy - Bike Tourist and Cycle Cities Manager
Coming from London, Bruges is a great destination. With a Eurostar ticket it's free travel to any Belgian station, via Brussels.
Bruges may be any belgian station, but Bruges is not any Belgian town. I've seen the capital, the Ardennes, Antwerp, Leuven, even Hasselt in the far East of the country, far from the tourist trail. Adding Bruges to the map seemed like the next logical place to check out.
I had my parents over in London. They wanted a Europe trip and I was the guide. Day 1 of about 45 was Bruges.
Bruges is a small town, easy to navigate, safe, and English is widely spoken. I was determined to practice my Dutch with the waiters on the main square, They'd just talk back in English, at it being an inconvenience to communicate with me in their native. No points for trying. I suppose they get a lot of well meaning tourists and the novelty may have worn off somewhat when there are 30 other tables to serve. Still my mum was proud.
If you like beer, you like Belgium. I used to jog past the Stella Factory on my morning circuit around the Leuven ring road. Is it just me or does a brewery smell like vegemite? And if so, is it supposed to? In Australia, Stella is a boutique, classy, import. In Britain, they call it a wife beater. In Belgium, it plays second fiddle to countless other fine beers. More for the novelty value, Kwak is one of my favourites. I took my parents to a traditional Belgian Beer House for a beaker of Kwak. The beer is served in what looks like a bulbous test tube straight from a chemistry lab. The glass won't sit on a table as it doesn't have a flat surface, so it comes with a wooden holder. In order to get the wooden holder, you have to leave a shoe behind the bar, so that you don't walk off with the holder. You keep the ornament, you lose a shoe. Fair's fair.
With 2 shoes back on, and my mum more tipsy than I've ever seen her, Day 1 was done.
Day 2 was cycling day, sans hangover thanks to the mostly preservative free brews from the night before. We rented bikes in Bruges and headed towards the town of Blankenberge on the North Sea. The 15km ride is flat, except for the motorway on and off ramps. Yeah, we ended up on the E403 - one of Belgium's busier motorways. In Australia, you are allowed to cycle on the motorway or 'Freeway'. I presume this is because often, the freeway is the only direct road between 2 cities. In Europe, not so much. We learn't this the hard way. Fortunately, the next exit wasn't far along.
Blankenberge was nice. It was nothing like an Australian beach, but it's what's different that makes you want to go somewhere new.
Train back to Bruges to drop off the bikes.
So over a day and a few miles of riding, 3 novice Australians learnt a lot and went on some great adventures in places no one ever has been before on bike (primarily because it's against the law).
If you're ever visiting Bruges or Belgium, grab a bike with a guide, to ensure you don't end up on the E404 like we did. You can even do a Border Bike Tour which goes all the way to the Dutch Border.
For the best beers and bike rides, see you back Bruges.
Steve Kopandy spent his 20's taking short trips to Europe from his base in London, and has taken guided bike tours and cycle trips in, and to, many European cities. He works as the Business Manager for London Bicycle Tour Company and started Cycle Cities to give more profile to bike tours worldwide.