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Fabulous Flanders — part 5

The Belgium Experience


Where does one begin when summarizing such a fantastic five-day cycling experience? It is something I've attempted to accomplish through my previous four blog postings — hopefully, with some success. But to bring things to a close, I'd like to offer a few final thoughts.


First and foremost, my trip centered around bicycles. And while there is more to Belgium than just these two-wheeled machines — holy cow, they were everywhere. And of every description. For many people, you could tell it's their main mode of transportation. Public bike racks were more numerous than parking spaces, and I even came upon an underground cycle garage in Ghent.


An underground bicycle garage in Ghent.

Because there are such overwhelming numbers of cyclists, my brief exposure to the Flanders cycling scene revealed that operators of motor vehicles seemed very mindful of their presence — always giving proper spacing. However, I soon learned — either by way of a friendly gesture or toot of the horn — that if there was a usable cycleway, you had better be utilizing it. The message: we don't mind sharing the road, but the paths have been provided for everyone's benefit.


For me, riding a bicycle in Belgium was a real treat. Yes, a road is a road no matter where. But cycling, and how it is intertwined with the culture of that country, would be hard to replicate anywhere else — and certainly not in the United States. Add in the cobbles and the accompanying historic steep climbs — that makes it heaven for any passionate cyclist.


With such a busy and fun-filled itinerary, Brussels and Ghent were the only places that I had the opportunity to delve into — albeit for a short period of time. It was a glimpse into contrasting surroundings. Brussels, while centuries old, had a more modern vibe — being the capital of Belgium and home to the European Union headquarters. Ghent, on the other hand, came across as truly from the days of yore — having been founded nearly 350 years before Brussels.


Prior to meeting up with my Trek Travel group, I got a better understanding of Brussels — and thus Belgium — by experiencing a walking tour. The guide did an excellent job of explaining his country's fractured history, with its Dutch, French, and German influences that are still present to this very day. Because it also was a tasting outing, we sampled the four main food groups that Belgium is noted for — chocolate, waffles, fries, and beer.


My daughter, Sophie, and I in Brussels, Belgium.

Memories of the trip have filled volumes in my mind. In addition to the cycling throughout the Flemish region, there were countless highlights, such as attending the Tour of Flanders races and the VIP treatment, visiting the Tour of Flanders Centre and Museum, meeting the Lidl-Trek professional cycling teams, and making new friends within my Trek Travel group. Plus, the accommodations and the services and hospitality furnished by our two Trek Travel guides were beyond compare.


One of my purchases at the museum gift shop was a black-and-yellow cycling cap with the word "Flandriens" displayed on the brim. A partial definition of the Belgian term reads as follows: "A cyclist who rides through all conditions, never hangs his head. One who conquers the slopes." Because of my journey to Belgium — and my resulting cycling exploits — I'd like to think of myself as an honorary member.


I will conclude with these observations. Often referred to as a "once-in-a-lifetime" cycling vacation, I'm sure many tour operators would hope that additional excursions might be in the offing — particularly if one has enjoyed his or her initial experience. For me, I'm pretty sure, in all likelihood, that Spring Classics-Flanders will be my one and only trip. With such an acknowledgment, I certainly selected the right setting, the right adventure, and the right tour provider.


Prior to jetting off to Belgium, I daydreamed — especially while out riding my bicycle — about what might occur on the trip. Now I can daydream — forever — about what actually took place. Thank you, Trek Travel.


Finally warm enough in Maine to show off the Lidl-Trek pro team cycling kit provided by Trek Travel.

The history of Ghent, Belgium, began in the year 630.

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2 Comments


ridehills
ridehills
May 10

Thank you Patrick for sharing your adventure. Truly amazing!

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Great stories, Patrick. So glad you had the opportunity to fulfill this dream and cycle in Flanders!


Jim😎

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