Cycling Through Belgium – Beyond Beer and Chocolate

Bruges at night

When I imagined Belgium, I pictured rivers of dark chocolate, a tradition of cycling, beer so strong it would make Hulk Hogan wobble, and fairy tale architecture. Expectations set, we pedaled south from the Netherlands and arrived via a tree-lined path fit for royalty.

Our first stop in Belgium was Bruges. Our hosts, who run an amazing B&B and also give tours of the city, are often asked, “What time does the city close?” as if it were a Disney Land kingdom. As a pleasant surprise, the hordes of tourists we were warned about never arrived. Or perhaps my expectations of “busy” is based on places like New York City, where foreigners clog the streets like cholesterol.

Canals in Belgium

There is magic in ancient cities, subtle hints of centuries gone. It is present in the echoes of foreign languages off an old cathedral, or the dark hues of old beams in a restaurant. Wandering into the Rose Red bar with its hundreds of fabric roses suspended from the ceiling, we ordered a “sampler” of Belgian beers. Sampler indeed. Four practically-full glasses arrived, plus a bottle of Westvleteren Trappist recommended by our beer-genius friend Lucy. Two hours later, heads fuzzy and hearts happy, Chelsea and I wandered along the cities canals past spotlit historic buildings and ate more chocolate. Hey, when in Bruges…

Beers in Belgium

A wonderful surprise was having the Belgian vegan community graciously host us. Chelsea commented on the Bruges Vegan blog and the author, Trudi, extended an invite to stay with her and her husband. We pedaled up to their picturesque country property and enjoyed a relaxing day talking, eating delicious garden-fresh meals and hanging out with friendly donkeys. For our next stop, Trudi posted to a Facebook group and Lyra and Martin opened their home in Ghent to us. Sitting around their table with their three dogs dozing around our feet, I was struck that two Americans were learning about Belgium from a Brazilian woman and her Dutch husband.

The nuanced differences of a foreign country trump obvious statements like, “wow, the language ain’t the same as back home.” (For the record, in Belgium the people tend to speak Dutch in the north and French in the south.) Through fun dinner discussions, we learned that yard sales are a once per year event done via a city permit. The idea of an every-weekend yard sale in the U.S. cracked our hosts up. Insurance is a bedrock-strong right in Europe, and not having the secure foundation of health care for citizens is unthinkable to anyone we have discussed this with. In the legal realm, I found the inheritance laws in Belgium goofy; a parent can’t write their kid out of the will. Maybe kids in the U.S. are brats and parents need more choice?

Helping out on the farm! Thanks for the amazing hospitality, Trudi and Jim.

Brushing Babette, the world’s nicest donkey. Thanks for the amazing hospitality, Trudi and Jim.

We bid farewell to our friends – why doesn’t it ever get easier? – and rode SE through Belgium toward Luxembourg (here’s the map of our route). Europe responded with a record-breaking heat wave where the thermometer rose as if attached to a hot air balloon and days blurred to a haze of 95 degrees and 80% humidity that felt like riding in a sauna. We pedaled past wheat and corn friends interspersed with grazing cattle. Very few people in northern Europe use air conditioning, so refuge proved elusive. Instead, we soaked our jerseys and hair as often as possible (a feeling better than eating dopamine-laced raspberry sorbet), then rejoined the fray. Cold showers at night were divine.

Sunrise start in Belgium

Following the famously difficult Tour of Flanders route, we bounced our way over the gamut of road surfaces – I’ll admit to cursing the sadists who marked “bike route” for one cobblestone-hell-path. Next up were the hills of the Belgian Ardennes region, site of the Battle of the Bulge in WWII. I couldn’t begin to imagine how terrifying traveling through would be with howitzers lobbing explosives in my path. The serene villages and bustling markets felt a world apart from that chaos as we crossed onto the smooth country roads of Luxembourg.

Behind us was hard work and heat, but also delicious chocolate and great new friends. Inside my head were memories of laughs around meals and a welcome so warm any traveler would feel at home.

Bike touring England

A colorful vegan meal at the Bruges vegetarian restaurant "De Bron."

A colorful vegan meal at the Bruges vegetarian restaurant “De Bron.”

The nice part about hills is that there's always a downhill side. Here's a nice Dutch couple on a tandem ripping downhill in Chelsea's wake.

The nice part about hills is that there’s always a downhill side. Here’s a nice Dutch couple on a tandem ripping downhill in Chelsea’s wake.

Mirrors in Belgium

8 replies
  1. Stevie
    Stevie says:

    So jealous…and stoked for you guys, too, of course. I love that a blog comment led to being hosted by vegans in Belgium. That’s the kind of energy in this world that inspires me, makes me believe in the goodness of humanity, and gives me hope.

    Keep on ridin’ on!

    Reply
    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      I’d trade some of the hills we rode for a nice bouldering session in Squamish, I’ll say that much. All part of the adventure! Hope you’re sending like mad up north.

      And yeah…people are so incredibly generous and awesome. Traveling continues to reinforce that almost every single day we are out in the world.

      Reply
  2. Jen
    Jen says:

    Hmm. Guess I’ll have to do some research on Eastern European vegan blogs. I was wondering how you got hooked up with some new friends there!

    Cobblestones. They are the worst.

    Reply
    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      I bet there is a vegan community in the big cities. A little more thinly distributed in the countryside…

      I think we’re officially done with cobblestones from here on, right? Nonnnnnnne of those in Eastern Europe. GAH.

      Reply
  3. trudi_brugesvegan
    trudi_brugesvegan says:

    Such a nice blogpost and thank you for the kind words 🙂 It was a pleasure to meet you both and we enjoyed it too! Interesting to hear about your life on the road, to discuss politics, ethics, veganism, music, food (hippie dust is now a household name here 😉 ). I feel like we could have talked for days and days! Maybe we shall meet again some day.
    We will surely be following your blog to read about your future adventures. Take care!

    Reply
    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Yeah, hippie dust! A good name for a magic condiment. Good to know we enjoyed a great time in Belgium AND brought a goofy word with us.

      Thanks again for an amazing visit. We look forward to the next time!

      Reply
  4. Kathy
    Kathy says:

    Dear Dakota and Chelsea

    So nice to read about your bike adventures! Thank you very much for staying at our B and B in Bruges. You were great guests, it was so nice and interesting talking to you and seeing you smile all the time. What a beautiful pictures you take, worth an award!
    Enjoy Italy and all the wonderful things you are going to see.
    Hug from Kathy

    Reply
    • Dakota
      Dakota says:

      Hard not to smile when we’re in such a pretty city and such a nice place to stay! That upstairs studio in your BnB was just wonderful.

      Reply

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